Wednesday, September 27, 2006

This is how I feel

This is how I feel.

I wish I could write a self-mocking post in which I parodied myself, made fun of the fact that I care about this at all. But I can't. I tell the truth, and the truth is that I'm upset- no, I'm pretty angry, which goes further than upset- about this.

As you may know, there are two newspapers published at Yeshiva University. One of them is pretty famous, The Commentator. The other one, The Observer, is not often read at all. As a result, The Observer wants controversy. Give us blood! Give us guts! Give us vim and venom, and we shall be happy.

Well, I can do controversy very well. But I don't do contoversy simply to stir-up shark-infested waters. I do it when I feel it's necessary, when I feel like I am telling the truth.

And honestly, the first article I wanted to write was going to be a highly angry, irritated one.

Except that my parents really didn't want me to start out that way, and preferred that the first article I wrote be nice. Polite. Kind. Just so I could start off on the right foot.

And since at the point in time when I wrote the article, nothing of great import had occurred (read- this was before the Darfur Rally, the Israel Rally, the Organ Donor Conference, etc,) I picked the first topic that came to mind- the first one that had any sort of impact on me. And I knew when I submitted it that it might not be okay, it might not be news-worthy, because it really wasn't news so much as an observation, something I thought and felt, an editorial type of piece. Perhaps it really didn't and doesn't belong in the newspaper.

But don't I deserve to be told it doesn't belong there?

Oughtn't I to be informed that the article was refused, cut, and so on and so forth? Firstly, because by that time things of import HAD occurred, and there's a pretty good chance I could have written some interesting things about the speeches and events I had attended which were news-worthy, and secondly so I wouldn't feel like a humiliated idiot, the way I do now.

Not that I went around telling the whole WORLD I was going to be published in the newspaper, but sure, I was pretty happy and did tell some people to expect a simple article from me.

And now I feel, as you can tell, humiliated. Embarrassed. And when I'm embarrassed, of course, I get angry as opposed to feeling contrite.

Now supposedly the chief editor informed the opinions editor that my article wasn't good. But she never followed up to make sure I was told, and she didn't CC me on the email. So I got the shock of my life when The Observer came out and I realized that all my friends and companions had published articles...while mine did not exist.

Now, I freely admit in retrospect that my article was really NOT an article. It wasn't about a news-worthy topic. It may not have belonged in a newspaper. I RESPECT THAT. But I also want to be TOLD about this in advance! I don't want to be made to feel like a bumbling incompetent idiot who can't even write well enough to be published by the no-good newspaper.

Nobody likes feeling inadequate, and I like it least of anyone. But this isn't even inadequacy....this is shame. Because I'm the one who is supposed to be good at English. Who is supposed to be good at this. And yet my article? Doesn't make it in.

Yeah, I'm not feeling too happy right now. I actually feel pretty lousy.

Here, by the way, is the article. And by the way? I really meant it when I wrote it. I still mean it. I don't write things to be a cutesy-nice good Jew. I write them because I think they're true. And I am willing to accept that this piece doesn't belong in the newspaper. It's not even really written in a journalistic style. Well, what do I know? This is my first time here! Just please, do me the favor of telling me first. So I'm not embarrassed in public. Like I am now.


The Invisible People
By Chana

There are people we ignore as we pass by, preoccupied with our schedules, our lives, the newest events taking place and affecting our loved ones. We do not ignore them out of malice, but simply because we cannot take the time to notice them, bogged down with work and exams the way we are. They are people we see everyday, people we might think of momentarily as we dance through our day, but they are not people we truly consider.

We do not consider their lives, their ideas, their philosophies, what it is that makes them special or makes them important. We do not even really see them; for all we know, they are wholly invisible. And this is sad, because these people are special, and we spend much of the day in their company.

These are the cafeteria workers.

