An Open Letter on Orange Shirt Day

Yesterday, I had an enlightening, stimulating, and heartbreaking conversation with a very articulate high school student about the effects of intergenerational trauma in her life. Over and over again, she has heard (literally and by implication) that this is “not a real thing”.

How many people in your life have said, “Well, my grandfather was an alcoholic and beat the hell out of my dad, and my dad was an alcoholic and beat the hell out of me, and that’s why I have such a bad temper. I just can’t help it. I try to do better, but I don’t really know how.”

Now, imagine if that grandfather had been kidnapped from his parents at 5, 6, 7 years old and forced to spend his formative years – in particular, the years where he learned to parent, to make healthy attachments to others, and to resolve conflicts in healthy ways – in a religious institution that beat him, raped him, prevented him from making friends or speaking to siblings, and told him that at his core, he is a heathen, his parents are evil, the language he speaks is from the devil, and the things that matter to him are all vile. He is denied medical care and nutritious food. He has watched classmates die and be buried, unceremoniously, in shallow, unmarked graves. His government has sanctioned this “educational” institution. He then ages out of the school and is expected to go back to his “heathen” home and “act white”, but he returns confused about who his family is (after all, he no longer knows them) and about who he is, struggling to connect with the people there, struggling to overcome the abuse he suffered, struggling to understand who he is supposed to be. He has no support system. It’s a time when people don’t talk about these things. And so he holds it all in while people sling racist slurs, deny him work, starve him of community, all the while expecting him to suck it up. And then, in an effort to have a normal, healthy life, he gets married and has children. But he’s still damaged. Somewhere inside, he’s still that scared, confused, hurt little boy who was stolen from his bed. And he has to raise his children in a world that still treats his people – him, his kids, his culture – like they are thieves, drunks, stupid, morally corrupt, and untrustworthy without ever having gotten to know them as individuals. And this, everything you have just read, only just scratches the surface of his complex and traumatizing experiences.

To deny that these things have an effect intergenerationally is to deny every psychological principle of child development we understand today. No, these things weren’t understood then. No, we cannot change what happened. Yes, there are other peoples who have suffered and they matter, too.

EVERY child matters.

To every family of an indigenous child of a residential school; to every family of a former slave; to every family of an abusive addict; to every family forced to endure racist discrimination; to every family mired by the horrors of sexual abuse; to every family of a person forced to witness or even commit violent acts against others; to every person who has been told to “just get over it”: I believe you. Intergenerational trauma is a real thing. And you matter.

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An Open Letter to My Students

Dear Kids,

It’s ok if I call you “kids”, right?  I know you’re 16, or 17, or 18, and nearly adults, and certainly far too mature to be called “kids”.  Why is it that teachers call our students “our kids”?  I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters.  But nonetheless, there it is.

There is something on my mind, and I feel I have to share it with you.  If you know me well, you know that I’m not good at keeping my opinions to myself, so perhaps you are unsurprised at my desire to share.  That’s fine.  But I think this one is important.  Even if you sometimes tune me out, even if you’re tired of being told what to think about, even if you struggle to care about things you know you’re supposed to care about, please listen to me now.

I want you to fight cynicism.

Here’s the thing about being cynical: it’s easy.  The world is going to give you every reason to be angry, to hurt, to distrust, to give up.  Yes, there are starving children in Africa.  Yes, there are starving children in Canada, too.  Yes, the job market is unpredictable.  Yes, post-secondary education costs more than it ever has.  Yes, housing prices are rising with no clear sign of slowing down.  Yes, there are politicians elected whose values and morals are questionable at best, and tyrants in control whose values and morals threaten humanity at worst.

It’s easy to be cynical.  But nothing worth doing was ever easy.

What I want for you is difficult.  You will be scoffed at.  People will deride your optimism and laugh at your naivety.  But here’s the thing: it’s not naive to be optimistic.  It’s brave.

I look at your generation, and I am in awe of your fearlessness.  There was a time when being smart was a vice, and students – particularly girls – would do everything they could to avoid standing out for their intelligence.  There was a time when so-called “regular” students wouldn’t use the wheelchair-accessible washroom stalls because it was gross, as though cerebral palsy or spina bifida were germs you could catch.  There was a time when LGBTQ students stayed locked in the metaphorical closet for decades, doors barred, fearful for their safety and for their very lives because being outed posed such a terrible threat.  I am in awe because you face these challenges as though they aren’t challenges at all, as though the concerns of your parents’ and your grandparents generation didn’t exist and certainly couldn’t hold you back.

