Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Ashley Blom

The Internet is a great place – it allows you to shop for shoes from your desk at work, find gifs from your favorite TV shows just moments after they air, and they can bring you together with like-minded peers to become Interweb besties.  That’s how I feel about Ashley.  She’s the brainchild behind Quarter Life (Crisis) Cuisine and is smart, witty, and clever in the kitchen.  She was nice enough to share a little bit about her story, her blog, and her secrets (she’s a heterochrome!)

The lovely Ashley Blom

As is the custom here, please tell the readers a little bit about yourself!

My name is Ashley Blom and I have lived in Massachusetts my entire life. I’ve always had a passion for writing, which was jump started at age 6 when I won a children’s fiction contest sponsored by Jane Yolen, an author who lived in my hometown. As all little kids are wont to do, I immediately assumed I was the best writer in the history of the universe and I was immediately hooked. Though I’ve gotten a bit more humble in my later years, that initial passion of “this is what I DO!” has always stuck. Writing will always be a part of my life in some shape or form.

I come from a very small farming town–I graduated with only 28 kids in my public high school class. I chose to go to Emerson College to major in Writing, Literature, and Publishing because it was the one school that had the exact major that I wanted. I wanted a major with creativity, literature, more of my own voice, so creative writing was what I decided to focus on in college, with publishing classes supplementing my education so that I could have hope of finding a “real” job. The big city was a big change from my hometown, but one I embraced with my whole heart. I loved my college experience, to be surrounded by other creative minds was just a paradise for me. The fast pace of the city felt more like home than the endless farm lands of Western Massachusetts ever did. I truly knew I was a city mouse who had somehow grown up as a country mouse by sheer accident.

I’ve always loved anything creative. Writing is my first passion, but acting and singing are a close second. I often act in community theater and I know it will always be a part of my life in some form or another. I also love artistic things and am always trying to find new outlets to showcase my creativity. More recently I’ve been using my food blog as a way to practice photography techniques, since this is yet another creative outlet I want to explore.

College was also where I developed my love of travel (I’ve made the effort to see two new cities each year as a result). I spent a semester in The Netherlands, living in an old castle with 80 other students. This was in 2007, and at the same time that I had this amazing experience I also had a terrible one–my father died. He was my best friend and I was totally not ready for it. I had to take a plane home by myself, attend the funeral, and then since the trip was already paid for I returned to finish my semester. I think these two events were the most life changing things I’ve ever been through, and they’ve inspired a lot of my writing and life decisions ever since.

Currently I am living with my mom and stepdad and working as a Marketing Assistant 45 minutes away. The drive is terrible, but I love my job. After a terrible apartment search experience I’ve decided to continue to live at home until I have enough money to move to California–which hopefully will be soon!

It sounds like you’ve always been tuned into your passions.  What was your initial life plan after college?

After college, I saw myself working at a publishing house in New York City–living with other Emerson alums and working my way up the career ladder to be an editor while in my free time penning my first novel or collection of short stories. Today, I am living at home, working in marketing for an energy company, and dreaming of the day I can escape to some big city again. I didn’t expect my loan repayments to be this high every month, and it’s keeping me from getting too far from my safety net. I see friends who are getting financial support and I get utterly green with envy that I have to do it all myself. I feel like my finances are keeping me from my dreams and I get bitter. But I have realized that so many other people are in my same exact position, and I feel better.

I recently had a “quarter-life-crisis” where I decided I needed to stop being scared and pull myself up onto my feet and make my dreams come true on my own. So I’ve really buckled down and started to save my money. I traveled to California last year and fell in love with it, so LA is my goal. NYC will come later, since I know it’ll be easy to stay there once I’m established, and I really want to live somewhere different than the East Coast for at least a part of my life. I am halfway to where I want to be savings-wise and am trying to work up the nerve to actually make such a dramatic move.

You’re lucky to have a job that’s at least mildly related to your interests but you also blog as well.  What benefits have you derived, personally and professionally, from blogging?

I’ve been blogging in some capacity since age ten. My blogs have never been overly popular or gained thousands of hits, but I have a little cluster of loyal commenters that make me smile, and that’s enough for me right now. I love cooking, and writing, and since my current job doesn’t really let me do either in a professional environment, it’s a great way to keep my foot in the door. My hope for the blog is that it will be profitable someday, but at the very least I have a fun accounting of my recipe triumphs and failures and it’s a great and useful hobby.

My passion for food started with my internship at the Lisa Ekus Group. She’s a cookbook publicist (among many other things!) and I loved my time working for her. She still sends me cookbooks to review on my blog! I study her clients and take notes on what they do and how they’ve made cooking into a career. I’m finding that I probably could never have the patience or skill to produce my own cookbook, but I would love to be in the food publishing business in some way. Working for Lisa really helped me come to that conclusion and figure out what my “dream job” would be.

Post-college cuisine can be a challenge – we have limited time, money, and talents for good meals.  What are some tips for young struggling chefs?

