my declaration of independence

I’m super excited about Michaela’s post. If you like it too, then you will check out her blog and then leave harassing comments begging her to actually blog more than once a season.

“We can spend our lives letting [our] history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.” -Chuck Palahniuk

When I came across Erin’s proposition to write a guest blog about a “defining moment” I’ve experienced, it took me about 25 seconds of soul-searching to determine which singular event has had the biggest influence on my life. It’s taken me a couple of months, however, to write this story for you, dear stranger. I wondered, Will they get it? Can they relate? Will I sound like I take myself too seriously? Can I talk about myself for that long without sounding narcissistic? Is that question narcissistic? Can I write an entire blog post without saying ‘fuck’ at least once, for emphasis? Instead of working out the obstacles that have delayed this post, I’ve decided to shoot from the hip and maybe the heart.

I’ll share some history with you first, to help you understand my defining moment’s significance. I’m 26, and the last four years of my life have been full of big changes. I became a mom to two babies, becoming a single mom this year. These have been the most pivotal events in my life, but I don’t believe any of them exclusively define me. Bringing my children into the world was a tremendously significant experience, but I can’t claim that it was solely mine. Those moments also belong to my children; we did it together. Their births defined us collectively.

Breaking up with their dad was the most painful decision I’ve ever made. I had the emotional support of my friends and family, but I felt like I’d failed and worried incessantly about the kids’ future. Although the break-up shaped the course of my future, it doesn’t represent my identity.

When we broke up, the kids and I had to move. My best friend’s parents offered us their home while I figured things out. I didn’t know how I’d be able to afford our own place, but I saved for it anyway. My ex’s words taunted me; he’d said I’d never be able to make it on my own. At the time, I was working part-time at a clothing store. I took home only $100 some weeks, but I saved almost every dollar I earned.

In February, I was hired part-time at a property management company. I kept my retail job to piece together a livable income and juggled around babysitters for whom I will forever be thankful. I also found an apartment in a great school district that fit my budget.

Signing the lease on March 5th, 2011 was my defining moment.

This moment was quiet, and although my landlord was there, the moment was mine. I gave him a chunk of my savings and signed my name, committing myself and my children to a 12 month lease and a home of our own. I bought myself new sheets. I decided where to put the furniture. I’ve put a few too many holes in the walls, choosing where to hang my favorite art pieces and photographs. To me, my lease isn’t just a financial and legal commitment. My lease represents a promise to myself and my kids that I can do it on my own.

It is my fucking declaration of independence.

I live frugally, and money is tight sometimes, but I feel like my rent is the best investment I make each month. We live in a safe neighborhood in a nice town. My neighbors are friendly, and my landlord looks out for us.

I finally have my own walls, and everything inside them belongs to me and the two people I love most. My apartment is a reflection of the space I wanted to create for my family. It’s comfortable, quiet and playful. It’s also messy sometimes, just like me.

Saving for and ultimately moving into my own apartment defined me: I’m determined. I’m strong. I’m a provider. I’m mama bear. I’m still a terrible cook. And I’m happy. It’s been a hell of a year, and it’s tested my willpower. As it turns out, I’ve got plenty of it.

just thinking…

  • So last week I wrote about a horrible man, whom I thought was a pretty evil character. Mr. O was kind enough to send me this article about an even more horrible human being, so I figured I would share it with you.
  • My MFA Big Brother Phil has put me to shame. When he first started blogging, he asked me if I had any suggestions. My advice was: Write often. Who cares if you think that you have nothing to say, just say anything…eventually you’ll have a lot to say. Well, folks. At this point, Phil’s blog has evolved into what I’d like to call a Rock Star Blog. He’s posting pretty much every day, and people get upset with him when he doesn’t say anything. I think I have to take some of my own advice.
  • Two nights ago I had three wonderful humans come to my house for a writing group. We’re called the Masshole Writers, and I’m so grateful to be part of such a rad team. When we get together we chow down; this time we had a Chinese and Lebanese food buffet. Then we settle into workshop mode and go over each other’s submissions. There are two fiction writers, a poet, and me- the nonfiction writer. It is refreshing to workshop with writers out of your own genre.
  • Woah, I don’t think I made a super amazing announcement on my blog yet! (What the hell is wrong with me?) Porochista Khakpour will be my new faculty mentor for this semester. (Cue the parade and confetti and balloons!) I am F-ing PUMPED, folks. I’ve always admired Porochista, but assumed that because she was hired as a faculty member for the fiction genre, I wouldn’t get the chance to have her as a mentor. Well, this is just another lesson that nothing is impossible. I’m fortunate to be in my 3rd semester now for graduate school, and we spend the majority of the next few months working on a “project.” I needed a spunky, funny, enthusiastic teacher to advise me this semester and Porochista is my gal. I’ll give you details about the project in a future post, because I might even need your help!
  • Mr. O and I want to go on a mini vacation in September, but our choices are very limited. Both of our birthdays are next month, which also happens to be Hurricane Season. So cancel almost all southern states and Caribbean locations. Any suggestions?
  • On Friday, I’ll be attending my last wedding of 2011. I am pretty excited because I have a dark purple dress I have been DYING to wear somewhere. One of my close friends from high school is getting married to a fabulous guy. I’ve heard this is going to be a good time. Can’t wait to find out.

weekly findings

Here are some things that I really liked this week:

One of my greatest, most awesome friends has made her return to blogging, and let me tell you, this is something you definititely want to check out. Michaela is hialrious, intelligent and fantastic. This will make blogging history, folks.

Pinterest. Yup. Anything that has to do with it.

