Anita Hughes

My Eciah moment came when I spent a summer studying at University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, CA. I was an English major at Bard College in Upstate New York and decided to take some summer courses at UC Berkeley. Being originally from Sydney, Australia, I had never been on the West Coast before. Bard College at the time was only 800 students on an intimate campus, so UC Berkeley - with almost 20,000 students - was going to be a completely new experience.

I arrived at UC Berkeley without a clear idea of what I wanted to study. I signed up for a few literature courses, including one taught by a female professor about 18th and 19th century British literature. I can't remember the name of the course exactly (this was thirty years ago) but the reading sounded interesting and new to me: Mary Gaskell, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins to name a few.

I signed up to live in a student co-op on the Northside of campus and arrived not knowing a single person. I started by exploring Berkeley by foot - it was like nowhere I had ever been: Built on hills with views of the San Francisco Bay wherever you turned. There were so many fun coffee shops and movie theaters and clusters of students discussing interesting topics.

Two funny things happened that summer to make my Eciah moment. Firstly, I didn't actually make any real friends. I met some people at the co-op and in my classes but I ended up spending most of my time alone.

The other thing that happened is I fell in love with British Literature. I enjoyed Mary Gaskell's NORTH AND SOUTH and then we read MILL ON THE FLOSS by George Eliot and I was so mesmerized by it, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a professor.

Being all alone and excited about my future plans gave me a feeling I had never experienced before: being completely happy without relying on anyone else for my happiness.

As it happened, life got in the way and I ended up getting a Masters in English and Creative Writing instead of a PhD. I didn't become a professor but I did realize my dream of becoming a published author, with my eighth novel, CHRISTMAS IN PARIS, just released by St. Martin's Press.

I am much older now and my life is full of people and responsibilities. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the stress of daily life. When that happens I remember my Eciah moment: all I needed was a copy of MILL ON THE FLOSS and my own dreams to be completely happy.

 Anita Hughes is the author of 8 novels, including Christmas in Paris. Her latest work, White Sand, Blue Sea: A St. Barts Love Story will be published in April, 2017.