Editor to Editor: a second reflection

There are few things I’m absolutely certain of in this world, but if I had to name just one, I’d say, I’m completely positive my face lights up as bright as the interior lighting and chandelier aisle in The Home Depot when asked about my experience at Mount Mercy University.

In high school, I was the quiet, sit-in-the-back, head-down, avoid eye contact, never-raise-your-hand girl who did every single one of those things, in every single one of my classes. But, if my homeroom high school teacher observed one of my English college courses, she’d probably think aliens had taken over my body and replaced it with a stranger’s voice (mostly, because she’d never heard mine), but also because of how much I grew into my own voice and discovered so many ways to use it.

My freshman year at Mount Mercy was filled mostly with general studies classes, and a sprinkle of English courses, topped with a creative writing class inclusive of upper classmen who I was totally terrified to share my writing with. Before my time at Mount Mercy, I’d never shared my writing aloud with anyone. I remember writing a short story in high school that went on to earn an Honorable Mention at the State level and various members of my family read the story in silence and all the while, I felt so weird just being in the same room while they read it. It felt like I was awkwardly reading over their shoulders in the kitchen, while I sat on the couch in the living room. To make a long story short, I’d never had the confidence to read my work aloud to a group of people. So you can imagine my anxiety shooting through the roof when in my spring semester creative writing course, Cecile Goding told the class we’d present our poem, displayed on the screen (to show layout formatting) and talk through the poem. I couldn’t just “pass” out of this, or put my head down, but let me tell you, I definitely avoided all sorts of eye contact. But, most importantly, I did it. And I didn’t die. In fact, it was the first step, of many, that I took at MMU in discovering my voice and instilling confidence in my writing and in myself.

During that same semester, Mary Vermillion sent me an email, along with other English majors and minors, asking if I’d like to serve on the selection committee for The Paha Review and help determine which poems, short stories, essays, and monologues would be included in the annual literary and art magazine. At the time, I had no idea what Paha even was or that it’d become such an important part of my life.

My second year at Mount Mercy included more general studies classes, but a bigger sprinkle of English courses, too. I became more acquainted with the English professors and began fitting in well with the other lovers of reading and writing. (I mean, at most, there were twelve students in my Shakespeare class, but more often than not, I found myself sitting amongst about eight to ten other students in British Modernism or Multicultural Lit). I was interviewed by the Mount Mercy Times when I self-published a collection of poems and I attended each Visiting Writer series hosted in the Flaherty room in Basile Hall. (Did you know you can chat and get your book signed by a real, established author?!). My second year at Mount Mercy also included taking a step out of my comfort zone and participating in the Anamosa State Penitentiary volunteer book club. Although, my grandma didn’t particularly like it when I announced loudly in the middle of the Hy-Vee fruits and vegetables aisle that “I’m going to prison” and the middle aged man at the end of the aisle gave me a very interesting look. I could go on and on about how amazing each of these experiences were, but it’s essential that someone should know, hearing an author speak about how their novel came about and the paths it took, is music to a writer’s ears. In my Law and Literature class, Mary Vermillion suggested we write discussion questions from The House Gun by Nadine Gordimer in case the prison inmates, didn’t know what to say and we could avoid “awkward silences.” I’m fairly certain she knew all the while, that these “awkward silences” would never be a thing. My questions were shameful in the company of the questions these men asked. In fact, my questions, never even had the opportunity to see the light because the prison inmates couldn’t wait to ask their own questions and discuss different scenes. The men participating in the book club are some of the smartest people on the planet I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a room with.

Second year, spring semester also meant another year of The Paha Review. The previous editor graduated and moved on, leaving no one to steer the project. Mary Vermillion asked myself and two other amazing English majors, Billie Barker and Cassie Green to take on the beast. And I suppose, this is where I can say, I fell in love with being an editor. My first year as a co-editor included many twists, turns, random pot holes and several traffic jams to interrupt the progress of the magazine, but eventually, we arrived at our destination, safe and sound. We pushed deadlines back on more than one occasion, due to not being familiar with InDesign, or waiting for other pieces to come together. We spent long hours at the lone, designated “Paha Computer” in the Mac Lab in the basement of Busse Library on Sundays when we had class at eight o’clock the next day. We grew snippy with one another when we were frustrated, but through all the hours spent working and many drafts marked up with Mary’s purple pen, we submitted the final draft of the magazine and became even better friends. But we weren’t done yet, because we still had to wait another three weeks or so to actually get the physical copy of the magazine and ultimately, we had to distribute the beast to newspaper stands around campus. It was only after the magazine was fully distributed that we could sit back, catch our breath and observe the books slowly leave their newspaper stands to live elsewhere.