The Pittsburg Steelers coach Ray Horton sold his Mercedes to a cook at the sports complex for $20 before leaving to coach for the Arizona Cardinals. via

Here are some things I didn’t really like at all this week:

This sign a man put up on his front door telling his neighbor to die. Since this story was originally published, this man has tried to apologize many times, but I still think its extremely sad to see such hatred like this. via

i’ll have the fish

Time for another guest blogger. This series is open to anyone who is interested, so let me know if you think you have something to say. Justin and I went to college together and I’m happy he agreed to write a post for my blog. When he’s not gallivanting around the internet, you can find him at What Townie Learned.

Let’s get something on the table right now: nobody enjoys the airport. I know surefire I don’t, and I know you don’t either.

You know how I know this? Because you’re human and have emotional repercussions to things that suck, airports being one of the many you constantly endure, get over and eventually move on.

But this isn’t about the many, many nocuous challenges airports pose to one’s medulla oblongata, this is about how one averts those situations with positivity. Above the clouds, there’s always sunshine, right?

By doing so, this will only produce the question of why, after all the love and affection, Townie could possibly still think airports blow.

“How could he? He says right here, point by point, why they’re tremendously awesome.”

Well, by use of simple mathematics, you must conclude that if my affection equals a 90, then my dissatisfaction must be greater than 90. Probably around a 102.

(By the way: picture me writing this ten feet from my gate, surrounded by people with laptops.)

Anyway, a list:

1) I love airports because without airports the movie Airplane never becomes comic gold, cinematic glory. If you haven’t seen Airplane, don’t worry. Run over to Blockbuster, grab the tape and pop it in your VCR, because it’s old.

2) Airports have the same environment as a bathroom stall, without the heat-seaking stanky waft pervading your well-being. Nobody wants to talk to you unless it’s your best friend. You have to stay with your children. You can’t leave your baggage behind. By baggage I mean a laptop case or a steaming pile. Need more examples?

3) For cell-phone lacking degenerates like me, airports are one of the few places you can use a quarter to make a call home. Sure, it may take twenty quarters, but isn’t it worth it just for nostalgic purposes? For me, it has to be.

4) Dunkin versus Starbucks. Do I need to say more? Okay, fine. This is the only place where you literally get to see two mega-giants from the coffee world duke it out, injecting hot over-caffeinated goodness into your suckhole. East versus West. Tupac vs. Biggie. What to do? I chose to get my Pike Place roast from Starbucks with the other sophisticates, walk into line with the degenerates over at DunkieDoos and get an caloric megaboost in the form of a sausage-egg and chesse. You can actually taste the microwave in the eggs. MMM…

5)  Every airport has one convenience store that has one specific to the flavors of its local state. At that point you walk in to be proud, only to leave and say to yourself, “Wait, we have that?” You leave with $20 worth of stuff you can get if you weren’t too busy in your busy life to drive fifteen minutes. Someday, years ahead of time, you’ll see that can of New England clam chowder on sale in your local Stop and Shop for one tenth of what you paid at the airport’s novelty shop.

6) Acceptable racial profiling. I don’t know why this is a positive, or whether if it’s okay to say, or if it’ll deter readers, or family members, but hear me out. We ALL racially profile. I know when I was getting felt up by TFA officers a moment ago (smiling proudly might I add), people were saying to themselves, “What’s that white boy being checked for? Action figures? The keys to a BMW?” That’s racial profiling. I haven’t played with action figures for at least three years and I’ve never driven a BMW bigger than a matchbox car. Sure, racial profiling is unacceptable, but everyday racial profiling gets brushed aside. In Airports, racial profiling is not only used, but is readily out in the open. For some reason, you have to tip your cap to them on that.

7) So many people read. It’s amazing. You take away a television and throw a person in a situation where the only entertainment is reading and suddenly reading is cool again. Maybe the answer to illiteracy is right in front of us: airport terminals. Get me on the phone with the department of education!

Now, with all that good stuff out of the way, I can still defiantly state, airports suck.

Here’s the part of my blog where I ask a rhetorical question you never thought you’d ever be asked:

Do you really want to be that old lady in an airport with a tattoo on your ankle? You know, that rosary tattoo is not going to be rebellious and fab in the 2040’s. It’s going to look bad. Are you prepared for that? Are you accepting the way you look thirty years from now, saggy skin flapping below your cargo-capris, hanging over your pink Mickey Mouse socks? You know you’re not fooling your grandchildren, right? They know you were a skank back in high school.

Then, there’s this part, where I give a bunch of needless thoughts into your head directly from my head, only in an abbreviated way:

1) When in doubt of how to write something, go with lists.

2) That rumbling in my stomach definitely isn’t a serious case of violent diarrhea. It’s definitely something else. Definitely.

3) Diarrhea on a plane is definitely a good way to make friends with the back row.

4) I’m oft criticized for being too sarcastic. Why? Because when your baby goes godzilla near me, I reply with one of the following? “So cute”, “One of god’s children”, or “I hope to one day have children as beautiful as yours.” Sue me for seeing the positive side in every situation. I guess The Secret isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

5) Listen, I’m going to use “is” and “would” and “it’s” and all sorts of grammatical no-no’s in my blog. So long as people continue to throw misspellings in their company and product names. You know what I’m talking about Eazy Cleaners.

6) My worst habit isn’t smoking or drinking, it is, however, referring to children as “it” instead of him or her or he and she.

7) My mom likes my blog, but told me it reminds her of 60 Minutes correspondent Andy Rooney. I couldn’t be more happy and sad at the same time.

welcome new friends!

49 go on a cruise (9)Ola, amigos. Have you recently found your way over here from Kyla’s blog? If so, welcome! Make yourself at home. I bet you’re wondering, “Who is this Erin character?” That’s a good question. The easiest way to get a brief overview of who I am is to check out the “About the Girl” tab at the top of this page. However, I’ve provided a short list below cause I like to make things nice and simple for you.

