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Monday, July 21, 2014

Odyssey Bookshop Odyssey

This past weekend I had a fun road trip out to one of my favorite independent bookstores: The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA!

On the two-hour drive from Boston--I purposely took the longer, scenic route--I started to contemplate how despite my penchant for writing about far-flung travel, this trip to the Odyssey represented a kind of homecoming for me.

My alma mater, Hampshire College
In the 1990s I went to college at nearby Hampshire College, in Amherst. I lived in South Hadley one summer when I had a job that kept me in town between semesters. And the Pioneer Valley--home to the five-college consortium of Hampshire, Amherst, UMass, Smith, and Mount Holyoke--was where I spent much of my time learning to be a writer. I was an English Major, not a Creative Writing Major, but I wrote countless stories in college; while some kids hit the gym or the hiking trails for stress relief, I holed up in my dorm room and pounded out story after story. And I was a voracious reader in college, even outside of work for my classes. I haunted all the local bookstores and libraries, and spent hours discussing books with some of the smartest readers I've ever met -- friends I have to this day, with whom I bonded over books.

I hadn't been to the Pioneer Valley for about ten years, when I went there once for a bike ride and whizzed past my old life at high speeds. I really haven't spent any significant time there since I graduated college. So as the winding roads and lush rolling hills led me into Amherst this weekend, I felt a swell of mixed emotions. In college, I'd been filled with uncertainty. I'd had a tenuous financial aid package and a hefty part-time work schedule that made my existence there semester to semester quite precarious. I'd had a huge course workload; I doubled up on classes and graduated in 3.5 semesters to save money. I'd had fierce ambitions to write but crippling anxiety about how to realize those ambitions. I was too scared to take creative writing workshops and share my work with teachers and mentors who could have helped me along. I imagined I was taking the safe route, majoring in English and starting a path to grad school and to becoming an academic, but in fact I'd been embarking on a dead-end road for me: a path to unhappiness in grad school and highly uncertain job prospects in academia. I'm sure my fear and my impulse to play it safe set my writing goals back a decade, at least.

I arrived early for my event and spent some time walking around my old campus, remembering what it was like to be there at various stages of my college career. If I had to do it all again, I would have taken those creative writing workshops and availed myself of the abundance of talent in the five-college area. I would have been open about my writing ambition and made more connections. I would have turned my dreams into concrete goals much sooner. But I have more peace of mind than regret. I think the learning environment at Hampshire, and the culture of the five-college area, did help to form me as a writer. And I remembered, powerfully, how by the time I graduated, I had the goal to return some day to one of the area bookstores (now not in such abundance, sadly) as a published author.

So when I walked into the Odyssey Bookshop, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction. It's wonderful when life gives us chances to loop back into time and reconnect with a goal. It really has been an Odyssey for me to get back into that store after all these years.

I had such a marvelous time talking about YA fiction with my fellow panelists, talented authors Terra Elan McVoy (IN DEEP) and Gillian Murray Kendall (THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS). Thank you, Odyssey--and the wonderful audience who came out on a warm July night--for making me feel at home!
Terra Elan McVoy, Me, & Gillian Murray Kendall


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1 Comments:

OpenID ce8d632a-647c-11e3-94d3-000bcdcb2996 said...

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Sodarshan Kriya Yoga

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July 23, 2014 at 8:27 PM  

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