Dana Eckstein Berkowitz
First, there was drama. Snow storms all around the northeast led me to be scheduled on three cancelled flights, one train, and one cancelled bus. While I missed the Opening Ceremony along with the following Rectangle Reading and Open Mic, I was still able to make it to lovely Cincinnati, OH, the next day and arrived exactly halfway through one of my good alumni friend’s reading of his short story. There was still plenty more to come. Around 30 members of the chapter participated in the conference by moderating and chairing sessions and presenting original works and roundtables.
After checking out The Booksellers on Fountain Square, alumni met up at the Regional Networking event. Old friends greeted each other. We met new alumni and heard their stories. But most importantly, we recruited people to participate in the Dry T-shirt Contest for the first ever Alumni Epsilon shirts!
After some chow and rehearsal, we all reconvened for the Bad Poetry and Dry T-shirt Contest. My favorite moment of Bad Poetry was when my five-time conference roommate, Rebecca Ferlotti, heckled the audience member heckling her. We all loved the classic reading from Jayne Weise Higgins’ “Feelings.” Then the big moment came: the Dry T-shirt Contest! Over a dozen alumni appeared on stage, announcing the symptoms they felt of being big English nerds with the grand ending revealing the shirts which read: ??? IS A LIFELONG CONDITION.
At the end of the night, the prizes were announced and Alumni Epsilon was a winner! We all went to bed so excited and woke up early the next morning to go to the Chapter Merchandise Sale to hawk our wares, which also included scarves designed by Tania Richter and silk scarves hand-dyed by Amanda Lonsdorf.
We loved going to more concurrent sessions and catching the reading and book signing with Marry Norris, the Comma Queen!
Friday night we convened for a very special, not-on-the-program baby shower for our beloved regulars Matt and Naomi Kemp (who are now the proud parents of the beautiful Isabelle Alice).
Saturday morning was super busy! I woke up early to read my original fiction and to help lead a roundtable on publishing with Rebecca and the venerable writer, professor, and MFA program director Gary Dop. I also had the privilege of reading a part in a friend’s original play before running off to buy sandwiches for the Alumni Epsilon Chapter Business meeting!
Thanks to our wonderful merchandise sales, we were able to feed everyone as we discussed exciting plans for the future development of the Alumni Epsilon Chapter, including the development of four major committees: By-Laws, Communications, Fundraising, and Membership.
Just like that, it was already time to get gussied up for the Gala, where we experienced fancy butter in the shape or rosettes and chocolate in the shape of little flutes! Not only was there food, but also we got to hear about the accomplishments of our friends, many of whom won prizes at the annual convention awards!
We ended the night with the MCUPNS—Mega Chapter Underground Poetry Night (and Stuff). There were poems, songs, monologues, two ukuleles, one glorious thrift store coat, and countless gales of laughter.
What was your favorite convention memory? Nikolle Dixon shared with us about her visit to the Spring Grove Cemetery, which is supposed to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in America. Post your stories in our Facebook group or send us an email. We look forward to seeing you in St. Louis!
Dana Eckstein Berkowitz received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Hartford in 2013 and her Masters of Library Science from Rutgers University in 2017. She has been attending conventions since 2013, and is currently serving as Treasurer and Fundraising Chair for the Alumni Epsilon Chapter. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and her cat, both of whom are cuties.
In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet.
But they aren’t in the eye of the hurricane, and there is no quiet. Outside the battered walls of her home, the wind rages, the rain pelts, the waves crash, and the nation watches. It’d been recommended that they evacuate, but when the roads are packed with others trying to do the same thing and gas is running low, there’s little you can do to outrun a storm.
The designated safe room in the middle of the house is darker than she ever thought possible, the candles being saved for after the storm when the power might not return for days or weeks. Her younger brother, sleeping next to her, is close enough to kick her in his sleep, and nearby her mother snores softly.
Her father hasn’t returned from work.
She can’t sleep.
They couldn’t have predicted it if they’d tried.
Even with the best equipment and some of the world’s top meteorologists, ultimately Mother Nature was a force of her own. Their task was to predict, but when nothing is certain and everything can change in an instant, there’s nothing predictable about it.
Inside the studio, the staff rushes about, getting ready for the next update on the storm. He’d been there for what felt like days, and it could have been days. There was no resemblance of time anymore. Not during a hurricane. Just the bloodshot, dry eyes, shaking hands, and small blow-up mattress in the back room that allowed for a few minutes of sleep in between segments. The number of shirts he’d worn, now totaling six, was the only real indication of how long he’d been there.
The cameraman gives the signal to go back on the air, the precious time granted by news updates coming to a close, and with a weary sigh he stands, straightens his tie, and looks into the camera.
“We have a new update on Hurricane Matthew.”
A few days ago, she didn’t know anything about hurricanes, but now she’d learned more about them than she thought possible. After all, it wasn’t like hurricanes were a prominent concern in the upper regions of Minnesota. Snowstorms? Yes. Hurricanes? No.
After reading up on the storms themselves and learning that they could reach winds upwards of 200 miles per hour, she turned to the study of how hurricanes are tracked, the latest updates on the devastation in Florida blaring on the TV in the background.
She’d never cared about hurricanes before, but as she continued to get her best friend’s voice mail instead of his upbeat “Yello” he insisted using as a greeting, her concern grew and grew until she’d researched every possible fate the storm could bring to him and his home in Daytona Beach. She learned that hurricanes could produce tornadoes, release energy equivalent to 10 atomic bombs per second, and have an eye as large as 19 miles wide, which supposedly brings quiet for only a few minutes before the forces continue to beat everything in the direct path.
