I got my first piece of literary criticism today.
Well that isn’t true. As a freelance writer and currently a holder of many unpublished poems and range of narrative artistic styles it comes with the course. Rejection is the backbone of the writer’s emotional economy. An artist’s. Or anyone’s. Unfortunately I’m a hopeless romantic and a naturally morose looking character so rejection is something that comes naturally and hits harder than a frying pan to the head (I’m also of Asiatic tinged with European descent so that isn’t just symbolic, it’s a personal anecdote too. I think it might have been wok, since stir fries were cooked with that).
It was another one of those days. Solid, flat but wonderfully justified rejection. The emotionality that is commonly seen about being turned down is usually one of heartfelt devastation. I liken the imagery of getting wickedly drunk, shouting at the world and crying on a friend’s shoulder as you sip your miseries away with booze till you pass out on your front lawn (or somebody elses). And although I’ve had delightful moments of those things (not too many fortunately enough) I didn’t have one today.
I was delightfully informed that the material was actually good, but could do with a bit of touch ups and probably be more inspired. Normally I’d be really frightened at this sentiment. How dare they criticize my originality! I work so hard to create stories that are very derivative to others. That was me a few years ago. That was me at the start of this year. It’s not anymore.
Naturally I’m very defensive with my work (albeit most of them unfinished). Like many musicians when they liken their songs to babies, I looked my stories like my children. I painstakingly try to perfectly encapsulate a vivid moment in my head and write in onto a page with traditional narrative conventions (not necessarily traditional, I can be really out there with expression) and fit it in a way people can understand and encapsulate it to. There is a certain joy and frustration that comes with constructing art, a joy of the ability to freely express and distribute an idea, a song and a moment for someone else and a frustration of how to actually apply and distribute in the first place. And that’s much after actually putting something down (I’m a selective and ironically forgetful creature).
I was a passive anarchist. I still am. I think writing and art serves that function. We provide social commentary and acknowledge ideas that validate or introduces an idea that we all have. But part of my anarchy was the intolerance of the effort I placed into things. Proclaimed as a gifted writer during high school, I’ve gone into university absolutely plummeting to the depths of shameless celebrity egos. But I don’t take to bruising kindly. But now I had been presented with two distinct dichotomies – should I pursue writing or should I not?
Mind you, university hasn’t been kind to me. After dedicating numerous, torturous and disciplined hours into the perfect of an essay hasn’t granted me the best of feedback. For my sociology essays, my essays were deemed “Great, very sociological. Just a bit above average” or English Literature being deemed the worst culprit of “Amazing ideas. Just way too confusing. Will not explain why it is confusing to me. I’ll assume you are a mind reader. A bit average”. Mind you all these marks are B+ or Distinctions to the highest percentile but they are stark contrasts to the A+s and accolades I had received back in High School.
To you dear reader, I’m sure I’ve glamorized my high school life and yes, I’ve had a huge dash of a reality check in my life that extends outside of education. But I feel education institutions should provide insight on problems and help students with problems they find is evident with work. Good and constructive criticism, I’ve realized is incredibly hard to find. For once in my life, I’ve received actual advice that could definitely help with my writing. And I found it today.
Between today and since the beginning of last year, I was on a steady momentum of doubting my passion. I can’t imagine singing, writing or doing anything other than provide a human service – that creates community or societal benefits. I gave up on my economics degree on the perceived notion that it clearly wasn’t for me, and that educators cared less about improving students and their aptitude for societal change and awareness. See? I told you I was a hopeless romantic. I found disappointment in my arts department too about these issues.
I felt subjugated for unfair reasons. And almost lost the thing that made me feel alive. The ability to write, converse and discuss issues that we never find ourselves talking about. In a generation of youngsters that the majority care nothing for but giant robots or talent shows on our screens, discontent found me by hitting me with a metaphorical brick. It doesn’t help that everyone is a critic and the world of the Internet is full of those that are content by dragging down artists and “critiquing” while heartlessly tearing apart an important fabric of society – freedom and the exchange of ideas and that comes from art. It’s a shame that there are countless initiatives that try to take away something that has become so integral, so important and so human. These in the forms of “economically conscious decisions”, a cut to university funding for Humanities and Fine Arts degrees. And slowly we let it happen.
Comments that torment and condemn idealism and dreams of connection and unity through creativity and analysis. Ones that don’t provide any critical outlook from the consumer but are processed and thrown away, dispensable and unacknowledged although tireless effort was made to create and innovate these marvelous things. The irony to it all is that even though we are well versed in the technological age of consuming and communicating – it’s even harder than ever to find a place to fit in.
I stood against this bureaucracy, the diminishing nature of personality when it comes to literature. I stood against it to the point of doing nothing about it. For almost a year, I didn’t write. Not because I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t. It was too disheartening. And there I lost the motivation and the feeling that writing and art used to bring to me. I grew despondent whenever I thought about the editing process. I had published a news article awhile back for the community newspaper that had totally stripped all of my words and was rewritten with a different direction and none of what I brought in wasn’t there. I was ashamed. As a writer – because I took it as a way that I wasn’t any good at it. As a person because it was totally detached from what my intent was.
It took a long time to convince myself to submit things ever again. Poems, short stories, opinion articles… what was the point? Even to that point I dreamed of nothing but publishing books, opinion articles, moderating and engaging in ideological discussions and for what purpose? To filter everything I wanted to write about?
But a friend of mine suggested I did. It was probably at the lowest moment of my life. I had finally come to terms with an unhealthy relationship I’ve kept hanging onto for almost four years and was clearly self-destructive. Bureaucracy has no consideration for the human heart. I was a mess in every aspect of my life. Still am to be honest. The days after my submission was ridden with anxiety. But I had a lot of other things to worry about at that time. I almost forgot I submitted something. But when I received my feedback, despite being artistically probed and rejected, it didn’t feel bad. It was such a strange moment of euphoria. That maybe even despite that rejection, there was a hopefulness and the articulate commentary of my work and insightful response to my style and manner makes me truly believe that they actually cared for my success.
The anticipation of how I’d take rejection wasn’t really worth the anxiety or the time. Nor did it exceed or meet expectations that led me to sculling down two bottles of white wine like I did at my sister’s wedding (although admittedly, I was a happy yet political drunk there). It actually defined me. It felt like a necessary hurt and pain – but one that slightly ached in a very miniscule way. I took upon the criticism with an open heart and even though it did slowly hurt – it taught me an important lesson that I had learned from no university or educational institution – you can always try and start again. You are good at what you do, but here are aspects you can strive for to be better. And we believe in you and want to see you again.
It’s to this day, I’ve finally realized I’m a writer and an artist.
PS: My poem will be posted on the poem section of the blog. Feel free to comment on it