For a writing assignment in a freshman writing class, I interviewed an elderly, blind Seer my sister knew of in Colorado. I walked about five miles from her apartment to his house out in the middle of nowhere. He spoke to me of mystical things and I was so young I barely knew what questions to ask, but I felt reverence for the experience. Back in class, the professor read my paper aloud, adding inflections and facial expressions that made the content sound absurd and farcical, which was the opposite of my intention.
The following year, my poetry teacher maligned a poem I had written about cleaning my dorm room, saying a poem had to be about more than that. He was right; however, mine did have a deeper meaning – it was about how I can’t function with visual chaos around me and how I’d come to know a feeling of peace in my soul. Obviously the piece needed more revision, but the teacher had failed to see that there was a more universal theme underneath my naive words.
These instances made me back off my interest in writing, and I switched my major from communications to art history. I don’t blame those instructors for discouraging me or even for disrespecting my work. Over the years, I’ve made similar critiques and edits of others’ work. Instead of trying to understand where the writer was coming from or how I could be helpful in a way that would encourage their creativity, I saw it only from my own perspective.
If you’re writing about something, it probably has meaning to you. Stick with that, dig down and roust it out. Play with it and help others understand it too. If someone tells you it’s silly or not enough, don’t get discouraged, just keep digging and playing.
I still work with the themes I wrestled with in college: spirituality, intuition, soul-peace. And I’d love to interview that elderly man again, because now I’d know what questions to ask.