STEP Reflection: Creative Writing at Yale University

I used the opportunity given to me through the STEP program to attend the 2015 Yale Writers’ Conference, Sessions 1 and 2, in the beautiful New Haven, CT. Session 1 was a 3-week-long program that included an intense workshop and daily programs (journal editor panels, major press and indie press publisher panels, novel pitch sessions, craft talks by established writers including Colm Tóibín and Cheryl Strayed).

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I was in a Creative Non-Fiction workshop led by Jotham Burello, publisher at the indie press Elephant Rock Books. As if sharing a personal piece isn’t scary enough, my workshop, save for another 20-year-old, was comprised of writers 40-and-over. I sat around a table with these writersmy own life a fraction of their years writing—feeling terrified, anxious, incompetent. What message could I, a 20-year-old college student from Cleveland, convey that they didn’t already know? How did I get here, a prestigious institution at a competitive writing conference, anyways?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the third grade, but as I entered into adolescence and adulthood, my dreams swayed. I took positive comments on my ability for politeness. During my second year at OSU, I had become enamored with Creative Non-Fiction. To me, the beauty of CNF lies in its power. Stories can be so deeply subjective, yet the “NF” carries with it a promise of factuality. What better a medium to regain agency, to present a situation as you experienced it?

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Of all the stories I might have wrote for my manuscript, there was one that felt so immediate, necessary even, that I could not write anything else. The story ended with, “I blink and I am gone,” and I can’t say I was writing metaphorically.

A week before I moved into Baker Hall East, I was sexually assaulted. I spent my first year at OSU trying to ignore it, and my second year trying to sift through the event as if it held some truth about who I am. Passive. Pathetic. Yes I couldn’t speak, but perhaps I didn’t try hard enough? Perhaps I didn’t care enough about myself to voice dissent. Perhaps I deserved what had been done.  The word brave was unanimously used on my workshop day, but I definitely didn’t feel that way.

Some view literature as a vehicle to truth, and my own manuscript conveyed a truth I wasn’t ready to look in the face. While trying to deal with my assault, my self was fragmented. I scrambled to shove my experience away. I thought if I wrote it down into a lyric essay, my assault would become a character’s story instead of my own.

It wasn’t until lunch in the Davenport Dining Hall, directly after my workshop, that I understood the importance of sharing my story. A fellow workshop member came up to me. She gave me a hug and called me brave, and I still didn’t know what to say. She said she’d been keeping a secret for nearly 40 years, only recently had she told her husband and therapist. While traveling in Europe, she met a handsome Italian and naively agreed to go up to his apartment for a drink. She told me my story inspired her to write her own. The next workshop meeting, we shared new pieces we wrote, and my fellow workshop member shared a poignant piece about her assault in Italy. At times, I feared her voice would give out, that the grief would suppress the courage she had left. But grief never won. She left us with an image—a pajama-clad young woman, hurrying past the Trevi Fountain, cradled in her own arms.

It has been almost a year since I heard it, but I cannot forget this image. And I won’t ever forget this image, nor will I forget my own. Of course assault does not define someone, but I’ve learned that in order to live authentically, I must accept all that has happened to me as affecting who I am. I am a survivor, and through my writing I can learn, I can heal, I can define myself through my art rather than through bad memories.

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The STEP Program, on the surface, gave me the opportunity to go to the Yale Writers’ Conference where I learned about craft, publication, and my competition in the writing world. I never imagined my STEP experience would truly transform me, but looking back I know it marked a pivotal moment in my personal growth. I connected with other writers, regardless of age, and became confident in my own potential as a writer. I had my first workshop breakdown when I butchered the manuscript my fellow writers once loved. I came to terms with the idea that not all revision is good revision. I learned to love myself through my writing, even if it meant accepting all that I once tried to compartmentalize. Without this experience, I do not think I would have the necessary self-esteem to continue writing, or to feel okay again in my own skin. Without hesitation, I can now say: I am a survivor, I am a writer, my stories deserve to be told.

STEP Project: EMT Certification

Blake Williams

Artistic & Creative Endeavors

My STEP Signature Project involved earning an Emergency Medical Technician state license through a course at Columbus State Community College that allows students to take the test to become a Nationally Registered. I took the course EMS 1860 during the summer from May 25th, 2015 to August 8th, 2015. I plan to use my license to develop my interest in the realm of emergency medicine, to volunteer with the American Red Cross First Aid Services Team and to find a job working as an EMT.

