10 November 2017

My son's gender-nonconformance does challenge me.

I'm going to start this post off with a paragraph I read on another blog:

Before anyone asks, no, I’m not some sort of new age, millennial, hipster chic parent living in a commune, attempting to raise genderless, nameless offspring who will one day grow up and decide these things independent of their father and me.

(Okay, so maybe I am that parent, perhaps even worse. But I think this should be prefaced with, "I never intended to raise my child as my son... it's just, he had other plans for me.)

My son was just shy of two when he started wearing nail polish. I have a ton of colors, and he picked a shiny blue to decorate his tiny nails, little jellybeans dancing on the ends of his fingertips. I thought very little of it at the time, thinking it was cute and, shoot, blue. He babied those nails and showed them off to everyone he could.

He's about four and a half now, and today, he wanted to wear sparkly press-on nails to go with his pink button-down shirt. For picture day.

And ya damn right, that's what he's wearing.

I always believed myself a progressive mom who refused to let gender norms dictate what her son did or wanted. To this point, it's been relatively simple, even adorable: The female-centered Paw Patrol shirts from the girls' section, the rainbow tutu and pink galoshes (two sizes too big but worn every day for over a week), and the manicures -- we've upgraded from simple nail polish to the full-on at-home salon experience.

But recently, I've been tested. My little gender-creative child recently asked me for a dress. And not just any dress, but one with sequins and glitter and entirely white.

It may have something to do with recently marrying my soulmate, an experience and a subject that deserves a post all of its own. I bought two dresses off Amazon, one lace and form-fitting, the other adorned with silver details and tulle. A few weeks ago, Tycho wanted me to try both of them on, and though his preference was for the latter, in each instance, he gasped and said, "Mommy, you look like a princess."

It took me a while for the stars in my eyes to dissipate, I won't lie!

A couple days later, he asked me for a dress. "A princess dress, like what you have for when you get married!" I paused for a second... did he want a dress because he wanted to be more like Mommy, or did he sincerely want a dress? I told him sure, I'll look around for one, and that was pretty much that.

I've already had to go through the painstaking effort to get both his classmates and his preschool teachers on board with his penchant for polish and glitter and all things whimsical. Kids have come up to me asking why Tycho is wearing nail polish, and most of the time, it was averted by saying, "He likes to wear it." And I've had to correct a teacher for saying pink is a "girl color" by noting every color is for every kid, and please don't make my son feel ashamed or wrong for liking pink. 

Now that they've known him for a few years, literally no one bats an eye at the polish or the pink or anything else wild he comes up with.

But a dress? I admit, this one is even difficult for me to wrangle. Guess there's more gender normative behavior engrained in me than I like to admit, especially since it's now personal. But maybe he dropped the matter entirely, right...?

As Tycho examined and admired his glittering pastel fingertips on the way to preschool, I asked if he still wanted a dress for maybe Christmas or Thanksgiving. He misunderstood me at first, thinking I was asking if he wanted to wear one: "For both!" I clarified it'd be for a present, and he was still insistent on wanting one. "Umm... white, and sparkles, and poofy."

I simply can't deny this is who my son is. Shoot, at Target yesterday, he quickly and almost recklessly abandoned a set of Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas for a two-set of footie jammies, one gray background with colorful birds and one pink and white polka dot with a large pink fox face. The disappointment in his eyes when I told him they were 5T and he still fits in 3T was palpable, and we hunted that damn clearance rack until we found his size. The moment we got home, he had those jammies on.

Before he was born, Matt and I had a few discussions about what we would do if Tycho was gay. Obviously, we'll love him no matter what; that's not at all predicated on who or what he is. At this point, I don't think Tycho is gay, or trans, or potentially anything else on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum (though it wouldn't surprise me if he was!), but it's very clear that he's gender-nonconforming (or, as another beautiful article put it and how I'll always consider it, gender creative).

And I never thought I'd be challenged by it, but here we are. His happiness, though, far outweighs my desire to be comfortable, so this Christmas, he'll be getting a white dress. I'll be a bit anxious about it, I totally admit that; this is more pushing my boundaries than it is his, since he's clearly comfortable with his decision.

