A Day at National Geographic Learning

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I never anticipated a career in publishing. I was all set to focus my job hunt on the Hawaiian Islands when a posting for National Geographic Learning popped up on LinkedIn. The D.C.-based position required the artistry to wear 50 hats for the dauntingly complicated and lengthy publishing process and an ability to withstand copious amounts of coffee while networking. I started researching the NGL publishing sphere and was subsequently funneled into a universe I never knew existed. It was almost as if I’d stumbled upon this immensely complex puzzle that I didn’t even know how to take out of the box. It was a puzzle I intended to solve.

Six months later and I’m starting to wrap my head around what I actually do. Because each day is so different, I find it challenging to explain. Rather than regurgitate a disjointed summary, let me walk you through a day in the life…

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

I let out a sigh while I drop my tote to the floor and sink deep into my swivel chair. I don’t know how it’s possible, but my tote is getting heavier every day. Maybe it’s the oceanography textbook I’ve started taking home at night. More likely, it’s the dense leftover pasta I packed for lunch.

8:55am. I log into WebEx. Today I’ll be training media researchers and editorial assistants from the UK, India, the UAE, and Singapore on using the National Geographic photo database. I begin my introduction and dive right in, but it’s a large and tricky audience to read. I’m receiving little feedback, so I breeze through penguin workboxes and Mars graphics, worrying that I’ve lulled the entire group to sleep.

I end the eerily quiet training and glance at my wristwatch: 9:45. Aha! I still have time to make it to National Geographic’s campus for the 10:30am matinee. I grab my MacBook and soak in the early spring sunshine as I trot over to 17th Street. Today, an aquanaut is giving a talk on ocean engineering. SO COOL. I want to be an aquanaut. Too bad I nearly failed basic calculus twice.

My colleague and I wait for the aquanaut ‘Under the Stars’ in the M Street lobby after her talk. The three of us head to City Place Café for lunch and chat about areas for potential collaboration in our book programs while we make messes of our greasy paninis (dense pasta is a no-go). Who wouldn’t want to read about what it’s like to live underwater? We also chat about eagle rays, Greenland sharks, and how French cheese becomes even smellier at 2.5 atmospheres underwater.

Before parting ways with the aquanaut, we stop for coffee at Peet’s and feel collectively guilty about forgetting our reusable coffee cups. Single-use plastics and all. We sip our coffees in shame.

My colleague and I leave campus and head back to the bigger office space in DuPont. A new intern will be arriving soon so we’re brainstorming intern tasks as we swerve past aggressive cars and even more aggressive tourists. The fresh air and caffeine take hold and I’m re-energized for a long afternoon of asset clearances, contracts, and emails.

Back at the office, I start brainstorming how we can ‘opt-in’ two photographers who contributed to the NG Magazine’s April issue on race through our preferred content licensing agreement. Our media researcher wants to use the assignment photographs in an English Language Teaching book series. Time to write.

A few minutes later and I’m distracted. There’s a cool NG video circulating about a Japanese puffer fish – I’m mesmerized for 3 minutes. I subsequently discuss having a documentary showcase with the office downstairs and plug Chasing Coral as the preferred selection. I shall plug it to you now. This is that plug.

The rest of my day is a blur. I reserve a spot at the Nat Geo Nights happy hour next Thursday to meet with one of the archaeologists who’ll be in town. I look into the contracts and clear some of the National Geographic texts and graphics that my project teams have asked about permissioning. I send the more complicated texts to the Society for additional clearance. I email and I swivel and I write post-its.

Eventually, my dense pasta calls and I must go.

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47 Seconds

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Miles waits patiently for affection

Nine adults in varying shades of black, navy, gray suits queue up outside the elevator with sharp-cornered, leather briefcases. Security badges are tucked neatly into tailored suit pockets. Eight of my fellow elevator-riders sport headphones, but only five have both earbuds in to fully deafen the ambient noise of shoe shuffling. All of us have dark circles around our sleep-filled eyes.

Makeup has evaded my morning routine. I’m wearing the same black jeans and Sperrys I wore yesterday. And the day before that. How many days is one day too many? Luckily my office has ping pong, a beer keg, a pup named Miles, and an abundance of tech gurus in jeans and hoodies. Not the typical D.C. crowd. I’ve found a good tribe.

The elevator takes approximately 47 seconds, but I guess it depends on how fast you count. I tend to count faster than your average second. Today I noticed 12 mini red lights which make up the down arrow. The elevator’s ceiling desperately needs a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. I try not to make awkward eye contact and tuck in my limbs to guard any semblance of personal space.

