By Emily Nelson
Depending on what job I was currently holding down over the last two years, when asked what I “do,” my most frequent response has been “I am a grad student.” This then follows the logical question-answer session of “What are you studying?” “Creative Writing,” and then one of two responses. If the person asking the question was trying to get me to go out with them or was creative themselves or just an interested person, then the final reply was “How neat!” or some variation thereon. But if the person was not any of those things, or was a particular brand of relative, co-worker, or chiropractor (I swear this is true), the retort was then a derisive snort, followed by “What on earth are you going to do with that?”
While I think the question is highly rude, I do understand the stigma attached to my chosen field, but I also find the stigma inconsistently applied. The coworker in the above example proceeded to talk about how his son went to graduate school for graphic design, which was apparently infinitely more practical, curiously refusing to acknowledge that words show up in the world – a lot. This also ignores people who have studied perfectly practical fields who cannot find work within them or discover they get more fulfillment working at Starbucks; which I would also like to add I totally respect, because I have been told that they give their employees a pound of coffee a week, and one can experience a great deal of fulfillment with a pound of coffee.
But I digress. I did not apply to Goddard College because it was “step four” in my grand plan for fame, wealth and eternal success. Not to say I would necessarily wave off any of these traits, particularly the second one, but that was not the point. I applied because the written word is a part of my soul, which may be a very trite statement and does not reflect all that I have learned in the last two years, but I think the truth is sometimes simple and yes, even a little trite. I do not write because it is so many monkey-barrels worth of fun, and I think anyone who says so is either very lucky or very ill; at its best, writing is fun, it is a lot of fun. But more particularly and consistently it is discipline, it is the desire to chuck every page written into the sea as a sacrifice to Poseidon and to never lay eyes upon it again, and it is work, work, work.
When people I meet outside of Goddard tell me they are writing a novel, I look on them as slightly more insane than I did before they said that, because having sat down to write one myself, I can confidently testify that anyone who willfully puts themselves through such torture is certifiable. This includes myself, my fellow students, and all of my advisors – but that is all perfectly alright in my book (no pun intended). As I said above, I have not worked on my creative thesis for the last two years because it has been fun; I have done it because writing is so much a part of my blood and bone that everything within and without myself demands of me the discipline to do so. I write because that is what the universe requires of me. One’s fate or calling or what-will-you is not necessarily fun – but it is satisfying in the core of one’s being in a way that cannot necessarily be translated into words, even with two years of graduate study.
There were other reasons I applied to Goddard: in 2013 I was unhappy and unsatisfied with my life, working in child care in Virginia (one can see why I was unhappy), for little money and with few prospects ahead of me. I decided it was time to finally pursue my dreams in writing, and also to return home to Oregon, both of which have been wonderful decisions in my life. I decided on graduate school because one does not know what one does not know and I knew I needed some kind of jumping off point, direction for how to begin the writing life. I do not think it much matters what my research was or what other colleges I considered, because once I really looked into Goddard, it was my absolute first choice, and it is a choice I have never regretted once in the two years I have been in the program.
Despite what those nay-sayers in my opening might have one believe, I actually use my writing skills in my career a great deal, in my previous job and more particularly in my current one. I was hired to write systems manuals for my company, for every position. Then I started writing the training modules. Then they asked me to write the rental ads. After every completion was a round of tickled-pink coworkers exclaiming how good everything was, for which I humbly gave my thanks, but my internal thought process was more along the lines of, “What, was it supposed to be hard?”
I definitely credit Goddard with this. I credit Goddard with most everything good short of the discovery of antibiotics, the moon landings, and David Bowie’s “Serious Moonlight” tour. Once one has hit a stride of reading a book a week, deciphering some hidden aspect of craft and writing up an essay that was at least passable and occasionally quite good, on top of work on a novel and any other critical work, not much else seems intimidating. I will repeat this ad nauseam, but in my opinion it comes down to discipline. Writing is discipline. Goddard’s faculty understands this, and the curriculum is shaped around it. While attempting to get my teaching practicum off the ground, I explained to a high school boy I wrote an essay a week. The darkness of fear covered his face, but to me, it is old hat. If my boss wants me to write a guide on Fair Housing and Landlord-Tenant Law, that is small potatoes. I once had to read a five hundred page novel that took place in two disparate time periods and explored religion, the concept of fatherhood, familial bonds, and human bondage – and then write an annotation on the controlling metaphor right before the end of the semester. Nothing scares me anymore.
Emily Nelson will be graduating from Goddard College in 2017. Her previous credits include Hofstra Papers in Anthropology; the Tacoma News Tribune; and the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. A native of Portland, OR, she currently resides there with her family and actively tries to pet other people’s dogs.