By Scott McQuarrie & Danaye Reinhardt
What do you do when you are the oldest and the youngest-looking people in creative writing class? You get together and write an article about it for The Cascade, of course! We are both completing our first semesters here at UFV and despite our (rather large) age difference, our experiences were surprisingly similar in many ways.
We got to know each other’s writing, if not each other, in our very first creative writing workshopping group for poetry. One of the aspects of writing that we both love is that you can get a sense of the writer through their work. To write well, a little of yourself has to seep into the words. You have to be willing to be vulnerable, which is never easy but particularly so when you feel out of place. This shared experience of putting ourselves out there, along with respect for each other’s writing, was the basis of the idea to co-write this piece.
It was the first day of my first class. Calculus. There I was, a self-proclaimed arts student with a need to stimulate the left side of my brain, pulling out a borrowed graphing calculator, eyeing the surrounding students. I didn’t belong here. I didn’t feel like I should be on campus at all — I’m five feet tall, mistaken for a high schooler every other week, and certainly not prepared for university courses.
But I went to my classes anyway. I showed up (albeit late some days) and I scribbled out essays at midnight and I shared stories that exposed myself and I thought, “Yes, I can do this.” Maybe I do have a chance at this crazy thing called writing. Maybe I’m not so crazy after all. And maybe, if I worked at it, I could make something beautiful out of it.
I believe this is the testament of a lot of people here — people who have stepped across borders and finances and dreams to be here at school. We all want to belong, to step in and take charge of our futures and possibly become better people along the way.
We are here to learn, to try, to fail, to be kind. I have learned that people are here to be kind. I have learned that yes, quite possibly, I did not end up in university by mistake.
I sat in my first creative writing class with sweaty palms, constantly taking sips from my kids’ favourite water bottle to hide my growing nerves. Surrounded by people half my age (okay … closer to two-fifths my age), I felt distinctly out of place.
After two decades (yikes!) in a technical field, I am back at university, pursuing a new creative path in true midlife-crisis style. People ask me what it’s like, taking this leap. “Surreal,” I always say. It’s easier than trying to explain the strange mix of thankful wonder at finding something I love to do and the creeping fear that I may not succeed at it. It is a rare gift, this second chance, and one I cherish.
I’m learning so many new things. Figurative language, narrative arc, and character development — especially my own. I’m learning the importance of creating space for the out of place, as others have done for me.
That out of place feeling from my first class didn’t last long. Here I am, at the end of the semester, co-writing an article with a classmate who is half my age (okay, fine, two-fifths my age) and it’s not even an issue. Here I am, at the end of the semester, feeling that I belong. That I’m just another student, with fears and dreams and assignments — and maybe a little less hair than average.
It surprised us to find that we shared similar experiences this semester. It was more than just being in the same class, of course; despite stretching a few decades apart, it had been our ages and our fear of not belonging that had shaped our university expectations.
Ultimately, we have found that university has peeled away labels like the price tags on used books, or possibly ripped off the books’ dust jackets entirely. Our pages are still being written — some on page 12, some on page 94 — and right now, gathered at this school, we are all writing our chapters on university. On second chances. On the rare and radical opportunity to succeed together.
Image: COD Newsroom/Flickr