Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don't Be Scared

He told me, "that was pretty cool." He patted my back and walked off. And that's how I learned that no one is ever really better or cooler or smarter than anyone else.

I was in a lucky lot as an English major during my time in college. My freshman year, I had no idea what I was up against. By my sophomore year, it was obvious who the geniuses were but by the end of my time, we'd all gotten to know one another's niches. We knew who thought the same. Who clung to Shakespeare and who wanted Bukowski--and how in the world did we all relate to and learn from one another, still?

When I was a sophomore, I took Faith and Literature and from the get-go, it was obvious that I was in far, far over my head. For one, the hard ass, I'm-not-putting-up-with-your-bullshit professor that I was afraid of (and eventually grew to love and appreciate the way that obese people love Jillian Michaels) was the instructor. For another thing, it was one of those classes that only came around once every four semesters and so I felt pressured to take it right then--even though it was full of my small school's most intimidating and sexy seniors. Really smart guys. Really hot guys. I was one of two girls and the most immature to be sure. The class discussions that we were having, I couldn't even begin to understand. I dropped the class pretty early in and re-took it again later. By then, I was a senior and it was taught by a mushy instructor that you could talk into/ out of anything. But I had a really good group of classmates by then, at least.

But back in my sophomore year--the same semester as the false-start on upper-division, one of those sexy seniors was taking English Comp II. I do not know how he'd missed it before or why he was in this class, now. I was still intimidated by him but more in my element in this class that had a lot more focus on writing than the reading and the reading was even pud because it was still considered a gen-ed. When we focused on poetry, our instructor asked us to bring the lyrics of a favorite song. One kid brought Scar Tissue by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I was on a pretty serious Gavin DeGraw kick and at that time, Chariot was singing to my soul. The sexy senior brought some song by The Walkmen and I tried to like The Walkmen for a while after that but I kept jamming Jason Mraz. I mean, I keep jamming Jason Mraz--because real love doesn't die, even when the other party gets really, really sentimental and a little cheesy. I like The Walkmen, now and it has nothing to do with Sexy Senior.
When our instructor asked us to share the haikus that we wrote, mine had significant rhythm issues and he wrote a 6 stanza piece about some pier on the east coast.

One day, our instructor in English Comp II asked us to do a free-writing exercise. Free writing--putting your pen on your paper and not taking if off for a pre-determined amount of time. She gave us five minutes. I remember this all vividly.
For a good minute, I had my pen on my paper with a mind completely void of anything except, "tyger, tyger, burning bright in the forest of the night. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symetry?" I couldn't write that. I couldn't copy freaking William Blake and pass it off as my own thoughts. But I wrote it down because it was all I could think. "Tyger, tyger, burning bright in the forest of the night. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?" And that lead to a painting that I'd seen one time. A black background with the face of a vicious tiger lunging forward. I'd seen it in my father's hospital room, less than two years before. My dad was on a terminal floor with patients who would be there for months at a time. Someone would come around every now and again and change out the artwork--let you choose between framed posters of watering cans and pictures of babies dressed up as vegetables and inspirational sayings. My dad always elected to keep the tiger, though, because he said that it was courageous and he loved it.
And I started writing. I wrote about it for the first time in my life, I wrote furociously about my dad and how he died and what I did and what it was like. I wrote out things that I didn't know that I was feeling--fears that I didn't know that I had--thoughts that scared me a little bit once they were acknowledged. But it felt good to get it all out. All at once, the instructor told us to put down our pens.
And she started asking people to share. And I was terrified. I did my best to look sick or to avoid eye contact. I'd written six pages in my notebook. Everyone else had, like, half a page about what they'd done so far that day--ate for breakfast, what they wanted to do this weekend. She called on about four people and I thought I was in the clear because we were just about through. People started putting away their books and waiting for dismissal and she asked me to read. I shook my head and said that I'd rather not. But she insisted.
So I did. I read it all in a soft, mumbly voice. Sexy Senior was sitting right in front of me and he heard it all. When we finished, my instructor had wide eyes and I think I scared her--but I probably gave her a little hope that maybe her whole life and job as a gen-ed English teacher might not be a total sham. I just shoved everything in my bag and couldn't get out of there fast enough. I walked fast--I ignored my friends. I just wanted to get to my room and take a shower and a nap and retire for the day at 2:00 pm. On my way out the building, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Sexy Senior squeezed and told me, "that was pretty cool." He patted my back and walked off.

And that's how I learned that no one is ever really better or cooler or smarter than anyone else.

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