WHY I AM FEELING SO RELIEVED TODAY

Or, It's Still Hard To Go Home Again Even If You Never Really Leave
  1. So I grew up in Chapel Hill, NC, home of UNC-Chapel Hill.
    We moved here when I was three. I'm a faculty brat: my dad was a professor in the English department, my mom in Classics. I grew up going to department potlucks and riding my skateboard in the Pit.
  2. After a crash and burn at my first college (entirely my fault, not the school's) I ended up a student at UNC myself.
    I was an English major, with a focus in Creative Writing. It was mutually decided it I should avoid classes with people who had known me since I was a kid chewing on a rib at the department picnics.
  3. In October 1996 (20 years ago this month, but that's another list!) I sold my first novel. The following year, I got a job as an adjunct lecturer at UNC myself.
    I went from waiting tables at the Flying Burrito to working in the English department in a matter of weeks. There was more than one professor there who only knew me as the girl who brought him his beer and chips and salsa. Was HE surprised to see me in the mailroom! (Note: he was.)
  4. Fun fact: my office was two doors down from my father's. On the inside of his door were taped pictures I'd drawn in elementary school.
    This made it sort of hard to feel adult-y when having office hours, but I did my best.
  5. I taught for seven years, then left UNC to write full time. But my heart is always there from these different phases of my life.
    Plus, I still live in Chapel Hill, although out in the country, a part I never knew well growing up.
  6. This fall, I was asked to introduce one of my former teachers and mentors, the author Jill McCorkle, when she received the Thomas Wolfe Award.
    The event was at UNC, sponsored by the English department. I said yes, then proceeded to spent MONTHS being nervous about it.
  7. I get up in front of large groups of people and read/talk for a LIVING. I'm good at it. But something about this was giving me fits.
    I think it's like that feeling that you are always a kid around your parents. With this department, these people, I will forever be a faculty brat, a struggling undergrad OR a waitress who has no idea what she's doing teaching a creative writing course.
  8. Literally, I was losing sleep. The day came. I had a glass of wine with my friend Courtney and went over to the venue. Everyone was super nice and welcoming, because they are super nice and welcoming people.
    I love UNC so much.
  9. When I got up to introduce Jill, the first thing I said was "I'm nervous." It was true.
    But then I looked up at the first few rows. I saw Jill and Lee Smith, another mentor, both of whom encouraged me regularly during the years I was trying to get published and then blurbed my first book. I saw Julia, who was in my undergrad writing classes that almost did me in. I saw Courtney, who was in the classes I taught years later. And I saw faculty members who knew me through all these phases of my life and were smiling at me.
  10. I gave my intro. It was five minutes. Jill got up and spoke. She brought the house down.
    It was a great, great night. And despite all the jitters, I felt so glad I'd done it and honored I was asked.
  11. After, I drove home down the dark twisty country roads, back to the life I have now. Away from UNC and those memories, but never that far, really.
    I am very happy today I did it, but super glad it is done. I may have started---and stayed---at UNC for much of my life. But writing is where I live now.