We owe it to our children to let them make their own decisions and, so long as it doesn't harm others (and I don't mean their delicate sensibilities!), to not force them to conform to whatever society deems "appropriate." Tycho knows himself, far more than I ever will, even with the privilege of being his mom. I owe my trust to him, and he deserves every ounce of unconditional love I have.

So he'll have that. And his little white dress. And all the love and support he could ever want.

A post shared by Stephanie Fox (@letitproducejoy) on

06 June 2017

I want the world to know...

You would think that, at 32, I'd have my shit together and at least a few things about myself figured out. You would also think that I'd be more confident with that shit and those things. After all, I'm a grown-ass woman with supportive friends and family, so there's no reason to be anything but confident. It's not like they're going to up and leave (and if they do, were they really worth it?).

Here I am, getting ready for this year's Capital Pride Alliance Parade and wondering if I should be going as an ally or as an official "coming out." I didn't think this would cause so much consternation, but the more I vacillate between the two, the more I come to terms with... yeah, it should probably be the latter.

But I still find myself nervous, almost anxious, about it. Will people believe me? Hell, do I believe me? Is this me trying to be different or unique, to fall in a certain category because it'll ruffle feathers? Or is this just an attempt to fit into a group when, really, I have no experience, so what the hell do I know?

I've put this "confessional" off so long for fear of these questions and more, but I'm doing it anyway, fears be damned. So let me start here. Put it black and white. For, you know, the whole world to see. Because that's not nerve-wracking at all.

*huge, deep breaths*

I'm bisexual.

(That wasn't so hard, now, was it?!)

(Nah man I admit I'm shaking a little. Chickenshit!)

Okay, I'll admit. I've said this aloud to a small handful of people before. I've even posted about it on Facebook, I think. It's always felt flippant, though, almost defensive, like I should deny it because I'm in my 30s and shouldn't I have known this ages ago? Or... basically, regurgitate those previous questions until my brain is literally spinning in my skull.

Thing is, I'm pretty sure I've known for a while, potentially as early as puberty. This, I've never told anyone before, so buckle up, bitches, we're taking a trip down an oft-forgotten destiny path on Memory Lane.

(And now the nerves are really kicking in!)

When I was around 12 or 13, I hung out with this girl friend. Our parents were music colleagues, she was in chorus, and I was starting out on violin. I honestly don't remember other details of how we met or how we got to hanging out -- were our parents meeting regularly and we came along for the ride? -- but suffice it to say, we were around each other frequently.

At that point, I had maybe had a crush on one boy, a classmate in elementary school, who made my hands sweat and my heart race, like all school-age (and, let's be real, adult) crushes do. I remember asking my fourth grade teacher to pass a note torn from my notebook to him (why did I think I could trust her with that??), in which I basically poured my heart out. I'm not sure if he got it, but he did invite me to our Fifth Grade Dance, for which I was sick and unable to make it. Cue abject disappointment!

Other than him, I hadn't had any other crushes up to this point (and, learning much later in life that I'm also demisexual, how few crushes I had growing up no longer surprises me). I don't even know if I had a crush on this girl, but it was obvious she had one on me, and I was both attracted and more than complicit in experimenting.

But I had so few experiences -- okay, I had no experience! -- that I didn't know what this feeling was or any idea what to do with it. I honestly let her, in her relative infinite wisdom, take the reins and lead us to wherever the path was going to lead us. She appeared much more confident than I did, more willing to show me the ropes, but she also realized it was probably taboo, even in a pretty liberal, "out" musical community.

So perhaps it was blissful irony that my first kiss, my first time touching another person and being touched in a way that made me quiver from head to toe, was with a girl... in her bedroom closet.

... I feel like this needs to be a longer piece at some point, maybe as a project for my master's program or something (because I need something to write about!). But for right now, just digging up that memory is enough, especially considering the residual feelings of conflict, feelings I haven't processed yet and therefore can't vocalize.

Unfortunately, this lovely woman passed away a few years ago, and I feel terrible that I had never reached out after our parents parted ways in our mid-teens. I don't know what I'd say, how I'd feel, or what (if anything) would come of it... but she was, for all intents and purposes, my first foray into sexuality and in truly experiencing feelings for another person. I really hope, if she hadn't by then, she found herself before leaving this world.

