So I arrived at class this past week early, nervous but proud of myself. I had not only faced a difficult moment in my life, but captured the emotions of it. I began with a poem I wrote a year ago and created a narrative, expanding upon how those hours between 3:00 and 6:00 am felt, after my aunt called to tell me my mother had died. I reconstituted it with all the words I'd pared out of that poem and created what I called a scene. Worked on that puppy for hours...reading, it over and over, editing, tweaking, ruthlessly critiquing it and adjusting accordingly. Asked two people to read it, and it garnered a couple of pats on the back. I was ready for class.
I was the third to read my work and was only a little nervous, which in itself was a success. Hell, I don't even think my voice shook! I read more slowly than I usually speak, feeling genuinely proud of having allowed fear to be present through this, but not allowing it to interfere in any way. I began reading....and by the second paragraph I realized something important: it sucked. It was murky, confusing, and sounded alot like a poem I'd added waaaayyyy too many words to. A third of the way into the reading I wanted to stop because I totally got that it was badly written. What had looked so great on paper was in fact awful for any reader who doesn't personally know me and my 'story'. I didn't stop, but read to the end of that very full page, mortified.
There are rules about how we critique each other in class; they're good rules and it's a kind, earnest group. It's clear each of us respects the others' journeys already, even though we're all strangers.The critiques were kind and generous, honest and accurate: what I'd written was neither scene nor summary; I captured a mood very well but the confusing timeline and lack of nouns (an abundance of assorted 'she' s) lost the readers (listeners in this case) from the beginning. I was crushed...not by the instructor or my classmates, but by the thing I'd most feared--failing. I'd blown it; all those decades of silencing my writing had smothered my voice (if I'd ever had one). Oh wow...the vitriol I unleashed upon myself was brutal. I turned down the volume so I could listen to the next person read (and her work was wonderful, which made me feel worse!), and take in what the instructor was telling us about timeline, action, voice....and then class was over.
Walking to the car I wondered whether I should leave the class. Was giving up several hours on a Thursday night worth it if I was a failure? Why keep going when I had lost any 'writing gift' I'd ever had...if I'd ever had one; dear Goddess, what if I'd always sucked???
And then I channeled Liz Gilbert, and maybe some Wayne Dyer, too: I hadn't failed...yet. Failure would be giving up the class, stopping writing, deleting any and all writing files from the computer, and closing out this blog (all of which were on the chopping block, being a slash-and-burn, all-or--nothing kind of person).
Criticism, rejection, needing to learn, needing to strengthen atrophied muscles, even just plain bad writing, are to be expected. The only failure is not showing up, giving up, and that is unacceptable. Failure was--is--a choice. Is it the choice I want to make?
And the answer to that is a resounding no.