20-tens Retrospective

Ten years ago I was living in Orange County, CA. I loved being close to my mom and sister and getting to spend a lot of time with them. I loved my job working the front desk of a dance studio and getting to know the young dancers and their families.

A selfie from 2009 (before I knew the word “selfie”). I have chin-length hair and am wearing an orange T-shirt. In the background, two pictures taken from a calendar hang on the wall. The bookshelves are filled with toys, stuffed animals, and various trinkets and knick-knacks.

But Orange County wasn’t a good fit for me, and I had heard good (i.e. weird) things about Portland, where my closest friend from my high school days had settled. When my mom had to move for work, I saw it as an opportunity to get out on my own for the first time. I decided to move to Portland without ever having been there, because it just kinda…felt right. When I visited to go room-hunting, I knew it was right. It felt like home immediately.

Mid-2010, laughing in a bed surrounded by new friends. I’m wearing a purple butterfly-motif T-shirt, facing left. To the left, a friend in a lime-green shift, face cropped out. To the right, a friend in a black shirt and red skirt, face cropped out.

In 2009, I’d been having “story dreams” for a while, but November 2009 was my first attempt (and success!) and NaNoWriMo, or at writing a novel at all. The fact that the novel in question is still a terrible (like…so, so bad) rough draft gathering dust along with a few hundred pages of research is irrelevant. I had accomplished something I never dreamed of in high school when I was convinced my career would be acting. I’d ignored writing after high school until it forced me to acknowledge it again. I have no idea when I made the transition from “crap, I think I have to turn this idea into a novel” to “I want to be a professional novelist,” but I don’t think it happened all at once.

I found it in NaNoWriMo. I found it in my newfound ability to finish what I’d set out to do (I have quit more half-hearted first attempts at hobbies, projects, and careers than I care to remember). I found it in the story dreams that just kept coming, even when I was writing all the time.

NaNoWriMo badges: 2009 winner, 2011 participant, 2012 winner, 2013 participant

I found it in the Writing Center at Evergreen, when I made it all of one semester into college before realizing what I’d set out to study was yet another poor fit. I found it in the mentor who saw the specialness in me right away, in the colleagues who learned to depend on me, in the student writers who inspired me, in the pedagogy that every voice is important and everyone is a writer.

A large window with “Welcome to the QuaSR & Writing Centers” written in glass paint on the top portion, magenta and orange flowers painted on the bottom portion.

I found it in my studies at Evergreen, in the deep learning I was absorbing with each class, in each new technique and revelation and idea and collaboration. I found it in looking back and realizing that—unlike with acting in high school—all my hard work was paying off, and I could see my work improving.

I found it in my first writers conference, tentatively stepping into the business side of writing and coming out with fresh inspiration and new writing friends in my genre. I found it the next year in the validation of being chosen as a finalist in the conference’s writing contest.

2016: I’m wearing a black-and-white top and a white nametag with a black “Finalist” ribbon. I’m pointing at my name among many other names on a large poster board.

I found it in the times that I volunteered in an elementary school library and worked in the children’s section of a bookstore, feeling more at home than I could express. I found it in that soaring, weightless feeling of being surrounded by stories, in the magical moments of connecting with readers to give recommendations and find hidden treasures. I found it every time some eight-year-old would come to the register with The Tale of Despereaux, and I would light up and tell them, “This is my favorite book in the whole world!”

Left: Me with author Kate DiCamillo. I’m wearing a gray-green top and gold scarf and holding my copy of The Tale of Despereaux (closed). Right: I’m wearing a purple coat and holding my copy of The Tale of Despereaux (open) to show the personalized autograph.

Two weeks ago, at the 2019 PDX Jolabokaflod, I found it in the first money I ever made for something I wrote. I think I’m going to frame that $10 bill.

I’m sitting at a table at a book fair, other table beside and behind mine. I’m wearing a dark green shirt and a gold necklace and holding a cup of tea. On the table are copies of my comic, a tip jar, a sheet of paper, and a stack of business cards. The tablecloth is sage green brocade and held down by large, chunky crystals.

I struggled a lot after moving back to Portland in 2017. I slept on a friend’s couch for ten months and lived paycheck-to-paycheck in retail jobs for two years. I began working with a fantastic life coach and friend, and it became clear fairly quickly that what I needed was to find a job with a regular 9-5 schedule that paid me a living wage and left me with enough mental and emotional energy in the rest of my life to focus on my writing. And in August 2019, that’s exactly what I found. If the past decade has been any indication, this one will bring even more miraculous discoveries, magical friendships, and the rewards of hard work and hope.

Background: snowy Mt. Hood against a clear blue sky. Middle ground: the Willamette River, the Ross Island Bridge, and the buildings of OHSU’s South Waterfront campus. Foreground: Autumn trees in various shades of yellow, green, and red.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: