I'm hiding in the back corner of the classroom, reliving those uncomfortable days in poetry class at community college. The sheer vulnerability of sharing ideas and artistic work with complete strangers, the temptation to compare my writing style and skills with others and come up lacking, the pressure for ideas when none come easily to mind. That poetry class I actually argued with the teacher for my grade, something I'd never done before or since. In his introduction to the class, he said he didn't give As to students unless our writing was publishable, and he alone stood as the subjective judge and critic of our work. Looking back, I can't say I didn't stretch myself as a writer in his class, but the memory of it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Twelve years later, each time I enter the room of another writing class, this shy aura settles over me and all intelligent words exit my brain and my speech comes up dry each time I open my mouth. I fight off thoughts that are more like a fog of feelings: What was I thinking? Why am I here? I can't even write. Except I know I can, and I'm here to write better than I do now. I'm here to learn. So why am I frustrated?
I branch out and attempt conversation with a girl sitting behind me, asking about the type of writing she wants to do. She's a fiction writer, but she also wants to write about food politics, a topic with endless trails of fascination branching from its core. What do you write, she asks? I offer my spiel and at the end, she comments that it sounds a lot like journaling. She's right, I think, it is similar, and I slump a bit in my plastic chair and inwardly protest, But it's not the same. For years I've written research and conducted interviews, summarizing other people's words and findings, enjoying the process of learning while stifling the process of creativity. And now, as I'm finally opening the gate to let my inner creativity romp and play, I feel I'm being led back into the corral, told to be serious and studious, that this will make me credible and profitable as a writer. In all fairness, I know I'm not being corralled or forced into anything. I'm here willingly. My desire to learn and stretch and grow led me here and no one is asking me to give up my creativity. Still, here in this class, I struggle to find my place as a writer.
My biggest challenge, it appears, is to set aside my previous expectations for this class - that I'd bring in all the writing I've been working on the past several years and work on making it better - and just relax, absorb information, indulge my curiosity on a number of subjects, and focus on what I bring with me to this class. A vision of why I write and how I want to write. An optimist in most things, when it comes to my abilities, I tend to see myself as the glass half empty because that is how I feel. And feelings can convincingly parade as truth when in fact they are bald-faced lies. Could it be that I learn more from this class than the material we are covering? That these assignments can train me to hold onto the essence of who I am as a writer, while stretching beyond what I know to incorporate new skills and ideas into my writing? Perhaps the greatest challenge, then, is to gratefully embrace feedback while not letting go of my unique voice as a writer, approval or not.
I squint my eyes and try to visualize my glass, see it beyond my emotions in this moment. The glass is murky, but as the water settles, the level rises.