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.