Summer Employment: Failures of an Aspiring Greeting Card Writer

Three summers ago, I desperately tried to find work as a waitress. I wrote an email to my dad explaining how I wanted to "gain valuable life experiences" that would be "integral to my growth and development as a writer," but really I just wanted a job that would pay me money. I had not planned in advance for the summer after my freshman year of college, unaware that summer internships were something most people began applying for in January. My options for employment were looking rather slim.

Unfortunately, none of my internships prior to that summer had provided me with the relevant work experience the restaurant industry seems to desire. While Rachel on Friends could walk into a coffee shop and emerge a barista, the closest I could come to emulating her character was to get the same haircut -- a haircut that would look horribly outdated on my too-small head a decade later.

Accepting my lack of marketable skills, I resigned myself to another summer of pushing the ice cart at a hospital where none of the patients ever wanted ice. It seemed I was perpetually doomed to provide free labor.

Volunteering provided me with ample free time, however. Surfing the Internet early that summer, I stumbled upon an article about Simon Rich, one of my favorite contemporary comedic writers. Simon Rich and I have almost nothing in common, but I read his work because I like to be reminded of how little I have accomplished in my late teens and early twenties.

In the article, Simon Rich mentioned he wrote for Blue Mountain Arts, a greeting card company based in Colorado. Intrigued, I perused the company website and saw that Blue Mountain Arts accepted unsolicited greeting card submissions. Even better, I saw that Blue Mountain Arts paid real money for any submissions they chose to publish. It was like the stars aligned the way my horoscope said they would. It was almost too good to be true.

I had never written any greeting card poetry before, but the principal of my high school once described me as "lyrical," which I figured had to count for something. The idea was planted. I spent the rest of that summer composing greeting cards in my mind, crashing the hospital ice cart into every feasible corner as I obliviously rolled along. I would go home in the afternoon and type my poems up, the subjects ranging from Mother's Day to Secretary's Day. I mostly wrote "I'm sorry for your loss"-type cards, though, because I am very morbid like that.

Over the course of four months, I typed approximately 300 poems. Maybe 300 sounds like an impressive number, but because I spent less than five minutes on each, these poems were high in quantity but low in quality. I will spare myself the shame of posting any samples, but just know that today I sort of pity the person who read through my submissions.

To the great surprise of both my parents and myself, two of my poems were actually accepted for the market review phase. Blue Mountain Arts even sent me a bunch of fancy contracts, so I knew they were legitimate company and not an illegal operation as my mom had suggested. The contracts explained that the company would draw up some prototypes of cards with my poems and then attempt to sell them on a test market. The process would take a year, but if the prototypes sold well, they would pay me for my work and sell the cards nationwide.

I returned to school that fall, feeling pretty good about myself. At just 18, I too was climbing the ranks of the literary realm where Simon Rich reigned. Even though I had nothing to show for my efforts yet, I was sure that executives everywhere would hear about my cards and the publishing deals and TV writer contracts would begin rolling in.

But there were two problems from the get-go. The first was that none of my classmates had heard of Blue Mountain Arts, logically mixing it up with Blue Mountain, an unrelated purveyor of e-cards. The sting of my minor successes remaining unknown hurt, but not nearly as much as the implications of the second problem.

The second problem was that the very same summer I became a greeting card writer extraordinaire, the film 500 Days of Summer was released.

500 Days of Summer, for those of you who do not know, is about a boy and a girl and lost love or something. More importantly though, 500 Days of Summer is about two people who work in a greeting card office. Starring the hipster favorites of Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, almost everyone at my hipster school watched it over break. They all began to associate the greeting card industry with this indie film, and thus, I had fallen victim to bad timing. By choosing to write greeting cards that year, it seemed I was just copying a movie.

At that point I had not even seen the film, but the insinuation of being a hack made me shut up about my cards. The year rolled on by, and I sort of forgot about Blue Mountain Arts entirely, panicking over biochemistry and physics instead.

Of course, in the back of my mind, the potentiality still lingered. I knew that the odds of successfully publishing a card in today's harsh economy were almost slim to none. As a product of the Internet generation, I myself have not received a physical greeting card in about five years. So it was really no surprise when I received a thin envelope from Colorado stating that unfortunately, my cards had not performed well enough in the market review.

Blue Mountain Arts encouraged me to submit again, but my greeting card writer aspirations had dissipated during the waiting process. Instead, I was left with the realization that if I wanted fulfilling summer employment I was going to have to apply early to avoid a repeat of the year I had experienced.

I have mostly gotten over my failures from that summer, but sometimes people send me e-cards from Blue Mountain, and it feels uncannily like eating French fries with a cut finger. I also suppose I am more sensitive than I previously thought because to this day, I refuse to like 500 Days of Summer.