47 seconds later and I’m dodging people left and right to reserve my allotted tile by the 7th car’s third door. Despite my well-placed location, there will always be some mindless guy bounding down the escalator at the last second. He will undoubtedly jump in front of those of us patiently waiting for the doors to open so he can claim his precious territory in the only available seat. Every day.

Welcome to morning commute. The day will improve in 17 minutes. Take a breath and mind the gap.

Reflections on a Facebook Fast

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My new photo inspiration: work!

February 14th: Deactivate

I hover over the deactivate button as I prepare to slip silently off the grid. “But so and so will miss you! Do you want to send them a goodbye message?” Ehhh, I don’t think I’ve talked to that person in what, 9 years? Another hour passes while I download my archive. Just in case. No need to post about my absence – all the cool kids know where to find me.

February 16th: The Philosopher

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If I’m doing something interesting and no one is around to see it, did I really do it? Am I relevant in the 21st Century? Who am I? HAS ANYONE NOTICED MY ABSENCE??

February 18th: Phone Call to Mom

Me: Hey Ma, I am a liberated woman! Smooth sailing off the grid. Mom: Oh, it’s weird not having you on! It’s like you’re not even a person anymore. Me: This is true. You have to send me all your pictures in a text now.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

February 20th: Business State of Mind

Doop da doop. What to scroll through this morning? Aha! LinkedIn. Business purposes and all. The Dow Jones Industrial Average pops up. My eyes glaze over while I enter a brief scroll coma.

February 24th: Irrelevant

Ten days. An entire week and a half has passed and no one has noticed. My cyber friends are dead to me. 😑

February 26th: But wait, an inquiry into my whereabouts!

A former colleague texts me. She invites me to a party and writes that she couldn’t find me on Facebook. I start envisioning all my FB friends secretly weeping over my absence. I make grandiose plans to revive Girl Meets Buoy to give the people what they want.

March 1st: New Month, New Woman

Facebook? What’s Facebook? This is rather exciting! No one can find me! I am a woman of mystery. Time to go frolic around Trader Joe’s and marvel at my mysterious and unpredictable wild-woman ways.

March 11th: Climbing

I’m scaling a wall at Earth Treks and my hair and outfit look great. My friend takes an awesome photo of my deceptively strong-looking arm muscles and I imagine all the people who’ve ever wronged me being impressed by my (in reality spaghetti) arms. I text the photo to Mom and Dad.

March 18th: Rejuvenation

I’m sitting on a frozen beach at 6am and no one is in sight. I’m glad that no one can see what I’m seeing. I’m especially glad that no one knows where I am.

March 31st: Cherry Blossoms Exhaust Me

It’s the last day of my Facebook fast. I walk around the Tidal Basin and it’s a soul-sucking experience. A man yells at me for being in his bike’s path and I stumble graciously into the mud so he can carry on along his way. I wish I’d stood my ground. Everyone within a 2-mile radius has their massive cameras and iPhones at the ready. I make an effort to find anyone looking at the blossoms through anything besides their lenses. Meanwhile, the Tidal Basin smells like a sewer and a Canadian Goose is trying to eat a sheet of discarded plastic.

Tomorrow marks the end of my proposed 40-day fast, but I don’t know if I’m ready to go back on social media – being undiscoverable is too good to pass up for now. This isn’t to say I’ll never be back. Maybe one day! But for now, I shall revel in the muddy shadows of pink cherry blossoms.

Also, if this isn’t the most adorable butter lamb / corgi butt I’ve ever carved…Happy Easter!

Awake

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I roll over in bed, pupils dilated as they attempt to make sense of an overwhelming darkness. My arm snakes carefully past the gold wristwatch and precariously placed bedside lamp to grasp for my phone. 4:31 a.m.

This is the sixth night in a row I haven’t been able to sleep. I’ve been on a perpetual caffeine high, though I can’t remember the last time I had coffee. I slide down the ladder which takes me from my lofted nest to the firm carpet and am careful to land softly so I don’t wake my friends.

Kitchen to couch. I put together two puzzle pieces depicting a small neon barber sign in a cardboard Nashville. I turn off the lights and remove the wooden block wedged in the screen door, keeping us safe from intruders. Goosebumps appear on my arms while I lean over the railing. It must be low tide – the water has receded from the dock. I watch a silver heron hunting in the shallows. He’s illuminated by the lighthouse’s glow.

Before I can think too much, I grab the car keys and layer on every piece of clothing I’d stuffed in my backpack. It’s about 30 degrees outside and I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone. By now, I’ve memorized the route to Assateague. I make the first right on Chicken City Road. It’s about a 20-minute drive through the marshes before the vast Atlantic peeks over the dunes. I’m back.

