About Kellie

Kellie Underhill Tybee Island, Savannah GA January 2010

Here I am on Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia on January 18th in 2010. I didn’t know it but by this time the next day I would be married to my now ex-husband.

These “About” things can be really hard to write … what might you want to know about me? Why are you even here?

The Short Version

Writer, editor, daughter, girlfriend, ex-wife, aunt, sister, wine connoisseur, newly vegan, independent, Gemini, creative, adventurous, hetero, dog lover, diverse, graceful yet clumsy, shy yet outgoing, one-time thrill seeker, part-time minimalist, art appreciator, cook-in-training, spontaneous, in love with . . . my boyfriend, my work, my family, my life.

The Long Version

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I won my first contest in fourth grade. Mostly because up until that time I really hadn’t found anything else I was very good at doing. I was a shy, introverted, deep thinking, melancholic child. My handwriting was messy. I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler. I was always the last person picked for team sports. I flunked Mathematics because I distrusted anything where there was only one correct answer. And up until the fourth grade, my vivid imagination and excellent spelling skills hadn’t shown much promise. Then I won first place in the annual Winter Carnival short story contest trouncing all my classmates and peers in grades four, five and six. This changed everything!

Suddenly I had a skill that might prove useful in my adult life … have I mentioned I was also obsessed with my adult life? As much as I distrusted and despised Math, I loathed being a child even more. As far back as I can remember I was counting the days until high school graduation, my 18th birthday, and finally being able to take over complete control of my own destiny. In some ways I was like the Stewie Griffin of my time. I’ve never understood those poor souls you meet who long for their lost youth, those long lazy afternoons of playing with friends or those amazing days during high school. What the hell is all of that about anyway?!

As far as I was concerned life didn’t really begin until you gained your independence, everything that happened in those first 18 years wouldn’t matter in the big picture; it was all just a prelude to your “real” life. To say this was an unusual world view for a child is probably an understatement, and where this idea came from remains a mystery, yet I can’t ever recall feeling any differently. “I can’t wait until I’m an adult” was my repeated mantra. And in elementary school it probably had little impact, but throughout high school my carefree “this doesn’t matter in the long run” attitude led me down paths that I’m sure my family wished I had avoided. One might say my rebellious stage began the day I was born and didn’t end until I moved out of my parents house … what can I say, adventure seems to seek me out. In retrospect I didn’t do too badly. I graduated high school and got into either the best or the worst journalism school in the country, depending on who you ask, but the only school I wanted to attend. I didn’t get pregnant. I didn’t become a drug addict or an alcoholic. I didn’t have a “starter” marriage. I never got arrested. Really, I think I did okay.

But I’m off track, back to grade four and my realization that I had a talent I might be able to use in the real world when I grew up. Aha! I thought. I will write books and get rich! I entered more short story contests at my school and continued to win. Then I got an honourable mention in the Kindness Club Essay contest, which covered the entire province. I branched out into public speaking and soon realized that even though I was shy, I had a natural gift for writing and delivering entertaining speeches. The trophies were piling up. Soon I had joined the drama club and was being cast in the really good parts that I desperately wanted.

Around this time I learned the awful truth that a lot of people write books, almost EVERYONE writes at least one! And out of all those books, only some get published. And out of all those published authors, only a few make a decent living. And out of those few lucky enough to make a living … only Americans got filthy rich. (JK Rowling had yet to appear on the scene of course … As for Margaret Atwood, I hadn’t yet heard tell of her having been only exposed to one Canadian author in school and I was pretty sure Farley Mowat didn’t get filthy rich from “Owls in the Family”.)

But now I realized I had a second skill to fall back on … acting! And everyone knows people in the movie business get filthy rich! Hell, even Canadians in the movie business could get rich! Michael J. Fox had proved that with Back to the Future. Alex P. Keaton had to be loaded!

