by Lizz Schumer
I sat in my dorm room at my East London university, staring at my own reflection in the window above my desk as I emailed my undergraduate writing mentor, a Goddard alum.
“I can’t do this,” I wrote, sniveling. “It’s not what I wanted. It’s not what I needed.” The UK writing master’s program I’d undertaken had turned out less intensive than its website promised, and I was depressed and lonely, unmoored by my mistakes and without forward direction.
“Call Paul Selig,” my mentor replied. “Go to Goddard.”
Two months later, after a cross-Atlantic phone call to Goddard’s program director, a frantic scrabbling together of a last-minute application, a terrified plane ride across the East Coast and a Christmas season full of skeptical relatives, I sat in the cafeteria staring at my brand-new Goddard travel mug, wondering where this path would take me.
Almost before I could let this new adventure soak into my skin, everything changed. Shortly into my first semester, around the time I collected stacks of books to read, I woke up in pain. Not the hangover headache my undergraduate years had taught me. Not the sore shins I’d found during a brief stint of marathon training. But pain that crept through my veins like a silent marauder, pricking the insides of my body with what could have been a cattle prod, or a whip. I didn’t know what was happening, and neither did my doctors. Not for a long time, until after graduation. What I did know, was I had work to do in the meantime. Work to focus on, even through a cloud of unrelenting, inexplicable pain.
Rebecca Brown’s “Excerpts From a Family Medical Dictionary” kept me company as I waited for an MRI. Sarah Manguso’s “Two Kinds of Decay” accompanied me to my thyroid specialist as I sent up a silent thanks that tears don’t stain Kindles like pages. Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s “Hiroshima in the Morning” came with me to my rheumatologist, as he awakened me to a dawn I wouldn’t have chosen, but learned to embrace. Kenny Fries’ “Body, Remember” made me focus on something other than bloodwork results and medications. I didn’t have time to wallow; my packet was due in a week.
Most of all, my manuscript kept me going as I chased a diagnosis like an elusive ghost, as I juggled my new job as a newspaper reporter, then editor. Words streamed onto pages like they never had before, now that Goddard had given me a reason to release them and a deadline by which to do it. But it also gave me an unshakeable community of fellow travelers, who stood with me against adversity, cried with me when we struggled and laughed with me as we stumbled down the same narrow, sometimes rocky road our education beckoned us along.
At Goddard, I found my tribe under a clock tower, as we bundled up against subzero temperatures and clutched our coffee mugs as desperately as our pens. We laughed into the night over gas station wine, shared our hopes, our fears and most of all, our writing. Before Goddard, I’d never written with anyone else. Goddard gave me the community I didn’t know my soul was seeking.
None of us emerged from the MFAW program unscathed, but we all came through it changed. I didn’t know that first draft of what would become my first book was the beginning of a new journey. Not then. I did know that Goddard had changed me as much as my illness had changed me, as much as finding my career had. I walked out the barn door with more than a diploma and a manuscript in my hand. I walked out a woman with a purpose, and an arsenal of skills to pursue it.
Goddard isn’t a static two-year moment. It’s fitting that the Plainfield, VT campus is guarded by a clock house, because Goddard transcends time. It soaks into your bones and creates in them a new rhythm: That of Writer, of spirit-seeker, of interconnected soul. And we are, interconnected. Writing in the world, but not of the world, we are, all of us, pieces of words. With ink under our fingernails and heads full of books, Goddard graduates can hear a clock ticking in our veins. It calls us to the process, and keeps us breathing in that rhythm, as long as we’re open, ready, alive.
Lizz Schumer is a writer, editor and artist living and working in Buffalo, N.Y. She is the editor in chief of The Sun newspaper, a cocktail columnist for The Buffalo News and teaches writing at Niagara University and National Geographic student expeditions. Her first book, “Buffalo Steel” (2013) explores the impact of environmental elements on a person’s psychological development, as well as the role of home in one’s spiritual revelation. A Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, her work has appeared at Salon.com, seriouseats.com, Buffalo.com, Wordgathering, Minerva Rising, Limn Literary & Arts Journal, the Rampalian, Connotation Press, Block Club, Manifest Station and many others. She can be found at lizzschumer.com, facebook.com/authorlizzschumer or @eschumer.