ambivalent (adj.) having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone…
Yesterday late in the afternoon, I received an email referencing this piece. I’ve read it several times since, and caught myself mulling over aspects of it.
Politeness. Authority. Acculturation and silence.
But Verlyn Klinkenborg’s piece is about writing, isn’t it? He acknowledges that when “you talk about writing…you always end up talking about life.”
I know. I see what he sees as he observes and writes. The students, the classroom. The quiet. It’s what gets in the way most often when you’re teaching someone to write and they’re struggling, not understanding that aspect of it all, thinking that it fits neatly into a formula with five double-spaced paragraphs in 12-point helvetica. It’s easier to think of those very concrete things. More safe. There isn’t a commitment, really. Is there?
Writing comes from life. Everything we’ve said or thought or done is a path from which words come in whichever voice we choose: one of passivity and compliance, or cold detachment.
Writing is not linear. It’s messy. There are no clear cut rules even though most of us had rules thrown at us about what we should or shouldn’t do as writers. We were asked to complete lifeless narratives or produce dull regurgitations of information on gross national product and chief exports — if we were asked to write at all. We received letter grades for our efforts, in pen at the top of the paper where everyone could see it, and when you turned the paper over, could feel the embossment, and think about the teacher putting it there.
It’s safe to expect students to write about those things. Nothing personal will arise. There will be no worries about whether one piece on “Where You Went On Your Summer Vacation” will differ from the next. You don’t have to have confidence in anything like that because you just write it.
Unless you didn’t go anywhere on your summer vacation.
Or lacked the confidence to realize that it didn’t mean your summer vacation was insignificant compared to that of others. That lying in golden, waist high grass to watch clouds drift, or listening to pebbles clack hollowly against one other in a ditch as the water from lawn sprinklers carries them along may not be considered worthy of being written about.
That the teacher might look at your paper and think, “I knew there was something not quite right about this girl…Who must her parents be?”
We’re pigeon holed almost from the beginning to behave and think and act in particular ways. To speak in a specific fashion. To dress ourselves just so. To do and to be what others expect.
First at home, and then at school. Especially when others are watching.
There could be a high correlation between the seeming lack of confidence exhibited by students repressed by societal norms and the degree to which they let loose, get rowdy, and party hearty when they’re not being watched.
Eventually, they escape if they really want to.
Klinkenborg concludes by stating that when “a young woman suddenly [understands] the power of her perceptions, ready to look at the world unapologetically — I realize how much has been lost because of the culture of polite, self-negating silence in which they were raised.”
Lost as writers, or lost as humans with life to experience?
I’m still ambivalent…