Taking the Long Way

A celebration of late bloomers.

Posts Tagged ‘SCAD

First Impressions

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So today is the last day of graduate school for the five of us who entered the Savannah College of Art and Design’s writing program together in September 2009.

Whoopi Goldberg is slated to deliver our commencement address. I wonder if she’ll cut the stinky cheese like she did on The View this past week. It must’ve smelled like a rotting animal carcass by the way Barbara Walters jumped into Dr. Oz’s lap [maybe Barbara was just looking for an excuse to give Oz a lap dance, that saucy minx!]. Dr. Oz was explaining how farting is healthy, and Whoopi let an SBD rip. This is good news, because I guess my husband is going to live forever.

But, I digress…

We five – Jenny, Amber, Austin, Elisa and I – sat around a table at SCAD’s book store (how appropriate) with the chair of the department and introduced ourselves. We straddled generations X and Y. We were very unsure of one another.

Dr. Lough was professional in his tie and perfect posture, but he immediately established that he was affable and a little bit subversive. I thought we were going to get along…until he made some comment about Foucault, and I ran screaming (in my head for the nearest reference book, believing I was such a fraud to think I could ever make it in a grad school writing program).

Jennifer Marie Dunn

The fabulous Jenny D.

Jenny D. sat there in her wife-beater with a trucker cap that read, “I just got paid and am looking for a good time.” She mentioned that she worked in construction…in New Orleans…after Katrina. I was scared shitless of her.

Amber may be pint-sized but she's a force.

But I was more scared of Amber, who wore a flannel shirt over a T-shirt and said she’d been in the Peace Corps and now ran a biker bar in Daytona Beach, Florida – the epicenter of authentic black leather Hogs (not ridden by Rubs). She didn’t smile once.

The amazing Austin with vegan cupcakes.

Austin wore skinny jeans and a retro Cowboy shirt. I couldn’t understand a single thing he said, low-talker that he is. But, I could tell he was intelligent and deep. He wore burlap shoes – Toms, I think – that respected animals. He was the epitome of hipness, without the trust-fund disenfranchisement skulking around Savannah.

Eli Ridiculi - the festive party girl.

Eli smiled broadly and bounced like a cheerleader. I could tell she had been in a dance troupe at some point in her life. She spoke about a break-up and a layoff, and about how both of those events caused her to take stock of what she wanted out of life. So she took the bull by the horns…and enrolled in grad school, which is what we all did.

I’ve been told that I came across as a know-it-all brownie hound (Urban Dictionary, #4). That’s what happens when you are nervous and latch on to anything that sounds familiar.

I could not have foreseen at that moment how much these people would come to mean to me. As we took classes together and shared our writing, we revealed our innermost – the dark scary parts, the lyrical moments, the sublime, the understated, the laugh-out-loud, the lessons, the failures, the hopes. We overcame those first impressions and grew into a family. We celebrated birthdays, engagements and weddings. We consoled heart breaks and hardships. We forged bonds that will last beyond the grad school daze.

I will never forget –

  • How Jenny Dunn’s poppy-seed cake nourished Brian and I as we drove all night to be at my father’s bedside as he left this life to pass on to the next.
  • The sound Jenny’s foot made as it fractured against her tile floor after she made a perfect leap to Whitney Houston’s “I Want to Dance with Somebody.”
  • How Amber brought me food when I was too sick to get out of bed. So did Austin. He brought me groceries from Trader Joe’s and homemade tomato soup made by his mom.
  • When Eli bought a round of drinks to celebrate the cookbook.
  • Going over to Austin and Lyndsay’s place the day they brought Olivia home.

We all watched each other’s dogs. Maybe that’s why we got along so well – we’re dog people…and word people.

We’ve carved pumpkins together. We’ve workshopped our stories, talked about our futures, made Boilo, endured medical scares, drank too much, and we welcomed others into our little band of gypsies – J. Char and Nate, Kate, Cameron, Lynn, Sarah, Becca and Jim…
We don’t completely know what’s next, but we had no idea how this chapter of our lives would turn out when we started it…and it’s been a great read.

Written by The Long Way

June 1, 2011 at 6:00 am


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So last week I learned that I was in the running for the Excelsus Laureate award – basically the valedictorian for the SCAD graduate class. I learned on Friday that I ranked in the top three. (Very surreal.)

For the final interview with President Paula Wallace (who proved truly delightful and fun to talk with) and the university’s vice presidents, I prepared a portfolio, answered an extensive questionnaire, and wrote a personal statement that would serve as the basis for my speech should I be selected.

Jenny D. dubbed it the Excalibur award – that great sheath of mythological lore.

Alas, the sword would not be mine to pull from the stone.

I learned on Friday afternoon that I was named first runner up (the salutatorian, of sorts) and would receive the Presidential Medal instead.


As Jenny D. put it – you can’t make a margarita with a sword, but you sure can with El Presidente tequila.

I’m not disappointed. That award comes with some sweet perks, too, but that’s not really the point.

It sounds completely cheesy, but…it really was an honor to be nominated. I didn’t even know this award existed, so to receive any sort of recognition for working hard over the past two years and taking some serious risks is just icing on the cupcake.

When I met the other two nominees-in-waiting, I felt complete awe with what they’ve accomplished as students and professionals. Nice company to keep, and I was genuinely hopeful for them as well as for myself.

We each had compelling stories to tell.

