Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, “The Questions” in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
JP: I write a lot, I edit, I take photos, I help maintain the college’s website, I answer lots of phone calls and send many e-mails. And I sometimes eat lunch.
Comment: What first drew you to this work?
JP: I’d be hard-pressed to find something that didn’t draw me to the job. Geneva College is in Beaver Falls, where I now live. I love the city and its people. I earned my bachelor’s degree in writing from the college too. I love the institution and the staff, faculty and student body. That the job revolves heavily around the written word almost seems like a bonus, given the other drawing points.
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
JP: My co-workers have become mentors in several respects. There were several times during my first few months in the office that—after a misstep or mistake—they would give advice or guidance. And it was always given with humour, skill, and grace.
Comment: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
JP: “Trust God.”
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
JP: I’m inspired by a seemingly endless number of sources. Primarily my inspiration comes from God, His Son, His Word and His creation. I’m also constantly inspired by the people around me, be it friends and co-workers, students or strangers that come into the office. I also take a great deal of day-to-day inspiration from authors and lyricists that make me want to write better: Flannery O’Connor, Jeffrey Overstreet, Pierce Pettis, Frederick Buechner and Marilynne Robinson.
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
JP: I try to get up early enough to make breakfast, read from the Bible, and write for fun (I’m slowly plodding through the rough draft of a novel). I always make sure to get coffee before I head into the office—not out of addiction, but because I enjoy my local coffee shop (Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Co.) something fierce. I then sort through all of the work e-mail I’ve accumulated since I last left the office, check voice mail messages, and then prioritize my work load. I try to run and get our office’s mail a little after noon—it’s a good way to get up and move around a bit after sitting for so long. I also “space the day out” in terms of CDs. I’ll bring several albums that I know I’ll listen to during the work day.
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
JP: I’m always using the following: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, Microsoft Word, The Associated Press Stylebook, the office’s Nikon D100 camera and—more than anything—a collection of red and black pens.
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
JP: Our college decided to participate in a national database for higher education institutions. A small, eclectic group of staff—including me—were to come up with statistics and information for the website in short order. My job was to work on various charts that would eventually be displayed on our website. I managed to figure out quickly how to make graphs and charts with a particular computer program and start churning them out. We worked well together and got a lot accomplished in a small period of time. I was challenged in the process, and I had a lot of fun.
Comment: How do you plan your work?
JP: I’ve developed a fairly unique system to plan the different jobs I tackle. The complication mainly comes from being a scatterbrain, however. I make sure to work tightly with the student interns in our office, though. They’re invaluable.
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
JP: The connections are seemingly endless. I feel like I’ve become a better writer. The deadlines and various constraints have helped me to rethink how I choose words. I’m also seeing little things pop up—for instance, having to constantly organize and multitask at work has reflected on countless areas of my life. The community has strengthened friendships and made me feel more welcome. Working in the college environment has also led me to realize how much I enjoy higher education; I’m now teaching book discussions regularly, and I plan on earning my master’s degree soon so I could possibly teach a few classes within the next few years. Finally, I’m slowly taking over the bulk of the design and proofreading duties for culture.ish., the publication I co-edit—this probably wouldn’t have come about without the experience I’ve acquired with the design programs I use for the college’s PR department (InDesign, Photoshop, and so on).