by John M. Rafferty
As a new member to the graduate Writing Studies program, I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jordan Heil, a fellow, and much more seasoned, member of the program. In the following five questions, he shared his experiences thus far, where he sees himself headed, and a good deal of wisdom for all recently-enrolled students.
What brought you to St. Joe’s?
I did my undergraduate work at Kent State University in Kent, OH. I was a typical English nerd, cardigan sweater, honor society—the works.
I wanted to go on to get a master’s degree, but I was young and lacking direction. At the time, I was living in a full state of panic. As most seniors, the threat of reality pushing in on my cozy, college world was horrifying.
At graduation, they pretty much hand you a degree, push you out the door, and wish you the best of luck—like any twenty-something, kicked out of the proverbial nest, I was sure my foray into the real world would end in disaster.
I vaguely thought I’d like to work for a magazine, so like any good millennial, I Facebook stalked my favorite editors and their publications. I looked up their backgrounds and school affiliations, work history and reading habits. The Internet tells all.
I figured if I played my cards right, I might end up like one of them—with a desk at The Paris Review or Esquire.
Well, after a while, I typed a magic combination of words into Google and found the Writing Studies program. I applied, and they accepted me.
Eventually, I packed up my Mustang and hit the road, took the turnpike and didn’t ask any questions. There was a girl, too, of course. She had a lot to do with it.
But I’m saving the cliché, romance for my future memoir.
What do you see as the program’s greatest strengths?
I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences here at Saint Joe’s. It’s hard to narrow down…
There was this one time, I’d written an essay for a class I was taking. The essay was about education, but there was a lot in it about growing up, religion, faith—everything. It was the first time I’d let myself be vulnerable in print.
We were work-shopping our stuff that week, so everyone had read it. I sat at the table like a man awaiting judgment, expecting the worst. I was afraid that I’d revealed too much about myself.
It was like that scene from “Almost Famous” where Russell and William are standing by the pool. There are half-naked girls and Gibson guitars and scraggly musicians in the background. Russell turns to William and says, “What am I doing? I’m tellin’ secrets to the one guy you don’t tell secrets to.”
It was exactly like that—except it wasn’t sexy. And the soundtrack was not Lynyrd Skynyrd, but total silence (Laughing).
I struggled to write about myself before then. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t think I was interesting, or if I’d just thought that silence was the better option.
Finally, someone spoke up and said my prose was “elegant.” Another person chimed in and said it was “like poetry.” The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. It was, honestly, better than I could have imagined.
The support of my peers encouraged me to keep going. Now, I try not to hold anything back, and it’s all because of them.
The program’s single greatest strength is exactly what I’ve just described. There’s a real sense of community here, from students to staff. It’s an amazing environment.
Can you tell us about your experience as editor of The Avenue, the Writing Studies literary magazine?
I still can’t believe they’re letting me do it.
Sometimes, I wonder if Tenaya knew what she was getting into when she let me take on the project (Jokingly). I’m pretty high energy. I’ve got a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of ideas, and I ask a lot of questions.
In addition to my emails, I interrupt her work, in person, on like a weekly basis. I admire the people who tolerate me most (Laughing). I always think I’m being pesky.
The Avenue is an amazing publication. It’s the University’s best-kept secret, and I can’t wait to share the 2015 issue with everyone.
It’s going to be great, and we’ve got some things planned—a few updates on the horizon—for the people who are already familiar with it.
I’m not known for keeping quiet, but in this case, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Everyone needs to check it out!
The magazine is really my passion project. I can’t imagine a better opportunity, and I’m so grateful to have a shot at it. I love The Avenue, and the people who are working on it with me are really the best.
It wouldn’t be possible without their help, and I’m lucky they’ve stuck around.
What advice would you give to students who are just getting started in the program?
There’s this little place to eat back in Kent. It’s a small, family operation, and they used to have a chalkboard with inspirational messages, daily specials written on it—your standard diner stuff. I used to go there for dinner a few nights a week.
Well, one day I was there and they had a quote from Babe Ruth—“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game” —up on the board.
At the time, I thought it was complete bullshit.
But the older I get, the more I realize there’s a bit of truth in it. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn.
My advice is just to take a chance. You never know where you might end up if you do.
As far as goals for the future, where do you see yourself headed?
Oh, well I’d like to get a job, travel, write a book or two…
After that, if I have my way, I’ll head for the hills. I think there’s probably a pumpkin farm and hound dog for me somewhere. But—who knows?
I’ve got no set plans.
I’m just trying to figure things out as I go along. Maybe it’s not the best course of action, but so far it seems to be working.
John Rafferty (email@example.com) is a student in the Writing Studies M.A. program at Saint Joseph’s University. This is his first in a series of posts.