Go Blue or Go Home

I'm often asked by some of my younger readers what you need to study in college in order to be an author. This is also often paired with, "Do I even have to go to college?" While you don't need to go in order to be a writer, I absolutely recommend college. It's awesome. You'll find people you didn't know were like you and groups of all interests, ranging from Star Trek LARPers to Young Republicans to Republican LARPers. And although I learned a lot from my classes, it's the experiences that I feel really shaped me into becoming a writer. That, perhaps, is the biggest thing you need to write: LIFE. You need to experience people and places and events. Those are what feed good writing.

My writing is filled with funny scenes and commentary on human quirks, and again--a lot of that ability to observe and appreciate the absurdity in the world came from college. Here are a few of my favorite wackiest experiences from my time at the University of Michigan. (I have three degrees, from three different schools, but if you're from the Midwest and went to a Big Ten school, you understand why U of M is #1 in my heart).

1. Your Casa is My Casa
Most schools have a "Meet every campus organization" fair. That's where you find the LARPers and Republicans. Being the bright-eyed freshman I was, I really wanted to get to learn about all sorts of things. So, my then-boyfriend and I attended a Socialist meeting. It was run by two 40-something guys, telling us all about how in the new world order, life would be better because we'd all have equal possessions and get what we wanted. My boyfriend kept wanting to know what would happen if he wanted ten TVs. The guys couldn't understand why anyone would want ten TVs, and the argument became circular. A couple weeks later, one of the 40-something guys called me and asked if I'd like to get together over coffee to discuss more issues. I was so over Socialism and evasively said I'd have to check my boyfriend's schedule. 40-Something said that it was okay, I didn't need to bring my boyfriend. Something tells me it wasn't because he was trying to avoid another TV discussion.

2. Saved By the Bell
Someone was always trying to convert me when I was at U of M. And by someone, I mean the same person. Only, he didn't know it. There was this Evangelical kid who staked out the Diag (a central green spot that saw a lot of foot traffic) and looked for lost souls to approach. Well, I must have looked more lost than others because over the course of a year, he kept coming up to me and using the same lines on me. "Would you like to talk about going to church?" He'd totally forgotten the last time we talked. To this day, I wonder what it is about me that made me a conversion magnet.

3. Any publicity...
The anthropology department recruited students by hanging crappy homemade posters that read: NEED A MAJOR? HOW ABOUT ANTHROPOLOGY!? Weirdly, U of M's anthropology graduate program is one of the best in the country.

4. Now playing...
Pulp Fiction, which is a great movie, came out during my freshman year. It opened at an independent campus theatre, and being in a college town, drew a particularly big crowd. For a really long time. When Pulp Fiction had left other theatres, when it had come to video, it was STILL being shown at this theatre. Why? Because they were still drawing a crowd. We came to accept it as the only movie option. "What do you want to do tonight? Go see Pulp Fiction again?" And we would, and it would be just as awesome as the last time. They eventually had HOME OF PULP FICTION on their marquee. When other movies finally began trickling in, it was like a coming of age story, and I had passed a meaningful phase in my life.

5. Some alumni are more famous than other alumni
James Earl Jones is a U of M alum. And, oh man, do we love that. They used to have him narrate recruitment videos. I will never forget this one video that went on and on, touting the school's fine education. Then, suddenly, it segued to this guy handing a girl a flower on the Diag. The camera pans over to James Earl Jones, who is apparently spying on them. He gives the viewers a sly smile and--remember, this is Darth Vader's voice--says: "But the University of Michigan isn't all about academics. Here, you can develop deep, interpersonal relationships." Sold. Throughout my college days, James was constantly referenced. "Here's the building he took classes in!" There were even petitioners who tried to get him to be the voice of our phone registration system. They had a giant Darth Vader cutout with a word balloon reading, "To add a class, press 1." James is definitely a worthy alum, and you can see others here, everything from notable scientists to, um, reality TV stars. Do you know who is not on that list?

I don't mean to end this on a down note, but I have to close in mentioning my friend Jason, my very first U of M friend. We met at orientation, when neither of us wanted to participate in our group leader's Chaka Khan dance. Once Jason and I discovered a mutual love of the Beatles and Neil Gaiman, we were pals for life. Sadly, Jason passed away very unexpectedly, a few days after the birth of my son. I found out in an offhand Facebook comment and was so sleep-deprived and juiced up on hormones that I couldn't process the news. It sounds weird, but I didn't have the mental energy to handle it, or I would have broken down. I was stretched too thin and had to tuck it away into the back of my mind. Now, months later, I'm slowly able to deal with it, and it's hard. He's a bright spot in all of those memories, one I will never forget.

And that--the people you meet and the real-life stories you experience--are what fill you up and give you the ability to write great things. They are what make you a great person.

Should you go to college? Yes. Yes, you should.


Amanda said…
Awesome post - though I can see why that dude kept wanting to convert you...he probably thought you were hot and kept wanting a reason to talk to you!!
Komal said…
I think that evangelical guy was onto something. You did go on to write books about the vampires, demons and succubus.
Danielle West said…
So sorry for the loss of your friend.

The 10 tvs argument, I instantly thought of Adrian. How funny :)
B.E. Sanderson said…
Go Blue! No, I didn't go to U of M, but I've been a fan since '83. My daughter wanted to go, but since we're in Colorado now, we would've had to pay out of state tuition. ($45K a yr? Ack.) Now she's at CSU, rooting for the Wolverines very quietly. ;o)
Angie said…
In regards to number 2: in order to access the campus from my residence you had to cross a set of lights, and someone like the one you mentioned would wait there for all us students to get stuck - and they wondered why so many people jaywalked there. He asked me the same sorts of questions almost everyday :S .. what a start

I did love going to school though :)
Doug Dandridge said…
While I don't think any single major is a must, a well rounded education can only help a writer. I don't think that a Creative Writing degree or a Masters of Fine Arts are musts. In fact, I have seen many writers ruined by such programs. I write both science fiction and fantasy. My Degree is in Psychology (Clinical, MA with all the course work for a PhD). That in itself is a help with character development, but also the ability to research, to find things, to start the search for information. Course work in Biology (my minor), Geology,Chemistry and Physics also helps. I am not an expert in any of those fields, but I can tell BS when it is being fed to me by those who don't have any training in those fields. Humanities and Social Science helps with the development of cultures and mythologies. And basic English teaches grammar and sentence construction. Now not all of the knowledge I possess comes form College. In fact most of it is stuff I looked up on my own, or read for pleasure. But the foundation of college sure helps.

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