What I Left Behind
As a graduate student, I worked for a literary magazine. I huddled in an office filled with books, read through an inbox of submissions, and batted drafts of grant applications back and forth with my colleagues. I sat at cramped tables in dimly lit bars, selling books at readings, while my friends spent the breaks chatting.
The creative writing scene in Montreal seemed wondrous to me, full of new ways of shaping and playing with words, and I imagined it would be my path to success. I got invited to read my work, and people I knew talked about publishing one of my books someday. Yet there were elements in the community that seemed off.
Was it normal for certain professors to hit on their students? Or for certain writers to get published seemingly because they said the right things to the right people, while other talented writers did not?
After graduating, the magic disappeared. Montreal’s streets and skyscrapers closed in on me. The city felt too narrow, the scene claustrophobic. When I didn’t find a job in Canadian publishing, I moved to San Francisco. Years passed with little publishing success on my end, while I watched my friends post book announcements on Facebook, I wondered if I’d missed out by leaving my old networks behind?
But I started doing other things in California. While juggling several part-time jobs, I began teaching the Enneagram, a personality system that had been insightful for me in college, again and more seriously. I spoke at conferences in Portugal, Toronto, and all across the US, and gave trainings at corporate retreats.
My drive to write had changed; when two book deals fell through it felt like the ideas had dried up, I accepted that I probably wouldn’t have a book published after all. I kept busy with other things. Then, in the summer of 2016, an editorial contact approached me and my teaching partner to write a book about the Enneagram. The Modern Enneagram was published the following year.
Later in the year after publishing my book, the #MeToo movement went viral in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. In the time since I’d left the Montreal literary community, there had been one public story and multiple unaddressed complaints of sexual assault within it, most of which I’d been unaware of; now multiple women and men came forward, sharing their stories of sexual abuses and abuses of power within the literary community and program of study I’d been a part of.
The problems had gone much deeper than I’d realized, the innovation and hero worship hiding darker undercurrents.
I’m grateful that authorities have now begun to listen and that changes are coming within the community. Maybe the next generation of young writers in this climate won’t have to wonder, “Is this normal?” or ask themselves what compromises they’re willing to make to get published.
I feel fortunate for finding revitalization in a new place. The book I’d always dreamed about writing is a reality, without any compromises made, in a way that’s true to myself and the strides I’ve made in striking out on my own.
By: Melanie Bell
Melanie Bell offers writing coaching, editing, and personal growth workshops through Inspire Envisioning. She is the coauthor of a best-selling nonfiction book, The Modern Enneagram. Her creative work has appeared in Cicada, xoJane, Autostraddle, Grain, and various other publications. She loves crafting fantasy worlds, exploring the real one, and reading in her pajamas. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.