By Tim J. Myers ’75
Although I thoroughly enjoyed CC, one aspect of my experience there actually led me into depression. The reason was simple; I’d been writing poetry since grade school but couldn’t get any poems accepted for the college’s literary magazine.
This may seem an odd way to start a piece in praise of the college, but in fact the whole thing revealed something essential about it.
I’m now a widely published writer and senior lecturer at Santa Clara University here in Silicon Valley. I have 15 children’s books out with two on the way, my “Glad to Be Dad” won the Ben Franklin Digital Award, I’ve just had my third book of adult poetry accepted for publication, and I’ve published with, for example, Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, and the Southern Humanities Review. I have two Pushcart nominations, got a great review for one of my books in The New York Times, and had another read aloud on NPR.
You’ll forgive the horn-tooting, I hope, since I mention all this to make a bigger point. What I went through as an undergrad, I now realize, was pretty predictable for a creative writer: I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. I eventually found my way through that crisis — with some crucial help from my professors. But they also re-shaped me as a thinker. And it’s the nature of their support that I find so powerful and so characteristic of CC.
I remember vividly how I’d plod over to office hours with Ruth Barton, how kind she was, reading my little poems and offering advice. But she never put me off by simply boosting my confidence in some easy way. So it began to dawn on me that I actually had to write better poems. This was a big leap; many a young writer, I’ve found, is incapable of the self-criticism an artist needs to improve. Ruth was personally generous to me, and sympathetic, but she maintained high literary standards, which is exactly what I needed. And this was something I sensed at CC all the time: that the life of the mind really mattered, and because of that, one’s work had to be excellent.
I imbibed that same sense of excellence from Tom Ross, whose Chaucer and Shakespeare classes I loved. Tom was witty and welcoming, but also a tremendous expert, and he challenged us continually. I profited in a similar way from Dennis Showalter’s German history class, where his great student-centeredness operated in perfect balance with his immense learning. A liberal arts education can be defined in a number of ways, but at its heart it must include this kind of rigor, energy, and contagious intellectual passion, all of which can be summed up, I think, in a single word: striving. I especially learned to strive from Peter Blasenheim; ironically, his Latin American history class was where I truly became a writer. Peter went over my papers and made me justify every word; good writing clearly mattered to him.
When enough people gather to actually live out the love of excellence, a community can arise that’s dedicated to that love on a day-to-day basis — and CC students are immensely fortunate to find themselves in exactly that kind of place. I also profited from another great lesson my professors insisted on: the idea that much of life is far more complex than the simplistic black-and-white ways in which we tend to view it. What kind of world would this be if people learned to generalize more carefully? If so many, for example, didn’t lump all Muslims in with extreme militants? If police officers never took what FBI Director James Comey calls “lazy mental shortcuts” in interactions with blacks and other minorities? (In recognition of the full complexity of this issue, Comey looks at it from the cops’ point of view too). One thing for sure — learning to think less simplistically changed my own way of engaging the world. And I’m profoundly grateful.
Let me end by quoting writer and philosopher Robert Pirsig. “The real University,” he says, “has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries…the real University is a state of mind…that great heritage of…thought that has been brought down…through the centuries…” Colorado College invited me into that true University, and taught me how to be part of it — and every day in my own work I’m trying to pass that precious gift on.
Tim J. Myers is a writer, storyteller, songwriter, and senior lecturer at Santa Clara University. He writes for all ages.