1,000 miles: step 82

work-week-Reston

Statue at Wiehle-Reston East metro

I got news! I have a summer job, and I survived my first week as an office employee.

I don’t have a briefcase. I travel light. I do have a key card, office e-mail, and a cubicle. I commute taking the bus and metro.

This Friday, through a chance accident of forgetting my stop, I experienced extreme rush hour. Let me tell you–not my cup of tea. People bumping into you. No seats left. Sighing and grumpy people.

Fridays are lovely, regardless. They will be my favorite day for weeks to come. The work I do is repetitive: data entry. There’s stacks of paper, an office keyboard and desktop, office supplies, and a scanner at my desk. There’s a line of paper boats that I’ve made over the course of the week, after I learned to expect delays with the scanner and office software.

What’s most exciting is the interactions with people.

My co-workers have all kinds of backgrounds: they are parents, single ladies, bakers, actors, writers, and so much more I’ve yet to discover. Many of them have been working together for years, or they have been at the company for decades and watched it change and grow. It’s interesting to watch their faces as they reflect on years back. As an incoming employee, it’s nice feeling to get their history.

Though this week felt exceptionally long–waking up early, coming home late–it did go by with a paradoxical and retrospective speed.

This past Tuesday, I managed to host a book chat on Twitter with Booked For Review, opening the first #B4RTalks for #31DaysOfBooks. That, too, went by quickly. If you haven’t read my young adult book reviews, visit bookedforreview.com

I also squeezed in time to make final edits to a poetry submission with a due date of today. Since meeting my fundraising campaign goal, I’ve submitted to three literary venues and anticipate many more magazines and journals. There’s a lot of competition, but I genuinely believe in my poems and because of the campaign, I know other people support my work. I’m developing a Pinterest Board for published poems and can’t wait to share in the near future.

Lotus scene

A summer scene with lotus at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

My busybody self is finally occupied.

I’ve met new people and new terms. The week ended with volunteer work with local youth, who themselves are planning volunteer work. My flower-enthusiast self is satisfied; I took my first visit to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. This weekend kicked off their festival of lotus and water lilies.

Though I’ve missed some news headings, some sleep hours, and some me-time, I couldn’t be happier.

The office job has helped me open a new chapter in my life. This chapter is headed toward opportunity.

 

 

1,000 miles: step 81

The graduation glow doesn’t last forever. The pride, though, persists. I’ve framed one or two graduation pictures, and I’m still in awe at my large, vertically shaped diploma which confers me, Claudia V. Rojas, a Bachelor of Arts in English with recognition.

Now let’s get down to business and ask the real questions. Here is a recent interview I conducted with Claudia Rojas:

What’s the best part about being a college graduate?

It’s the new sense of time. I don’t have to worry about turning in an essay any time soon. I’m not stressed about grades. I have a life outside of school. I exist!

Central Park

Central Park, a wonder

I’ve actually done more travel this summer than any previous summer combined. This June, for example, I went to New York City, for the first time ever. I spent a short weekend discovering Battery Park in lower Manhattan, where I saw the Fearless Girl statue and walking around the giant forest of Central Park. Of course, I snapped tons of picture for the Instagram feed!

I’ve explored close to home, too, places I should’ve already known if it weren’t for college and my workaholic tendencies. From visiting an old favorite, Old Town, Alexandria to a new favorite, Arlington’s Crystal City which is bursting with life all summer long. Recently, I took the Silver Line to Reston, which isn’t exactly close to me, but is one of the biggest metro projects in recent DMV history, phase one of the two part project completed in 2014. Yay, history.

What’s the worst part about graduation?

Unemployment, and the fear of long-term unemployment. As a part-time student, I was able to gain work experience while in college. I figured this would make the full-time job search easier. In some ways, it does. I can speak to my work years in cover letters. I have a better sense of what companies and work setting I like and don’t like.

Of course, I figured getting a full-time job in my field, writing and editing, would be difficult. What I didn’t anticipate is my own sense of panic. There have definitely been days where I have questioned my merit as a candidate. Job applications are similar to poetry submissions–they both send rejections your way.

In true Claudia spirit, I have kept going. One of the things that I’ve tried is freelance writing. That’s right, if you ever need a freelancer, find me and hire me on Upwork! I am always on the look for small poetry projects; that’s where my heart is at, after all.

What’s been keeping me busy?