Because you won’t get to hear mine at graduation, I thought I would share my personal statement with you here in this blog:

During the winter of 2008, I took two weeks off from my job as a park planner with a national nonprofit land conservation organization. I did not travel on vacation. I did not set up lunch dates with friends. I sent my husband off to his office while I sat cross-legged on a folded blanket in the living room of our Miami condo and tried to meditate. Most of the time I wrestled with my wandering and anxious mind in an effort to concentrate on not concentrating on anything at all.

She’s much more serene than I ever was.

A month earlier, I had stood paralyzed with fear, unable to board a flight to Atlanta for an important meeting. I drove straight to the office of Dr. Mansfield, a therapist I had not seen in two years. Lying on her cool black leather couch, we mined our way to the core of my panic. At the end of our session she said, “You know Amy, this isn’t really about flying, don’t you?”

black leather sofa

Serenity now! Insanity later.

So there I sat on my floor, trying to hear the whispers of my soul above the white noise in my head. My thoughts kept returning to fragments of a quote spoken by E.M. Forrester or E.L. Doctorow; I could not remember which. As I breathed more deeply, I found it there encased in the strata: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

He said this about writing.

I think it is good advice for life.

Within six weeks of that brief sabbatical, I had applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design for an MFA degree in writing. Within six months, my husband and I had both quit our stable, well paying jobs and moved to Savannah so that I could go back to school and he could start his own business.

Although we have never been poorer financially, we have never been happier personally. We know that the bank balance is only a temporary condition.

The return on investment in us? That is priceless.

As a mid-career shape-shifter, I was unsure of how I would fit into the SCAD environment. I was older, and definitely not hip. But I discovered mentors, who helped to shape my writing and uncover my voice. I found a community of fellow writers in a city with a burgeoning literary scene. SCAD opened doors to magazines and other publications, so that my work could find an audience and I could make a living doing what I love – and what greater gift can we give this ailing world than labor and love combined?

Those two weeks in December 2008 marked the first time I had allowed myself to rest since I had started working at age 15, when my first job was as a birthday party clown at McDonalds.

For most of my life I had subscribed to the theory that a moving target was harder to hit. This theory, though, had worn itself as thin as the blanket on which I sat – as thin as my frayed nerves.

But hitting that wall did not stop me from moving forward. It only changed my direction. As most difficult moments do, this one imparted a valuable lesson.

  • I learned that rather than fear or avoid frustration, you should use it as one of life’s most precious tools for renewal.
  • It is the tempest that stirs before a creative breakthrough.
  • It is the brick the universe throws when you are not paying attention.
  • It is the distraction that God gives so that he can work behind the scenes to create something perfect.
  • It is the impetus to jump first and fear later.

It almost always walks hand-in-hand with faith. Its greatest gift, though, is that it leads you back to your essential self…the one you were always meant to be.

Written by The Long Way

May 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm

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Feisty New York Timescolumnist Gail Collins

New York Time columnist Gail Collins

Gail Collins courtesy of the New York Times.

– yeah, the one who called out Donald Trump and he called her “dog face” in return – brought her unique and witty perspective on second-wave feminism to the Arnold Hall Auditorium, April 12.

She visited SCAD to discuss her most recent book, “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.”

When Everything Changed

Sitting in the stack of books by my bed that I've yet to read. Courtesy of amazon.com.

Instead of Collins’ talk taking the usual course of cataloging how far we women have come but far we have to go, she focused on the triumph of affecting so much change in a short period of time.

I clearly am one of the beneficiaries of these foremothers’ efforts. When I was in high school in the 1980s, it never occurred to me that I could not get an education or be anything I wanted to be – maiden, mother, or crone. Collins’ message hopefully got people excited about feminism and alleviated some fears about embracing it.

What stuck with me, though, was less Collins’ content, but her responses to questions from the audience. Her answer to a question about the current political climate and its assault on female reproductive rights proved measured and compassionate. She acknowledged a woman’s right to choose while avoiding damnation of those who fight so vehemently against abortion.

Collins also refused to address a question raised regarding religion’s role in the subjugation of women, but we’ll talk about that later.

It occurred to me that so often when we ask questions of lecturers, we are asking for them to give us definitive answers to complex issues on which we can hang our hats. We are looking for agreement, acknowledgment, permission, and guidance.

I think of my own struggle with how I feel about reproductive rights. While I most identify with liberal values, I do not agree that abortion should be a form of birth control when we have so many affordable and less destructive means of preventing pregnancies.

I do not demonize, however, a woman who chooses abortion because she sees no other way forward. I think most women agonize about the decision, especially the ones I know who have made that choice. And, I am thankful they were afforded safe, sterile environments rather than back alleys with coat hangers.

Courtesy of Google Images.

At the same time, though, I do not understand fighting against the death penalty and not fighting for the life of an unborn child.

In turn, I do not understand someone who calls him- or herself pro-life but actively fights FOR the death penalty, and against funding social programs that provide decent, egalitarian educations, hot and healthy school lunches, affordable housing, living wages, and access to health care. Should not a pro-life agenda also include lifting up the quality of life for those who walk among us today?

So, if anyone asked me what I thought about the assault on reproductive rights going on in Congress today, I do not know how I would answer. What I would tell the audience, though, is to remember that rights come with responsibilities…and they can be taken away at a moment’s notice.

Written by The Long Way

April 23, 2011 at 10:11 pm