This year, in addition to honoring this newfound (or new-expressed) part of myself, I honor her memory. Not as someone who was LGBTQIA+, because I honestly don't know how, if anything, she identified, but as someone who was confident enough in herself to reach out in every sense of the world, and who ultimately reached out to me and opened my world, too.

I'm not quite sure how to end this. I don't think there is an end, really, so maybe absentmindedly trailing off is apropos. I'm excited to attend this year's Pride Parade, nervous to do so as someone officially "coming out," and still taken aback by how this memory bubbled to the surface literally as I was writing this post... but I know this is just the beginning.

Thanks for all your support. <3

21 December 2016



If there's anything I learned recently, it's that withholding sharing your partner's positive qualities (the "say") or affection (the "do") with your partner themselves can make or break a relationship.

Having Matt hold them back from me broke ours, in a way that led not to an explosive end, but a quiet fizzle and a whimper of defeat.

It wasn't just that the "say" or the "do" were withheld; they were replaced with sarcasm, tear-downs, and critical eyes, done because he was "uncomfortable" with sharing any sort of praise or affection. While sex itself was never an issue, there was no warmth, there were no hugs, there was no hand-holding or kisses. There was little appreciation for accomplishments big and small, just wondering what more I could have done.

There was no trusting environment, no place to find solace within the four walls of our townhouse, and after a while, the walls inside my head started to become a less safe place, too.

For the longest time, I thought I had failed. I felt rejected, unworthy, dismissed. After a while, I had little integrity and self-respect. The life was sucked from me despite a faΓ§ade showing a happy face to the world; I didn't mean anything to my partner, so how could I mean anything to anyone else.

After a while, I started withholding, too. Not to the same extent, but whether because I didn't feel like sharing his positive qualities when none of mine were acknowledged or because I was actually starting to feel less like he even had any positive qualities, I had already started building my fortress, walled myself against the painful lack of affection and sealing my own away.

Talking didn't help. Fighting didn't help. We're three weeks away from being able to file for divorce (thanks, Maryland), and while that's been good for us in many ways, for this, it still hasn't helped.

Worse, I started to wonder if every relationship would have the same foundation: Lacking clear and kind communication, denying romance or sweetness or affection, feeling complacency instead of love, refusing to share good and bad because you certainly could and should have done more, squelching that part of yourself because why bother when your partner will never return it.

A month or two ago, Tycho was throwing a tantrum in the kitchen over wanting cookies and milk despite not finishing his dinner. While I didn't give in to his demand, I did sit on the floor, at his level, and wait for him to compose himself. After a few minutes, through hiccups and tears, he asked again if he could have cookies, and again I said no; the next question he asked:

"Can I have a hug?"

When Tycho is upset, one of the first things I'll offer him is just that: a hug. It's his reset button, and it assures him I'm there for him no matter what. In my arms, he feels safe, calm, and open, and he's more willing to give me his all. My hugs are his judgment-free zone.

I'm much older than he is, obviously, but I still sometimes feel like I need the same: A safe, calm, and open environment where I can truly be myself and know I'll be readily accepted, no matter what. I didn't have that in my marriage; if anything, I had the opposite, and it affected how I cared for myself or what I thought I was worthy of.

I held back so many emotions because I felt unsafe.

But now... now I share myself with someone emotionally intelligent, open, empathetic, caring, and yes... safe. It goes both ways, too; despite still occasionally feeling inadequate or fake (because, after so long denying you feel this way at all, actually expressing it is akin to acting), my emotions and sentiments toward him are entirely real, and I am so goddamn thankful to have that space to share my entire self with someone I love with every fiber of my being, and for him to feel the same.

I sometimes wish I had this in my marriage. It would have made for a freeing and rewarding experience, being able to share yourself fully with someone, for that someone to celebrate you fully, and to return the favor with zeal.

But... while I never it there, I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to experience it at all, share my all, and celebrate him, too.  And damn right, I'll be sure to point out every last amazing thing about him. ♥

09 November 2016

Why I will not abandon the United States... and why you shouldn't, either. (Even if you really fucking want to!)

via (and a great related article)

I am fortunate to have so many wonderful friends around the world, some of whom I've never met in real life. They are in places like Australia, Germany, Sweden, Canada, South Africa... literally scattered across different continents, each as beautiful as the next.