This is not to say that you never worry that others are judging your intelligence, or wonder if asking a person about their wheelchair is rude, or face dangers in acknowledging your own or others’ sexual identities.  Those concerns are there, and they’re real, and I don’t mean to minimize them.  

But as a group?  You are pretty solidly in each others’ corners.

How brave it is to look at the older generations and say, “Your fears and your prejudices and your rigidity are not for us.”  

When I hear people talk about the selfishness of teenagers, I tell them about the kindness I see you express on a daily basis.  When people talk about how judgemental teenagers are, I tell them about how flexible your social groups are, and how those who would never have found a group back in the day now have a powerful social presence.  When people tell me my job must be hard because I work with teenagers, I am able to say that actually, my job is pretty fantastic.

Not everyone gets to work with a group of people they look up to.  

No, you haven’t fought in any wars or worked in the coal mines or walked uphill to school both ways in a snowstorm.  No, you haven’t lived the hard-knock life of your parents and their parents and their parents before them.  But you look at what’s wrong with the world, and you say, “It can be different”.  And then you make it so.

The world is going to try to change you.  Misery loves company, and no one is more miserable than people who fear or hate or distrust others simply because of who they are. Your optimism will not be shared by everyone, and things will happen that will tempt you to be just as cynical as the generations before you.

Don’t give in.

Your optimism – your ability to see the good in people and in the world despite the brutality and the negativity and the fear – is what makes your generation so admirable.  

It’s also what makes me proud to call you “my kids.”

Sincerely,

Mrs. Spracklin

A Red Raspberry (work in progress)

(The following is a first-draft response.  It’s unfinished and needs work, but this will show you what my process looks like.  When I get stuck and don’t know what to write next, I leave myself a note about what needs to be added or changed and then move on to the next idea I have.)

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My first year of teaching was probably the most difficult year of my life.  Fresh out of university, I was working full-time at a public school, teaching essay-writing to Korean students at a private academy part time, and tutoring on the weekends.  I lived in Coquitlam and commuted daily to Langley, which was often an hour’s drive each way.  I lived in an overpriced, run-down single-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend who I was supporting through university, a dog with a bladder-control issue, a cat who didn’t like people, and more dust bunnies than I cared to acknowledge.  Money was a constant issue, and despite my three jobs, we played Bill Roulette regularly: spin the wheel and see who we don’t pay this month.

In general, life was stressful.

I mean, it can be tough enough to be a new teacher.  Every bit of energy you have is poured into your students while you hope and pray and cross your fingers that no one realizes you have no idea what you’re doing.  You don’t have time to get your marking done.  You don’t have time to get your prep work done.

In general, you just don’t have time.

And then one day, something happened that has stuck with me all these years.  A decade later, I can still remember the feeling of that moment – a moment WRITE A BETTER TRANSITION HERE……

After a particularly trying day and slow commute from my day job to the Learning Center, I was certainly in no mood to hold productive conversations with kids about essays.  I was late and certain I was going to be fired.  I was hot and cranky and hungry and wanted nothing more than to go home and hide until the world decided it couldn’t find me.  I ran up the stairs and burst through the door to my little classroom.

And there, waiting for me, was one of the little boys in my writing class.  He was holding out his hand to me, his fingers cupped around his palm as though it protected the most precious and delicate of creatures ready at any moment to slip his grasped.

“I brought you something,” he said, this accent thick and sweet.

He opened his little fingers and revealed a perfect red raspberry plucked from one of the bushes that grew wild around Coquitlam.

TRANSITION HERE…

He put the raspberry in my hand, and I marveled at its warmth, a mark of his care and protection.  This little boy, who lived half a world away from his own family, who attended school for twelve hours a day, who faced a language barrier that could cripple a grown man, had spent his afternoon cradling this gift for his teacher.

And in that moment the stress and the bills and the traffic and the chaos of my life melted from my shoulders.  I felt physically lighter.  While I had been consumed by the trappings of modern living, he had just wanted to bring a little bit of joy to an adult in his life.

CONCLUSION??

Bridging the Distance: thoughts on modern technology

My family lived so very far away.

Growing up in southern BC, so very distant from my mother’s family in California, meant more than simply physical separation.  This was the ‘80s, a time when text messages were made up of folded scraps of notebook paper torn from your coil-bound scribbler; long-distance calls had to be made after 7pm, and only when absolutely necessary; and the idea of video-chat existed only in movies and our far-fetched fantasies.  In many ways, it was the cliché “simpler time”.

