Who is Jack Trades, Master of Arts?

Introducing the new face of my blogging re-brand: a nom de plume which began as a play on words in a social media bio.

It began as a jokey Facebook bio – “Jack of all trades, Master of Arts, in creative writing.” The quip was part of a larger content marketing overhaul; after all, when I first launched this blog site, I was a Bachelor of Arts in film journalism from Colorado State University Fort Collins, and the posts here reflected it. I wasn’t prepared for how comprehensive the professional creative writing program would be at the University of Denver when I declared my concentration in creative nonfiction there – I didn’t even comprehend what creative nonfiction was, misunderstanding it as a “journalistic” genre when, in fact, it’s more “literary” than that (but no less fact-based). As I practiced fiction, poetry, and drama in my core classes and learned how to translate those devices into my own memoirs and personal essays, I broadened my horizons beyond the limitations of critical film theory and happened upon the inspiration to forge an online community for all creative writers where we can celebrate the power of our literature to leave our readers more compassionate, empathic, humane, and enriched than we found them.

And so when I was struck with a rare bout of humor, “Jack of all trades, MA” evolved into “Jack Trades” in much the same way Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” turned into a stage name for Lady Gaga.

After all, I plan to write about memoirs on my professional Facebook, personal essays on Instagram, short stories on Twitter, novels on LinkedIn, scripts on YouTube, poems on TikTok, and “revolutionary” works on WordPress’s very own Anchor, a podcast-hosting platform. All the while, these series will contribute to the output of nonfiction.

Speaking of Lady Gaga, a Warholian pop performance artist who embraces her creativity as though it’s life itself, isn’t it somewhat dystopian that content creators have to become their brands now in order to market their texts across the post-Zuckerberg multimedia landscape? According to late-stage capitalism, the difference between our “bodies” and our “bodies of work” is virtually indistinguishable.

Doesn’t it behoove us, then, to approach our own bodies with enough love to salvage the Hell-world around them?

And that’s who Jack Trades, Master of Arts, is.

Do you really want a failed biology student for your doctor who’s only in it for the money?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Class of 2022 make up “the most in-demand college graduates to enter the job market in years.” Will I be one of the lucky ones?

I pulled out my phone this morning to check the time when I saw the notification from LinkedIn. As recently as yesterday, a recruiter had messaged me with a job opportunity, only to reject me minutes after I submitted the application. Hoping for a different outcome, I opened the app and found a headline from LinkedIn News there to greet me, announcing that “new grads” are “in-demand.”

It was a “different outcome” – just not as positive as I would have hoped.

The LinkedIn News piece is excerpted from The Wall Street Journal, which reports that “sixteen percent of employers surveyed in March and April said they’d double up on new graduate hires this year compared to 2021.” What’s more, “fifty-three percent of new grads with job offers said starting salaries surpassed their expectations, reaching six figures in some industries.”

Part of me, of course, embraced this story as welcome news for the Biden Administration, still repeatedly criticized for their handling of the economy even though their progressive policies are demonstrably leading the United States away from a post-Trump COVID recession.

However, I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2015, when Joe Biden was Vice President, and I expect to earn my master’s this December. Unless I find a day job in my field by the end of the year, 2023 will mark an eight-year resume gap for this writer.

It’s not from a lack of trying. As an undergraduate student at Colorado State University Fort Collins, I worked as many as four jobs at a time to build up my portfolio. One of these positions was an editor’s role I filled in less than a year. During the three years of my Bachelor of Arts candidacy, I earned two merit-based scholarships for my journalism, and placed in a national competition as many times.

Employers took note. My clips snagged me as many interviews in 2015 as my online profiles snagged dates, but I must make a poor first impression, because it wasn’t until months after graduation that I found a job and a boyfriend, neither of which were my “type.”

Yes, I shake hands with a limp wrist, but only because I’m gay and gender-queer. No, I don’t make consistent eye contact, but only because I have five diagnosed mental illnesses, four of which are protected classes of neurodivergent disabilities. But shouldn’t a hiring manager recommend you based on your qualifications, not whether they like the cut of your jib?

Even though he’s no Bernie Sanders, I charge every writer in this community to advocate for fewer discriminatory staffing practices under Biden. Climb up on your platform like it’s a soapbox and amplify your voice like it’s a megaphone.

For as long as interviewers shuffle certain CVs to the top of the pile because their fraternity brothers and sorority sisters memorize the right secret handshakes, then “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” are just so many more buzzwords.

A Companion Piece to “A Personal Update”

The world changed during my hiatus from this blog site, and not for the better. With this fresh start, I ask myself: what can I do to improve life with the posts I publish here?

