This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.
Many of my students are first years, freshmen. Young guppies fresh out of high school, a roiling mix of anxiety and confidence. You can always tell when they’re new, like a sheen over their bouncing legs or the headphones that stick out from under their shirts. Especially at a college like ours, these are students who care about their work, but whose work often comes easy to them.
Because of their age, many of them are in freshmen seminars. A class that does, honestly, I’m not really sure. All I know is that at some point during the semester, right around now, they start waiting for me after class, asking if they can interview me.
“We have to talk to a professor here about why they chose to become one. Could I interview you?”
Of course, I tell them. “I would be honored.”
They ask me a lot of the same questions, many I don’t have answers to. Or, I do. But they’re not answers I think a professor should be giving. When they ask me why I wanted to teach, I want to tell them two truths: That I love being in classrooms, I love always learning, and I love inspiring new writers, but that I also needed a job, that I actually struggle a lot with how little I’m paid for this amount of work, and that in graduate school, they sort of told me I had to.
Or they’ll ask what I don’t like about teaching. Which also seems like a leading question. But I’ll answer that I don’t like the lack of community I feel as an adjunct at a big school like ours. And that will be true. But I also don’t like the selfish things. Mostly, I guess, the money.
A lot of them ask how I got into writing. I tell them I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I call it a companion to my life. That I loved to read and at some point, if you’re spending hours with your nose inside a book, you begin to write your own. I also tell them about my late grandfather, who was an English teacher and a poet. I’ll tell them how when I was really young, both my parents worked or were driving my brother to sports practices and games. How my grandfather would pick me up from school, the backseat of his cigarette-infused car filled with his finished reads, and we’d go to the small public library in my town.
The Victor Free Public Library would unravel in front of me, an endless array of books that seemed to go on forever. I could spend my entire childhood in there. We walked through the doors and into a small foyer, I watched as the return books piled up in the shoot. We had to pass through another set of doors to actually enter, as if the library was a guarded castle—when it very much was.
Inside, my grandfather would head to his paperback mysteries to the right. Long, tall shelves that were stacked to the brim with the small covers. It was like he escaped somewhere else completely. Often, I wouldn’t see him again until we both finished on our respective sides, my arms swollen with picture books or tween mysteries.
The librarians all knew his name. One, in particular, was an older woman with a pixie cut and slender face, harsh features. When my grandfather died, she reached out to my mother to tell her how beloved he was and how deeply the library will miss him.
I tell my students while trying not to cry how important my grandfather was to my writing. How he loved that I was a big reader and read everything I wrote, thought I was the most impressive young woman he knew.
Later that night, I went to a local brewery with my friend, Morgan, for a burlesque show. It’s the first we’ve ever been to. “Did you know there’s tarot readings?” She texts me while I’m getting ready. “Can we get there early?”
Morgan is still trying to get over a break-up, and when we get there, we stalk the woman’s table until it’s our turn. It’s $15 for the reading, event pricing. I’ve never been much of a readings girl, but my dear friend CJ is incredible at them, and I thought given our night of trying new things, why not. With the cards in my hands, I ask about creativity. I ask if I should keep working on my project. I ask the cards if I should just give up.
The cards tell me to celebrate. To have fun and loosen up. It’s a good start; a nod to something I often struggle with, often remind myself to do. My students also asked what advise I had for them. I told them to take things slow, to be careful with pressure. To honor their wins as they happen.
My final card is explicitly about creativity and its presence on the velvet mat makes my eyes burst. The woman tells me I’ve been working really hard, incrementally building towards a sense of stability. She tells me to relax and celebrate, to trust a reinvigoration of creation will be coming soon. It’s the same thing I tell my students, the same thing my grandfather would say if he were here. I’m trying to be kinder to myself. I’m trying to live more and sit in all I’ve built already. I’ve been told to take a break but have been too scared to. Perhaps it’s time I do.