Wrapping Up!!

Ok, so here it is: the final post!

My summer is wrapping up, and although I am still sending in a few things for Tikkun over email within the next week, I have officially left the internship. On my last day, I had a meeting with my supervisor to discuss her thoughts about my progress at the internship.

I was actually somewhat surprised by her comments—in a good way! I tend to hold myself to very high standards, so most of the time, I let myself down. But my supervisor was flattering. She said that I was a quick learner and have a good eye for detail. She offered to write me a “glowing recommendation” whenever I needed it.

As I look toward the next year, I will continue to focus on my career goals. My major plans are to begin a blog in the fall where I can start exploring my potential “beat” as a journalist, apply to grad schools in the U.S. and abroad, and start searching for jobs, most likely in the fields of journalism or public policy.

My experience at Tikkun has been very helpful to me overall. I learned invaluable editing and computer skills, added to my portfolio of published writing, and gained a great reference that I can use for applying to jobs. I also broadened my worldview by experiencing California culture and carefully reading the many idealistic and intelligent articles in Tikkun.

Once again, I would very much like to thank the Dickinson Career Center for allowing me this opportunity!! The Internship Grant Program is an amazing one that I have used multiple times now, and most of my friends who attend other colleges are totally jealous.

Writing Stuff

At the end of my internship, I have begun writing two blog posts for Tikkun. This was to add some pieces to my portfolio, which was a nice suggestion by my supervisor, as that will be important if I apply to journalism jobs in the future. I really have to thank the Dickinson Career Center for allowing me to connect with such helpful people!

The first is the piece about the prison hunger strike solidarity exhibit in Sacramento that I mentioned in my last post. This experience taught me some about protest regulations, to be sure, but I also gained other things from it. It allowed me to practice on-the-spot interviews and information gathering. I also had an interesting conversation with a freelance journalist from Sacramento, who told me that on slow days when she can’t find much to write about, she often just walks by the capitol building to see if anything is going on. That was actually how she had ended up at the protest in the first place. She said that she thought it was always a good idea for a journalist to know the hot spots of activity in their area for this purpose, which I had never considered before.

The second blog post is a profile of Sandow Birk, a painter living in L.A., for Tikkun’s art gallery. This gave me more experience with planning questions and carrying out an interview over the phone. Unfortunately, I really hate phone communication, because I think it’s difficult for conversation to flow naturally, especially if you have never met the person. I realized the minute I called Sandow that I had no idea what to say at the start of our conversation. Was I supposed to small talk for a while? Or immediately ask a specific question about the use of humor in a particular painting? Either way seems awkward. That is something I’ll have to figure out in the future, because it definitely gave me some pause.

My supervisor had suggested that I should prepare for this interview by reading past interviews with Sandow and trying to figure out what more could be added to the conversation. I did this, and I think I came up with some interesting new questions, but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to ask the old ones as well, even though I already knew the answers. I decided to just go for it and ask my more specific, differently-angled questions. It turned out pretty well. Sandow gave me all the information I already knew in the process of answering my questions. I figured he would, since he had already practiced giving those answers before.

Still, sometimes he seemed a little taken aback by my questions. I think some of them were hard to answer on the spot without giving some thought beforehand. If I had to do this interview again, I would do it over email. It’s not the kind of situation where I would want to provoke or surprise him into giving more truthful answers, and I probably would have had an easier time getting more complex answers and direct quotes if I had given him the chance to write them out. I also wouldn’t have to worry about small talk with a stranger on the phone. This was a good learning experience, and it will make me consider the forum of my interviews more carefully in the future.

Real-World Graduate Education

Earlier in the summer, I conducted an interview with my supervisor, one of the requirements of the Career Center’s Internship Notation Program, which I am happily completing in accordance with the rules of the internship grant program that allowed me to come out to Berkeley for this great, albeit unpaid, experience.

One of the most influencing pieces of advice that my supervisor gave to me was NOT to go to journalism grad school.