I was halfway through my college career at this point, and it might be noted, college wasn’t exactly an option until about May of my senior year of high school. I couldn’t even save fifty dollars to pay to take my ACT test and had considered finding a full time job directly out of high school. But growing up, I’d lived paycheck to paycheck with my mother being a single mom and working a minimum wage job to raise my brother and I. It seemed like everyone in my high school graduating class was going to college and it was embarrassing admitting that I was still undecided about my future after graduation. Another long story short, I never even visited Mount Mercy, nor had I very much information on the school. To be completely truthful, I submitted a portfolio of my writing that included a short story and some poems I’d written about six months before on the morning of the deadline when it was suggested by my high school counselor that I apply for a Special Talent Scholarship, offered by MMU. I was later awarded one of the first recipients of the Special Talent Scholarship for the portfolio I submitted and my decision to attend Mount Mercy University was made.

Being a junior on The Hill allowed me to branch out and participate in even more activities and to continue establishing a “name” for myself. I was invited to eat dinner with both visiting authors from the Visiting Writer series (I wasn’t lying when I said it was that cool), and I was asked to serve as president of the English Club. I was also given the opportunity to lead a High School Arts Day where I taught high schoolers about “black out poetry” and “found poetry” and participated in other fun writing exercises. My third year also brought on additional stresses. I was continuing to work part-time at two different jobs and also maintain my grades and attendance in school. J-term of my junior year allowed me the absolutely incredible experience of studying abroad in London, England with other writers and students for ten days. I saw the most beautiful architecture, visited the homes of famous writers and even attended an open mic poetry slam just to name a few things. But once back in the states, it was time to get back to business with The Paha Review. Billie Barker graduated, so that left Cassie and I to create the magazine. We experienced some of the same twists and turns and obstacles, but handled them easier, having gone through them before. The magazine was pronounced finished, but we wanted to celebrate the magazine in a different way. Throughout the year, I’d been asked by a local band, Hunter Dumped Us Here, to write a poem to accompany a song on their new album. I became pretty good friends with their lead singer, Gabe Reasoner and asked him if they’d be willing to put on a performance in a “coffee shop” style manner. We arranged the “party” and invited the campus to join in celebration with snacks and a reading in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall. Contributors of the magazine were invited to read their pieces from the magazine and converse with one another. The night was one to remember.

FINALLY, I was a senior in college. College, a concept that wasn’t even imaginable three years prior, but here I was. I took my first and (unfortunately)only class with Eden Wales Freedman and all I have to say is, if you have the opportunity to sit in a class of hers, do it. She has an incredible gift of sensing when you’re about to say something and encourages you to say it, even if it doesn’t quite make sense when it comes out of your mouth. She just asks you to finish thinking out loud and it’s a beautiful process arriving at the conclusion you always meant, but didn’t know how to say. She never makes you feel stupid, even if your answer isn’t exactly right and it opens the discussion to new perspectives. I remember the first day of her class, fall semester, and while introducing ourselves to the class, she interrupted me, and I kid you not, says, “you’re Courtney Snodgrass?” I obviously am, but I confirm anyway. She goes on to explain, “I just met a student who was completely fangirling over you.” Confused, I questioned further. She then tells me, “this girl was debating on adding English as a minor and said, she ‘loves to write’, but she’ll never be a Courtney Snodgrass.” My mouth completely fell to the floor in amazement that people even knew who I was. Sometimes, I don’t know if anyone really knew who I was in high school.

Being a senior included a lot of additional stresses: I’d been working full time hours at a residential treatment facility for delinquent teenage boys, worked a part time retail job, interned with a local non-profit organization and took on the role of lead editor for The Paha Review. I’m not exaggerating when I say I slept with my planner on my nightstand to make sure I kept track of anything and everything going on in my life.

