Celebrating My First Anniversary of Writing ‘Wandering the Lines’

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by Sherry Toh |

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The morning of Dec. 4, 2020, my life changed forever.

My best friend, fellow columnist, and work wife, Brianna Albers, burst into our private Discord channel. “YOU SHOULD APPLY,” she yelled at me through the messaging platform. Attached was the link to the application form for a columnist position at SMA News Today.

I was hesitant. The chronic neuropathy in my scalp was acting up. I didn’t know if I could meet the twice-monthly deadlines. I was home-schooled, without a degree or any work experience in advocacy. In contrast, the SMA News Today columnists all had multiple writing and advocacy credits. I felt I’d be out of place, and that my writing wasn’t up to par.

I tried to sum my thoughts up by telling Brie, “All I do is sit in front of my laptop and play video games, then write fan fiction inspired by said video games.”

Nevertheless, Brie was undeterred in her encouragement. “YOU WOULD BE SO GOOD, THOUGH,” she wrote back. Again, in all caps. That’s Brie for you when she believes wholeheartedly you can do something. (She’s usually right.)

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My SMA Friends Remind Me That It’s OK to Rest

So, in between managing my chronic neuropathy and using video games to cope with the pain-related anxiety, I threw together a writing sample and a résumé. Why not? I needed a job that paid fairly and allowed me to work remotely, and as a bonus, I’d get to be colleagues with my best friend.

I was late in submitting my application, unfortunately. By the time I got my files together, Ari Anderson was hired for the position. I got the news on Dec. 15, the eve of my 22nd birthday. I was disappointed I missed another opportunity because of my health, but I wasn’t upset. Ari was a great writer and an active advocate in the SMA community, who could bring in more traffic for SMA News Today. He deserved the spot, and I was happy for him.

Brie was perhaps more disappointed than I was. After she received the go-ahead from BioNews, the parent company of SMA News Today, she told me I could still send my details in and that she’d even pass them along herself, in the event another columnist position opened up. I shrugged and handed my files over, but thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

Then, on Jan. 8, 2021, Brie sent an update: “Hi babe! [BioNews’ director of columns] said he emailed you about the columnist position but hasn’t heard back.”

I scrambled to open my email. Sure enough, somehow deposited in the junk folder, was an email from Brad Dell, then the director of columns, requesting to interview me for a columnist position.

Brad decided to take a chance on me. My first column was published on Jan. 22. This month, “Wandering the Lines” turns 1.

Where shall we wander next?

I didn’t plan to stay with SMA News Today for more than a year. My plan was to work until autumn, when I believed I’d begin studying for my degree. Then my health and my family’s finances took a hit early last year. I needed anchors during the storm, so I decided to stay.

Looking back, I wouldn’t want my hiring process to have been any different; it was like fate saying I’ll end up where I’m meant to be, regardless of the obstacles before me.

The origin story of my column is akin to me and the path it set me on: twisting, winding, and curious. As I wrote in my introductory column: “I’ve always existed in a state of uncertainty and questioning. I’ve wandered along lines into the wonderful, terrifying unknown, trying to figure myself out.”

Much has changed in the past year. I moved to a new place, I realized I might be genderqueer and started using she/they pronouns, I fell in love, and I branched out into advocacy, gaming, and political journalism, paths I’d thought I could only explore after earning my bachelor’s degree. And those are just the highlights. Through it all, “Wandering the Lines” provided me a place to process my experiences and share them with the disability community.

I don’t know what’s next. It’s impossible to know one’s future if the future is always in flux. One thing I know for certain is that I am indebted to Brie, Brad, my manager, Halsey Blocher, BioNews’ editors and staff, my loved ones, and the readership of my column.

Thank you for the lessons in the past year, and for giving me an anniversary to celebrate. Cheers to many more.

***

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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