Now this was a surprise. Grad school is such a standard these days, and my undergraduate degree is in American Studies. Earning a graduate degree in journalism might seem like a no-brainer next step for me after graduating from Dickinson.

However, my supervisor, who herself went to graduate school for journalism, actually regrets it. She felt that she had spent a lot of money for skills that she could have learned just as easily outside of an educational environment. Take that money that you would have spent on graduate school, she suggested, and use it to support yourself while you gain practical experience in low-paid or unpaid internships and jobs.

This strategy is both terrifying and exciting. At least while in an educational institution, I can always delude myself into thinking I am going to easily get a great job after graduation. Hitting the real world means that I could put in a lot of work and all the while, feel like I am never getting anywhere. It would definitely require some gumption, hard work, and perseverance.

Still, I am a little tired of living inside of an educational bubble. I love all of the broad, theoretical thinking and the debates over important issues often deemed impractical after leaving college, don’t get me wrong. I also feel like I am becoming ignorant about specific applications of this thinking and also too accustomed to a certain style of presentation. For example, the other day, while researching article ideas for a special issue on parenting, I mentioned to my supervisor that it was a really broad topic and I was having trouble tying it all together. To which I got something along the lines of, “Good thing it’s not an academic paper then” (except of course, in much nicer terms).

So here’s to actually learning how to cook because I’ll have no money to spend on eating out after graduation. Here’s to exploring the depths of Spotify while scouring the internet furiously for internship, job, and freelance writing possibilities. And here’s to toughening up and avoiding the educational bubble I’ve been living in too long.

But worst comes to worst, I’ll just pack up and get cheap graduate education in Germany. So there’s no way life after Dickinson will be too bad!

“22″ in the Workplace

Any young American who hasn’t been living under a rock will recognize Taylor Swift’s catchy song “22,” and I think its bouncy line, “We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time,” strikes a chord for many of us in our early 20s. It’s a strange time in our lives. Somehow we are supposed to make a transition from the security of our childhood homes to complete independence. This independence requires the development of a strong personal identity and of course, a career with which we can support ourselves. All the while, we struggle to fill the gaps left in our hearts by all these changes with new communities.

The freedom truly is exhilarating. Yet it can also be confusing and lonely.

As a study abroad student in India, I started to examine this American focus on independence. It is not necessarily the natural order of things. My best friend in Hyderabad is 23 years old, and he has lived with his parents his whole life, even now. This is not strange– it is typical within their culture, and it has a huge effect on their personalities and lives.

On the one hand, my friend often expressed a desire to get out on his own, away from his parents’ influence. At the same time (and this is hard to put into words), he seems somehow more whole than most Americans of his age. As in, his personality is more fluid. Sometimes he carries the confidence, gravity, and wisdom of a person far older. Sometimes he is as light hearted as an eight-year-old boy. While my friend feels cooped up by his parents, I can’t help but think that the lack of this intense American pressure to leave a very sheltered space of childhood and establish a totally individual, adult identity has allowed him a certain freedom that we may not even know we’re missing.

Of course, all people in the world, in some way, build identities. But I think American culture’s focus on individuality and gigantic separation between the spaces of childhood and adulthood mean we have to do more work than most. As we become adults, in a sense we lose everything, and our individual identities become constant construction projects. We firmly cement each brick of the walls that keep some things safe and shut others out; we drill deeply for a foundation to ground ourselves on; we carefully place the tinted windows that allow us to view the rest of the world and locate ourselves within it.  There is no place for any expression that doesn’t contribute to the construction’s progression. And the screech of the drills and constant scraping of mortar on brick creates a cacophony in our psyches that is particularly strong during our young adulthood.

