Thursday, February 04, 2010

Trigger: no, not the horse

Yesterday’s discussion on a writing list triggered an A-HA moment that led to more questions. The discussion was about books that have influenced your life. While I couldn't name one in particular, I did have a short list come to mind for different reasons. But the discussion's big relevance hit when a comment brought something to light about my writing past I hadn't considered before:

the Cs I received on my English papers in college.

Now, backing up a bit, in junior high, I aced English papers. I was not only asked to join the school newspaper but was put in a high position on it. By the time I hit high school, I was well known as having writing ability, and again, I aced English.

With plenty of confidence in my writing skills (and little elsewhere), I moved on to college. And I started getting Cs on my English essays and stories. It was a huge shock to my system, as bad as the C I got in basic drawing because it was based ONLY on improvement, she said, and she hadn't taught me anything I didn't know already. I had been writing forever. It was part of who I was. Those Cs were like someone punching me in the gut and saying, "Who do you think you're trying to fool?" I expected every other class I had to be challenging, but English comp?

Up to that point, I'd been writing tons of story notes and scattered scenes for books yet to come. I had some bad (juvenile) poetry under my belt and even a play that got some nice comments from close family and a couple of friends.

During my college career, I got "too busy" to write creatively. Then I married and I still didn't touch it. Not for years. I've always blamed marriage and kids and moving and such. Maybe that wasn't it. Maybe that punch in the stomach pushed me away.

I was well used to struggling through classes. School was hard due to the ADD I had back before the days anyone had any idea what ADD was (I struggled with my homework much more than anyone knew just to try to keep my mind where it needed to be), but I kept at it and wound up on the top ten in high school and the Who's Who list in college. *shrug* None of that mattered a heck of a lot as I looked back on it. I think it didn't much matter because the one thing I really wanted had been yanked from underneath me.

I left school before my bachelor's degree was finished due to marriage and moving away. I promised my mom I would finish, though, and years of working child care and retail and part-time taxes when it wasn’t my thing convinced me I wanted more than that. So I went back to finish my bachelor’s degree in my early thirties.

This time, I was determined to do better than the B average I had. I wanted my GPA raised. My major was psychology, with my minor a combination of art and English since I already had tons of those under my belt. And I dreaded turning in essays and term papers for my psych and lit classes. Math and science are my nemesis but I was much more willing to shove them in and see what I could get out of them than to cringe at my writing grades.

Not only did I manage to pull an A in online statistics where I had to teach myself since the professor was largely unavailable, I aced the essays and term papers. Easily. In both psych and English, I received "impressive"-type comments on every paper I turned in.


I'd been back to creative writing in the meantime, barely, but I had no thought of showing anyone. I wrote for my sanity, for something that was "mine" during years of military travel and putting kids and my husband and house stuff first.

I'd even taken a novel writing class before going back to school. For myself. I had no plans to put anything out where someone could stomp on it.

I suppose those "impressive" comments changed my mind. My husband kept asking what I was going to "do with" the book I spent so much time scribbling. He hadn't even known all the years we'd been married that I had any interest in writing before I became obsessed with that book, before I'd wait all day for him to be home to rescue me from the hellions so I could lock myself in my room and write.

I've been thinking there may not have been any point in finishing my degree since I'm working at home instead of applying it to a career and am happy doing so, but maybe there was. Maybe without those As and "impressive" comments, my work would still be sitting in notebooks unread by anyone but me.

Now I'm wondering what happened with those early college years for my work to be graded so differently than at any other time. Granted, there was some (a lot of) emotional upheaval during my life at that time, but there was earlier, as well. Maybe it was going from a tiny little town school to a city school where most of the students had more diverse/interesting topics to write about? I was horribly nervous during those early college years. Was that it? Did it show?

I suppose I won't find out the answers to those ponderings, but it seems like such a shame that all those years were wasted not writing because of something so silly as a few Cs.

Youth. *sigh*


Cheryl said...

Great post, Loraine. There are so many people who get discouraged and off track when they are younger because of things their parents say, or teachers,--people they place importance on and value their opinions. I think finding your own self-worth takes a lot of time and many times we don't EVER find it! It's amazing how one comment can crush someone--just like one comment can give someone soooo much confidence! I wish I had realized that more when my kids were growing up.

Maggie Toussaint said...

What a fab post, Loraine! This is an important life lesson. Several of them, actually. Go for your dream. Believe in yourself. Follow your heart.

Wait. That sounds like a Hallmark commercial. That's not what I meant. Or is it?

If we hold fast to the things that are uniquely us, never sharing them, never risking that rejection, are we truly living?

I'm glad you overcame that crappy professor and listened to your heart.

Francesca Prescott said...

Authors Against Self Doubt?!! Oh, Loraine, you should be the president of our association. Or mabye we could share... I think we'd make a great team!

Loved this post. Thank you.
xx cesca

Celia Yeary said...

LORAINE--I didn't realize right off that the trigger was my posts from Wednesday. How neat! The comments you and the others made were so thoughtful--I'm glad the topic brought up thoughts maybe we'd forgotten, and events maybe we could now put in perspective. Ahh. I feel better--you??? Celia