The Year in Review: 2018

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Twenty-eighteen was the best of years and the worst of years.

This year was my first Christmas without my mom.  I think of all the conversations that we never had about all the good things that were happening in my life, all the stories of mine she had yet to read, all the books and meals and time with Hannah we had yet to share, all the Christmas shows we had yet to binge-watch together (like the “Bob’s Jelly Doughnut” episode of “Wings”)…

But I know she was there–I just wish I could see her being there.

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This December, I graduated with my A.A. and my A.S. and got a full-time job I enjoy at the college just before graduation–a job where my creativity is not only appreciated but encouraged.

The A.A. was what I wanted, the A.S., what I felt I was supposed to want.  I will go for my Bachelor’s in Business (with a concentration in Graphic Design) in the fall at the college that has been like my second home (as well as my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing at The University of West Florida when I can swing it).

It was my work on The Corsair designing recruitment ads, as well as making Shutterfly books for Christmas gifts, that led me to seeking a degree in the graphic arts.  (Besides, I can also use whatever I learn to make this blog better.)

My “passion for the college” was what got me the job (my supervisor actually said I had this thing called a “skill set”–something no one has ever said to me before), and it did not go unnoticed by me when I went in for my first day of work and saw a few or more copies of the newspaper scattered, opened to my farewell letter: http://ecorsair.com/letter-from-the-editor-in-chief/

How easy it is to have passion for something that has given me so much:  friendships, scholarships, a quality education, and numerous opportunities to become a better writer (and not always with a grade attached).

I put everything I have into everything I do.  There’s a quote by Mark Cuban I came across once–“Work like there is someone working twenty-four hours a day to take it all away from you”–and maybe that’s why I am the way I am.  I almost lost nearly everything or had it taken away, and the thought of that happening again terrifies me so much, I am hyper-vigilant about being the absolute best at everything I do (except for maybe astronomy or statistics), but it’s also more than that:  I care.

I don’t half-ass things (though the amateur lexicographer in me wonders if the opposite would be “whole-ass”?).  I don’t even read my own work once it’s been published–I just sort of glance over it, afraid I will find a mistake, only to obsess over it. 

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On Christmas Eve, my husband and I accepted an invitation to a church where we could have a fresh start. There was a woman pastor–something that used to seem strange to me, but not anymore.

That is not a change in values but in perception.

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I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions (I prefer to look back and note my accomplishments); however, I’m always making To-Do Lists (as well as goal lists, be they weekly, monthly, or lifetime) because if I didn’t, I’d simply forget it all.

Because this year has been crazy, and I’ve been spending so much time finishing college while applying for jobs and trying to make a living, I haven’t been taking care of myself or spending as much time with my family as I should.  I’ve still done a lot of writing, but more for this blog and the newspaper than submitting to magazines.

It’s time to read more, sleep more, and even play more (like with dumbbells, if not barbells).  Managing my stress is going to be a large part of my New Year’s health goals, for once I do that, my mind will be clearer to focus on other areas of wellness.  

I drained my batteries dry this past year but was able to sally forth because the light at the end of the tunnel just kept getting bigger.  I feel like I have passed through to the other side, only to find that there are more tunnels.  My community college experience opened those doors; that’s why I never saw them before.

But for now, I am content to just stand in the light.

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My community college journey

