Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Foreign Exchange Student by monica

My first day as an intern at Augusta Magazine was one of the most stressful days of my life. Consider this: I just graduated college with an English degree, I’m dying to make my mark as a writer and there I am, foot in door, at a magazine office. “Don’t blow it,” I kept thinking. Be professional. Smile. And gosh darn it, if you’re assigned to write—whether it’s a feature article or a seemingly nugatory blurb—make it good, make it capture their attention and ensure that it will need no editing.

This of course is a stressful situation for any average scrawny scribe (my writer’s version of the starving artist). But for me it was ten times worse because…Well, you see—I have this fear that makes every day a unique challenge. This fear is far more grave, for more complex and inconvenient than a fear of heights, spiders or confined spaces. Here it goes: People—yes people—scare the heck out of me. And it’s not necessarily the fault of the people. It’s my own insecurities that start the vicious cycle that usually goes something like this:

Me (in meek voice): Hey
Person: Well hi! Are you new in town?
Me: Yeah…um, I’m from Maryland originally (My eyes dart up and down, side to side as if searching for a cue card that will assist me in carrying on the conversation; my shoulders hunch, armpit sweat expands in the sides of my shirt, my bangs start to congeal with oil and perspiration—I’m drowning in that silence that I’m certain I need to fill in order to seem coherent and interesting.)
Person: Aahhh, I see (The person’s eyebrows furrow and suddenly he/she seems to feel uncomfortable, which is a terrible feeling because he/she is not known for having awkward encounters).
Outcome? I may see this person several more times, maybe every day, and we never converse beyond “hey” ever again. Too painful for the both of us.

I would’ve bet my life that this would be the case when I met my co-worker, the magazine’s highly-talented and highly-regarded art director who never left her cubicle except to get a sandwich from the vending machine. Being that the staff was only comprised of myself, a zaney editor and this Oz-like artist from New York, I knew we would all be closely interacting and that there was no room for hiding (although this mysterious art director seemed to get away with doing just that).

A few days into my internship, I finally mustered the gumption. I was going to formally introduce myself to this almighty art director.

I literally poked my head into her cubicle space, leaving the rest of my body to tremble behind the partition.

“You’re Shirley Bass, the art director?”
“Yes?” she looked up at me with intense eyes rimmed by dark-framed reading glasses. She almost seemed to be frowning, as if she were waiting for me to deliver some important work-related information so that she could get on the case right away.
“Um, I’m Monica Budnichuk, the new intern. I’m sitting right over there.”
“Oh! Okay. Good!”
I ran away. That was it—for the time being.
I would later find out that SBass thought I was a foreign exchange student from Russia or Argentina (wow, two different spectrums there). Apparently I was so nervous that I mumbled in a way that made me sound as if English were my second language. What a way to start my career as an English major ravenous for my first great American novel.

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Two cubicle neighbors with pizzazz and their own personal, but highly similar, set of of innate complexities find refuge in this alley of creative musings. So pull up a chair, join in, as we--artist and writer--share our spin on the world, art, literary pursuits and the seemingly miniscule, daily occurrences that become larger than life.

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