Monday, May 25, 2009

You can't always get what you want

You know how you sometimes wake up and you are instantly in a bad mood? People call it "Getting out on the wrong side of the bed" and I am sure lots of other synonyms which I do not recall at this very moment. I think this happens to most people, right? But you get over it, mostly after your first cup of java or a morning cigarette if that's how you roll.

Thursday morning I got up and I have been grumpy ever since. Ok, to be fair there have been interruptions to my grumpiness (mostly when I talk to people which distracts me from my moodiness) but the general state is "grumpy". Everything annoys me, I do not feel fully functional and I most certainly am NOT enjoying myself.

Being moody is nothing new to me, everybody who has ever worked with me knows that but I was never really in a bad mood for more than a few hours. Something would happen and I would forget all about it and usually grumpiness was followed by really good mood. Call me crazy and bi-polar, maybe I am but it has not been officially diagnosed.

What I am missing here is the distraction. My days are pretty eventless and nothing really ever happens that gets me out of my mood. So I have had the longest grumpiness streak I can remember. 

Now don't get me wrong, I can behave myself pretty well. I am not some crazy fury going around yelling at people but I continuously feel slightly annoyed. 

So this is why I haven't written anything in a while, I just didn't feel like doing it. 

But since this is a blog and not a diary and I haven't really written much about how it is to live in America as an Austrian in a long time, I will tell you what annoys me most at the moment, specifically about the Americans (not all of them of course but a lot of them)(and for the Americans reading this - I am sorry - I know you are not all the same but this is just a general feeling I get sometimes):

*"We should totally meet up/hang out/go for dinner/do something together!"
Blablabla. Yeah, you all want to hang out but don't I dare actually taking you up on your offer because, you know, you are an American and as such you are always busy. But maybe you'll have time in six weeks, tentatively?

A little story: When I grew up we didn't have a car, I think I mentioned this before. My mom was too short sighted to be allowed to drive and we didn't have the money for a car anyway. Growing up in a small town, any time I wanted to go anywhere after 6pm or on the weekends, I had to have one of my friends parents drive me home because there was no public transport. One night one of my friends mom drove me home and I got out of the car and didn't say "Thank you for bringing me home". My friend asked me about it later and I was SO embarrassed. After this happened to me I made sure I would always say please and thank you.
In Austria having good manners is very important. I think it's part of the "old world" thing - in many ways Austria is much more old fashioned than the rest of Western Europe.

We take our shoes off before we enter somebody's house. If we are invited for dinner we bring flowers or dessert and we make sure to thank the host as much as possible. If you are at a party and people don't know some of the guests, as a host, you introduce them to everybody. You eat with your mouth closed. You do not chew chewing gum loudly into somebody else's ear. If you have lunch or dinner with other people, you make sure everybody (including the host) is seated and ready to eat before you start eating. If you receive an invitation to something, you answer (to the person who sent the invitation) and you don't just ignore it or tell somebody who didn't send the invitation if you can come. 

There are even more "rules" like using the formal "You" (Sie) when talking to strangers and often even to your colleagues which is something I am not so fond of and I have kind of gotten used to not doing but those basic manners mentioned above are something I grew up with and I am shocked to see are not necessarily the norm in America. Maybe people are just too damn busy to be friendly and courteous. I don't know.

As I said, not everybody behaves like that, luckily. But more people than I expected seem to have grown up without learning simple manners. Or maybe they did grow up with manners but decided that those manners are antiquated? This is something that just really bugs me when I am not in a good mood.

*"The economy is so bad, so we have to ask you to do this for free but we might be able to pay you later"
So I have decided to go for it - to change my career path. I am not applying for data entry jobs anymore. I am actually trying to become a photographer. I am however also looking at other things, as long as they don't make me want to kill myself (like data-entry would - I hope I don't offend anybody here ...). There are actually a lot of jobs that make me "not want to kill-myself". I wouldn't mind being the "girl for everything" for a little, new company (even if part of the job would be data-entry), I wouldn't mind being a cup-cake baker in a cute bakery or sell pretty fabrics in a crafting store. I wouldn't mind doing admin stuff for a web-design office and learning a little bit on the side.

On my search for jobs there are so many unpaid jobs. It's unbelievable! Since I am not quite a professional photographer yet, I don't mind doing some shoots for free, especially when it's a new subject for me - like I am going to do some product photography for a friends website for free but there are people who look for everything for free:

"We are a new food magazine and are looking for experienced food photographers who would like to take pictures for our next issue. Please be aware that we cannot pay you at this point but you will get plenty of exposure!"
"Looking for a young and upcoming fashion designer who wants to dress me for the next few events I have to attend. I will not be able to pay you but if people ask me I will tell them that you designed the dress!"
"Looking for an intern, working 40 hours per week. Work includes data-entry, customer service, sales and some general office duties. Internship will be unpaid but with chance of some payment after having worked for us for some time. College graduates and bi-lingual/Spanish preferred! Must be available on Saturdays."

I mean, come on! One of my friends pretty much just lost her full-time job to an intern. And not because the intern is doing better work but because the intern is much cheaper. I mean, seriously, where is this leading to? When will people realize that a happy employe (who can afford to pay rent) is a better worker? This is a trend that I started to see when working for American companies in the Netherlands. Get one person to do the job of three because why not? It's cheaper! Well, it might be cheaper but you also take all will to live from people. 

The worst is that the situation here is so bad that companies which offer those unpaid jobs get hundreds of applications.