In the kitchen with Quarterlife Cuisine

Use your weekends to cook and shop for the week. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is so nice to come home and have a ready-prepared meal waiting for you in the freezer if you just do not have time or energy to whip something up from scratch. When I lived in my own apartment I would make big pots of Hamburger Soup and freeze them in portion-sized bags for easy eating. Or I’d make salads on Sunday in little containers and eat them for lunch through the week–just don’t add dressing until you’re ready to serve them, otherwise everything turns to mush. I learned that the hard way!

Also, learn substitutions for hard-to-find products. One of my new favorite substitutions is for baking powder, something I never seem to have on hand. You use 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/4 tsp baking soda in place of 1/2 of your liquid in the recipe (and if you don’t have buttermilk, you just mix whole milk with vinegar, ta-daa! Buttermilk!) and they come out just fine. There are whole books dedicated to substitutions, but a simple Google search will usually suffice.

Also, sales are your friend. I find myself checking circulars and coupon-cutting like an old lady sometimes but it really helps! Buy fresh produce when you can, and save a few bucks by not buying it pre-prepared (chopped, peeled, etc) and do it yourself. Buy in bulk whenever you can for non-perishables like rice, beans, and frozen meat. The cost up front might seem like more, but it’ll last longer.

Can you share some easy, go-to recipes that are sure to help post-collegiates dazzle their friends and family?

Sure! Here are some of my favorites!

Spaghetti Carbonara - This is my absolute go-to for a quick meal that seems fancy

Chiang Mai Curry Noodles - This is a complicated-sounding dish that is really very easy to do

Chicken CacciatoreThis is another recipe that has lots of ingredients, but they’re generally cheap and easy to find–plus you get to drink all the leftover wine you don’t use!

Crowd Pleasing Taco DipMy go-to party dip. People love it!

Turkey Ravioli - This is the best thing I’ve ever made. The recipe calls for wonton wrappers in place of making ravioli from scratch, which I think is pure genius and something I’ve definitely experimented with in recipes since.

Summer Sangria - And finally, what good gathering is complete without a punch bowl? Sangria is so easy to make and definitely does not break the bank.

Being a Millennial often means living your life online.  What’s your experience been with blogging?  Do you have positive/negative experiences you’d like to share?

I’ve had plenty of good experiences and friendships result from my blogs, but also my fair share of trolling. Most recently, I had a horrible experience where a blog I frequent that tends to discuss sexuality and women’s reproductive rights was targeted by either a person or group who wanted to shut the site down. Since the blog owner wasn’t about to shut down any time soon, the troll/s decided to go after her commenters–of which I was one of them. Somehow they got my personal information (full name, age, college, where I worked) and paraded it around the internet with claims about what a “whore” I am. They tried to attack my employer’s Facebook page and they took some of my pictures from my flickr account and put hateful things in Impact font over my face. All because I left a comment on a somewhat feminist blog that they didn’t agree with. Suddenly my Google results were tarnished. I went into hiding on the internet and was too scared to do anything that would give the trolls more things to throw at me.

After about six months I was itching to blog again. I remembered what my friend, a schoolteacher, had told her class during an internet safety lesson: “Nobody cares what other people write about you on the internet–they care about what YOU write about YOURSELF.” By locking down and shutting down my entire internet presence, the trolls’ hateful messages were the only thing left about me when you searched for my name. That’s when I began to rebuild my online presence. Due to the right of free speech I can’t get those hateful words taken down without a lawyer, an expensive process I can’t afford right now, but I can put positive, truthful things about my character back on the web.

I really appreciate you sharing that with our readers.  I think we take Internet safety for granted too often.  If you could go back to graduation day and give yourself advice, what would it be?

Perhaps I’d tell myself to stay in Boston for another year, before my loans kicked in. Try to get in with a publishing house out there. Don’t let boyfriends interfere with my life plans. Travel just a little more before I have to stick to a strict budget, and keep in better touch with friends from college. Cook more, write more, while there’s still time.

Hoping Ashley can make the move to California soon!

Many, many thanks to Ashley for agreeing to be featured and sharing so much with the blog.  Please be sure to check out the recipes listed above and read her blog!  As always, you can leave questions for Ashley in the comments section as well!

Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Emelina Minero

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

There are some post-collegiates who graduate and then take some time to relax, unwind from the stress of school, and catch up on their Netflix queue.  And then there are post-collegiates like Emelina Minero, who dive right into pursuing a 21st century career of freelancing, brand-development, and resource building that embodies the spirit of the Millennial generation – tech-savvy, independent, and eager to work for the advancement of others.  It was my pleasure to sit down with Emelina and learn more about how productive she has been since college, in some very un-traditional ways.

Meet Emelina (left), our latest featured Post-Collegiate

Tell me a little about yourself – who is Emelina?  How did she get where she is now?