So there I was, 15 years old and I had my life all figured out. I would get into the movies and not only earn my fortune but fame as well. For March Break when I was 16 my boyfriend took me on a road trip to Toronto with his father to go visit relatives. I had only been out of the province one other time for an overnight trip to Caribou, Maine with my parents when I was eight. I had only been out of my home town a few times, having gone to drama festivals at UNB in Fredericton and Mount Allison in Sackville, and having spent a couple of weekends camping with my cousin at Fundy National Park. I grew up on a dead end side road outside of the small village of Blackville, about a 20 minute drive from the city of Miramichi (which was still the towns of Newcastle, Chatham, and so on then). I had absolutely no idea what to even expect driving through the province of New Brunswick, let alone Quebec and Ontario. I didn’t know enough about Toronto to even recognize it when I saw it on TV. If I could have even seen it on TV, our antenna only picked up two fuzzy channels, cable didn’t (and still doesn’t) exist in our part of the woods.

Here I am in June 2017 enjoying the Bay of Fundy breeze in Alma, NB, one of my favourite places on the planet.

Here I am in June 2017 enjoying the Bay of Fundy breeze in Alma, NB, one of my favourite places on the planet.

It was the longest trip I’d ever been on, 18 hours on the road with very few short restroom and snack breaks. We left NB early in the morning and it was the wee hours of the next morning before we topped a hill on the 401 and suddenly there were lights in every direction as far as my eyes could see. My jaw literally dropped. I was stunned. I had never seen anything like this place, had never even imagined such a place existed. Wow! In that moment something happened inside of me, it was like someone flipped a switch and turned me on … there really was a whole big world out there, and I was in it. The realization was heavy. But I was too filled with excitement to dwell on such things, because from the second I laid eyes on the city, Toronto felt like I was coming home.

During that brief week as I met my boyfriend’s cousins and friends, spent hours wandering through huge shopping malls, and got driven around and shown all the typical touristy sites, that feeling of being home never left me. I knew for sure that when I was an adult and able to do whatever I pleased, I would come home to Toronto. And that’s how I became pretty much the only student in the entire tenth grade to be spending lunch breaks in the guidance counsellor’s office conducting research. Fame and fortune would wait, first I had to get into a university in Toronto.

I didn’t consider myself to be typically academically inclined–I was failing Math and not very interested in sciences–but I excelled in English, always getting the highest marks of anyone in my class with very little effort. I was also doing very well in extra-curricular activities like drama and public speaking. I studied calendars from U of T, York, and even Humber College but then I discovered Ryerson, located right in the heart of down town Toronto, right off Yonge Street, right beside the Eaton Centre. This was it! And they had programs for people like me in radio and television arts, theatre, and something called journalism, which I knew involved writing and always showed up high on the results of the career tests I obsessively took to discover my strengths. So I decided in grade 10 that I would go to Ryerson. In preparation I opted to take courses in typing and French, rather than biology and physics, much to the dismay of my teachers who believed I was too bright to throw my academic future away by avoiding the sciences. But I was a girl with a plan, and that plan in no way involved dissecting frogs.

In grade 11 when I finally revealed the full extent of my life’s mission to my guidance counsellor, she was horrified. “You can’t be an actress! You’ll starve!” She immediately tried to rally my parents to help save me from my unrealistic pipe dreams. Apparently not everyone was as impressed as I was by Michael J. Fox’s ability to hit the big time in the movies despite being Canadian. Ok, fine, the acting and being filthy rich didn’t matter that much any more anyway, now the goal was just to live in Toronto, the goal was Ryerson. And further research revealed that journalism seemed to be a more decent and reliable less pipe dreamish career goal.