Book sculpture at Library

A library day at my local Falls Church library

Job applications: I’ve been conducting an intense search for hiring companies and researching employee reviews with said companies. At home, at the library, or on the phone, I’ve been searching for editing and writing positions. Internship opportunities. Summer work. You should see my excel spreadsheet.

Poetry: I’ve had time to work on my poetry. In the past, I was organizing poems according to forms, because I was and am in love with forms. Now that I’m out of school (and graduate school will be a few years into the future), I can look at my poems as a whole.

I’ve decided that many are ready to be organized into a collection. Since I’ve been unemployed for over a month, I haven’t been making an income. Fortunately, there’s a lot of free writing workshops in Northern Virginia and publishing webinars. More fortunately, I gained some marketing experience when I created and succeeded with a small GoFundMe campaign. I’m currently working on final edits and submitting to literary venues and contests with reading fees.

Volunteering: I’ve become a contributor with Booked for Reviews (B4R), a blog for young readers. Check out my review for Walter Dean Myers’ Darius & Twig and Dawn Lajeunesse’s Star Catching. Can you tell that I have a soft spot for the young adult genre? Additionally, I’ve been volunteering with a junior youth program at my local library. Though I’ve stopped tutoring, I suppose kids have a way of finding me.

Anything else?

Yes! While I’ve been getting rejections from journals and magazines, I’ve also been gathering a few acceptances. Stay tuned to find out where. Next week, I also have some news, so don’t miss that.

Have a question I didn’t ask myself? Post a comment! Tweet me. Message me. I’m here.

Hey, World: I Am Immigrant and I Graduated College

In the spring of 2012, I unpacked bags and sat on a bed I shared with my mother, a bed inside a room rented through a former friend in the Falls Church area. I had returned from my first year at a small liberal arts school, Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I had returned to stay, with fears of having reached the end of my college years.

Months back, I had sat with my school’s financial aid officer to discuss my financial standing and immigrant status.

2013-04-10 16.05.27

2013 protest. Photo by Claudia Rojas.

Did I have a visa? No, I didn’t. What I had was a work-permit granted to Temporary Protected Status holders, people who enter the country illegally, but who are protected by the U.S. because they did so to escape from natural disaster and war. There were little hopes of attending a school with an annual $45k tuition.

I was slow to understand my scholarship search yielded no results because of my immigrant status. Whether I was a permanent resident or citizen, of which I was neither, was not something I thought about as a child.

I didn’t come into college aware I was in a financial mess; Simon’s Rock was a college for youth with ambition. I was accepted into the 2011 class with a 4.0 high school GPA and without a high school diploma. I wouldn’t need a high school diploma; I would graduate from the college and receive a Bachelor’s Degree. My plan, however, didn’t calculate my naivete about American systems.

While most immigrant students learn and come to understand their status by junior and senior year, when they meet with counselors to discuss their future, or lack of future, I didn’t have those years. I started Simon’s Rock after I had finished sophomore year.

I was impatient and eager. I had filled out paperwork on my own. My counselors and teachers were either too excited or impressed by my goals to ask me the real questions: What do you know about the college application process? What do you know about finance?

After my conversation with the financial aid officer, I spent months in distress. I had to come to terms with the idea that the world wasn’t at the palm of my hands.

Instead, I was at the mercy of my immigrant status.

On August 10th, 2012, the day I turned 18 years old, I took the GED exam. I ranked in the 99th percentile rank in the Language Arts Reading and Writing portions. I made a return visit to Northern Virginia Community College, and was finally allowed to enroll.

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Math at NOVA. Photo: Claudia Rojas

I spent many unhappy classroom hours at NOVA, but I also discovered that my assumptions about community college were unfounded. In the eyes of these college students, I saw perseverance and dreams. I saw potential, saw hope for myself. In 2013, I began a short-lived experiment with social justice, taking part and promoting immigrant protests in Washington, DC.

Before long, I was wishing to stay longer at NOVA. The year I transferred to George Mason University–after Smith College and Georgetown University had rejected my application–I was hopeless.

I had no scholarships. I lived half an hour away from campus. I had to take on a part-time student load. I had tuition bills to cover on my own, after my first year at college drained my mother’s energy and finances.

I hated the struggle my future had become.

It was 2014 and I felt incapable of finishing college. I was working and studying, and maybe I was amounting to nowhere. In the middle of tears, I contemplated dropping out; this on more than one occasion. In the spring of 2016, George Mason University awarded me with a Stay Mason Fund scholarship. I had earned it not because of my academic record, but because I was on the verge of economic despair.

I was fortunate (or misfortunate) enough to have the scholarship renewed for my final year at Mason. There were many difficult moments.

This spring, I was in a car accident–another car ran straight into traffic and hit my car. On that February day, I spent several hours not worried about my health, but about what the insurance agent had said, if a totaled, the car couldn’t be fixed. A day later, it was declared totaled.

IMG_0100.JPGI didn’t know how I would manage school, except that things have a way of working out. Through Uber, Lyft, metro, bus, friends’ cars, and wandering feet, I did it. In spite of my low spirits, in spite of the new presidential administration, I made it.

This past May, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English. Para mami / For mother: for all the years spent in uncertainty and doubt about the college dream.

I write this to remind myself of the journey. I write this to remind myself that the struggle is not over.

This is to remind myself that I am still immigrant, but that I am strong.

1,000 miles: step 80

2017 is here, 2017 is here. I have welcomed it with reading, pleasure reading. It’s amazing how much poetry and fiction I can take when I’m not writing weekly papers or poems. I will not think about politics right now, will not mourn over the possible setbacks of a Trump term for the immigrant student, for the woman, for the lover.

2017 is a reading year. This spring semester, I’m reading twelve poetry books for one class alone. I plan on reading more Spanish poetry, now that I have an adequate appreciation of the Spanish poetry tradition.

I also want 2017 to be the year I place my foot in the publishing world’s door. In 2016, I started submitting my work to online literary magazines and journals. There were rejections–actually, the rejections are still coming in. There were minor successes, enough to keep going. The literary world must know my name, my story.

With the goal of sharing stories with a greater audience, I can now be found on Instagram, @claudiapoet. While the poetry on Instagram is not always refined, it’s giving poetry a home in this social age. Another place to share with the world the preoccupations of my poet heart.

Onward, 2017.

Panoramic view of Georgetown

Panoramic view of Georgetown

1,000 miles: step 79

The fall semester is now over.

I have submitted “finals,” known as projects to the English major. Grades are coming in. I have gaps of time–yes, time. It has all gone by so fast.  This semester I made a savvy choice, and I took all poetry classes: a small-sized workshop, a course taught in Spanish, and a course covering African American poetry from the 50s and beyond. I’m grateful for the semester; I gained exposure to an unbelievable range of poets and interesting perspectives from classmates.

At school, I ate a waffle in the library, learned a little salsa, attended a few open mics, carved a pumpkin, and started a gym routine. I didn’t plan some of these things; they just worked themselves out. I also attended two literary festivals in September: the Library of Congress National Book Festival in DC and Fall for the Book events on campus. In November, I spent three hours at the African American History and Culture Museum. Time spent well, all in all.

In the spring, I’m once again taking poetry classes. I want my final days as an undergrad to be full of poetry. When I think of the future, it is still scary, but I’m more willingly to get there.

2016 has been good to me. There have been bad days. I’m not going to lie: I spent post-election day crying–mourning to be precise. This week wasn’t entirely good either. Tuesday night I was upset with news of Aleppo. Wednesday morning I woke up further into sadness with this tweet still in my mind:

And it is because today I am alive, and yesterday I was alive, that I am thinking of everything–support, laughter, art, growth– that 2016 has offered me.

Thank you, world.

fall2016

1,000 miles: step 78

Alright. Reader, I’ll let you know what I did last summer, this past summer in fact. It’s called summer camp.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had a summer like this one. It was fun and jarring every day. I have some experience with kids at the middle school classroom level, so I know that any day with kids is a recipe for an unordinary day. At camp, the odds of a hectic day are increased. Never have I ever seen so many boo-boos and running feet or heard so many laughing and shouting mouths. Imagine doing this full-time for three months. Now, see, summer camp is for the strong at heart!

The Summer Camp Experience: whoo. ah ahhhh.

I turned 22 years old at camp, too. I can’t wrap my head around that.

I picked up some new skills, and that is always a plus in my book. I can now finger-knit and sew on a machine. I can also program a moose to move–he has to be on an iPad though. I can assemble a robot and cardboard furniture. I can help resolve an argument between friends. I can dance! (Ok ok, so that last one’s quite not true, but I can dance with slightly more rhythm.)