 

Before my STEP Signature Project, I had never been to an Emergency Department. All I had heard were the stories about how long the wait was and about the vast number of patients that require emergency care. Before my STEP Signature Project, I had never ridden inside an ambulance or experienced what it is like to respond to an emergencies first hand. While completing my STEP Signature Project, I had the opportunity to experience emergency care through new lenses and to hear from people that have many years of experience in the profession. I feel fortunate now knowing what I do about emergency medicine. From the inside, I also see the high levels of stress and pressure faced by emergency medicine professionals. EMS and ED professionals experience tragedies on an everyday basis and need to respond in a clear and direct manner in order to treat patients and make sure that they receive the highest level of care. I have a much greater appreciation of the sacrifice and determination that is required to work in emergency medicine. I am more aware of the hardships experienced by EMS professionals and the importance of taking care of yourself so that you can help others.

I also have a better understanding of the responsibility needed to live on my own and of the responsibility needed to use what I have learned to benefit the community that I live in. Before my STEP Signature Project, I lived and worked on campus as a Resident Advisor. While on campus, I always had a meal plan and everything that I needed was within a walking distance. As a student of Columbus State, I now needed to adapt to living on my own and commuting to class. I took the COTA bus or rode my bike to class each day and on the weekends, I took the COTA bus to a hospital in order to fulfill my clinical hours. I got accustomed to taking the bus mostly everywhere, giving me a greater appreciation of public transportation and intercity living in general. I never realized how tough it can be to travel only by bus and how long it takes to get anywhere. By the end of the summer, I gained a better appreciation of my conveniences at Ohio State and the luxuries of living in a residence hall.

 

During my STEP Signature Project, I had the opportunity to network and to learn from many seasoned EMS and ED professionals. Professionals that I interacted with were excited to teach and to tell me how much they enjoyed their job and the interactions that they have with everyone in emergency medicine. I greatly enjoyed hearing the stories of how they first got involved with emergency medicine and how they could not imagine themselves working in a different field. Without their practical wisdom and their passion for the work that they do, I do not think that I could have learned half as much from my STEP Signature Project. One important piece of advice that they preached was to take some time off and to not overthink things. Emergency Medicine can be unpredictable at times so all professionals need to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice and to keep their cool the entire time. In order to succeed in these stressful situations, you need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your patient. One thing that my teachers also preached was that you should never put yourself in a situation where you could suddenly be the one in need of emergency care. I greatly appreciated the advice that I received and I now have a better understanding of what it takes to be successful in the field of emergency medicine.

During my time at Columbus State Community College, I learned the techniques, methodology and understanding needed to become a competent EMT under Ohio state law. I am now CPR/AED certified as a healthcare provider. I have obtained my National Registry EMT-B certification and I can now transfer my certification to a different state that follows National Registry standards. I am able to provide basic life support as an EMT-basic. I also learned the critical role that pre-hospital care plays in the treatment and well-being of patients. After having spent time in various Emergency Departments in Columbus, I believe that I have a better understanding of the healthcare needs residents of the greater Columbus community. I feel confident that I can succeed as an EMT working for a private ambulance company or working for an ED.

Having taken the COTA bus around Columbus and interacted with the residents of the great Columbus community in the Emergency Department, I feel that I have a greater awareness of the issues facing residents of inner city Columbus. On my way to a hospital one weekend, I had a conversation with a young man about how he had quit heroin and was now working two jobs in order to turn his life around. While I was working in an ED, I met several patients that had symptoms of withdrawal who were asking to be sent to rehab. I never really realized how serious of an issue narcotics were in Ohio or how common it is to see these types of experiences in an Emergency Department. By the end of my STEP Signature Project, I came to the realization that I am very lucky to be attending Ohio State and to have had my STEP Signature Project proposal approved for me to see the real issues plaguing Columbus.

 

I have a greater appreciation for the work that EMS provides to the community of Columbus and I plan to give back to the community by volunteering with the First Aid Services Team through the Red Cross. After working in the ED with emergency medicine physicians, I now want to study emergency medicine and to work in an ED in the future. I plan on finding a job working as an EMT with a private ambulance company and earning a Paramedic certification during my gap year before attending medical school. Overall, all of the people that I have met have inspired me to work hard and to pursue my dream of becoming an emergency medicine physician.

My favorite part about becoming EMT certified was working directly with the doctors and nurses during my hospital clinical time. I had the opportunity to help with a minor surgery, to manually breathe for an unconscious patient and to experience the procedure for cardiac arrests. I received a lot of practical advice from everyone that I met and I was inspired by their stories about how they ended up in emergency care. I also had the opportunity to interact with patients in order to help take vital signs needed to monitor their conditions. I had incredible experiences at all the hospitals that I visited complete with my fair share of stories. I feel that I have really grown as a person throughout my STEP Signature Project and I feel inspired to find a way to give back to the Columbus community for teaching me so much about life.