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A freelancer’s beginning

On August 24, 2006, Emerson College sent me a letter asking me to take part in their Graduate Certificate in Book Publishing. They had denied my application to their Masters of Arts in Book Publishing but judged that I would fit in with their certificate program. I saw the program as a distinct end to my post-college unemployment, my living off near-to-minimum wage in combination with parents’ gratuity while I tried to find my place in the world. Hell, the program could define my place.

Also, I had wanted to leave Texas since I was a child and had made many frustrated attempts throughout my life. I was determined that my exodus to graduate school would not be denied, however.

When I received the news, I shouted, actually screamed for the joy of it. I called my mother and father, who had not been home when I opened the letter. I called Justin and Steve, two of my high school friends I still kept in touch with. I called Sarah and told her all about it, told her about how this meant no more jobs at coffee shops and no more crying about the worthlessness of Texas. I told her that this meant everything would be all right.

It wasn’t until later, when she had asked me if I would come to Waco for her birthday or if I wanted her to come to Dallas, that I realized this meant leaving her. In hindsight, it’s strange to think that neither of us recognized that immediately. But Emerson started on September 12 that year. I had to get up to Boston somehow with at least my clothes and Kallion, my dog.

How does one completely disassemble their life and relocate to Boston within two weeks of receiving the news that he could go if he wanted? I mean, I didn’t have to accept Emerson’s invitation. I could’ve stayed in Dallas, living in Steve’s parents’ house and working at Starbucks while I scrounged for gainful employment unsuccessfully, resisting Sarah’s insincere invitations to move in with her back at Baylor instead.

My parents had kicked me out after six months because my dog sheds a ridiculous amount. Part Husky and part German Shepherd, she sheds year round, her short coat when it’s hot and her long coat when it’s cold (Texas only has two seasons, hot and cold.). They asked me to keep her outside all of the time, even when I was home and when I was asleep. But I sleep with Kalli in my bed. She lies on the couch next to me when I write. She loves me and trusts me, and all in all I’m more of a parent than an owner to her. I would no sooner leave my four-year-old child outside all day, and I flatly refused. So away I went, and I took my dog with me.

My parents had hoped that kicking me out would give me the spark I needed to find a job, as if my unemployment had come by choice rather than circumstance. My Bachelor of Arts in Great Texts of the Western Tradition, while being a great conversation starter (General response to hearing it is, “What?” Never “Huh?” always “What?”), looks worthless on a resume. I also listed the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, which–despite how it’s sold to freshman–no one actually cares about outside of a collegiate environment. I had zero office skills, zero contacts worth pursuing, and zero prospects. Hence, I put my college degree to work at Starbucks.

Dallas is a tech city, and I am not a techie. While I’m fascinated with computers and video games to a point where I know computer languages simply to make me a better player, I couldn’t finish a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Baylor. Dallas has almost no art scene and actually no writing scene, and I stood out like a sore thumb among the resumes of my more technically proficient colleagues.

The one job interview I received was for a proofreading and copywriting position at a young health insurance company, and I misspelled guarantee in a sample they had me write on the spot. They caught it; they questioned my proofreading skills over it (fairly), and that was the end of the interview.

I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and Concise Rules of APA Style. I was determined to find freelance work by cold contacting companies and just asking. They can’t reject you until you ask, after all.

I found two freelancing gigs through Gmail, Google.com’s email service. As one by one my cover letters to Dallas companies found their way back as rejections, the language used in the conversations prompted Google’s adbot to list a series of self-publication and editorial companies for amateur authors. A light went on in my head.

ProofreadNOW.com had taken me on staff because the owner, Phil, had a daughter attending Baylor when I contacted him. I told him that I had no proofreading experience and that I was still browsing the style guides I had bought with minimal understanding. He took me on anyway. After two months he fired me, saying that my proofreading skills weren’t par with their expectations.

A-1 Editing responded to my query with an editorial test. I completed the reading section with some light proofreading and editorial queries, and apparently my effort pleased the owner, Nicole. She sent the first manuscript about a month afterwards. I worked on it slowly and carefully, attempting to maintain my good first impression. I returned the manuscript to her on deadline and promptly received another.