1,000 miles: step 77

Dear reader, I’m still here.

My summer is concluding–next Monday is yet another college term, with the happy knowledge that I’m ever SO close to graduating. I keep telling myself that but 2017 is my year.

These past weeks, I’ve been writing less, reading less, which is not how my summer started. But who can write when there’s a summer camp experience to be lived and had? More on that to come.

For now, I want to leave you with scraps of poems I’ve been working on which are available through Prose.com:

Poem for the Body

&

Royalty

xo,

Claudia

 

1,000 miles: step 76

Lately, I’ve had to slow down.

The spring semester is over.  I knew a couple of the graduating seniors–thanks to (a short-lived) student writing adventure, so this was the first semester that I paid attention to graduations. Next year is also my graduating year. I started college fall 2011. Twists and turns have pushed me to George Mason, and I finally feel like it’s where I belong.

These days, I’m a lot more content, particularly when I ignore politics. I’ve had the chance to dig into reading, a hungry kind of reading that keeps me still for hours. Last week, I took a CPR and First Aid training course because why not. Summertime means possibilities.

Stay tuned–

1,000 miles: step 75

Line for Hillary Clinton's Rally an Hour Before She Speaks

Line for Hillary Clinton’s Rally an Hour Before She Speaks

I find primaries and elections emotionally difficult. I find a lot of things emotional, okay?

But here’s why: I’ve been 18 and up for three years now but I can’t vote. Voting is another of those reminders of what privileges I don’t have because I’m still an immigrant.

I hate conversations in election years because when people ask me, “so, who are you voting for?” I feel naked: I don’t vote, and I hate saying those words. It’s like saying, I’m irrelevant. I don’t have a say in this country. I don’t have a say in a country that I’ve lived for 14 years now. 14 years.

This infuriates me because there are some people who can vote, but don’t register. Every vote matters because an un-cast vote is a silenced voice.

Today, when Hillary Clinton came to speak at my school, I was proud. Women in America have held the right to vote for almost a century, and they started running for presidency since 1872. I like that Ms. Clinton hasn’t given up in her campaign for presidency. That’s the mark of a strong leader. Don’t get me wrong, Senator Sanders’ got a fighting spirit too. The race is often tied between the two in the Democratic party, and that’s why every vote matters. People make a difference.

My next goal in life is to become documented. Rather than be a temporary protected citizen, I want to be a permanent resident. I’m not going big. I take what life gives me, but I will always want more.

I don’t hold financial aid in college, and I’m not going to downplay my need. There have been days when my mother could barely meet the rent, when a grocery trip was hell, and when I just plain wanted to quit. Coming into George Mason was tough. I knew I wasn’t going to be a full-time student. I knew I was going to have divide my time between work and school. I knew there would be days, and maybe weeks, where I didn’t want a college degree.

I just didn’t know how hard those days would be.

I’ve worked hard for the few scholarships I managed to find, and I’m so close to graduating with a Bachelor’s. I’ll go mad if I go into graduate school without the privilege of economic help that I deserve in every way.

Voting season gets me infuriated, and sometimes, that what a person who’s accepted her situation needs. Anger makes you crave a solution. I will find one.

1,000 miles: step 74

Friday morning found me wondering if kids should’ve gone to school. By evening, I started to believe.

The East Coast is covered in snow and Jonas just keeps going. Yesterday, I cancelled my in-home students and made the best call. Driving is not an option with the wind and feet of snow. My Honda Civic is actually turning into a Honda Hidden:

imageMy professors have long been anticipating that we’ll miss class time. This snow may well wait until spring to melt. I’ll need to pull out my boots from when I was in Great Barrington, MA–those boots’ time have come and they were made for walking.

So, 2016 is sure a bundle of surprises!

I have had my own personal surprises. The first week of January, I received a scholarship from Mason that covered nearly all my tuition expenses for the semester. This was beautiful. This will be the first time since I started college that I won’t have money dead-lines teasing me.

Another small surprise is that I’ll be writing for Mason’s student-run online newspaper, The Rival. My first post hit the Internet on January 20th. It was also my first movie review, and though I’m no critic, I really got into the review. I didn’t even go to the theater with the intention of writing about the film. Writing teaches you how to process visual stimuli! Writing is rewarding, but even as an English major, I don’t do enough.

At 21 years, I have no excuse not to write. I have a store full of memories and life in progress.