Content Warning: Sexual violence; intimate partner abuse; mental illness; childhood trauma; drug and alcohol misuse

Before Friday, April 4, 2022, I had no way of knowing how much lower my life could get from where it already was. I was naive enough to believe I’d put the worst behind me with the deaths of my parents when I was twelve, or breaking up with my abusive ex-boyfriend in 2017. Tragically for me, though, the trauma from their collective narcissism and psychopathy shattered me in ways that outlived my respective relationships with them all.

And only in returning to this blog site can I rebuild my identity as a writer.

Who I am now is not the same as I was in the hours leading up to midnight (and beyond) on February 4 and Saturday, February 5, though. How do I reconcile a survivor of street crime with a film journalist? As a (now) trained memoirist, isn’t it ethically incumbent upon me to share that process of rewriting my life story with everybody else in this community, and resolve it enough to bring hope into this dying world like only creative writing can do?

As a content creator, I may lose followers for this pivot in artistic focus, but if even one reader walks away from me a more inspired and enlightened person than they were before, then I will die a successful man. For everyone who stays with me, and everyone who joins us, I promise you: I will summon all my talents and enrich you no less than the finest works of literature.

You have my word.

I.

Other than excusing myself from work over a nail I found in my tire the night before (and then ignoring the call that it was ready to pick up from the dealership so I could raise another glass, or two, or three, to my coworker’s nineteenth birthday), nothing felt atypical about February 4 – or, at least, any more atypical than since I quit my… well… atypical antipsychotics near the end of 2021, or my antidepressants in January. Between an internship, a full-time overnight shift, and my Master of Arts program in professional creative nonfiction writing at the University of Denver, I simply didn’t have enough motivation left to split my Abilify tablets as prescribed.

As for the Prozac, I was so manic (without realizing I was manic, since my doctor failed to inform me about a bipolar I diagnosis from my therapist), I thought it meant I didn’t need an SSRI anymore. I attributed these high moods to my dialectical behavior therapy group for the treatment of borderline personality disorder and assumed, like Alexander DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), “I was cured, alright.”

Meanwhile, I texted my friends and family dozens of paragraphs at a time when I wasn’t staying up for twenty-four hours at a stretch to compose epic blank verse in Spanish.

Friday the 4th was no different – or, at least, not at first. I spent the day pacing the house and emailing leaders at my full-time employer about what I suspected to be a grand conspiracy to fire me for calling out or otherwise retaliate against me for speaking out.

Little did I know, I also lived with paranoia related to a disabling diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

My psychiatrist’s office, when they mailed me my bills, inputted a diagnosis code of generalized anxiety disorder. According to my licensed professional counselor, doctors normally diagnose new clients with broad strokes like GAD or major depression (which I have also been diagnosed with), then zero in on trauma pathologies like PTSD or BPD. But in this “new” normal, my prescriber was treating me for anxiety instead of bipolar, which is tantamount to taking Benadryl for a root canal.

To cope with the realities of these persecutory delusions, I treated myself to an otherwise “typical” Friday night in downtown Denver. Having blacked out more than once in my past (perhaps due to my bipolar hippocampus), I cut myself off after two strong drinks.

However, as fate would have it, moderation wasn’t to save me that evening.

I should have stayed home (and sober) outright.

Without rendering a painful lived experience for far too many of you, or titillating the wrong crowd with sensational details (more on that later)…

…I was date-raped, mugged, and left for dead in the gutter.

When I came to at sunrise following what I could have mistaken for a series of lucid nightmares, I found myself wandering a homeless encampment in subzero temperatures, which made it hurt to swallow or breathe. My feet were wet, my black shoes gone white from the salt they used to melt the slush, and my iPhone 11 Pro Max was missing. My jaw ached as though my teeth had smashed together, and I still don’t know where the scrape on my elbow came from, or why my assailants didn’t take my wallet or my car.

Maybe I fought them off.

Or maybe I negotiated with them – a thousand-dollar phone, freely given and easily traded for crack, Fentanyl, meth, and whatever else they smoked so openly in this part of town.

Either way, whatever they drugged me with suffocated an already sleep-deprived, hung-over, and traumatized mind. I drove back to the shelter in search of my phone, offering rides about town in exchange for leads, each prostitute and drug dealer ripping me off worse than the last.

By the time I gave up and returned home that afternoon, the sunglasses, gloves, and charger I kept in my console were all taken.

It is not with great vengeance and furious anger, but rather overwhelming sadness, that I report this tale of a Colorado man so desperate for a pair of winter gloves that he swindled me out of mine when I was at my most suggestible and uninhibited.

That was just fourteen or fifteen hours of my life.

For him, it is his life – if he’s even still alive this many weeks later.

That taste of his world is enough for me not to rest until I have saved all people I can from his same fate, before I meet my own. Growing up in Denver, I can remember walking down the street without coming across a single tent pitched on the side of the road.

Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic and not one of us is as far removed from those looming alleyways as we comfort ourselves to believe.

