Moment 1: Trusting in the Story
I began college in September of 1999, and I was about as excited as an eighteen year old could get. I had developed the feeling of being “over” high school rather early and liked to joke that I had senioritis as a junior. So by the time graduation arrived I was eagerly awaiting the transition to college.
I didn’t move too terribly far away, but I did move. I left my hometown of Riverside, California to become an Anteater at the University of California, Irvine. I realize that the distance between these two cities may seem insignificant to many, but for me it was perfect. I would be living in the dorms and able to have a life of my own, but still be close enough to go home on the weekends if I wanted to, and without too much difficulty despite my lack of transportation. Unlike some, I had no desire to run away from my family and escape to a college on the other side of the country. But I was determined to go to school in a different city. It actually surprised me how many of my high school classmates chose to go to the local community college or UC Riverside, but I suppose there were a variety of reasons for such a choice. For me, staying that close to home would have felt stifling. I needed to breathe different air and UC Irvine gave me the opportunity to do just that. It also didn’t hurt that it was less than five miles from the beach.
When I filled out my college entrance applications the year before, I’d left my major undeclared. Choosing the focus of the next four years of my life seemed too daunting in the middle of my final year of high school. I wasn’t confident that I knew which degree could keep me interested for the four years of college, and my lifetime after that. As a child, I dreamt of becoming a doctor, but I just couldn’t make myself check off the box that said PreMed. Something about it just didn’t feel right anymore. By the time school started in the fall, I knew there was only one major that made sense for me. Before the end of orientation week, I had started the process of making my own declaration. I, Andrea Fingerson, was an English Major.
It was a declaration that was met with a lot of raised eyebrows and questioning stares from my extended family. At the time, my older cousin - the first in our generation to go to college - was at Stanford preparing for Med School. That was a degree to be proud of, a future to be excited about. But what was little Andy going to do with an English Major?
My family wasn’t critical, just confused and maybe a little concerned. I know that they wanted what was best for me and were worried about the kind of financial prospects I would have with an English degree. But I was confident.
Once I had escaped the confines of high school, once summer had taken over and the dust of adolescence had washed away, I kept coming back to all of the stories I had read growing up. From Little Women to The Box Car Children, I had spent countless hours in my childhood and adolescence with my nose in a book. The world of the written word was a marvelous place, and I wanted to spend time there.
I can even remember the first time my eyes came across something slightly scandalous within the written word. It happened at the end of eighth grade. I was lounging in the back of my science classroom with a mystery book in my hand. My teacher, a nerdy scientist if ever there was one, was sitting behind his desk while the rest of the class finished an assignment and kept randomly popping up to offer help to anyone who needed it. I was a bit of a nerd myself, still am, and I had already finished my work for the day, so I retreated into the book resting at the bottom of my backpack. I can’t even remember its title, or author, or where it came from. But I can remember the flush of red that seeped into my cheeks as my eyes rushed past the words. They weren’t terribly scandalous, especially not by today’s standards, but it was the first time I had read anything like it.
Now, as I look back I realize that stories were always a part of my life; a celebrated part that deserved revisiting. Every year I find myself scanning my bookshelf for Little Women and I don’t know how many times I’ve read each of Jane Austen’s deliciously romantic novels. I think the idea of writing was hidden somewhere in the back of my head, or deep in my heart, I don’t know. I just knew that I was fascinated with all the stories the world had to offer. I loved reading and I loved thinking about what I read. English was a way for me to explore the hidden meaning within the story, the message that was waiting to be understood. Maybe that was the real reason I decided to be an English major. Maybe I knew, even as a naive eighteen year old college freshmen, that some of the most important questions, the ones that would guide my life, could be revealed in the pages of a book.
Stay turned for part 3 or "One Writer's Legacy