Nicole wrote one of my letters of recommendation to Emerson, one of the few tokens of proof that I had some experience in publishing. My acceptance into the certificate program probably rested largely on her merit alone. She lifted me out of unemployment and creative stagnation, a shift in my life for which I’ll never quite be able to repay her.

All I had to show for one year out of college in Texas was Starbucks and two freelancing gigs, one a failure and the other a success. My parents had kicked me out of their house. I couldn’t afford to move out of Steve’s parents’ house because my Starbucks wages only covered my credit card minimums, car payments, and student loans, not all of which had come out of their grace period yet. Unemployed, broke, and homeless with my dog in tow, I could’ve stayed.

I still can’t explain how I fit all of my most important possessions in my little two-door 2000 Honda Accord. I knew how to break the computer chair down with hex keys, but even in its component parts the base of the chair, a five-point plastic star with a wheel on each leg, never quite fit anywhere. I ended up shoving it into the floorboard in front of the passenger seat. Kalli took the passenger seat herself, eyeing the base distrustfully. Three heavy, book-filled boxes took the back seat and rested on a comforter and a few bedspreads to protect the leather. In the trunk, my computer (but not a monitor) sat next to the space heater and my one bag of clothes.

The whole time I packed, alone over the boxes and still more alone carting the heavy items to the car, I kept asking myself how it was going to work. How could I, broke and alone and afraid, make it to Boston? I had $700 to my name, which included my last check from Starbucks (Stephanie had gotten corporate to print it early so that I wouldn’t have to have them send it to me later on.). How could the next few days of my life play out successfully? How would fate find yet one more way to bring me back to Plano, dejected and frustrated?

I determined that while I wasn’t sure about a single moment in the rest of my life, I was sure as hell gonna head to Boston and find out.

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Author: Greg Freed

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A Relationship in Presents, Part One: The waffle press

The reactions to the last entry were pleasantly diverse. I’m loath to tell you, dear reader, how to engage the material in this blog. However, I feel that I would do well to remind those of you who know me personally that these pieces are neither journalism nor the records from my journal. These are lightly polished examples of my (mostly nonfiction) creative writing and are not bound either to strict fact or to my personal view of the world. They are small pieces of art and should be read as such, in preference to reading them as transcripts of my life or little confessions of guilt or shame.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to post episodes that track a relationship through the gifts one lover gives to another. I think it will be a fun experiment in style and emotion, and I hope you enjoy the results! 🙂 Wednesdays are still reserved for guest authors, which I am openly seeking. Amos Parker will present a piece this week; I’ve seen the first draft and am excited about releasing it to you!

Thanks for reading. 🙂

**

“I can’t tell you how much it was,” she typed. The message appeared on my screen, void of her joking lilt, but I could almost hear it through the pixels.

“C’mon,” I replied. “You have to give me a hint.”

“Alright,” she said. I waited with a tense smile on my face for the next message.

It appeared: “I won’t tell you how much it cost.”

My eyes closed in mirth, and I looked away from the computer while I laughed.

“Come on!” I typed. “Give me a hint!”

Sarah walked away from her computer and grabbed the box. She picked it up, turned it over in her hands. The stark dorm room around her, decorated with martini glass plastic hangers that I had helped her put up, a purple shag carpet, and several groups of stuffed penguins, felt homey to her, but the florescent light and off-white cinderblock walls also pushed her to leave, to come to my apartment.

The message Sarah is typing appeared at the bottom of the text box, and I knew that she was about to send me something good, some hint she would’ve guessed I couldn’t sink my teeth into, but she didn’t know me that well just yet.

“It weighs 4.69 pounds. That’s all you’re getting. I’m coming over now.” The message Sarah has signed off followed her messages.

I quickly shifted over to Google and typed in the weight. After converting it to kilograms for me, Google began to display items that matched. I scanned one page, but none of the links made sense. I scanned the next, and the next, excitement leaning into frustration, but always a giddy smile lighted my features.

