When it came to beginning the column, my first editor (I had Ashleigh Gurbal in the fall semester and Jenni Easton in the spring–two wonderful and supportive editors!) and I decided, though, to segue into the issue that brought me to wanting to write for the Penn after first introducing myself as a non-traditional student one week, discussing career options and college opportunities the next before moving onto the issues of first physical disabilities then emotional ailments like depression. From there my editor let me write on issues like racism, government, friendship and social responsibiltiy.

I was surprised by the response I received from the public–other students, professors, staff at the dining hall and the Co-Op store, just to name a few. Before I even saw my first article in print, I received an email thanking me for writing about being a non-traditional student because she was one herself, and also married, and had to deal with many people wondering why she was in school when she was older than the rest of the students. She was glad to see that she wasn’t alone and that I was speaking out about our experiences to the public.

For that same article, I was also solicited by a graduate student for an interview on a project she was doing on non-traditional students. Immediate success to my first public writing venture–who could ask for more?

I did get more, surprisingly. As my articles morphed into a column that was titled “Marching 7/4” on the advice of a friend after the marching band step (I was looking for something better than the cliche’ “marching to the beat of my own drum”) and my picture was included beside my writing. I realized I had a bit of a fan club. It seemed everywhere I went I ran into someone who had read my column and told me how much they liked it–even in bathrooms I was not safe from mention of my work. One girl who I will always remember fondly was so excited to meet me she reminded me of an excited puppy that pees on the carpet because it is so happy–she was that joyful! We talked for half an hour at least about “the story behind the story”–which you received on the handicapped parking issue through my email to the editor–the elaborated version beyond the 500 words that can be printed in the column. We discussed the back story as to why I wrote each piece she read, and it is because of this girl Heidi at my dry cleaners (yes–I had just gone in to pick up my dry cleaning and had a life-changing experience–imagine that!) that I started dreaming of turning my column into a book, titled “Beyond 500 Words: the Story Behind ‘Marching 7/4.'” (I have consulted with professors about this idea, but I’m holding off on it until I get more publishing experience. We weren’t sure if I would have a wide enough market, if I had enough to say to many people outside of the IUP community. But who knows? This blog just may prove to be my test market and do the trick!)

What really blew my mind, even beyond a graduate student wanting to interview me for her project, was her telling me that in class, as part of his lecture, one of her professors brought up my column “Racism unfortunately fact of real world” (caption by my editor), and said that I was talking about “cultural plurality.” Huh??? What is that? I do not really know what that concept means, but I will in time. It is interesting, though, that I wrote about something important enough to be discussed in a graduate class while still an undergraduate.

Speaking of projects, that spring I was going crazy trying to get all my final projects together and study for my exams when I received a phone call from a student wanting to interview me regarding a column “Games Help Children Grow” for his project on video games and violence. I was so stunned, and I talked to him as best as I could, but ultimately I turned the phone over to my computer-programmer husband who has been playing computer games since the Atari/Amiga days and keeps learning about new games and game systems all the time and had firm beliefs about what he would and wouldn’t allow our son to play. I still can’t believe it, though–while I was desperately searching for sources for my research paper, I became a source for someone else’s. That is so bizarre!

I cannot let all this positive feedback get to my head, even though years later I was told by a woman working in the Co-Op store that when my column came out each week they would gather together to read and discuss my weekly offerings. I just need to take all this as inspiration to keep doing what I do best–putting my heart on the line and sharing my personal experiences and opinions in order to help others who might be going through something that I have prior knowledge of. This is my calling, and I believe this with all my heart that I have suffered so much in life so I could become this conduit for healing to others. I plan on writing novels and screenplays and trying to get them made into films,but I think some straight-out non-fiction memoir is in order as well.

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