Three meals a day (or contrived snacks, instead, for when one has no time). Three stops as we pass by these men and women, looking at them for a moment as we request our food, sometimes making faces at it or commenting upon its odd or intriguing appearance. We try to cajole them into giving us what we want; two sides of rice instead of the green beans, an extra fish patty instead of rice. We may joke with them for a moment but we promptly forget them, dancing along to our classes, chattering on our cell-phones, wandering about aimlessly in search of people we know so that we will not sit alone in the cafeteria.

What makes these people important to me? Why do I notice them? It is in their faces, their calm demeanor as frightening crowds of people rush against them, pushing against glass windows to stare at the contents concealed within. They have spoken to me, wished me a good day and told me that since I am sweet, they will be sweet with me. They have thanked me. They have acted as people in every sense of the world, people who are funny and sincere and fabulous, and yet, somehow, the majority of us treat them as living machines.

As I have previously mentioned, it is not done out of malice. I do not believe that those assembled here are cruel, and ignore our cafeteria personnel out of some snobbish sense of self-righteousness. It is simply because we want our food, and we are irritated when it does not come as it should come. We are upset when the sleeves for the hot cocoa or coffee are missing and we burn our fingers, annoyed when we run out of ketchup, tap our feet impatiently when there is no more ice.

And yet who do we think sets up this cafeteria for us? Little gnomes or elves who dash about in the mornings to make it pretty? There are people, real people, spending their time putting out forks so that there will be enough for all of us. Did you ever consider how many forks students use per one day? After two meals or so, everything has to be replaced. Continously replaced.

There are so many aspects to the cafeteria. In many ways, it is the main cultural center, the meeting-place, where we bump into friends, acquaintances, perhaps enemies, where we read signs posted merrily on walls in attempts to locate books we’d like to buy or events we’d like to attend. We stop by multicolored sprinkled cupcakes and hear about various clubs. Food and talk, this is the cafeteria, with the occasional reader or homework-doer sitting quietly as well.

But who is it that prepares our food? That serves it to us, listening to our complicated requests? Who replaces forks, knives, spoons, sets out sandwiches and yogurt each morning? Who pours the soup into the tureens, prepares the scrambled eggs, sits patiently at the register and swipes our cards? Who sees us at our best and worst, smiling as we thank them for our lunch or scowling fiercely as we yell at an unseen-person on the phone? The cafeteria workers have seen us at our best and worst, at our most insensitive and our most grateful. They bear silent witness to all that we are, and also what we are not.

How many of us wish them a good morning? Do we inquire after their health? Are they satisfied here? Are they happy with us? Not all of them are. For example, one worker stated that it is unfair that students treat them as though they are waiters and waitresses. If this were a restaurant, the waiters would indeed clean up after the students. Not so in college. “Your mother doesn’t work here,” a sign at Great Chicago, a hometown restaurant, used to say, “so clean up after yourself.” It is appalling to see the strewn cups, Styrofoam containers and condiments, lying scattered about tablecloths when there are about ten garbage containers specifically set aside for those contents. How hard is it for a student to pick up her Styrofoam bowl and throw it in the trashcan on her way out?

But we prioritize. We’re in a rush, or perhaps we assume the workers have nothing better to do than act as servants, hanging on our every beck and call. After all, we rationalize, they’ll have to clean up the tablecloths anyway. Who cares if I leave my mess everywhere? The fact is, they do, because you create large and unnecessary amounts of work for them when all they want to do, like us, is return home and conclude the end to a very long day.

So appreciate the cafeteria workers. Appreciate them for the insights they doubtless have about us, about our characters, about who we are and what we are. They know us very well, for they see us each day, three times a day. Do you notice them? Do you say hello? If you did, perhaps you might come to know them, too. You might come to realize the beautiful, wonderful job they do; the kindness that they have. The workers I have seen never fail to wish me a good day, to smile at me, even to tease me and claim that they’ll call my parents because I’m not eating my vegetables. These are people, people with a sense of humor, of justice, of values, real people who are just as good- if not better- than we are.