At one point or another during the presidential primaries, they have all offered me and my son safe haven where they are, with no time limit and with every intention to make us staying there a permanent thing.

On Tuesday, the United States made history by electing a man entirely unfit to run for any political (or other) office, much less the presidency. We did a complete about-face from President Obama by electing someone so heinous, so unbelievably crass, so lacking moral fiber... but white. And male, I may add, considering his running mate was white, too. The racism and misogyny from this election is almost impossible to comprehend... how could we do this.

My friends have reached out again to offer the same safe haven, this time with a sense of urgency for what America had done to itself. I've joked about (and... erm, researched) seeking asylum in another country several times during this election season, especially when Trump won the Republican primary. I knew he would get it, and knowing how zealously marginalized white men (and some other individuals!) have felt with a black president in office, I knew Trump would be our president-elect.

That same night, Canada's immigration site crashed as like-minded Americans sought to get the fuck out of what they never signed up for in the first place. I've done the same, and when my friends have reached out saying they have space for me and Tycho, no doubt... I considered it. I'm still considering it.

You know what, though? I can't leave.

Not because I physically or logistically or even eligibly can't. I can, and I have ample opportunity, as well as some fantastic people willing to help me and my son create a new homeland and start a new life.

But this election is now so much bigger than me and what I want to do. It's turned instead into what I, and others on the same side, need to do to protect our women, our LGBTQ+, our Muslims, our disabled, our blacks, our immigrants, our people. Our Americans who, because of their minority status, will be treated like second-class citizens by at least half the country and, equally horrifying, their leadership.

Even if their policies never materialize, both the rhetoric from the primaries and how Trump emboldened a group of people to outwardly express their hatred for minority groups have already done their damage. In fact, that is probably the more dangerous part than any policy Trump could ever dream up or attempt to implement: outright bigotry is now normalized.

But it's not too late. Now is our time to work towards reversing that damage.

Republicans (or conservatives) against Trump, I know this will be reminiscent of watching your best friend completely blow it on the dance floor (that is, awkwarrrrd)... but you're in a particularly excellent place to change the establishment from the inside out. I implore you to become active in and even employed by your local, state, and federal government to directly change rule of law that will come from your own party or wing.

Democrats (or liberals, or progressives -- holla!) need to hold Trump accountable to the law, to the Constitution, and to the truth. The real truth, not Trump's warped, narcissistic, self-serving version of that truth. Write in to and call your government officials at all levels, assemble grassroots efforts to protect those who need it most, and make your voices LOUD and CLEAR. You make up half this country, and your voice will help those who cannot speak for themselves.

And everyone: We have the power of dissent, we have the power to be advocates. A group of Americans are already using that power to protest the election in several major metropolitan areas across the United States, and even if this inevitable inauguration happens, the fire needs to keep burning.

It will be a long, busy, exhausting four years, and they will almost absolutely bring some awful policies, broken families, personal struggle... but if we all work together, we will do our part to ensure we don't free-fall into the worst situation fathomable.

America: I love you. I truly do. I love every last one of your citizens, for all their flaws and convictions. And despite wanting so badly to leave as the writing on the wall surrounds us... I stand with you, and I will stand for all your citizens.

Plan. Mobilize. Listen. Empathize. Stand up. Be heard. Work fast. Care for yourself.

And don't leave... FIGHT.




28 October 2016

Telling myself the truth.


I've often been accused of being able to "get over" something quickly like it's a bad thing, or act as if the feeling associated with a bad situation doesn't exist, or move on and "discard" things I see as negative influences in my life with seemingly no consequence. Most recently (and frequently), I've been accused of compartmentalizing.

Samhain is when I typically reflect on the past year, what all has transpired, and what I may learn for the coming turn of the wheel. This one brings with it some interesting challenges: Moving out, custody agreements (and disagreements), making a life on my own, graduate school, breakups and makeups and breakups again... this year really ran the gamut of life-changing, sometimes sucky experiences.

