Friday, June 15, 2007

Where the Hell I've Been

BIT OF A GAP there, the longest in recent memory, if memory is worth a damn. I've been busy. Here's a rundown of what's been up with me.

Interview: I was lucky enough to have an interview two Thursdays ago. It's a specialty magazine publishing company that also runs trade shows for consumers and professionals in the magazine readerships' areas of interest. I snagged their ad online and dropped a note to them, and to my great surprise, I got a call back within an hour or so. The location is about 15 minutes away from my house — in fact, it's next door to the career-counseling office I visited through April.

The ad matched several of my skill sets, so I had a good feeling going into the interview. Two people, one live, one over speakerphone, conducted the company side of the discussion. I have to say, the career counseling was of inestimable value for this interview. Although I went into the place somewhat nervous, I felt relaxed by the time I began answering the first query. I was able to answer every question directly, most of them with a story that depicted how I solved a similar problem at a previous job. At one point, they listed the various roles a person in the position would have to fulfill; I jotted them down as one of the interviewers spoke, then, saying, "I can address several of these areas," gave them parts of my work history where I was able to succeed in those realms. At no point was I fumfering for an answer; moreover, they never expressed any displeasure or sarcasm at any of my responses. No trick questions; no lectures or anything demeaning; just a relaxed discussion about an opening that we all hoped I might be able to fill.

Once we wrapped up the three-way chat, I took a brief layout test in Quark. It seemed deceptively easy, but after triple-checking for bad breaks, widows/orphans, and overflow text, I let my contact know it was all set. Frankly, it felt good to do some layout again.

I exited that day with a strong feeling that, whatever happened, I got this one right. This was my first interview out of the training, and I felt like I represented myself well. I took myself to Outback that night as a reward for passing this first test.

Bachelor dinner with Ratatosk: My esteemed fellow blogger and excellent friend, having found himself a fantastic woman whom he shall have the privilege of marrying tomorrow, received his official sendoff from the menfolk the Saturday following my interview. His brother, brother-in-law, three of the gaming gang, and I gathered at Kiku, the Japanese hibachi/sushi joint on Route 17, to stuff him fulla stir-fry.

I enjoy these places, especially when we have a chef who's into the act, and in this case we did. He kept us laughing with corny jokes, added a dash of trivia questions (most of which I buzzed in correctly on), and of course, executed the Dance of the Flaming Onion Volcano. The food was quite tasty, and didn't seem like a heavy load, even though we had soup, salad, rice, shrimp, and a protein along with veggies.

As for the afterparty . . . well, the soon-to-be Mrs. Ratatosk reads these pages, so I must be circumspect as regards the Guy Code on the off chance she wasn't briefed on our second and final destination. Rest assured, she will receive tomorrow a man as pure as the one she sent out that evening for a hootenanny with his friends. How pure that was to begin with is anybody's guess, but we didn't get him into any trouble aside from some errant wing sauce and cholesterol.

NYC Daily Double: Monday and Tuesday felt like workdays, in that I went into New York on both. Monday was my usual Photoshop class at SVA, for which I needed to bring an object. I thought this was to be scanned and manipulated in the software, but it turned out we were actually going to draw it using various shading, gradation, and manipulation tools to familiarize ourselves with the most common implements of the trade. I had brought a $5 Bellagio chip, a royal flush in hearts, and a Krusty figure (she had said to bring something with a little dimensionality, which — aside from his act — suits Krusty all over). We will indeed do some scanning for next week, but this time around, we just needed to draw. She emphasized that we didn't need to duplicate the objects perfectly, but when I saw some of the samples from other classes, clearly drawn by students with underlying artistic talent, my heart sagged a little.

Still, I was there to learn, so during the 90 minutes we had in class to get cracking, I did my best to draw this schmaltzy clown. The challenge of using the tools for the first time in any useful fashion, combined with the irregular curves of this irregular Simpsons character, began to get me down, and when I left, I was wondering if I would ever get past this phase of the class to the areas of Photoshop I felt most would be needed to answer ads that called for proficiency in the software. This, combined with an extended wait for the bus (I need to take the train on the way out in the future for this class), left my mood fairly low by the time I returned home.