As she dials his number again, she can’t take her eyes off the screen.
He paces back and forth across the conference room, worry evident in the creases on his face and in his tired eyes.
He’d declared a state of emergency days ago, hurricane warnings were plastered all along the coast and throughout the state, shelters had opened, and evacuation orders issued, but he knew what would happen. It’s what always happened.
Without a doubt, someone would die. They wouldn’t heed the orders and would fall victim to the hurricane.
Maybe if he gave another warning, another message of how powerful and dangerous the storm is, that one person would leave their home for somewhere safe. Maybe they wouldn’t end their life trapped in a flooded home where rescue teams wouldn’t be able to reach them, or washed away by a wave higher than all of them.
If he could just try a little harder, maybe they would survive.
The dog knows he has to find higher ground.
The concept repeats over and over in his mind and instincts of survival kick in as he wades through the waters that cover most of the neighborhood. Sometimes his paws are able to touch the pavement beneath the dark liquid, but most of his time is spent swimming, searching for any place of safety. There aren’t many places left though.
His family had left what seemed like forever ago, saying goodbye with a round of tearful hugs and one last game of tug-of-war before loading into the car without him. He didn’t understand what was happening then. He didn’t understand what was happening now.
Finally, just as his head begins to dip beneath the water, exhaustion dragging him down more than his soaked cream-colored fur, he spots a tree branch just low enough for him to reach. If he can make it onto the branch, he’d be on higher ground.
If he could reach that branch, he would survive.
Turning on the TV, he settled into his worn recliner. Next to him, a bag of chips waited to be consumed, but for the moment it sat untouched, his focus on the screen in front of him.
“Again with this goddamn hurricane!” he cried out as soon as he realized what they were covering on the news. “Can’t they focus on anything else these days?”
Images of flooded homes flashed on the screen, warnings blaring at the top and bottom for somewhere far away. Meteorologists spoke of potential paths for the storm, urged those in danger to evacuate or find shelter immediately, and showed signs of exhaustion after giving continuous coverage for several days, but he didn’t care much.
The pristine, freshly-painted white walls of his home glistened in the setting summer sun. A light breeze passed through the trees, the echo of a dog barking wafted through the open windows, and his boat on the lake outside rose and fell calmly. Everything was fine.
He changed the channel.
Lizzie Tesch is a graduate of St. Norbert College in De Pere, WI, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Music, but also completed the requirements for a degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. Although she grew up in Seymour, WI, she currently works as a PhotoPass Photographer at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL, and enjoys spending her free time pursuing passions of photography, music, writing, and travel. In particular, Lizzie loves reading and writing about fairy tales, some of which she is now fortunate to work with every single day.
Cleveland’s young professional scene is something out of a 90s TV show—part real world, part feel-good, part self-deprecating humor. At networking events, I usually start with, “Do you like to travel?” And it snowballs into, “Do you like to travel outside of the country?” Cue enthusiastic nods. But when asked what countries they’ve traveled to, they tend to say, “Oh, I’ve actually never been outside of the country, but I’ve always wanted to travel more.”
Travel envy isn’t exclusive to Cleveland young professionals; my friends (of all ages) from around the world seem to regret their lack of vacation plans. If it’s not a time issue, it’s a money issue. If it’s not a family issue, it’s a work issue.
Stop making excuses not to travel; if you want to travel, make it a priority.
I’ve never been one to let other people tell me what to do, so when a well-respected Cleveland professional told me I needed to get an unpaid internship out of grad school, I found a full-time agency job and negotiated a higher salary instead. I refused to let work excuses stop me from occasionally running away from Cleveland. In the year I worked at that agency, I went to Louisville, New Orleans, Miami, Toronto, and Cusco.
The morning after I returned from Peru, I got laid off from that agency job along with half of my co-workers, and for a few days, I felt useless. But I picked myself up. I reassessed my priorities. I met with friends I couldn’t catch up with because of work. I went to events I never had been able to attend. I soaked up as much knowledge as I could. Still, I had people repeatedly ask, “Why don’t you have a job by now?” I was constantly told I didn’t have enough years in the field to venture out on my own. I started to believe in the negativity.
Don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t do something—especially that negative voice in your head.
But I love a good adventure, even if the process puts me out of my comfort zone. With my friends’ support, I started freelance writing on a full-time basis. My calendar filled up, and I was able to plan vacations around my assignments, recognizing I could work from anywhere if I chose. I started churning out travel blogs, articles for news sites, poems to submit to literary journals, and client projects.
If you’re a former English major who loves to travel and you think you’ll never be able to go on vacations with your salary, seriously consider freelancing. When someone criticizes you for starting a career that makes you happy, know that they’re jealous they didn’t take the plunge to be a wandering writer, too. Experience is how you increase your skills, but raw talent can’t be taught. Remind yourself that other people are always going to have opinions about what you do; it’s hard to ignore it sometimes, but the sooner you convince yourself their criticism about your chosen profession isn’t worth your time, the sooner you can free yourself of the obligation to impress others and buy a plane ticket.
Rebecca Ferlotti is a freelance writer and die-hard Clevelander who’s unabashedly obsessed with traveling. She currently serves as Communications Chair of the Alumni Epsilon Chapter. In her spare time, she tries out new recipes, collects rejections from lit journals, and goes to every local library event she can fit into her schedule.