I don’t know how long I’m walking but I begin to feel the sand between my wool socks and Sperry’s. My knuckles are white and I regret not having mittens. The sky is a deep blue and there are horseshoe crabs washed ashore. The sand is pulling me down and each step feels languid and heavy. My legs are numb and I imagine my nose and cheeks to be a brilliant shade of pink. I keep walking away from the car and quiet wide-awake thoughts with crashing waves and headphones.

I feel at home. I stare out at the water and finally stop walking. The sand is cold and the numb spreads north. Shades of peach and rose fade from my face and reappear above the clouds on the horizon. I can no longer feel my toes. I start peeling off my layers which haven’t been keeping me warm anyway. My pale skin glows in the sunrise and I wade into the icy water. A wave crashes over my head and frosty crystals flood my lungs.

Still awake.

Pass the Hamentaschen

Happy belated Purim! My roommate and I decided to pool our holidays for double the fun this year. And, as my religion is currently in the somber and reflective 40 days of Lent, I figured latching onto hers for several days would break up the doldrums quite nicely.

On Wednesday night, the Jewish community of DC and I funneled through the Chabad house in DuPont to celebrate the saving of Jews from the evil King Haman. This sounds relatively tame, but I want to put a kibosh on that perception.

For the record: 799 Jewish singles and 1 Catholic misfit toasting L’Chaim and jumping in unison to BEND THE FLOOR in a brownstone on a weekday evening is not tame. Couple that with an Israeli fiddler, hourly Megillah readings, a free trip to Israel, and an open bar serving generous Purim Puckers, Mordechai Martinis, and Esther Ethos, and you’ve got yourself a wild evening of foot trauma from being stomped on.

For the record part II:Purim ScreenshotBesides the Mordechai Martinis, the best part of Purim is the hamentaschen – triangular, jam-filled, pillow-like cookies. What a great cookie. I tried photograph them, but it was dark and the lighting made the hamentaschen look blue. Ergo, I have drawn them for your reference.

For the record part III:

Hamentaschen are not blue. I was told they symbolize ears. This leads me to ask the question: why are the ears triangular? Stay tuned for Purim 2019 to find out.drawisland

 

 

The Doldrum Days

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It’s been nearly one year since I published my last blog entry. I remember sitting down to write it while my cat paced back and forth over the keyboard. My phrases about the penguins of South Georgia would be broken up by his musings: fdssssjkjsssssssssddddsss.

I stopped writing after that trip. My lifestyle transitioned from exotic travels to the lassitude of tweaking cover letters and stocking shelves. I slept a lot. I was tantalizingly within reach of a dream job in Hawaii, but it fell through. My confidence plummeted as hundreds of job applications were met by the sound of chirping crickets. I moved farther inland in part because my sister was charging $50 less in rent than my parents. I finally found a full time office job and settled down in family oriented, suburban Bethesda. I opened a 401K. I cemented my writer’s slump and filled the void with Netflix.

That slump bothered me this weekend. On Saturday night, I made the abnormal call to leave my apartment and accompany my roommate to a housewarming party. Upon arrival, I gravitated towards the cheese platter and tried to look normal while eating my Uber’s worth in dairy. After my umpteenth cheese cracker, I struck up a conversation with a fellow book worm who asked me if I wrote. I wanted to say yes but conceded that I hadn’t written in a year. I made excuses about having nothing worth writing.

Then came the radical proposal: why not just write about the mundane?

I pondered this one and came to the following conclusion: though I’m no longer gallivanting around the world, I refuse to concede that a 9-5 existence has detracted from my ability to write once in a while. And though I may not work on a Nat Geo expedition ship anymore, I do work in publishing for Nat Geo Learning and I am still a girl who lives for the ocean and encounters buoys enough (debatable) to keep my domain name. It’s a win-win.

I debut the Doldrum Days.

Epilogue

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I was in the middle of my packing marathon when I peered into my dad’s office. An impossibly underweight suitcase lay by the door with his plane outfit, wallet, and passport piled neatly on top.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Sweat dripped from my forehead as I removed a pair of socks to lighten my load.  Now how does a low maintenance dad prepare for a 3-week long trip to the end of the world? By bringing a bindle stick, that’s how.

I was out of my league. How would I get everything to fit? The trauma gauze for my pulverized thumb – my libertine polygamist memoir – my bath loofa – my penguin paraphernalia. It was all…So…Necessary.

