Introduction: A Written History
It was 1991. The breeze tossed up my wavy blonde hair, cut in the style of a mullet due to a recent self-administered haircut, as my first grade class walked in a single-file line to the Elementary playground. In my hand was an early reader chapter book, and I had a tree in my sights next to the monkey bars. As my class reached the playground, children began to scatter like ants flowing from a hill. Some ran for the swings. Others ran for the jungle gym. A group of boys made way to the kickball diamond in the back. But me? Ah, I kept my eye on the glorious shady place beneath that tree by the monkey bars.
I took my seat in the shade, my spine pressed gently against the tree’s trunk. The grass was sparse and the seat of my pale pink shorts made quick friends with the dusty earth that ever-so-lightly covered the tree’s roots. The shouts and commotion of the playground behind me quickly dissipated as I unfolded the book on my lap and began to read. My mind was carried away into another world; a world that existed only on the pages in front of me and in my own imagination. For the next 20 minutes I was immersed in that world, until the one around me forced me back into a reality that was far inferior to the one that lived on those pages.
Consistently throughout elementary school I was the child who was lectured by her teachers for reading when I should be paying attention in class. I was already reading by the time I entered Kindergarten, and by the time I reached second grade, simply reading was not enough. I began to imagine myself as the author of the book I was reading. Not only was a story unfolding on the pages in front of me, but I pictured myself seated at a typewriter, putting the words on those pages.
In fourth grade, my parents bought us 4-wheelers. I would get on my 4-wheeler and ride aimlessly around the fields and the pond behind my house, conjuring up stories in my mind and imagining myself writing them as they unfolded. This continued on well into my teenage years. I would get so lost in my imagination that, while driving my car I would often realize I had just driven several miles with no recollection of the drive in my memory. Somehow I had gone into auto pilot while my imagination played a story to pass the time.
In all of those years I never really stopped to ask myself the question that children are asked often from the moment they are old enough to speak: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I always knew that I would write. I saw myself sitting at a desk, in front of a computer, striking at the keys. My literature classes were always my favorite, and essays and research papers required little effort to complete sufficiently. Spelling tests needed no studying to master, and I was regularly chosen as the one to read aloud from books that we read as a class. Reading and writing were as much a part of my DNA as the blue-green eyes that I inherited from my father.
During my senior year in high school, I took a dual-weighted English course where our class project was a senior memory book. I was given the task of writing several chapters about my life. I could not have been more excited for a class project. On the third chapter I submitted, my teacher gave me a bit of feedback that I will never forget. On a tiny yellow sticky note attached to my returned chapter, she wrote, “your chapters are consistently the longest and most detailed I’ve read thus far.”
My senior year was 2002-2003. It was time to apply to colleges and choose a major. My entire life I knew what I would do: write. I didn’t know where I would go to school, but I knew that I would study journalism. When it came time to put the plan into motion, however, a new reality struck. The internet was quickly taking over the world of journalism. Newspapers were cutting staff and closing down all across the country, and the outlook for future journalists was bleak. I came from a blue collar, lower-middle-class family, where financial security was most definitely a concern.
I was not one of those children who had nothing more to worry about than doing what they wanted with their college career with their parents footing the entirety of the financial burden. Whatever I did, I would need to be certain that I would graduate from college and find a job. Not only find a job, but find a job relatively easily that would pay me enough to be worth the time and work spent in college. I felt a sense of pressure to perform and be successful that many of my peers did not seem to share. That pressure caused me to question the dream I had carried with me my entire life. I always knew that I would be a writer, but the time had come to bring that dream to life and I suddenly felt certain that pursuing a career as a writer would be a mistake. I wouldn’t be able to find a newspaper that was hiring, and I would end up working in a factory just like my parents.
For the first time in my 17 years, I felt lost. I abandoned my dreams, and was left not knowing what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. If not a writer, then what? I had seldom considered anything else. The few other things I did consider were all creative; a flutist in an orchestra or an interior designer; all things with bleak job outlooks and a hard road to success. As a result, I chose to take the year after high school off. I needed time to figure out what I wanted. And then, life happened.
After one year off, I had enrolled at Southeast Missouri State University with my major still undeclared. It was May, and I was on track to begin in August. My high school boyfriend and I had been engaged in a long distance relationship, and just one month after I enrolled in classes, I discovered that I was pregnant. I dropped everything. I picked up and moved to be with my boyfriend, because he was already finished with college and working full-time. I went from a four year university, to a local community college. I also declared a major—early childhood education. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I was going to be a mother, and at the very least this might help me to be a good one.
I got my AA degree in Early Childhood Education, taught preschool for a couple of years, got divorced, then started working at a bank. I went back to school for business because it related to the job I was doing. Yet along the way, I never stopped writing. I kept journals, then eventually started a blog. After gaining some experience blogging at a more private level, I decided to branch out and start a blog that I could put out there into the world. I also reached out to local newspapers and magazines to get my name out as a freelance writer. I also signed up for membership with International Association of Professional Writers & Editors (IAPWE).
It was around this same time that I made the decision to leave the Business Administration program and Southeast Missouri State University to pursue my original dream. I applied to UMass Amherst University Without Walls to study Journalism after 15 years of falling wildly off-course. Since beginning my journey at UMass I’ve found my direction on my blog, and I’ve had articles published in the local newspaper. It is these two topics, blogging and freelance writing, that I will be discussing throughout this portfolio. My first chapter will be about my experience with blogging, and my second chapter will cover my experience with freelance writing.
I realize now, all of these years later, that my 17-year-old-self had it wrong. Yes, newspapers were beginning to struggle in the early 2000’s. However, technology actually ended up expanding the field of journalism. Now, print journalism is in strong competition with online news sources and magazines. I no longer need to worry about moving to a big city to find full-time work as a journalist. I can live right here, in the town where I currently reside, and write for any news outlet or website anywhere in the world.
I also no longer need to be concerned with earning a living as a writer. I have a career in banking that I am happy with, and that is stable and provides the means for everything that I need. I can now work as a freelance writer on the side, with no pressure of making a sustainable income to drive the opportunities of which I take advantage. The road I took to get to where I am today was anything but a straight and narrow path, but I ultimately have found my way right to where I always should have been. I may have left my dream of writing for a while, but that dream never left me. Just as much as I am a woman; a living breathing human being; I am a writer.