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My Inner Teacher was Showing.

Note: This is my personal statement I had to write for my qualifying portfolio for the English Education track at Iowa State University. Thought I’d share if you’re curious about my newer career path.

In my mind I write sentences constantly and more often than not they escape my head without writing them down on paper. But every now and then I’ll have something too good to ignore and I’ll take out my cell phone and type it out on my Sticky Notes application. I’ve composed entire stories there. My life can be followed through the many pieces of paper and saved Word documents on my computer I have written since I could form the letters of the alphabet. I have sought out my writing dreams because I never want to look back and regret not doing something my heart told me to. I went to New York City to become a part of the publishing industry and became a published children’s author. I wrote my fingers off with personal essays and got one published in a literary journal in Seattle. And now I dream of teaching my passion of writing and my knowledge of the publishing industry to make the next generation excited to dominate their words and stories.

My educational background consists of a bachelor degree in journalism and mass communication from Iowa State University that I obtained in May 2010. During this time I was dedicated to leading the First Amendment Day committee as co-chair and the Leo Mores Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as vice president. I gained important planning skills and organizational strategies that have helped me in many situations in my student and professional life, including lesson planning. I reported, edited, copy edited, and helped create the Business section at the Iowa State Daily student newspaper from 2008-2010. I wrote for Ethos Magazine and Sketch Literary Journal, smiling at my front-page cover story about a diverse subject of same-sex marriage. I was comfortable with my writing skills, but not until those experiences sharpened my pencil.

During my first go-around at Iowa State, I turned my focus and found my true niche in Professor Benjamin Percy’s Advanced Nonfiction Creative Writing workshop in the fall of 2009. I wrote and wrote and wrote for his class, which turned out to be the best thing for me because I wrote something that made Ben and my peers stop mid-sentence and wow. I wrote my first non-journalistic memoir essay entitled Concentrated Breathing, which is attached as my piece of academic and professional writing. After taking his class, he invited me to consider a MFA program in creative nonfiction or the New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute in New York City. He said those last three words that describe the biggest city in the country and my heart jumped. That was my next endeavor and I would do whatever it took to get me there. So I applied. Then I got accepted, along with 104 other graduates from around the world.

I flew across country to Manhattan for the six-week publishing program and found homesickness and my fire at the same time. All day sessions, five or six days per week was exhausting, but I think I learned more there than in all my years at Iowa State about the book and magazine publishing industry because the sessions where taught by its editors, publishers, agents, authors, and CEOs. The program was split into two three-week periods, one focusing on magazine publishing where groups of ten students built and pitched a new magazine, and one focusing on book publishing where different groups of ten created and pitched a book imprint. I held the Web Director and Sales Director positions on these projects. Panels of professionals advised and critiqued us along the way.

I found myself falling in love with the book publishing industry just as it was switching to digital e-books and online-based content. I caught the start of implementing social networking, online resources, and e-books into our projects, which taught us how to adjust to the changing market. All of these skills are filed in my skill set folder in my brain and are ready to supply my students with those key components to becoming a well-rounded and learned individual. The publishing institute held a private career fair for us and I gave my resume to many organizations like AOL, Random House, Little Brown, HarperCollins, Hearst, Meredith Corp., and Barnes & Noble’s publisher Sterling Publishing.

In early September 2010 I accepted an internship with Sterling Publishing’s educational children’s book imprint, Flash Kids, in New York City and worked there until May 2011. While there, I served as an editorial assistant, directly under the editorial director, Hanna Otero. I edited language arts/vocabulary gifted and talented workbook manuscripts for grades one through six, which refreshed my knowledge on the subject and put the thought in my mind of some day teaching those concepts. I edited numerous drafts of these six manuscripts and every time I caught myself smiling I realized it was because I had envisioned students learning. My inner-teacher was showing.

Hanna and I sat down for our meeting with the children’s department and talk about a new preschool workbook series started fluttering from mouths, along with the decision to create a new one. She asked me if I wanted to write each of the six manuscripts, outlining the design and layout briefs for the designer who lived in California. I coolly said I’d be honored to and got right to work. If I wasn’t in a professional environment I might have screamed, “Yes!” numerous times. This was a dream and a golden opportunity to prove myself in a big way. So I outlined a pitch, pitched the idea of how each book would flow, constructed a mock-up, and once approved I wrote six, eighty-page preschool manuscripts. Those six manuscripts turned into my six published children’s workbooks on January 3, 2012 in every Barnes & Noble store in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.  This taught me the love of publishing; something I hope to pass on to my students, even if it’s by the local newspaper or school newsletter.