I announced to my teachers and parents that I would apply to Ryerson for journalism. “You’ll die from the culture shock! You’ll flunk out first year and never go back!” my guidance counsellor exclaimed. “It’s so far away, why not stay closer to home, at least for the first year,” said my parents. But I stood my ground and wouldn’t budge. I learned to type and graduated with top honours in that course as well as English and French. I worked weeks on an essay to try and impress the faculty with my burning desire and dedication to the field of study. Then, despite living too far away to require me to attend, I went to Toronto on my own on the train to be tested and interviewed. I failed miserably on current events that were mostly Toronto relevant. My essay was riddled with incorrect spelling and grammar, despite having three of my teachers proof read it before I sent in the final draft. The instructor who interviewed me was merciless with his arrogance and stereotypical judgements. “You’re just a country bumpkin. You wouldn’t last a week in this city.” It seemed like he was purposely pushing me, trying to make me break down and cry, show my true country weakness. But a calm came over me in that too small smoky room and I would not give him what he wanted. I insisted I wanted it bad enough. I insisted I was strong enough to succeed despite any obstacles. I insisted and insisted and he scoffed and smoked and judged.

I broke down in tears as soon as I got back to the privacy of my room. For the first time I had doubt. Thousands were trying to get into this program and they would only have room for a hundred. The other potential students seemed more worldly than me, many were older and already had one degree under their belts or had worked for years in other careers. I may have been talented and promising back in New Brunswick, but I was just an ignorant country bumpkin in the big city.

My parents had convinced me to apply to other schools just in case. Concordia in Montreal rejected me. Carleton in Ottawa accepted me. I hadn’t even considered Ottawa, but now it was looking like it might be my only option. When the thin envelope arrived from Ryerson I was crestfallen. Thin wasn’t good, thin meant rejection. Thick would have meant acceptance, filled with all kinds of information about my new life. But to my great surprise this thin letter came only one day before the thick welcome package. I had been accepted to Ryerson’s School of Journalism.

I’d like to say that was it, the happy ending with me excelling at my studies and really sticking it to that nasty interviewer, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I hadn’t really understood what journalism was before I started doing it. Learning the writing formulas, I felt like my creativity was being killed, beaten out of me whether I wanted it to be or not. The course load was much higher than a traditional university because we were earning our degrees in three years rather than four. The labs were brutal realistic exercises that treated us like real news people with hellish long days and automatic failures for missing deadline by as little as one second. I was the youngest person in my class, and many of my peers were not just a year or two older than me but at least a decade. I failed economics, and then I failed it again. I didn’t understand why it was a required course and I rebelled at the idea. By the end of the first year, my guidance counsellor’s fears had been realized and the interviewers prophecy had come true, my grade point average was too low to continue and I was removed from the program.

Still, I was undeterred. I would take the year off, gain some work experience and then apply for re-admittance. I got my first job working in retail at a pet store at the mall. It was my first lesson in the dynamics of sexual harassment in the workplace. I lasted a couple of months before I got hired on as an administrative assistant in a small ballet school and touring theatre company. I excelled in arts administration and remained there until it was time to go back to university. I wrote another essay explaining why I would now be a better student. And this one I proofed myself using all the editing and spelling knowledge I had picked up from first year and Strunk’s “Elements of Style”.

I was re-admitted. And this time it was even more challenging because I needed to pick up all the courses I hadn’t gotten in first year as well as continue with a full second year course load. I spent days in line-ups signing up for classes individually and designing my own schedule. I took electives I had no interest in and knew I would find more difficult simply because they were the only ones that fit my available time slots. I had some classes overlapping, so I would have to rotate missing philosophy this week and history the next. I took economics during the day. I took economics during the night. I took economics during my summer holidays. I failed two first year economics classes three times each. I never had the same instructor twice and each instructor emphasized different parts of the curriculum, so what I learned one time wasn’t even taught the next time. But finally I learned enough from all of them to pass the tests. I took school seriously this time around and my grades improved. I even started to enjoy the writing and see the creativity within the formula.

I may have come into journalism and Ryerson for all the wrong reasons, but I’ve always said it was the best educational path that I could have chosen. I have applied the skills I learned there to every job I’ve ever had and those jobs have been many in several different fields. I worked in call centres. I worked in government offices. I worked as a bartender, a waitress, and I ran my own business. I worked in marketing and as a radio deejay. I worked in tourism and technology. I freelanced as a writer, and then as an editor. My resume was much longer than even all that and even more interesting before I found something that stuck with me.

