She fell in love with a Cuban General, had his baby, and then moved home to San Francisco because Cuba was no place to raise a child

I had a fascinating American Literature professor. Her favorite student was a psychology major and she allowed him to speak, but often cutoff anyone else who wanted to talk about meaningless things like symbols which don’t speak to anything at all in a story, so she said. (The image above is an example of a smug psychology student. Just judging everyone.)

She told us about how she fell in love with a Cuban General, having his baby, and then moving home because Cuba was no place to raise a child. She never did say Cuba. I guess it could have been Panama or something similar. But I met her son randomly at a friends house. I didn’t ask him about his biological father. He’d been discussing a trip he took with his adopted father, a doctor, where they volunteered at a clinic in Port au Prince.

But this fascinating professor talked longingly about teaching at a well respected university where she could have longstanding conversations about literature with her adept and well-attuned students. Instead of us–except for the psychology student–Portland students. She was Jewish, an atheist, and adopted two girls from China.

From her I learned about structures and tropes and that Gertrude Stein’s sentences are like branches upon branches.

Of my work she said, “I like your voice, but you need to say more.”

Which was nice because I want my writing voice to be liked and also because I have a little bit of pride for my holding back. And this might be a silly pride because I don’t often write beyond what I think needs to be said. Which isn’t much. I could stop here. I’m fighting myself not to stop here.

I’m an introvert. Whatever that means. But it doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say. It’s just that in order for me to form my thoughts I must write them out first. So writing is often more than just saying what I want to say, it’s also wading through my subconscious to figure out what I feel and believe. I am hidden from myself.

Again, I’m fighting. I feel like I’m through. I don’t have an opinion any more.

Last thought then: writing for me is hard because it often involves a super-concentrated form of thinking mixed with an unknown and hyperactive agent called feeling. I can write when I don’t feel, but it’s often dull and lifeless. But it’s close to impossible for me to write when I don’t concentrate.

So when I’m stuck, when I’m tired and I don’t want to think, I imagine my American Lit professor, turning away from the class and facing that smug psychology student and asking his opinion. And then I start writing. I start saying more. Because I hate smug psychology students who know so much about literature that they don’t major in it. And I also hate when professors condescend.

Another thought, now that I imagine myself in the class again: I wasn’t prepared for American Literature. I needed milk, but I was fed beef. I hadn’t prepared myself, that’s for sure, but I didn’t know how to prepare. I wonder if literature would thrive with more priming. I took every literature and writing class in high school. High-brow literature needs the equivalent of a gateway drug. Maybe that’s what they call Young Adult lit. Or maybe I’ve become smug.

12 thoughts on “She fell in love with a Cuban General, had his baby, and then moved home to San Francisco because Cuba was no place to raise a child

  1. I turned off to literature classes because everything had to be the teacher’s way or the highway. And that’s not how literature is! A story can have many interpretations, just like a painting. So I can relate to this article 100%. I didn’t turn off to literature, though, just the people who teach it. And psychology majors do go around analyzing everybody, labeling them, and sticking them into little boxes — even though they generally seem to have more problems than anybody else. At least, that’s been my experience.

    • Dawn, I think there can be many interpretations to literature as well as multiple layers and depths. But only as long as you can back it up from the text! I don’t really mean to bludgeon psych majors, they mostly seem like quite insightful individuals. Which maybe is why they can comprehend literature so much easier than I.

  2. I think you’re awesome! Write your way. I don’t like smug psychology students or teachers either (had one of those) and I don’t like picking literature apart for interpretation. Obviously, we’ve all missed the boat because we haven’t had an affair with a Cuban General.

  3. I… HATE literature classes of any sort. In the end I got a distinction for it at school because I learnt how they wanted me to think not because of how I thought. So I didn’t take it at university even though I love reading almost enough to do it.

    The thing is, I’ve been writing since before they started doing lit at school. So I know that when a writer refers to a blue curtain, he’s talking about a blue curtain. Not oodles and oodles of symbolism that’s not really there. I know not all lit professors are like that, but it really put me off.

    • But that blue curtain could also be a portal to another world. Or maybe a super hero’s cape. Symbolism aside, the beauty of literature, at least good literature, is that there’s always more than meets the eye. Which is why we can continue to come back to it and be renwed time and time again.

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