So how does all of this relate to my internship this summer? The workplace is one arena where all of these conflicts come into play. How can we negotiate between expressing our individual identities, so that we feel like ourselves, and employing qualities that will allow us to succeed professionally? Just because this is the easiest example, if I interact with a male coworker in a way that feels natural, am I somehow creating a gender dynamic that will disadvantage me? On the other hand, if I consciously fight this by altering my words and actions on a daily basis, am I losing myself?

The point I am trying to make with all of this rambling is that the more I see my identity as not just a “social construct” but a distracting construction project, the less I care about these problems. I am not a list of demographics or even a list of qualities; I am a person.  So acting differently towards a particular coworker so we are more effective and balanced as a team does not have to cause an identity crisis.

Now as I think about my career, I realize that it does not have to be determined by an imagined list of somehow inherent individual strengths, as people have told me throughout my life. I can always develop new skills if I work hard and use my intelligence. For example, even though I always thought of myself as a person who was bad with technology, once I stopped dwelling within that wall, it was much easier to learn the ins and outs of the computer programs that are central to my job. Actually, I am now a go-to person for that kind of work.

I think that most young Americans could be helped by understanding that we are more whole than the list of demographics, qualities, interests, experiences, and many other fragmented parts of life that we use to build our identities. We can get out of our own ways by not placing so much importance on these superficial things. Although that may do nothing to fight the loneliness of our independent young adult lives, it can help us forge a clearer and more productive path through at least the confusion of being “22.”

Debates About Activism: Tikkun’s Fall 2013 Issue

In my last blog post, I wrote about Tikkun’s Summer 2013 issue, which focused on immigration, and now it’s time to talk about the second issue I have worked on!

The Fall 2013 issue’s special section is titled: Identity Politics, Class Politics, Spiritual Politics: How Do We Build World-Transforming Coalitions? I have a love/hate relationship with this issue, because it gave me my first chance to do big-picture editing for content rather than sentence structure, grammar, and typos, but I also spent three full days creating shortened teaser versions of each article and reformatting them for the magazine’s webpage… really tedious work. Nonetheless, it is truly a great issue.

It has also had the effect of giving me new insights into my future (possible) career in journalism. Throughout, it gives detailed consideration to the best politics and strategies behind activism. It asks questions such as: Should activists use identity politics (an appeal to personal identities, such as race, gender, sexuality, etc.) to build support? How can this be done without creating divisions between groups, and really, can this be done? Or are all issues better addressed through the lens of class and a broader critique of global capitalism? And how can spiritual-based appeals to our common humanity create allies for activist movements and encourage personal responsibility for those who want to see a better world?

The issue as a whole doesn’t take a strong stance, besides suggesting that issues surrounding identity, class, and spirituality intertwine. Instead, it basically provides a forum for debate among various activists. They discuss their views on identity politics and its relationship to class, as well as their methods for building support through personal or humanistic (as Tikkun would say, spiritual) appeals.

Recently, I have started to consider what my possible “beat” as a journalist might be, after receiving this suggestion from my supervisor. Since I am an American Studies major, the obvious answer would be American society, particularly with regard to social justice issues. And now that I have heard all of these philosophies behind the strategies and politics of activism, I am definitely able to think about social justice movements in a more intelligent and analytical way. Further, I have learned about strategies for encouraging real debate in the media- debate that goes beyond the buzzword-filled, politically polarized discourse of forums such as NBC’s roundtable.

The best thing about this internship by far is the way it seamlessly gives me practical experience in magazine journalism and makes me deeply consider social issues in a way that informs my career planning and my personal thinking.

Thanks for reading! 

Summer 2013 Special Issue: Immigration

Tikkun has several regular sections, such as the Editorials, Politics & Society, Rethinking Religion, and Culture. In addition, most months, it has a special section focusing on one particular topic. For Summer 2013, that topic was immigration.

This was the first issue of the magazine I worked on, and reading the articles, I really began to grasp what Tikkun is all about. All of the writers had perspectives that most would classify as very progressive. They called for the elimination of borders and a complete end to deportation. And many used religious philosophies (Jewish and Evangelical Christian) to back up this argument.