I moved back to Iowa to become that teacher I daydreamed about being while editing in New York. I have freelanced professionally for LineZero, a Seattle literary magazine, and have done some editorial work for a manuscript critique company called Queuebooks in Minneapolis while enrolled at Iowa State University full-time. I also co-edited an Iowa State business professor’s manuscript, centering on religious studies. Finishing it was a life-long goal of his and an exciting experience for me. I plan to freelance and teach at the same time, especially during the summer months. For many years, I have been the go-to editor for my friends’ college essays, manuscripts, or any kind of writing and I take great care with those. I absolutely love it.

I have chosen to teach English as a career because writing teacher materials isn’t as much fun as actually teaching them. Through my time as a part-time childcare provider, mentor, and student in practicum, I have realized that these middle and high school students are bright and most want to learn, even if they make it hard to see. My friends and peers trust me to suggest revisions to make their work better; teachers hold the same responsibility. I want to be that great teacher whom students can trust that will teach them something. In middle and high school, writing saved my life. I truly believe this. It was my cheap therapy through struggles with family, friends, love, and discovering who I was. Students need an outlet and as an English teacher, I’m there to supply the therapy of journaling, poetry, and personal essay.

My goal is to be an English teacher who students want to learn from. I want to keep my professional writing career current because if they see me writing for fun, they will want to keep writing. I want to see those “light bulb” moments come from a lesson of mine, like those I experienced in Benjamin Percy’s class at Iowa State. I want to go beyond lecture and get my students published, into peer editing, into workshops with other students and professionals with the same interest, and ultimately confident that they can write well. I want to help a struggling student catch up when he or she is behind or work one-on-one with students to discuss their personal goals for my class. I really just want to teach what I love and learn from my students on how they want to learn or learn best.

My overarching intention is for my students to learn and enjoy learning through writing, reading, or discussing language arts. I intend to be a strong, motivated, and passionate teacher and give the publishing industry great future writers, reporters, authors, or readers. But even if the students aren’t as passionate about English as me, I still want to be able to reach them on a topic they know and enjoy. The world takes all kinds of people to be successful and even though my heart may beat word after creative word, theirs may be beating to their own drum in science or politics. But to be successful in whatever they choose to do, they must have a strong foundation of English writing and reading skills. That’s where I come in.

Writing and teaching are my passions. If I wasn’t able to do both, I wouldn’t be able to be who I really am. They go hand-in-hand. One without the other is honestly like those cheesy metaphors: a cookie without the milk or the peanut butter without the jelly. And who really likes to eat a cookie without the milk? No one. So I’m back at Iowa State University covering my bases for a happy and satisfying life.

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NYC ABC

Here New York City is seen through a child’s curious eye as a city packed full of hidden alphabet letters. They’re in the sidewalk’s brick, the gate’s metal, the signs’ words, even in the trees. When someone takes the time to look around and investigate, they will discover the 26 letters of our alphabet are everywhere.

Click on the link below and view my book of New York City’s ABCs!

NYC ABC

(The majority of the photographs were taken by me, a couple by my friends, and only two from Google Images.)

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To Read Or Not To Read, That Was Never The Question

Reading The Opposite of Love on my patio in Astoria, NY

Three black-eyed bears sat there staring at me. I knew what they wanted and I knew what I had to do. I had to teach them and in order to teach them, I had to read to them. I set them in a row on my daybed facing me, then I proceeded to fill in the gaps around with every doll and stuffed animal I could find in my bedroom. The same bedroom my dad always claimed was never clean enough – mainly because I had so many stuffed animals. They each had a name, thankyouverymuch! The names were never just Bear or Teddy. It was always a well thought out name like Amy, Dan, Katie, Katelyn, or Kathy. Why in the world would a bear want to be called Teddy or Fuzzy? I mean, come on, these were real beings who had feelings and those names were only jokes. My students were not jokes, especially the ones I claimed as my own children.

Once everyone was seated and quiet, I took my place in my small, red rocking chair in front, opened a book, and started reading. But it really wasn’t reading back then. Supposedly reading is when you actually read the words on the page that consist of the 26-letter alphabet and morphemes and phonemes and blah blah blah. Well, I was three and only knew that books held amazing stories inside them and when my mom read them to me, the pictures came alive. Now with about thirty-five stuffed students looking at me, I had to be the one to know what the pictures said; they were counting on me. So I told them a story.

