Summer ILC Week, 10 and beyond: My last quarter at Evergreen

In 2010 I had lots of grownup firsts: moved out of my mom’s house, got my first full-time job, and fully supported myself. It felt good and necessary, and I’m glad I had the experience. I did data entry job for a company that sold carpets and window treatments. Not thrilling, but I’m great at organizational stuff, and I loved my color-coded spreadsheet that I updated daily. Bringing order to chaos is deeply satisfying to some part of my brain.

I remember one of the higher-ups saying with a certain amount of pride that she never saw the sun in winter because she worked so much—she’d leave work at 8 or 9 pm. And I thought, “But… you work for a company that sells carpets and window treatments.” We didn’t save lives or make art or help the environment. We were big and corporate and boring. And maybe that woman did love her job, but I didn’t love mine. I knew I needed to get out of there, go back to college, and get my bachelor’s degree.

In the fall of 2012, I came to Evergreen to learn how to save the world. What I ended up learning instead was how to save myself.

I intended to focus on international studies, but my youthful, enthusiastic hubris was dismantled in my first program, Public Health and Economic Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. I learned how to deconstruct and reexamine the ownership and production of knowledge, as well as my own motivations and capacity for doing good. Before I could help anyone else, I had to take responsibility for myself, starting with my education. But how? My plan had crumbled to dust.

The evaluation I received in this program began with the line, “Beth is a writer.” In the wake of my personal, academic, and professional confusion, I made the best decision I’ve made in my time at Evergreen: I returned to the one thing I was not confused about—writing—and became a peer tutor at the Writing Center.

I began listening to and engaging with writers, supporting them in reclaiming their own authorship and authority. In the invaluable workshops by the Writing Center staff, we explored the space where writing and social justice meet, helping me become increasingly aware of and passionate about anti-oppression issues.

I still yearned to be of service in the world, searching for a career that would help me focus my energy into purpose. When I examined the evils in the world, writing children’s novels seemed like a selfish, shallow career choice. What right did I have to sit back and tell magical stories while the whole world was screaming?

It seemed that whenever I asked this question, I always received the message that stories matter. I listened to my own heart while volunteering at Lincoln Options Elementary School, feeling completely at home in a children’s library. I listened to my peers when they told me how my work touched them. I was learning writing skills to hone my craft, but I was also feeding my soul. The stories that live inside me fuel me forward, give me purpose, and inspire those around me. My new goal at Evergreen was to find—or perhaps create—a way to merge these two needs: to be of service, and to write.

I always loved my job as a tutor, but I knew from the beginning that it was temporary. At the same time, I wondered what path my eventual career would take—what I would do to pay the bills.

The answer came on an ordinary Friday at work. After three particularly inspiring sessions working on Inkwell, our annual publication, I thought, “You know, my job is just about perfect.” There was only one thing missing: working with kids, the audience and inspiration for my stories. Suddenly my two questions merged into one answer: I knew I wanted to keep doing exactly what I’d been doing all along, to work with young writers the same way we do at the Writing Center.

With this new goal in mind, I studied subjects seemingly irrelevant to my major (like art and religious history) with the eye of a writer. I took that class as research for Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins, but I also gained a deeper understanding of my role as a storyteller in the greater cultural narrative of whose stories we tell and how we tell them. I knew that my writing could be a force for good in the world—an opportunity to invite my young readers to examine the dynamics of power and oppression and imagine new worlds of possibilities.

This last quarter has been one of the most deeply satisfying experiences of my time here. I’ve been learning my new job as Assistant to the Director at the Writing Center while taking my first steps into trying to become a published novelist. I now know for sure that it is possible to do meaningful, important work in a job I love, am good at, and that pays the bills (or will someday when I can find one full-time job that meets all these criteria) while still finding the time to do what a professional novelist does—write every day.

Evergreen gave me the space to embrace my confusion and trust my intuition. It gave me the resources to pursue my interests with a renewed joy in learning for the sake of learning. It gave me the environment of passionate, supported freedom that led me to the clarity of purpose I needed. I found the best ways to support myself in my lifelong learning process, and through that strength I am better able to send out ripples of passion and purpose to those around me—to save the world, one writer at a time.

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