One may be forgiven for wondering how I, Jack Trades, Master of Arts, would effect this change, and the answer is that not even I know how, or even if I ever will. I am only a multimedia artist, after all, screaming into the void that is the information superhighway. My ACT percentiles ought to attest that this is all I know.

Even though I could have just as easily journaled privately about this event, I have instead decided to heal in front of you (whoever you are), for it is the world that is sick, not I, and you and I are shuffling off this same mortal coil together. I am but a symptom of a far larger illness that drove anonymous strangers to force their grim perspective onto me. By healing myself so publicly, my ambition is to do the same for everybody else here.

Through the structural aestheticization of the larger meanings these words represent, may we all come to know a more beautiful life than the one described above.

II.

Since my third-grade teacher, Mister Hardy, introduced our class to none other than The Hardy Boys, the written word has served as the currency for my borderline dissociations, and I do mean all manner of the narrative arts – even my favorite TV and video game characters accompanied me in my most maladaptive daydreams while my late parents screamed at each other for hours upon hours.

When you’re a child who hasn’t learned to fend for himself yet, sometimes the only escape is a fantasy.

After a fashion, it wasn’t enough merely to consume such media. From my earliest fan fiction to my latest homage, creating this media helped me to experience it, or come as close as I ever would. As with the futility of a lover’s embrace, writing would never truly make this superior world any more than pulling someone close will keep them with you forever, but isn’t fleeting pleasure better than none at all?

And isn’t the miracle of art that it reconstructs the truth of these moments for us to revisit over and over, even as time washes the rest away? Isn’t that why the greatest art offers up something new whenever you revisit it, as if for the first?

So with all the expansive limitations of a savant, I exorcised my dream world out of the my body and onto the page, where any sighted and English-literate eye could read and manifest it into their own imagination and memory, as if it were real – real to them in ways not real to me, yes, but no less honest for that.

And these aren’t just starstruck musings designed to frame a half-scriptural catharsis which may strike the skeptic as absurd in the face of mob violence – these claims have scientific backing. University College teaches us the best writing empowers itself to simulate visceral and verisimilitudinous reactions at times strong enough to effect social or even physiological change. (It bears emphasizing as well that Poets & Writers listed the doctorate degree in creative writing at my graduate school as the top of its kind in a 2012 ranking).

Indeed, one need look no further than near every reformist movement throughout history to study the political and cultural capital of everything from Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to the tweets that catalyzed the Arab Spring. How would your quality of life measure up without the muckraking of Ida Tarbell to break up the Rockefeller energy monopoly, or Upton Sinclair to regulate your produce? What kind of a life expectancy could you hope to have?

More personally, writing has saved me from my own life-threatening borderline personality disorder. Dialectical behavior therapy groups encourage you to keep “diary cards” between sessions, documenting your mental wellness. For a creative nonfiction writer, these can serve as plot points in a memoir, helping you chart the path of your life’s work toward a more mindful nirvana.

Thanks to this therapeutic journaling, no new scars have arrived to join the ones already decorating my wrists since – I’ll admit – February 2022. Yes, I relapsed after my attack (who wouldn’t?), and I’m still not the same person I was before, nor will I ever be again. As I grow more sure of myself, though, I become that much louder a voice for my own mind, where the same words that trigger the involuntary flashbacks in my fight-or-flight-or-freeze response will drown out in my deafening advocacy for a brighter tomorrow.

Which then begs the question: how do I spell out the calculus behind that more prosperous and harmonious future for all, where people need not harm each other for survival, believably enough that you’ll fight by my side to build it?

III.

At Colorado State University Fort Collins, where I worked toward my bachelor’s degree in journalism from 2012 to 2015, I minored in critical film theory. This course load lay in keeping with high school student’s a Lady Gaga obsession which translated into a fascination with Warholian postmodernism.

It only made sense for such a school of thought to resonate with a closeted queer youth who idled away the hours pretending he was a hero in one of his favorite stories.

In any case, these classes taught me to approach popular culture with more creative remove. Who do certain images and narratives benefit, and who do they exploit in a white supremacistic capitalist patriarchy which supports the billionaire class on the backs of the global majority? What can I, as the author of my life with an upper-Middle Class safety net to fall back on, do to spread the wealth of my own white male American privilege?

I don’t presume to know, not with a lifetime of socioeconomic blindspots to unlearn, but what I can say is that revolution is possible when a borderline personality survives something worse than his childhood. If, for all my empathy deficits toward the ones I devalue, I can come out on the other side of this more compassionate and not less, then a kinder lifestyle is within grasp, too, even in this day and age. We might exist in the logical extreme of post-Cold War Americanism, with predatory property managers holding stolen land hostage and ransoming it out to the highest bidders, but even while a closet robber baron like Vladimir Putin makes a devastating land grab in Ukraine to restore a fallen empire, I shall meet war with grace.