Then, on the fourth page, I saw a waffle press that split the waffle into six hearts. I knew that had to be the present she had gotten me; it made perfect sense. We had gone to Alexander’s dining hall so many times late at night. All I had really wanted there at two in the morning was a good waffle, but their presses suck, either burning the waffle or ripping an undercooked one in half; the heat fluctuated, and the waffle mixture wasn’t any good, besides. My smile widened.

She knocked, and I left my bedroom and opened the front door. She stood silhouetted by beige vinyl beams. Sarah wore a black jacket over a purple spaghetti-strap and a knee-length black cotton skirt. Her long brown hair hung far past her shoulders, and her lips held a small smile.

She entered, plopped down on the loveseat by the entrance to the kitchen. “I’m not going to tell you what I got you,” she said, and I heard the humored lilt in person.

“I know what the present is,” I said, closing the door.

She answered, “I doubt it.”

“No, I know, but I’m not gonna tell you what it is so you can be surprised when I’m not surprised.”

“That’s stupid,” Sarah said, rolling her eyes. She leaned her torso against the near arm of the loveseat while I plopped down on the sofa.

“So what did I get you?” she asked.

“I’m not gonna tell.”

“If you knew you’d say something,” she said.

“I do admit it’s the perfect present,” I answered.

Sarah squinted her eyes, questioning my answer. Finally, she said, her voice rising in anger, “You do know, you asshole!”

I looked to the side, towards the TV.

“How did you figure it out?” she nearly screamed.

I shrugged, meeting her eyes again. “I put the weight into Google and searched a few pages. The present was so good, it wasn’t really that hard to figure out.”

Sarah looked away from me, grunting a sigh. She got up, I thought maybe to come over and slap at me, so I smiled. She didn’t move towards me, though; she went for the door.

“Wait,” I coughed, shocked. “You’re not leaving?”

“Yes, I’m leaving,” she said. “You’re such an asshole.”

She opened and shut the door, and didn’t speak to me again for weeks. She did, eventually, give me the waffle press.

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Featured Fan: Kate Barkhurst

This is a fiction post based on info that Kate sent me in emails. (VERY FIRST FEATURED FAN POST EVAR !! ZOMG!@#$?!) I reserve the right to twist, manipulate, and mangle anything she might’ve said and to misrepresent her at least as much as my poor artistry necessitates, probably more.

To have a chance to get featured, join the group. Or wait a week or maybe a month: I plan on upgrading the group to a fan page soon, but I’m pretty busy for the next month or so.

**

Christopher, Christopher, Christopher, beautiful boy. I feel his breath moist on my breasts, his ear snug against my sternum. Gently, gently I raise my hands above the bed, place my fingers on the camera. Freeze: he fidgets, and my muscles tense; his head nuzzles and his eyes flutter, and then he’s asleep again. I feared that I had woken him.

I shift my pelvis to the side so that I can give the camera the best angle. My hair is still wet from the shower, and I’m unkempt, but I don’t care. My baby is adorable, beautiful, darling. No amount of photos would ever sate me. I love him, his little hand on my collar bone, his dreaming eyes, even the thin line of spit touching my chest. So many of his body fluids have touched me at one point or another that spittle seems insignificant, no, adorable, even lovely. I suppose that body-fluid comment works both ways.

Jack called and said he’d come home for lunch. It’s nice that his schedule it so flexible; along with Christopher, having Jack breaks the monotony over young motherhood. I love it, being a mother, but sometimes when Jack is gone and Christopher is sleeping, I feel so lonely. I know it’s not the case; I’m loved in ways that I would have envied even a year ago or been to ignorant to envy, but sometimes the sinking feeling comes anyway.

I put school on hold for Christopher. It was the right choice, I know it. Jack makes more than enough money for us as an IT consultant, and having the responsibility of running the business-end of his shop helps me to see that I’m important, that I’m involved. And my son is my priority, my first love. But school isn’t far behind, nor work, nor my dreams. I haven’t sacrificed them yet, no. I’ve put them on hold.

Christopher whimpers when he hears another shutterclick from the camera, so I put it down. I grab my phone off the nightstand and pull up Facebook. I play games, some simple and some complex. I can measure the degrees of my cabin fever by the number of eggs I’ve unlocked in the last week, but I never bother. I use the game to get my mind off of things; it would lose its point if I turned it into an issue.

