It takes work to be a creative. Work to develop a creative skill, yes. But often, it also means work to financially support a passion, the thing we do outside of the work week that refuels our spirit and stretches other parts of our brain. There are of course those rare few artists whose livelihoods are also their artistic lives. The majority, however, wear multiple hats, finding employment and helping others as teachers, tax collectors, software developers, librarians, sales associates, the list goes on. All this is to say: beware! the artists are among you.
Some artists even (gasp!) help our community as employees in our local county government. During this time of uncertainty, our local government employees are working especially hard to support our county’s safety and sense of community. The Orange County Arts Commission, in collaboration with the Department of Community Relations and the Orange County Public Library, thus wants to celebrate our Orange County employees who also hold creative passions, hobbies, and backgrounds. This month, we’re starting with a feature on our amazingly talented local creative writers, who just happen to also be our local government employees. Meet Christopher, Tonya, Todd, and Emilie.
When Christopher was a teenager, he loved writing what he calls “nonsense.” It wasn’t until he took a poetry course in college, however, that he began writing poems. From that course, he found a community of writers who fueled his interest in poetry, a group with whom he’s still in touch to this day. A few years later, Christopher went on to pursue and earn an MFA in Poetry from Minnesota State University at Mankato, where he served as a Poetry Editor for the Blue Earth Review. Now, his writing has appeared in an impressive array of publications such as Copper Nickel, Juked, The Rumpus, and Beloit Poetry Journal.
It’s no surprise that interest and talent in writing shapes Christopher’s job as a library assistant. He’s able to connect with and support readers searching for new material, and he enjoys involvement with putting together the library’s literary events. He particularly recommends (post quarantine-times, of course) attending a reading by Hillsborough’s poet laureate Dee Stribling. Christopher is always excited when there’s a chance to talk with patrons about what poetry they’re interested in and reading, and he particularly appreciates the ways in which his library work helps him connect with the local literary community.
Deputy Tax Collector
For Tonya, creative writing was an important part of her childhood and adolescence to which she has recently found herself returning. Tonya’s always had an active imagination. When she was twelve, her aunt had a computer that Tonya loved to use to write what Tonya jokingly calls “crazy stories” as a way to kill time. She enjoyed then sharing her stories in school art contests, and she always placed well. Additionally, Tonya wrote poems, which she was drawn towards as a way of processing and navigating emotions. She finds writing poetry helps her uncover how she feels about certain subjects and events.
Now a days, Tonya continues to find comfort and fun in creative writing. She has acted in plays and in improv, and she enjoys writing play scripts, poetry, and short stories. She finds that her interest in creative writing shapes her job as a deputy tax collector for Orange County, that the skills she uses for writing fiction help her to realize that anything is possible. Tonya’s currently at work on a story about a magical sword passed down through generations, capable of teleporting those who touch it.
Community Relations for County Manager’s Department
Todd McGee has been writing stories since first grade when his teacher loved his short story “Big Round Johnny.” He began his writing career in earnest while a student at N.C. State University, where he was a sportswriter and then sports editor for the student newspaper, Technician. He has also covered sports for the Associated Press, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, and various magazines and websites. A poker enthusiast, he self-published his first book, Tournament Poker for Recreational Players, after playing online poker for almost a decade.
Todd discovered creative writing and what he calls “the craft of writing” in particular about five years ago. At that time, he began writing a novel, completed a first draft, and found community through an online workshop group called CritiqueCircle.com. Todd finds that his exploration of creative writing has bled into his work life. By applying creative writing techniques to tasks like press releases, spicing up the language and enhancing their readability, he finds he’s able to more fully connect with audiences.
Todd published his first novel, ‘Tis the Season for Dreams, in October 2019. He recently published his second novel, A Tomorrow Worth Living For, just this April. It is a historical fiction piece set in Occupied France during World War II. The book was chosen by The History Quill for its April Bookclub promotions.
Arts Commission Assistant
Emilie Menzel began writing poems in 2nd grade. After successfully convincing her younger sister that leprechauns were real through a poem, she’s been writing ever since. Emilie graduated with honors in English from Wellesley College and received her MFA in Poetry from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Emilie has taught writing at the university level, has awards for her poetry and fiction, and has nearly a dozen published works by Black Warrior Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Tupelo Quarterly, among others. While the literary arts may be her primary focus, her creative eye applies to the visual arts as well. Her involvement in projects that pair the literary and visual arts led her to create The Gretel, a haunting digital museum featuring “the slightly wild and folkloric, the metamorphosed and transfigured, the world of slant angle and jagged line.”
In her role with the arts commission, Emilie is able to utilize her literary and visual talent to help promote the creative community of Orange County. A background in the arts is a necessary prerequisite for a career in the arts. It helps to understand the way creative minds work and the challenges artists face, and it provides the passion and fuel to work in a field that is often misunderstood. Being an artist herself, she inherently understood the commission’s role as a support agency for artists and the work that needs to be done. Emilie writes monthly stories about local artists and arts happenings, designs graphics to promote ongoing projects, and helps support the local arts community.
To our Orange County employees: Are you a painter? A musician? A professional balloon animal sculptor? Whether a hobbyist or pro, if you have a creative outlet and are willing to share, we want to hear from you. Take our survey here.