I used to consider myself a writer. When I was in high school I spent a lot of time scribbling in notebooks and, eventually, writing away on computers as I tried to fashion the Great American Novel as well as become the next great American poet. I had some early encouragement. A well-connected teacher gave me an incredible opportunity with a serious publisher, but seventeen-year-old me choked and choked hard. Instead of accepting opportunity I let myself walk away from it, having somehow convinced myself that I wasn’t ready to be part of the literary world. I went off to college and kept writing as part of my academic world, ended up doing some work in journalism, went to graduate school for writing and even wrote most of a novel for my thesis but never made my way back. I tinkered and wrote and shuffled chapters and ideas into binders and desk drawer coffins. I stopped finishing things I started. It took me five years to actually complete the most difficult poem assigned to me in graduate school (I had turned in a watered down version, which did well-enough. I ended up telling my professor via Twitter that I had finally finished the full version. I still need to email it to her.) I think I just gave up.
Tonight, while looking in a dusty email folder for something I had saved, I ran across an email I wrote to a graduate school professor asking her to fail me. She had graciously allowed me extra time to finish some assignments due to the various things going on in my life at the time because she believed in my skill and talent. I ultimately ended up asking for the failing grade. This is, in part, what I wrote to her:
I need this failure.
All of my life I’ve been given second chances and opportunities I don’t deserve. I’ve been allowed to skate by on the promise of my talent and skill and it resulted in the development of a sense of laziness on my part because I’ve always known I could get away with minimum effort. Ridiculous things have been blamed on outside forces when it all boiled down to my not being disciplined, me not working hard enough, me just phoning it in.
I don’t want to be a person who compromises her skills, her talent, her dreams for the easier road. I want what I do to matter for something and if that is going to be the case I have to learn that I can’t float by on a smile and a promise. I have to work for things like everyone else. A lower grade isn’t going to reinforce that for me. I have to fail. I have to have the sting and embarrassment of failure, a permanent and glaring mark that says to me this is what happens when you coast.
I need to be accountable for my laziness. I need this if I am ever to succeed.
I wrote this six years ago. My professor did fail me as I asked and I ended up coming back to retake the class in the fall. I passed with a B+, but nothing really changed for me. I continued coasting. When I found the email tonight I realized that the message I was sending wasn’t ever really meant for my professor or for that summer. It wasn’t meant for the student I was then. Those words, that message, was meant for me now.
I don’t want to be the person who compromises for the easier road. I want to be the writer I know I am.
It’s actually Tuesday night as I write this. I’m sitting up far past when I would like to be in bed. Usually as I approach the deadline for a blog post I’ll just get up and slap it together while the coffee brews. It’s good enough and it works. That’s coasting. So instead I’m sitting here with some tea thinking and writing. I just did some work for the site I write for and I’m trying to plan out my piece for next week as well. I’m making the time. I’m finishing something I start.
This is how I will find my words again.