Tag Archives: school

“Me” vs. Me

Three weeks ago, I was given the assignment to write two essays by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving rapidly approaches—what are we, two weeks out now?—and if you think I’ve written essays, or even started essays, I’m going to laugh in your face. No, really. Open the window. You’ll hear me.

I’ve been in a weird head space. Call it the blahs, call it writers block, call it massive life regret; call it what you will. But I’m not writing. Someone important to me told me I was throwing a tantrum, that I needed to get out and try to publish the way I did when I was in undergrad, the way I stopped doing when I hit grad school. Did my uber expensive masters degree break me of doing the thing I love?

I started evaluating how I got here, to this place, to this weird balance of writer and dog trainer and New Yorker. I opened up my undergrad paper files, to the very first paper I ever wrote. It was an introduction for an English Lit class. I didn’t know how to write papers back then, not really, but I definitely knew how to write about myself. I knew what I wanted then:

“In all honesty, what I want is to become a writer. I like words. I am one of the few who can use a semi-colon properly; I have been writing practically since I knew how to form words. I participate in NaNoWriMo every year, the exercise of writing a 50,000 plus word novel in 30 days, just for fun. the last three years that I’ve done this, I’ve done it while working a 50 hour work week. Between writing an average of 2700 words a day and carrying my regular work load, there wasn’t a lot of time left for sleeping! I am very particular about every word that comes out of me, whether it be an ordinary conversation paper or the next great novel. there’s a small part of me that is uncertain whether the words i write are any good. However, there is a larger part of me that is beginning to realize that I actually do have a talent for this.”

It’s ironic that now, what, six years later, I have less confidence in my work than I did before I embarked on this journey. I see my friends and acquaintances with equally expensive degrees not using them more than they are, and I find myself wondering once again what the damn point was. To be clear, because I don’t want to sound like I’m taking a giant piss on my life, I am very happy where I am. I have some great relationships here, with people and dogs. I have a job I adore. I just … don’t write things. I have a super expensive degree that I paid *insert unspecified ridiculously embarrassing amount of debt here* for and it feels silly. I didn’t even do NaNoWriMo this year, and when I realized that, I promised myself I’d write in my journal every day, at least for November. Then I promptly left my apartment for a week and forgot my journal on my headboard shelf. So much for that idea.

In my prior writer years, when I was really on the ball and doing the writerly things I was supposed to do, I used to hassle my friend N about not making time in her life to write. I’ve since apologized, at least five times. I haven’t submitted an essay for publication in at least a year. I haven’t made the required edits that will make my thesis a book. I reached this great point in my writing where I had learned how to really articulate myself and my story and do it well, and I just STOPPED.

Why.

I wonder if, perhaps, I am afraid of what it means to go further. If I have broken every barrier I was comfortable breaking (and some I wasn’t) and that now I can go no further because I can never associate my story with myself in a greater public sense, with the people who were in it. If, for, as much as I tote around that I can speak, I can do these things, I can be this person who these things happened to and be more than her at the same time, that I really can’t—because to be more here means to be more back there. No more pen name; no more bottom shelf paperback. No more cloak of invisibility.

No more “me.” Just … me.

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Be Your Best You

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.

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