I am a 24-year-old lesbian feminist and a realist optimist who is passionate about people, women’s education, equality and respect for gender and sexual minorities, self-love, body positivity and changing the world through building community, global citizenry and uniting people through their passions.  Being in the closet for 14+ years was a 14+ year journey of finding my voice and accepting my sexuality and myself. Without a voice, I was a great observer and I realized the importance of being listened to, of being accepted, of being supported and the importance of feeling like you belong to a community. This is one reason why I am so passionate about building communities, supporting people to love themselves and giving people a platform to voice their passions.

Growing up, I was surrounded by strong, independent women within the eating disorder recovery community. That helped me to embrace a body positive, self-loving culture and it showed me the importance and the power of a strong collaborative group of women.  Attending Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and seeing the problems of a patriarchy heightened during the co-ed transition made me realize the importance of women’s education and the necessity to help bridge the gender gap.

Working for Curve Magazine, the leading lesbian magazine in the nation, has strengthened my roots within the LGBTQ community and has also highlighted my awareness of the bigotry within the LGBTQ community, which I want to help alleviate.

That’s a pretty impressive back-story.  You’re a fairly recent college graduate – what was your initial plan when you graduated?

I was going to be a news reporter. I loved running The Sundial, the college newspaper and I was dead set on reporting on gay news for the San Francisco Chronicle, that or writing for Curve Magazine. My “dream job” was starting the first LGBTQ national newspaper.  As soon as I graduated, I didn’t want anything to do with newspapers and I didn’t want to be employed by someone else. I wanted to run my own business, to travel and to have my life run by my passions: exploring, helping others and living outside of my comfort zone.

Ironically, now I’m writing for Curve Magazine, as well as online LGBT news and entertainment site, EDGE Boston. And I’m developing my own online LGBTQ publication, The Queer Spectrum, which will highlight and celebrate the diversity within the subcultures of the queer spectrum. But I’m not only doing this. I’m giving myself the best of both worlds, writing for LGBTQ publications and creating my own life outside of the 9 to 5 arena.

You’re really juggling a lot of different projects and passions.  What challenges are you facing that were unexpected?  How are you redefining your expectations of life in the post-college world?

I thought “the real world” would be a lot harder or boring, but it has been amazing and a lot of fun and nothing like I thought it would be. This doesn’t mean that it’s not challenging. It’s not all sugar plum fairies and chocolate cake.  Financially I’m not doing great, but that was expected. Social life is off and on. It’s really what I make it. When I get on work-kicks, my social life suffers. When I make balance my focus, my social life thrives.

I didn’t expect how easy post-grad life can be — and it all depends on your mentality, how you view life and how you view what’s possible. The biggest thing that I have learned is that I am the only person who can hinder me from what I want in life and I am the only person who can attain what I want in life.  You will be your worst enemy and your biggest supporter. And balance is key to bringing out the supporter within you. I believe that self-love is the strongest foundation for personal growth, personal strength and leading a balanced life. If you love yourself, everything else falls into place. If you act and think from a place of self-love, it makes life easier.

You seem to be making the most of the “Gig Economy” and focusing on freelancing as opposed to a steady 9-to-5.  What are the pros and cons to pursuing this type of career path?Featured in Curve Magazine

There are a lot of pros and cons, and for me the pros outweigh the cons. One, stability is not something that comes naturally with this lifestyle. You have to work hard to achieve stability, and not just financial stability. Choosing this lifestyle can be an emotional roller coaster. You don’t have a boss telling you that every Monday through Friday you’ll be working X set schedule, at X place, at X time, doing A, B and C activities with X responsibilities. You don’t always know what you’re going to do. You don’t always know the next step. Stability is something that you have to create for yourself. Someone else isn’t going to serve it to you on a platter. This lifestyle isn’t for every one. It pushes you to live outside of your comfort zone, which I like.

There are SO MANY pros. Last March I bought a one-way ticket to Virginia and I traveled along the East Coast for 2 months, hitting 7 different states and 13+ cities. I was able to support myself through my freelance work. I worked at cafes and at friends’ houses who had wi-fi. I traveled via bus, train and car. I had no set schedule. At points it did get emotionally exhausting, moving from one place to another so quickly. But overall I had a blast and I was able to do this because of the freelance path I had chosen.

Choosing a freelance career, it’s a lot of work. Sometimes I work 16 hour days, and at first, you won’t bring in a lot of money, for awhile you won’t, unless you make yourself focus on only one thing. Sometimes you’ll have money pouring in, and then you’ll go through dry spells of nothing, so you have to plan and save and budget. The key to success is consistency, not giving up, taking action, moving forward and only focusing on one thing, on one project, on one idea. The last part is where I am not succeeding. I focus on too many things. I overextend myself and my projects are moving along fine, but slower than they would be if I was only focusing on one thing at a time.

