At the End of the World
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
There's a view on the Bennington College campus of the Green Mountains and the Bennington Monument (of similar design to the Washington Monument) in the distance. It's affectionately known as "The End of the World." Adirondack chairs and picnic tables line up against a stone wall. People often say, "Meet me at the End of the World."
Three years ago, I was on the Bennington campus for the first time. I was the Development Director of the Governor's Institutes of Vermont, an intensive high school program on college campuses, and I was there to show off our new Young Writers Institute to donors. We'd scheduled the program concurrently with the Bennington Writing Seminars' June residency so the Institute students could attend BWS' reading series and meet other writers.
In between meetings, I found myself sitting at the End of the World, reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. I looked around at the graduate students scattered across the lawn, doing the same thing. Some were in groups on picnic blankets, laughing and no doubt discussing something sophisticated and important. Others were lounging in hammocks or Adirondack chairs, reading. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to get to talk about books and writing more than at my writers group meeting once a month. Plus, there was something comforting and welcoming in the campus' natural beauty, the ease the students seemed to move with, something sacred. I made an important decision then: to apply to the Bennington Writing Seminars.
Much of my time at Bennington residencies (five ten-day residencies over two years, every January and June) were spent at the End of the World. Reading, whether it was classmates' work, their critiques of my work, the book we'd chosen for our One Book discussion, or a professor's book I'd picked up in the library; Hanging out with friends, or at the bonfire we had last summer.
This week, three years after that first trip to Bennington, I went back to teach at the Governor's Institute for Young Writers (I left the Institutes when I began my MFA program to work part-time at the Children's Literacy Foundation, but was thrilled to be able to come back to teach). This time, I was just down there for the day, but I got to see my friends who were about to graduate and hear one of their readings (Amazing job, Cristina!). Going back to campus for the first time after graduating in January was a bit unsettling. Familiar, and also changed. For one thing, the campus' main historical building is being refurbished so there were literally changes to that structure and the surrounding area. But also, it felt like a memory, like a place where I still belonged but that didn't belong to me anymore. Along with a lot of familiar faces were a lot of new first termers. The atmosphere had changed without all my classmates, some of my dearest friends. I felt like no longer part of it. It was time to move on.
Before meeting my friends for lunch and teaching my class on experimenting with genre and form, I sat at the End of the World to read for a few minutes. This time it was Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered (Don't judge me! And stay out of the forest.) Though I was once again a visitor, it felt like going back to your childhood home, familiar, yet not quite the same as you'd remembered.
My time at Bennington changed me. It helped me find my voice and unleash it. It helped me believe in myself. It gave me friends and trusted readers and a whole lot of inspiration and ideas. But there was a part of me this week that felt like an impostor, like I was sneaking in on a party where I didn't know anyone, like I wasn't supposed to be there. I know I will always belong there in some way, as my experiences there will always belong to me. Still, it felt like the end of something. Not the world, but a part of my life. But Bennington isn't the end; it's just the beginning.