Without fail, during the closing circle of every class I teach, someone shares that their writing wasn't as good as it could have been (sucked, failed, missed the point) and that they felt bad (nervous, weird, off the mark, had no idea what they were doing or why) the whole time they were writing it.
"First of all you are wrong and second of all it doesn't matter how you feel," I say back.
Harsh, right? Harsh and surprising feedback from a writing teacher whose job is to support, encourage and inspire. But the truth is my students are wrong and it doesn't matter how they feel. Inevitably the class loved the piece they read. And inevitably it felt like shit to write. But that's not the point. The point is that they did it anyway. And it's more beautiful than they may ever know. My students are wrong. I am wrong. And I bet you're wrong too. I have found being wrong one of the most hopeful revelations of my life.
I started to glimpse wrong I was a few years back when I bit the bullet and requested my college transcripts. For well over a decade I'd been haunted by the woeful failure of my college career, the squandered waste of my higher education. My artsy independent school only gave out evaluations so I had never seen an actual grade. My sponsor suggested I end the misery and face the truth. When that transcript arrived my heart was in my throat. But instead of D's and F's staring back at me were a lot of A's with a sprinkle of B's. I had been wrong and there was actual empirical evidence to prove it. How exciting!
Had I been wrong about anything else? I'd been sure I'd been an outcast loser in middle school. A quick hunt through the attic revealed yearbooks crammed with notes of love and affection. Maybe I'd been wrong there, too. My mind and social standing were in better shape than I'd thought but what of my monstrous body and hideous face? Go ahead and track down your old photos. Have you ever found a picture of yourself when you weren't thinner and more beautiful than you remember being at the time? I haven't.
The good news is that I believe, overall, we're wrong. At any given time we just don't know who we are or how we're doing. I try to remember this on the days I feel my brain and life and face are cobbled together like the Bride of Frankenstein or when I'm writing something I feel particularly bad about. And I try to remind you, too.
Disclaimer: OK, so we're probably right about a few things too, but it's gotta be a very small percentage of the time. Like, no more than 50%.