As I near graduation I’ve been directing my attention inward, toward the things I have learned about myself in the many years I’ve attended school. The most important thing I’ve discovered is what I can do to produce my best work.
If there’s one thing that I hope to gain from this project, it’s a sense of professionalism—a coming of age with writer as my title. Part of what is so confounding about writing, especially as I try to find my voice, is that nobody is telling me what to do. I have mentors and writers that I look to and read for inspiration, but putting the pen to page is a task all my own: there is no protocol or time to work in class. Becoming a writer involves an intimate understanding of what enables the writing process when nobody’s looking.
Since the beginning of this final semester, my schedule has been such that most of my work occurs outside of class and according to the time I have allotted. I divide my days between two part-time jobs and 12 credits of coursework. In the midst of all this, of course there is the temptation to forget about my long-term obligations. A break is necessary from time to time, but I discover that no amount of hours spent on Netflix compares to the satisfaction that comes at the end of a day of meaningful writing.
Having said this, self-motivation is a constant struggle and combined with a desire to perform well, what results is the equivalent of an aspiring musician unwilling to practice. Writing is my unstructured environment and often making something happen is like staring unblinking at the cursor on a shiny new page, waiting for the magic.
In college I we are faced with countless opportunities to discover ourselves and if we’re not careful, this can lead to a kind of glossed educational experience throughout which we’re too thinly spread across the wide array of subjects before us. I have always felt the frustration of being okay at a lot of things but not especially good at one; harboring jealousy for the decisiveness of the pre-meds and pre-laws of the world. I have no interest in pursuing medicine or law, but I do have an interest in direction and direction requires a decision followed by a plan of action.
When reflecting on my pre-college years, I recall being placed in higher level core classes despite the fact that my test scores were not all that remarkable. As a result of this, however, I engaged with quick minds on a daily basis and this competitive environment encouraged me to perform at a higher level too, so as not to fall behind. Before long, my test scores began to reflect this and I learned that numbers don’t determine my abilities as a student, I do. I am defined by an independent desire to do well and a resulting willingness to dedicate myself to greater amounts of work in and out of school.
This independent desire is fueled by the talent with which I surround myself. As long as I can find a place to immerse myself, I never have to stop trying to find out how to perform at my best. Success in anything—especially writing—is an ongoing relationship.
Ritual Cafe in Des Moines holds an open mic night called “Poetry Unplugged” on the fourth Thursday of every month and I participated for the first time in February. I arrived about 15 minutes early and wrote my name down on the list of readers. When it was my turn to perform, I tried to approach the mic with confidence. I told the audience that not only was this the first time I’d read at Ritual Cafe, but my first public reading ever. Instead of the uneasy silence I expected, followed by a stumbling entrance on my part, my confession was met with applause (thank god they didn’t do those stupid snaps), whistles, and shouts of encouragement.
After reading both old and new originals, the host of the event pulled me aside and said, “This may be the first time you’ve read, but tell me that’s not the first you’ve written.”
I walked back to my car with some music in my step and an intense desire to bring new material back next month.
The reading experience solidified a mission already underway. Right now, in scheduling time for the thing that I want to cultivate, I am paving the path that I will take when I leave college. I’m making time for the things that I want to do, not something that I have to do. I’m building a community and making my “real world” happen right here instead of waiting for it to take me by surprise in May.
For those wondering what my post-grad plans are, I don’t have just one answer for you. I can tell you that I’m looking for a dynamic career that engages my diverse set of skills and feeds my creative interest, or, at the very least, allows me to pursue that interest outside the workplace. I’m looking to engage in creative communities that keep me fresh. I want to get published, maybe edit a lit mag or start a journal, I want to look into MFA programs, I want to travel, I want to live modestly and responsibly, but most of all, I want to make time to write.