When I wanted to specialize in “weird projects”

I had “Weird projects a specialty” in my profile for a few months (in 2012), and maybe overthought it a bit. I took it out. Nobody thinks their own projects are weird, I thought.

But I’ve said for years that what I really wanted to have was an interesting résumé, full of strange things that made for good stories later on. Weird stuff.

In high school, I worked at a bee farm. Mostly I stuck labels on plastic bears by hand (boxes of 396, 99 to a row), occasionally helped grab honeycomb frames from the hives and later pour harvested honey from big 55-gallon drums into jars, and went on a few deliveries in the ambulance/delivery truck and stocked honey in local grocery stores. Tip: Honey is sticky but washes right off with hot water and a little dish soap. Also, if your honey crystalizes, you can just heat it up and still use it; honey never goes bad. At the end of the year I worked at the bee farm, I even entered the Michigan Honey Queen pageant. (It was a tremendously educational experience.) For my talent, I did a modified Victor Borge bit about phonetic punctuation, but I’d never seen or heard Victor Borge do it. And there was an essay you had to read — I started mine out with something like “you’ve probably heard a few times today that melissa means ‘honey bee’ in Greek” and a bunch of other common facts, which probably would have gone over better if my turn to read had been later in the program (I went third).

The day job I had before I started freelancing was Caption Editor. I applied in the first place because the job title had “editor” in it, but it turned out that I was creating closed captions for cooking shows and DIY shows. I played the video of a final or nearly final TV show, listened to what the people were saying or what noises were happening in the show, and typed it all into a caption. Easy to explain, hard to accomplish. It takes hours to do this for a half-hour show (which actually runs 22 minutes minus the commercials). I started with cooking shows, and that year I did some of my best cooking. I’d be there watching and listening over and over and over to get the words exactly right, and obviously my brain is engaging with what’s being said, so I’m learning knife skills (I still cut onions the way Roger Mooking showed on Everyday Exotic) and thinking about the taste balance of a dish (I put nutmeg in spaghetti sauce whenever I can) and going straight home to try something a chef had spent six minutes talking about enthusiastically (I made my first clafouti for exactly this reason). That didn’t happen as much for the DIY shows because I’m not as good at building stuff as I am at cooking. I captioned a lot of House Hunters, though, which is a very formulaic show that is still addictive as all hell. HGTV has embraced this and made branded bingo cards (PDF).

When my past self stuck these stories in a draft post, I threw in a link to How Not to Be Invisible by Walt Kania at The Freelancery, and today I discovered his post said a few of the same things Brandy said at the start of Project: Mic Drop: Be you, and let your people come to you. And I had said it myself in the strange language of mission statements back in 2012.

Embracing the weird is not a new idea. And in fact, I’ve found, it’s pretty easy to be your authentic self when you’re the only one home, dancing in your kitchen, let’s say, completely hypothetically. It’s harder to keep dancing when your husband and kids get home and catch you. But in this completely hypothetical situation, I announced that I was having a kitchen dance party and kept going. The kids joined in, I put on the Frozen soundtrack so they could sing too, we had a blast, and now Margaret requests dance parties every so often. It’s good — it was good to be seen that way, to be the mom who has kitchen dance parties (not at all influenced by the midnight margaritas scene in Practical Magic, I assure you), and to tell a story about it.

So, hi. I’m Rachel Lee Cherry, the copy editor who did a Victor Borge bit at a honey queen pageant when I was 18 and who used to write the closed captions for cooking shows and who started having dance parties with my kids because I got busted belting out “House Party” while unloading the dishwasher. I’m perfectly capable of being very normal and editing lesson plans aligned to Common Core ELA standards, but if you’ve got a novel set in a universe where the protagonist can travel through time with a special essential oil and falls in love with a sarcastic 13th-century alchemist, and you need it copyedited? I’m in. With bells on.

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