Wow, I can’t believe I am already up to eight in my series “With Music.” In each post I write about a time in my life, using a song that impacted me or reminds me of a moment. The earlier seven entries included Ben Folds Five, Sheryl Crow, Beth Orton, Dean Martin, The Verve, Barenaked Ladies, and Tori Amos. This time I write about finding inspiration in Los Angeles.
I am haunted by a song.
I sometimes hear it in my dreams, it is the one I might start humming when I am running an errand or absentmindedly finishing a chore. I’ve even been known to sing it to my children as they fall asleep.
This song has followed me for almost a decade and I believe it will be with me until I let one special book go.
I was sick of being a number.
There were a lot of students in the master’s program in writing at the University of Southern California and I felt like I always had to prove myself. Every class was the same, an introduction to the others in the room and then a slow stomp up the literary stairs to the top of the class. Maybe I would have had an easier time being in competitive classrooms like these if I went to a bigger college for my undergrad. Then I was a big fish in a small pond. I was the writer of the entire class of English majors. It may sound egotistic to say I ruled the school, but it felt like that as I went from writing workshop to workshop then.
But at USC it was different. It also didn’t help that I started the program in the middle of the year. Everything was settled by the students on their own personal rankings by then. You would see in the classrooms which students were worth listening to and which created the most eye rolling (and there were a lot of eye rolling). I was the odd man out, the question mark in the class, and I could sense it.
Those writing classes could also be stressful and aggressive. Students would argue about each others’ works, some teachers would spur it on (maybe even weirdly enjoying it) while others did their best to try and keep some control over their classrooms. I wish I could say I played it smart in the early months, biding my time and getting the lay of the land.
That would be a lie though if I said that. Continue reading