And yes, for the most part, I've been able to separate the feeling from the fact, accomplish what I needed without a lot of fuss or muss. I initially found that ability not at all detrimental; in fact, I found it beneficial, as I could disentangle myself from the emotional bullshit that comes from the situation.

I explored this more when prompted this week to write a poem using Dorianne Laux's Heart as the example. Choose a word, reflect on it, then write a poem of metaphors.

I originally had "compartment" at the top of my assignment, thinking that would be its direction. The more I researched the word's meaning, though, the less I thought it applied:
Compartmentalization (in psychology) is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.
So it did end up being inappropriate; while I do have my coping mechanisms, there's no cognitive dissonance experienced by removing the feeling. It's just... removing the feeling in the first place.

Freudian psychoanalysis provides more appropriate ego defense mechanisms:
Isolation occurs when an individual separates ideas or feelings from thoughts or situations, notably those producing anxiety or stress, and often replaces them with purposeful happiness.
Intellectualization, a form of isolation, concentrates on the intellectual components of a situation in particular so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions (that is, thinking to avoid feeling).
Third perceptual position is a way to "achieve" intellectualization, where the individual adopts an independent observer role to gain new perspective and simultaneously removes their own emotion from the situation.
They're not great coping mechanisms by any means; in fact, after finding these, I readily see why someone would say I'm stoic or avoiding or, more positively, able to "see the silver lining" in everything.

This especially comes to light when I think about the last year and the biggest change therein: Deciding to divorce. Even here, I waxed poetic about getting my best friend back when, all defense mechanisms aside, I was destroyed and thought myself a failure. I hated asking for a divorce, I hated feeling like I didn't do enough, and honestly... I hated Matt, too, for his part in why I asked.

I refused to deal with the emotions as they came up, instead trying to find some reason for being and a glimmer of hope when all I wanted to do was collapse in my new kitchen, alone and dejected, and sob. It does eventually rear its ugly head, resulting in a depression lasting for days or even weeks at a time, but in an effort to get the shit over with, I emotionally isolate.

... I don't really know what I'm doing with this post. Maybe, by virtue of finding and internalizing my findings, I can do a better job feeling emotions as they come up rather than subconsciously positioning myself as a third party. Maybe this is just a way of recognizing and there's no real need to change.

Maybe... maybe this is a big fat fuck you to anyone who thinks I'm without emotion because frankly, how many people are open about hearing others' struggles? Who really wants to hear that my divorce is killing me? Who asks "how are you" with true intentions of wanting to know, rather than doing it out of social convention?

And after almost 32 years, who wants to believe I'm anything but happy?

I suppose this is me telling myself, it's okay to feel shitty sometimes, even in the moment. It's okay to acknowledge it, to feel it, to express it. It's okay for others to think you have no emotions, but it's reasonable to expect them to take those emotions seriously when you do feel them and express them to others, as they do exist and are felt and are often experienced deeply.

If they're not okay with that? Well. There's their big fat fuck you.

If they are? Then thank you... thanks for helping me acknowledge and feel and express, even if it's difficult for both or all of us. Especially if I struggle.

... I really don't have much more to say on this. But it feels good to finally tell myself the truth.

12 October 2016

Why my divorce is a good thing.

via (and a great article to boot!)

It's been about a year now since we informed the world of our impending divorce, and it'll be another three months or so before we can file.

Before anyone says "sorry" again, this has been a good thing for both me and Matt. We are, by and large, far happier apart than we were together, and our happiness cultivates better parents for our son, who remains the most important thing in our relationship (and will likely bind us for the rest of our lives).

I just happen to reflect on this now, as the wheel turns again and I find myself pondering loss, death, and ends. The American Divorce Story is so laden with such things, it's difficult to imagine it being anything but. This past year, though -- as I struggle to find my footing, carve my path, and stand straight as a soon-divorcee facing the 32nd turn of her own wheel -- I discovered it is anything but.

I've learned who I am and what I want out of life, and it's not stuck in something that drags both me and my partner down. This past year, I've become me: The badass, independent goddess with an inner rock star who doesn't take anything less than the absolute best from herself and her partners. I'm no longer compromising, and whether I feel the first pang of rejection or if I (gasp!) fall head over heels in love, I will still have myself and my dreams.

