I remember a conversation that D and I had, back when I was trying to decide between MFA programs. “I’m worried,” she told me, “that if you go to a program because you’re in love with a person, and you end up not clicking with that person, you’ll be sorry.” This was one of many influential and important conversations I had during that time, and it’s the one I come back to now—because she was right. I am sorry.
Rewind, three hours ago. I’m standing on the curb outside an already darkened campus with my seminar professor, T.
“She basically told me I need to be in therapy,” I conclude the story of ‘the worst workshop ever.’
T puts her face in her hands and bends over shaking her head. “You’re right.”
It feels nice to hear someone say that. “There’s this fine line between author me and narrator me. I wish the critiques could be on my work, and not on me personally.”
“It hurts,” she nodded. “And I’m sorry that happened to you, in a class. It shouldn’t have. But as a writer, it’s going to happen. People are going to ask stupid questions. It shouldn’t have happened in a classroom though. It just shouldn’t.”
We form a plan, standing there in the cold, of what my next steps will be. When we’re done, I go to the bar and listen to other students in my program talk about what a great time they’re having, and I conclude that there must be something wrong with me.
Rewind, two years ago. I sit in T’s office (the old T) as she says to my face, “I’m worried that you’re running away so fast that you’re going to miss something.”
Fast forward, one week ago. “Maybe you stop working on your book for a while,” S says. She’s upset that she hasn’t heard from me in a while. I’ve been busy and let communication slide. But when she had her knee surgery, I sent a card.
“I miss my friends back home,” is all I say in reply.
Rewind, four years ago. I open the flier in my undergraduate admissions packet. You get out of college what you put into college. Commuter students that don’t find ways to get involved have a higher tendency to fail and/or drop out.
Fast forward, to the bar. “I have a question,” I tell the group after my glass of wine is empty. “For the table.” They all turn to me, and I ask, “What is it about me that y’all are having such great experiences here and I’m not?”
Everyone is quiet for a minute, and then the girl next to me, the only one I’ve never met, says, “It’s just luck of the draw.”
Rewind, two weeks ago. I look down at the paper in front of me during writing workshop, at the comments I made on the given essay over the weekend. The narrator has sat down for a game of chess with a man he has already informed us is crazy. The man pulls out a hammer and starts waving it around like a weapon. The narrator does not react on the page. I raise my hand. “How did the narrator feel when he raised the hammer? The narrator doesn’t really react—”
The professor interrupts me. “You have to consider the source there,” she tells the class. Everyone laughs. “Your past experiences color the feedback that you give on everyone’s pieces.”
I am not used to be so deeply tied to my work, and it frightens me that that line is disappearing.
Fast forward, last night. I am sitting in ‘the worst workshop ever,’ people firing uber-personal questions at me left and right. I write in the margin of my personal copy of my work—What happened to the line between me as the author and me as the narrator? I want the critique to be on my work, on me as the narrator—not on me as the person who sits in this classroom. It’s the job of the professor to control this line, to maintain it. I put my trust in the process and it let me down. I feel like she let me down.
Rewind, one year ago. “I look forward to hearing about the conversations you will have with people there,” N tells me as we sit on our normal couches on the third floor of the library. “To hearing about the things you learn.”
“I’m not ready to go.” I finger the edge of the book we are studying.
“You aren’t ready to stay,” she counters.
Fast forward, to the bar. “Maybe y’all should write fiction for a while,” says the workshop professor I haven’t had yet, but will next semester.
I miss fiction. But I didn’t come here for that. I came here to tell a story. A very important one. Not even just to tell it. I came here to learn to tell it better, and I’m scared that I’m not learning. My student brain doesn’t feel the same as it used to. I don’t feel smart. I don’t feel like I fit.
But I know I don’t want to write anything else.
“I came here for her.”
The professor takes a sip of her wine, but the glass isn’t big enough to disguise the expression on her face. Her feelings are obvious.
“I’ll say this,” I say, so quietly she has to lean across the table to hear me. “She’s made me a better writer.”
Maybe we haven’t clicked like I assumed we would. But I AM a better writer.
Rewind, sometime last year. N and I stand in the parking lot on campus after our weekly TA dinner meeting. “You be you,” she told me as we walked towards our cars. “You do what you need to do, but you be you. Your best you.”
I was not my best me then, but I really, really wanted to be.
I am sorry that I came here for a person. But I don’t think I’m sorry that I came, because I’m a better person for it.