The best thing about being in a writing program is being around other people who understand the writing condition. I think Leslee Becker told me that once, or something like it. And it’s true, I think, that coming to Fort Collins for graduate school has afforded me the wonderful opportunity to be comfortable with the writing part of myself. A graduate writing program might be the only place I’ve ever been where the phrase I’m a writer doesn’t require explanation.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh, wow! That’s so neat. I wonder if I’ve ever read anything you’ve written. You know, I do a little writing of my own. We should trade work sometime. What’s your email address?”
“I’m sorry. Would you excuse me? I suddenly need to go find a fishbowl large enough to drown myself in.”
This is what I feel like at parties.
I currently share an apartment with three other writers and a visual artist—Neil Fitzpatrick, Matt Truslow, Kaelyn Riley, and Audrey Waseliewsi (MFA sculpture, 2013). In our month living together, we have never had to explain our crafts to each other or justify our existence as artists living in a society that, for the most part, doesn’t place much value on art unless it’s commercial or corporate. We don’t think of each other as quaint novelties living together as we craft the next tween vampire romance novel, some rhyming poetry for greeting cards, or a bunch of lopsided, ceramic bowls—activities that some folks (those unfamiliar with what artists actually do) assume the we aspire to achieve someday. It’s strange that this comfort of being most often manifests itself in conversations deliberately not about writing. For example: Matt, Neil, and I sat around one afternoon watching Superman (1978) on our newly awesome cable package. Instead of discussing the narrative structure or dialog of the film, we wondered what superman would say to Lois Lane if they were in some sort of stable domestic situation and she got on his case about not folding his laundry or leaving dishes in the sink.
“Hey, Lois. Remember that time I literally flew around the earth so fast that I reversed its rotation and the chronological direction of time so I could save you from being crushed to death in the San Andreas Fault? Remember that? Cut me some slack.”
We wondered if Gene Hackman could also reverse the flow of time as he “acted circles around everyone else in this movie.” Or if he just went back to his trailer and drank a lot.
What I’m saying is, even though we’re a house of writers and artists, we don’t often talk shop. Mostly we sit around and eat, drink, watch TV, crack jokes, and try to exist in this trying word as best we can like normal people. It’s their quiet empathy and understanding of our shared condition, the artist’s condition, a difficult condition, that I most appreciate and cherish. It makes me feel a little less alone in the world.