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         It has been a long four years—only because so much has happened in those years.
         I was almost thirty-three when I enrolled at the local community college—all set to get my degree in Health Information Technology to become a medical biller and coder; I was trying to be something I wasn’t, or rather, something I didn’t want to be.  The classes were excruciatingly boring (some people got all jazzed looking up medical codes, saying it was like solving a puzzle—I prefer jigsaw or mysteries), but all the while, I was taking other classes that interested me more (I needed something to keep my sanity), working towards getting my A.A., but not really realizing it until I found out that I had quite a few credits to go towards it.
         I will always have my A.S. degree as a backup (though I will still have to get my certification), but right now, I’m in that place called Contentment—a place I haven’t been for a very long time.
         Originally, I had ignored the email that was calling for students to apply for the Editor-in-Chief position for The Corsair (the college’s student-run newspaper); I didn’t want the job because I knew I wasn’t a leader (but neither am I a follower—I just like to lead myself).  I only wanted to worry about making my own deadlines, not getting others to make theirs; if someone wasn’t self-motivated, it wasn’t just their problem, but it became mine, too.
         However, I accepted the position because I saw it as a way to give back to the college that had helped me so much with scholarships and not only appreciated but celebrated my writing skills.
         I am very proud of the work I did, and, I hope, inspired others to do.  I learned a lot about myself—like that I have what it takes to become a great graphic designer.  (I just need the training.)
         Through creating Shutterfly books of my writing for friends and family and designing recruitment ads for the newspaper, I’ve become more aware of how words and pictures can complement one another.  I have the creativity and imagination, if not yet the talent or skill to choose graphic design as my vocation.
         My writing dream is to be either a nationally syndicated humor columnist or a regular contributor for The Saturday Evening Post.  I think both are a possibility within a decade. For example, my Capra-esque short story, “The Post-It Poet,” won Honorable Mention in this year’s The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Short Story contest.  (I won the same honor a few years ago.)
         “Poet” is about a thirty-something woman who goes back to community college to “figure it all out.”  (Guess where I got that idea.) It’s also about how poetry can change the world (and did), including her own.
         Writing sure changed mine.
         My work as EIC for the paper helped me get a career service position at the college.  If there was one thing I tried to drill in to my staff, it was that the work they did on The Corsair mattered, that a missed deadline was a missed opportunity.
         So, I’m glad I did accept the position, but I’m equally glad to be moving on to other kinds of writing (thank you letters, press releases, et cetera).  I not only was the EIC for the fall semester, but I also kept up the website and Facebook page, as well as take pictures and write stories, in addition to conducting meetings and work days and writing and answering the endless emails and texts.  I even experimented a bit with video, as well as post archived material on the Facebook page (the latter to fill in the gaps between issues, as our paper is a monthly).
         Since free college is included in my new job, I will go for my Bachelor’s in graphic design next fall.  I will learn how to draw and take pictures—two things I don’t know how to do very well; whatever I learn, I will be able to use for this blog.
         The last eighteen months of my college journey were extremely hard.  It seemed like the world was throwing everything it could at me to get me to quit, but it was against my nature to give up.
         As November was coming to a close, I was wondering what was going to happen to us, as three of my four jobs were going away for the holiday, one of them permanently.  Tutoring labs don’t need to be open when kids are out of school, and you have to be at least a part-time student to be EIC.
         But then, one night, as I was driving home from my second home on campus, “Silent Night” played on the radio, and I knew that whatever happened, we would be okay.
         Then, perhaps not even a week later, I got the call, then the interview, then the job.
         And it was more than all right.
         Our college’s motto is:  Go here. Get there; for me, it’s Go here.  Stay here.
         Now it’s time for a semester-long spring break and a semester-long summer vacation.  I’ve been running on adrenaline for too long; I’ve tried to do everything at 100% when my batteries were at 10.  There were few nights when I came home to a sleeping child, which made me sad; there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your child through the glass of the front door, jumping up and down because she knows you’re home.  I’d be so spent that even when I was home, my body was exhausted and my mind was adrift.
         I so look forward to graduation tomorrow.  Even though someone who was with me on my journey at the beginning won’t be with me in the same way at the end of it, I think she has the best free ticket in the house.
         I’ve often thought I could’ve done all this years ago, but I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met—might not have experienced the things I have—so I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journaling

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Journaling is the purest, rawest form of writing.

If you don’t like the idea of a diary, create a journal for a fictional character. Get to know them, then write your story.

Live to live, not to record. Never let the magic of the moment be lost because you were too busy writing it all down.

I’m a scrapbooking collagist when it comes to journaling, meaning heavy on the photography & “graphic design,” & light on the writing. I’ve included newspaper clippings, greeting cards, event programs, badges (for example, my college press pass), & many more.

Always have a notebook (& pen) nearby: on the nightstand, in the glove compartment, in your purse/murse, etc. Ideas often come at the most inopportune times. It’s easier to keep up with several books rather than having to remember to always carry the same one around with you (unlike a cell phone).

Have a “theme” journal. Joe Brainerd did an “I remember” theme. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/joe-brainard-i-remember. I am doing a “Precious Moments” book for my daughter. Other ideas would be “What if?” (my favorite poetry subject), “If only,” &, in the spirit of Tom T. Hall, “I Love.”

Start a reading journal (this is best for poetry). Unlike a book review, which analyzes the text with a critical eye, a poetry reading journal is about what the text means to you.
Journaling isn’t just about the product, but the process. If you focus too much on the product, you’re editing, not writing.

In the Irish film, The Secret Scripture, the main character has a Bible in which she keeps her journal, writing in between the lines, in the margins, et cetera. You can do this with any book that profoundly affects you.

Though there’s something intrinsically beautiful about a handwritten journal, don’t feel you have to write your journal by hand. (Better to keep a digital journal than no journal.) There are many journaling apps online. Think about it. Most of already journal every day, whether it be through Facebook, Instagram, our Shutterfly Share site, WordPress blog, etc., though hopefully, we’re not posting our deepest, darkest thoughts—that should be between you & your journal, whether on paper or paperless.