I've learned I'm not, in fact, a crazy person. While Matt and I were toxic for each other and I certainly won no Wife of the Year awards, I was still pretty convinced I was a complete failure at everything I attempted. Getting out of a self-destructive relationship and on my own helped me recover from the years of emotional beat-downs. Each bill paid, each good food selected, each piece of furniture or knick-knack meticulously placed, each time I fixed something on my own (with no one looking over my shoulder telling me it was wrong) became a personal testament to how capable I truly am.

I've learned my belief I was "boring" wasn't reflective of me. This really stuck out when I had a difficult time writing my OKC profile; while I consider myself relatively interesting with some pretty cool hobbies and talents (and I'm a writer, so this should be easy, right?!), actually telling strangers about myself was incredibly hard. I kept seeing myself as insipid and never worth anyone's time. From the dates I've been on, though, I may be worth it after all!

I've learned I made the right decision. Of course, no one wants to wake up in their 30s (or ever) with all their shit packed in a corner of the basement just waiting for the house to sell so you can move to a new apartment... alone. No one wants to question if staying would have been better than leaving because your home is suddenly so empty. But then you get that reminder, the cosmic two-by-four across the back of your skull saying, "What a dumbass! And not you... the other guy!" There have been moments even during this separation period where I was reminded how little respect was given to me, and those moments cement my decision every damn day.

There will come a time, I'm sure of it, when I have a life partner by my side who supports and encourages and respects me for who I am, and for whom I will be equally enthusiastic to support and encourage and respect. Until then, I'm happy to continue growing me... to face the darkness head on and emerge on the other side, truly reborn.

18 August 2016

Reach for the stars... you're guaranteed to hit something good along the way.

You guys. YOU GUYS!! I can't believe I haven't written about this sooner, but the overwhelming joy swept me off my feet with such gusto, I didn't even think to say anything here.

I got into grad school!!


Okay, so! After graduating from Florida State in 2007 with my BA in Creative Writing and Music, I applied to a Creative Writing master's program through the University of Central Florida, where I was promptly denied. Too little life experience, they said, and I agreed, tucking my tail between  my legs. My spirit was crushed; all I ever wanted to do was become a writer and flourish in a community of like-minded creative souls, and receiving that rejection letter drove a stake through my heart.

The next several years were spent getting a degree in Legal Studies and doing paralegal work across Orlando and, after moving, around Maryland. The job was great and I learned a whole hell of a lot, but I wasn't fulfilled; it wasn't until one of my best friends, Sam, referred me to a legitimate writer/editor job that I got my "big break" into the professional writing world.

Getting into grad school remained in the back of my mind, though, and after some encouragement and a Graduate Open House that had me literally writhing with excitement, I finally bucked up the courage and applied. Many, if not all, of my writing samples came from this blog, and my Personal Statement (or Statement of Purpose) shirked convention by talking not about how I've "always wanted to be a writer since developing my first short story at the tender age of seven," but about already being a writer and what the grad program, its instructors, and my fellow classroom colleagues could learn from one another.

Two long, agonizing months passed with no word. Once they received my final letter of recommendation and the status on my account changed from "incomplete" to "awaiting decision," I checked nearly every other hour for something, anything. At that point, while my heart would have withstood damage beyond belief, even getting a rejection was better than the waiting game.

And finally, after going three whole days without obsessively checking my account, I received this email:

(Can I say, thank GOD they include "Congratulations!" in the very first line?! Even before opening the email, I was running around the office!)

I am OVER THE MOON!! There are literally no words adequate to describe this level of exuberance and the want to jump out of my own skin. I start this coming semester with a Poetry Workshop, which is awesome on so many levels: (1) I've never done a poetry workshop, and just thinking how it will enhance my writing is daunting and exhilarating all at once; (2) I consider my writing poetic already, so studying actual poetry will only expand those horizons; and (3) my academic advisor and the department head opened up a new section just so I could be in her class. She personally re-reviewed my application and said she thought a poetry workshop would be fantastic for my writing, so she ensured I had a spot so I can study with her.

AMAZING. Amazing!!!

So, in celebration, and considering I'm sure several others are looking for MFA Personal Statement inspiration (because I legit googled the SHIT out of them before drafting my own), here's my submission. May it serve as fodder for your own graduate application packages. :)

Love love LOVE to y'all!!

