Everybody’s a Freaking Confusing Critic

Classes have begun. Like, almost three weeks ago, but my lateness is beside the point. I’m slowly settling back into student mode, which hasn’t exactly been an easy adjustment, but life goes on, right?

I’ve actually been learning a lot since being thrust back into the world of reading and writing several hours a day in the name of higher education.

First off, I can totally do this.

My first few semesters of college, I didn’t understand that, at all. I carried with me this juvenile idea leftover from high school that I was unfairly forced into doing things in my education that I don’t particularly like. Every time I had to read a work of literary criticism or ancient Celtic text of weirdness, I felt sorry for myself, as if I were the only person who ever had to work hard in college.

I pitied myself for having a job while enrolled in classes. I pitied myself for having homework. I pitied myself for spending too much time on the internet. In short, I was a total loser, and didn’t get a whole lot of work done that I should have.

But guess what happened during the semester I spent abroad? I kind of got over my self-pity! Yay!

Because I realized that in college, every choice I make is my own. No one is forcing me to spend thousands of dollars a year to sit in a classroom. There isn’t a higher being telling me that I must have a job so I don’t rely on my parents for everything. Most importantly, not a single person is forcing me to live in Utah and deal with life here. It’s just me. I don’t think I’m allowed to complain about that.

By feeling sorry for myself for of all this stuff I’d signed up for on my own free will, I was implying to my subconscious that, “hey, I’m an idiot. I can’t make reasonable choices in my life, so let me just complain about that.” Not cool, past self.

So now I read my romantic literature and literary criticism like a good college student, and I’ve found that this lifestyle is much more fulfilling and substantially less stressful than only doing a portion of the required work and hoping for the best. Revolutionary, eh?

Lesson number two, which struck me particularly hard today, is that there is absolutely no way everyone you know will appreciate you or what you bring to the world to the same degree, or at all, and it will confuse the crap out of you. This is a pretty broad, maybe extremely obvious statement, so let me explain.

I’m thinking of adding a creative writing minor to my degree, because I’m interested in all the classes included in the program, and figured I might as well get real credit for taking them. In addition, I have this crazy dream of someday publishing creative things that other humans might actually want to read maybe for financial compensation, and this seemed like the logical first step. Also, why not spend at least six years in college?

This semester I’m taking a creative nonfiction class, which I love. It’s an interesting genre that forces you to get all introspective and self-reflecting and try to write personal essays that other people like and relate to, which I find super awesome. There’s also this weird vulnerability about it all that I think is really good for me as I try to figure out who I am and what I should do about it.

Today the class workshopped a memoir I wrote. I suck at judging the quality of my own work, but I poured myself into this essay. I talked about things I don’t like to talk about in real life, addressed weaknesses I’m still very much dealing with, and pretty much vomited my thoughts and feelings onto the page for all to read.

And I got SO MANY MIXED REACTIONS, guys. Which, speaking of things I signed myself up for, hello. This is the life of a creative writing student, constant criticism and revision. I know that. But the all-over-the-place-ness of it all really stood out to me this time and really shocked me.

One girl thought I added too much information about studying abroad. Another girl thought it was awesome I added information about studying abroad. One classmate thought some imagery I used about wanting to have children was deeply unsettling (which I found hilarious, but whatever), while another loved my contrasting ideas. Lots of people told me they loved the essay, while others said they just didn’t get it and I have to fix tons of stuff for it to make actual sense.

Which, yeah, I have to fix tons of stuff. Workshops are the refiner’s fire; a test audience meant to critique your work and whittle it down until only the “good stuff” remains. This is why I love workshops. They really, really improve my work. Plus, the egotistical wannabe-writer comes out of my introverted shell and is all like “Hey! They’re talking about me and this thing I wrote! Ha! So cool!”

But the process leads me to a problem. Who do I decide who to listen to? Do I listen to the students whose writing I like the most? Should I follow the advice of the people I find most intelligent, or those who seem to “get it” already without offering much criticism? Or do I just drop my classmates’ opinions entirely and only listen to what my already-published professor has to say? It’s not a matter of doing what everybody is asking of me, because that is literally impossible. There were way, way too many contradictions for that to be an option.

When it comes to the paper, I still have no clue what to do. Luckily, I still have some time to think about it, but this whole experience definitely has me thinking about the real adult world that seems to be looming closer and closer each day.

Who should I listen to in life, really? Is it my parents? My older siblings? My religious leaders? My professors? Gender-confused Tumblr? My inner self? The Man? William Wordsworth? Netflix? God? British people? Carly Fiorina? The New York Times? My facebook friends? My real life friends? My real life enemies? All of these things? None of these things? ARGHHHH it’s just so hard sometimes.

I mean, I do make it a point to listen to God, my parents, and my inner self, but all those other influences just sort of sneak in around the edges and demand my attention, offering contradictions and outside ideas that I find intriguing enough to devote a lot of time to. And they all offer potential for real-life human revision. I often feel like the sum of the things and people and places I choose to read, watch, explore, and that is freaking terrifying. Who am I, who do I want to be, and how do I go about realizing or changing that? Is it even a real choice I have?

Shakespeare’s Polonius tells us that to our own selves we should be true, while Emerson urges us to trust ourselves because every heart vibrates to that iron string, whatever that means. I like these ideas, but I’m finding that the task at hand is easier extrapolated-upon than done.

In the grand scheme of life, will I choose to freak people out with my disturbing imagery? Will I include way too many London references? Will I be at all okay knowing that there is absolutely no way I will ever, ever please everybody no matter what decisions I make?

All I have in response to these questions are those most disappointing and humbling three words: I don’t know.

I don’t really know anything. I mean, I have a pretty firm set of beliefs that don’t change much, but beyond that? It’s all a wash. As I further enter adulthood I realize that more and more. It’s not a bad thing exactly, but it can be discouraging at times. On the plus side, not knowing things opens me up to learning so many new ideas and ways of thinking about the world that I didn’t even know existed. I feel like a blank slate, ready to learn the stuff of life from every influence around me, be it helpful, destructive, or some confusing place in between.

In short, life lessons from me: be who you want to be, go to school and embrace it if that’s your thing, do or don’t listen to the critics (I still don’t know, man), and give yourself a pat on the back for reading all the way through this struggling wannabe-writer’s most ramblingly obscure blog post yet. Your time spent here is greatly appreciated, friend.

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