Every time I hang out with my old college roommate Matt, he always makes a point of reminding people what a dick I used to be. I know he means it as a joke and not to be hurtful, but it always gets me thinking.
Yes, I was a dick in college. I was such a fucking asshole that even some of my professors talked behind my back about it. It continued a little into grad school where I was so unpleasant that I was nearly expelled. The only reason I can really give for that is that I started college in a community college setting before transferring to a university. My friends from high school – many of which I don’t even try to remember anymore – they all left town and went on with their own lives, while my ability to make new friends atrophied tremendously.
In the second half of grad school, I came out of my shell and started making friends again, and it’s only gotten better. Still, it’s hard for me not to look at the past behind me, and when I do, I wonder, What’s the single best piece of advice I could give my younger self?
I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Community.
See, I went to Antioch University, Los Angeles where they make a big deal out of community. Younger Me – Asshole Me – thought, To hell with that. I see these people two weeks every six months, and we’re supposed to be friends? No, my strategy used to be to go through the MFA program and then move on, because I already figured that no one would want to keep in touch with me anyways.
You know what I say, Asshole Me? You…*slap*…are…*slap*…a…*slap*…fucking…*slap*…idiot.
A friend of mine, Seth, did a short interview for Antioch. Writing is a solitary act, but a writing career, if you hope to have one, is a group effort. Open opportunities. A place to go for feedback. Reading events. Articles you may have overlooked. Even just an ear to hear you out when you feel like bitching about how hard the work is. And then to turn around and offer that back is just as rewarding. You can’t get that stuff working on your own.
And the great thing is you don’t even have to go through an MFA program to establish that network. Sure, it’s a huge help, but even if you join, say, a writer’s group through a networking site like Meetup.com, you’re taking a step in the right direction.