I participated in another book club at the Anamosa State Penitentiary and I enjoyed several dinners with visiting writers, getting to experience and interact with “established” writers on a more intimate level. My third and final year of editing The Paha Review was coming to an end and so was my college career. I stopped to catch my breath on more than one occasion and to reflect on my time at Mount Mercy.

Spring semester of my senior year of college also included writing the awfully dreaded “senior thesis.” I’d heard talk of this before and I’d seen other English majors stress over and discuss it like they were Beowulf slaying Grendel but I was prepared to go to battle. Joy Ochs teaches a fantastic course and turned me into a fan of both the villain and the hero. But I didn’t come all this way for nothing. I spent long hours doing research and getting over my writer’s block in designated class time in the library. I spent time talking through the insecurities of my thoughts and ideas with Chris DeVault only to leave his office with a more clear path and better understanding of what I wanted to accomplish in my thesis. I suppose I have this thing where my brain has thoughts that haven’t fully developed and all of my English professors are there to finish my sentences for me. (They are writers, after all.)

In the end, I survived writing my senior thesis on the idea that social media and technology doesn’t actually drive a wedge between people, but just the opposite, brings people together. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet: after writing out these 20+ pages, I then had to defend my argument against the incredible Carol Tyx and Chris DeVault. I sat across from these two brilliant souls, my leg shaking under the table and my words not forming correctly coming from my mouth because I was so nervous and Chris pulls out his lunch box and says, “do you mind if I eat my lunch while we do this?” My nerves disappeared and I remember that this was basically a class discussion, between the three of us, over something that I’d created and written. I was the author and therefore, genius on this thesis. I was prepared to slay my defense like so many characters in my class discussions had done before.

But in the meantime, I’d applied for graduation and wasn’t exactly rejected, but that’s how it felt. After thinking I had everything planned out, laid out, had finally reached the moment where I could take a breath and say that I’d graduated from an accredited four year university, the first in my entire family, I was sadly mistaken. A few red flags lit themselves up on my transcripts telling me that my English degree still wasn’t complete. I was absolutely crushed, heartbroken, and ultimately, ready to give up. I’d worked a full time job, part time job, interned, was the magazine editor, and wrote my senior thesis all in one semester; I was physically and mentally exhausted. I sat in Carol Tyx’s office, speechless, fighting back tears the whole time, trying to figure out where we’d gone wrong with adding up credits. I’d taken two classes during one J-term, something that wasn’t exactly advised, but I’d done it anyway. I’d added my Creative Writing minor in addition to my Psychology minor at the beginning of my senior year, but everything was in order, or so we thought. We talked to the registrar on more than one occasion and I examined the classes I’d taken over the years, like I was examining the cadavers in Basile, trying to find where everything went wrong. I was hoping there was an easy and simple fix for a credit that hadn’t been added right. But it was all accurate.

I was simply missing nine credits.

After a couple days of feeling bad about the entire situation, I came to the conclusion that I was not going to end my college career nine credits short and stop there. With the help of Carol, I signed up immediately for two summer courses, but that still left one more class I needed to take. Carol took me directly across the hallway to Mary’s office and we decided to create an independent study course based off of my experience with The Paha Review.

We designed this class with the idea that I’d create a “Paha Handbook” for future editors since I was graduating; something to help them through all the twists, turns and hurdles that were sure to arise. And like most other ideas I had, I started spilling words, without any clear direction, about wanting to create a brand new literary and art magazine for the University. Mary followed the path of my idea and helped me spin my thoughts out further to ultimately design a “trial run” of a new magazine for faculty, staff and alumni of Mount Mercy. And just like that, I took my role as editor once more.

There had always been chatter and talk about creating a literary and art magazine for faculty, staff and alumni, because every year, I had at least two faculty members who’d ask if they could submit to The Paha Review. Unfortunately, I always had to turn them away due to Paha being a magazine dedicated to current students. The idea had always been floating around in space, waiting to be grasped and breathe life into it. I just happened to be the one to hold on the tightest.