Since December 2002 I’ve worked as the Editor of Bread ‘n Molasses. Initially we started publishing online at www.BreadnMolasses.com in February of 2003. By October 2006 the magazine was so popular with readers we decided to try a print version. The print edition was a full-colour glossy published as many as six times a year. Readers loved it! But unfortunately it was super expensive to produce and we seldom made enough money to cover costs, let alone hope for any kind of profit. Our last print issue rolled off the presses in the fall of 2011 but we continue to exist online to this day.

Through my work at Bread ‘n Molasses I’ve discovered that I particularly enjoy mentoring writers at the beginning of their career, working with them on their writing projects to improve their skill. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few diamonds in the rough who lacked mostly just the confidence to take their writing to the next level. And there’s nothing quite like that feeling I get when a writer is so excited to be published for the first time and then watching them blossom and reach toward fulfilling their full potential.

In recent years my position at MCG Media, the parent company of Bread ‘n Molasses, has evolved. I’m now the Social Media Specialist/ Content Manager/ Editor. I maintain good news websites and all the social media accounts associated with them for the communities of Miramichi, Saint John, Fredericton and The River Valley. I also maintain some other social media accounts for clients. And now we publish a new full colour glossy periodical locally called Giv’er Miramichi.

I’m also becoming more involved again in my local writing community. In June 2017, I officially took on the position of Vice President of Words on Water,ย Miramichi’s longest running performance art series featuring poetry, prose, spoken word, music, and art.

And that’s a longish version of my bio … though the full story … well, maybe one day you can read the book.

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6 replies »

  1. I was going to say I wish I had read this 3 years ago but as I started to do just that, I had this ‘no regrets’ thought process itself. I have grown to realize that life could be filled with regrets about so much and in reading this now on June 21, 2012 after having the distinctive honor of having first met you in 2008 at the office on base in Chatham, NB when I came in for my interview for a position with Mighty Miramichi.com with the hopes of becoming a member of the team working on the magazine Bread ‘n Molasses. If I had read this bio of yours before that time, I would have probably had 2nd thoughts about imposing myself onto yourself by thinking I could come anywhere close to working with you as a writer for the magazine. I remember the excelerated feeling that swept over this new Miramichier when I got the phone call saying that I had been accepted by you, Stacy & Terry to come onboard of the Bread ‘n Molasses Magazine team and thereby qualified me to participate in the Older Workers’ Initiative training program. That was the beginning of a whole dream that I never ever expected would come true. WOW
    So now that I have read this bio, I realize even further how much of a miracle took place because of the heart connection we have developed from that moment on. Your patience, your mentoring and your beyond-the-call-of-duty endurance at walking me into realizing my dream of becoming a published writer, has been a saving grace in my life and is still existent to this very moment.
    Thank you for being steadfast to your calling and for sharing life and learning with me.

    Ms. Freewheelin’ DiAnne

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    • Wow! I can’t believe you actually read the whole thing ๐Ÿ™‚ And I’m sure this bio wouldn’t have intimidated you away from BnM. After all, if it shows anything it’s that the road has not always been paved smooth when it comes to my writing/ editing career, more often I’ve been off on the rocky weedy side trails floundering to find my way … just like most writers I know ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Hands down the longest About page I have seen haha. I didn’t think I’d mean that in a good way but turns out, I actually do! What an interesting story. Who knows where the rest of us will end up :). Glad yours turned out pretty good all in all ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. I totally relate. I also excelled in English and French, but struggled in Science and Math. *shivers at the thought of science and math* I’m glad to see there’s still hope for me to make it in the publications field! It’s tough to keep working towards an English degree when everyone tells you there’s nothing for you at the end. Thanks for being an inspiration!

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