One of the things I despised about graduate school was the pettiness. Everyone there, myself included, was so desperate to prove their intelligence and their ability that we had no sense of camaraderie or community. Most of my professors were even worse than the students. Most had long given up their authenticity and had settled into comfortable positions of stifled creativity. I left graduate school in Memphis feeling like I was a talentless wannabe who had no voice worth sharing. Now, as an educator, I can honestly say that graduate school for me was the opposite of what education should be. Instead of bringing out my best, it tried to snuff out my spirit.
Last weekend, I returned to Memphis as a published novelist, albeit an independent, with two books on the market, and I was surrounded by other writers, artists, musicians, and creative people. At the convention, we shared ideas, hung out, laughed, cut up, played jokes, and had fun. Sure, there were moments of pettiness and occasional pockets of jealousy, but those were the exception. For the most part, every convention I’ve attended has been a celebration of creativity and art that leaves me feeling rejuvenated. By far, the majority of other writers I’ve met are supportive and encouraging, and at nearly every show, I’ve shared ideas and learned something about the craft and business of writing.
That’s why I love conventions. They give me something that graduate school never did — a sense of community. Eleven years ago, I left Memphis with a broken spirit and a crushed self-esteem. Sunday, I left with a feeling that I’m doing what I’m meant to do, and that feeling was a much better, much healthier state of mind. One day, I may finally let go of my anger and pain from what graduate school did to me, but for now, I’ll settle for this feeling. Life is beautiful.