I had ideas for names for the magazine, most of which, Mary was not fond of, so we opened the discussion up to allow more “publicity” and to get people involved. I quickly created a call for submissions, personally emailed and Facebook spammed Mount Mercy English majors and other lovers of reading and writing and encouraged them to submit to the magazine. Mary and Chris utilized the English Majors Facebook page and Twitter feed to generate buzz around the magazine and before I knew it, I had alum, faculty and staff inquiring about guidelines to submit and sharing their excitement to have a creative outlet. With their submissions, writers and artists were encouraged to include a title for the magazine for the selection committee to later vote on. My magazine was literally a baby in the nursery awaiting a name.

In all honesty, I was expecting the magazine to be quite premature, and need many years to begin growing out of its infancy. I was expecting, maybe at most, thirty submissions. You can imagine my excitement and awe when the final number of submissions was eighty-one. Eighty-one different writing and art pieces from the wonderful faculty, staff and alumni. People were thrilled to serve on the selection committee and vote on the title of the magazine. We followed the tradition that The Paha Review had taken and Billie Barker hosted yet another quiet, intimate night at her house where committee members gathered to discuss pieces.

From the selection committee meeting, the baton was passed to me to finish the race. I laid out the pieces in an order I thought made sense and began building this magazine from the ground up (no Dan & Shay reference intended). I collected format ideas from other literary magazines I’ve acquired over the years and put them together to give the new magazine its own character and personality, but also resemble The Paha Review in other ways. The diversity between the pieces was incredible. The balance of faculty, staff and alumni was satisfying and I couldn’t wait to raise this beautiful baby.

The magazine was intended to be solely online for its “trial run” but somewhere within the process, Mary and I decided we wanted to hold this baby in our hands. And from there, the process slowed. There were different layout technicalities that had to happen in order for the magazine to transition into physical form. There wasn’t a point in fixing those technicalities if the magazine wasn’t going to advance to a print version and the English budget wasn’t set up to provide funds for this magazine as it was a brand new idea and hadn’t been written into the budget. Mary and I tried to think of fundraising techniques, self-publishing ideas, etc. for the magazine to really come to life, but none of our ideas seemed feasible. Mary asked around and finally, Kathryn Hagy granted us a small budget to have a limited number of copies printed. I was given the green flag to continue with my editing process. But to give you some perspective on “limited number of copies,” The Paha Review prints anywhere from five hundred to eight hundred copies. This new magazine was granted one hundred copies. But this was a “trial run” and we didn’t know how it would even be received to campus. It turns out, next year, we’ll definitely need more than one hundred copies.

I finished my part of the editing and Mary and I enlisted the help of Morgan Ortmann to help us design the cover as this was not my area of expertise. We finally, finally, reached the ultimate draft of the magazine and I was in charge of sending off the finished copy to the printer. I’ve never been so scared to hit “send” before in my life. (I may or may not have closed my eyes when I clicked it.)

I waited impatiently for about three weeks and finally received confirmation that the magazines had been delivered to the Provost’s office. I drove straight to campus and for one of the first times, took the stairs in Warde Hall instead of waiting for the ungodly slow elevator, and didn’t care that I was still trying to catch my breath when I knocked on Mary’s office door to see my baby in its physical form. We opened the box on Friday, December 16th, 2017 and saw the Mercy Creative Review in all its glory.

Without a doubt in my mind, we resembled parents seeing their child for the first time. We were speechless and in awe at the beauty of this magazine. I thumbed through the pages, feeling the spine in my hands, the black ink staring at me and I wanted to cry tears of joy. Mercy Creative Review had its own character and personality, just how I’d designed it, and it resembled its cousin, The Paha Review but still shined in a light of its own.

I wanted to personally thank contributors of Mercy Creative Review by sending them a copy in the mail right before the holidays. And so I did. I then returned to campus in January to further distribute the magazines across campus and place them alongside The Paha Review, right where it belongs.

I’d like to think I walked to my car that day, a burning blaze behind me, like in the movies, after just slaying the biggest villain any novel could’ve portrayed. But I know I walked with my head down (because it was January and the tunnels don’t protect you from the cold when walking to the parking lot,) but also because inside, where no one needed to see, my heart was smiling.