Balance in all aspects of life is key to your success. I have gone through periods where I have been so passionate and excited about what I’m doing that I wasn’t able to sleep. I was literally sleeping 2 to 4 hours a night and working the rest, and I had to work until literal exhaustion because I was too excited to not be working. Other times, it’s physically and emotionally exhausting and I get depressed from the cycles of imbalance that I create for myself. Work/life balance is a fine line and it’s very important to maintain balance in your life if you want happiness and if you want to succeed in your goals.

It’s amazing how much travel you’ve been able to do since graduation. Any tips for 20-somethings looking to travel on a budget?

If you’re traveling, you either have to have money saved up and set aside or you have to have money coming in consistently. If you don’t have money set aside, and you are freelancing, make sure you have a set number of consistent clients before you set out to travel. And create a consistent payment schedule, so every Thursday so and so will pay you by this time. That way you will know for certain that on X days X amount of money is coming in.

I had people pay me via Pay Pal. It’s all done online and they can be across the country or in another continent making payments to you. There is a small fee taken out of the payment when you receive money via PayPal. I had the money transferred to my checking account from PayPal and that can take up to a few days, so you have to take that into account.

I also kept a journal of my money. How much I was bringing in & how much I was spending. Save the receipts and write down everything you spend. Also mark it on the receipt if it’s for business. If you’re traveling and are a freelancer, a lot of things can be business, a.k.a. — a lot of your purchases can be written off.

Greyhound and buses are cheap, especially on the East Coast. Look up Peter Pan and China buses. Mega bus is also good and it comes with wifi. I remember my average bus ticket was around $18 and that was from DC to NYC, really from any big city to another big city. There were some $5 steals and the most I paid was around $30. If you need to get to smaller cities, it can cost more and you may have to use greyhound or a train, but still transportation cost isn’t that bad. Traveling globally & nationally, I’ve found some really nice deals if you stay at hostels. Also give Cough Surfing a go.

When it comes to traveling, networking can be amazing. Tapping into your network can lead to free or cheap rides, places to stay, tours, meals, etc. If you know no one, explore, go out on your own to bars, clubs, whatever and meet new people and make friends who can show you around.

There’s a lot you can do without money, or with little money. Look up free museums, cool parks and clubs without covers. If you want to drink, pre-drink before you go out so it will be loads cheaper. Don’t go out to eat a lot, or you can go out by yourself, but eat a snack before hand so you won’t order a big expensive meal. Or go out to eat with others, but if you eat before hand, you don’t have to spend anything. Buy food at grocery stores.

I am so impressed with the work you have created online.  Can you tell us more about Community Bucket List and Love Warrior Community? What can these sites offer postcollegiates?

They’re my passions. They’re my babies and my loves. Through these communities and through the people who get involved in them, I see us changing the world. We’re going to contribute to a global movement of self-love, self-acceptance, global citizenry and passion.

The Love Warrior Community I created with my mom. My mom, Michelle Minero, is a Bay Area therapist who specializes in helping people recover from eating disorders. She founded EDRS (Eating Disorders Recovery Support, Inc.), which I’m currently interning for. You should check it out soon for some cool updates.

The Love Warrior Community uses creative expression to help people build self-love, self-acceptance and body acceptance. Through art, photography, writing, videos and music, people can develop their own self-love practice. As a post grad, cultivating an active self-love practice has been my biggest tool for success in all my projects, because self-love is about cultivating balance and when you’re living a balanced life, everything is simplified, is clear and flows smoother.

Community Bucket List enables people to achieve their goals and live their passions. If more people are living and realizing their passions, then they’re contributing those passions to the world and are contributing their positive energy to the world. I want CBL to evolve into this global community where people come together united by their common passions and work together in achieving their goals.

One of the main tools we use is an action-oriented bucket list, which helps an individual focus on one to 3 things they want to work on achieving now. The action-oriented bucket list helps them focus on one or a few specific goals by asking them to write out what their motivation is for working on X now, what is the 1st step they will take to achieve X goal, what is a brief outline of the actions they will take to achieve X goal and what help or support do they want from the CBL community.

CBL offers other online resources, articles on goal setting, on discovering your passions, a Facebook group for people to share their successes and journey and an online mastermind group for those who have submitted action-oriented bucket lists who want more support and help with achieving their goals.

CBL is perfect for post grads because initially, I created it for myself. A year out of college, I needed more focus in my life. So I structured CBL to give me the structure, focus and support that I needed.

Even though it’s only been a couple years, if you could go back to graduation day and give yourself advice, what would you say?

Don’t hold yourself back. Don’t doubt yourself and don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something. Don’t discredit yourself. Don’t think less of yourself and don’t be so hard on yourself. Enjoy life, explore it. Try all options that appeal to you and don’t be afraid to drop them in an instant if you no longer want them in your life. Don’t be afraid to say no to others. Say yes to new opportunities. Live outside of your comfort zone. At first, it will be uncomfortable, but soon you’ll get used to it and you’re comfort zone will have expanded to take in a lot more.

