When I woke up bleary-eyed last Sunday morning, I got out of bed, carefully stretching out my legs to feel for a ladder’s rung, only to flinch as my toes brushed against the carpeted floor. Then I realized: no longer was I living in Burge Hall, with its erected beds and shared showers. I was back home, in the comfort of my own room, with my own bathroom and computer facilities, unshared. So why was I so discontent?
The answer was obvious. Cheesy as it sounds, despite the gnats, tornadoes, and less-than-gourmet cafeteria food, Iowa City left a veritable, corn-shaped imprint on my mind that could scarcely be erased. For one thing, in the mere two weeks I was there, I was able to check the following off my bucket list: “Sew My Own Tote Bag,” “Write Based on a Rorschach Inkblot,” “Eat a Pie Shake,” “Attend a Christmas-Themed Prom in June,” and “Participate in a Democratic, Fantastical Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story,” among manifold other inimitable experiences.
In addition, in my creative writing seminar and workshop, I miss not only hearing the Daily Iowan’s horoscopes’ constant allusions to love, courtesy of my wonderful and extremely helpful teacher Amy Butcher, but also hearing the piercing insight of my classmates during discussions of Ryan Van Meter’s essays, of each other’s writing, and of the rigidity of genre. As much as it initially made me want to construct a bulwark to protect the vestiges of my dignity, getting critiqued on my own work also enlightened me to my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer and emboldened me to continually revise my work. It truly was a valuable time of learning and growth that I look back on with fondness at times and amusement at others (class sestina, anyone?), and I know I’ll always have a circle of kindred spirits whom I can trust to give frank feedback on future pieces and whose writing careers I can assiduously stalk.
Most memorable and longed for, however, are the writers themselves: my friends and peers, the teachers and counselors, the many visitors, and of course, the director. As the numerous writing activities, faculty reading, and the two talent shows proved, I was surrounded by immensely talented people: divinely endowed not only with the otherworldly ability to eloquently and poignantly string together words, but also with gifts for singing on pitch, improvising songs of hedgehogs on the guitar, and even telling stories (according to one tale, pumpkin seeds lead to pregnancy!). Being surrounded by so many passionate, simultaneously like-minded and diverse people for a fortnight not only inspired new ideas, but also galvanized me to write better—and above all, to write more, and to write everywhere. Prior to going to the studio, I believed I was entrenched in the genres of sci-fi and fantasy, only occasional dabbling in realistic fiction, but now I am compelled to experiment with different types of nonfiction and even structured forms such as villanelles. Prose was my longtime muse, but poetry is a handsome, beckoning beau.
Finally, Iowa City was an environs that impresses me even when I’m home in Texas. I was expecting insipid corn and bacon and instead received delicious frozen yogurt; an eerie cemetery guarded by its own dark angel; quirky, feline-friendly bookshops; and literary quotes ornamenting the sidewalks. As an aspiring young writer, I was indubitably fortunate for the opportunity to indulge in such linguistic and creative euphoria for a moment, however ephemeral.
Elaine Tang is a rising junior at Jasper High School in Plano, Texas. She attended Session 1 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.