Choosing to earn my BA from Mount Mercy University was one of the best decisions in my life and walking across the stage, proudly accepting my diploma will forever be one of the happiest days of my life. I couldn’t have asked for better professors, advisors, friends or a more beautiful school to attend. I never felt unsafe or unsure if I made the right decision by becoming a Mustang and I’m forever grateful for the experiences I’d acquired through the four years I spent on The Hill.

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new year, new chances

As 2016 comes to a close tonight, I’m looking back on all the accomplishments I’ve completed his year. I’ve written some of my favorite pieces within the last twelve months. Out of those pieces that I’ve written, I’ve submitted almost half, if not more to contests and magazines.

The anticipation of waiting on a response has always been my weakest flaw. It simply drives me crazy and gives me an excessive amount of anxiety, wondering if someone likes what I’ve written or not. For the longest time, I couldn’t even be in the same room as someone who was reading something I’d written. It made me so uncomfortable and I felt that I was reading over their shoulder and doubting my own abilities as a writer. My freshman year of college changed all that when I had to share a poem I’d written out loud, in front of the class. Prior to that moment, I’d never read anything aloud that I’d written.

Since then, I’ve read my poetry in different classes and even on special events. I’ve read my poetry for the annual scholarship day that my school hosts which gives students an opportunity to share with the rest of campus what they’ve been working on in the past year. I’ve read my poetry at a small event that hosted a traveling spoken word poet and I’ve read my poetry to a release party for my university’s annual art and literary magazine.

Within the last couple of weeks, the annual magazine has started up again and I’ve picked up my third year as an editor. Throughout the last three years of fulfilling the role, I’ve realized that this is really what I’d love to do with the rest of my life: run my own literary magazine and write poetry and short stories for a living. I hope to make my dream come true one day, some day soon.

As 2017 rings in, I can’t help but think of all the goals I’d like to accomplish in the new year. I want to try and start my own literary magazine again and stay focused on it. I want to put more time and effort into what could be something great. I want to start a movement that opens up conversation about mental illness and difficult subjects based on my poetry and I really want to continue promoting my non-profit organization that I’ve started. But for starters, I’d really, really like for my manuscript to be accepted in the latest contest that I’ve entered.

2017 also brings another door closing too: my college career. I know that in May, I’ll say goodbye to the campus I’ve grown to love and cherish, where I’ve learned so many things and really discovered who I am. I’ve developed my own writing style and focused on myself and my goals. I’ve accepted what I can’t change about myself and I’ve really started developing a self love, something I’ve always struggled with. I couldn’t have picked a better university with better professors. I’ve met some of the best people and some of my biggest inspirations while attending classes at the highest point of my hometown and for that I’m so thankful.

The new year is upon me and so are all my chances to change the world. I can’t wait to start.

Happy New Year, may your 2017 be filled with nothing but good vibes and much love.

No Sleep November

As the first semester of my senior year of college comes to a close, I’ve found myself working more and more on creative projects. 

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One of my professors sent out an email about local creative writing contests and for whatever reason, I took the leap and started working on a new piece. The first contest is for the Iowa Chapbook Prize, a contest sponsored by the University of Iowa. I chose to put together a small chapbook of previous and new poems that I created over the course of a month. The contest opened and I received the email around Nov. 1 but the deadline was Dec. 1. 