 

Another poetry manifesto, from “Slow Speaking Lady”

I’ve been bitten by the Shutterfly bug.

Last semester, for my final project in poetry class, we had to make a chapbook.  Being the anti-procrastinator I am (not because I’m so good, but because I’m so forgetful), the day the project was assigned, I started my Life, Inverse chapbook on Shutterfly, and worked on it once a week till it was due.

It wasn’t just a poetry project, but an art project as well.  I also learned a little about graphic design throughout the process.  I had so much fun doing it, I decided to do another, using the book below (one of the required texts for our poetry class) for inspiration.

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Growing up in the Deep South, I am far from a “fast-speaking woman,” so I named mine “Slow-Speaking Lady.”

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A screenshot of the cover of the book. I stood in front of a glass door where the sun was shining through and created a silhouette of myself.

With every Shutterfly project, rather than a dedication page, I will include a foreword or manifesto.  The passage below is from this project.

Manifesto

In the spring of my third year of community college, I finally got to take the poetry class I’d been waiting a year for. Though I’d written massive amounts of poetry, I considered myself more poetic than an actual poet. I didn’t feel I had a mind for adult poetry, but rather a heart for children’s poetry (which mostly rhymes). It wasn’t until I took Jamey Jones’s class that my ears were opened to how rhyming can often limit what could be limitless. I also became more aware of the way poetry looked on a page.

I simply became more aware.

I like to say that through my health information technology classes, I learned more about healthcare, but through poetry, I learned about myself.

I became comfortable sharing very personal poetry, when before, I’d always held something back if I had to read aloud. I conquered, at one student poetry reading, my fear of public speaking (at least non-extemporaneously). I quit asking myself “Why?” and began asking “Why not?”

I changed my internal dialogue.

I became more comfortable in my own skin, even though I’ve always felt there was too much of it. I realized if I could be confident in my message, then I wouldn’t feel like I had to look like the perfect messenger.

I had the pleasure of seeing renowned poet Anne Waldman perform one night during that spring semester. Though I’m more of a fan of her than her poetry, I was inspired by her passion, which led me to analyze her work on a deeper level; I discovered a greater appreciation of it, which inspired me to write my own version of an autobiographical narrative in list form (a la Fast Speaking Woman).

Like in Disney’s unanimated version of Cinderella, I learned, when it comes to workshopping, to have courage and be kind. Have courage when reading your work, and be kind to the person whose work you are critiquing.

Poetry class helped me become more aware of poets I wouldn’t have read otherwise. I could only learn so much in one class, but that one class inspired me seek out the work of other poets, and appreciate not just the way it looks and reads, but also the way it sounds. Good teaching, I’ve learned, leads to self-teaching.

I will never stop learning; I will never stop writing.

I will never stop until my heart does, and by then, I will have a million little pieces of myself behind, for writing is the closest thing to immortality on earth.

For more on the inspiration behind this project:

https://sarahleastories.com/2017/04/23/about-myself-and-poetry-what-i-learned-at-an-anne-waldman-workshop/
https://sarahleastories.com/2017/04/23/makeup-on-empty-space-poetry-reading-night/

My Poetry Manifesto

So we’re making chapbooks for our final project in our poetry class, and I’m taking the easy (but more expensive) route–I’m doing mine on Shutterfly because I’m not that crafty yet.

Our professor wanted us include our manifesto on poetry, and so this is mine:

Manifesto

I grew up on Mother Goose and Eugene Field, in the voice of my father.

As I matured, I turned to longer works; it wasn’t till I had my firstborn that my love for such rhyme and whimsy was reawakened.

“I have fed you with milk, and not with meat” (1 Corinthians 3:2). My dad had fed me the milk, nourishing me so that I could hunt for my own meat. Many years would pass before I realized I had been brought up on one of the most influential books of poetry the world has ever known: The Holy Bible.

That book has illuminated my being with its powerful message: that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and are of inherent worth, for “ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:23). That value is something no one can ever take away.

As I entered adolescence, I discovered Poe, Tennyson, and Frost–the classics–but it wasn’t until I took a college level poetry course that I began to appreciate adult, non-rhyming poetry.

And it was when I began to recite at and attend poetry readings that poetry became alive–something not just to be seen, but heard.

Poetry, for me, is a distilled form of literature, a purer form of language. It is life with the water taken out, and yet it flows like the blood of the one who wrote it.

Above all else, poetry has been, for me, the way to express all the things I could never say.

Dad

Me and my dad, circa 1982, who always read to me not from books, but from loose pages with illustrations, and who taught me to say “Three foul balls in a tub” instead of “three men in a tub” (on “Rub-a-dub-dub”)