I had the chance to speak to the visiting fellow during my last year of studying literature at college. I didn’t have any classes with him, but I stopped by his office to chat.
I wanted to know what a fellow did. So we talked. And we discussed the nature of universities and teaching. I said, “Classes have a set way of doing things. When someone presents a piece of writing, the feedback must be ‘This part is good, this part needs work’ and then a grade. That is dishonest. Why can’t we say “This is perfect!” or “this is wholly irredeemable. Throw it out and try again”?”
He agreed. And he really agreed, because a professor in a different class said that he had told her that he and I had shared a very interesting conversation.
I called him out. And perhaps the only reason he could hear that I called him out was because he was a visiting fellow, and not a tenured teacher.
He wasn’t that far in.
Later, I was taking part of a writing group. It was large and full of grownups, most of whom had college degrees and lives and were on the down-sloping side of life. They were mostly retirees and of a settled and ordered existence.
One man brought a poem. He passed out copies and we all read it silently. The protocol was to give everyone some time to read, then go around the circle and give critiques.
Other people began and said “this imagery is confusing…and maybe this line break is not clear.”
YAWN, going through the motions.
But then it was my turn.
When I read the poem, my hair raised. I read it three times. I said “I would not change a word of this poem. It is beautiful. I want to meet the woman it is about. No, I want to be the woman it is about. It is perfect.”
I could not believe that other people didn’t see what I saw. I was going to stand up and call it what it was.
But the organizer wouldn’t have it. “We are here to give feedback. Isn’t there something you can suggest as an improvement?”
I caved. I said a comma might be differently placed.
But I knew better. I knew that this poem was perfect. I knew that.
There is a place for surety in our lives. Surety is not very well tolerated, but I have to know what I know.
Sometimes, I know something is exactly right. And somethings are exactly wrong. Of course, this is very powerful and lovingkindness must be used throughout.
But it’s okay to be sure.