Note: This essay was published in the August 2011 issue of a Seattle-based literary journal called Line Zero. Check out their website and their print issues. This is also my first time getting published outside of college, which is way cool if I do say so myself! (I did update and tweak it a bit so it does not mirror the exact printing of this in Line Zero.) I wrote this in June 2011 and was still living in NYC. This is why it’s written in present tense.
Dream-worthy New York City: A country-grown Iowa girl settles in the big city to live a publishing dream
By Jennifer Dryden
Some days I forget what a small town feels like; I forget how I used to live. I forget the cornfields, the green, freshly cut grasses, and the friendly “hello” that accompanies a nod from strangers. I forget Iowa. Iowa still lives in my heart as well as all of my family and lifelong friends. I left all that behind nearly one year ago to pursue a New York City dream. Iowa has shaped me into the person I am today; it encouraged me to find something bigger and better. My hometown of 10,000 people stands behind my dreams even if I leave them behind in the process for a city of 8.7 million. They know my heart resides with them.
In New York City, I venture to and fro, from street to avenue to street, from the Manhattan-bound N train to the downtown 6 train. I stick my head above ground on the crowded stairs to 28th Street and smell the sewer’s sour steam from one of the many-circled vents on the city streets. Fresh air? What’s that? Life doesn’t stop at the Hudson, but unlimited possibilities in publishing do. My publishing dream does.
“Metro?” a Latina woman in an orange vest pitches into the ears of the exiting commuters. “Metro?” Her lead tabloid competitor stands on the opposite end of the subway exit.
“A.M. New York?” an early-twenties black man mumbles to us, without a smile, holding the headlines in his gloved hands. I often wonder if he hates his life or just mumbles, because most everyone ignores him. I wonder if he ever wants to throw the newspapers at us, me, for simply avoiding eye contact. “A.M.? A.M.?”
I walk past skyscrapers that stand taller than the clouds on foggy days. The top of the Empire State Building waves at airplanes above the thickness. The Statue of Liberty toasts to the clouds filled with the late legendary New Yorkers and solutes newcomers, mostly tourists.
Glass doors crystallize the entryways into multimillion-dollar corporations and apartment buildings that cost $2,500 per month for a 300-square foot studio. Guards and doormen tip their hats and nod at the businesspeople in suits and black dresses. Black trench coats, pea coats, and buttoned-up suit jackets help carry the confidence in this city.
Food carts park in the same spot every morning and I rummage through my tote for $1.25 for a blueberry muffin to fill me until lunch. Key cards access my company’s floors, but only those. Friendly mailroom people greet with smiles and coworkers high-five in the hallways. The maze of cubicles becomes a blur on busy days and corners become roadblocks with collisions.
Lunch hour arrives after pounding out emails and content for work, and I head to Madison Square Park to try and relax from a jam-packed morning. The revolving door releases me into a whirlwind of car honks, passersby’s conversations for split seconds, and change clinking in a McDonald’s cup held by a homeless man’s dry hand.
If I wanted to I could ignore the rest of the country, including Iowa, and still have everything I ever wanted. Some people say New Yorkers don’t know anything past the Hudson. I believe it some days. But I know better. I know what’s beyond the newsworthy river. Beyond the river are the states that feed this country with fruits and vegetables, beef and poultry, beans and grains. Because I lived there – 21 hours west by car – I can appreciate my background, my childhood like I should. New York City contributes with corporations, bankers, the top of the top executives, and celebrities. None of this can be possible without the rest of the country.
Publishing is why I came here. It’s the country’s hot spot for books and magazines. It’s what pays my rent and what wakes me up with a smile. Within a week’s time, I interviewed over the phone with a human resources manager at Sterling Publishing and the editorial director thanks to a career fair at New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute, and moved out to New York with two suitcases and a carry-on. I made myself comfortable with no money on my high school classmate’s futon in Brooklyn. Even though we weren’t close friends in high school, we were brought together with our same drive to make it in the city. I stayed with him for two weeks for free until I finally found a decent Queens apartment on Craigslist. We’re friends now.
Interning for Sterling Publishing’s educational imprint, Flash Kids, for eight months has been the high point in my life so far. The internship was paid with minimum wage, but I asked for more because I was moving across the country. They raised it to $10 an hour, working only 28 hours per week, which later increased to 35 hours. It had a program called Lunch & Learn where I learned about and met with each imprint and department in the company. The editorial children’s floor was filled with talented and vibrant-minded editors, designers, and publicity folks. I never felt like a stereotypical intern because I was thrown into the extremely inviting culture of Sterling and was trusted by my editorial director to not only edit 200-page workbook manuscripts for grades one to six, but to write an entire six-book preschool series publishing in January 2012.