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I immediately thought about the types of poems I wanted to include, a couple of which were already written. Over the last four years of studying at Mount Mercy University, I’ve really developed my style and realized who I am and who I want to be as a writer. 
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I love to focus on particular hard subjects like psychological disorders, mental illness. I enjoy writing about other rough subjects as well, like infertility issues, miscarriages, and trauma filled poems. 
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This contest allowed me to really showcase my style of writing. The entire collection is heavy and weighted down with deep content and I’m proud of the opportunities that it may open for conversation about these subjects. 
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I’ve always said that I love to write for people who can’t put their story or their experience into words. I like being able to take on those challenges but they’re not always easy. A couple years ago, I had a woman approach me, asking me to write a poem about her miscarriage and about the child she never got to meet. I was honored that she considered my writing to memorialize her unborn child but I struggled with finding my groove, being that I’d never had a child, or a miscarriage. I kept at it and constantly asked her about what she thought: what was true, what needed to be changed. In the end, the poem is one of my favorites I’ve ever written. 
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I dedicated an entire month to revising, choosing, and writing new poems for this collection. In that month, I’ve been working full time, a part time job, going to school full time and managing the stress of the holiday season as well. 
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I was able to submit the chapbook and immediately couldn’t take the anticipation of waiting for it to be judged and waiting for what the contest has to say about my entry. 
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The second creative writing project I’ve been working on though is for a final class project. Throughout the semester, this class has focused and and studied banned books (and I have to say that this has by far been my favorite class while at MMU). For the final project, we had the option to develop a high school curriculum lesson on a banned book and why it should be taught in schools. The second option was writing a short story at least ten pages long with the motive to be banned by the public. The third option was to simply write a standard paper about a banned book. 
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Naturally, I chose to write a short story. I’d been playing with an idea in my head and this happened to be the perfect time to sit down and pour my thoughts into a document. Within three hours, I’d written the first draft of the story; something I’d never be able to do with a standard paper. 
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I can’t wait to revise the story and turn it in for credit and see the feedback provided after the semester has ended. 
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All in all, I’ve actually dedicated quite a bit of time towards my creative writing within the last 30 days. I’ve stayed up far too late writing new poems, sending drafts to close friends and struggling with writer’s block, but I’ve realized I’d like nothing more for my life and I’d be more than happy to pull all nighters if it meant writing as a professional poet. 

The First Novel

I wrote my first novel during my senior year of high school. along side all the poetry I’d been writing, I couldn’t seem to let go of the precious words I typed into my laptop. I started on March 25th and had written 350 pages with about 130,000 words by the middle of November.

At the time, I was focusing on graduating high school, balancing a job, a sport, and then transitioning into college. Writing a novel was the last thing I should’ve been focused on but there I was: I found myself staying up late, pretending to take notes on my laptop when in reality, I was writing more of my plot. I couldn’t let focus on anything else. In a way, I put my life on hold for this novel, but at the same time I didn’t.

I think that’s how writers are maybe supposed to live when they’re writing a novel or working on a big piece: sacrifice everything for the words.

This weekend, Facebook reminded me of the many posts I’ve shared about my progress while writing it. I posted different page stamps with word counts and had continuous comments about how my friends and family couldn’t wait to read it. This continued to fuel my motivation for wanting to finish it.

I wrote the last pages and words in December of 2013, the same year. It was quite the Christmas present I’d given myself.

It’s now my senior year of college and I’ve only done one copy of revisions. I printed out the first copy and went through it, marked it all up with a red pen, made it all fancy, but have yet to transfer those changes into my laptop.

Revising has never been one of my strong suits. It’s more fun to write the story than fix the flaws within it.

I tried to make a goal to really work on revising and fixing the novel but haven’t been that successful because I’ve been focused on my last year of my college career and putting together a small chapbook for a contest.

I’m not ready to sacrifice everything again for this novel yet because I have too many other things to focus on. I can’t give it the love that it deserves.

And that’s not fair for myself or the novel.

Letters and Words Have Their Own Algorithms

I wanted to be an architect. Throughout my childhood, I designed fantastic Lego houses and had my fair share of amazing structures on the computer game, The Sims. It was going to be a great career, until I realized just how much math was involved. Not that I wasn’t good at math, but my brain and my heart prefers to operate with more creativity and imagination.

Throughout my high school career, I wrote a lot of poetry. I wrote about anything and everything. Some of the pieces I created were decent and still hold lines that I love and cherish, but others were complete train wrecks and I doubted how I ever arrived at wanting to be a writer.

My English classes have always been my favorite to take. High school offered me a lot of different opportunities to write. I wrote and submitted pieces for the small literary magazine, I wrote during my study hours, and I wrote during my classes when I shouldn’t have been. That’s probably the first indicator: instead of writing out my math algorithms, I was writing out lines to future poems during class.

I wrote and submitted my first short story to a competition where it placed on the local level and went on to be judged throughout the state. It received an honorable mention at the state competition. At the time, I believed that everyone who didn’t place in the first three positions automatically received an honorable mention. I learned that this was not the case: there were actually places for first, second, third and then two spots for honorable mentions. I went on to turn this short, five hundred word essay into something much larger and is now one of my most treasured pieces. The story went from one page to ninety in the matter of about a month.