They are beautiful, beautiful people. And I thank them so much for all that they do, for their smiles, their buoyant comments, the way they are able to impact my day so positively…without even trying.


Fern R said...

I read your blog often, but don't usually comment, so I hope you don't mind me throwing in my two cents...

How does the submission process work for the The Observer? Is it their policy to notify everyone who submits an article as to whether their article will be published? From what I can tell of most newspapers, they don't usually notify an author unless they plan on publishing his or her article.

For what it's worth, I like your essay. I read the first two paragraphs thinking you were going to identify the invisible person as someone predictable, but I didn't expect you to name cafeteria workers. It probably would make those workers' day to read your essay. Maybe you could anonymously leave it someplace where they are sure to see it? So long as the cafeteria workers are able to read it, then the purpose behind writing the article is just as well served as if it had been published, right?

Anonymous said...

That sucks! I don't blame you for being upset. Even if the article didn't belong, they should have at least had the common decency to let you know.

Well, if it makes you feel any better, I submitted a cartoon for the first issue of this year's Commie. Arts & Culture editor loved it and gave it to the Editor in Chief, and guess what... my cartoon was nowhere to be found. The only cartoon in the issue was a boring picture of a rubiks cube that really had nothing to do with anything. Of course, they didn't tell me... nor did they tell said A&C editor. He anicipated my cartoon's being published as much as I did.

Yeesh. Some nerve. Do cheer up, this sort of thing isn't worth dwelling on.

Mike Miller said...

As far as your article goes: zeiyur gut gezukt!

As far as your comments go... just a few notes.

Newspapers, of course, are about one thing: readership. In the case of a commercial paper, that means advertising dollars; in the case of a paper like the Commentator (perhaps a key shift was Adam Moses' (in)famous "Deconstructing Haredi" editorial) or the Observer, that means ego, power, and a reputation for the editors.

No one picks up either paper for the news; the news is usually simply a filler to allow for provocative (thoughtful?) editorials and letters. (Yes, it's true that it can be an official source of news, but by the time it's published, it's more olds than news). Thus, an essay, no matter how well written, no matter how insightful, no matter how true, is not going be popular unless it's critical, passionate, inciteful, or otherwise aggressive.

Were you to have written a "how dare you behave this way" attack on your fellow students, I suspect it would have been more well received. Is this proper? No, not necessarily.

In my time in YU, I never wrote anything for or to the paper. During my longer stay at Rutgers, I sent in letters fairly often. The Rutgers paper (the Daily Targum) was usually fairly good about notifying letter writers if their letter would not be published once you were known to them. First time writers rarely heard back, either positively or negatively. I don't know their policy for (guest) columnists, however.

Please forgive me if this comes off as patronizing, but from what I've read of your writings, you're a better person than the average college newspaper writer, at least that I remember. Don't change your standards just to be published.

Anonymous said...

Just some thoughts:
Of course you are a great writer but everyone gets rejected sometime. Fixating on the "but they didn't tell me" seems a bit whiny. Perhaps a college paper could be mored mannered but no newspaper or magazine I have submitted to has ever officially said, "Sorry but no thank you" About the piece- it is fine but why do you suggest that noone but you is a kind, giving, observant person? As a Stern Alum and one connected to dozens of present and former students- I can tell you that we knew the cafeteria workers by name, smiled, said please and thank you, wished them good days and good holidays and even asked after their children. It is irritating (to me and perhaps only me) that you appear to elevate yourself above everyone else in terms of being a good guy. Good luck being published next time!

Chana said...

It really wasn't meant to connote that no one but me is a kind, giving person. Not at all. Really not my intent. I think I even stated that this doesn't apply to everyone. I'd have to go reread.

To Stern Alum, and all the others like you- you rock. You go girl. Maybe I didn't make that clear enough.

As for whining, to whomever commented about that- YES, I AM COMPLAINING. I get to complain. Someone ought to tell me that I won't be in this issue so I know how to write/ what to write about for the next one! And yes, that is standard policy.