  • I’m afraid of bees. However, alligators are my favorite animals.
  • I am a graduate student studying creative nonfiction and I do a lot of whining about how I procrastinate too much. (I also don’t have good grammar on this blog, beware!)
  • Besides my day job, I have a part time gig as a relief worker for adults with mental illnesses, and I also coordinate and plan events such as weddings and concerts.
  • If I told you that I was a great cook then I’d be lying to you, and I really am an honest person. I can however tell you that I want to be a good cook one day. My boyfriend makes fantastic meals; he’s teaching me what he knows, and the rest we plan on learning together.
  • I think everyone really should have a lucky number and a favorite color.
  • I also really want to know people’s middle names.
  • If it wasn’t for 20 Something Bloggers, I don’t know if I would have continued to blog since I first started in 2008. I also owe a lot of my blogging gratitide to my 101 in 1001 goals list and NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo and Grace in Small Things as well.
  • I love everything about home improvement. However, I do not own my own home. Still, I fantasize about home design projects and knocking down walls and painting and everything that could have to do with houses.
  • I love to travel. Anywhere.

And here are some of the key players on this blog:

  • Mr. O: The most wonderful man in the world (at least in my eyes). As corny as it may sound, Mr. O is my boyfriend and my best friend. I tend to profess my love for him on here. Sorry, folks.
  • Fairfield University MFA Program: I write a LOT about my grad school experiences, and on top of that, you have the chance to get to know some of my classmates, like Phil and AJ and Reuben and Brooke.
  • Fenway: My Chihuahua/Terrier mix. She’s a rescue dog I adopted while living in Virginia. She definitely keeps me on my toes.

Oh…and these things happen often around these parts.

  • The Defining Moments Guest Series: So far Amanda, AJ, Phil, Brooke, Reuben, Heidi and Kat have all posted about moments of reinvention or inspiration. This series has been a big hit for my readers, and I am always looking for more people to write a guest blog on this topic. You don’t have to be a regular blogger to do this. Kat wasn’t a blogger when she first wrote her post for me… now she has a Tumblr. There are two more guest bloggers that will be coming up this week. One of them has never blogged before, and probably won’t again (unless I can convince her to write another guest post!).
  • My Lessons- The Thoughts on Love Series:  Now, I’m not an expert, but I’ve been thinking a lot about love this year…what it takes to be in a relationship, choices people make, how other people can affect your relationships, etc. I started this series to share my observations, thoughts and feelings.

themes

Okay, folks… I’ve been gone for quite some time. Now I’m back, refreshed from my little break and ready to start pumping some new material into this blog.

First, I really need to give a shot out to all the wonderful guest bloggers who wrote about moments of inspiration or times when they felt they reinvented themselves. Afraid you missed something? Well, Amanda kicked off the guest blogging by writing about greyhounds. The next four are all students in my MFA program at Fairfield University. Anne wrote the different names she goes by. Phil and Brooke wrote about when they realized they were writers. Reuben wrote about the time he spent in jail. Finally, Heidi talked about finding her calling and how every opportunity  is a new moment of reinvention. There are many more folks who have shown interest in writing guest posts for me, so expect to see some more wonderful writing on this blog in the coming weeks.

I bet you’re wondering what I’ve (finally) got to say. It’s been a while since I’ve been vocal around these parts. Truth is, I’m not sure. A couple of my favorite bloggers have recently began to “reinvent” themselves a bit on the web. Erin has moved her blog from Stylish Handwriting over to The Speckled Palate and her professional photography blog. Rachel stopped writing at Confessions of a Jersey Girl and now blogs at her own professional photography blog (both are amazing photographers by the way…check out their portfolios!). Now, I’m not going anywhere, and you can hold me to that. It has, however, really led me to question what my intentions are with Reinventing Erin.

When I started this blog, I had recently began graduate school. Now I’m officially halfway finished. (Just the thought of that makes me anxious. I’m not ready to graduate yet!) I had changed careers too. My life was just in a different place than it was when I blogged at my previous site. It was time to begin somewhere new. I didn’t’ know what would that meant for my writing. Looking through my previous pages, it seems as if the content on here has dealt mostly with graduate school, my friends and my relationship with Mr. O. Which is all fine and dandy in my opinion. My life really just consists of work (which I choose not to blog about) school (which is all I seem to write about on here), and the experiences I have with my friends, family and my love.

But how exactly does my theme of “reinvention” relate to all those subjects? I don’t want this blog to be considered a journal or a diary of any sorts, because well, it simply isn’t. However, I do want it to chronical the changes in my life, and in myself over a period of time. So, inspired by all my guest bloggers, Erin and Rachel, I’ve been thinking about trying to showcase my “reinvention” a bit more rather than popping up to write about my writer’s block or how in love I am. Because while I know I’ve got the greatest readers in the world, and you all care about what makes me happy and sad, who really wants to hear the same old stuff over and over again?

Like I said before, I don’t really know what this means for me… I don’t plan on changing anything (except maybe the blog design—I’m still looking for someone to help me with that!) or going anywhere. I do have a few ideas of what direction I’d like to take the topics I write about. With the help of Mr. O, I’ve been learning how to cook, and I think it would be fun to showcase some of the recipes I’ve tried. I also have done a lot of event planning in my life and love home design, so I think it would be fun to higlight some of the projects I’ve completed (or would like to complete). I’ve done an amazing job eliminating all the credit card debt from my life (I never thought that would happen), but am considering writing about my savings goals and ideas I have for budgeting. Besides getting in good financial shape, I really want to get in better physical shape, so maybe you’ll hear more about that journey on here. Oh, and I’m trying to majorly declutter my life, so maybe I’ll write about the process of donating and trashing my belongings.

Who knows?

