• Spectrum Staff

Vy Duong: Second Impressions

Spectrum reader Vy Duong writes about her journey to become a creative writer and join Spectrum.


In truth, I’ve wanted to be part of ​Spectrum​ since even before I came to UC Santa Barbara. I remember when I was first accepted — for communication in the College of Letters & Sciences, the biggest of UCSB’s three colleges—I scoured Google for any possibility of taking creative writing courses in college. “​ucsb writing” ​lead me to “​ucsb writing program” ​which lead me to the homepage of the Writing Program which lead me to the Professional Writing Minor before I circled back to two search results down, landing on the Writing & Literature page of the College of Creative Studies (CCS) website and then eventually, ​Spectrum.


At the time, I didn’t even know what a literary magazine was. I came from a Bay Area high school considered to be a UC feeder, where the most interest and money was dedicated to developing our STEM programs, pumping out a mass of computer science majors, med school dreamers and engineer hopefuls. After struggling in calculus, sleeping through chemistry, and loathing my AP English teachers, I figured I’d pursue something in social sciences, something that could translate into business or marketing.


Creative writing was never really on my academic agenda. Sure, I wanted to be a writer when I was in fifth grade, but I had also wanted to be a fashion designer, a lawyer, a spy. Being an immigrant kid, I weigh all my life choices by cost and profit. How do I make an empty glass full? Still, I was excited at the prospect of being able to take a few classes here and there on a hobby I thought I was somewhat decent at. I looked up “​what is a literary magazine​” and was impressed by the answer Google gave me. Then I read through Spectrum’s course description and was delighted to find that I didn’t have to be a CCS student to take it. ​Okay,​ I thought, ​I’ll ask to join Spectrum eventually.


Fast forward almost two years and an ongoing pandemic later, life comes full circle. Every week, I log onto a Zoom meeting and am greeted by familiar faces. For a few hours, we go through our decisions on submissions, discuss what we liked, what we didn’t like, and crack the more-than-occasional jokes in the chat box. Sometimes, the Zoom fatigue lingers, but most of the time, this is one of my favorite courses.


At the beginning of this quarter, I was worried about how unqualified I am to be in this course. Like — who let ​me​ be the judge of what’s good writing? Fiction and nonfiction, maybe I could appraise, but poetry? The only thing I remember about poems is iambic pentameter.


Yet over the course of the past ten weeks, I’ve come to appreciate ​not knowing​ in order to learn something new. The beauty of being in a community of writers and readers like Spectrum (and the CCS Writing & Literature Program at large) is that you are always at risk of learning from someone who knows more than you. I can’t count on one hand the amount of times I have walked into a class meeting with a preconceived notion of a piece only to come away with a completely new perspective.

Being a part of Spectrum has reinforced a lesson I’ve been internalizing for the past two years: to be open to the unexpected. I’d never planned on majoring in Writing & Literature, but the one thing that the pandemic gave me was time to think. Suddenly stripped of my friends and the campus environment that had kept me going, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my major in a way that made it worthwhile. So I thought about what I had really wanted to do since I was accepted into UCSB—creative writing. I applied to CCS for Writing & Literature at the end of my freshman year and am now two quarters deep into the program. Frankly, I am kind of loving it.


There is that saying I always get wrong. Is it that art imitates life or life imitates art? If the bleak world we’re currently living in has taught me anything, it is that plans can fall apart, diverge, merge into something entirely new. The best I can do is trust my instincts and give every thought a second glance.

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