Friday, November 30, 2012

profiling lives

When I started work this summer on the two eBooks I wrote for Publishing 101's Careers series, I had to interview and profile a number of different people in each of the two careers I chose.  I had a routine all worked out for this, most of which consisted of a nervous stomach and semi-suicidal thoughts for the whole day before the interview, every time. Once I got on the phone, though, I was surprised by the experience.

First, I calmed down and relaxed by about five minutes into the conversation. Every time. [Except maybe for the first time. Which I wrote about here.] You'd think that would make things easier on subsequent attempts, but alas.

And second, I sort of fell in love.

Every time.

You can hear it in the recordings I made of each interview. I'm like a fourteen year old goo-gooing into the phone while writing a boy's name over and over on my Pee Chee folder.

The aim of the career eBooks series is to help people research, choose and move toward a profession, and the profiles are mainly intended to give a well-rounded sense of the job. But careers often define us. While I interviewed these people, I wasn’t just learning what it’s like to be an accountant or a glazier [that’s a glass-worker, someone who installs windows]. I was being given the distilled story of a person’s life. Every time. When you’re given so much of someone’s life, how can you not fall in love a little?

With the longtime journeyman glazier musing on the days before safety regulations: "Used to be a lot of the old timers were missing a finger or something. It’s so long ago that I don’t even think twice about it now, but when I first got into the trade, the first time I was holding a twelve foot long piece of glass, well, I was kind of a little nervous."

With the young glazier who described her trip to Wisconsin to represent her union during the fight for collective bargaining rights last year: “I have goose bumps right now, telling you this. I used to joke that I should have been born in an earlier time — to experience the sixties, with all the war going on, the protests — I always felt that was such a big moment in our recent history. Now I realize I do belong here.”

With the apprentice accountant who didn't like to see tax season come to an end: “You’ve just had four months where you’re crazy, coming into the office all day, every day and working your butt off to get it done. And then the day after, you walk into the office, and there’s nothing to do. That’s what I hate the most. The day after tax season.”

With the CPA who, as a child, probably could have seen his career choice coming a mile away: "I have a picture of me when I was six years old, and I’ve got a pocket protector with pencils in it."

 My subjects were ambitious entrepreneurs or starstruck dreamers or hitchhiking hippies. They were confident and expansive or cautious and abrupt or merry and nostalgic or cocky and naive. I fell in love with them all. I was gathering details for a book on what it is to be an accountant or what it is to be a glazier, but it surprised me how easily it turned into what it is to be human.


By the way, if you want to, you can check out my eBooks here:

Glaziers: Stories From People Who've Done It
Accountants: Stories From People Who've Done It

Or on the eBooks page on my website here.

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