When I went to college at Ashland University, magic happened. I somehow wound up in the English 101 class of Dr. Joe Mackall. His first assignment? A personal narrative about whatever we wanted. So on a hot August night in my dorm room, I sat down and wrote about attending a KISS and Aerosmith concert–about how the grass felt on the lawn that night, cool yet sticky. About how I somehow felt a kinship with people I didn’t know, and people I’d never really know, and how I felt more comfortable in decades prior to my time than in my own time. I wrote about the chains that bounced off my hip as I climbed the hill of Germain Amphitheatre in Columbus, Ohio, and how I held the callused hands of a boy who kept me at skin’s length even though I wanted more than anything to be a part of him.
I turned in the paper. The next class, Joe kept me after. The humid air had crept in through the windows and the sweaty plastic of the desk stuck against my forearms. I felt like I was suffocating. “What’s your major?” he asked.
“Undecided…but leaning toward education?” I half-asked. Was there a right answer?
“No. Creative writing. You have something here,” Joe said. Apparently there was. When I left Miller Hall that day, two weeks into my college career, I felt like I had direction for the first time. The flowers were brighter and the sky was bluer, and I felt like Joe had uncovered a part of me that I didn’t even know existed, like he had peeled back my own calluses and exposed a raw, undeveloped part of me.
As with any “new skin,” this part of me was sensitive. I babied it, wouldn’t fully walk on it right away. It was an odd sensation, having someone believe that what I had to say was worth something, that my insights meant something. That my story was one that people might want to hear.
I spent many nights at the computer, my chair tilted back on two legs, trying to find my reality. Reality. It felt so foreign then. It felt like a thing of value.
All through college, I pecked away at my keyboard. When I couldn’t write, I turned on Metallica, turned off the lights, and hung upside down on my futon. I tried.
Four quick years later, I was getting ready to graduate when Joe asked me, “What do you think about grad school?”
I shrugged. After a barrage of questions from my mother about what the hell I was going to do with a Creative Writing degree, I decided that grad school would only be a waste of money.
“University of North Carolina at Wilmington. You should apply. A friend of mine, Philip Gerard, is down there. You’ll learn a lot from him,” Joe said.
So I applied. I got accepted. I didn’t respond until they started calling me and asking me what I was going to do. I decided I wouldn’t take it without a teaching assistantship, and the next day, I got the assistantship. So in August of 2007, I moved to North Carolina with a fire in my hands to write. I had managed to keep the skin that Joe revealed open–vulnerable, yet livable–everything that a writer should be. Because if a writer is not vulnerable, are they really a writer?
The truth was that Philip Gerard was wonderful. I felt comfortable with him much like I felt comfortable with Joe. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2010 with an MFA.
That same year, I was hired at Foundation Software (a company out of Cleveland that writes/supports construction accounting software) to do all their writing and to act as a creative source for marketing campaigns, headlines, etc. September 2013 will mark my third anniversary with the company.