Fern- Yeah, I could try to anonymously leave it. I might just try leaving a thank-you note, though. :) And thanks for the comment.

And Taz- thanks. :)

jewish philosopher said...

It might have been published if you said the cafeteria workers were creeps. But who wants to become famous at others expense?

Anonymous said...

Pearl of wisdom imparted to me by one of my parents time and again:

"Never assume people will get back to you, always follow up yourself."

People often forget, don't know or don't care to keep others in the loop.

Don't let it get to you, but more importantly don't let it change you.

nitpicker said...

I agree that this is a nice article, but it might come across as somewhat overused. Something more controversial is more newsworthy.

I have read some of your earlier posts and they clearly trump this.

Don't give up. How about an article on why you chose Stern over UOC?

As for the nitpick, I think your grammar is off somewhat. Leave out the word "one".

"Did you ever consider how many forks students use per one day?"

Lab Rab said...

Hey Chana,

Your beef isn't with the establishment THE OBSERVER - it's with the opinions editor. May I suggest that you set up an opportunity to meet with her over lunch in said cafeteria, express to her your eagerness to write, and ask her what she's looking for in an opinions piece. To work effectively with somebody you have to get to know him/her first.

Back in the day I was the opinions editor for the Commie. I raised plenty of controversy with my own essays and published many others of that grain. The students that had first priority were always the ones that the editors knew and respected. You just have to make yourself a bit less anonymous.

Anonymous said...

First of all, you're a real mensch, and your neshama is full of what Judaism is really about. Don't worry about small norishkeit like whether they published your article or not. I know it may be hard for you to accept, but take it from someone who's older than you: what really counts is the quality of your feelings and actions.

You should read the short stories of the Peruvian writer, Julio Ramon Ribeyro. Many of his stories are collected in four volumes entitled 'La Palabra del mudo' (roughly translated as 'the voice of those who can't speak'), which deal with 'invisible people', such as the cafeteria workers you wrote about. Unfortunately, even though he is one of Latin America's great writers, much of his work hasn't been translated into English. There is one volume, however, of fifteen of his stories that has been translated. It's entitled, Marginal Voices: Selected Stories.

Just know that, for the feelings and thoughts you express, you have the respect and affection of many people.

PsychoToddler said...

You should definitely just talk to the opinions editor and ask her what happened. I'm sure she'd be willing to explain it to you.

It's always better to talk directly to someone and avoid a lot of misunderstanding and build up of resentment.

I'm pretty sure she would be interested in having you submit articles.

Chana said...

The Opinions Editor is wholly blameless! No worries! And I did talk to her. :) All shall be well.

Ezzie said...

Ah, this is why I liked the Lander Chronicle. They had to beg people to write, which meant that they always begged me, knowing I could write something fairly quickly of half-decent quality. It also means everything I wrote got in. :) (Lower standards are great!) But in all seriousness, I agree with the person who said not to sacrifice your standards to get published. I didn't mind writing at a low level to help out a "paper" that would never really be read, but that's quite a bit different. And since I'm spacey right now and this comment is stopping to make sense...

Anonymous said...

Its a nice thought, but it comes off as way too patronizing and demeaning. The overprivileged Jewish girl taking time to acknowledge the lowly help.

SJ said...

A few comments...

a) People do read The Observer! My roommates and I read it every time it comes out, and we always discuss the articles in it. Just the other day we were talking about how writing fot the paper is probably the best way to get your voice heard at Stern.

b) You are clearly a much better writer than most of the people who write for The Observer. I have no doubt that you will soon be a regular and well-respected columnist--just make sure to clear your topic with the editors next time.

c) Your article was well-written (of course) and made some good points, but it was a little too long, IMHO. Maybe The Observer would run a shortened version of it in a future edition of the paper? It's worth asking. Also, I agree with the commenter who said that many students DO acknowledge the cafeteria workers...though probably not as much as we should.