Surround yourself with a supportive network of people. Put time into strengthening your friendships. Make time for yourself. Make time for everything that you need to be in balance.

Develop a conscious and active self-love practice, as soon as possible. The most effective thing for me is self-love writing, writing daily or almost daily, reflecting on my self-love journey.

I share my writing with the Love Warrior Community’s group blog. You don’t have to share your writing publicly, you can write in a personal journal. Self-love writing could entail writing with the prompt, What Would Love Do? in mind. It could be writing yourself a love letter. It could be reflecting on something you’re struggling with and writing out how to work through it and coming up with actions you can take to get past it. Writing with self-love in mind helps make you more conscious about it throughout your day. It helps you guide your daily thoughts and action with self-love. It helps you focus on what you need to live a balanced, healthy and happy life.

Your mindset is your strongest tool for success and happiness. Train your mind to be happy, positive and motivated. For me that means balance and balance means self-love.

Emelina (left) manages to balance work with play!

Many, many thanks to Emelina for agreeing to be featured and sharing all her work with you.  Please peruse the links throughout the article for more information on her work and follow her on Twitter.  As always, you can leave questions for Emelina in the comments section as well!

Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Sondra Morris

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

I’ve lived with some pretty interesting characters over the years (oh, heeeey Tawnya!) and today’s profilee is no exception.  Sondra and I were classmates at R-MWC and then she had the (mis)-fortune to live with me for several months.  Sondra is one of the smartest, funniest, sassiest, well-informed, and interesting women I’ve ever met.  After graduating, she stuck it out in our college town, working away at the college, until this year, when she packed up her worldly possessions and, like so many young Americans before her, headed West.

Looking professional at her first post-collegiate big girl job

Sondra, share a little about yourself with the blog readers:
I grew up in a military family, so my family moved around quite a bit as I was growing up. Between kindergarten and my senior year of high school, I attended nine schools in two different countries and four different states. When it was time to choose a college I said, “Fuck it; I’m going to stay at one educational institution for four years no matter what.” So, I took a giant leap of crazy and attended the only woman’s college I applied to, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. It was fabulous and I loved my experience there, so much so that I accepted a job on campus after graduation. Unsurprisingly, my travel-happy upbringing kicked in after six months on the job and I was ready to skedaddle. I stayed on another year and a half to save up cash and deal with some personal baggage, then I quit my job and road-tripped out to Los Angeles.

For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always given off a very put-together, organized, ready-to-take-on-the-world vibe.  What was your initial life plan when you were getting ready to graduate in 2009?
Well…I didn’t have one. My senior year at R-MWC was spent coming to terms with the whole “I like girls” thing, so I wasn’t thinking too far into the future. My biggest concern back then was coming out to my parents and gauging if I’d have somewhere to crash if they weren’t okay with it.

One of the things that we have in common is we both choose to stay in Lynchburg following graduation, albeit for different reasons.  Are you glad that you took a job with your alma mater?
In retrospect, I can see that staying in my college town was the best thing that could have happened to me for personal and financial reasons. It was cheap, I knew enough people to have a fabulous support network, and I was only a few hours drive from most of my friends. Of course, working on campus was a whole different story. No one really talked to me about the transition from student to staff, so I wasn’t at all aware of how to navigate my relationships with friends who were still students. Then there were staff members I’d really offended as a student and suddenly working with them was kind of challenging. I spent my first year working getting strange looks and questions like, “Why didn’t you graduate on time?”

I really admire you for handling that transition from student to staff so well – I had enough difficulty adjusting to post-college life without working there!  But moving across country – that’s a REALLY big step.  Tell me more about that.
Now that I’m actually here in LA, my biggest fear is never finding a job and having to the leave the sunny, bright, salty, hot, smoggy oasis that is SoCal. I moved out here because I was just treading water after college and I needed to do something that would help me break out of the cycle of just working to pay bills to live in a city that didn’t provide me with what I need to thrive creatively and spiritually. A few of my R-MWC sisters had already made this move and when they urged me to try it too, I realized I didn’t have much to lose if things don’t work out. I’m hoping to get two things out of this move: (1) Fun. Like, the kind of fun that will become stories that will become anecdotes for my acceptance speech when I get the alumnae achievement award in ten years. (2) Some life experience to become a better writer.

Enjoying the LA life with Sam and Lianna (click photo for Lianna's interview!)

Speaking of writing, what challenges have you faced pursuing your dream?  Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
My biggest challenge as a writer is specific to the fact that I’m a woman. Male mentors like to discount my subject matter or say I write with a ‘weird’ or ‘common’ voice if I say even the slightest thing about my life. It’s only with female mentors that I’ve really felt supported in writing from my experiences. I guess this goes back to the personal always being political for women, but it sucks. My advice for other writers–male and female–is to get into some sort of writing group with people you feel you can learn from and be supported by. It’s great to get feedback from your friends, but it’s usually more helpful to hear from other people who understand technique and think with that weird writer’s brain. I’m a junkie for writer’s groups…especially if they serve wine.