Some stuffed animals raised their hand and asked a question and I answered them with confidence. I held the books like my mom did when she read to her classroom of first grade human students. I swung the book around slowly so each stuffed student could see the pictures. I even spoke in different voices because that’s how my mom always read to me. And, you know, those yarn smiles never frowned. I’d follow up the lesson with questions and I’d answer each of them in the voice of the bear or cat or doll that answered. I gave out so many stickers.

Once I learned that those books actually told the same story over and over again, I began to consume every book at the library and at home. I still held class and the bears still smiled when I read them the actual story from the books I’ve “read” so many times before. I’d go to school, hoping it was library day. The best kind of books were Mercer Meyer’s Little Critter, Bernstein Bears, and Robert Munsch’s books such as Love You Forever, Thomas’ Snowsuit, and 50 Below Zero. Robert Munsch takes the cake, that’s for sure. His books were hilarious to me and the illustrations were bright and colorful; it was just what I was looking for. The pages smelled so good too. In library at school, after Mrs. Nissen read a book and taught us about the card catalog, I shot to the paint can to retrieve my bookmark that was a painted paint stirrer and slide into home in front of the Robert Munsch books on the bottom shelf by the west hallway. They were on the same shelf as the big M. It was always a mad dash to get the one I had my eye on.

Mom and I took weekly trips to the library and I’d draw a book from its shelf, open it to a random page, stick my nose deep into its pages, and sniff. “This smells like a good book!” I’d say on cue. It’s sort of weird to smell books, but there are worse things. If it didn’t smell good, I put the book back. Evidently, now the world has candles that smell like books. I feel sorry for the e-readers that don’t smell at all.

I would devour book after book, earn Accelerated Reader points and ribbons at school, and get a free, individual-sized pizza from Pizza Hut because I read so many books. I never wanted the pizza because I hated pizza back then; I gave them to my big brother, Chad. I just wanted the stickers on the pizza button and the excitement of reading ten whole books. The books were enough for me. I was a big fan of workbooks just as much as children’s story books. The workbooks weren’t really for me though; they were for my stuffed animal class. I’d put a pen in their paw, my hand over their paw, and complete the activities for them. I didn’t realize I was learning new concepts, I just figured I was teaching them. Workbooks taught me so much! Who knew I would go on to write workbooks? That’s quite a connection. My six-year-old self knew her passions all along.

Hitting upper elementary I read Junie B. Jones, Shiloh, The Babysitter’s Club, Mary Kate and Ashley’s chapter books from Full House and their crime-solving mystery series, and The Adventures of The Bailey School Kids. Junie B. Jones had me howling with laughter and imagining myself doing those daring, devilish antics. I remember Shiloh making me cry because of the abuse the poor pup went through. I immediately loved the movie and rented it from the library over and over again. I wanted a beagle after that book. I babysat from age eleven. Reading The Babysitter’s Club books just reinforced the love I had for kids. I checked out the TV series and movies from the video rental store every trip I made. I am still interacting with kids by working at the Ames Community Preschool Center locally. Writing for kids just came naturally too. Again, my eleven-year-old self knew her passions.

Anything Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen I was onboard with. They were my idols and best friends growing up. Through magazines, books, movies, and their various clubs, I was their missing triplet. Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots and Zombies Don’t Play Soccer were titles that drew me in to The Adventures of The Bailey School Kids. That series was picked over on the library shelves because it was so popular. The series intrigued kids by their titles alone. The authors and their editors are geniuses.

Middle school started out as routine, but then with a rebellious stage I ventured to a darker place. I was a walking, sarcastic shadow. My literature turned depressing. The books that my hands grasped were filled with teenage issues, struggles, and things my friends and I were curious about. I read about love and love lost. I read about cutting and suicide. I read about drugs and alcohol… rock and roll, too. I was a rebel without a cause – not to sound cliché.

