Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Storytelling.

When I was in high school, I was pretty ambivalent about the future. I went to three different high schools so I tended to live day by day, not really believing I was in control of whatever came next (there was no evidence of it). I had a lot of passions and creativity, but I didn't know what I should do. When it came time to look up colleges, it was already pretty late in the application game, and I remember turning on the computer to devote a few minutes to searching for schools just in order to check it off my parents' to-do list. It was not a big priority. I was consumed by things like the new school and town I'd just moved to, the new friends I was loving spending time with and hoping they liked spending time with me, and crushes, of course. So I looked up colleges that met two criteria: they were in a city and had a good writing or journalism program.

A couple of my high school English teachers had pulled me aside and let me know that I was pretty good at writing... my papers got As and I did love reading. But I was also one of those people that got As in most classes, even ones I despised like Algebra and Chemistry. So I more or less shrugged it off and smiled and said thank you and went on to more pressing matters like making sure I had time to check my locker mirror before the next class because there might be something caught in my braces. When I moved to Pennsylvania my senior year of high school, just a week or two before classes started, I met with a counselor to enroll in classes and she said they kept an opening in their journalism elective which managed the school newspaper for military kids joining late (that was me!). None of the other electives appealed to me, so I said sure. Again, I didn't choose it because I felt it was My Path or anything. All I knew was that some old people thought I was good at writing. My parents said so, too, but y'know, parents have to say that.

By the time I got to college in Boston, I was extremely excited for many reasons, mainly being on my own for the first time and navigating various social activities like parties. And, sure, class, too. Yet, when classes started something unexpected happened. I was, perhaps, finally challenged in a way that I knew I had to pay attention. And my classes about the humanities and arts and writing were inspiring me and staying with me beyond the lectures and required reading. I couldn't care less about that science requirement I had to take, but I was pretty excited to write papers suddenly. Be it an analysis of themes in Rear Window or the misogyny of old fairy tales and new ones. I liked writing, a lot more than I thought I did. It always seemed more of a hobby than anything professional... I'd always kept a diary, always had a notebook handy for my dramatic renderings of adolescence or fictional stories (coincidentally, most of them had a protagonist who was a perpetual new girl in high school). Much of those long road trips moving across the United States or plane trips to Panama were spent in my head conjuring stories from a parallel universe. All the questions I asked everyone was a habit drawn from moving and trying to adapt as quickly as possible; some people found it annoying and others advised it was probably a good trait to have as a journalist. In college, it all started to make sense.

After graduation, a gloom descended when I realized there weren't a lot of publications paying well (or even at all) at entry level. I moved to a new city with interviews, but would not have been able to pay for rent and food (nevermind everything else) with the quoted salaries. The coveted positions usually went to the more fortunate, and I ended up temping for a fashion company, which led to a decent-paying permanent position--one that I still have today.

Yet, over the last ten years since I graduated college, I never gave up on the writing. I did some freelancing at first, but that didn't keep my attention. I wrote stories and kept up a blog as a creative outlet. In the last few years I met some women that were also writers and we were able to share our works in groups and pairs. I never really sought out publication or tried to submit my work anywhere though some friends prodded me to. Last year I felt a resurgence of inspiration after attending some meet-ups with other writers, and felt compelled to really get to this novel idea I'd been treading on for some months. I finally started writing it out, thanks to many women who cheered me on. One of them, a certain Beca Grimm (we had a total meet-cute in the lobby of our Bushwick apartment building and realized a shared passion for yoga and writing), was recently asked to guest curate an issue for online publication Storychord. She remembered a story I had shared a few years ago, and asked me to submit. I was a little nervous, my anxiety manifesting as it usually does when I reread old works, but I edited it as best I could and yesterday she ran it. It's my first piece of published fiction, and I'm honored that it's on a great site like Storychord (I'd thought for years of submitting to it), was chosen by an illustrious journalist in her own right, and is accompanied by two pieces of art by incredibly talented women, Ally White and Cassandra Jenkins.

So here it is: TEN YEARS FROM TODAY by Jessica Maria Johnson

Yes, this whole long post that got really introspective was just to tell you that I have a short story up now on Storychord.com. THANKS FOR READING, AS EVER.

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