You have a real enthusiasm and love for blogging and social media.  What have you gained from these experiences?
The web is amazing. Writing for it and networking across it has taught me that it pays to be vulnerable when you write–your audience connects to your words, you get a hell of a lot more out of it in self discovery, and your writing comes from such a deeper place. I hate sharing myself though, so it’s kind of ridiculous for me to be a writer because I write all this stuff and then I never want to show it to anyone.  My big writing goals for 2012 are (1) Write more and (2) Stop being a pansy and get super vulnerable.

When I spoke with fellow writer Sara last year, she gave me some book recommendations for postcollegiate readers.  Any thoughts?

Enjoying a pre-DC United match tailgate together for my 27th birthday

For Writers: Read something by Pam Houston. I saw her on a panel at the AWP conference in 2011 and she’s simply amazing. Also, try some of Francesca Lia Block‘s short stories. And if you like poetry, check out Andrea Gibson.

For PCs: At the risk of sounding like a hipster, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Any of the Roadtrip Nation books. Also, Young, Broke, & Beautiful by Broke Ass Stuart.

Finally, if you could go back to that rainy morning of your college graduation, what advice would you give yourself?
“Get over yourself and revel in graduation day: take pictures, kiss friends, and go out for brunch with everyone you know after the ceremony. Starting tomorrow, you don’t have anything planned in your life, so make a list of everything you want to do and just start doing it. Be epic.”

Many, many thanks to Sondra for agreeing to the be the first (but not last) profile of 2012.  As she says, she’s all up in the Interwebs – check out www.SondraRoseMarie.com for links to Twitter, Tumblr, etc.  As always, you can leave questions for Sondra in the comments section as well!

Profile in Post-Collegiate Courage: Tawnya Ravy

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

I strive to offer different perspectives on this blog, especially considering that this blog is borne out of the realization that I have no idea what I’m doing with my life and where I’m headed.  This week, I wanted to introduce you to my college classmate (and – full disclosure – current roommate/slumlord – just kidding!) Tawnya Ravy.  What makes Tawnya’s perspective so different from mine as she has used the post-collegiate years to work her way through a master’s degree and into a doctorate program at the George Washington University, all while turning around to teach students not much younger than we are!  She was kind enough to share a little advice on taking the higher education post-college path.

Tawnya, from undergraduate leader to doctoral candidate and teacher in just a few years

Hello, roomie!  For those readers who do not share a domicile with you, would you mind sharing a little about yourself.

I am originally from California, but I have now lived on the East Coast almost as long as I lived on the West Coast. I just turned 26 years old and now live in Fairfax, VA.  As you know, I attend Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia and then straight into the graduate program at GWU.   I originally wanted to pursue law but majored in English and never looked back.  

You had a pretty impressive resume coming out of college, especially with being Student Body President.  What was your initial plan when we graduated?
Luckily, my plans were pretty much set on the last day of college because I was accepted into the GWU English Graduate Program. My plan was to pursue a PhD. in literature.  I had ambitions to finish my PhD early as well as harbored dreams of traveling and teaching abroad.    I thought that graduate school would give me the flexibility and credentials to do so but have learned that finding the time was more difficult than I imagined because it eats your life!
I know a lot of our fellow classmates, as well as students across the country, who choose to wait a few years for graduate school.  What made you decide to go right away?  Do you have any regrets?
The fall before I graduated college, I was planning on attending law school. Half-way through an application process, I realized that I did not have enough passion for law to make it worthwhile. Luckily, I was already majoring in English because someone told me that it was the best preparation for the amount of reading/writing required in law school. I discussed my options with a trusted professor who suggested I begin applying to graduate schools right away. My first choice was GWU, and I heard from them fairly quickly in the application process. So far, I do not have any regrets about beginning graduate school right away, especially because I thrive in academia and was able to utilize my undergraduate experience right away, building off those four years’ of momentum.
Since I witness your day-to-day life up close, I am always impressed by the balance you strike between school (graduate classes, dissertation research) and work, which for you is teaching 2-3 classes a semester.  How do you maintain that balance and choose what opportunities to pursue?
I am flattered that you think I have struck a balance. It is much better now than it was when I first started. I was working over 40 hours a week in an unpleasant working environment while maintaining a full course load in my first year of graduate school. I realized quickly that this could not continue if I wanted to succeed in my program, so I moved back with my parents for a little while.  Now that I have an M.A. I am able to teach and continue my studies, but the fact remains that my teaching load often trumps my graduate work – something that will only get tougher down the road.
Having so much on your plate, what things have you wanted to pursue but haven’t been able to yet?
I have been fairly blessed in that I have been able to do most of what I set out to do. I am sure I had some wonderful, crazy ambitions in college to take a month’s road trip around Europe, but I have ultimately been satisfied with a week’s trip here and there. The one thing, right now, that I would love to do is teach college abroad for a year or two. I loved living abroad in college, and I want that experience again before I settle down in my adult life. The trick will be timing – when exactly to do this in the never-ending process of obtaining a PhD.
It could seem that things have gone smoothly for you – straight from college to a graduate program with teaching opportunities on the side.  But there are challenges on every post-collegiate path – can you share some of yours

