Remembering Graduate School in Vermont

It’s been raining for days and that’s ok because the smell of damp soil and wet plants reminds me of too short a time I spent in Vermont many years ago.

Part of the campus of Goddard College, where I earned my MFA in Writing in 1996

I went to graduate school in writing, with a focus on poetry, at Goddard College in the mid-1990s. It’s funny how the gifts you have at this very moment you don’t deeply appreciate until so many years later, when you can look back and realize that all you had to worry about in the world was writing poems and reading incredible literature.

The beauty of youth is that we don’t even see it when we are in it. I lived so vibrantly in New York City, and then in Washington, D.C., with my weekends at Peg’s farm, writing passionate poems and looking for love. We poured our steaming coffee, made with the freshest mountain water, into a mug from her collection of mismatches and stepped out onto the deck to look up at the rising hills.

You can be on top of the world without scaling the tallest peaks. The mere three-hour drive it took to get to the farm was bliss in itself.

So too the trails I walked in the Vermont forests with my classmates on cool mornings, because all mornings are cool in Vermont, and breathing in the scent of the woods and the damp earth beneath our feet.

I remember the little cafes where I bought my mountain coffee on the way to shop in Montreal when my classes were done. I remember my roommate Chris trying on vintage drag he found in small town stores and loving the moments of just sitting there with him, talking and watching and feeling and knowing.

I remember working all day at the Washington Jewish Week newspaper and then writing all night until 11 o’clock, my poems and my essays and all the items due to my professor in three-week increments. And I remember arriving for graduation with a case of my very first poetry book ever, my master’s thesis, published and beautiful and waiting for people to peel back the cover and read my words.

My words.

My corduroy journal from the 1970s. We know who we are from a very young age. Do we have the courage to be that person?

Last night I spoke to the Detroit-Windsor chapter of EWI, about relationships as a leadership characteristic. And I described my corduroy journal from the 1970s, tucked into a drawer right behind my desk at home, which has all my ramblings and stories and details noticed in the natural course of life way back when I was just a child, being who I was, and not realizing the pressure of trying to be someone else.

I spoke about how we know from the youngest age who we are and we follow that instinct until someone or something teaches us to suppress it. And then we spend decades struggling, until we realize at some point (hopefully) that who we are at the core is just fine and it is not our legacy to fulfill someone else’s definition.

When a neighbor boy died in a tragic accident at the age of 11, I wrote a newsletter of stories about how wonderful he was to give to his parents at the shiva. I was 9. The best way I knew to comfort them was to put words together.

If I am smart, I will spend the rest of my days in some way connected to the words. And if we are all smart, we will contact that reservoir of truth inside us and reawaken the core elements of who we have always been, to fulfill our legacy here on earth, to live as fully as this life deems possible.

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