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Mount Creative Writers

My Box of Chocolates

Chelsea Baranoski

(7/2011) "My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what youíre gonna get." Forrest Gumpís momma was right. Life is like a box of chocolates. When I graduated from Mount St. Maryís University in 2010, I had no idea where life would take me. When I graduated, I opened up a box of chocolates called Life. Would I get the chocolate covered cherry, the ooey gooey caramel, or the coconut cream? Did I accept the right job for me? What would it be like to live back home in the ĎDena again? What would the social scene be like away from my cozy college campus? All of these questions whirled through my head.

A few days after I graduated from the Mount, I began work at the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections. My work at the Board of Elections was great; I got a lot of writing and editing experience working on Election Judge Manuals, specimen ballots, and meeting minutes. However, I knew I could not spend forever there. I needed a permanent job with benefits.

"That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe Iíd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe Iíd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe Iíd just run across the great state of Alabama. And thatís what I did. I ran clear across Alabama."

Okay, so I didnít run across Alabama like Forrest Gump. I didnít run in the Baltimore Marathon. I didnít even run to the end of my road. I did participate in the Race to Find a New Job. I ran after job post after job post with cover letter, resume, and references in hand. Ran after interview after interview in a power dress and high heels. Almost every night when I came home from working at the Board of Elections, I would scope out Career Builder and job openings with the State of Maryland. It took one year of running (I was definitely in shape for the job market by then) until I landed my current job.

Not long after Thanksgiving 2011, I began my job as a proofreader/transcriber at Free State Reporting, Inc., a court reporting business in Annapolis, Maryland. My first day at Free State was hard. I was so used to knowing exactly what I was doing at the Board of Elections. Now, I had to learn, learn, and learn some more! I had to learn the correct formatting for National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) court transcripts, the art of the double dash to separate thoughts, the meaning of courtroom terminology, how to scan, tab, PDF, and bookmark exhibits, how to bind transcripts, create invoices, etc.

Now, I am 7 months into my job and I am still learning new things. I recently became the account manager for the Department of Health and Human Services transcripts. This means that I am the main contact person between Free State Reporting, Inc. and DHHS. DHHS sends me audio recordings from hearings that need to be transcribed. I assign transcribers the audio and proofread their work before sending it out with the courier for delivery in Washington, D.C. I create invoices for DHHS and assure that the transcribers I assign to the hearings get paid. Soon, I will receive another new assignment: Department of Labor solicitation office transcripts. More learning is ahead in this race!

I am thankful that I ran, and ran, and ran like Forrest. I may not have won a ribbon or a shiny medal, but I did win a job and amazing, thoughtful coworkers. To all who are looking for a job, just keep on running! You may find yourself running clear across the United States, but it will all be worth it when you cross the finish line.

*****

In addition to a new job, I have also taken up a new hobby: swing dancing.

"You know itís funny what a young man recollects? ĎCause I donít remember beiní born. I donít recall what I got for my first Christmas and I donít know when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember the first time I heard the sweetest voice in the wide world."

Just like Forrest Gump vividly remembers Jennyís voice, I vividly remember my first swing dance. It was March 2011. I walked through the doors of the Holy Grounds Youth Center at the Severna Park Community Center wearing a magenta dress and not knowing a soul in the room. I was nervous, so nervous in fact, that my body was shaking. I sat down on the sofa and talked with two girls, one of whom had also never been to a swing dance before. Thatís good, I thought to myself. Iím not the only one. And these people are friendly! Yes! Craig and Susanne, the Gottaswing instructors, gathered everyone in a circle for a beginner swing dance lesson. I stumbled over the triple steps, rock steps, and tuck turns, but thankfully, my partners were understanding. They could tell that I was nervous, commenting on my shaking body and telling me to relax.

After completing my first swing lesson, I was able to test my new skills on the dance floor. I thought it was great that even though I was new and didnít know the swingout from the Charleston, the leads (gents) still asked me to dance. They introduced themselves and talked while we were dancing, making me feel more comfortable, even though Iím sure I still had the nervous shakes. I remember one lead bringing me over to Craig for a dance so that Craig could help me feel more comfortable with swing dancing. Later, Susanne tried to teach me the swing steps. Triple step, triple step, rock step. My brain knew what the order of the steps should be, but my feet refused to cooperate. Needless to say, I left my first swing dance with a flyer for swing lessons.

A lot has changed since that cool March day. Now, I canít imagine life without swing dancing. "Momma says they was magic shoes. They could take me anywhere." My magic shoes are a little different than Forrestís. Theyíre my dance shoes. In a few months time, they have been everywhere, from the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park to Mobtown Ballroom in Baltimore to where it all began, the Holy Grounds Youth Center in Severna Park.

Numerous swing classes later, I can feel my swing dancing improving each time my herringbone shoe hits the hardwood. When I worked at the Board of Elections, one of my coworkers and I practiced swingouts (tricky 8-count footwork) in the lunchroom. I stumbled all over the place, but tried my best to take my coworkerís advice. A month ago, I saw my coworker at Mobtown Ballroom in Baltimore and he told me that Iíve really improved. That really meant a lot to me, especially since he encouraged me to try swing dancing. Sometimes I still have trouble making my arms as loose as noodles and my body still tends to tense up when I go into a dip, but I definitely feel a lot more confident on the dance floor than I once was. I hope that one day I will be able to dance in a jam, pulling off the flawless swingouts and fast, smooth footwork that I so admire.

Swing dancing is what energizes me. Makes me come alive. The big band music. The smooth hardwood floor. The turns and dips. The twirly dresses and Sinatra fedoras. The friendly, welcoming faces. The social atmosphere especially keeps me coming to more and more swing dances. The social scene reminds me a lot of the Mount. At the Mount, I saw the same faces everyday and everyone was so friendly, saying "Hi, how are you?" and opening doors. Indeed, my "home" swing venue, the Holy Grounds Youth Center, is a lot like my MOUNTain home. It is a place where everyone knows your name. It is one of the few places that I can relax and let go of all of my worries. Just like I found a home at the Mount, I found a home on the hardwood. I have met people of all backgrounds on the dance floor and not a day goes by that I donít thank the Lord for the swing friends that have become more like a swing family.

*****

A home at Free State Reporting, Inc. A home on the dance floor. Now, I can also say that I am back home with the Emmitsburg News Journal. Like Forrest and Jenny, we go together "like peas and carrots." You can expect to see more articles from me in the future. Which reminds me, I was supposed to remind you all about a little something besides my life. It was about a war. Nope, not the Vietnam War that Forrest Gump proudly served in. Not the Civil War. The War of 1812.

The "forgotten war" is celebrating its 200th anniversary and Baltimore is at the heart of it. In June, Baltimore hosted a "Sailabration" to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. declaration of war against Great Britain. Tall ships from around the world lined Baltimoreís Inner Harbor and the Blue Angels soared across the city sky, performing electrifying stunts. More celebrations will occur in September 2014, when ten days of reenactments, fireworks, parades, and a maritime festival mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and Francis Scott Keyís Star Spangled Banner.

In the meantime, be sure to plan a trip to Fort McHenry to commemorate this grand event in our nationís history. After all, the defense of this local fort inspired a national anthem. You may also wish to visit Marylandís Historical Society to catch a glimpse of Francis Scott Keyís original draft of the Star Spangled Banner. As Marylanderís, we should be proud that Baltimore played a significant role in helping America to become "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

And in the words of Forrest Gump, "thatís all I have to say about that."

Chelsea was the 2010 recipient of the Mountís
William Heath Creative Writing Award

Read other articles by Chelsea Baranoski