Program Director David Everett was giving us a final pep talk on the last day of class, one night before we all would stand before a crowd of friends, family, faculty and fellow students and read an excerpt of our writing. We were finishing our graduate degrees in the Johns Hopkins Writing Program, leaving the supportive world of academia and facing the cold truth of post-graduate writers: many of them don’t write. David’s wise words boiled down to three things: you’re all great, go write, don’t watch television.
I headed out into the cool night after class, just as I had once a week for the past three years, and began my long trek home to West Virginia. Despite the distance and the hour, I always enjoyed my drives home after class. I’d catch the Metro at Washington’s Dupont Circle just a few blocks from the Hopkins building, ride it to the end of the line in Maryland and then drive an hour to Shepherdstown, WV where I live. Once past the DC suburbs, the traffic would thin out. I’d relax, turn on NPR and listen to Tom Ashbrook and Warren Olney dissect the day’s issues.
But last week after that final class, I realized it wasn’t just the calm voices of NPR correspondents and the light traffic of late night in West Virginia that soothed me. It was also the suspension of time I felt while in school. I began the Hopkins program in my mid-forties, while struggling with a medical mystery and craving a career change. Much of my time in the program included regular visits to physical therapists and specialists in search of an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Life was on hold while I pursued two goals: getting healthy and becoming a writer.
I’m feeling much better these days with effective treatment (stay tuned for my story on my condition, myofascial pain syndrome, to be published soon). And on Friday, May 3, I read a condensed version of my essay “Passages” to the Hopkins crowd as a final requirement for my degree. That same week, editor David Lillard published this essay as a feature in the May issue of The Observer of Jefferson County. “Passages” explores the continuous, clock-like migration of the wildebeest herds across the East African plains each year, the immortality inherent in their multitudes, and the premature death of my mother in her fifties. Perhaps it was a fitting choice for a final school project. My clock is now ticking, and it’s time to move on.