But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll hear more about my writing anxieties and how much I love being in a relationship 😉

 

finding my calling

The wonderful Heidi from Life in Pink is my guest blogger today! She was one of the first bloggers I started to read a while back, and I’m honored to have her on here sharing her thoughts. She has had quite the whirlwind of the past year or two, so I hope you enjoy reading about her moment of reinvention and then find your way over to her blog for more when you’re done.

Winston Churchill once said “if you’re young, and not a liberal you have no heart. If you’re old and not conservative, you have no head.” Given that my own political ideals have shifted I take this to heart. But with political ideologies – a practice I studied for five years, you tend to have an identity crisis.

For five years I studied politics, told everyone I was going to run for office and most people believed me. Then I was broke. I don’t know what it was – maybe because in reality, you know, the reality outside of the collegiate bubble that we live in for anywhere from 4-10 years depending on what degrees we pursue. A reality that was full of harsh bosses, cliquey coworkers, ass kissers who were out to beat you to the top and then some. Politics broke my heart, it was a messy breakup full of tears, rejection letters and plenty of Ben and Jerry’s (and beer). You’d think my chosen career choice out of college was an abusive boyfriend – for three years, it may have been just that.

But then I changed my mind a few times. I got excited, preliminarily apparently.

Then I was laid off and resentful and broken only six months before my wedding.

I found another job. Temporarily. At a lobbying firm and I convinced myself I was going to go back for an MPA (thankfully I hadn’t yet taken the GRE’s or applied) but then devastation happened and everything changed.

Cue a phone call. On a perfect honeymoon that arrived after a perfect wedding after an awful summer that included a devastating job loss and a bathroom flood that destroyed half our apartment leaving concrete floors and ruined furniture (yes I realize many people have experienced much worse) but those two things happened simultaneously. It was a bright blue day, I had only brought my phone so I could take pictures and possibly twitpic them. I should have left it at the hotel. There was a missed call from the temp agency I was working with at the time and an email.

Contract ended. The phone call, as I remember it was a blur really. Something about how I wasn’t cut out to be an executive assistant. But what really resonated “Think about what you really want to do. What’s going to make you happy.”

So I did. As we sailed back to shore on a full open bar catamarran after spending the afternoon snorkeling, I thought about that very question. What was going to make me happy.

Onto another change. We decided to move closer to family.  I decided to attempt a masters in education – which at the ripe age of 18 was what I had originally wanted to do with my life. A few barriers, including financial ones as I was unemployed and the husband was working on a political campaign, led me to put it on hold. I took my praxis exams, did well. Was told I would be accepted if I took 16 credits of history which, I just didn’t have the financial ability to do at the time. So I put it aside. Maybe it wasn’t for me anyhow.

I found myself working for an inspiring company for just under a year, where I changed my mind but discovered passion. A passion for fitness, but more impactful a passion for social media. I had always been a blogger. I had always loved connecting with people through the internet and the thought of using the internet to market ideas and create community resonated so deeply and left me so excited. I left, on amazing terms, to forge that career in social media, to pursue a masters in marketing and get on a path that I’m proud of. I realized through these tribulations and trials that reinventing yourself and not knowing what you want is okay. It’s okay if it takes a few stumbles to find a career you’re proud of. Whoever expected 18 year olds to know what they want to do with their lives and declare a major by the age of 20 was out of their minds. Hell, my parents are still reinventing their own careers thirty years after being thrusted into the workforce.

When you feel broken, when you doubt yourself and your abilities, it’s tough to find hope. To find a calling that you think will make you happy without constantly second guessing yourself or wondering if whenever you see your two bosses meeting behind closed doors, if they’re talking about how awful you are and are getting ready to fire you on the spot. But some rapper dude once said “just brush the dirt off yo’ shoulders.” True ‘dat homey.

Lacking confidence is awful but at some point you just need to pick yourself up. At some point, you need to give your “failings” (or stumbles, whatever you want to call them)  the big fat middle finger and stand proud of your accomplishments – because even if you “failed” you still learned something or another along the way and met people who impacted you and your life.

After all, life is about lessons, and that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Hey, they’re called cliches for a reason right?

finding a “real” job

Hope you guys are enjoying the guest blogger series. Here is the next installment from yet again another fellow writer and MFA Candidate from Fairfield University:

Brooke Law is pursuing her MFA degree through Fairfield University’s low residency program and is currently working on a novel.  She writes about her favorite books at Books Distilled, which is a TLC Book Tour featured blog.  She lives with her husband in Long Island, NY.

I got married last June and two weeks later my husband and I moved (from each of our parents’ houses and our apartments in Durham, NC) to Long Island, where he had been appointed head pastor of a small church.  I had never set foot on Long Island until the day we moved into our house.

I managed to land a job as a waitress a few weeks later so I had some income while I looked for a “real” job.  My background was in nonprofits, and specifically I wanted to work with a nonprofit focusing on education policy.  Opportunities were nonexistent, unless I was willing to make a 90-minute commute to and from NYC.  Being newly married and also fiercely protective of my personal time, I wasn’t.

So during my slow lunch shifts at the restaurant I daydreamed.  At first I wished we were still living in Durham (which surprised even me) and I wished I could go back to my old job.  I was bored.  I was resentful.

Slowly I accepted the fact that I couldn’t change where we were living. Instead of complaining in my head while I sat in the near-empty restaurant, I took a second order pad from the closet and began writing scenes for a novel I’d started after graduating from college but hadn’t touched in over a year.  Then I went home each afternoon and typed them up, trying to ignore the shouting in my mind that I was wasting my time.

That fall I read a book of short stories published by a kid I’d had a writing class with in college.  He had been a decent writer our sophomore year, but he had become an amazing writer in the intervening years.  I thought my usual thought when I read something beautiful: I will never be that good of a writer.  And there in the darkened, empty restaurant, something flared up inside me and I determined that I would work until I became that good of a writer.

