I wouldn’t say that school is kicking my ass, although, it is, kind of. I still have academic chops from having gone to Ph.D. camp for so long but it’s been ages since I’ve had to really read instructions or be mindful that someone would be judging my responses, my writing, me. I am used to throwing off ideas like any one of them, picked up from a pile, would be a perfect jewel. Spoiled, I guess one would say. I have been spoiled by my own belief that I am plenty smart.
So it has been humbling to have to turn things in on time and comply with rubrics which I love for their specificity even though I miss how a turn of phrase would inspire my old professors to splash a big red A on the top of an otherwise mediocre paper. Today, I realized after submitting something in final form that I’d missed the intent of the assignment, reading into it something that wasn’t there and missing the point. I tried to retrieve the mistake but it will mostly stand. Next week is another chance, I guess.
As part of this terms’s assignment, I am reading Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson. It is a book of short stories linked together, so far, by several drab characters’ pervasive loneliness and alienation. Published in 1919, the book is thick with failed dreams and disappointment. So I’ve been reading it with some sense of drudgery until I got to this remarkable passage.
” It seemed to her that between herself and all the other people in the world, a wall had been built up and that she was living just on the edge of some warm inner circle of life that must be quite open and understandable to others.”
And I thought – how beautifully true that is. How many times I have felt exactly like that, times when I was alone with the consequences of bad decisions, driving by other people’s homes, seeing them standing in the warm glow of their kitchens. And how many times I was, myself, in the warm inner circle of life, mostly because of the grace of time and endurance. Here is this now ancient bit of writing – nearly 100 years old – and it is sharp and definite as if written this morning. I wish I had written it, such a fine thought it was.
There is something priceless about such a perfect thought. If you write such a perfect thought, you could go to your grave with no regrets. That one thought could stand for your existence, represent you in the afterlife. She was the person who saw this reality, people would say and they would all be proud to have known you.
I wouldn’t have known that thought was there had I not gone back to school, had I not chosen this dreary book to read, not laid on my bed in the late afternoon, jotting notes in pencil on an old spiral notebook. I would have assumed there was nothing in this book to tell me. I’d be wrong. I love that. Being wrong.