I wrote six preschool workbooks, detailing them with secret insights into my Iowa life. I wrote one workbook with inspiration from Iowa, from my hometown, from my childhood, from what I know the best. It was themed “Life on the Farm”. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but almost half of my 131-person graduating high school class did. My dad worked for John Deere my entire childhood; we had those green and yellow tractors parked in our garage. I listened to the crop report on the radio every morning with my parents. I wore overalls and baseball caps. I grew up in a community culture, everyone supported each other, and everyone needed each other. Moving from Iowa to New York City was a smack in the face, but one that opened my eyes.
City people are independent, self-doers, and always in a rush. People knock into you and blame you for it. It’s visually dirty and in the summertime it smells like garbage, but it’s the place with endless possibilities, entertainment for the bored, and the sense of success. No matter where you come from, no matter what you do for a living, you feel as if you’ve accomplished something just because you live in this always loudly interrupting maze of a city. It tests my patience every day and pushes me to my limits, but I know Iowa’s just a plane ride away. My mom’s a Skype video chat away; my dad’s a phone call away; my brother’s a letter away; God’s just a prayer away; and my best friend’s a text message away.
There are 8.7 million people in New York City. 6.7 million people commute into the city every day. There are 13,000 taxis; 600 subways running at rush hour. The rent is high, the cable and Internet are a monopoly with Time Warner Cable and they aren’t the easiest to work with. Metro cards hike their rates with little notice. I have to carry around pepper spray and hail a taxi after 10:30 p.m. because walking home alone isn’t safe. In Iowa, everything is the opposite. It is safe at 2 a.m., clean enough to walk outside barefoot, and everyone drives to work without traffic. Public transportation? What’s that?
But I’ll take a $10 per hour, part-time publishing internship in New York City over anything else because when I lay down at night in my twin-sized bed I know I’m fulfilling one of my dreams. I’ve dreamed about New York City for four years. I even went as far as customizing my own license plate that read “CY2NYC” sophomore year of college at Iowa State University. I was an Iowa State Cyclone making her way to NYC. It was my goal.
After nearly a year of living in the city and fulfilling my dream, I can say that I’ve written for one of the most respected publishing companies, for the nicest of editorial directors, and for children who strive to learn and read. I live in the biggest city in the US, and one of the largest in the world. I sleep among celebrities, legendary actors, and writers – alive and deceased. I stop and listen to emerging musicians in the subway stations, throwing a dollar bill in the open guitar case. I encounter any one person and have my next award-winning character in my book or short story. I venture to Central Park and snap a photo that will show something inspirational.
And, in January, I will be able to go to any Barnes and Noble bookstore and hold my published six-book preschool series, flip through the pages that I thought up, and read my words that will teach three-year-olds to grow and learn essential skills. Upon the title page, it will read “Written by Jennifer Dryden”. On the copyright page it will spell out the company that gave me the responsibility, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Finally, my eyes will drift to the city address that gave me this opportunity and it will read: “New York, NY.”
Although the internship of my dreams is over after eight months, I have amazing references from my editorial director, other editors I worked with, HR managers, and the president of the company. I have that “in” to the publishing world that everyone swears by, in New York or elsewhere. I have the confidence in myself that I can do things I never thought I could. I’ve been added to the freelance system for Sterling Children’s and Flash Kids, which is a step in the right direction. Emails with my resume have been sent from editors to their friends at other publishing houses, singing my praises and availability. I’ve learned that even the smallest of steps matters. For now, I’m writing part-time on many short stories and my growing memoir, and freelancing for two publishers in the U.S. Also, I’m searching for the next big thing.
I’m still searching publishing career sites regularly, but recently decided to go back to college for my Secondary English Education degree in Iowa. This Flash Kids internship helped me realize that I know a lot about children and education, and that my passion shouldn’t stop with just the word count. I created six workbooks, but how do the children react to them? How do they learn the best? What works and what doesn’t? I want to teach children and teens as a career. I want to freelance for parenting and teaching magazines and literary journals for a side-job. I want to write creative stories as my passion. Someone at Sterling told me, “Your passion doesn’t have to be your career.” So I am heading back to school.
Iowa is my home, New York City is my dream, and whatever city comes next will inspire me still. Iowa is small; New York is huge. The miles between the two are long. The differences between the two are drastic. Sometimes I think if I leave the Big Apple, I’ll never measure up again, but then I write another chapter of my memoir, inspire a child to keep learning, or find a university that excites me, and I know that wherever I end up will be the right place for me.