Grad School Residency Part III: I Learn That I Matter

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When my train trundled into the station in Montpelier, Vermont, on Jan. 10, 2023, I felt a deep and abiding sense of relief: I had made it to residency. For nearly a week before the third residency of my grad school career, I refused to leave my house or interact with anyone but my roommate for fear of getting sick and having to miss this thing I’d looked forward to for six months.

But there I was, mere steps from the college campus (and a bathroom — it was a long train ride). I knew the 10-day intensive was going to be, well, intense. I’d attend a traditional workshop and have my work critiqued by a group of near-strangers for the first time in almost 10 years. I’d read my work aloud to my peers. I’d attend lectures, meet with faculty members, learn who my third-semester advisor would be, forge new or deeper friendships. I was ready — or so I thought.

I came into the residency planning to write an article about how the workshop taught me to accept and give critique, or maybe how the readings reminded me how to read aloud. Instead, I’m sitting here today writing an article about belonging.

Because the main takeaway of this residency for me is that I belong: in the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) community, in the writing world, and on Earth, period.

I hope my stories can be just one voice in their ear telling them: you fucking matter.

Here’s the thing: since I was a young child, I’ve felt a deep-seated self-loathing and fear that I didn’t deserve to live. That my breaths, the inhale of oxygen and exhale of carbon dioxide, were actively making the world worse, and if I weren’t around, everyone would be better off. This has fueled many an instance of suicidal ideation, and given me something of a complex about how, in order to justify my existence, I need to be exceptional. My therapist and I are working on this a lot, to be honest.

So, back to residency. I showed up ready to learn. Ready to absorb other writers’ wisdom, ready to embark on the semester in which I’ll write a critical thesis (a terrifying prospect), ready to take dozens of pages of notes that I could refer back to later and grow from.

And that wasn’t the residency experience that I had. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I went to lectures, attended workshops, did a really incredible seminar, learned a lot. But the resounding lesson I learned?

Is that I belong. That I deserve to live. That I am loved and cherished.

My community at VCFA seemed to sense from day one that I’m a fragile little flower with low self-esteem, and it’s like they all got together and decided to ensure I had no reason to feel that way. They loved me, vocally & insistently, until I couldn’t help but hold my head up high and inhabit the space I take up, knowing it wasn’t an imposition on anyone there.

They laughed at my silly jokes, they gave me some awards, they cheered and clapped when I read my poems aloud…they loved me.

And here’s the thing: I was a good writer before. I can string together a great sentence, write killer banter, hook you with a relationship until you’re dying to know more. But now? Now I’m going to be a writer who believes she deserves to live.

And I’m confident that will shine through in my stories, both the fiction and the non-fiction. I really, sincerely believe this is going to change how I write, and maybe why I write.

Because this sense of belonging and meaning is so delicious, I want everyone to feel it. The teens I write for — the depressed, the queer both closeted and out, the hurting, the ones who think they’re broken — they deserve to feel good about themselves. They deserve to believe in themselves. And I hope my stories can be just one voice in their ear telling them: you fucking matter. I hope they learn it for themselves, and I hope I learn to internalize this message so I no longer rely on others to give it to me. But sometimes, you just need an external voice to build you up.

So that’s what I learned from residency that I didn’t expect. That’s the message I’m taking with me. I matter. I belong. My words matter. My words have impact.

Karis Rogerson

Column by Karis Rogerson

Karis Rogerson is a mid-20s aspiring author who lives in Brooklyn and works at a cafe—so totally that person they warn you about when you declare your English major. In addition to embracing the cliched nature of her life, she spends her days reading, binge-watching cop shows (Olivia Benson is her favorite character) and fangirling about all things literary, New York and selfie-related. You can find her other writing on her website and maybe someday you’ll be able to buy her novels.

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