The 20-year Year – Part 1

20 years ago, there was a three week period that would change my life in remarkable ways. I graduated from Smith College, a place that taught me how to grow into my authentic self, and I got married, the first decision on a tree that has informed every choice since. Every big anniversary of that time in 1995 makes me thoughtful. Ok, more thoughtful even than usual. How have I grown in those years? I am living up to my promise? Do I bring enough joy to the world to offset the inevitable pain? How am I contributing as a woman, as a wife, as a mother? If I could talk to that woman of 22, what would she think of her 42-year old self? Would she be satisfied or disappointed?

Part 1 – Thoughts on being “a Smithie”

I don’t think it is possible to be a Smithie and not think about whether or not you are enough. The tag line for their current alumnae giving campaign is “Women for the World” — they say for the world and they mean it. I’m not sure that when I headed off to Northampton that I understood that, but I think I did when I finished. During my three years there (like many I spent my junior year away to get new perspective) I found myself both buoyed and awed. Within the Grecourt Gates I wasn’t the smartest person in the room. Or the most driven. There I was just one of 2,500 women, and I knew that the other 2,499 were going to go out into the world and kick ass.

When I got to Smith in 1991, I was incredibly excited — more excited than my normal ambient level of excited, which is pretty high. I ran around unpacking the esssence of Mel for anyone to hear — anyone who would listen. (My sophomore roommate tells of meeting me, “I knew more about you in 15 minutes than I knew about most people I had known my whole life.”) I was so excited to be starting over in a new place without 18 years of insecurity weighing me down. I wanted to be my authentic self in a place where my authentic self would be good.

And Smith was that place. I thrived. I loved the people, the environment, the classes. I got involved in theatre and felt like part of a community. I connected with the women I lived with in my quirky century-old house. My classes were engaging and thought provoking. It was everything I had wanted.

The hardest part was that I just wasn’t good enough. I learned quickly that what got me A’s in a rural consolidated public school in Michigan was B- work at Smith. I went to office hours, I made friends with women who were ahead of me and asked for help. I peeked down into my center and reminded myself I was smart, I was capable, I would work for it. And so I scraped and clawed and found that I could do better — I could be good enough to be at Smith. I could deserve to be there. But, I also gave up the thought of being the best at Smith. And in the course of that time I learned five things that have framed me.

  1. I learned that I am good enough to be at the table. Any table.
  2. I learned that there will be times when I feel I don’t belong at the table — and that I am capable of overcoming it.
  3. I learned that being good enough to be at the table doesn’t mean you’ll be the best at the table, and that’s ok.
  4. I learned that surrounding yourself with talented people is fun, provided they aren’t jerks.
  5. I learned not surround myself with jerks.

I think my 22-year old self would believe that those lessons were truly learned and subsequently applied. And I think she would be proud of what I’ve done. But, is it enough for a Smithie?

Oh, who the heck cares? It’s enough for me.

Birth of the Accidental Blogger

This week I had breakfast with a young, talented woman. I had reached out to her because during our brief time working together I had been impressed by her intellect, the way she worked through challenging interactions and her attitude. She reminded me of a younger version of me. Anyway, I invited her to breakfast to focus on her potential and let her know I was in her fan club.

And then I spent 45 minutes talking about myself.

I told her about my musings around my “20-year year” — how 2015 is the 20th anniversary of my graduation from Smith and of my marriage. I talked about my love of writing, abandoned after failing to get into a creative writing class my first year in college. I shared my thoughts on the value of learning versus the value of a degree. I told her about golden shackles, leaving Ford and higher education and my dreams of getting a PhD someday. And after I had unpacked enough of me to fill a small steamer trunk she asked me an interesting question.

“So, do you blog?”

Huh. No, I don’t blog.

Bloggers have something important to say. They have adoring fans. They get retweeted, reblogged and quoted in the media. Bloggers are famous. I’m not a blogger, I’m just a woman who overshares on Facebook. But there she was, asking me with sincerity if I blogged. Like maybe I should blog. Like maybe she thought I had something interesting to share — or maybe she just thought it would be easier on the world if I typed my thoughts onto the World Wide Web instead of rambling on over toast and yogurt. Either way, I came home and opened a WordPress account and started typing.

Do I blog? I guess I do.