Meet Mary

By Mary DiPipi

Last October, I had gotten an invite to join a Facebook group from an old friend from musical theatre camp. We hadn’t talked in years, liking each other’s posts here and there. At first, I was skeptical. Most times you get an invite to a Facebook group, it’s usually someone trying to sell you something. But this wasn’t like that. Instead of a Facebook group (mostly women) trying to selling me something, I saw a group of people who cared about the educational advancements and struggles of college students. The group was (and remains) focused on graduate alumni and supporting graduate students. I was intrigued. I had just graduated with my Masters in Creative Writing, and had struggled balancing a job, and graduate school, and my Thesis–my completed novel.

My final thesis–that was a half-assed version of the story I really wanted to tell–I was able to pass and that was what I cared about. I made plans to work on my novel after finally leaving the toxic environment my job had become, but for months, I couldn’t find the motivation. I was lucky to have been able to find ways to support myself, but I wanted to write. I wanted to make my novel–my thesis–what it was always meant to be. 

So, I joined and was compelled to share my experience as a graduate student on the Facebook page. Something about this Facebook group made me want to share my experience. It made me want to help out other graduate/college students and offer support. Extra support I wish I would have had during my time in my master’s program.  Something about this Ivory Tower Boiler Room group just felt right. Soon after, I got a Zoom invite from my musical theatre friend (Andrew). I was nervous, but excited. We hadn’t talked in years but I knew we had common ground based off of the posts he shared on facebook about his activism into social justice and equality/equity. 

There were four of us at first, but then gradually more and more people joined. What started as a few days per week became every day. I was making progress with my novel and finding a community of writers that I could share my thoughts, feelings, and struggles with (I know that sounds so cliche) in the process. 

This group has saved me mentally and emotionally. I can think of at least 2-3 occasions when I would have had a meltdown (no, that is not an exaggeration) if it weren’t for the support and motivation from this group. So if you’re a fiction writer who needs help getting through writer’s block, or a grad student working on your dissertation, or a poet trying to gain confidence, or any type of writer looking for support, check Ivory Tower Boiler Room out, give the pod a listen. Because we’re here for you. 

Meet Erika

By Erika Grumet

A little more than six months ago, well into the COVID-19 pandemic, and feeling the need to insert some structure into my own life, I signed up for a workshop “Feminist Midrash: Femme Fatale or Fierce Woman Warrior.”  This was definitely an out of character thing to do; I’d stopped writing anything creative a very long time ago, and suddenly, I found myself signing up for six weeks of creative writing?  With all of the ways 2020 was different from other years, why not, right?  

A week or two into that adventure, while browsing Facebook one night, I read a post in an alumni group for the hippie, progressive creative-and-performing-arts summer camp I attended as a teenager. The post asked about who was teaching via Zoom and what were they teaching?  I read through the comments–many musicians teaching lessons on all sorts of instruments, and one from Adam about teaching writing to kids. As a parent, and someone who has worked extensively with kids, I commented that I was interested in hearing more, and suddenly, after a few Facebook messages and one long phone call, we agreed to meet regularly for writing instruction. 

The real turning point came a few weeks later, though, when Adam messaged me on a Sunday to suggest I drop in on his “writing group” that afternoon. First, of course, came absolute panic that I wasn’t a good enough writer to do that, and second was what I answered back, “I don’t have anything to share.”  I didn’t share the “not good enough part,” but Adam explained that no sharing was required, just come, join a Zoom chat and write with others for a little while. It didn’t improve my confidence, but I figured that the accountability wasn’t a bad thing, so I joined in, and met Andrew. No writing happened that day, but the conversation was inspiring, and an invitation was extended to return the following day. So I came back on Monday. And nearly every day after that. (As I write this, I think I’ve missed two days of writing group since I began attending, and both of the days I missed, it was because I was sick, not because I chose something else instead.) 

So here we are now. About half a year of daily writing, not because someone else has said to do it, but because I chose it. Adam teased one night that I started showing up to the writing group “like a dry drunk trying to get a 30 day chip.” I’m finding myself fueled sometimes by words more than food or drinks. These days,  writing is a need, a pleasurable one, but it’s a need that has to be met. I feel uncomfortable or incomplete if I haven’t at least made an attempt at writing something each day. I don’t worry as much anymore about making sure I produce good work daily, just that I produce something. 

Creative people will tell you there’s a need to create that’s unquenchable in any other way but creating. For me, I create with words, and the format I’m most drawn to is poetry. Poetry doesn’t require me to concentrate on tying up loose ends or consistent characters. It lets me focus on the picture I’m creating in that one moment, on the things people feel all the way down into their deepest parts and to honor those moments and those feelings.

It’s taken six months, but I’ve (mostly) stopped fighting when Adam and Andrew and Mary call me “a writer,” although they’re still pushing for poet, and I might even use “writer” to describe myself sometimes. I’ve been a guest on the Ivory Tower Boiler Room podcast and now I’ve been invited to join the podcast team. I’m part of a community of people who love to write, and  I get to celebrate their successes, and as for my own work, for now, I mostly fret about writer’s block and shovel piles of self-criticism from one place to another. Instead of doing it alone now though,  I am doing it in the company of other people who soothe my anxious heart. They’re there when I am struggling to understand my own writing. when I reach out tearfully. They offer criticism kindly  and appreciate my growing love affair with my thesaurus. And on the day when I have success of my own to celebrate, they’ll be first in line with champagne.

Meet Andrew

By Andrew Rimby

Hi Ivory Tower Boiler Room listeners–and now readers of an immersive website that I can’t even believe is happening. It was in July, of 2020, that I first posted a Facebook inquiry to ask if anyone watching my feed would: 

1. Be curious listening to a podcast about scholars, writers, and artists in general? 

2. Who would like to join me in this podcast venture?

Adam reached out to me right away and said he would join hands with me as a co-host. Now, 9 months since our first planning meeting discussing what the Ivory Tower Boiler Room would look like, we have an opportunity to interact with our fellow writers and listeners in such a collaborative way. For example, my public scholarly talks and walking tours (offered in collaboration with the Whitman Birthplace and the Port Washington Library) can now be shared via the Ivory Tower Boiler Room blog space. I can’t wait to interact with our community and be in conversation with such diverse voices. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this blog space evolves.

We have a blog!

We have a blog! And it is our distinct pleasure to introduce it to all of you! There has been a real atmosphere of excitement at the Ivory Tower Boiler Room surrounding the creation of this website in general, and this blog in particular. Andrew, who is usually so reserved, has been positively giddy, and Adam, who spent many years being snooty about both podcasts and blogs, is now eating crow. Meanwhile, Erika is grimly determined to share her process as she rediscovers herself as a writer. 

And Mary is going to write her blog posts only after making sure the rest of us are in bed by 9 (but if we take out flashlights to read, she’ll pretend not to notice).

The gist here is simple. We have four regulars on the Ivory Tower Boiler Room—Erika, Mary, Andrew and Adam. There are four (-ish) weeks in a month. Tiffany Sowa has already agreed to sign on as a weekly columnist, and we hope to have more besides. In addition, we will have other members of our writing group joining in whenever they have something to boast or gush or rant about. These are all people whose writing we love, and so we are excited as both readers and writers. 

The main reason we are starting this blog–and this is not an exaggeration–is the comments section. We want to hear from you. 

Happy reading!

-Adam, Andrew, Erika, and Mary

P.S. Any unsigned pieces you see in this space, or on this website in general, are a product of the hive mind that unites the four of us.

Artwork courtesy of Dr. Adam Katz
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