Michael Lerner, a rabbi and one of the founders of Tikkun, opened the section with a strong critique of our current fixation on land ownership, backing it up with teachings from Leviticus, a chapter of the Torah. “The notion that we ‘own’ the land on which we live, foreign though this notion was to many indigenous cultures, seems so intuitive to people in modern, global, capitalist societies that it almost seems sacrilegious to question it. Yet that was precisely what the Torah and Jewish tradition set out to do over two thousand years ago,” wrote Lerner. He went on to explain that Leviticus commands the Jewish people not to plant anything on the land during a “Sabbatical year,” which would occur once every seven years. Anything that grew there naturally would be left available for the poor and homeless, while land owners would be expected to have food stored up in preparation. In turn, every seventh Sabbatical year would be considered a “Jubilee year,” after which all of the land would be divided into equal portions and distributed among the people.

Can you imagine if this were to take place in our current society? If every 49 years, we redistributed all of our land? This may be one of the most extreme political arguments I have ever heard. I can just imagine what my grandparents would say if somebody told them that after working hard to develop their cattle farm for decades, they wouldn’t be able to leave it as a safe place for their children and grandchildren. The idea goes against not only our personal greed, but also our desire to have the ability to build up resources for our descendants. As Rabbi Lerner wrote, it seems almost sacreligious.

Yet that is precisely what I love about Tikkun. It doesn’t merely call for small changes to our existing institutions, our existing culture. It seeks the best possible answer, no matter how controversial. This appeals to my most idealistic side. In fact, that is exactly what Tikkun aims to do– get cynicism out of the way in order to make real changes.

The truth is, if it were the custom in our society to redistribute land every 49 years, my grandparents wouldn’t have the same conviction that they own their land. Moreover, their longing to leave a safe place for their family to stay in case of personal crisis, impoverishment, giant collapse of our unsustainable society, what have you, would be much less necessary. We would already be able to count on having a fair portion of the land. And certainly this system would force us to live in a more communal, compassionate way with our neighbors instead of hiding behind fences and land deeds. We wouldn’t need my grandparents to be protecting us from their graves– we would have a strong, living community to take care of that.

One of the most mind-boggling statements I read in this issue was that open borders were good for the economy. In her article “The New Abolitionism: The Struggle to End Deportation,” Jacqueline Stevens wrote, “Mainstream economists agree that free movement results in a net increase in employment, and in turn to increased government revenues; in other words, immigration is a boon and not a drain on productivity for the private economy and for government coffers.” My first thought upon reading this: How can free movement result in increased employment? If there were a giant influx of people from all over the world to the U.S., wouldn’t there be increased competition and reduced employment for Americans? Only then did I realize that she wasn’t just talking about Americans. She meant a net increase in employment for all of the world’s citizens.

Why should I care more about a stranger in California than a stranger in Mexico? When I think about it, that goes against all of my morals. But these nationalistic ideologies are so deeply ingrained into us that we rarely question them or even think about them at all. I am so happy to be working at an internship this summer that not only teaches me real-world skills of editing, copyediting, and manipulating the computer programs that are so important to journalism these days, but also makes me question my thinking on a daily basis, pushing me to be my best (and yes, most idealistic) self.

Tikkun: Philosophy

Having started to get the hang of my new print editorial internship at Tikkun Magazine in Berkeley, CA, I guess it is time to write my long-overdue first blog post!

This internship I found over the internet at bookjobs.com. Although I am from Virginia, it seemed like a good enough opportunity to be worth checking out a new area. I was mostly drawn in by Tikkun’s policy of getting interns involved with magazine production beyond basic clerical and office tasks, their small staff (yet high production values), and their philosophy.

To give you the basic idea of Tikkun’s philosophy, I’ve included exerpts from the About Us section on their website (http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/about).

