A few weeks ago, I set a goal for myself: write (and publish) at least five hundred words on this blog five evenings a week before I go to sleep for four weeks. So far, I’ve been following through on this goal. The pay-off has slowly become noticeable. The first few days, I would jot down a few notes here and there during the day in order to prepare myself for the evening’s task, to make sure I wasn’t caught out, so to speak, staring at a blank screen with nothing to say. But this week, I’ve let go of that practice, finding it unnecessary and the blank screen less intimidating.
This is not to say that these posts and the words contained within them are coming easier or faster but perhaps I’m trusting myself a bit more that when I do sit down with my iPad, something — an idea, an image, a story — will come forth. Trusting this hasn’t coming easily to me, which is ironic if you consider that much of my adult life has been dedicated to communicating through the written word including teaching others how to use language.
I attended a prestigious school (Columbia in New York City) to earn an MFA (Masters of Fine Art) in creative writing. And the truth of the matter is few things can more shatter ones trust that the words will come than to dedicate four years of your life (and no small amount of money) to the study of words, especially perhaps at a world-renowned institution and especially perhaps at a world-renowned institution that never lets you forget that it’s a world-renowned institution. Or, at least, it shattered my trust. I can’t speak on behalf of my classmates or fellow students.
How does that happen? one might ask. Five hundred words and mere minutes before I would like to tuck myself into bed is not enough space and time to get into all the details. Suffice it to say that I had various moments with professors and instructors wherein their over-riding feeling towards me and my writing was irritation. I’m still not clear why (and will probably try to not put too much time into figuring it all out) but on several occasions, I would turn in work and the professor’s comments revealed that they were intensely annoyed that I hadn’t gotten it right; that by writing what I had written in the way I had written, I had personally injured them or at the very least I had put them out. Very rarely did I receive any comments or feedback or guidance on what I might do to get it right. One professor refused to read one of my submissions because it was “a mess”. (Yes, it was not lost on me: how could she know it was a mess if she didn’t read it?) We were then required to meet with the professor after class time to discuss my work. She had asked that we meet at her apartment, which meant I had to trek across town to discuss my work which she had not read. My only consolation is that in that particular class, there was one other student’s work which she refused to read. Years later, I learned that this student, in her turn, had not met with the professor. There was nothing to talk about if she hadn’t read my work, she told me later. Shit. Bold. Why, I wondered to myself, couldn’t I have the backbone of my classmate?
In a way, this challenge that I’ve set for myself to write and post blog posts of a certain length and for a certain period of time, is a way to force myself to get over all of the messaging I received with regard to my writing all those years ago. It’s a way to ignore the voices of criticism and to publish my writing on my own terms and in my own space, not waiting for approval from instructors and professors or even editors. It’s not even about attracting readers. I’ve mostly stopped tracking numbers of visits. (Although, I am well aware that my husband is a consistent reader and tireless supporter. Hi, Eric!) And I suppose that I should be grateful that, if nothing else, this professor who did not read my work has taught me that one thing: if even a person who you are paying to read your work, whose very job is to read your work refuses to read your work, then what do you have to lose in writing for yourself and yourself alone?