Friday, April 19, 2013

Burned. What to Do When Even Your Teachers Laugh at You

A few weeks ago I was visiting the blogs that I follow, which I don't do as often as I should. One of the posts was about a crit class where this girl felt cheated because the praise she was receiving wasn't deserved... or so she thought. We banded together claiming we rather hear a blunt truth with a nice "I know you can do better", than an undeserved compliment.

Well, I got my wish, alright.

For the past seven weeks I've attended my first ever Creative Writing class at my local college. The first class was kind of odd because everyone writes more literary stuff and there I was, just spilling blood and guts everywhere... Right. Not the warm reception I was expecting, but alright. With every week I learned to tone down the horror and they learned more of my style. I really enjoy the class and it is challenging me to explore different areas of my creativity.

Now, because I know my style isn't really their thing but keep getting rave comments anyway, I suspected they would always find something nice to say, no matter how bad I sucked. Which was kind of disappointing, but I get it. This is a class targeted to weekend writers, not to people actively pursuing a life as a full time writer. As such, the teacher is more lenient and doesn't try to squeeze out of us a master piece by the end of the course. The one positive is that it gives you the sense of a 'safe environment' to try and experiment in other literary forms or genres.

So, I did just that. I presented a 'poem' to the class. Did I tell you I know nothing of poetry? Yeah, and I mean NOTHING. I didn't study English in school because in Mexico they teach Latin-American Literature. Aside from rhythm and rime, there is nothing in common between Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Frost, which I should have taken as the first warning against trying it. But I'm an idiot, and what's worse, I was ignorant. And that is a bad combination.

I knew my 'poem' wasn't good but I thought I'd take the chance to learn something new, and learn I did. First I learned that that silence can be very loud. I also learned that my teacher is very much capable of annihilate your piece, burn your soul, and eat your heart without so much as a blink.

The first thing that happened after the silence was my teacher thoughtfully commenting on how the piece was not a poem, but prose with a few words that rhymed. It needed to be chopped and trimmed a whole lot. Which was true and, though it hurt, I understood. Then she laughed at my 'naiveté'. The pseudo-poem was about my kids and how much I hoped they remembered me forever. It seems that sentiment is cute but unrealistic, and worthy of a space in a shelf next to Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny.

Yeah, she laughed. OUCH

After the shock, the group took my side. Clearly unhappy with her way of putting down my feelings, the group opted to say nice things like they got the feeling behind it, or that they thought it was good for a first try. Another girl went so far as to say she would try my way to write a first poem, going from wordy to trimmer by editing. The teacher tried to coax me to rhyme right there and then, which I simply couldn't do. Not only was I too embarrassed and feeling inadequate, but there's also the fact that I knew nothing of Iambic Pentameters, or whatever the hell she was saying. So the class went on to read another person's work and the teacher told me she expected a re-write of my poem by mail in the course of the week.

I got home, kinda told something to my hubby, and shed a couple of tears. Then I started reading about meters, rhyming, rhythm, and what the fuck was an Iambic Pentameter. I'm way far from knowing everything there is about poetry, but sure as hell I learned more today than I did while I wrote that thing. I don't condone the laughter but I totally understand that I have to study more before attempting a style. I'm hell-bent on getting the best out of the situation, and though I won't be reading the new version to the class, I'll send it to my teacher and I'll try to squeeze whatever knowledge I can of her in the small amount of time I have left.

So, my message is this: Blunt criticism is very hard to take and the fact that you think you're ready for it, doesn't make it any easier. It is, however, one of the best opportunities you'll have to grow. Take it, learn from your mistakes, and don't loose faith in yourself. You may suck at 'x' now, but with every time you try, with every question you ask, with every burn you take, you know more. One day you will be just as good as the one who burned you.

Enjoy your weekend!


Diane Weidenbenner said...

I think it says more about the poor teaching of the professor, not your writing or poetry ability. You were there to learn and try new things. The fact that she put you down shows you her insecurity. Sheesh! I took a watercolor class (because I didn't know how to paint). The teacher laughed at my rendition of a tree. Hmmm, was my tree so bad or perhaps her teaching sucked? I prefer the latter. Keep writing!

Georgina Morales said...

Thanks for your kind words, Diane. I guess there's always the one teacher that gets high putting others down. Thriving in spite of their harshness makes us better suited to deal with the hard stuff in life, too!

Painting is such a beautiful art, but hard to learn! Congrats on trying, I hope you're still doing it. Best wishes.