“Tikkun is a magazine dedicated to healing and transforming the world…. We build bridges between religious and secular progressives by delivering a forceful critique of all forms of exploitation, oppression, and domination while nurturing an interfaith vision of a caring society — one whose institutions are reconstructed on the basis of love, generosity, nonviolence, social justice, caring for nature, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe….Tikkun brings together progressive Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, secular humanist, and agnostic/atheist voices to talk about social transformation and strategies for political and economic democratization. These authors discuss the best ways to support the evolution of consciousness needed to save our planet from environmental destruction and from the perversion of human relations generated by the globalization of selfishness and materialism popularly known as capitalist globalization. In this way, Tikkun creates space for the emergence of a Religious Left that can not only counter the power of the Religious Right, but can also cross certain Left/Right boundaries by speaking to the deepest needs of human beings—needs that are obscured by the “values-free” education and media discourse that predominates in contemporary Western societies….while the traditional Left primarily focuses on the ways our society is unfair in its distribution of economic well-being and political rights (both domestically and globally), many Americans face equally pressing spiritual, love, and respect deprivations, which are too often ignored by the liberal and progressive world. By failing to address the hunger for love, kindness, generosity of spirit, and a framework of meaning and purpose that transcends the selfishness and materialism of the competitive marketplace, the Left often makes itself irrelevant to the yearnings of many Americans. Tikkun began in 1986 in part to address this hunger for love and meaning…pushing back against neoconservatism in the Jewish world and U.S. politics, with strong coverage and analysis of issues related to Israel/Palestine, the politics of the U.S. social theory, philosophy, and cultural critique, as well as including fiction, poetry and reviews of books and film. It became world-famous as the first serious Jewish intellectual and cultural magazine to systematically critique the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and to challenge the materialism and spiritual deadness that a new generation of Jews were experiencing in many of the formal institutions of the Jewish world….we helped provide the intellectual foundation for the emergence of a rich array of social justice-oriented organizations in the Jewish world and of organizations critical of Israeli policy toward Palestinians yet supportive of Israel’s right to exist.”

This philosophy struck a certain chord with me, because I am politically liberal, but I grew up in a fairly conservative, heavily Christian part of rural Virginia. I definitely noticed throughout my lifetime that conservatives with whom I had political arguments often used the Bible to back up their views. That would not be a problem for me because I understand that the way these people interpret the Bible is a huge part of their basic life philosophy, but it did bother me that they often got on a high horse with me about ethical/religious issues, as though I were automatically godless as a liberal. In fact, I was also raised Christian and tend to make political decisions with (my interpretation of) Christian ethics in mind. For that reason, I immediately appreciated Tikkun’s validation of the spirituality in progressive politics when I first read about their philosophy.

However, as the time came nigh for me to move to Berkeley, I began to feel apprehensive about Tikkun’s vision. I did spend the majority of my life in a small town in southern Virginia. I have a natural tendency to be skeptical of anything that sounds too out there. Anything described as “anti-capitalist” (aka…COMMIE!).  Definitely anything that includes the word “spiritual.” I felt awkward telling friends and family about the magazine’s philosophy, because I knew they would have the same gut reaction as me. Although I continued to have positive hopes for the internship, I was a little worried that I might show up to find a bunch of bead-laden, incense-drenched people who judged me heavily for shopping at Walmart and were way too open on a daily basis about their innermost feelings.

While I can’t change my gut reaction to some things, I have found the staff at Tikkun and the articles published to be very kind, reasonable, and intelligent. None of the other interns or staff make me want to run in the other direction as fast as I can. Actually, they all seem like clean, coherent, relatable individuals. And most of the articles are written by activists or professors who have a strong base of knowledge about a particular subject, which makes the articles interesting and worth reading. Considering that I have been reading each roughly five times during the editing process, that is incredibly important!

So far I have been working on the summer and fall issues of the magazine. Both have special sections, which focus on immigration policy and the relationships between identity, class, and spiritual politics, respectively. More about these topics in my next post, and thanks for reading!