But, on my less gothic days, I found myself in love with the fun, adventurous, summer love novels where a boy and girl meet and then (gasp!) fall deeply in love (although they are fifteen), and then at the end of the summer they break up (tear), heading back to different sides of the country. I always fell hard into those books and came up gasping for air, so in lust. I also lusted for that book to happen in my own life. Anything to do with love and spontaneity, I was into. Some of my favorites were Caribbean Cruising by Rachel Hawthorne, Maine Squeeze by Catherine Clark, and Summer in the City by Elizabeth Chandler. Let’s move on from middle school because, really, it’s better for all of us!

Anyway…

I have no idea how I stumbled onto Nicholas Sparks’ books, but it was in high school. I’ve never read his “classic” novels such as Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, or The Notebook, but I have read all the other ones. I liked reading the ones nobody had read and still do. I own his entire collection and am still a hopeless romantic. His books allowed me to escape from the immature teenage love scene and venture to the one he wrote about. I love me a couple who overcomes adversity and falls deeply in love. There’s usually a tragedy, more than likely a killing of one lover, and bam! your happy ending is gone. It’s tragic, but sadly amazing! As a writer, I love those gutsy moves that author’s make when parting true love is going to piss off the readers who want a happy ending. It hardly steers the woman away, instead it leads them to the next heartbreakingly lovely Nicholas Sparks novel. Sparks’ fans are die-hard, all of his books make the New York Times Bestseller List, and half have become movies. Some say his story lines are predictable… I call them consistently genius. My favorite book of his is A Bend in the Road. Haven’t heard of that one, have ya?

The year after I graduated high school, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was trying to be banned from our Lit to Film class’s curriculum and from the school’s library. Although I wasn’t in high school then I still went and voted to keep it in the curriculum because that was one of my favorite books to have read and studied. The teacher handled it well and she always chose books wisely with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and The Great Gatsby. These were books everyone should read, especially high school students. After a couple of parents through their fits, appealed to no end, and dissed the English department, the end vote decided to keep the book in the school and allow it to continue to be taught. That made the book all the more popular. If I were the author, I’d take great pride in having one of my books banned. It just proves that he pushed the envelope and created a great book that made readers blush. I’ve heard editors and publishers say that once a book is banned somewhere and it makes news, it becomes a bestseller all over again. Bring it, I say!

My first four years of college led me to more journalistic and academic reading. Of course, all the textbooks were overwhelming and my eyes couldn’t take too much more text or they might have gone blind. Sometimes I wish I could read with my eyes shut. Someone needs to invent a sleeping reader! We could call it Z-Reader! If I could I’d read all day and all night. College is like that, reading day and night, but not fun reading, academic reading.

I stumbled upon the Twilight saga and read those. No matter how much criticism those books get, it says something about Stephanie Meyer when she can create a character (Bella) and have every teenage girl through adult woman feel as if she is Bella. It’s genius even if the editors forgot to edit it fully. It’s good a story that started a plethora of vampire novels, which branched to werewolves, tigers, and other magical nonhumans falling in love with humans. Anyone who has sold millions of books gets my support. Obviously she did something right.

I fell in love with memoirs during my senior year of my journalism bachelor degree. Not the Bill Clinton memoir or the Obama memoir or anyone famous for that matter. I have a passion for reading that random, maybe one-time author’s life story. I love reading, “… and this is her first book” in the author’s bio section. Just holding that book gives me hope for the growing memoir I’m writing. It also supports that author who wrote his or her butt off to tell their story. My all-time favorite memoir is by Tracy McMillan entitled I Love You And I’m Leaving You Anyway. It made me laugh, cry, and coo. It’s simply an honest-to-God written book about her life with an imprisoned father, boyfriends, and marriages gone wrong, and her love for her son. Its main focus is dealing with her relationships with men. I reread it once a year, at least.

While I lived in New York City, I read a lot of books published by Sterling Publishing because I worked for them. I read Young Adult manuscripts that we were looking to publish and ones we were not looking to publish. I read the Sterling Children’s slush pile each month and passed on manuscripts I thought had potential in today’s market. I would sit for hours inside a Barnes & Noble, immersed in a random book I couldn’t afford to buy. I’d return most days to start where I left off. I took books from the give-away boxes in Sterling’s kitchen and mailed them home for my mom to keep on my bookshelf. By learning and working in the book publishing business, I began to read and look at a book differently. First, I read the title, then I look whom the publisher is. Just by knowing the publisher, you can make out what kind of book this will be and if the company has a good reputation for publishing worthwhile books.