Tawnya, with fellow graduate school scholars, enjoying the District's signature cherry blossom season

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I would say that graduate school itself has been a great challenge, as it is for most people, but especially because I have been completely unfunded from day one. The biggest challenge for me has been achieving that desire to support myself while going to graduate school full time. Now it has evolved into balancing the desire to teach a full load and to make progress on my graduate work. At the moment, this is further complicated by the fact that I am receiving little support or guidance from my advisers. I am proud of what I have accomplished so far, but as I enter the dissertation-writing stage of my program, I am more than a little anxious about the challenges to come.
Something tells me that you are more than up to the challenge!  Obviously strong planning and hard work have contributed to your success but do you have any examples of random happenstance that have helped bring you here?
When I began the graduate program, I was fairly confident in my ability to do scholarly work, but, as an unfunded student, there was no opportunity to try my hand at teaching. One day I received a fairly random email about an interview process for new M.A. holders – a teaching opportunity. I arrived to meet my future boss with no idea what I would do in the classroom. The fact that, despite my obvious inexperience and lack of preparation, he still gave me a job is a miracle. It was this opportunity that convinced me that I have chosen the right profession. After teaching for two semesters, I had an “aha” moment when I realized that I would love nothing better than teaching at the college level.

Last week, when I interviewed Sara, she shared a couple books that inspired her own writing.  As the resident literary expert and book buff, is there a book that you think encapsulates the post-collegiate experience?

This is going to sound weird, but I often think of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim when I think of my own post-collegiate life. Officially trained for one career, Kim ends up in an entirely different role which, although exciting and rewarding, threatens to compromise his true nature and his path to a higher calling. I realize that there are many books about newly graduated people facing a new, “real” world, but Kim is the novel which, for me, speaks to the fundamental compromises we all make upon entering adulthood.

Tawnya and I, in an obligatory roommate photo at a recent luau-themed soiree

My gratitude for Tawnya for taking time out of her ridiculously busy schedule to share all this with the blog (I guess I owe her a dinner now…)  Interested in more graduate student advice?  Feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section and I’ll be sure that Tawnya answers them!

Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Sara Runnels

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

When I started this blog, I wanted to have an opportunity to talk to people who seem to be kicking ass at the whole “life after college/being a successful young adult” and share their stories with you all.  Luckily, I happen to have a great group of friends who are willing to bare their souls for our enjoyment.  I’m especially lucky that, by coming of age in social media, I’ve been able to keep in touch with one of my very few friends who, like myself, chose to leave Texas and pursue a life outside the Lone Star State.   Sara is a fantastic writer who leads an envy-inducing life in New York City and somehow still manages to be self-deprecating, kind, and generous, particularly in agreeing to share a little bit about how she makes it all work.

Sara posing on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's gorgeous rooftop garden -- one of her favorite spots in the city.

To start, tell our readers a little about yourself.  

First of all, I’m honored to be featured on PostCollegiate!  (Ed. note:  We’re honored to have you!)

Secondly, brevity has never been my forte. When someone asks about my “background,” it is my nature to write 1,500 words about the day my parents met and go from there. That being said, I will do my best to make my answers as concise as they can be. Postcollegiate life is fantastically busy – no one has time to read my mini memoirs.

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Houston, Texas – a city that always felt like an eternal summer (and not in a good way). I was fortunate enough to be conceived (OMG they had sex) by two wonderfully open-minded, well-rounded, artistic parents, who constantly encouraged and applauded my burgeoning interest in reading, writing and creating. They built a solid foundation for my future investment in words as both a passion and a career. Texas A&M University is responsible for my collegiate days. There, I majored in my native language and was arguably the most liberal person on campus. I’m currently living in Midtown Manhattan working as a Senior Editor at a children’s book publisher, and just celebrated five glorious years on this fascinating little island.

This is pretty impressive stuff, considering we’re nearing our 10th high school anniversary next year!  What was your initial plan when you graduated from A&M?  

I visited New York with my father when I was 17 and became so enamored by the culture and the glamour and the energy, that I vowed to return after college and make it my home. During my last semester at A&M, I furiously applied for editorial jobs in Manhattan to no avail, but I wasn’t going to let that teeny-tiny setback stop me from purchasing a one-way ticket. My plan then became to figure it all out upon arriving – something that was risky, but something I had faith in because I wasn’t going to sit back and just let it unfold. I was prepared to do whatever it took (support myself with unfavorable jobs) to give the city a fair chance to prove what I knew to be true – that anything was possible with a little luck and a lot of hard work.  This plan, of course, became an elaborate exercise in character building – one that ultimately paid off. You can read about my first day on my blog.