During my senior year of high school, I also wrote my first novel. It currently stands with 380 pages and needs quite a bit of work but I look at this piece as one of my biggest accomplishments. I started the piece in March of 2013 with absolutely zero ideas of what it would be or what it would turn into until I had written the final words in December of the same year. Throughout the process, I was still attending my high school classes, applying to colleges, graduating high school, transitioning into my college career all while typing away with my heart and soul. I had a sense of what it meant to create characters and a world inside your own head but it wasn’t until I’d spent almost a year with my characters that I truly fell in love with them. I laughed at the words I wrote and I cried too. The small apartment building where my characters live is a place I’d love to bring to life instead of just visiting it in my head, but that’s the beauty of writing: I can travel to and from reality and a place that doesn’t actually exist without ever moving from chair at my desk.

The thing about my writing style is that I become so focused on what I’m writing, that I literally don’t have time to do anything else because any moment of free time is spent cranking out the letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages into a word document.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple different plot ideas swimming around in my head and I’d love to start writing them and just get a start to what I’ve been toying with inside my brain, but I know that once I start, I won’t be able to stop until I’m however many pages into the story and the rest of my life is at a standstill. I just don’t have that kind of time right now while I’m a senior in college and about to graduate.  The stakes are a little bit higher than they were when I was a senior in high school.

At the end of my high school career, my classmates voted me for “most likely to write a New York Times bestseller.”

I haven’t gotten there, but one day, I hope to prove them right.

More Acceptance, More Strength

In the eighth grade, my language arts teacher taught a unit on poetry where we learned all about haikus, cinquains, limericks and many more. At the end of the unit, we were left with a giant packet full of all the poems we’d created. I guess I could say that was my very first collection of poems. At the time, I’d been playing a lot of soccer which ended up being the main focus of my collection. Every poem involved the sport in one way or another. At the end of the unit before we stapled all the poems together and turned in the packet, we had the opportunity to add a “free poem” which could be any poem ever as long as it was one I created. I chose to add the poem that I’d entered in the contest and won the year before. After a period of time where grading could be completed, we finally received our packets back. I was more than surprised to find that in the comments section on the rubric, my teacher had written, “excellent, you’re a true poet” and “a ‘wow’ poem! Would you be willing to let future classes see this if they did not know who wrote it?” It may not have been much to some people, but those little comments completely made my life and still give my heart a great feeling when looking through old paperwork.

Throughout my eighth grade year, I really lit a spark in my writing career. I entered a community contest with the theme of “fences” based off of a play that was being performed at the local theatre. I wrote a poem about barriers and what they can and cannot do. Unfortunately, that poem is lost to the world because I don’t have a copy of it anywhere. I do have the results list where I won third place in the poetry category and received tickets to the show as part of the prize.

The summer between my seventh grade and eighth grade year of middle school, my hometown experienced the worst flood we could’ve ever imagined. The river that flows right through the heart of downtown crested at thirty-one feet, leaving my city in disarray as every building in the downtown area received extensive damage from the flood waters as well as people’s homes. The flood marked my city so badly that people struggled getting back on their feet. Some businesses couldn’t actually recover from the flood while others bounced back quickly. I felt the need to speak out in some way or another and I turned to writing. I wrote a poem about our historic flood and entered it into the annual art and writing contest for my final year of middle school. I walked away again with a participant certificate and second place prize of thirty-dollars.

Flood of 2008

It had been raining a lot,

Too much to be saved in a pot.

In fact, it rained for days,

And the city was a haze.

 

For a long time it was overcast,

No one knew how long it would last.

The sun was nowhere in sight,

The mood was glum and no one could fly a kite.

 

People waited, waited and waited for the crest,

While hoping, praying, and waiting for the very best.

It was on local channels and world news,

So it wasn’t just Cedar Rapids feeling the blues.

 

George Bush declared a state of emergency

And FEMA helped out with the urgency.

Citizens were asked to conserve water,

So they went with no showers as the summer days grew hotter.

 

Recovery was going to be long,

But every one helped out and even came up with a song.

“Rise above This” by Seether was a great motivation,

And was played on Z102.9, a popular radio station.