This isn’t to excuse my victimizers. For them to atone, they must turn themselves in for what they did to me, take that time to reflect on it, then spend the rest of their days investing the work to make it right with the communities they targeted in me (“atonement” differing widely from “forgiveness” or “redemption,” mind you). To borrow a DBT term, however, I “radically accept” my memory of them, and all the larger contexts at play behind it.

No, what these people are guilty of – some of them BIPOC, some of them LGBTQIA+, some of them women, most of them mentally ill, and all of them poor – is past forgiving or redeeming. Regardless, they had their reasons for doing it, even if those reasons weren’t “justifications.” We hold an enemy in common, not with any individual, but with the institutions of oppression and abuse certain individuals prop up.

Before any of them can atone, they shall either live dismantling such legacies, or die defending them.

My BPD is a family heirloom passed down from as many generations back as the German great-grandfather who fought on the losing side of World War I, if not even farther. It is as systemic to me as Trumpism is to the same country of religious extremists founded upon a declaration of independence wherein Thomas Jefferson falsely accused King George III of racist conspiracy theories. It is true I have rejected my BPD in much the same way as the United States rejected Donald Trump himself, but it is still an ideology I am cursed to rebel against whenever I am reminded of the first twenty-six years of my life, before I ever enrolled in a DBT group.

Which brings me to why I declined to involve the police, because while I am aware violent criminals are at risk to re-offend, I, their victim, am not to blame if they choose that path. The police only would have made their situation that much more miserable, brutalizing and rounding up whomever they didn’t murder at the outset. What net positive would have been gained from ruining even more lives when the police did nothing for me at the time I needed them most, anyway?

Rather, I choose to be proactive and not reactionary, preventative and not regressive, and in so doing, I represent the antagonists of this drama humanely, painting them in the same shades of gray that color me. Of what worth would any other essay be in our already anti-homeless society? Not only is violent crime among strangers statistically rarer than it was ten years ago, but Colorado’s economy of alcohol consumption, rewarding microbreweries with the same gusto as fossil fuel industries, cultured my downfall more so than my unhoused neighbors.

No, I will find my justice somewhere this never would have taken place to begin with, and I will set that scene between these lines.

IV.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, my friends and I went out celebrating in Old Town Fort Collins. ‘Twas half a year before I would sample my first drink at twenty-two (a glass of liquid marijuana), so I was the designated driver, still too scared of becoming an alcoholic like my parents to so much as try a sip, but not so scared that my abuser wouldn’t talk me into it.

Fittingly, I first met him the next day.

Anyway, a couple brawled with each other at one of the bars, so the bouncers chased the rest of us outside, our breaths rising in front of our faces to the stars above.

My friends and I were alone on a side street, looking for the car, when we encountered the couple from the bar – a tall Black man and a blonde white woman. The man was slurring at somebody on his phone when I made eye contact with him. Then, he started yelling at me, but with the phone still pressed to his ear, disorienting me enough with his nonsensical gibberish and divided attention that my fight-or-flight-or-freeze response paralyzed me with intrusive thoughts about my upbringing. His partner kept her hand on his chest, holding him back whilst imploring us to “get the fuck out of here.” My drunken friends couldn’t move between us fast enough, and no sooner did he pocket his phone than he was throwing his arms up in my face.

This ain’t Boulder, son!” he screamed, the whites of his eyes crowning out of their sockets. “You in a different world now, son!”

For the record, I hadn’t been to Boulder but once, for a job interview.

The night flashed red and blue with siren lights from officers responding to the bar fight. I could have cried for help at any time. As soon as they saw him with blondie, they would have laid him flat on his ass.

Because I feared the pale white ghosts of my parents more than I did a Black man who had a few too many in a college town, I silently stood my ground until he backed down.

Again, I’m not the poster boy for anti-racism – I was simply too petrified to run, and that’s all there is to it. But if there’s anything to be learned from my inaction, it’s that the police would have stained that man’s record at best, whether I ultimately needed any protecting from him or not.

How many of you have been fortunate enough to overdo it on a holiday without it defining the rest of your life?

I know I wouldn’t be here spinning these yarns for you if not for the freedom afforded me to indulge in a “blank slate” (or is it a “blank page?”) after February 4. I can’t speak for anybody else, but for the world in my own head, it knows now a closure singular to the experience of closing the book on one chapter and opening it to the next, which is the magic of creative nonfiction – delivering literary transcendence to the facts of life.

What’s more, the cries for help in this essay, the pleas for my needs to be met, will reach all of you when nobody did anything to help me in Denver, having witnessed just as bad, if not worse, the night before, and the night after, too.

In the community we forge together, that weekend will go down as just another story.

Monday, April 11, 2022 – Sunday, April 17, 2022