And another thing which annoys me which is in the same spirit:
*We don't actually want to hire, we are just checking out the market.
When I first started applying for jobs I was surprised how I never got answers. I mean, I have 6 years of work experience, I have worked for reputable companies, I have references, I have a green card and I am fluent in three languages, at least give me an interview. But I didn't even get a standard rejection email. Recently somebody told me that most of the job offers you find on the internet are not even real. There are not many position available right now so companies just send out their HR to "check out the market", see what's available and how desperate people are. You know, in case they might really need somebody some day. 
In America the "letter of motivation" - the letter or email which accompanies your CV - has to be very specific. For almost every job I applied to I had to change my motivation letter to match it to the job, to point out all the stuff I can do. This takes time. Knowing that 90% of the jobs I take the time to write this stupid letter for don't even exist makes me very unhappy. Sometimes instead of going through all the pain of writing the motivation letter and sending my CV, I just want to write "Is this job even real? If you are indeed searching for people for your company, let me know and I will send you a proper motivation letter!". 

I know that this is just the way the economy is right now. In terms of jobs it is definitely a buyers market. There are too many people with fantastic qualifications who can't find a job and of course, companies are taking advantage of this.
But it is still disrespectful, it's inhumane and it's simply a waste of my time. 

This is by the way a big reason why I decided to try to change my career now when I originally just planned to find a job "for now" until I had settled. I figured if I have to go on my knees and beg for a job I might as well do that for a job I actually want. 

On a more positive note - until today the weather has been gorgeous here. Spring is pretty much gone and now it's summer (yep, we had only about three weeks of spring). We had temperatures up in the high 20s (Celsius) this week, I planted about a million tomato plants and we did a lot of BBQing in our backyard.

Now I am going to put on some of my Eels CDs and sew curtains for the kitchen and maybe that will lift my mood.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Back to basics

It seems like Chicago becomes more and more beautiful as summer nears. 

Our street is in full bloom now, the tulips are flowering, the cafes put their outdoor seating up and my face has turned a much more appealing shade of light golden brown.

Despite all of this loveliness I have been very homesick to Holland recently. There is one thing in particular which triggers those emotions: the Amstel Light commercial
The first time I saw this ad on TV I cried. Yeah, I know it's sad. I didn't expect it to happen either but you know - I have a lot of memories connected to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is where I first could be who I wanted to be. Where I met people who understood who I am. It's where I realized that I could be a photographer. It's where I changed from being a little wallflower who was too shy to order a beer into a person that people want to hang out with. It's where I learned to appreciate alcohol.
It's where I first kissed my husband.
And it's also a lot of other things which are too TMI to post here.

The reason why I miss it more than ever right now is that it's the most beautiful time of the year there - Spring. Spring in Holland is when the sun is shining, when everything is colorful and pretty. People sitting outside and having a beer. Queensday and more importantly - Queens night which I have very fond memories of. The Amsterdam parks are full of people with cheap bottles of wines, sitting on old blankets until the sun goes down or at the beaches in Scheveningen in one of the many beach bars. 

But I do realize that it was time for me to move on. As much as I loved living in Holland there was one thing that always bothered me (apart from the weather). I felt like I was stuck. I had wanted to do a creative job all my life but I was stuck in the jobs for German speakers. Boring office jobs. And while I met a lot of fantastic people that way I felt like it was eating at my soul. I was very unhappy doing what I was doing. I could have gone back to school and then maybe move into marketing but this is pretty much the hight of creativity I could have gone for. To make a living as a photographer in Holland is possible but difficult. It's a small country with a lot of creative people so the possibilities are limited. I met a lot of professional photographers and I know they were all having a difficult time unless they were Dutch or famous in their field BEFORE they had moved to Holland. I met one photographer who was working as a cook at night to be able to work as a photographer during the day. I also met a few non-Dutch photographers who were successful like my mentor Wanda Michalak but she had been famous for her landscape nudes (check them out) long before she moved to Holland.

So I am trying my luck here in Chicago and I am surprised how things have been working out for me so far. I mean, I am not actually doing paid work but I have been working on different projects and it's been a lot of fun. 

One thing which I am very proud of is that I will have some of my pictures exhibited for a few weeks at the Logan Bar and Grill for a few weeks. So far in my life I have only had my pictures exhibited once - that was in Amsterdam at the Amsterdam Center for Photography - thanks to my former mentor Wanda Michalak who I mentioned above. Those pictures will be available for sale and I will also open an Etsy shop for my pictures. I have checked out the competition and found a Chicago based Etsy shop which funnily enough has pictures very similar to mine (same locations - Italy, Chicago, ...) but mine are (and I hope that doesn't sound really arrogant) way better. And that woman sells!
So after opening my shop I will have to start promoting as much as I can. I am not sure how to promote an online shop but I'll read up on it.

My photography classes  are  also teaching me how to do studio work and I am in the process of building a little photo studio in our dining room. I have been studying a lot recently and it's been very helpful. I am now pretty confident that I can do professional work once I finish my studies (which will still take me at least 6 month even with me studying about 10 hours a week right now). Looking at other peoples work on the internet I see that I am better than some people who call themselves professional photographers but that I still have to learn if I ever want to become as good as the people I look up to.

So things are very good. I have made a few new friends through the German center I have been doing volunteering work for and I am actually really enjoying my time here.

This might sound strange to you since I started this post off by saying how homesick I am but you know what - you can be homesick and still be happy. And happy I am.

And a big shout out goes to my friends A+M who got engaged!! And my friend L-A who is pregnant with a baby boy! I wish I could be there with you guys to celebrate!