First Person Plural

(PHOTO: http://instructors.cwrl.utexas.edu)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was short notice for me, too. But there’s still time. Bethesda Urban Partnership and Bethesda Magazine‘s Essay and Short Story Contest Topic: What is your approach to life? Reveal your personal philosophy. Requirements: Essays should be limited to 500 words or less. Winners will be honored at the Bethesda Literary Festival, April 16-18, 2010. Deadline to submit is February 26, 2010.

Had you met me in high school and asked me then where I saw myself in 10 years, I would’ve told you anywhere but unemployed, living in my parents’ house and sending out rounds of resumes and cover letters to online job postings.

But that’s been my reality since I was laid off from my job as a staff writer for the Afro-American Newspaper in Baltimore. I was laid off after working there for a little over a year. Now, someone else might see the situation as cause to panic, or cause for something worst. Instead, I choose to see it for something else. I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of guy, one to always see a silver lining in any situation—no matter how grim the circumstances may appear.

(PHOTO: http://scandinavian.wisc.edu) Hans Christian Anderson

But my situation is not grim at all. In fact, it’s a blessing. The job was a stressful one, where I was overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. I was going through the motions waiting for something better to come along. If the Danish author and poet, Hans Christian Anderson, were around to see me then, I’m sure he’d shake his head and say, “Just living is not enough.” To hear him tell it, “One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

My sunshine and freedom came that August day I was laid off, collecting unemployment, trying to figure my future out. In the past, time to figure it out would have been a luxury lost when I was assigned a former colleague’s beats in addition to generating my story ideas and working over the weekend. In the past, I was prone to hallucinations and could see the deadlines punching their palms with a wink and a smile.

But since that August day, I’ve smelled the flowers and took advantage of my free time by completing a poetry manuscript and participating in a big writing project for a literary journal. During that time, I was nominated for both a Pushcart Prize and to be published in the Best of the Net anthology. I also considered switching career fields after jumping at an opportunity to teach creative writing in an afterschool program.

(PHOTO: Courtesy of The New York Public Library) W.H. Davies

I also put that free time to good use when I applied and was accepted to the Stone Coast MFA writing program at the University of Southern Maine. Looking back, it would have been difficult to accomplish any of this. Those accomplishments would have remained mere dreams if I hadn’t been laid off.

Looking back, I’m reminded of the Welsh poet and writer, W.H. Davies. The question he posed in his poem “Leisure,” as well as its answer, was a lesson for me. “What is this life if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare…A poor one…”

Davies, I couldn’t have said it better.

For more information on the Bethesda Short Story and Essay Contest, please the First Person Plural Blog.

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