A few days later I found an email I’d sent to myself the year before about a low-residency MFA program through Fairfield University.  I liked the structure of the program and I loved that the residency was based in Mystic, CT–I’d lived there for a semester during college and thought it was a beautiful town.

I emailed the director, Michael White, with a few questions, and he wrote back an hour later to tell me there were still spots open for the December residency.  I put together my application in two days, got recommendations, called Vassar for my transcript.  Four days after submitting my writing sample I received an email from Michael, noting that he was impressed with the first chapter of my novel and as long as all my other paperwork was in order, I could consider myself accepted.

I was thrilled.  I was going to be a writer! I signed the acceptance forms, quit my waitressing job, started looking for a full-time office job so I could pay for school.

And then panic set in.  I got my tuition bill in the mail and freaked out.  I was being foolish.  Following my dream in this way was much too expensive.  I was being selfish.  My husband and I already had a lot of school debt, and I was just adding to it for a profession that might never pay me a living wage.  I cried.

And then the storm passed.  I remembered that I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first learned to write my name. I had tried writing a novel on my own but knew I could do better if someone taught me. After facing the deluge of fear and standing firm, I felt at peace.

Now I wake up early each morning to spend an hour writing before I start my day.  Every morning I spend time getting to know my characters more deeply, learning more about setting and dialogue, and every morning that time is a blessing I never imagined I could have.  And once a month I get in-depth feedback from a wonderful faculty mentor, an accomplished writer in his own right.

I have always wanted to be a writer, and now I am.  That is the main thing that has changed: my mindset.  I’m not waiting around to become a writer, and I don’t have to get a book deal to become a writer.  I have become a writer already, in my sheer commitment to and love of this work.  I’m not published yet, but I will be someday. Sometimes it’s scary to spend so much time and energy on a process so deeply creative and vulnerable, but it’s a relief to be afraid I won’t make it as a writer–rather than being afraid of regretting my life because I never tried.

reuben in oz

Welcome to the next installment of my guest bloggers! I met Reuben on a cold, snow covered island off the coast of Mystic, CT. No, really…its true. He was starting his first semester in the MFA program at Fairfield and as I’m sure you’ll understand by the end of the post….he doesn’t get lost in the crowd. Reuben is full of spunk and is always up to make sure everyone is happy and having a great time. When you’re done reading about his defining moment, head on over to his blog.

On November 22nd, 2006, I surrendered myself to the Bulloch County police station in Statesboro, GA. I cried being processed, having my fingerprints smudged down on paper by deputies, standing and turning for pictures. They took my keys, my phone, my empty wallet, my pack of cigarettes and my belt and then put me in a holding cell until I could be extradited to Gwinnett County, in the Atlanta area.

My mind went lots of places while I sat in the holding cell that darkened as the day stretched on until the sun went down. I was ashamed, and terrified. I was mad at myself and every one I’d ever met. I was a degraded statistic, another man of color locked up in the system. Days before surrendering, I thought about suicide; not wanting to face consequences, or the world, or the complete failure of my personal life. But jail, in its tricky way, silenced my self-destructive urges. For one thing, I couldn’t harm myself even if I wanted to, the cops took all my personal effects. For another, I was locked up with dangerous people; the only other guy in my holding cell was being interrogated for armed robbery.

My instincts kicked into that “fight or flight” mode, except that in jail flight isn’t an option. But, all told, the best thing about being locked up was just being locked up. My life had turned to shit on the outside and it would take months if not years to really piece it all back together. I didn’t have the energy to even try to sort it out, and I didn’t have to; I wasn’t going anywhere unless the judge wanted me to.

I spent one night in Bulloch County. The Gwinnett extraditor couldn’t pick me up until some time the next day so I was moved back to the cell block, Cell Block E. A deputy took me to a storage closet and made me strip out of my clothes and in a two-sizes-too-large jump suit. For the night I was put on the top bunk in cell with an old man, seemingly harmless.

“What are you in for?” I asked him.

“Man! Everybody says I touched that little girl. I ain’t touch no girl no where! I ain’t touching girls! God says…” And I cried myself to sleep during his sermon.

It’s easier to wake up in jail than it is to be processed and placed into it fully conscious. I played poker and watched Walker Texas Ranger with a group of guys who were “on their way down,” jail-talk for going to prison, for kidnapping children. I kept my mouth shut and my eyes glued to the cards or the encased TV bolted up to the wall.

I was a zombie in Cell Block E. No one ever asked me my name. There was no conversation without anyone until the extraditor came for me. Once I was situated in the backseat of the squad car the cop asked me, “so what’s your story?” and it took less than five seconds to start crying all over again. I laid my pitiful life out as we barreled down Georgia back roads until the cop couldn’t take it anymore and told me to shut up.

I put myself here, he told me. No one else but me, and no one else to blame. No one feels sorry for you, he told me, you’re in jail.

And that was the moment it bottomed out for me. That hard truth realization made my head spin as we swerved along country roads. Until then, my life the past few years were nothing but running and evading responsibility. I could see my path of choices stretched out like branches of a tree, where I always climbed the weak limbs because they’re closer to the ground and I wouldn’t have to work as hard. Finally, the branch snapped.

We got to Gwinnett County’s lock-up late at night and I was a new handcuffed man: no more tears, no shame or anger, and remarkably, no fear. I was put in another holding cell, over night, with forty-three other guys—we knew this because in our boredom, we counted. When the only kid close to my age wouldn’t stop crying about how his parents were going kill him when they find out he’s been selling ecstasy, I yelled at him, cursed him out, dropped three or four punk-@ss’s and threatened to fight him. I stayed up late with a forger, a parole violator, and bank robber, cracking jokes and learning more prison slang.