In other ways, life was so much harder.

My grandmother, for example, lived a two-day’s drive away and was only accessible by telephone when my mother felt she could afford to pay the bill.  Grandma could come across as a severe woman, and though I knew she loved me, I found her tone difficult to read which at times made me avoid those phone calls, however brief they might be.  My grandfather wasn’t much of a talker, and thus, I hadn’t ever spoken to him on the phone.  The rest of my mother’s family – her cousins, aunts, and uncles – existed only in photographs and certainly not in my five-year-old reality.  This isn’t to say that I didn’t miss them – certainly I did. But I’m not sure I even understood what it was that I was missing.  I missed the relationship I imagined we had, the people my mother described to me.  How strange it is to miss relationships with people we’ve never met.

Today, I’m probably as “plugged in” as anyone.  I always have my cell phone on me (I, like so many others, don’t bother anymore with a landline, that most archaic of communication tools), I check Facebook multiple times a day, and nightly, I can be found in front of the TV with my husband, our computers on our laps, and our cell phones always within arms’ reach.  Even typing this makes me wonder if I’m overly-connected, overly-dependent, overly-technologized.

And then, out of the blue, this happens:

I’m sitting at home, cup of tea in hand, exploring Pinterest and half-listening to the documentary my husband has on TV.  Suddenly, my FaceTime icon lights up, announcing my sister calling from southern BC, so very distant from my home in northern Alberta.  Only it isn’t my sister.  It’s a smiling face covered in peanut butter, short golden pigtails nearly come loose with the morning’s adventures, peering excitedly at the screen.

It’s my niece, Mae.

Mae is 18 months old.

She stares at me expectantly, waiting for me to say something.  I’m startled, but delighted.  How has she managed to get the phone?  And what are the chances that she would accidentally hit the Facetime app?

“Auntie.  Auntie,” she whispers.

By now, my sister has come into the room and discovered her youngest with the stolen cellphone.

“It’s no mistake,” she tells me.  “Mae knows that if she hits the green button, you’ll appear.  She’s always pointing at it and saying, ‘Auntie!  Auntie!’”

And this moment – this profound moment of overwhelming love – exemplifies the paradox of our modern technological society.  We are at once slaves to and beneficiaries of our technology.  I sit at my computer wasting time, but that affords me the opportunity to learn.  I’m on my cell-phone reading posts on Facebook, but it helps me to feel more in-touch with my friends whom I don’t see on a regular basis.

I’m not just plugged in, I’m plunged in, my head so far immersed in the technological waters that I’m scarcely aware of what’s going on above the surface.

But it means that I get to experience the joy in my niece’s eyes when she sees my smile on that tiny little screen, her technological prowess paying dividends.

Looking back, it’s clear that I could never have had the connections with my long-distance family that my nieces and nephews can have with theirs, and that’s not a luxury I would ever deny them.  The quaint and “simple” aspects of life in those days certainly had their pitfalls. Perhaps, today, we are too reliant on technology to connect us in ways that we struggle to do face-to-face.  But I can’t help but wonder how my grandmother would have felt to be able to see my smiling face on the other side of that little screen.  

And I can’t help be wonder how it would have felt to see her smiling back at me, the tone in her voice finally in context, the love in her heart visibly offered.

I can only imagine, but I hope that’s what Mae feels.

Yellow, Red, and Orange

My mind is yellow.  Warm, rich, sunshiney yellow.

Or perhaps it should be.

I have so very much to be grateful for.  A husband who loves me with reckless abandon.  Parents who support me.  Sisters who uplift me.  A brother with disabilities who has lived a long and fulfilling life.  Nieces and nephews who love their “Auntie Teri”.  A roof over my head that I paid for myself.  A dog who acts as though he’s greeting me after a long absence when I return home from work.  Friends who understand me at my most complicated moments.  A healthy body.  Work that is gratifying and important.  The freedom that comes with accepting myself, warts and all.

People often describe me as bubbly, outgoing, and excitable.  My mind, it would seem, is a veritable fount of positivity and good humour.  Yellow, like the sun.  Like buttercups in a quiet field.  Like the leaves in autumn, clinging to the last vestiges of summer warmth, unwilling to admit defeat.

And yet, I have red memories.  Memories of pain.  Memories of heartbreak.  Memories of hurt.  Memories I’d like to forget.  Red like blood, like passion, like fury.  Red that my yellow mind can’t repel, a seeping, staining red that threatens to leave my mind an ever-deepening shade of orange.