Now that I’m in college again obtaining my English Education teaching degree, I read Young Adult literature because I want to grow my personal library to recommend books to my students some day. I want to be able to be stocked full of story lines and characters that any student can find a book they love upon my shelf. I hope I can inspire students to look past the covers and dive deep into a story that may lead them someplace they had never imagined or teach them something they want to share with the class or the world. Books can inspire and I want my students to feel inspired with a book in their hands.

Books are powerful. Books have changed my life from a preschooler making up story lines to reading manuscripts of the next bestseller in New York. I will always have a publication aspect to my classroom whether it is a lesson about the publishing process, submitting essays or manuscripts for publication, or simply teaching about what makes a book good enough. Books may be changing form into digital e-books, but writers will never stop being born and creativity will never cease as long as there are eyes to read.


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My Writing Autobiography

Writing for 10 Years: Age 14 to 24

© Jennifer Dryden 2012

If you look under my bed you’ll see where it all began. There’s a Lucky Brand perfume tin – teal, pink, and scratched – that holds frayed lined paper, printer paper, hotel notepad paper, bank envelopes, colored scraps of construction paper, torn high school agenda pages, and Post-It notes filled with poems, some are stapled and some lie loose. Poems that aren’t really all that good. The handwriting varies from perfect to scribbles, from my seventh grade drama-filled self to my senior-in-high-school, truly-in-love self. I don’t even remember how I found writing so I have always believed that writing found me. Writing, for me, is like that friend who came along at the right time. The one who always answered their phone, always held your hand, and always knew just when to talk and when to shut up. Writing was cheap therapy and writing saved my life.

My first published piece was a poem written in seventh grade and it printed in a compilation of the year’s submissions from Poetry.com. I lived on that site and so did my two best friends. This poem, Nature with Me, was the only poem I’d go on to memorize – although it was easy with it being five stanzas of four lines each, but I can still remember. The award I got is framed on my dresser as a symbol of my starting place.

I took creative writing in high school, but I never really took it seriously until I wrote my “voice” assignment, which was telling a fairytale from a different point of view character. Well I took this and ran with it: Cinderella, stepsister’s point of view, sassiness, pen in hand, and go! Within 10 minutes I had written a page of Cinderella smashed together with slang like “booty-licious” and this ending, “Happily ever after? Ha, I think not!” My teacher and classmates laughed and deemed it the best. Stuff like that happened in other classes, but I never thought twice about it. Writing was just for fun.

College took me the Elementary Education route because my mom was a teacher and I loved kids, but sooner than later, I found out that I didn’t want to teach those kids, I wanted to write. I called my mom one night after spending countless hours pounding at the keyboard under a smoldering desk lamp (My roommate had to have hated me.) and said, “Mom, I can write.” Her response? “I know you can.” Within a month, I had switched completely over to journalism, becoming a news reporter for the Iowa State Daily, and dreaming of New York City.

Oh, New York City, how I love thee. Oh, writing too; don’t get me wrong. That’s what got me there… well, that and Professor Benjamin Percy’s amazing recommendation letter. I applied under his near threat that I couldn’t let my talent go to waste and get sucked into a life of newspaper printed fingers and harsh rules on creativity. A memoir essay I wrote for his class called “Concentrated Breathing” is my best piece yet, but I never knew it was until the critique day came and the class just stared at me, eyes wide. The first comment someone said was “Can I have your autograph?” and I just laughed, then another student asked the same and added, “We’re not joking.” I giggled nervously and looked at Ben. Ben nodded and said in the Godly-deep voice he has, “Dryden… well done.” Evidently, he doesn’t say that often.

That essay I cried, kicked, screamed through. I nearly died writing it. It was the hardest ten pages I have ever written because it’s about my brother and his accident and trial hearings and the brokenness of it all. I only wanted it to be written and over with, but I had to write on it. I had to. After all, this was cheap therapy.

I went to New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute for six weeks in 2010 and met and learned from editors, publishers, designers, writers, authors, agents, sales reps, and anyone and everyone who was someone in the publishing field in New York City. Pinch me, please! This was a dream. I lived in Union Square and learned in the Woolworth skyscraper on Broadway down in the Financial District. Writing got me to my dream. And NYU would get me to another.