Turns out nobody says, “what are you in for?” it’s always, “what they trying get you on?” and whatever it is, it’s always false. The bank robber said, “they’re trying to say we took hostages.” The forger didn’t even know how to forge documents, he was just trying to deposit his paycheck. The parole violator on his way back down asked me what they were trying to get me for and when I told him he said, “they always be lying on you, huh?”

“No, I did that shit. I’m guilty.”

To keep myself from being targeted as a gay man I invented a fake girlfriend named Audrey, a former junkie who keeping scaring me with false pregnancies.

I spent eight days in Gwinnett County’s Cell Block J with my friends The Forger, The Bank Robber and The Parole Violator. My cell mates, DC and Mexico, were cocaine traffickers about to face trial. My jail-house nickname was College Boy because I read every Time magazine on the library cart in a day and explained Republican and Democratic political stances during dinner. I traded my coffee, sugar and cream packets for cigarettes during breakfast and won a free haircut in a game of Rummy. By the time my mom came to visit me, my jumpsuit had been downgraded from large to medium, on account of my weight loss, and she even remarked on how handsome I looked in it.

In total, I spent nine days in jail, including Thanksgiving, until I could go before a judge and be handed time-served for my mistakes. And looking back now, I needed those nine days away from life. I needed a reboot from the catastrophe my bad decisions had created. In court, I shuffled my shackles up to the podium and told the judge, “I’m sorry.

“I did everything wrong. But I’m trying to make it better. I’m in college and was hoping to make Dean’s List. I’m ready to be an adult and take responsibility for my actions.”

The judge didn’t recognize me but I recognized him, from three years earlier, when all this mess had first started to happen. He wasn’t particularly moved by my admission; he just flipped through my paperwork, said “nine days is enough,” and let me go. I was released from the county jail that night, where I met my mom who had been handed my keys, my phone, my empty wallet, my belt and my pack of cigarettes. She bought me new underwear (the best gift you can ever give someone who’s getting out of jail) and she drove home, laughing about all my anecdotes from Cell Block J. Back in Statesboro, my life was still in shambles, and there would be a long arduous road ahead of me. But for that night my mom and I could laugh and hug and celebrate in the moment because I had been freed. Freed from Gwinnett County Jail, freed from the dead end of poor choices and finally, freed from the ignorance and immaturity that kept me running from life, instead of toward it.

On being a fiction writer

Phil Lemos was the first person I “met” at my graduate school program. Why? Because I was fortunate enough to have him as my Big Brother. It was a match made by the writing gods, and I’m forever grateful to have been paired up with Phil. Don’t forget to find your way over to his blog after you’re done reading this. He’s quite the funny guy.

Phil and I at my first grad school residency

This week I finished the first draft of a novel. Also this week, somebody asked me what I do for a living. (I’ve been unemployed long enough to develop an intense aversion toward fielding that question.)

I paused for a minute and then said I’m a fiction writer. The logical next question was, “How long have you worked as a fiction writer?”

“My entire life,” I said.

And it’s true. Even when I was a gas station attendant, stockbroker or payroll supervisor, I was a fiction writer, even if I may not have realized it.

My career as a fiction writer began early in my childhood, when I wrote elaborate short stories in grade school that entertained and bewildered my teachers. The creative side of my mind invented a series of fictional universes and I pumped out stories in those universes. When my teacher asked us to write a 3-page story, I wrote a 12-page story. While the extra pages could easily have driven them batty, my teachers would always suggest to my parents that I pursue a career in writing.

Writing soon took a back seat, though. I didn’t major in creative writing or English at Syracuse, though I took three writing classes (two A’s and a B+). I graduated and the real world intervened.  I had to get a “job” that would “pay the bills.”  I spent eight years writing, but as a newspaper reporter, not a fiction writer. Then I got bored and also discovered that newspapers were slowly dying. So I left journalism and became a stock broker.

Four years ago, for a variety of reasons, I walked away from my career as a stockbroker (none of which involve any clairvoyance regarding the looming stock market crash). I sold my practice and tried to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I began writing again – first in short, private bursts on my laptop and then in emailed short stories and mock newspaper articles to my friends, who frequently wrote back, “You should do this for a living.”

That’s when it clicked. Fiction writing was what I always wanted to do. I just never had the chance to do it.

I’ve spent the past couple of years pursuing my Master of Fine Arts in fiction. The novel whose first draft I just finished will be my thesis. I’ll spend my final semester revising it. Writing the novel has been fun, painful and exhausting all at once. Obviously, I hope to find a publisher and make some money.

There are long odds against that.

At times I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” It’s counterintuitive to devote a lot of time to something in which the opportunity for financial success is minimal. Yet people do it all the time – athletes, musicians, actors, hoping for that opportunity to seize.

I guess writers are cut from the same cloth. For every Jonathan Franzen, Mary Karr, T. S.  Eliot or Diablo Cody there’s a struggling writer out there hoping to find the right hands to place their work. But even if it doesn’t work out for me, no matter what career path I land on, I can always say that I’m a fiction writer.

Of two names

Good Morning Folks! I want to give a warm welcome to my fellow FUMFAer, Ann/AJ. Don’t forget to stop by her blog after you’re done reading and check out some of the other great stuff she has to say…

This fake front page is a farewell gift from my co-workers at The Boston Herald. The staff knew me as both Ann and A.J., and as you can see, two of the three stories on the "front page" are name-related. (In case you're wondering, that unfortunate picture was taken for some chiropractor story I was working on at the time.)

In the summer of 2000, I sat down across from one of my best friends at Fire & Ice Grill and Bar in Cambridge, Mass. and made a decision.

“I’m changing my name,” I told her.  “Well not legally. But my pen name. I’m changing that.”