People challenge me on my ability to follow through with my dreams when I’ve delayed my life to raise my son. They think I’m a cliche, that I’ll become some housewife and settle for doing Jack’s chores. But they don’t know me; they don’t know how broad these shoulders have become through trial; they don’t know the migraines or the father. And if they don’t know that, what do they really know about me at all?

Those fools don’t remember when I moved out of my parents house working at Cinemark as a ticket girl, minimum-wagin’ it without family support. I only had alcohol in my fridge because of a then-boyfriend who worked for a delivery service. I talked like everyone talked then, about success and chasing my ambitions and making my way. Who would’ve known I’d have been different then, if they had bothered to consider me? And yet I had to believe then that I was–different, I mean; that I was worth a damn.

So many of my friends went away to college while I stayed behind, unable to go on. So many dropped out, came home, chilled. I spent time with them, but also resented them, ones that had the ability to fulfill desires handed to them so that they could take it for granted. I guess I really didn’t resent them, but it frustrated me to have these dreams and see them squandered by people who didn’t, couldn’t, and wouldn’t share them.

But I remember Greg. Our friendship was always a weird mix of fun and awkward; how we maintained that for years I still don’t know except that we only saw each other occasionally through high school and his college. We used to drive around in his Trans Am, and he’d blast Savage Garden and we’d sing and smile. Our souls would dance on the T-bar. At the end of the night, he’d always ask me whether to turn left to take me home or turn right to go back to hang out at his place. I never did want to go home.

In 2004, he invited me one day to some alumni meeting, and I hadn’t had an excuse to dress up in quite some time. He picked me up in his truck and drove me out there, him in a suit and me in that black dress, my straight brown hair left loose over my shoulders. He smiled and I smiled, and we were awkward while the night was beautiful.

He drove me out to the Hilton at 635 and the Tollway. When we arrived, a string of old people and signs directed us to the meeting room. It was nearly an amphitheater, dark wood all around with plants in little rails, and all the old people, old rich people.

The hour-d’oeuvres tasted excellent, and Greg introduced me to a few unmemorable classmates before we sat down. I didn’t quite feel like a trophy while I stood there with Greg, but I wasn’t sure why he touched me on the shoulder every time he introduced me or why he bothered at all. His friends were all nice, everyone was nice, and then we sat down to listen.

The meeting started with a speech about finances that I didn’t pay much attention to and then a speech from Baylor’s president that I didn’t have any interest in. It wasn’t until the Q&A session that I saw something truly memorable: Greg stood up to ask the first question. He had said that was why the students were here, to spur conversation, and so he stood, announced that he was a Great Texts major, and asked something about Baylor’s new dorm rooms.

Before he could sit down, the president had him up there talking about Great Texts and core classes and who knows what else. The invitation for Greg to the front of the room took us both by surprise, but he handled it well. In fact, it was the first time I heard anyone I knew from school cover a broad range of topics with such knowledge and enthusiasm. I knew that Greg would go on to do great things in that moment, and that confirmed and comforted my ambitions, even when life had handed me several obstacles I wasn’t sure I could get past.

I did, though, get past them, and now I’m married to a wonderful man and I have a beautiful child, and somehow my dreams seem almost as distant as they did back then. But I know that they’re not gone; I know that I haven’t sacrificed them to motherhood altogether, only temporarily. The most important job I will ever have in life is to nurture and teach my child how to dream and pursue happiness in all aspects of his life, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll miss out on attending and graduating from Harvard Law School; it doesn’t mean I won’t practice corporate litigation for a prestigious firm; it still doesn’t mean that I won’t accomplish this particular ideal: all of this before I am 35. Maybe I can even see Greg when I move up to Boston, and he can meet Jack and write stories about Christopher, fun and immortal and pure. I can’t imagine anything better.

