Please welcome my guest blogger, Gwen, from ApprenticeNeverMaster! She’s a Flash Fiction writer who is a little geeky, and a lot wonderful, and you’ll fall in love with her way with words. Stop by, read, and send some rawr love her way! http://apprenticenevermaster.wordpress.com/
My name is Gwen and I went to college for love.
Sorry, this is the Bloggers Support Group, right? Rarasaur invited me to be a “guest blogger”, but I’m assuming that’s a kind way of telling me I spend a lot of time writing and that there are people I can talk to, to get help.
What I mean to say is that when I was seventeen I decided to throw ninety thousand dollars into a degree that arguably qualifies to me write bestselling novels or correct the grammar on all the billboards visible from my cardboard box. I’ve spent equal amounts of time dreaming of breezy palatial writing room as I have researching the most rain-resistant cardboard.
Actually, I might have spent more time on the cardboard, because that just seems like good knowledge to have tucked into the museum of my skull. Double corrugated cardboard looks promising.
I worked hard for my degree, but if we’re being honest, I worked hard learning to read and write in a way that would make my Kindergarten teacher cringe.
Me: [reading aloud] The winter white world spread out beneath the same black-fingered trees that Aaron trudged under, holding him firmly at the center of its palm.
Professor: What are we talking about in this passage?
Me: The intensity of loneliness and the empty hope in keeping secrets.
Mrs. Nedzel: No, Gwen, no. Aaron is walking in the snow.
Sorry, Mrs. Nedzel. At least I remember how to tie my shoes and walk quiet-single-file. Most of the time. My boots do zip now and I prefer to be loud.
Really sorry, Mrs. Nedzel.
I guess I’m here, at Bloggers Support Group, because that’s the only apology I can dig up. I would go to college for love as many times as reality let me rewind.
I went under the influence of Gut Instinct and Stubbornness – a dangerous compound which has inspired such things as That Long Night on a Las Vegas Bus and Lost On Top of A Mountain Where They Don’t Speak English – but I have four good reasons now:
1) I didn’t have a time machine, so I needed to spend some of the real stuff – A wonderful wheel-throwing pottery-artist who lives down the street once told my mother than every potter needed to throw their thousand pots before they became good. When my mother first repeated it to me, I hoped that this was permission to chuck breakable objects around the house, but I was never very lucky at getting permission to cause destruction. It was just another way of saying, “Your first attempt at anything is going to stink. Your second attempt will stink only slightly less. Come back and talk to me after you’ve attempted it a thousand times.” It takes time – real, carved out of your busy life and hoarded time – to practice a skill into a talent.
Four years, spent in all the classes that I had to attend, was enough time to try anything a thousand times. That included: dreaming a thousand stories, writing a thousand papers, digging up a thousand answers, breathing through the lungs of a thousand characters.
2) There’s a fat line between work and play, and it’s hard to shove something across it – There are a lot of things I play at, dabbling them into my weekends and my leftover hours after work, and I love them because they are play. I love them because they are an open invitation to attempt, without the pressure to succeed. They are precious little coal chunks that I keep in the back of my closet, because when I handle them I get pretty smudgy and messy, but when I want to, I can peel sheets of warmth off them.
Of course, a lifetime and career filled with something I loved sounded like a good idea. The question was whether the pressure of deadlines and daily use would turn that messy, fun, shiny, cuddly piece of coal into a diamond, or smash it into soot. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Soot is a girl’s leading cause of pneumoconiosis. Print that on a t-shirt.
College provides the kind of pressure that it’s difficult to construct on your own, unless you have self-discipline like an iron vise. And most people have self-discipline like a sturdy clothes pin. It was a quick, firm way to see whether writing would gain value or lose it when I started calling it “work.”
3) Here there be Professors (also known as Successful Been-There, Done-That People) – Anything you do for the first time – from hiking a mountain to knitting a sock – is easier when you’re working next to someone who has already done it. I could have found those kinds of people just about anywhere, but at college, it was easier to catch their attention. They were stuck with me.
So, when I met the Amazing Redheaded Professor during my first year as I was dashing into the English department at three in the morning to submit a short story that was due at eight a.m., I had time to convince her that I was more than just the Sleepless and Frazzled Freshman running face first into a deadline.
Even if I did see her at three a.m. the next week. And the next. When I took a class with her Junior year, she knew who I was, and she was trapped with me long enough to learn that I was the Smart and Dedicated, Sleepless and Frazzled Student who ran face first into deadlines.
4) That was where the Wild Things were (also known as my fellow students) – While I was in college, I passed a graffiti fortune cookie message every day on my way to class: You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you. The administration never tried to clean it off the wall. Probably because they knew we were all thinking it.
We were the wild things. We went out dancing until two in the morning. We wrote our papers at the all-night pancake place at midnight. We bought a tub of bananas, just to shuck them and fill a friend’s dorm room with the peels. Then we made banana bread. We sang Disney songs in the dining hall and snuck into the science labs at midnight to watch movies on their big-screen projectors.
We worked as hard as we played. We didn’t sleep much.
We lived with each other, went to class together, ate together. We were adoptive family, without any of the legal paperwork, but all the necessary proof in how we talked and walked and traded and offered shoulders.
We were the wild things who dared to want and reach. As supportive as professors could be, nothing beat hauling each other up by the backs of our shirts so that we could both succeed – so we could stay on the road together – and grinning at each other through it. It didn’t matter if we were grinning at the height, at how far we’d come, or at the fact that my friend accidentally grabbed me by the back of the pants and hung me upside down for a second.
And after graduation, those Wild Things are what have stuck with me the longest. They’re the ones who see me stuck in whatever muddy creative pit I’ve buried myself in, talk me out of it and then don’t judge when the Great Inspiration reduces my speech to the looping, nonsensical epiphany, “Oh my gosh. They’re twins!”
If they were the only reason I had for going to college for love – these crazy dreamers who made the same mistake, riding high on Gut Instinct and Stubbornness – I would do it all over again.
That’s still not an apology, is it? It’s probably not the speech I was supposed to give at Support Group. I was never very good at these kinds of things.
In fact, I’m having a very hard time not getting out of his silly metal folding chair and leaving a graffiti fortune cookie message on your wall as I leave:
Do things for love. Let Gut Instinct and Stubbornness persuade you once in a while. Never let them tame you.
Now that you’re hooked to Gwen’s writing style, be sure to stop by her blog and check out some of her other amazing things. If I were you, I’d start here: