The story of how I arrived at The Spectrum is very corny and lame, but I’m going to tell it anyway.
I’ve never considered myself particularly good at anything except for writing. I’ve tried to be good at other things — some of my attempted hobbies include playing guitar, filmmaking, cooking, baking, knitting, making jewelry and photography — but nothing felt as natural as writing.
When my parents, friends and teachers encouraged me to pursue it, I brushed them off. I was not a writer. Writers are cool and interesting and have something unique to offer the world. I never felt that way.
By the time I got to college, I had almost entirely let go of that dream.
I spent my first two-and-a-half years at UB sure I would never try to write again. I knew about The Spectrum, and in the back of my mind I desperately wanted to get involved. But why would anyone be interested in what I had to say? I talked myself out of it over and over again.
My junior year, over winter break, I read a collection of essays by one of my personal heroes, Joan Didion. That collection included the piece “Why I Write.” Something she said in that essay resonated with me so deeply that I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not read it. In a self-effacing passage about her tumultuous postgraduate life, she wrote this:
“I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer.”
I am by no means comparing myself to icon and legend Joan Didion, who is a better journalist than I will ever be. But she gave me the wakeup call I needed. Maybe I should give writing another shot. I — no joke — immediately opened my laptop and enrolled in The Spectrum class, ENG394.
My first semester as a staff writer was hard. I considered resigning the course a few times. I don’t think I ever spoke in class, except to timidly pitch my lame ideas to my editors (shoutout Kara Anderson and Alex Falter). I wrote some mediocre stories that never got published. But I saw it through, and applied to be an editor anyway.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that decision would end up being one of the best I’ve ever made.
At my first editors’ meeting, I was so nervous that I thought I was gonna throw up. But as I pitched my first story, Anthony, Grant and Andrew were so encouraging that I immediately knew I was welcome on staff.
That first story ended up making the front page of the issue, and the “Big Three” led a round of applause for me at the next meeting. It sounds silly, but I will always remember how proud I felt in that moment. I had never gotten that level of appreciation for something I had written.
To be brutally honest, I don’t know if I would have survived my senior year if it weren’t for The Spectrum.
The past two semesters have not been easy on my mental health. I went through a breakup so hard I barely left my room for a month. My car was stolen from right outside my apartment. I lost friends and jobs. I was so broke my card declined on a single spicy potato taco at Taco Bell (for the uninitiated: it’s literally $1).
I had so many days when I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, and sometimes I didn’t. But even when I didn’t have it in me to go to class or do my homework (I hope my parents aren’t reading this), I did everything in my power to make it to the office at 3 p.m. on Mondays.
The Spectrum gave me something to be proud of when it felt like I was failing at everything else.
I’m not gonna go down the list and thank everyone individually because I will cry too much, but you guys know who you are. Even if we literally never spoke, you made my life a little better.
For the returning staff and my fellow departing editors: you are the most talented and hardworking people I know, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what you accomplish. I hope to keep you all in my life somehow.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone at The Spectrum, for making me feel like my words had value. For making me feel like a writer.
I’m so proud to know all of you, and I’m definitely not crying right now.
This column is quickly approaching Alex Novak levels of verbosity, so I am going to sign off.
Goodbye for now!
P.S. To my successors on the arts desk: please take care of my elephant plushie.
Meret Kelsey is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meret Kelsey is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.