I had always wanted to be a writer; that’s why I had chosen that school. The college had a special program for people who knew, right from the beginning, that they wanted to major in English literature. That was the closest you could come to studying writing in those days – you could become an English major and take as many creative writing courses as you could cram in along the way. No more than ten people were accepted into this program each year; then those ten embarked on a double credit, year-long journey with a single professor.
I got caught up the picture. Me, hunched over a worn, time-darkened wood desk that generations of eager students had used before me. I would be accompanied by the gentle hum of my Sears portable electric typewriter, bolstered and enthused by continuous cups of rich, black coffee. I would dream up characters as iconic as Big Chief and Nurse Ratchett. I would send the characters on journeys as epic as those of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. I would devise endings as satisfying as those of Charles Dickens, but with structure and prose as thrillingly avant garde as Virginia Woolf.
I would find my voice. I would ferret it out from the bricks and the stone and the ivy. I would find my voice, and I would let it sing.
Turns out, I really should have read the fine print.
I came from a place where dreams were small. Not small because folks lacked the courage, or the vision, to dream bigger, but because small dreams were a great pleasure, a gentle way to approach a life of contentment. The people across the street from mom and me lived in a tiny little house. As a family of five, they were crawling all over one another just going about the business of living their lives. They made giant bowls of popcorn and watched TV together. They whipped up batches of frosting for no special reason and made them into dessert sandwiches with graham crackers. They had loud arguments. They laughed all the time. When the older two children were already teenagers, they were able to afford their first dishwasher. They rang our doorbell to tell us the news. They invited us over to see it and offered us frosting sandwiches. They walked on air, such was the level of their glee.
When it was time for their oldest boy to go to college, he didn’t look past our home state. No one did. There were a million colleges to choose from as well as the state universities, and desiring to reach further than the many options at hand seemed ungrateful somehow, a muddle of priorities.
My high school made a big deal of me being the first student ever to be accepted to this college. I’m pretty sure that I may have been the first person who had ever applied. In many ways, I embraced – and even idealized – the life of small pleasures and measured dreams. It was a big stretch for me to think about applying to this college in the first place. In truth, I couldn’t even begin to picture what it might really be like to be so far away, in so many different ways, from anything I had experienced.
As I said, I should have read the fine print.
Four months until the June launch of my novel The Rocky Orchard!. Meantime, onward with my newest novel, tentatively titled The Reading. I hope you enjoy the excerpt above.