Your Story Here: Smoker Journals

One thing’s for certain: Mawrters have a lot to say. This issue features four alumnae/i voices from the ’60s to the present decade.

A somewhat reluctant Mawrter, I look back on my four years at BMC with amusement, general satisfaction, and maybe a little regret that I didn’t make the most of them. I don’t light my lantern often because I didn’t see a connection between my college experience and my current life.

Recently, I had an epiphany. I am an essayist and an author of middle-grade and children’s books as well as romance novels. I also work as an elementary library media specialist, which is a fancy way of saying school librarian. I was participating on a district committee on writing. An ice-breaking prompt was put up: “What do you remember about how you learned to write?” While one of my colleagues recounted learning to write on her mother’s lap, I was transported by a vivid memory: sitting on a coarse sofa cushion that bore a distinct scent of cigarette smoke and stale beer with a marble notebook cradled in my lap and a pen in my hand. One of my most enduring memories of college is that of writing, and not of writing for any school assignments or projects, but writing for the sheer pleasure and cathartic therapy of it.

"I wasn't the typical Bryn Mawr student."

Let me explain. I attended BMC from 1989 to 1993. In those years, several of the dorms had “smokers.” These were lounges where one could hang out and maybe watch some TV, and, yes, some people did smoke. There were bookshelves where you could “give one and get one.” There were also communal writing journals in which anyone could participate with personal reflections or short stories. There was a particularly magical set of notebooks in one of the Erdman lounges that contained an epic fantasy complete with illustrations and maps, and anyone could add to them.

In retrospect, I am struck by how powerful a creative environment this was. Each journal functioned as a virtual Writer’s Group in which anyone with a pen and the inclination could participate. You could comment on writing or add your own. However, others could sometimes determine the authors. What I wrote in a journal in the Radnor smoker was read aloud during my trial at the beginning of “H” week. (I am not sure that that is still a tradition—I, for one, believed it needed to go—but, not wanting to break any oaths, will simply say “H” week.”) During my “trial,” the smut I’d written. … Oh wait, I forgot to share that part of it. I wrote in the tradition of Anaïs Nin, though with far less talent. That is, I wrote and sometimes still write romance. This was what was read aloud to “prosecute” me.

I wasn’t devastated, maybe a little mortified, as terms like “throbbing member” were read out loud. Hearing it was terrifying and thrilling. My writing was being shared with its first real audience! I never signed anything that I wrote in those journals. I don’t think I confided my pastime to anyone. How had the other dorm residents known what I barely understood about myself? That is, that am I writer.   

Maybe I wasn’t the typical Bryn Mawr student. I spent my time reading romance novels and planning how I was going to get off campus, ride horses, and meet guys. I didn’t embrace all of the Traditions. But, to this day, when I sit down with a notebook and a pen in my hand, I am transported back to that battered couch with its lingering scents of forgotten revelry.

I am a writer, not a bestseller or one who has achieved literary distinction, but one who has stories to tell. Bryn Mawr College was part of my journey to become one.

Caroline (Rankin) Akervik ’93 is an essayist and an author of middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her most recent release is a science fiction novel, Halcyon: A Sentinel Novel. She also writes romance novels under the pen name Isabelle Kane.