A good session at the gym the next day, combined with an additional communiqué from the place where I had interviewed (see next heading), picked up my spirits Tuesday morning. Also adding promise to the day was a trip I had planned to attend the InDesign Users Group in Manhattan that evening. At least one of my former teammates from the salt mine was scheduled to be there. She had attended previous meetings of this group and had good things to say about the presenters. With no job at the moment, I had committed to attend, and that afternoon found me back on the bus to Midtown.

This presentation connected with the company where I had interviewed in two ways. First, they were beginning to move into using InDesign, and as someone who had assisted with such a transition at my previous job, I had experience in making the jump from Quark. Also, they were investigating the possible role of using XML to repurpose text. This was something I had narrowly missed learning at the last job, and by coincidence, an XML specialist was scheduled to speak at the users group meeting. I still feel like I would need some intensive, one-on-one training in exploiting XML's potential before calling myself qualified to get someone up and running on it, but the demo taught me a few things, and there is apparently a downloadable guide to be had on the users group site.

Interview Part Deux: While I was in the city on Monday, I got a call from the coworker who I met at the IDUG meeting, as well as from M, my former supervisor. Both told me that they had gotten calls from the company where I had interviewed as part of a reference check. I was pleased to hear that they both had praised me to the rafters. The reference check gave me some hope that I had a fairly decent shot at getting the job. Had they not liked me in the interview, they wouldn't have bothered.

Tuesday morning's email brought a note from one of the two folks who emailed me with a proposition. Based on my experience in editing along with layout, would I be interested in taking an editing test to gauge my abilities as a developmental editor? They had an article that needed some direct editing on the beginning and end, but that also needed an outline of guidance for the author on how to ready it for the audience and tone of the magazine. Although this isn't something I've done formally, I have made recommendations to folks (e.g., M with her thesis project) on how to address text for a certain audience or purpose, in a couple of cases to the point of rewriting the text. I had the option to decline and be assessed for the position I had discussed the previous week. But now they were asking me if I'd want to recast the focus of that position, in essence soliciting my opinion on what I might be able to do there. Figuring that saying "no" to such an opportunity was worse than just letting them judge me on what we had already rapped about, I said by all means send it along. I had until Friday/Monday (their words) to return it.

This was the second challenge I would receive this week. The instructions asked the candidate to edit for a more colloquial, less academic tone; to recommend additions or cuts; and to prepare a guide for how, if at all, the article should be revised. I'd only have to copyedit the beginning and end (good thing, too, as the article was fairly dry and technical in the middle and I lack the medical-writing experience to tell them if any of the facts were wrong). I concentrated first on the copyediting, letting the ideas I had for any major reworking simmer. I was at a loss on Wednesday morning, until a solution came to me that night, and I spent Thursday jotting notes and shifting text to enact this plan. By Friday morning, after spell- and grammar-checking the shit out of it, I sent my revisions and outline along. I very delicately said that if I still needed work in this field, I was more than happy to be considered for the original position and to work with them in developing this skill in case I was needed later on to help with this aspect of the job. Again, I didn't want to let any sense of negativity creep in. I wanted all doors to be open, preferably the one to HR in which I signed my "welcome aboard" forms.

I haven't heard back from them yet, though I believe they do flexible time and I might have gotten it to them at the end of their "day." I remain hopeful, and the search continues. I am trying not to stake too much hope on this, not from any sort of self-deprecation or anything — I know I did swimmingly in the interview — but because I know it will be more than a stunning blow if for whatever crazy reason, they decide not to go with me. I don't know if it's because of the proximity of the workplace, or the close match to the job description my skills represent, or what. I am just trying to get any potential disappointment framed properly in case it gets triggered.

So that is where things stand. I watched Ratatosk and Amy rehearse their wedding this evening, and they were kind enough to bring fruit, sandwiches, and cookies to the church so we could chat, eat, and help put them both at ease for the Big Day. I will be reading at the ceremony (Shakespeare's Sonnet 116), so I've got a role to play in making the day a memorable one. After this, I will spend Sunday assembling the materials for the next Photoshop project.

Oh, I did manage, over the course of this week, to find a new, more geometrically regular subject for the drawing project. Once I got the biggest part done, I felt more comfortable with the tools we had been shown, which was the whole point of the exercise anyway. The rest flowed quite easily. Herewith, my rendering of the Happy Massager, or as my friends call it, the Molecule:

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