I accepted an internship with Sterling Publishing’s children’s department starting September 2010 and was there through May 2011. While I was there I was edited children’s books and educational children’s workbooks; I compiled many books into one giant book; I worked with Richard Scarry and Little Critter books; I created a Richard Scarry book to be published overseas; and I was asked to write a completely new series of six preschool workbooks. At first I brainstormed and envisioned, then I outlined, then I drafted and went for approval. After few revisions of my proposal with my editorial director I started writing the first of six manuscripts, writing the words and directions, but also descriptions to the illustrator in California and designer in house of what I wanted each page to look like and what I wanted him to draw or design for each activity. Each book is eighty pages and so I wrote over 480 pages of children’s activities and introduction content.

This didn’t come without error, however, and I think even though I was so embarrassed, I appreciate this happening in my writing career. The “Coloring: At the Zoo” manuscript was done and emailed to my editorial director, but it came back with “Did you see that [another publisher] already has a coloring workbook themed zoo?” Uh oh. I apologized up and down, found the competition’s zoo coloring workbook and told her I’d have the next coloring manuscript done that week. So I rewrote the coloring manuscript with a Town Fair theme.

I officially became a published children’s author on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 in every Barnes & Noble Booksellers store and online. My books – or as I call them: my six babies – are distributed in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. They are called Flash Kids Preschool Activities. I went to the Des Moines Barnes & Noble that day and reached for one upon the shelf. I held it, flipped to the title page and saw this: “Written by Jennifer Dryden”. I touched it with my shaking fingers, framed it with an invisible rectangle, and let myself cry. They’re not novels. They’re not autobiographies. They’re not umpteen pages long with paragraphs, five characters, or subplots, but they’re mine.

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Will you ever go back to New York?

Hanging out with NYC

There’s this question that when anybody finds out that I lived in the greatest city in the world (New York City, duh!) asks me. “Will you ever go back?” The responsible, adult answer is “Yes, but…”

Yes, but it’ll have to be for just the right reasons. Yes, but it’ll have to allow me to live like I live in Iowa. Yes, but it’ll have to be for my dream career… and only a career. Yes, but it will have to be the best decision for all of my family at that time… be it a husband, serious boyfriend, a child, children. This is my responsible side answering out loud, but in my heart…

I’m screaming, “Yes yes yes, tomorrow!” I’ve been in withdrawal. Now, I’ve never been into drugs, but I have been in love so I know what addiction is. The good kind of addiction where you absorb every drop (like a Sham-Wow) of his personality, his sense of humor, his beauty, his eyes, his half smile, his entire smile, his stable feet, his big arms, his entire being. Then one day it’s over. It’s gone; taken from you before you can breathe in his cologne once more to make a memory… even though your nose has memorized it for months. Your eyes seep more than you thought was humanly possible and you get pissed when the cheap store-brand tissues break in your hand; enough is breaking already. You read his last texts for hints that this is a joke or that you could have seen it coming. But there’s nothing new. You refuse to wash your bed sheets and pillow cases because they still smell like him. You go temporarily insane, nagging at easy targets, screaming at traffic, and lashing out at horrible television drama plots. You’re late for work and it’s his fault, even though you haven’t seen him in days. Your heart is a sodden, poor excuse for a muscle because a muscle is tough and gives you strength and just as you are thinking this you yell out, “liar!” in the middle of dinner. You’re in withdrawal.

But when you encounter a city that entertains you all night long, that can be your company on your loneliest days, that can surprise, shock, and tempt you all in the same 24-hours, that only loves you more than you love it, you know you’re having the love affair of your dreams. All of a sudden that man in your life becomes second best. You mute his ringing apologies because there is just too good of a street band playing. They flip and your heart flips. You space off and forget text messages from him for the holiday lights at Rockefeller. The city is just like having the perfect man, except you can’t hold its hand. Plus, how can you hold his hand when you are fighting a million people at once among crazies and sketchy Elmo impersonators? Your city sets the world at your fingertips; it greets you with diversity and introduces you to the best of everything, including fine dining and street dining, a chatty taxi driver and the one you want to punch, and the greatest friends who you would never have known existed without it. Your love affair couldn’t be more potent (and I’m not talking about the sour steaming holes on the streets) or worth it. But with all love (so far in life) comes heartbreak.

When I moved to Manhattan in June 2010, I was single. I was finally over the Midwestern man who selfishly stole from me. He had abused my heart for many-a-months and my mental status was always day-to-day. He threw me for the loopiest loop I’ve ever experienced. Roller coaster’s tracks would break trying to compare. I let him throw me because I loved him. You all know that feeling… love, the human kind. It’s hard-core.

