A Homecoming of Sorts
Talk about a blast from the past. There I am, at Stephen F. Austin University, during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school. I'm with two of my high school besties, Ana and Minji. I'm fifteen years old.
Why am I sharing this picture, you ask?
Tomorrow, I'm returning to my high school to talk to girls not unlike that crazy blonde with the wild hair and the key around her neck about careers. So, naturally, this puts me in a reflective mood.
I'm supposed to prepare a little talk about how I became a writer, which is a complicated question to be sure. That girl there? She was writing all kinds of angsty poems because she was falling in love for the first time with a boy who played football and drove an old pick-up truck.
Being a writer's always been who I am, but I suppose they don't want me to talk about that. It's a career day, after all, and of course I want to encourage these young folks to follow their dreams, whatever they might be.I think the best way to do this is to tell them a bit of my own story, how I navigated high school, college, and the career world.
I graduated high school in 2004. I went to a very small magnet high school; my graduating class was around fifty students. We were a close knit bunch, and we were pretty nerdy, too. I was a member of the science club AND the literary criticism team. We had no sports (football boy was from another school), and the school emphasized academics and career training. It was a good place to grow up and find myself. My teachers, for the most part, were very encouraging individuals. My English teachers, especially my sophomore English teacher Ms. Scott, presented literature as something that's meaningful and complex, worthy of study and pursuit. One particularly influential high school experience for me was participating in a poetry reading my art class organized. It was my first time sharing my poetry in front of a crowd, and it felt wonderful.
Anyway, after high school, I went to university, and it was literally across the street. Literally. I know, my world has been incredibly small. As I started my freshmen year (which was really my junior year because my high school granted me college credits), I didn't really know what I wanted to be, per-say, but I knew I wanted to study English. I toyed with the idea of being a high school English teacher. My parents were teachers, after all, and following in their footsteps seemed like a pretty okay idea to me. My point, though, is that I didn't have it all figured out.
From day one, I LOVED my English classes. My English class was taught by an amazing professor who was a feminist and incredibly smart woman. From day 1, I had a role model in her. She challenged me, my assumptions, about literature's function in society, and even about my place in the world. At the end of my second semester with her, she asked the class to write a story about our gendered experiences. I wrote an essay about I forget what, but I distinctly remember her asking me if I was interested in creative writing, and suggested I take a class in it.
I followed her advice. And while I'd like to say that from the moment I walked into my first creative writing class, I knew I'd found my home, that really isn't the case. In that first class, I felt painfully shy and awkward. But somewhere during that first semester, I developed a taste for writing and decided to enroll in another. I do remember in my Advanced Poetry Class, during my last semester at the university, that I figured out that this was something I wanted to continue. I remember I wrote a feminist poem about a woman choosing a man like she chooses a cake. Her choice. Her desires. Her hunger. And my classmates loved it. I was hooked.
The professor talked about something called an "MFA" in creative writing that our university was developing. I decided to apply, but also, to pursue getting my teacher's license so I could work and start earning some money. For two years, I worked as a 6th grade reading teacher during the day and went to my creative writing courses in the nights. It was stressful and I wasn't able to put the effort and love into my poetry that it deserved.
And that's where the BEGINNING of this blog picks up! During my third year in grad school, I got a full time staff job at the university and started taking my writing more seriously. I also started this blog! And the rest is history. I graduated with my MFA in 2011, started working at a community college, then got a full time lecturer position at UT-RGV. I published my thesis manuscript, The Garden Uprooted, in 2012 and my next collection, Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots, in 2014.
And now I'm here! On the cusp of a big move, a new job, and a brand new baby book about to drop. My journey from here to there hasn't been perfect. I've taken some wrong turns (dropped out of grad school for awhile), had lots of self-doubt/impostor syndrome, and certainly have made an ass of myself a few times.
Anyway, there are a couple of things I want to tell these youngsters. First of all, I did not know what I wanted to do from day one. I didn't have some master plan in mind. This has been something I've figured out and navigated through. Life's like that. It's messy and it's beautiful. You have to be willing to dance to whatever music it plays.
One GOOD piece of advice I got when I was young was to find role models. What kind of professional or person do you want to be someday? Find people who do what you want to do, and get to know them. Find out how they got from A to B. Follow in their footsteps, but be willing to pave your own way sometimes, too.
And lastly, I think the old cliche'd saying, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" has been completely true to my experience. At least in this field, as a writer, being successful means putting in ungodly hours. Writing is what I think about when I wake up in the morning. If my mind didn't get fatigued, I would probably write all day everyday. I also love being in the classroom with students. They inspire me to write more. And I love being around writers. I think one of the reasons I'm good at what I do is because I love it. My free time is, by and large, spent on my work because it's what I genuinely love to do.
I like to think that if my own fifteen year old self were to see me now, she'd be pleased with how her life might unfold. But at fifteen, hah, who knows.