There was a time that I wanted to get into a good MFA program for Creative Writing and spend my life half-heartedly teaching while I write my life’s greatest work. The time to make that happen was my junior year of college. Junior year was like trying to make up for lost time. I had finally made it into the fiction writing class that I had sought out since freshman year. I had even switched my advisor from a wonderful, Black, female english professor to a scatter-brained, White, feaux-liberal professor because she was a published fiction writer, and I wanted a good and relevant teacher recommendation in the bag.
My plan to take over the world seemed to be unfolding smoothly. By the end of the fall semester, I had written a few short stories that I would submit as writing samples. One story was voted second best in my fiction writing class, and I was praised by the instructor for taking feedback seriously (sometimes, too seriously). I felt I was ready to ask my advisor to write a teacher recommendation. She responded, not with an immediate yes, but rather, she wanted to read my stories. Ok, I said. That made perfect sense to me. That way, she could pull details from my most recent writings to express how brilliant I am as a writer! And I had no qualms about my writing and my potential. No problem.
After I submitted my samples to my advisor, she sent me an email saying that she wanted to meet with me. I was confused by this. Why was meeting necessary? Why didn’t she immediately agree to writing a recommendation? What was she going to say? At that moment I felt that I was applying for a teacher recommendation, that I had initially thought to be readily expected.
We met next to her office, unexpectedly big with an appearance of coziness, including a leather couch in a lobby area and a small conference room shortly passed that. We met in the conference room, which was more wooden table than room. Still, the warm wood color of the table and chairs calmed me a little, and she smiled warmly while carrying in copies of all of my samples. Perhaps she was giving me feedback. I am so so good at getting feedback. And I would appreciate any feedback before submitting these samples with my graduate applications.
Have you ever had a moment in which you were talking with someone and you at first think you understand where that person is coming from? And then something–maybe it’s the person’s body language, or the words that change meaning while their body language stays the same– something tells you that you and this person are no longer on the same page.
She smiled and spoke. She smiled and told me that my writing was horrible. She said that she would not recommend me to any school. I had a lot to learn before…
…learning to write. She told me that I shouldn’t bother applying.
SHE TOLD ME THAT I SHOULDN’T BOTHER APPLYING.
SHOULDN’T BOTHER APPLYING.
She smiled, and then, as I tried to make sense of this smile and the words that were coming out of her mouth, it finally clicked: she thought my writing was trash. There was no potential laid anywhere in those stories. Just trash. And then my face changed. I felt sick. My eyes looked down because they already had tears beating down the ducts.
And there I was, crying in front of this woman, who had read my writing before, even gave me an A in a past Creative Writing class, sophomore year. I can’t remember what I said in response to what she said about my writing. Honestly, I can’t remember, and I won’t try to make something up because nothing made up could even come close to the abject desperation I exposed of myself in that moment. She suddenly looked sympathetic. And as I gathered my belongings and proceeded to the door, I further berated myself by thanking her for reading my stories. And she wrapped her arms around me, crushing my confidence with this confounding sense of caring and patted me on the back, crippling me for many years to come.
I don’t think she understood the fragility of a college student’s will to actively pursue something so hard to achieve even with the highest confidence. Or perhaps she did understand what she was doing. That Bitch.
After lamenting this dark moment in Teshonne history, something still told me to try. So I looked for someone else who would write my recommendation. Alas, I went to the one person whom I should neverhave left in the first place, my first advisor and mentor. I met with her in person to request a recommendation and she immediately said yes. She agreed to read my writing. When she did, she responded with the kindest words (and called that other woman a bitch). She made me feel better about applying. I don’t want you to think that she was feeding into my own delusions about my writing. That wasn’t her intent. Instead, she tried to restore a confidence that the other woman had shredded. And that confidence was needed to pursue writing. Without that, I would have lost the will to excel, to do better. I probably would have given up.
I applied to a few schools. I got into one which offered me a full tuition remission and a yearly stipend. Did I take it? No. (Because I was an idiot and followed a boyfriend to New York City.) But I did realize that I could write. Was I, am I perfect? No. But I have that potential that allowed people to see what a great writer I could become. And I will always hold onto that, especially in those moments when my confidence starts to wane.
I’ve also become more adept at sensing and dismissing bullshit.