Personal Statement

Stephanie Fox, prospective graduate student

UBalt MFA: Creative Writing and Publishing Arts

Concentration in Non-Fiction

I’m a veritable unicorn of the literary world, a writer lucky enough to actually do what she loves for a living.

… well, okay, the work isn’t exactly what I want to do, but I get a steady (and livable) paycheck every two weeks to write and edit a plethora of different materials every single day. The rub? I’m a government contractor, so what I end up writing is limited to technical documents, the security workforce, professional certifications, and the Department of Defense. Not quite what I’d call riveting, though I try to write in a way that’s not drier than a well-done filet. You know, something palatable.

My work is certainly challenging, though; not a day goes by when I’m not genuinely thankful to pursue my passion, push the boundaries to write creatively and develop intriguing imagery for an otherwise mild industry and audience, and—let’s face it—put the exorbitant amount of money I already put into my undergraduate education to good use. However, between this career and the preceding six years as a paralegal (since, as implied, actually getting a job related to your undergraduate degree is easier said than done), I’ve noticed my own personal writing pursuits trending towards a distinct flatness and, eventually, a rather boring voice.

I had an incredible undergraduate experience. My first two years were spent as a Music Performance major, an up-and-coming professional violinist playing in full orchestras, smaller chamber ensembles, and solo works. The equally (or exceedingly) creative people around me were nothing short of inspiring, and I drew on a lot of that creativity and talent as I progressed through my degree.

Halfway through my junior year, I decided to double major in Creative Writing and instantly found an equally (or exceedingly!) creative group of aspiring novelists and essayists, all working together to hone their individual talents and foster a community that encouraged others to pave their own destiny paths. For the remaining year and a half of my college experience, my writing improved dramatically, my portfolio increased exponentially, and my voice sang from the rooftops (on key, of course, considering my musical training). I loved reading my classmates’ work and getting their comments back on mine, critically examining every line for intent and purpose while appreciating the work as a whole and how each line played its part. I ultimately discovered a fondness for creative non-fiction, learning to see my life as a narrative and turning ordinary life and any little experience within it into an introspective work of art.

Nowadays, I’m paid to write and edit for a major government organization under the DoD umbrella. The love for critical examination cultivated during my undergraduate career and its writing community gave way to becoming a subject matter expert in my field, offering editorial expertise and constructive criticism when nitpicking my colleagues’ writing. But it’s a lonely life, being the only writer and editor in my division and one of two in my entire directorate, with no ability to have others review my work with the same fervent desire to find meaning as I did in the writing community from years ago.

I recently attended a Graduate Open House for the University of Baltimore’s Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA Program, where I had the pleasure of meeting potential future classmates guided by a similar passion and love for the written word. Simply listening to them discuss their experiences, desires, and dreams was inspirational; I heard the hunger in their voices, the craving for experiencing and influencing others’ writing while developing their own voices as those around them experience and influence them.

I practically wriggled in my seat when Dr. Kendra Kopelke, with her devotion not only for poetry but for helping her students “plork” (or finding play in your work, if any of my colleagues—stuffed to the gills with overcooked, unseasoned meat—could ever imagine such a thing!), danced and gesticulated and took my imagination to new heights as she described the program and her students’ accomplishments. In her own right, and if she is any indication of how other professors in the MFA Program approach the written word, Dr. Kopelke was the one who truly inspired me to file my graduate studies application with UBalt.

I’ve obviously overcome one major hurdle in every aspiring writer’s narrative: “I want to be a writer when I grow up,” and I’ve managed to do just that by firmly establishing a career where I write every day for a modest living. No mean feat, but this achievement comes almost at the cost of my personal expression. In researching MFA programs around Maryland, I discovered one that pushed creative limits and nurtured each student’s individual energy and spirit while offering that work-life balance. More than anything, being an MFA student at UBalt would provide the opportunity to commune with other fervent and talented writers, foster a new creative community where I could both develop myself and help develop others, grow as a writer while finding balance between my professional work and personal “plork,” and bring that passion back into my voice.

Then, once again, I will sing on-key from the rooftops.

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