Railway Junction

I’ve taken to riding in the front car on the subway as I’m coming home from work. It’s convenient, for one thing; for another, it’s usually a little emptier than the other cars, and I have a better chance of not having my nose in some suit’s armpit all the way from 59th to West 4th. But the real reason — the secret reason, the silly reason — is because there’s nothing I love more than looking out the panel at the front of the car, watching the subway rails roll out before me, like I’m riding some enormous and exciting underground roller coaster. (Which, technically, I am.)

Sometimes, though not often, the rails will split. I’ll see the intersection of two tracks, a little diamond of metal, flash in front of me for a brief second — and then we’ll go rocketing down one path or the other, leaving the junction far behind us. And then I’ll see a particularly interesting piece of graffiti in the train’s headlights, and the crossroads will be forgotten.

My editorial internship with Random House has been going on for about three and a half weeks now, and it’s just about everything I could’ve dreamed of. It is, as I’ve remarked on Twitter, more or less being paid to drink tea and complain about books (and it is paid, which makes it really everything I could’ve dreamed of, thank you Capitalism God.) I remember a moment when I was a little girl in the first throes of what would become full-blown bibliophilia, when I’d turned to my mother and said, in total envious disbelief, “You mean book reviewers get paid to read?”

Simultaneously, I’m still working with the Student Net Alliance, which continues to be ridiculously rewarding. The Students Against Surveillance campaign, as of Reset the Net Day, had letters from 17 schools and over four hundred signatures from students around the world, which is really not bad for something I hammered out with two European dudes in the basement of a cafe in April back when my ankle was half-broken and I thought I’d never get an internship at all. Seeing this campaign get interest and attention and knowing I had something to do with it is absolutely the proudest I’ve ever felt.

I won’t lie, though; what’s on my mind right now isn’t how lucky I am (which is very), but how strange it’s becoming to jump from one job to another. I’ll spend an hour explaining to people why they should spend as much time and energy as possible defending their Constitutional rights, and then I’ll sit in a cubicle wondering whether someone’s prose style is just too choppy or just not choppy enough; I’ll spend eight hours dressed in a blazer and a conservative skirt, typing emails to people with titles like “Director of X”, and then I’ll go home to my dorm and dig up the email addresses of journalists I want to talk to in my pajamas.

I’ll get lost in a very, very good manuscript, and then my phone will buzz and it’ll turn out there’s a hackathon across town that I could be stalking, and I’ll freeze like a deer in the headlights, caught between priorities. I’m increasingly feeling like a superhero with an alter ego, though I’ve got no idea which role I’m playing is Superman and which is Clark Kent.

Not that someone can’t do publishing work and activist work at the same time, of course! And not that I have to decide The Course Of My Entire Life now; I’m nineteen, for God’s sake.

It’s more that I’m juggling two sides of my personality — two parts of me that have never been in competition before, but aren’t used to being pushed into separate spheres. There’s one half of me, the half that used to be the entirety of my identity: the reader, the bookworm, the girl who spent every lunch period in fourth grade in the library. And there’s the other half of me, the half that woke up when I went to go build houses in Mexico in the spring of my freshman year in high school and when I discovered feminism, the half that won’t be satisfied unless she’s busy changing the world in ways that really matter.

I’ve barely written any fiction in the past five months (“barely” meaning one finished short story and two unfinished ones), though I’ve written a lot of essays, as evidenced by this blog and my Medium account. I’m not trying to read into that; there are a hundred reasons I could be writing less — I’m reading fewer short stories and therefore writing fewer, having a roommate makes it more difficult to type away on my laptop until unholy hours of the morning, winter is dark and miserable and in general not a very friendly environment for the writing bug — and “I’m less of a writer” is very, very unlikely to be a serious one.

But I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve somehow received the privilege to live two lives at once — that the crossroads is somewhere behind me, and the universe hasn’t quite noticed that I’m barreling down two tracks at the same time.

I said in a blog post about a month and a half ago that what I really want to do is talk about stories, and that’s still true, and that’s always going to be true. And both editing and activism allow me to talk about stories, though in very different ways: editing is, as I mentioned, drinking a lot of tea and complaining about books, while activism — especially the kinds of activism I’ve been involved in, and especially any activism that relies on media — is very much about telling a story that people will believe, telling a story that they care about, telling a story that matters.

There’s no clear answer to this, and I don’t want there to be; I’m happy that I get to do both of these things at once, though I don’t think I’ll be able to keep it up forever. And I hope I’ll enjoy the rest of my summer as much as I’ve enjoyed its beginning.

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