Cubicle at the End of the Universe: My Summer in the Sandbox
In what felt like the most compressed 74 days of my life, my time as the Del Rey summer editorial intern ended in mid-August. The whirlwind adventure that began with me taking a plane, train, car and boat all on the day of my interview came to a close. Roll credits, cue John Williams.
I didn’t really know the right way to say goodbye, but before I get to that I wanted to talk about an issue that I wrestled with, and how the Del Rey team (unbeknownst to all of them) taught me how to dougie deal with it: reconciling being a fan and a professional. In the end I discovered how fandom can be your biggest strength, but before we get to that, let’s back up a little.
To call me a Star Wars fan is an understatement, which makes being the Del Rey editorial intern a dream come true. There’s a caveat to that kind of happiness though. It’s a well known fact that fan derives from the word fanatic. All too often (and I don’t think I need to provide examples) we see the line between the two blur immensely. Once the euphoria of being given this internship opportunity wore off I faced a difficult question.
How do you negotiate the emotional quandaries that arise when your essential passion becomes your job? When properly supervised the two should form a kind of symbiosis. When left unchecked, well, they seem like the perfect ingredients for potential destruction. It was an arresting thought and I half-joked to my friends that I would probably get fired for saying “May the Force be with you” constantly. In fact I haven’t said that to anyone the entire summer, even though the urge has struck almost daily.
At the start, I thought I should just try and treat this job like any other. It soon became apparent that mindset just wasn’t going to work. Those other experiences were just jobs, and I had no interest in pursuing them outside of the workday. This was different. This was Star Wars, and reading and lightsabers and the Force and all the things that I hold dear. There is no on-off switch.
You might ask what the big deal was, so here’s an illustration. One of the coolest things about my intern experience was that I got to see some unreleased projects. I’ve looked at artwork, heard about story ideas, read manuscripts, etc. Some of those projects will become public, but others will never move beyond the idea or proposal phase.
At times the fan part of me wanted to run straight out of the office and shout it all out on the street. To call up all my friends and say “I just saw the coolest thing ever…” Of course, were I to do any of that, I would be struck down and not in a “become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” kind of way.
(Keith, Erich and Frank are probably all looking for something heavy to hit me with after reading that last paragraph. Just to be clear, I would rather fall on my lightsaber than breach the trust of the team.)
My best solution to dealing with that kind of rampant giddiness was to just act like a mature adult whilst in the company of other people, but as soon as I was alone to go giggling back to that place I don’t talk about at parties, where my 10 year old self still resides. The problem is if you spend too much time laughing at your cubicle people are going to start noticing.
Again you might ask, what’s the big deal? The thing is getting this internship wasn’t about getting to read Star Wars books and stare at posters. Well, okay, it wasn’t just about those things. The whole point of wanting to work here wasn’t just getting invited to play in the sandbox with the cool kids; I wanted to make a real contribution. I wanted to prove that I belonged and that I was a valuable member of the team, not just some fanboy who somehow won the lottery.
My co-workers provided the real epiphany and thus the solution to my worries. Though they are all incredibly diligent and approach the work very seriously they’re just as much fans of the material as I am. More importantly, being good at this job and being a fan are not mutually exclusive, quite the opposite. Through watching them I figured out how to use that unbridled joy to produce better work. Your fandom is your fuel. It’s what gets you up early in the morning, keeps you working late into the evening and tells you to review your work one last time. I also learned that geeking out now and then is perfectly acceptable and I’m happy to report that the whole team still does, and no one appears even the least bit jaded.
Having had such an incredible summer, the answer to the question of how to deal with the struggle between fandom and work now seems simple. In truth, there’s no reason to struggle, because my devotion is part of what got me there in the first place. It helped me achieve success as much as, if not more than, my writing talents or technical skills did.
As for the right way to say goodbye, well, it all comes down to six perfect words.
May the Force be with You.