There are people you meet in life who change you in ways you never expected. If you’re very lucky, there are people who see the best in you and the person you can be, even when you can’t quite see these things for yourself yet. I met one such person in the most unlikely of places. About 7 years ago, I boarded my first plane and journeyed to the University of Winchester in England. It was my senior year of college and I had just barely scraped up enough scholarship money to pay my tuition and boarding fees, with a little left over to travel and explore the rest of Europe. Coming from a single parent home and growing up on welfare, this was an absolute dream come true for me. I spent a semester studying the works of William Shakespeare and other great British writers, even taking a Shakespearean theater and performance class. Visiting museums and viewing masterpieces that I had only seen in slide projections from my art history courses, I was nearly brought to tears on several occasions out of sheer joy and excitement.
Thrilling as all this was, I also relished the quiet moments I spent walking through town with the new friends I had met there. One of the most important lessons I learned through that semester abroad was how quickly you get to know a person once you travel with them, especially through a foreign country. Most of us were strangers to one another when we arrived, students from schools all across the US and other countries, not knowing what to expect and still trying to figure out who we were as individuals. Even if we may not have spoken to one another had we gone to the same school back home, we all quickly realized that we had to band together if we were going to make it through the semester and combat our homesickness. Back home in the states, I was a painfully shy kid, more focused on studying and my books than anything else, but my experience abroad forced me out of my shell. As a result, I was introduced to some of the best friends I could ever hope to meet.
Walking down High Street in Winchester one day with two of my friends, who I’ll call G. and V., our conversation turned to our schoolwork and the classes we had taken back home. I had mentioned to them that my senior thesis was a comparison study on sexual and religious ecstasy as examined through the poems of John Donne, the writings of Medieval religious mystics, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” I’m sure writing or reading something like this sounds like a slow form of torture to some, but I was quite proud of this paper. Like most of my academic work though, it had been created in a vacuum and it disappointed me to spend days or weeks on a project only to have my professor be the only one to ever read my work. My friend G., on that quiet walk through town, was my first captive audience, and he asked if he could read my thesis. Meanwhile, our friend V. just shook her head in mock disbelief and laughed at our shared enthusiasm for academics. She had learned enough about us at that point to know that we were a couple of nerds, yet she loved us in spite of our tendency to ramble on about such topics.
Just before we all left at the end of the semester, the three of us made one last trip to London to say goodbye to England and to one another. My friend G. made a point of telling me on that last trip that he had finished reading my thesis and was really impressed by my writing style, even if he, admittedly, didn’t entirely understand the subject matter. I was touched that he had actually taken the time to read my paper and that he recognized how much my writing was a part of my identity. The three of us have continued to stay in touch these last 7 years, Skyping and visiting one another as often as we can. My friend G. in particular has continued to encourage my writing, even and especially when I couldn’t see the point in picking it back up again. I am grateful beyond words for his friendship and support throughout the years. Truly, I may not have found the courage to begin this blog if it wasn’t for him. We all need a gentle nudge sometimes (some of us more than just a nudge), and I want to thank my friend for standing in my corner and helping me to recognize that this is exactly what I need to be doing with my life right now.
For those of you struggling with writer’s block or simply seeking the motivation to continue writing, I encourage you to think back on those occasions that made you fall in love with writing in the first place. Short of that, try to surround yourself with the people and positive influences in your life that foster your creativity. Cheers and happy writing!