By Amanda Wenger
When I moved into Lloyd Hall in 2010—Old Lloyd, to those of us who lived there pre-renovation—I found a lovingly worn and endearingly confusing labyrinth of stairwells that refused to connect. “You can’t get there from here,” we would tell visitors. Just because the North Laundry and the South Laundry were both in the basement didn’t mean they were accessible in horizontal fashion. You had to go up, across, and down, like a game of chutes and ladders. It was a place to explore.
LSWA (then LHSP) moved to Couzens for a year during the renovation, and we returned to find a space-age New Lloyd with glass-walled common areas and over forty different varieties of chairs (trust me, we counted). We rejoiced at the new art and dance studios. We puzzled at the oversized neon Adirondack loungers on the patio overlooking Palmer Field.
I was one of the lucky few who was in LSWA for all four years of undergrad: as a first-year student, a sophomore Student Assistant, and a Resident Advisor during junior and senior years. Being in LSWA was an obvious choice; it was one of only two arts-based residential communities at Michigan that would allow me to participate as a non-LSA student. I vividly remember sitting in Carol Tell’s office and telling her that, yes, I was in the School of Nursing, but I was going to be an author someday. And she, kindly and wisely, never asked me to choose between being an artist and being a scientist. She said, sure. You can be everything.
My LSWA community had a very particular flavor of weird. Everyone was making art in everyone else’s rooms at all hours of the night. We snuck up to the roof, where we were absolutely not allowed. In the last semester before the renovation, we painted fantastic murals on the walls of our rooms, knowing that everything in the building was about to be gutted. I held one memorable Creative Writing Club meeting while laying underneath a table in one of the conference rooms. This was taken in stride by the rest of the club. Lloyd was a safe place for me to be creative, a space apart from the stress of nursing school, and I tried to protect that nourishing strangeness when I became the RA of 5th Angell.
After graduation in 2014, I moved to Houston to start my nursing career. I joined the Houston Writers Guild and started slowly immersing myself in the Houston arts scene. Balancing a literary life and a separate full-time job takes a lot of effort, but my years in LSWA taught me to prioritize my creative self despite the other demands on my time. I wrote and wrote and eventually started what has become my first novel manuscript.
LSWA showed me how to find my people. I have always been an inconvenient mix of outgoing and introverted: I’m very comfortable presenting to crowds, but shyer talking one-on-one. In Houston, I gravitated to a group of artists I met through a weekly salon, held in the kitchen of an art gallery director. Several of these friends are accomplished oral storytellers who often perform at The Moth Live: StorySLAM sponsored by NPR. They encouraged me to start telling stories at The Moth, and over time I came to know the folks I affectionately call the “Moth People”: a vibrant community of storytellers who frequent venues around town. After seeing me on stage a few times at The Moth, a local radio host asked me to be a guest storyteller on his program So What’s Your Story?
LSWA also taught me not to be embarrassed when taking creative risks. Last fall, I heard that the Houston Fringe Festival was holding an open call for performance proposals. I had always wanted to do standup comedy, so I whipped up a proposal for a set and sent in work samples from some of my oral storytelling performances. I was terrified when they accepted me! I spent months writing material, determined not to flop. It was incredibly fun, and I got a lot of laughs. After the show, a local filmmaker approached me about doing some filming with Houston Public Media. Taking that one opportunity to try something new led to a huge broadening of my network. I was just selected to write and perform another set for the Best Of The Fringe in May!
The most important thing LSWA taught me is that my art is worth advocating for. Since I am a self-taught writer with no formal degree, it took a while for me to believe that I am deserving of opportunities in the literary field. I began applying for writers’ residencies last year, and was accepted to three for this year: The Wellstone Center in the Redwoods (Soquel, CA), The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow (Eureka Springs, AK), and Greywood Arts (Killeagh, Ireland). An excerpt from my novel received an honorable mention from the Speculative Literature Foundation for their Diverse Worlds Grant. I was recently accepted to the Artist INC Houston Class of 2020, which is a workshop series designed to teach artists the business skills to make their art financially sustainable. This led to launching a website at amandawenger.com as a platform for my creative work.
I still have many friends from my Lloyd days, as well as mentors like Carol. LSWA was, hands-down, the best part of college for me. I hope that every student finds what I found there: a place to be safe, and make stuff, and never have to choose what to be.
You can be everything.
All photos courtesy of Amanda Wenger.