 

T-shirts were created,

Donations were made.

Our plans were stated,

And we stood out like a report card grade.

 

Friends and family were forced to depart,

And now they would all have to restart.

Some lost everything,

So much that they couldn’t even find a ring.

 

So even now today,

Some families are not allowed in their homes to stay.

Instead they’re living in FEMA homes,

Which are so crowded, it makes you feel like living in a dome.

 

So now you know the story,

Of the flood that changed history.

It will never be forgot,

That day where rain couldn’t be contained in a pot.

 

 

 

I’m writing this post now in 2016, where another historic flood wasn’t predicted to happen for at least another one hundred years, but unfortunately, last month, my hometown experienced yet another historic flood. But this time, we were prepared and had time to protect ourselves. The entire city came together to help sandbag for local businesses and homes in the flood zone. Fortunately, this flood of 2016 was nothing compared to the flood of 2008. Most businesses and homes only retained a little water in their basements, nothing like having only their roof above water like before when the waters rose.

The First Rejection

In the sixth grade, I received my first taste of rejection, which inevitably is a taste you will learn to like when you’re a writer.

The middle school I attended hosted an annual art and writing contest with $50 going to the first place winner, $30 to second place and $20 to third. But everyone received a participating certificate, regardless if you placed or not.

I honestly cannot remember the piece that I submitted, but I do remember sitting in the cafeteria where the small award ceremony took place and not hearing my name called for third, second, or first place. Instead, I sat with a certificate of participation in my hands and listened as the winners were called.

My first taste of rejection sat on my tongue like vinegar. It wasn’t a taste I ever wanted to try again.

I remember listening to the first place winner’s piece ringing through my ears: a heartfelt, deep piece that reached an audience in a way that made them feel something, made me feel something. It was music to my ears but in the form of a poem. I remember wanting to write something that would do the same to my own audience someday.

I never wanted to taste rejection again, but in the seventh grade, I found myself sitting at my big, bulky desktop computer in the corner of my room and moving my still growing fingers across the keys until I’d reached the end and I sat back in my chair: satisfied with what I’d created.

After submitting the piece to the annual contest, I waited. And I waited an eternity. Okay, not quite that long, but I waited for what seemed like forever to my seventh grade mind.

On the day of the ceremony that once again took place in the small cafeteria, I waited some more. I’ve learned that rejection is largely about waiting.

I’m not a very patient person.

They handed out the participation certificates first and I held mine, hoping to add another certificate to my pile. My name wasn’t called for third place and I was hopeful that my name would be in the top two spots remaining.

The announcers read the second place title aloud and I walked to the front of the cafeteria with pride and received my certificate. It wasn’t first, but I didn’t care.

At this time, I wasn’t convinced that I could do this whole writing thing, but it was a stepping stone in my career as a writer.

I learned two things that year: writing about pain or dark subject matter attracts an audience and getting comfortable with the taste of rejection is just part of the process.

He Left

I was in the hallway,

I heard it all,

From the cursing and swearing,

To the door slamming.

I knew he had left,

But I went back to bed.

It happened so fast,

It was soon morning.

I thought he might come back,

But when I woke,

There was still no sign.

I ate my breakfast in silence.

She drove me to my grandma’s,

I was with my cousins now,

I almost forgot about it all,

Until she came to get me.

It filled my head again,

Then I thought I might see him.

We arrived home and still no sign,

Then she told me.

I wasn’t sure what it meant,

But I took it like I did.

She explained it all,

I didn’t cry.

She went to court.

They probably argued.

But I wasn’t there,

Maybe I thank God for that.

They both got assigned visitation,

And custody,

I learned I would not live with him,

But with her.

I visit him every Wednesday,

And every other weekend.

At first it was just my brother and I,

Until four years later.

She came from Oskaloosa,

She had two girls,

Who later became our step-sisters.

And she, our step-mom.

She’s not evil like in Cinderella,

But quite the opposite.

She buys us things,

And loves us like we’re her own.

My mom has moved on also,

She now dates a man,

Who cooks great food.

And loves us like we’re his own.

So maybe this is like Cinderella,

And we all live,

In a world,

Happily ever after.

-The first poem where I thought I might stand a chance as a writer.