Once again I abandoned my career as a journalist and went off to college, starting at Wittenberg in Springfield Ohio, then transferring to the University of Pennsylvania when my parents pulled up roots and moved to the Philadelphia area. At Penn found I writing again.
(Mr. Franklin, of course! It’s his college, after all.)
I hadn’t started college with writing in mind, but Penn had recently set up a Creative Writing major at the time my family and I moved there, and its course requirements bypassed almost all my weaknesses except for French (which I’d rather not think about.) We creative writing majors had a broad choice of electives and were required to write a short story every week, leaving them in a folder at the library so that classmates could access them. In class, everybody got to make comments about the stories they’d read. Out loud. When the time was right, you had to read your story. Out loud.
It was sheer agony. It’s no secret that the author reveals himself or herself in their writing – but who are you when you’re young? Peggy Anderson, of “Peggy’s Troubles” was obviously “me” as a sixth grader. The failed novel I started the following summer couldn’t tap into “me” because “I” hadn’t begun to build an adult identity, and wasn’t a child any more, either. But in college, that identity is gathering, and it is going to be discovered by your readers. Naturally no one knows what part of the writing is “you” and what part has been “made up” – but somewhere in that tangle, “you” are there. What if “I” wasn’t OK? And what if I wasn’t a very good writer? My pretense to talent would be found out. Everyone would know I wasn’t good. Perhaps they’d think I was mediocre, the worst curse of all.
But despite my agonizing, the free range of course selection did serve to broaden my perspective, just like it was supposed to, and my outlook on life was altered. There was more to it than looking nice, being nice, and finding someone to marry. The Great Questions were out there, waiting to be answered. There was Great Art to discover, and Great Music, and Great Ideas. I was definitely unequal to the task, having not been exposed to intellectual excellence before, but it was so exciting that I didn’t even mind being so far behind. At least I was there, where all this stuff was going on, and it was like walking into a greenhouse, where the very air vibrates with growth and moisture lies in layers. If I failed as a writer, perhaps I could be a thinker. Penn was the place to learn how, that was for sure.