Organized Rambling: The First Anniversary of My Last Day

Organized Rambling

In two days’ time, it will be the first anniversary of my last day at my previous place of employment.

Yes, a slightly labyrinthine sentence but a more poetic way of saying June 22 marks an entire year since I wrapped up my two-weeks notice at Crooked Tree Arts Center. The twenty-second day of the sixth month is also the birthday of one of my favorite Bruces–Michigan’s son, Bruce Campbell. So, this Wednesday marks a day of endings, beginnings, nostalgia, and celebrations.

Came across this amazing wall art whilst shopping in Grand Rapids years ago.

It’s hard for me to believe that 363 days have gone by since I last wore a name badge and simultaneously became an official freelancer, however official a freelancer can be anyway. The combination of official and freelancer reads like an oxymoron to me. Official demands a semblance of structure, while freelancer is more akin to free-flowing or flying by the seat of your pants, but nothing better describes me or my blog than that oxymoron. I am a structured creative with organized ramblings.

Showcasing my first piece in Northern Express

Now, to jump onto a hopefully less rambly track. I have spent the past year doing numerous things: slowly building my small business, accepting assignments from print/web publications, making promising connections that then crumbled, establishing professional friendships, communicating with writers around the country and world, handing out business cards, reading books on punctuation, grammar, and writing styles, staying up too late and getting up too early to work, taking a stab at a technical writing opportunity, and actually getting a contract from a Silicon Valley company through a French-based marketing business (still don’t know how that happened), sending out cold-emails and surprisingly getting a regular gig from one, putting out two blog posts instead of just one per month (whoa, right?), and making additions to my novel’s third draft (more to come on that adventure next month).

Ups and downs, pros and cons. But even on the rough days when I wonder if I made the right decision to completely flip my lifestyle upside down and give up a secure 9-5 position with benefits, I stand by my leap of faith.

Finding this Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade gif was like striking gold.

That being said, I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not spent eight years at Crooked Tree Arts Center (CTAC) in Petoskey. The untold hours of customer service, program-troubleshooting, article-writing, artwork-hanging, photograph-taking, event-working, office furniture-building, on-stage moments, and nurturing personal connections that grew into lifelong friendships have made me who I am. In addition, this varied and ever-changing job experience gave me the confidence to launch my solo writing venture thanks to all the different types of writing at which I got to try my hand. But first, let me backtrack a bit.

As a writer, it’s imperative to find and hone your voice: not just your voice in regard to sharing opinions, but your writing voice–what you sound like on the page with only black letters or characters to express your idea, perspective, description, or story in full, imaginative color and detail.

In college, I had no idea who I was as a writer (and don’t get me started on the lack of writing I did in high school). However, I had a knack for academic essays and papers because those stood on research, organization, and argument. There wasn’t much need for a unique voice because that wasn’t the point of a persuasive paper. 

Now, don’t take that to the extreme and remove all humanity from your academic writings–we already have robots and AI attempting to write and edit. And in my not-so-humble opinion, it’s an abysmal effort at best. So instead, what I’m driving at is finding one’s voice for fiction, op-eds, human interest stories, creative nonfiction, etc. These are some outlets where your voice, delivery, and tone can shine once you’ve found it.

So, as I was admitting, I didn’t know my authentic voice as a writer when I was a full-fledged college graduate at 22. I had improved during my four years in the setting of higher academia, but I hadn’t found my voice yet. 

Unlike Ariel, my voice wasn’t taken away; it just hadn’t been located yet.

On my brief and ill-fated eight-month foray to the Lone Star State after graduation, I did some pro bono work (an unpaid internship) for the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and wrote for a contemporary art blog, also unpaid. And still, even in doing that, I felt like I didn’t know who the author of these pieces was–I wasn’t convinced that she knew what she was talking about, and I was she. 

It wasn’t until I moved back to Northern Michigan in May 2013 and took a summer position at the aforementioned local nonprofit arts organization that I even had a proper opportunity to delve into my writing style and voice from a legitimate (and paying) standpoint. 

