In September of 1998 I waltzed into the basement offices of Jefferson Public Radio on the SOU campus in a silk dress and green platform clogs. I was a recent graduate of said university, with a degree in English and a desperate desire to write professionally. In the year since my graduation I’d participated in some pretty spectacular failures: rejection from six MFA programs, well over twenty letters of refusal from small presses, pinned to a bulletin board at home, and my life savings blown on a solo trip to Europe. I’d been conducting telephone surveys part-time for an area high school, which paid little and left me too much time to mope. My friend and fellow scribe, Chris Ammon, had secured an internship with a local periodical and was regularly seeing her name in print. She advised me to find a publication I enjoyed and offer to work for free.
I wanted what she had and took aim at the Jefferson Monthly.
Stumbling down the stairs to the JPR offices I remember begrudging both my limited experience and the clogs, which were actually more wobble than waltz. If only I had dropped out of school in my second year and moved to Big Sur like I’d planned. Maybe I would have gained some combination of life experience and worldly texture that would appeal to either an MFA program or a publisher—preferably both. I clutched my resume and made my way through introductions with then editor of the Jefferson Monthly, Eric Alan. For a moment the meeting took a turn. They didn’t have interns at the Monthly. I don’t really remember what happened next. It’s possible I ran down my long list of unimpressive skills, but most likely I begged. And Eric, in pity or amusement, sent me away with my first writing assignment.
For the past fourteen years I have contributed to this publication. My first cover article was in collaboration with Eric, but after that I was offered assignments and invited to pitch ideas. I even occasionally was able to read my work on air, a huge thrill. Before President W’s cuts in public everything, the Monthly was able to pay its writers as long as they were published elsewhere. Because I had no publication history, Eric compensated me in CD’s, his impeccable taste as a music editor bringing new flavors into my life. With each assignment my confidence grew. In 1999 I was still working low-wage, low morale jobs when I came to SOU to interview then President Steve Reno for a Monthly feature. I mentioned I was looking for better work and he immediately recommended me for what would become my first full-time job, a salaried position as University Public Relations Coordinator.
As a result of that appointment, I began to publish in other periodicals, and be paid for my work. I became a “real” writer.
Today the light is golden and the sunflowers are ripening to seeds in my garden. It is harvest time. On this computer where I now write is a file that holds the proofs for my first full-length manuscript: The Moon Divas Guidebook, an interactive self-care guide for women in transition. Like the red thread of Chinese folklore that connects our beloveds the world over, ever shortening as we travel toward our destiny, the Monthly and the Guidebook are deeply conjoined. Once I began writing, I never stopped. Not through countless life transitions, marriage, the births of my children, divorce, graduate school, employment and loss and re-employment, writing has been my lifeline, my constant. And each year I have found a home for my voice in these pages, a fact which amazes me still.
It is not what we believe, but what we do that defines us. As a teacher of writing for the past five years I saw so many students hesitate when seeking their voice. They had been told that art and expression were only for the talented, that opportunities for contentment are few, that it is better to ignore the impulse to create and play it safe. But with someone by their side encouraging experimentation, imperfection and risks, each one, without exception, would find they had something to say. In the doing, they could become. They just needed permission.
In my initial1998 essay for the “Jefferson Almanac” I used an epigraph by the explorer William Hutchinson Murray: “Whatever you do or believe you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Yes, I had to be bold enough to walk in the JPR studio door, but someone had to give me permission to try, permission to fail. Someone had to take a chance on my potential.
So thank you, Jefferson Monthly, Eric Alan, now of KLCC fame, Monthly readers, fellow writers—yay Chris Ammon!—and my current editor Abby Kraft, who, in a lovely convergence, was present the day I first met Eric and begged my way into this amazing community. Your support means more to me than you could ever know. I write with you in my heart.
And, most of all, today I write for all who wish you could do or be or make something that aligns with an essential self.
I hereby grant you permission.