Education, Reading

School is making me feel stupid

The life writing course I signed up for this semester isn’t what I expected. I was looking for a “book club” class where I could sit around and discuss books with my classmates. I didn’t realize the course would focus so heavily on pedagogy (a word I can’t even pronounce) or that my classmates – even the undergraduates – would be using so many big words that no one ever used in my graduate writing program. This course is really pointing out the gaps in my education.

You see, I got my undergraduate degree in business, not English. I took several writing courses as an undergrad, but I did not study literary criticism to the degree that so many of my classmates seem to have. OK, I admit it. I didn’t study literary criticism at all. And there are so many books – the “canon” – they all seem to have read that I haven’t.

I don’t know about you, but when I imagine a potential audience for my novels, this guy is not who I have in mind. 

My master’s degree in English focused on creative writing. For the most part, we did writing rather than Criticizing (with a capital C) other people’s writing. We critiqued each other’s work, but that is a completely different game from “literary criticism.” We didn’t have to care what the “new critics” might have to say about our work because they all died a long time ago, and none of us were writing for them anyway. We looked at literature from a very different angle than how I am being forced to look at it now. In our minds, we were all creating Art with a capital A.

I’m sure I probably bring a unique perspective to the class, but some days it’s hard to get a word in edgewise when everyone else is expounding on the multiplicities, subjectivities, and transgressions within the work, and I just want to talk about the writer’s process and explain that my professor and classmates are reading ideas into the book that even the writer probably never realized were there.

It probably sounds like I’m complaining, but really I’m not. Stupid is one of my least-favorite feelings to have. But it is one I can usually fix. Whenever something makes me feel stupid, I like to study it until I understand it. Or at least until I understand it well enough that I don’t feel quite so stupid anymore.

On the bright side, this course is giving me a new perspective from which to view my own writing. On another bright side, I am just a “graduate student at large” and am not pursuing a degree, so my grades no longer matter. I doubt I will fail. Maybe I’ll get my first C ever (In an English course: I’ve gotten D’s in math courses, but math no longer exists for me except when I’m adding up how much money I don’t have, so we can just pretend those D’s never happened.)

I have talked myself into being grateful for this learning experience. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone and try something hard once in a while. I just keep reminding myself that my classmates probably aren’t thinking to themselves how stupid I am. In fact, like most people, they are probably thinking so hard on what they want to say next, they aren’t even hearing the words that are coming out of my mouth.

I do feel bad for hijacking the conversation in our last class session so the professor could provide me with a longwinded explanation of a concept that everyone else in the class seemed to have already grasped long ago. Maybe I’ll make it up to them by offering to critique the novels that I am sure some of them must be writing. I am smart at that.

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