Hours later, I decided no more could be done and acknowledged my role as over-packer. A responsible over-packer. I remembered laundry soap.

Before I knew it, we were off to Buenos Aires. For the next few weeks, we would be sailing the notorious seas of the South Atlantic, falling asleep during afternoon birding lectures, growing an affinity for Guinness on tap, waddling alongside penguins, and hiking the grand landscapes of the Falklands and South Georgia. But for now, we were just tourists with airplane insomnia who got lucky with a hard-earned complimentary expedition via Lindblad.

It seems impossible and daunting to summarize such a grandiose trip, so I will instead leave you with photos and a few memorable scenes to give a taste of our journey to the end of the world and back.

Buenos Aires Under Cough Attack:

Dad’s running into the smoke and darkness to get footage, and I can barely see him amidst the rowdy crowd of Women’s Day protesters throwing sparklers past the police barricade. Someone has set a fire in front of the church and I’m wading through the crowd to bring my free-spirited dad back to the comfort of dulce de leche ice cream in our swanky hotel. It has been determined that Dad is more adventuresome than I.

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Sprayed by Dolphin:

After our first stop on Steeple Jason, a hard-to-reach island in Northwest Falklands that is replete with Gentoo’s, black-browed albatross napping contentedly on their muddy thrones, and dive-bombing caracaras, our zodiac heads back to the ship. All of a sudden, Peale dolphins surround the zodiac and dance in the waves at the bow. All of us are soaked as our driver cranks the engine in a paltry attempt to race them.

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Tea Time:

After a 3-hour hike up the steep hills of Carcass Island, Dad and I finally descend to the only settlement on the island and remove our muddy boots for an afternoon tea. With mismatched mugs and an extravagant assortment of jam-filled cookies, butter biscuits, chocolate frosted cakes, bite-sized meringues, and cordial cherry truffles, we sink into our chairs and bask in the English tea’s comforting steam.

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We’re Surrounded by Krill!:

A mere 3 hours from South Georgia, and the bridge is in a flurry over the loud-speaker. Whales! All the whales! A blue whale a mere 15 feet off starboard swimming next to a slightly darker finn! A humpback fluking at 11oclock! A pod of right whales further out! Think of the krill!

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Bowing to Kings:

As we wade to shore in the crashing waves on Right Whale Bay, we look up to see the most spectacular vision: thousands of handsome king penguins waddling along the shoreline, stepping carefully around equally cute piles of baby fur seals. The baby fur seals frolic over, eager to play a game of tag. They all stop abruptly 2-feet from us, suddenly intimidated by our looming height. Now situate this below a waterfall rushing past bright green tussock grasses off a cliff. A cliff that is below even steeper, snowcapped mountains jutting straight out of the turbulent sea.

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Glacier-Gazing:

It is cold. Bitterly cold. The Explorer is anchored next to a glacier; a glacier who’s name I can’t recall because of ice-induced amnesia. But wow. Everything is sky-blue, and the tallest mountain on South Georgia, Mt. Paget, looms in the back. We ride close to the glacier on a zodiac. The driver kills the engine. No birds, no planes, no talking. The only sound is ice-chunks clunking the bottom of the zodiac and the occasional thunderous calving of an ice sheet.

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Escaping the Pack on West Point Island:

During our last landing on the Falklands, we hike a grassy trail to reach the largest and most impressive Rock hopper penguin colony yet. Set upon golden cliffs, the colony stretches thousands of feet. The once-alarming smell of penguins has become as familiar and comforting as the smell of horse manure to a farmer. While everyone settles into their observation nooks, Dad and I hike a bit further and become invisible to the crowd. After finding a nice flat rock to sit on, we enjoy the warm, sunny breeze rustling the dry tussock and reminisce about our crazy adventure coming to an end. In just two days, we will be on our long airplane north to resume the familiarities of life at home.

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Weeks later and the penguins and fur seals already feel so distant. Since our trip, my dad’s resumed carrying for the postal service, and I have been at home; applying to jobs, weeding out knick-knacks I’ve accumulated since I was a little girl, and speculating about which direction I want my life to take. For us, this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s a bit surreal to reflect on now that it’s past. Everything is familiar again, and already the trip has slipped out of our daily conversation. But I still think about it all the time. I do miss traveling with him on the water. I miss all the penguins. I miss being the first in line for tea time at 4pm. I miss the hiking and daily recaps. I miss seeing how happy my dad was when he was talking to the fur seals. These experiences might never materialize again, but somehow it’s all ok. In fact, I find it downright wonderful that only one other person can carry all these memories with me, regardless of what’s to come: Dad.

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