But when you fall in love with a city like New York, you say it’s love because everybody will forever say “I ❤ NY,” right? And you know because you own a t-shirt proving it, right? I have one too and I lived there for 13 months. It wasn’t as much of a souvenir as a little part of the city I called home. When you wear your t-shirt from your weekend visit or week-long stint, do you long for its smell, kind of like your ex’s borrowed pillow that rests next to yours? Does your heart burn like that first week with Mr. Could-Have-Been-Right? Does your stomach get butterflies? Mine does.

I left in July 2011 and for the first three months I suffered like an addict in rehab. I was crying at a drop of a scene from David Letterman. I was crying watching Gossip Girl reruns on Monday nights alone in my new, one-person, no-roommate apartment. I was screaming and honking my horn at kind, law-abiding Iowa citizens. I was twisting my words and searching the yellow pages for New York pizza. I was hoping for this departure to be a joke even though I left on my terms. I cried before bed and every morning waking up to the quietest and darkest outside in the world; I may as well have been on Pluto (Yes, the nonexistent planet). I woke up from dreams in Tribeca dancing in my favorite club. I stared lacklusterly at the pictures in my living room I dubbed my NYC room. I was in withdrawal, utterly lost. So I put on that shirt.

That was shirt like putting on my ex-boyfriend’s old baseball shirt. New York gave me that shirt. It was a gift. And I’m sure if I could dress Manhattan, I’d give it a shirt that reads, “I ❤ Jenn” and it’d wear it with honesty. Because New York loves me too. The difference between an ex-boyfriend and an ended love affair with New York City is simple: New York will take me back in a heartbeat and as far as my ex goes, he can kiss my butt… okay! my ass! (Censorship, psh.)

So yes, I’d go back to New York tomorrow because no heartache will keep me from the city that would take me back with liberty to be myself. Logic might, but then again that’s always been my downfall in relationships. The city loves me for who I am and will forever give me its all. That love affair has topped any man I’ve ever loved. Mr. (human) Right, you’ve got big shoes to fill. Try 8 million.

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I heart NY

For a year I sat in my NYC apartment bedroom with Iowa friends and family pictures plastered all of my mostly bare, white walls. I taped every card I received in the mail on one wall, covering most of it, to remind me that the miles didn’t erase me from their minds. Now I sit in my Iowa apartment living room that I dubbed my NYC room. On the walls are frames filled with scenes from the city I fell in love with, the friends that I miss daily, and the good times I will never forget. This room, just like the one in New York, is the closest I get to the life I lived before. Although I am 21 hours away from the 8 million people, the honking, impatient cars, and the jerky, delayed subways, I know that NYC will go on without me and I will go on without it. But I will never forget or lessen the love I have for it and I will go back to visit frequently.

Here are a few things in NYC that I love the most:

1) Mister Softee: Oh the gloriousness of ordering ice cream off the streets! I would never be ashamed of owning, driving, and selling this ice cream. On hot days or even moderately warm days, Mister Softee ice cream treats complete me. 

2) H&M: I know H&M’s are found in other cities as well as Mister Softee but not like NYC. An H&M can be found in most neighborhoods in NYC, 5th Ave, 2 on 34th St, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, etc etc. There is never an excuse not to pop in and look around. Affordable fashion=my kind of store. (the pic won’t turn :/)

3) Bookstores within your every reach: Working for a book publisher is great in so many ways and buying a book is easy in the city because there are Barnes & Nobles and small independent bookstores all over the city.

4) M1-5: (52 Walker Street, Tribeca) My favorite night club in the island of Manhattan. OK, that’s an understatement. It probably is my favorite dance lounge in the entire world. Maybe I didn’t branch to a lot of other dance lounges, but why when you found your perfect fit? Great happy hour and awesome tunes that project the videos on the wall. Stellar bartenders, chic digs, and DJs who take requests seriously.

5) Birch Coffee: (5 East 27th Street, Midtown) Best hot chocolate in the entire city!

6) Cheap, but excellent manis and pedis: (KiKi’s Nail Salon 3420 30th Ave, Astoria) Astoria and Queens are notorious for so many nail salons that they are cheap, but just as amazing as expensive Manhattan salons. $22 for BOTH mani and pedi = what I miss the most about the city life. My feet and hands were never so happy.

