And We’ll Keep Breaking

It would be fair to say I only got to work with Brad because I stalked him. It’s true! I’m not in his department, and had to use a mutual friend to even get my name in the list. I’m lucky he took a risk on a student he knew next to nothing about, and I’m glad I didn’t take his first piece of advice, “be afraid!”, too much to heart.

In looking back at these essays for publication, I was shocked how much of his class stuck with me. Brad focused on the individual building blocks of stories, and has a real strength in pushing even the most talented students to produce better work. For many of his students, I’m sure the idea of working and re-working a piece is daunting. But writers are made of more mettle than our culture gives them credit for, and one of the real joys of the project is watching fellow writers grapple with the discovery of their voice. The 13th century Persian poet Rumi has a quotation I’ve always liked, in which he asks, “and you, when will you begin that long journey into yourself?” I realize, as Brad does, that the classroom is not the ideal setting for truly devoted writing to happen. Our group may not have connected in the same potent way Invictus I did, but I think the same important message of introspection and self-discovery still rang true.

The Invictus project, for me at least, became less about producing the best thing and more about learning to produce something. Brad will tell you, and he’s right, the story is never done. You’ll come to find mine, a meditation on the cyclical violence of parenthood, changed dramatically even as I was writing it. I did the best I could, in this moment, to capture that change. I’m sure I failed, and will keep failing to tell it for the rest of my life. Invictus helped me to realize that failure is the language of writing, and I am incredibly proud of the things my classmates and I learned while failing.

So few moments in college truly give you the tools to become the person you want to be. Invictus is perhaps the only one that ever forced me to question how much I really know about that person.