Christopher shifts on my chest, squirms, and wakes up with a small cry. The spittle snaps as I readjust and sit up. These days are difficult but so worthwhile, and the future is an infinite stretch of beauty and amazement. Happiness is a warm and giggly baby cuddling with you in the morning. As I settle Christopher in my lap, Jack comes in the doors, and our eyes connect and affirm our love. We smile. Christopher cries in earnest. I truly can’t imagine anythin better.

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Pneumonia: Episode one

Writing nonfiction has always come easily to me; even the most mundane events have inspiration buried inside them, which is why I cherish challenges to make events like workdays inspiring. Sometimes, however, the scene cuts itself short, and there’s no “angry blob monster” strategy to negotiate a nonfiction author’s writer’s block.

With that, I give you a piece about my college years. Critique, comment; give me somewhere to go aside from the obvious, a path my brain seems adamant not to take.

**

I lay down on the cement, which feels warmer than my body. I breathe in deeply, as deeply as I can, and my lungs begin to itch terribly. I exhale quickly, fearfully, but I waited too long. The cough comes, horrible and fluid.

I bask in the sunlight in deep fall. It’s fall, isn’t it? I close my eyes because my head is spinning, taking the sky along with it. I breathe again. I avoid the cough, barely.

Baylor’s doctors told me I have pneumonia. How long ago was that? I open my eyes and look around; I’m at Baylor Student Learning Center, home of their medical team. I moan as my head swells. Tears well up in my eyes.

My head hurts so badly. I tried to break it on the cinder blocks of my dorm room. It woke me up, the pain. I coughed and coughed and coughed, my diaphragm yanking my body into a fetal position. And then I turned to look at the entrance of my dorm room with that damn two by one foot vent. The never ending blast of cold splashed right on me, blew onto my bed unavoidably. Damn it to hell, my nemesis.

Turning back to the window, I shivered under my comforter. My head never settled down, never stopped spinning, never stopped aching. I had class today, my last class before Thanksgiving Break, before going home to my family. I banged my head against the wall instead.

I wanted to fracture the skull, the see pieces of it sliding down the beige blocks. I wanted to see the cold, malevolent wall painted in my blood and bone. I didn’t even manage to bruise myself, didn’t even chafe the dry skin. I was too weak.

Colt had come in and asked me why I missed class. I groaned, got up, and vomited in our sink. Or did I dream about vomiting in the sink? He asked me if he could take me to the doctors at the SLC. That was after I said I couldn’t drive there, couldn’t even walk there.

He had dropped me off at the entrance, but he didn’t wait around. If he had stayed, he might’ve hit rush hour traffic in Houston, four hours away. I opened the door and climbed out and off he went like a bullet in his sporty silver Civic.

Oh, my fucking head. I grab it with my hands, I shut my eyes tightly, I rub my temples, but nothing helps. Athena. Zeus. Oh, God, I’m about to pass out.

A female voice speaks over me: “Do you need some help?” It seems all consuming. It pounds inside my fevered head. The cement is cold. The sun is weak.

I open my eyes. It’s the nurse who had me wait two hours to see a doctor. “Grandparents,” I mumble, “coming.”

“What?” she asks.

I cough, regaining some strength. “My grandparents are coming.”

“Do you need a ride to the hospital?”

They had told me in the doctors’ office that they couldn’t drive me to the hospital, that it made them liable if something happened on the way. I couldn’t drive, though, can’t drive now, passed out on the sidewalk.

I pull out my cell phone and call my grandparents. This confuses the nurse, but she stands there politely. My grandparents don’t answer; I get their machine. It’s been forty-five minutes since they said they were on their way, though. I’ve made the trip from the college to their house before; it’s fifteen minutes, tops.

I struggle to put the cell phone away, pushing it forcefully into my pocket, and lift my hand to the nurse, which induces more pounding in my head. My hand only lifted just over a foot off the ground before it flopped back, limp with exhaustion. What’s happening to me? Fear sets in, and adrenaline starts to pump.

With effort, I sit up. My coughing nearly topples me.

“Do you need help?” she asks me again.

“Oh, God, yes.” My voice shakes. I’m on the verge of tears.

“Do you remember what the doctor said you had?”

“Pneumonia.”

Just then, my grandparents pulled up in the driveway. The nurse pulled on my arm, trying to get me up.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing