My Formal Treaty of Alliance

                Ally: (noun) something united with another, usually by treaty.  See also: supporter, advocate, partner, friend.

                My heart is heavy this week. 

                There’s a girl I know—someone whose name matters but won’t be revealed here—who is being hurt by someone she loves.  It doesn’t matter how I know this girl, just that I do, and I know her to be sweet and kind and undeserving of the things that have happened to her.

                Although, really, it wouldn’t matter if she wasn’t sweet and kind.  She could be rude or thoughtless or irresponsible and she still wouldn’t deserve the things that have happened to her.  No one is deserving of the things that are happening to this girl. 

                It wasn’t the first time she piled on the concealer to hide the bruising around her eyes or had to press ice cubes to her mouth, trying to calm the swelling of her fat lip.  It won’t be the last time, either.

                I knew she was going to go back to him.  Even as we sat together and discussed her options, even when the tears started cutting through the thick makeup beneath her eyes, even when she put her head on my shoulder and told me how afraid she was…even then.  I knew. 

                While looking for a way to help this particular girl, I found a fairly staggering collection of statistics:

o   Every 9 seconds in the US, a woman is assaulted or beaten.

o   On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.

o   1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.

o   1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

o   On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.

o   Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

o   Women between the ages of 18-24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.

o   Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.

                My resources also tell me that, on average, a woman will attempt to leave an abusive relationship seven times before she finally leaves for good.  By that point, a lot of people in her life have given up.  They’ve burnt out their concern.  They’ve forced themselves to detach.  She’s lost her support system, her safety net.

                A large part of my brain is telling me to do just that. To detach and say that she’s a grown woman and to let her make her own decisions, but my heart is still wincing with each beat.  I know it would be easier to turn my eyes away and to find something better, something more positive to focus on, but I just can’t.  Not when there are so many broken little girls like her. So many people who have already been erased by those they love out of pain or disgust or exhaustion.

                I can’t make this girl come with me. I can’t make her go to the police or the hospital.  Not if she’s not ready to.  But here’s what I can do: I can remain her ally.

                And if allies are only recognized as official by formal treaty, then I guess this is mine:

                I promise not to punish you if you decide to go back to him.  I will not roll my eyes and mutter under my breath that you are asking to be hurt again; I will not shake my head and pity you or call you an idiot and ask what is wrong with you.

                I promise that I will still answer my phone if you call me—whether it’s the middle of the night or the middle of my shift at work.  I promise I will answer.

                I promise I will believe you and treat you with the respect that you deserve while we get you the help that you need. 

                I promise that I will try my hardest never say "If it were me..." or "If I were you..." Because I am not you and I don't know what it's like to be living through the things that you are living through.  

                I promise that if you need me, I will come and get you.  No matter where you are, I will come and get you and bring you someplace safe.  Even if that place is my own home.  I will keep you safe and so will my loved ones. 

                I promise to be your ally; I promise that you are not alone and that this is not the way your story is meant to end. 

 

Resources:

http://www.ncadv.org/

http://www.thehotline.org/2013/06/50-obstacles-to-leaving-1-10/

 

Help Wanted

You get in life what you have the courage to ask for – Oprah Winfrey

Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post about not being brave.  About being scared of chasing after something I wanted and about how my cowardly nature had allowed me to settle for something less than my dreams. 

It’s right here, if you missed it.

That was three years ago, ya’ll.  Three years.  And guess what?  I’m still stuck, just in a different rut, in a different town, with even less hope than I had before.  It’s getting dark inside my head.  Real dark. Like, my-cell-phone’s-dead-and-the-flashlight’s-busted-and-I’m-down-to-my-last-handful-of-matches-and-they-keep-burning-my-fingers-as-they-burn-out-kind of dark.

So, I’m doing something I don’t normally do.  I’m asking for help.

I have a little under a month to submit my application for the MFA program at Boston University.  It’s my number one, top-pick, reach-for-the-moon, over-the-fence, World Series kind of choice for a school, a city, and a program.  I can’t explain it, but I’ve wanted to go to BU since I was sixteen.

And BU?  BU is fucking scary.  Okay? It’s even scary to Google!  You get all kinds of results with horrifying words like “Prestigious” and “Top-Ten Best” and “One of the Oldest and Most Renowned”. 

But I was like, no, Emry.  No.  We’re going to be brave and fierce and we’re going to fill out our application and get into that school.

That school where dozens of bestselling authors have been educated.

That school that only accepts ten students every year.

Ten.

Out of what I’m sure are thousands of applications.

So now I’m like

Below you will find my statement of purpose.  It is the one I wrote for the other schools to which I applied, and it is by no means perfect.  In fact, it’s probably a large, steaming pile of shit. I’ve editedit and rewritten it probably six times and each time I hate it a little more.

That’s where you come in, guys.  I can’t do this alone.  I don’t want to do this alone.  I need your help.  Please give me strong, concrete suggestions about what works and what doesn’t and what parts are worth saving and what can be tossed straight out.

Here's the info on BU’s program.

And here’s my insufficient statement of purpose:

Dear Selection Committee,

I was nine years old when I decided that creative writing was more important than long division.  My fourth grade teacher did not agree and called a meeting to inform my parents that instead of answering a single question on the front of my math test, I’d flipped the page over and written a story about the case of Seven, on trial for cannibalism.  He was charged with eating Nine.  My mother nodded grimly, kept her words short and clipped and promised to talk to me about it later.  Instead of the grounding I was expecting, she bought me an ice cream cone, a fresh stack of composition books, and signed me up for a library card. 

“You’ve gotta take your math tests, Em,” she said with affectionate exasperation. “But I don’t want you to ever stop reading and writing stories.”

In the twenty years that have passed since that afternoon, I have only attempted a handful more math tests, but I have completed several novels and dozens of short stories.  My voracious appetite for words has always been my greatest asset.  Without a strong mentor for writing in my youth, I foraged my education through the shelves of the public library.  Judy Blume was my first instructor in the field of realistic dialogue and screenplays or television scripts by Joss Whedon taught me the place for dark humor and the beauty of weirdness. These lessons were cemented by Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and later, Mark Danielewski.  Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and David Foster Wallace’s epic Infinite Jest have revealed to me the beauty in dense, complex storytelling. The art of loveable, flawed characters was introduced by Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys.

My professional life has taken me away from writing for the last eight years.  I have worked in the nonprofit sector and in restaurant management full time, cultivating my corporate training and effective management skills.  These careers have been professionally satisfying, but not nearly enough to quell the hunger in my heart for the life of a writer.  My precious writing time is what I can squeeze in before work or in the wee hours of the morning when I can barely keep my eyes open.  I rely on friends and family for constructive criticism, but the responses I receive are more akin to comments on a well-written fanfiction.  As encouraging as it is to hear that they are enjoying my work, there is no real criticism, nothing to challenge me and spur me on to better things.

I strive to reach my goal of writing at least one page of creative work each day.  Though some days it feels impossible, I am never one to shrink from a challenge.  As such, I have participated and won NaNoWriMo by completing a 50,000 word project in the month of November each year since 2012. Recently, I have begun revisions on a novel I have been working on for the last three years, a hybrid of historical fiction braided with a modern romantic comedy. 

In October of 2015, I co-founded a weekly podcast, Badass Bitches, where we tell the true stories of women such as Alice B. Sheldon, Virginia Hall, and Juliane Koepcke. Our aim is to share the stories of women who have faded from history and share their lives and accomplishments with an audience who might otherwise remain ignorant. 

I am lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to share my passion with other writers over the years as a guest commentator in the high school English classes of teachers with whom I am acquainted.  I have presented creative writing lectures and workshops to accelerated students in their AP level English courses, to small groups of older writers looking for a place to share their work, and to high school students who had never been given an outlet for their creative writing interests. 

It is time to stop treating my writing as a hobby and allow it to be the focus of my life and my career.  The small, focused group setting of University of Oregon is exactly what I am looking for in an MFA program.  The combination of intense workshops and individual tutorials makes for an exciting prospect to grow and develop as a writer.  I am ready to expose myself to the criticism of a sophisticated audience and hone my craft alongside an equally impassioned community of writers and educators.  If selected for your program, I would focus on further developing a distinct written voice and begin the construction of my next novel. 

Though I have wandered from the path of professional writing and teaching, I have never left entirely.  It has not been easy to continue to call myself a writer, and even more difficult to live up to the title, but it is a challenge I accept every day. 

I have proven to myself that I have the discipline, passion and commitment for a higher level of instruction.  It is my hope that I can have the opportunity to prove the same to you as a student at the University of Oregon.

Thank you for your consideration.

Emily J. Jeziorski

Here’s what I’ve got going for me:

1.)    I’m a non-traditional student
2.)    I’ve taken time off to figure out that being a writer is what I really, really, really want to do
3.)    …I have pretty hair.

So, yeah, okay.  Not the resume I was hoping for, but it’s a start.  It’s also worth noting that the letter above doesn’t sound like me AT ALL and I’m wondering if I should just take some combination of the Autobiographical Statement I posted earlier today and somehow turn that into a letter they’d remember?

I literally don’t know.  Please help.

Please.

I’m going to go eat my feelings while I figure out my next move.


Autobiographical Statement

As some of you know--and some of you don't--I'm applying to grad school for Fall of 2016.  I didn't advertise this anywhere on social media for a lot of reasons.  Those reasons are for a different blog that's probably going to be really dark and depressing and maybe published later today. 

The purpose of this post, though, is not just to tell Squarespace that I'm still alive and using this domain, but to share one of the pieces I crafted for one of my applications.  This particular school asked for a lot of different things.  They wanted a Statement of Purpose, an Autobiographical Statement, and a Personal History Statement.

Uh...what?

That's a lot of things that all sound like the same thing.  And doesn't that sound like it would make it more difficult for the selection committee?  And why not lump all these things together and call it an Extra Long Tell Us About Yourself Statement?  (Capital Letters Are Important to Grad Schools).

But I'm bad a naming things, so I guess that's why they're reading my stuff and I'm sitting on my couch, waiting for rejection letters.  

Wait. That's too dark. I promised darkness later.  Shit.

Anyway, here's the autobiographical statement I ended up being the most proud of.  I haven't considered dipping a toe into the lake of Creative Nonfiction since sophomore year of college, but that's where this piece would fall if I needed to give it a genre.

Without further ado: 

In the fourth grade classroom at Gill Hall Elementary, in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on a hot April day in 1997, I sat with three adults.  My parents and my teacher.

            It was tense.  The sweat prickled at my hairline before sliding slowly down the back of my neck.  The adults were talking.  Their words clipped and terse.  No one was talking to me.  No one was even looking at me.  They were just carrying on, speaking to one another, hands folded over the papers in question.  Ignoring me like I wasn’t sitting there beside them, awaiting execution.

            I didn’t mean to forget to finish my math test.  Or start it.  I’d just gotten carried away.  Numbers were so much more interesting when I could turn them into little characters and make up a story about them instead.  And the story which I’d ended up writing on the back of my test was a lot more entertaining than the equations I hadn’t answered on the front, anyway. 

            “Emily,” Mrs. K said finally, setting her beady eyes on the accused.  “Do you understand why I’ve asked your parents to be here?”

            My mother and father—who couldn’t stand to be in the same room as one another normally—both focused their gaze on me.  I swallowed hard.  “Yes?”

            “And why is that?” Mrs. K raised one of her penciled on eyebrows and pursed her lined lips. 

            “Because I wrote a story about the numbers on the back of my math test,” I mumbled, looking down at my hands.

            “Instead of?”

            I sighed with resignation.  “Instead of taking my math test.”

            Even to my nine year old self, this tribunal seemed rife with injustice.  Did they even read the story about Seven dispelling the rumors of his cannibalism?  Did no one care that he went to trial and swore under oath that he did not eat Nine as he was charged?  Or how One defended him because she knew what it was like to be lonely and intimidating? And best yet, after Seven was cleared of all charged, they fell in love and walked hand in hand into the double digits together. 

            “Why do you think we’re disappointed, Em?” my father asked.  His tone was still kind and gentle as always, but undoubtedly displeased.

            “Because math is important?” It was a question.  One I’d been asking since the subject had been introduced to me three years ago and immediately begun its bullying. It was a question that no one had answered. 

            No one answered me this time.  Instead, they turned their attention back to one another and moved onto the sentencing portion of my trial.  Mrs. K used words like “special” and “extra help” and “after-school programs.”  Words that made the knot in my stomach twist tighter and tighter.   

            My mother was silent afterward as we climbed into the car and buckled our seatbelts.  I waited until we pulled onto the street before I swallowed hard and glanced over at her.  “Are you mad?” I asked, quietly, praying I was looking cuter than I felt.

            “Yes,” she said in an even tone.

            “Oh.”

            “I’m mad because I can’t believe my taxes go to paying that woman’s salary,” she gripped the steering wheel tighter.  I blinked. Didn’t expect that.  “What kind of idiot reads a story like that and calls a meeting to tell us she thinks there’s something wrong with you?”  She shook her head and pulled over onto the shoulder.  She took a deep breath and turned to me.  “Look, Em,” she reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.  “No one is good at everything, okay?  But this?” she held up my story.  “You’re good at this.  You’re really, really good at this.”  I felt myself smiling for the first time all day.  My mother smiled back and pressed a kiss to the top of my head.  “Just please don’t use your math tests anymore, okay?  I’ll buy you as many notebooks as you want.  I just don’t want to sit through another meeting like that one.”  She raised her eyebrows.  “Deal?”

            I grinned.  “Deal.”  

            “We’re going to the library,” her mother decided aloud.  “An imagination like yours needs to be fed.”

            True to my word, I stopped writing on the back of my math tests.  I still failed them, but no one had to go to any more meetings because of it.  I had a building full of new teachers waiting for me to devour the lessons they had hidden between their pages.

             I studied character development from Harper Lee and Thomas Mann.  I learned description from the poets—Mary Oliver was my favorite, but I made time for Dickenson and Thoreau.  I kept myself awake most of the summer of 2002 studying how to tingle a spine from the likes of Shelley and Danielewski.  Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, and Elmore Leonard taught me the ins and outs of great dialogue. 

            It was only eleven years later that I found myself in the hospital, sitting beside my mother in the last week of her life.  She had been asleep most of the day; the morphine dulled the pain of the cancer ravaging her body, but it also knocked her out.  She did open her eyes that afternoon, though, and reached for my hand, startling me from the book I was reading at her bedside.

            Her skin was yellowed with jaundice, but her eyes were the same.  Green and kind and curious about what I was doing.  “Who are you reading today?” she asked, her voice hoarse. 

            I covered her hand with mine.  “Neil Gaiman.”

            She managed a smile.  “Get it from the library?”  I nodded and swallowed down the lump in my throat.  “Is there anything in that place you haven’t read?”

            I brought our hands up and kissed the back of hers, squeezing our fingers together as I forced a smile.  “Just the math books.”

 

 

And here, I thought endings were hard

So here’s the thing.  The agent who was reading my book?  She didn’t want it.  Yeah, I’m dying inside.  Every time I say it or think it which (because I’m self-deprecating  and a little bit insane) is all the time, I feel like curling up into a ball and crying. Or screaming and pounding my fists.

Or drinking a bottle of tequila with a straw.

Or all three.

Or kind of like this:

And, okay, yeah, I know that literally EVERYONE gets rejected before they have any kind of success.  I know that.  (I mean, if you know someone whose first attempt at artistic success wasn’t rejected, don’t fucking tell me about it.  I’ll want them dead.  It’s not fair, it’s not right or mature, but it’s what I’ll want.)  But it doesn’t make it any harder to deal with the fact that I joined their ranks.  It doesn’t make me feel any less like an absolute failure with a 12 paragraph long e-mail with all the reasons my book sucks.  It doesn’t make me wonder if everyone who ever taught me was wrong or if everyone who read Mack & Moira thus far was just being nice.

Because these are real feelings.  These are real fears I’m dealing with all of the time.  Truly every time I open my word processor, there’s this little slacker voice where my imagination used to be that kind of yawns and looks at me like, “Really?  We’re still doing this?  Ugh.  You’re such a glutton for punishment but…*sigh* Okay…”

I also still have 130,000 unusable words that are all chanting a chorus of:

So there’s that.  Am I being overly dramatic?  Yes.  But just dramatic?  No.  I’m not.  And if you think I am, I don’t care, because the sheer weight of what needs to be changed about this manuscript that I just spent three years opening my veins into is just.  It’s just exhausting.  And of course I’m going to do it.  And of course I knew I’d have to.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I still feel like crying, and that a large part of my sleepy, slacker brain is wondering if it’s going to be worth it, and all of this adds up to me feeling really, really lost.

And really sad.

And having to write a “thank you for rejecting me” email that took three drafts before I could send it.

So if you see me and ask me how the book is and I either:

a.)    burst directly into tears

b.)    whimper and dissolve into a sniffling heap on the ground

c.)     turn and walk in the opposite direction

Just remember, it’s not you.  It’s me and my broken heart.

Will I get over this?  Yes.  Obviously.  If I can survive 2008, I can clearly survive this.  Because even if I don’t actually want to keep putting myself out there to be rejected again and again and again (repeat 400x as needed until success occurs), I’ll still do it.  Why?  Is it because I’m adorably optimistic and hopeful?  Not really.

It’s more like this:

PS: Thanks to Kat Dennings for her support and wisdom during this difficult time.

 

 

Endings are hard.

My book is finished.  Okay, not finished finished.  Not on-the-shelf finished or even as-done-as-it-gets finished, but it is finished.  The first draft is complete. I keep saying that thinking that I’ll feel something like joy or relief or even accomplishment, but I don’t.  I feel sad, lonely, a little proud, I guess, but mostly just kind of listless.

Is this what parents feel when they drop their kids off for college?

I should be jumping up and down like everyone else, but the truth is, I’m a little heartbroken.  I loved writing this book—even when I complained about it (which was, let’s face it, a not small percent of the time).  I love Moira and her broken heart, I love Jack and his honesty (and his grid-like abdomen), Mack and Charlie learning how to be friends as siblings, Rory, Betty, Tom Hanks…

I love all of them.  And now they’re all kind of grown up and done and I don’t know what to do with myself.

So while I pretend I’m not obsessively checking my email every thirty seconds (nothing new, I just looked), I’ve made a deal with myself that I won’t even look at the manuscript for 30 days.

And since I’m absolutely incapable of starting something new, I think I’ll just keep clicking through my Mack & Moira Pinterest board and listening to the Official Soundtrack.  That's not pathetic...right?

Anyway, special thanks to the following people, places, and things who helped me get through the last 3 years:

-My couch and laptop, without whom I would not have a 300 page manuscript or a place to rest my atrophying ass while I created it -My husband, who will never ever ever get all the credit and thanks he deserves.  It is because of him I have clean clothes, food, bills that are paid on time, and a full wine glass to celebrate. -Kassy, who must have heard the plan for the last 8 chapters forty-five times before she finally got me to admit that I was no longer blocked, just stalling -Jillian, who supplied me with a four-volume soundtrack of the most amazing word-inspiring music I've ever heard.  How this girl knows how to pick songs for scenes that haven't been written yet, I will never know.  She's got a gift. -Doc who read and reviewed each available chapter (sorry, you can't read the rest--it's not ready) -Alllllllllll the people who have read and reviewed and especially those who helped me get ready for the conference: Leah, Brittany, Mariah, and Adri -And the amazingly patient and wonderful Elizabeth who has loved and supported this project since we reworked the original idea (the one we'll never speak of.  ever.) at our first writers' weekend retreat in 2010:

3 summers ago :-)

So I know it's not really the end, because I will likely be editing until the cows come home (though hopefully not to my home, because I'm not certain where I'll put them) and I'm sure I'll eventually be so sick of Mack and Moira and all their wacky pals that I'll want to just do a Select+A+Del and start with something new...right now, I wanted to take a minute to remember this feeling of sadness and nostalgia and remember how much I've adored these characters from the beginning.

"Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can. The fans are always gonna bitch. There's always gonna be holes. And since it's the ending, it's all supposed to add up to something. I'm telling you, they're a raging pain in the ass. ... No doubt, endings are hard.  But then again...nothing ever really ends, does it?" -Chuck, Supernatural

Creative Writing Workshop

It’s officially a year of breaking out of comfort zones, climbing out on limbs, sailing away from the harbor and too many clichés!  Adding to my list of brand new things I have always wanted to try, but have been too scared to actually do it, I have decided to start leading a creative writing workshop. I don’t want to say “teaching a class” because I don’t know that creative writing is something that can necessarily be taught.  I think talent and interest in the arts can be guided and directed, and while something like learning to play scales or use an airbrush technique is a definite skill that can be taught like a subject in school, I don’t think that creative writing fits with those words.

 

Anyway, that’s beside the point.  The point is that I’d like to start this workshop here in Warren, Tuesday nights beginning on May 7th at 6pm.  The class would be open to anyone ages 14+ and would only guarantee the 3 F’s:

*Freedom—to write what you want and not be judged

*Feedback—from a small group (no more than 10 people) to improve and develop your writing

*Fun—honing and perfecting your craft with a small group of like-minded individuals (I’ll probably bring snacks each week too…and we all know that snacks make anything more fun.)

 

The course would cost $50 and run for 6 weeks with each class lasting 2 hours.  Each class would focus on a different aspect of a work of fiction so that the end product is a well-rounded, thoroughly work-shopped piece of writing.  There will be weekly “homework” assignments (2-3 pages max) which will be work-shopped at the beginning of each class with the group.  There will be no official grades or credit given—this will be strictly extra-curricular.

Due to the nature of a creative writing workshop, a small-group setting is best, so I’m going to cap this class at 10 participants.  If the class fills up and there is still an interest from the community, I would absolutely consider hosting another class.

Disclosure: I am not a board certified teacher, nor have I ever claimed to be.  I am, however, a student and lover of the written word who has been creating fictional worlds since I was six years old and I do have a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a minor in Creative Writing from Clarion University. My second novel is in the final stages of its first draft and I will be attending the Clarksville Writer’s Conference in Tennessee this summer to meet with and pitch to several agents.  Most importantly, though, I am someone who would have loved and benefited from a small-group instruction of creative writing any time throughout my life, and am interested in creating such an environment here in Warren.

I hope you’ll join me!  Please e-mail (emily.jeziorski@gmail.com), comment, or message me on Facebook if this is something in which you’d be interested.

Right in the feels

I read this today on Pinterest and it stopped me in my tracks.  This is what I love about words.  I don’t know who said this, I don’t know why, or when or how long ago or if it was in a book or a movie or a song or just inside someone’s head who decided to write it down.  I could find out, but I don’t really care. taking so many naps

 

 

What is amazing is that whoever this person was, she managed to put into words what I’ve been feeling for the last twenty-five years and have never been able to articulate.

I’ve always been restless, always waiting for the next place I go to feel like home.  It never has—not yet, anyway.  Not where I was born or grew up, not where my family is, not where I am right now.  It’s good, it’s just not where I want to end up.

I’m not where I want to end up.  I’m not done becoming who I want to be.  Maybe when I get there, I’ll know where I’m supposed to stay.

I’m just not there yet.

But maybe that’s the point.