It’s a very bold choice to move to a big city, especially one as notoriously expensive and challenging at NYC, without a firm plan.  You really took a chance by allowing yourself to let the next few years unfold.  What opportunities have you pursued that you weren’t expecting?

I had no idea how this next chapter of my life was going to play out, but my initial goals were simple: land an editorial job, make some friends, fall in love with the city, never stop writing. Those four basic ambitions have led me to literally every single significant (and insignificant) opportunity in the past five years – new experiences, jobs, friendships, adventures — and ultimately, writing material.

In Battery Park on the fourth of July during the first year in New York. (This was before Sara claims to have learned how to pose / dress.)

So how did you get from one-way ticket to the Big Apple to pursuing a job in children’s publishing?  It’s a bit of an unexpected leap.

After an internship at a well-revered publisher in Chelsea and a stint at a small union newspaper, I started as an editorial assistant at a mass-market children’s publishing company in January of 2007. I did not actively seek out a gig in children’s books, but I was happy to have ANY job in the industry. And it just so happened I had a knack for developing and writing licensed activity-based books. As a child who always created worksheets and word games and puzzles for her stuffed animals (I promise I had real friends too), it blew my mind (and still does) that I was doing this for a living. In the last 4 1/2 years, I’ve worked my way to the top of the editorial ladder at my company and I’ve been privileged to work on a variety of well-known licenses like Fisher-Price, My Little Pony, Lisa Frank, Smurfs, Disney, Care Bears & Hello Kitty – brands we all grew up with. There is also no greater feeling than seeing your work in bookstores around the country.

My challenge with this job is that I don’t know if I’ll stay in children’s books forever. I’d like to branch out at some point and try editing Young Adult or Real Live Grown Up Adult People fiction; however, it isn’t easy to start at the top of the chain in another genre after spending five solid years in a very specific position.

Above and beyond any career goals and challenges, my most immediate mission is to write a novel. I have the title, the plot, the outline, the characters and luckily, an entire lifetime of fantastic material; I just haven’t started it (which apparently is the most important part). I do spend a lot of time writing thoughtful posts on my blog about life in the city though, so that has served as an acceptable distraction from finally writing The Book (among other writing projects).  But I am almost out of excuses.

It might seem to some that everything has worked out fairly easily for you.  But there are always challenges to face.  What have been some of your greatest challenges and how do you face them?

My greatest challenge post-college has been something that’s followed me for years – time and money management. Like many creative types, I have a tendency to procrastinate…I like the urgency and dramatics of making a deadline, and I’m convinced I do excellent work under pressure. But the reality is, I could do even better work if I was more regimented in my writerly ways. Money is only an issue because I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world and I don’t work on Wall Street. (The discrepancy in pay between People in Numbers and People in Words makes me nauseous.) It’s true that some of the best things in life are free, but I’m sure whoever said that never lived in New York City. I’ve made concerted efforts to prioritize creatively and financially, but not enough to completely overcome either issue. (Staying out of bars is a quick remedy for both problems, but that’s easier said than done.)

Sara's former co-worker (and current bff) Michael dressed up as Hannah Montana a few years ago (for no other reason than pure entertainment). This is Sara showing "her" some of the books she wrote and edited.

As a writer, could you share a couple must-read books for quarterlifers?  I believe that books can truly help soothe the savage souls of us struggling postcollegiates.

The book that’s made the greatest impact on me personally in the last few years is Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. After devouring it one afternoon several summers ago, I had this overwhelming urgency to get over my literary fears, write like I’ve never written before and perpetuate Jong’s eternal belief in the guilt-free female writer. It is a beautiful thing for a book to change how someone feels intellectually, sexually and spiritually, and I saw a lot of myself in her twenty-something misadventures and struggles with writing (it’s fiction, but follows her life closely).

I don’t quite have a must-read list for struggling quarterlifers, but I feel like everyone stumbles upon their own Jong at some point on a quest to soothe their savage souls. After Fear of Flying, I read her follow-up novel, How to Save Your Own Life and her non-fiction hardback, Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life – and they were all earnest reminders to start (and finish) what I ultimately came to New York to do.

Many, many, many effusive thanks to Sara for sharing her inspiring experiences with us and giving some great, witty advice!  As you can already tell, Sara is brilliant, so you’ll want to follow her on Twitter and add her blog to your list of favorite sites!  As always, feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section and I’ll be sure that Sara answers them!

Teach Them Well And Let Them Lead The Way

You may remember the witty and erudite Kate Golcheski from her Post-Collegiate Profile in Courage a few weeks ago.  Kate is currently student teaching and has a great blog about her adventures with 6th graders.

Hey Ma, Look What I Did!

For anyone considering going into education (or currently on track to be a teacher), this is a great real-life perspective on what it’s like to be in the classroom as well as just a fun look at grad student life.  Kate takes questions here – if there was ever a question you wanted to know about what teachers really think, this is the place to ask it!