7) The Piers: Nothing beats drinking a margarita, good company, and a sunset on the Hudson River. Pier 84 is one of the most peaceful places in Manhattan. Nice bar and grill right there too.

8 ) Madison Square Park: Best park in all of Manhattan in my opinion. Plus it has Shake Shack… if you don’t know what that is, I’m sorry! Delicious shakes and burgers, hotdogs, etc. There’s a webcam on its website so you can see how long the line is. Worth the wait!

9) Hollywood Diner: (16th St and 6th Ave) The best and low-priced 24 hour diner in the city. Never too busy, always a seat open, and amazing food. Brenner cravings already!

10) Red Stairs in Times Square: Now I hardly went to Times Square because it’s too crowded, people are always tourists taking pictures, and it’ll take more time to maneuver your way through than it will to do what you came there for. BUT one of my favorite spots in the city is the red stairs. If you want to take it all in, sit here.

11) Sights to see: No matter how long you’ve lived in this city, you never run out of interesting places to see and things to do. I was there for a year and didn’t see half of it. Never a dull moment here.

Central Park

Statue of Liberty

Rockefeller or Empire State Building

Strawberry Fields

Brooklyn Bridge

Times Square

Notable TV streets

Late Night TV Shows

Grand Central Station

Giant Disney stores and toy stores

And that’s only to name a few great things in NYC. It truly is one of the greatest places on earth, even though it’s loud and smelly. I love you, New York, and that’s the truth!

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Who says? I say.

By Jennifer Dryden – © All rights reserved.

Who says that you should have a clear future at 23? Who says you need to decide all of these big decisions right now? Who says you’re a failure if you move home to live in your childhood bedroom that still has glow-in-dark stars on the ceiling? Who says you’ll never escape the small town Iowa life if you go back? Who says you can’t have your mom make your dinners for more than a month after you move home? Who says not doing your own laundry will make you lazy? Who says people will judge you as a failure when leaving NYC? Who says these things? Who?

I say.

I say that I should have a clear future at 23, that I should be able to decide where my heart lies, and that living off my mom into my mid-twenties verifies my failure status. I say that I worry about never escaping the small town Iowa life and I say that people will judge me as a failure for leaving NYC, the imaginative and tangible glamorous life.

And I will still say this as I tear down the glow-in-the-dark stars from my childhood bedroom’s ceiling among dust bunnies, letting them fall as they will. The sky will be falling from my fingertips as I pluck each star from its longstanding place in the world. My big city independence will be falling with them.

How do you pack up the best year of your life in two 50-pound suitcases and a carry-on without tears? How do you hold your head high and smile at the airport security guard while he checks your still-Iowa ID and asks, “Headed home? How did you like the city?” like it was a week’s vacation? How do you respond without feeling like a failure?

I will lie.

“I loved my time in the city. Thanks.” As he nods and allows me to pass him onto the conveyor belts, I’m screaming at him on the inside, telling him that the city will always reside in my heart and for every Gossip Girl episode and late night talk show I watch from now on will fill my stomach with sickly butterflies and an yearning for my life when I was 23.

New York City has changed me forever. It gave me the confidence in myself to push my limits and it tried me with homesickness that I pushed through because this city was my dream. It awoke me aggressively with car honks and sirens for the first two months, then I slowly learned to tune it out and I dubbed that as finally becoming a New Yorker. Although I never changed this ID you are holding right now, Sir, to a New York ID I have changed every other identification about myself to this state, this city, this state of mind. The first time I twisted my voice and a New York accent shot out on accident, I smiled because I fit in a little more. The first time I talked back to a taxi driver my backbone grew and my fear subsided. Intimidation? What’s that? I made it without pepper spray clenched in white knuckles. I interned for a corporate company and contributed. I passed fights where the NYPD had to interfere and survived. I danced at the greatest lounge in Tribeca and swore this was where I belonged. I made friends from all over the country and cried when I hugged them goodbye. I lived month-to-month to fulfill my dream and even though I’m standing in front of you now with this smile on my face, I want to break and yell at you that this was my city for the past year. Not yours, mine.

So I smile, and I say these things and I lie. If I didn’t consider myself a failure for leaving this limitless city, these lifesaving friends, and this dream, I’d be hiding from my true feelings. I won’t regret leaving because it’s what I have to do, but there’s no law that says I have to like it.

Sitting in the middle of Central Park, taking it all in.

This new Kate Voegele song hits home. 

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