“What are you changing it to?” She dipped into her freshly grilled whatever-it-was-that-she’d ordered.

“A.J. O’Connell. I’m going to write under A.J. O’Connell. Doesn’t that sound neat?”

She agreed that it did. We raised our frosty beverages and toasted the new name. And then we forgot all about it and dug into dinner.

It didn’t feel like a major decision at the time. I was still the same old Ann. I had simply chosen a pen name, but that moment turned out to be a big one. That moment reinvented me, or rather, that moment invented A.J.

I was 22 years old at the time, an editorial assistant at The Boston Herald and starting out in journalism with the sort of starry-eyed idealism that only recent college grads can muster.

The name change had been on my mind for weeks. I liked the ambiguity of it. I felt that a set of initials would make readers more likely to focus on my work, rather than my gender. As a young reader of fiction, I’d always liked reading authors represented by initials – J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis  – because I didn’t make any assumptions about them based on their names. And besides, I liked the sound of “A.J. O’Connell.” It sounded newsy. It sounded tough. It was a cool name. But it was just a pen name. It was just a byline. People would still call me Ann. I’d just be A.J. to my readers.

A couple weeks later, my union rep called me A.J. in a room filled with colleagues. I wondered who A.J. was. When I realized he was talking to me, I corrected him: “Call me Ann.”

“But your name is A.J.,” he said.

He was right. It was on my union card.

At my next job, I gave up trying to go by two names and interviewed as A.J. I figured, fine. All the people I work with will call me A.J. and all my friends will call me Ann. Somehow I failed to account for the fact that co-workers tend to become friends. After a decade, I now have very close friends who know me as A.J. They’ve occasionally, at family functions, attempted to refer to me as Ann. It always sounds funny.

It’s a strange thing to go by two names. It makes you realize that Shakespeare had no idea what he was talking about when he wrote his famous lines about names and roses.

I found that people who called me A.J. treated me differently than the people who called me Ann, and I responded to them differently.

I got tougher, smarter, ruthless, ambitious. A.J. was the kind of person who liked to yell things like “I’m the one asking the questions.” A.J. was always wearing her game face. A.J. did some things that Ann could not have done.

Ann was a person to whom things happened. A.J. was a person who made things happen.

Maybe a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but an A.J. by any other name would not be a very good reporter.

My decision, 11 years ago, to assume a pen name has had all sorts of unintended consequences. When I was reporting, sometimes readers (obviously deeply unfamiliar with the state of the industry) assumed I was my own secretary: “Sweetheart, can you tell me if Mr. O’Connell is in? I tell ya, I’m gonna give that guy a piece of my mind about that story he wrote.”*

My pen name was also part of the reason I didn’t change my last name when I got married. If I kept my byline, but changed my last name, I’d have two completely different names: A.J. O’Connell and Ann Davis. That was a little too Superman/Clark Kent for me, so I kept my name. Things were confusing enough.

When I quit my job as a reporter last June to finish my MFA and write my novel, I didn’t know what to do with A.J. I didn’t know how to introduce myself to people at my MFA program’s residencies. Am I Ann? I’m not here as a reporter. Am I A.J.? I’m here as a writer.

It also took me some time to reconcile the two different parts of my personalities that I’d been thinking of as Ann and A.J. The schism between the two had gotten a little ridiculous. Each was turning into a way of evading responsibility for certain things. For example, Ann has a hard time being proactive. Compassion ain’t A.J.’s strong suit.

It took a few months of going through life without my reporting job, and with friends who both knew me as Ann and as A.J., to start bringing the two halves together.

The rift between the two may never be completely resolved. Recently I started freelancing for a local paper. When I got to my first assignment, pen and notebook in hand, I found myself in top A.J. form. It was like I’d let A.J. off a leash. I joyfully reported and photographed for two hours. Then I went home, called my mom and was calmly Ann.

*Although it was tempting, I never once pretended to be my own secretary.

 

First Guest Blogger: Amanda on Greyhounds

The first guest blogger is…..drum roll please…..Amanda from Cusp of Normal! Amanda aka Mermanda is probably one of the first members of 20Something Bloggers who I started to read, and even now years later, she keeps me coming back. I’m truly honored to have her be my first guest on Reinventing Erin. Enjoy and go over to her site to visit when you’re done reading 🙂

The lovely Erin has asked me to write about a moment of realization that I have experienced. I could write about the day that I realized the worst heartbreak of my life made me a stronger person. I could write about the day that I realized that, yes, it really is possible to eat too much sushi in one sitting. I could write about the day that I realized I am the kind of person who cries at cat food commercials… and the kind of person who should never again stray from capable hands of my hairstylist. But instead, I want to tell you about the day that I realized that I am destined for a life full of lean, long-legged, pointy-snouted, tattooed creatures known as greyhounds.

Andrew and I were not yet engaged, but in the midst of our first year of cohabitation. At that time of my life, my biggest concern was that I would never fully realize my dream of being a contestant on “Deal or No Deal.” But that is a story for another time.

One afternoon, Andrew and I went shopping in Shadyside, a fancy-pants neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Like most visits to Shadyside, we were probably there to feed my addiction for crazy eyeliner (urban decay, fyi), or to pick up an ahhh-mayyy-zing burnt almond tortefrom the famous Prantl’s Bakery. (Non-Pittsburgh dwellers, you can and SHOULD order one of these magic desserts online.)

At some point during our afternoon in Shadyside, we stumbled upon odd, yet gracefully beautiful, creatures. The animals were there for an adoption event for one of Pittsburgh’s many greyhound rescue groups. I had never seen a greyhound before, but I was enchanted. The dogs are quite tall, with their heads at about the height of my hips. I took a knee to be face-to-face with the gentle greyhound before me.  Eye-to-eye, the greyhound could not have been more at ease. And just like that, he rested his delicate chin on my shoulder. It was at that moment that I melted into a puddle of goo. Cleanup on aisle 12!

