I just finished college. It’s the strangest, most wonderful feeling in the world. It’s totally different than finishing high school. This has more permanence. More pride. More enthusiasm that I’ll (hopefully) never have to write another research essay or read another textbook or participate in another classroom discussion that bores me to physical tears. You know, those tears that you get when you’re so tired that you yawn and they roll down your face and everyone looks at you a little strange – those kinds of tears. Because, yes, even though I’m going back to school, it feels different. It feels less like school and more like a big, two-year reward. I don’t care that my lack of income will cause me to create fancy recipes with beans and tuna as I scavenge for food along the streets of New York; I don’t care that I’ll burn candles for warmth during the icy city winters; I don’t care that my mom will send me care-packages with nuts and socks and laundry detergent. I care that I’m writing. I care that I spent fifteen years of my life studying other people’s books, preparing for the opportunity to create my own.
I didn’t always do well in college. I’m getting out in three years after spending half of my degree studying literature in the UK, and when you look at my transcript there is a clear divide between the material I cared about and what I felt I could find just as easily on Google. I’m proud of the literature grades. (Astronomy, not so much.) But even in my literature degree, there are still some holes. Some moments when teachers would criticize my writing, causing me to have anxiety attacks in really random places – like bathrooms and grocery stores and rest stops on I-64. For as long as I can remember, I have seen myself – first and foremost – as a writer. Everything else is just a bonus. Like that extra side dish you get at a restaurant. They excite me, but they’re not why I’m here. I’m here to create. I can feel it stirring all the way through me – from my eyelids to my fingertips – and when that identity is questioned, I need deep breaths in brown paper bags.
Because that identity is questioned. A lot. It was questioned by an egregiously renowned professor this past fall – who I can only write about now that I am done with college and he can no longer fail me. His belief that I could not write well sent me into a year-long frenzy of paranoia. He told me I was rushing through college and that my decision to graduate in three years was foolish. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t smart enough. I couldn’t analyze literature, and so, I shouldn’t write literature.
And then there were the writing professors, the fancy New York ones who told me that I was too young to write anything worthwhile. They said I didn’t have enough life experience. I told them my list of MFA programs and they laughed. They asked if I had any back-up plans. They suggested a desk job until I gained enough standing in the real world. I felt the tears forming in my eyes, along with a deep desire to claw the walls, so I scurried away to the nearest café full of twenty-somethings just like me, furiously typing away on their laptops and chugging cups of black coffee.
In the midst of my anxious melt-down, I e-mailed another professor. One whom I actually like. Respect. Admire, even. One of those professors whose hand gestures I subconsciously copied because I focused so diligently in her classes and, ultimately, because I wanted to be more like her. I e-mailed her and told her that I was crushed. I told her: “I AM SO SICK OF PEOPLE TELLING ME I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH LIFE EXPERIENCE TO WRITE SOMETHING WORTHWHILE!!” And she told me: “Resilience.”
Well, she told me a lot more than that – enough that I read the e-mail weekly to soak up everything she said – but she told me enough about resilience that I actually believe it. I believe that resilience is the key to overcoming all of those hyperventilating moments in the rest areas of I-64. It’s the key to finishing college, to finding a life after college, and – most importantly – to finding a voice. Both a metaphorical voice and a writing voice, but the distinction doesn’t really matter, because, in the end, they’re kind of the same. They’re both rooted in accepting the experiences that are given to you, and knowing that you can use them to create something beautiful – no matter how old you are.
Because, unfortunately, I’m learning that my identity – both as a writer and a person – is most often questioned by me. I am the force resisting my own resilience. I’ve spent so much time listening to all of these voices – the voices that tell me I can’t do it – that I’ve stopped listening to the ones that tell me that I can. Can I make it in this world as a writer, when every coffee shop I go to is full of twenty-somethings just like me, furiously typing away on their laptops in the belief that they have something worth saying? Will my voice ever be heard amongst the crowd? Do I have enough life experiences to write something deep, empowering – resilient, even?
I may be young, but I don’t doubt my ability to create art. I doubt my ability to create meaning. Art is a natural extension of the human life. We are walking artwork – walking choices and decisions to be something more beautiful than we think we can be. Meaning, on the other hand, requires practice. Meaning is the reason behind every choice and decision. The reason I’m typing these words and you – whoever you are – are reading them. Meaning is the force behind our artwork. And I’m working on finding it.
So here it begins. All of the moments, moments like this. Moments of writing my experiences and giving words to my voice and learning resilience. I’m trapped in a world of words and sounds and rhythms and it’s good, because this is my world, but I know there are other people out there sharing this space. And they’re people like me, who find worth in the power of words. Who feel things a little bit differently than everybody else, and believe that they must write it down before someone else does. For the next two years, I get to be surrounded by these people day in and day out, taking classes alongside artists whose work my children will some day study. They will inspire me and push me but, mostly, they will be resilient alongside me. When all of the rejections come in and we question whether or not those discouraging voices were right all along, they will be the ones chugging coffee with me at class the next morning, continuously stringing words together in the hopes of creating meaning. To them, I say thank you. And to everyone else, I say this:
Your words are worthwhile because they contain an entire world of emotions and experiences that I will never have. Go. Write them down. Share them – before somebody else does. Your voice is not something you earn; it is something you own from the day you were born. No matter how old you are. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
Or, if they do, you can always write about it.