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“Everything’s Waiting for You”: My Experience Writing for Johns Hopkins University

In December of 2019, one of my awesome professors, Tanya Perkins, asked me and a few other students in my Advanced Fiction Writing class to submit an abstract to Johns Hopkins University’s Richard Macksey Undergraduate Student Research Symposium. (A mouthful, I know.) I remember sitting in shock that Tanya deemed my work worthy enough to submit to a symposium, at Johns Hopkins at that. If accepted, I would present my research and creative writing at the symposium in Baltimore. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so of course, I accepted it. 

The presentation would describe how I implemented the short story cycle concept into my own writing while diving into the deeper meaning behind my story. My final portfolio in my Advanced Fiction Writing Class would include a complete, original short story cycle, a collection of stories that could be read individually but when read together, creates a larger storyline. One of our assignments for the first week of class was to observe someone in public, watch their movements, how they interact with others and alone, and other elements. While stressing about this assignment, I saw a former high-school classmate under a tree next to Hayes Hall. He was spreading out a thick picnic blanket, whistling what sounded like a 70’s song. The scene seemed plucked from a coming-of-age movie. Thus, my main character, David, was born.  

I submitted the outline of David including what he likes, why he wears a Goodwill fishing hat and a Salvation Army windbreaker, how he started playing guitar, and why he keeps that talent a secret. This advanced to a freewritten first draft of my short story cycle, Go Your Own Way. David developed into a college student, busking outside the bookstore on his day off. After finding a gold wedding band in his tip jar, engraved with “Henry, Everything’s Waiting for You, Laura”, he can only think about how this will give him a few extra bucks to help with groceries. While writing, David’s girlfriend Tess made her unexpected appearance. Along came Lindsey and her parents (the ring-owners) Henry and Laura, and a few other side characters. Slowly, the story fell into place. It was like God knew the story and was simply waiting for me to record it. 

The semester came and went, and I received Tanya’s email in early December. Honestly, I screamed with joy, finally feeling confident in myself. It took a week to write, revise, and submit the abstract. For a month, I waited for a response. I pride myself on great instincts. Though I’m normally not a bastion of confidence. I knew, this time, no matter how much I worried, I’d earn a spot. 

After much stress and worry, I received an email on February 3rd that my abstract had been accepted! I screamed for the millionth time and cried to my parents, blubbering that “I am really smart”, an idea they’d been trying to drill into me for years. Now, I have proof. Although I was a great writer, received compliments on my fiction and poetry work, and was even a writing consultant at the campus writing center and the fiction editor of Tributaries (both positions requiring recommendations from faculty), I was completely terrified someone would find out I wasn’t good enough, then I would lose all my opportunities and a slew of other horrible possibilities. But apparently not.

Although I was supposed to present at Johns Hopkins University in April, that didn’t happen, thanks to COVID-19. I was beyond disappointed, especially since my personal life seemed to be falling apart. Traveling for my art was supposed to be a dream come true and a distraction, but receiving the cancellation email was devastating. I was inconsolable. I worked so hard and experienced a loss just a month before the pandemic, so I had the carpet ripped out from underneath. I kept crashing through floors, wondering if I would hit the bottom. 

Then, I received some grace. JHU would continue the symposium through an online platform, the first of its kind. All accepted presenters would not only create a PowerPoint presentation, but they would also write an article expanding on their topic. I was really excited — this would be my first major publication. At 21 years old, I would be published in Johns Hopkins University’s Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Research Online Symposium. This was a relief when everything I planned fell through and nearly everything I worked for wasn’t panning out. Out of everything, this was a huge blessing. 

The article is an in-depth analysis of Go Your Own Way’s writing process, the explanation of the short story cycle, the details of the unexpectedly critical peer review, and the defense for characters’ moral ambiguity. I compare the responses of my reviewers to the similar reactions of Avengers: Endgame’s conclusion, which explains why my characters’ actions are justified and why changing their storylines to suit what others wanted would disrespect the characters themselves. I also included an excerpt from one of the stories in the cycle that best displayed my main points. 

While writing the article, I began to notice how the story helped me understand the events occurring in my own life. The characters’ decision and moral ambiguity gave me some clarity on the losses I endured before and during the pandemic, even the ones I am still facing.

All three of the stories in the short story cycle are told from different perspectives, showing that there are always multiple sides to every story, but we may never truly know every detail about the narrative. It was an eye-opening revelation, but one that wouldn’t have happened if the in-person symposium wasn’t canceled. I would only have to present the PowerPoint, but never the article would never have been written, let alone published. It all worked together for good in the end. 

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to present my presentation and article. It’s been an emotional ride but an awarding one, too. These challenges have strengthened my writing and my self-confidence. I’ve achieved a lot for someone my age, and this is just the beginning of it. 

The essay can be accessed here.

The presentation can be accessed here.

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