AFTER FIGURING OUT
that I’d never play center field for the New York Yankees—getting cut from your college baseball team will do that—I got my baseball fix after college by coaching it in the Peace Corps for 2 ½ years in Chile. I was as surprised as you probably are that the job existed (and it no longer does, hasn’t for decades), but that time in South America was a major influence on my life. When I find myself whining today, I think back to the poverty I saw and repeat this mantra:
“Suck it up, crybaby!”
After leaving Chile I traveled for three months in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. I flew back to the States from Rio de Janeiro on October 4, 1980, hitchhiked home to Connecticut from JFK (made New Haven in two rides) and spent most of the following year writing a lot and writing badly. (Fiction, anyway–some of the songs were pretty good.) I had raw talent but sorely needed instruction; classes in fiction writing like the ones I teach now didn’t exist at Fairfield University when I went there.
Somehow or other, I heard about graduate programs in creative writing, and I’ll be forever grateful that UC Davis offered me a teaching assistantship. In 1981, I drove to California from Washington, DC with Catherine Connor, a Peace Corps friend; it was the first time I’d been west of Chicago and the economy was in recession, inflation was pushing 10% and gas cost an exorbitant $1.35 a gallon.
In Davis, I lived low and large on my $7200 a year stipend. No car (Davis is a bicycle mecca), $125 a month rent, $75 a quarter health insurance. I wrote a novel, originally called Asylum, that many drafts later was published as In the City of the Disappeared.
After receiving an M.A. from UCD I moved to Salt Lake City to enter a Ph.D. program at the University of Utah. (Thanks to my friend and fellow writer Chuck Rosenthal for paving the way to Zion from Davis and encouraging me to follow it.) I ended up living in Salt Lake for nine years, an adventure that included—in more or less chronological order—living with the legendary Buffalo Bob King in The Swamp; publishing my first short stories; hiking and camping in the glorious Utah desert; playing on excellent English department softball teams; meeting and marrying the love of my life, Christine Perkins; and getting my Ph.D.
In August of 1992 friends helped us load a Ryder truck for a cross-country trek to Connecticut, the state where I was born and raised. That was part of no grand plan to return home: Central Connecticut State University simply needed someone to teach fiction writing, and I happened to get the job. And twenty-four years have proceeded to fly by, as years are wont to do.