There’s an argument I’ve been having with someone for quite a while now. It’s been going on for about seven years. About once a month, it comes up again, and I keep going round in circles, trying to win this unwinnable argument. Why is it unwinnable? Because the other person has no idea I’m still arguing with him.
I had a horrible class in my last year at university. I had a bad feeling when I signed up for the course, but I thought I was being a scaredy-cat, and did it anyway. This course required submitting a portfolio ahead of time, to see if the professor accepted me for Creative Writing II. When I saw the comments, I had a bad feeling about it. But I wanted to take another creative writing course so badly that I again blamed it on being afraid of a challenge.
Taking that course was a mistake. The professor and I did not see eye to eye on anything. The stories he used as examples were dark and disturbing. He hated everything I wrote. I tried to voice my opinions and was mocked relentlessly. By the end of the course I felt so browbeaten that I completely stopped trying. Almost everything I wrote was garbage.
For my final story, I totally sold out, and wrote a very disturbing story. Or, it would have been disturbing if it had any life to it. It was based on a character from a TV show I used to watch. He wasn’t a main character, just showed up a few times, and stuck with me. The TV character was a killer for hire, who prided himself on his work because anyone can just kill someone. It takes a real artist to have the victim have a heart attack at his daughter’s wedding, or choke on a hot dog in front of a stadium full of witnesses. Creepy, right? So, giving up entirely on my writing voice and preferences, I took that character and made him a ‘sympathetic’ villain, who only does suicides. Don’t want your family to know you gave up? Call this guy. Want your spouse to get your life insurance money? Call this guy.
It was a horrible story. And it was horribly written. I had no interest in writing it,and it showed. It was a story about a compassionate serial killer, and yet, somehow, it was boring. I hate that I caved in and wrote that story. I hate that I was so bullied that I traded in my morals and my taste for a story that wasn’t even memorable. I hate that I got an A on that story, and in that class. I have no idea how I got those marks.
Every month or so, for whatever reason, this comes to mind. I remember the time I got laughed at for my interpretation of a story because he cut off my explanation halfway through, and it really needed the second half to make sense. I remember the first few stories where I took creative risks and got crushed. I remember that terrible story that was lifeless and weird, and wish I had stuck to my guns. I remember that professor telling me I’d never accomplish my life goals, and still get angry that he said that. I’m still arguing with him in my head.
I tell him that my interpretations were valid, and list the reasons. I tell him that I had potential that he crushed. I tell him that I did not deserve that A, because by the end of that course, my stories were void of any emotion. I tell him that I’m writing decent stuff now, and that it’s despite of his influence. I tell him that what I like it just as acceptable as what he likes, because different people are allowed to like different things. I tell him I will accomplish my life goals. The thing is, he doesn’t know, or care, that I’m still having this argument.
I play out a scene in my head where I run into him at some kind of school reunion or something, he asks how things are, and I have a triumphant moment where I tell him I’ve overcome his negativity and done well for myself, even though his course almost derailed my will to write.
That’s stupid. For one thing, he doesn’t remember me. Why would he? For another thing, I don’t even remember the man’s name. I remember his favourite candy, and how he likes his sandwiches. He made sure to tell us that. But unless he literally walked up and introduced himself by those two things, I’d be like, “Oh, nice to meet you, Mr. ???” and not even realize I was talking to the professor I’m still arguing with in my head.
I don’t know why I’m still having this argument. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still trying to convince myself he was wrong about me, or if maybe it’s because I feel stupid for taking that course when I should have known better. Every month or so I have this argument with an imaginary version of this professor that I can’t actually contact, an argument that I can’t win because he’s not really here listening to any of this, and every time it comes up I tell myself that I need to move on. I’ve found better sources of teaching. I’ve found my inspiration again. One person’s opinion (especially those of a stranger whose opinions I don’t hold in high regard) should not influence me this much.
That course was a bad call on my part. I learned very little, and it took a long time for me to recover. But I did I learn two things from that course. 1. Don’t sell out to get someone else to like your writing. It’ll cripple your ability to write well. It’ll also kill your self-respect. 2. I need to listen to the little voice that read his comments on my portolio and told me to run as fast as possible in the other direction. I thought I needed another writing course to succeed. I thought I needed a challenge to grow. Really I needed thoughtful criticism that was useful, and I needed space to practice different styles without getting shot down every time I tried something new. I should have listened to that little voice, but I wanted so badly to be good enough to pass that course. Instead, I passed the course, but lost everything that made me good enough to get in.
That was seven years ago. Since then I’ve completed a manuscript that’s in the editing process. I’ve started a fantasy novel that has potential. I’ve started a blog. I’ve won a poetry contest. I’m writing, and it’s not all awful. Some of it is. It’s a learning process. But I’m at my best when I can let go of my endless argument and just focus on the characters and plots in front of me.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully let go of this argument. It’s not like I seek it out. For whatever reason, there seems to be a snooze button in my head that keeps it popping up every now and again. But maybe I don’t need to win it. Maybe I can someday accept that a clever response or a well-crafted complaint are not as good as just succeeding where I can, learning from my failures, and trying again. There will always be people who just don’t like me. I can’t argue them into liking me. Especially when they’re not even in my life anymore.