It was at that precise moment that I was certain that there would be many greyhounds in my future. Andrew was equally smitten. We  began researching them and were so excited to learn that greyhounds make great pets. Because they have hair rather than fur, they don’t have that typical “dog” smell and need bathed only about twice a year. (Hair vs. fur also makes them a great choice for people with allergies!) Greyhounds also hardly shed, so a little brushing once a month is all the grooming that they require. They also are one of the most quiet breeds, they hardly ever bark. (This makes them a poor choice if a watch dog is what you are after.) Despite the common misconception that greyhounds require lots of daily physical activity, these dogs will endear themselves to your couch faster than you can say “couch potato.” Just one or two short walks a day keeps them happy and healthy. Greyhounds are also one of the healthiest breeds thanks to their diverse breeding. (I can research my greyhound’s lineage back to the 1800s.) And I have already mentioned how extremely calm and gentle greyhounds are. They can be great with kids, and some even like the company of cats.

It wasn’t long before I was applying to adopt through Pittsburgh’s Going Home Greyhounds.(Highly recommended for any Pittsburghers looking to adopt!)


Luke with his new family on the day of his adoption

Three weeks after we bought our house in 2009,  Luke joined our family. And while we may not be able to add to the pack right away, I know he is the first of many amazing rescued retired racing greyhounds in our life. (For more about life with Luke, visit my blog, cuspofnormal.com.)

Oh, and did I mention that April is National Adopt-a-Greyhound Month? Meet Cal.

we are going to have visitors!

I’m going to start a series of guest bloggers all blogging on a similar subject… first one being posted is tomorrow. I’ve asked a handful of blogging and school friends to write a guest post about a moment in their life they came to a “realization” or a “defining” moment or a moment of “reinventing”. Yes, the subject is pretty broad, but I think it will absolutely get some interesting responses.

I’m not sure how often I’ll have these posted- I’m hoping to have a guest blogger on here once a week.

Stay tuned! 🙂

my muse is a “brazen hussy”

source

source

My hussy muse is currently galavanting around with other writers. I’ve got a few choice words for her, but I’ll be nice and keep them to myself seeing as I want her to return as soon as possible. Until then, I figured a meme couldn’t hurt. At least I am writing words while I wait….

Thanks for sharing Lacey!
Age: 26
Bed size: Queen
Chore you hate: Putting the clothes away after I do the laundry.
Dogs: Miss Fenway
Essential start of your day:  Cuddling on some days, coffee on others
Favorite color: Blue…but it changes frequently. I like charcoal and chocolate a bunch.
Gold or silver: White Gold
Height: 5’1″
Instruments I play (or have played): The piano by ear a little. I sing.
Job title: Event Coordinator, Application Specialist, Psychiatric Case Manager
Kids: I love kids 🙂
Live: In MA.
Mom’s name: Mom.
Nickname: Er, Annie, Trueblood #3
Overnight hospital stays:  Can’t say that I’ve had any
Pet peeve: Ehh, I try not to get too “peeved”…ignorance usually irritates me.
Quote from a movie: “If you be a bird, then I’ll be a bird” (First one that comes to mind)
Right or left handed: Right.
Siblings: Two brothers
Time you wake up: Too early
Underwear: Check
Vegetables you dislike: Squash
What makes you run late:  Everything
X-rays you’ve had done: My foot a thousand times this year
Yummy food you make: Omlets
Zoo animal: Elephants!

i’m not a newbie anymore!

So, not only have I finished my first semester of graduate school, but I have also finished all my training at work! Technically, I’ve got a lot to learn still, but it will be more of a on the spot training. I’m moving on up in the world, folks!

So lets just put this out in the open: I did not finish NaBloPoMo OR NaNoWriMo….wah. I have no one or nothing to blame but myself.

The next 20SB Blog Swap will be on 12/20 and I am so very excited. My swap partner is actually brand new to me; I’ve been a bad 20SB blogger. Not “bad,” I’ve just neglected my membership. I’m actually very glad I got paired with a person I’ve never communicated with before, because I am looking for some new people to follow! Make sure y’all tune back here on the 20th so you can read what my swap partner has to say 😉

I’m going to Atlanta in less than a month!

Over the course of my first semester, I came across some article or blogs I found interesting or helpful. I figured I would share them, in case any of you budding writers (or readers) might be interested.
Check out Sari Botton’s Conversations With Writer’s Braver Than Me. Her first interview is with Vivian Gornick. How awesome is that? She’s done 4-5 more since then that I can’t wait to read.
Also, you might want to check out this random post I found about Joan Didion. I love the quotations on here.
The Forums on Nathan Bransford’s Blog are kind of fantastic. Don’t forget to check out the actual blog as well. It’s pretty great.
For writers (like me) who find the idea of writing 15-20 pages (on deadline) daunting and scary, you should check out this site.

Will someone please get me this shirt or mug? I found this on Sari Botton’s Tumbler, but it can be purchased in The Rumpus Store.

I still have yet to put up my Christmas Tree or send out my holiday cards or decorate for the holidays (besides some garland on my desk at work, which I will make sure to photograph and post). I’m thinking next year that I will do all this stuff after Halloween, because November and December fly by for me, and I am always upset that I have not completed any of these tasks. Oh well, I’ll put up my tree (its a wire tree) and I’ll keep it up til Valentine’s Day. Who says you have to take down a tree right after Christmas, anyway?

So, I’m doing the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day. Has anyone else done this before? Any suggestions? I’m getting nervous about it. I think I’m going to start jumping in the shower without putting the hot water on, and then gradually work up to the hot water. HA!

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