After surviving my first summer at the front desk, I started taking on more responsibilities, including writing press releases. And I did that for a while before my coworkers remembered that I had a writing degree, and then I was editing and proofing about 97% of the written material that CTAC put out into the world. Then, in 2016, any barriers to my writing at CTAC were leveled. 

Not only did I get to work with a local artist on the written component of his twenty-year retrospective exhibit, but I also started writing arts-based op-eds for the Traverse City Record-Eagle and the Petoskey News-Review. Ask, and you shall receive, but I hadn’t yet voiced my want verbally–I was thinking it (so, I manifested it?). For six years, I was a regular contributing columnist to both newspapers, and you can call me old-fashioned, but getting to hold a newspaper with your writing in it feels much better than just scrolling through it on a screen. 

In all honesty, it took a few columns for me to get the swing of journalistic writing (that was not what I went to school for), but I did manage to maintain my non-staccato style, undoubtedly much to the chagrin of my editors. Eventually, I landed on the voice I have now. It’s an odd combination of light-hearted sincerity, humorous information, occasional self-deprecation, and 100% willingness to be vulnerable, nostalgic, and silly, as is appropriate based on the topic (see my other ramblings). Fun fact: I’m still writing for the Record-Eagle, and now Northern Express.

And it was also during the fateful year of 2016 that I took over the writing, assembling, coordinating, and editing of CTAC’s biannual newsletter, Art News, which presented many challenges but helped prepare me for coordinating with clients, editors, and prospective collaborators in my current freelance life.

One of several summer editions of Art News I planned, penned, and proofed. (I love a good alliteration.)

It was around this time as well that my coworkers started calling me the Comma Queen/the Oxford Comma Queen and told me that I was going to be buried with a red pen in my hand, which is a morbid yet potentially accurate statement. (Maybe this should be a weird stipulation in the will I have yet to write.)

Staying in that same red vein, I did indeed take my red pen from CTAC on my last day. It was like how Liv Tyler took a pair of elf ears from the Lord of the Rings set when filming concluded, except my item is a little less cool than a part of Arwen’s costume. I don’t use that particular red pen in my daily edits, but it sits in a mug on my desk and reminds me of where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished.

The red pen I absconded with.
Perhaps my trusty red pen will accompany me to the grave one day.

Because of my nearly ten-year tenure at CTAC, I was able to unearth my voice, gain tremendous experience in different types of writing, and build my confidence to step away when the time felt right–and the right time was June 22, 2021. 

As the anniversary of my departure draws near, I find myself reflecting, remembering, and feeling grateful for the opportunities afforded to me at CTAC, the people I met there, and the friendships I still nurture to this day. I owe a lot to the organization, and now I owe it to myself to continue building on the skills garnered and grow my resume, clients, and experiences. 

Slightly daunting challenges, I’ll admit, but there’s no reward without risk, and to grow means stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. But to boost my confidence (because sometimes you have to be your biggest cheerleader), I’ll paraphrase Bruce Campbell’s immortal character of Ash Williams from Army of Darkness: “Good? Bad? I’m the woman with a red pen.” And I’ll leave you with that bit of silliness two days before the first anniversary of my last day.

Happy Almost Freelance Anniversary to me!

An accurate depiction of what freelance life can be some days.

Coming up next:

July 18: Learn about my WIP The Calling


7 responses to “Organized Rambling: The First Anniversary of My Last Day”

  1. Congratulations on your first year of freedom! Daaang lady, I am so happy for you and for how far you’ve come since the GVSU days. <3 So grateful to be inspired by you as I (finally) begin my own writing journey!

    • Thank you!! I feel like I’ve grown exponentially as a writer since college, and I’m thankful for all my experiences between then and now. I’m so excited for you and the journey you’ve recently embarked on! We’re both writing, just like back in our Capstone days 😉

  2. Alex, I loved reading your work over the years as your voice and skills developed! A journey that began when you were around 4 years old. You have great style
    and a distinct voice. That must feel so good!
    You are accomplished in writing, and also in a variety of creative expressions, more than the photos above show. You are inspiring! Looking forward to your reflections next June!
    We are so glad to have you and your red pen on staff.

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