Time is a coat that we wear from year to year. But every year brings a new coat, and we never take off the old ones. Every year breath comes a little harder, and our limbs become a little stiffer. Every year the wounds of our youth are harder to reach, harder to change, harder to heal.
I’m not being negative on purpose, but I’ve had an interesting epiphany today, and I felt the need to share it.
I attended Kutztown University in rural Pennsylvania. Beautiful school, and I enjoyed my time there very much. But as I stride through my 40’s, I’ve become aware of pain and injury and loss that I wasn’t able to see when I was younger. Today, for no apparent reason, I realized I was terribly harmed by one of my writing teachers. A little background.
I studied Psychology – seemed a good idea at the time, but I never pursued it – and had a dual major in Related Arts. The Related Arts degree was a broad-spectrum course of study, and my major focus was vocal performance. I love to sing. However, as part of the degree, there were two areas of concentration. I choose theatre and writing, and as part of the writing concentration I took Creative Writing: Fiction.
I don’t remember the professors name, or even his face, but there are a few things I do remember. Keep in mind this was a fiction writing course. Everybody was making up everything they wrote. The settings may have been familiar – the modern-day or some well-known historical period – but the stories were all invented. There were about fifteen students total, and we would be given assignments which would then be discussed in class. Pretty normal stuff.
But professor what’s-his-name had an idea of what the course was about that didn’t match my expectations, and I learned this as I turned in my assignments. You see, I thought it was a fiction writing course, as in anything that was fiction, but apparently he was interested only in historical and real-world fiction.
If you’ve read my blog for more than about 30 words, you probably realize I like magic and robots and time-travel and all the fantastic and super-science elements of fiction. It’s not the only thing I write, but those elements turn up again and again.
He just wasn’t going for it.
I remember clearly in class one day, a portion of one of my stories was read aloud. It wasn’t very good, but that’s not the point. The point was I
had written about elves, the humanoid fey creatures so common in fantasy literature. I asked about capitalization, specifically when it was correct to capitalize the racial name elf, and my professor – a man paid by a university to teach inquiring minds – let out a long sigh and asked me if this sort of story was all I wrote. He suggested I write “something that mattered” instead of “so much nonsense.”
I was, as you might imagine, floored.
But that isn’t my epiphany. What I realized today was this: His closed-minded attitude, which I ran into plenty of other places as well, helped to convince me that the stories inside my head were junk. I don’t blame this professor directly, but he was part of a culture of judgement and snobbishness that prevented me from writing for many, many years. He was partly responsible for holding me back.
And I let him do it.
He didn’t have any power over me; I gave him that power. And by giving him that power, I allowed him to control me. How many stories have died stillborn in my imagination because of him and those like him? Hundreds. Perhaps thousands. I’ll never really know.
And so I write now, having slowly cut myself free of all the shackles I let people place upon me in my youth. And I pray that someone may read this blog post – or anything I’ve ever written – and be inspired to create in their own way, regardless of what others may say, how others may judge.
Their opinion doesn’t matter, and it never will. What matters is what you believe in your head. Writing is something you do for yourself and nobody else, and until you realize that, you won’t really be free as a writer.
I promise you, it is, and the world will be more glorious for your presence!