When I heard that I was going to be living in a residence hall called “Burge” for the first two weeks of my summer vacation, the promise of a creative space was overshadowed by thoughts of a bad roommate, suspiciously chewy food, or—worst of all—a lack of Internet connectivity. It was only when I stepped through Burge’s Midwestern airlock that I knew only two out of my three fears would be realized over the course of the Studio. My roommate was amazing, and there was a computer lab next door.The biggest surprise of my experience is multi-faceted and hypocritical: “How am I writing so much?” and “Why am I not writing right now?” That’s the hidden truth of the Studio—it’s not just about what you type and print (but you better get that in for copying by 8:00 PM or I’ll choke you until you can’t even squeeze out a haiku). It’s about the people—the sixty or so teenagers that also decided to give up their videogames, decline Facebook invites for parties at the beach, abandon American coastlines, and went to live with strangers for two weeks in Iowa City.
In the time I spent with this community, with days melding into weeks and weeks into days, I made surprisingly tight bonds with a group of people I never would have met otherwise. We were all very different—in musical taste, writing style, reading preferences, etc.—but were also all, in some small way, the same. It didn’t matter that my universe featured drunken father-figure narrators while his was about a failing space station or hers a dragon-slaying centaur. We all liked to write—talk about writing, read about writing, and learn about writing—and weren’t afraid to try something new.
Writing exercises every morning asked us to not only wake up but also experiment with form and content in our prose, while evening outings featured both free Dairy Queen ice cream and warnings of death while staring down a twisted cemetery statue. Throughout these activities, the Studio forced me to feel stressed and comfortable at the same time. It really did open a creative space in my mind and my surroundings, and exceeded my every expectation in terms of a community and a learning experience. At the same time, I wasn’t treated with baby gloves, and enjoyed the feeling of responsibility the lenient schedule gave me. Plus, a prom theme that juxtaposed American popular culture with Pagan-Christian rituals—”Mid-life Christmas”—was a great way to end the camp.
Thanks to my teacher, Nick Dybek; my roommate, Seth; all of my friends and peers; the power duo, Stephen and Margaret; the food technicians at Burge; and everyone else that made it all happen.
Liam Brooks is a rising senior at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California. He attended Session 1 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.