Recent travels and my arrival in Syracuse

In the past week, I have traveled over a thousand miles, through five states, and into Canada and back again. But now I am at last in Syracuse, where I will remain for the next 3 months as an intern at the Syracuse University Library. However, I don’t start until July 7th, which is more than a week from today.
The Northeastern states have always been a “here there be dragons” sort of place on my personal life-experience map. Oh sure, I’ve been to NYC a couple of times, but except for a 5-week stay in Cincinnati, I’ve never lived anywhere that was both east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line. I’ve lived in Texas, Oklahoma, Guam (when I was a baby), Minnesota, Washington (the state, not the capitol), and Illinois. I’ve had brief stays in Sarasota, Florida, Cincinnati, Portland (Oregon), and my parents live in South Carolina so I go there a couple of times a year. So my past experience in the Northeast has been only as a tourist.

Syracuse is very different from Chicago in more than a couple of ways. I live at the top of a giant hill – the kind of hill that you can’t help but almost fall down as you’re walking because it is so steep. There are no hills in Chicago, and I have come to the realization that I may lose about 5-10 pounds just by virtue of living here and having to walk up and down all these dang hills. It’s also so much quieter than Chicago – there’s a delightful dearth of police sirens, horns honking and loud teenagers.

Next, there’s the trees! Lots of trees here and in this general upstate area. I drove to Canada last week to visit a friend, and the entire time I was surrounded by trees and forest, which was basically the opposite of my drive from Chicago which was mostly flat Midwestern fields. The sky was full of storm clouds too, which gave everything a nice dramatic touch and made me feel like I was in a horror movie’s opening credits (like when the main characters are driving up to the scenic and secluded cabin in the woods).

Finally, there’s the houses. I have yet to see a one-story house in this town. Most of the houses are wooden or have wood-siding, which is in contrast to Chicago’s brick-heavy architecture. And the porches! So many porches abound, one of which I’m enjoying right now. The house I’m living in was built in the 1920’s, and I love every inch of it. Everything is made of solid wood, with little nooks and crannies and mysterious doors with crystal doorknobs everywhere.

I plan to spend this week exploring Syracuse and getting lost in order to learn my way around. In my experience I get to know a city faster if I just give myself permission to get lost and then work to find my way back home. So far I’ve got both my Wegmans card and my Price Chopper card, and I’ve located one of the asian grocery stores in town. Next I need to locate a source for some good local beer and find the best thrift store. Sometime soon I plan to visit the Corning Museum of Glass, which has been recommended by both a friend and my Pure Seaglass book.

State of the Suzy Address (or how I spent my summer vacation and autumn unemployment)

Hello dear reader(s)!

Yes, the rumors of my demise were but mere fabrications. Long story short, I’m still living in Chicago – my wonderful internship at the Northwestern University Library ended back in August, I promptly went on a week-long California vacation, and then I moved to a new apartment the day after I returned from vacation. Note to self: Don’t move the day after you get back from vacation, is bad.

I spent the last month and a half unpacking boxes, whipping the apartment decor into shape, building up my little workshop/studio, reading “Y the Last Man”, catching up on 30 Rock and Mad Men, terrorizing the squirrels that keep trying to dig up our balcony garden, and generally being one of the millions of unemployed. I am aware that I have proverbially shot myself in the foot for wanting to stay in Chicago (instead of moving to “wherever the job is”, as they say) but even in a city as big and culturally-instituted as Chicago, the pickings have been slim. Fortunately, I’ve managed to pick up some work here and there – such as working on someone’s private archival collection and teaching a virtual class on online portfolios for a group of undergrad conservation students at Winterthur.

I have come to realize, though, that there is a need for some kind of business training in any kind of fine-arts (i.e. conservation) education. I know there’s the CIPP group of AIC, but in school we were discouraged from going into private practice at the start of our careers. While I still think it’s not the greatest move to go into private practice as your first job (post-internship), but in this economic climate I feel that it’s prudent for me to branch out and look for what freelance work I can get. Certainly, I know my limits, both in terms of skills and what materials and equipment I have access to: I have no washing sink, no board shear, no bookpress, no fume hood – so I’m not about to start taking on projects that are more than I can handle. But I have other skills that I can market – my ability to design and edit webpages with HTML and CSS, my Photoshop skills, the fact that I went to Library School and have an MSIS degree. Still, we weren’t offered any classes in small-business skills, such as the basics of how to write up a legally-sound contract, how to choose your rate, how to estimate how long a project will take, how to protect yourself from liability and how to file your taxes as a freelancer.

I’m sure there’s a plethora of books about all these topics, but certainly none from a conservator’s or archivist’s perspective (if there is, please let me know and I’ll buy it in a heartbeat!) – but I’m starting to think that teaching new conservators about good business sense is a lot like teaching sex-education to teenagers (stay with me, now!). Showing someone how to protect themselves and practice safe sex does not mean you’re encouraging them to become sexually active before they’re ready, or even condoning sex at all – rather, they will be prepared and thus, safe, when that day inevitably comes. It’s a lot better to have the information before-hand than to try and learn it as you go, and make some possibly life/career-threatening mistakes. I’d love to know if there are any conservation programs that provide classes on the business skills necessary for going into private practice. Maybe my experience in the UT program was different because of the Library School aspect (there’s not a lot of freelance librarians, methinks).

ANYWAY, I will end this wordy post with a picture of me pretending to be a Chicago-style hotdog. If you go to the Chicago History Museum, you too can be a hot dog!

Hot dog!