The high school boyfriend who abused me, himself a victim of his own mental illness.  Red.  My parents’ years-long divorce, a painful process that brought out the worst in them both.  Red.  Holding my dog, Molly, as the life left her body when I had her put down following a brief but intense battle with diabetes.  Red.  Childhood trauma, betrayal of friendships, poverty’s fear and pain.  Red, red, red.

And yet, for each red moment, a yellow one.  Leaving the abusive boyfriend.  Coming to understand my parents as individuals beyond the confines of our family dynamic.  Years of mornings with Molly snuggled in tight under the covers, content so long as she was near me.  Childhood triumphs, enduring friendships, emerging from poverty stronger and prouder.  Yellow.  So very much yellow.

It seems unrealistic – no, unfathomable – to imagine my life without both the yellow and the red.  The red, that most evocative of colours, may have defined moments in my life.  But, it doesn’t define me.  My family is no less supportive, my husband no less loving, my nieces and nephews no less sweet because of the struggles I have had. If anything, those red moments juxtapose the yellow ones, making the lovely and joyful moments that much brighter, that much sweeter, that much more memorable.  And for that, I am grateful.

Perhaps Marcus Aurelius was right when he suggested that “The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” Yellow, then, isn’t such a bad colour for one’s mind.  At least then the red stains leave one orange.

Orange like the winter sunrise in Grande Prairie, serenely ushering in a new day.  Orange like the Bengal tiger, observant and strong.  Orange like a fall pumpkin, the prize of a long and difficult growing season.

So, perhaps I’m not yellow.  But it’s rather gratifying to be orange.

Alphabetical Advice

Apply yourself, even if it doesn’t seem worth it.

Bring a jacket.

Call your parents regularly, if you live away from home.

Drive with your undivided attention.

Enough with the selfies.  Seriously.

Finances are worth learning about while you’re young.

Give generously, and you will be surprised how abundantly blessed you will be.

Holding onto resentments and anger is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die.

Irregardless is not a word.  Don’t use it.

Jokes are only funny if no one gets hurt.

Knowledge is power, and an education is never wasted.

Let go of self-destructive habits.

Mow your lawn.  It’s not worth the drop in property value to let it go to dandelions!

Never miss an opportunity to tell someone how much you care about them.

Open your heart.

People-pleasers are rarely happy themselves.  Do what is right for you.

Quit trying to impress everyone else.  The only person you need to impress is you (and other people will probably like you more in the process).

Recognize that most people are just doing the best they know how to do.  They aren’t trying to make your life difficult (even if that is the end result).

Sometimes, a little white lie is better than hurting someone’s feelings.

Tip your waitress and your hairdresser.

Umbrellas are overrated.  Memories are made in the rain.

Very few people are actually jerks.  Most are just people having a hard day.

Without apology, refuse to settle for a partner who makes dating feel like “work”.

Xylophone music cures headaches.  (Actually, that’s a lie.  The real advice is to be skeptical about the stuff you read on the internet).

You never know when you’ll meet the right person for you.  Be open to looking in unlikely places.

Zealously pursue your passions.

Thoughts on Jocks

When I was younger, I thought that jocks – confident, athletic types – were favoured in our society.  And, perhaps they were.  Certainly, in our beauty-obsessed culture, those who put fitness high on their priority lists tend to be looked at with awe and admiration.  When I was in high school, it was the hockey and basketball players who were particularly popular; everyone seemed either to want to be their friend or to be afraid of being the subject of their bullying.  Socially, they seemed to have it all and never to want for anything.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to see that jocks are not necessarily as well-off as I once assumed.  Some of the athletes from my high school have struggled with their weight as adults.  Some have remained in my hometown and it makes me wonder if they struggled to make it elsewhere in places where they had no reputation and their athleticism wasn’t enough to get by on.  Certainly, others have maintained the social success that they enjoyed in high school, but this isn’t true for them all.

However, I’ve also come to realize that there are some ways in which life can be particularly challenging for jocks.  First, life as a popular high school athlete didn’t necessarily prepare my classmates for the so-called “real world”.  Having never struggled to make friends or to garner social favour, some struggled to cope in new settings and new situations where strangers judged them on their friendliness and likeability more than their athletic prowess.  And second, jocks often are underestimated in terms of their intellectual ability.  People seem shocked when they realize someone fit and athletically-skilled is also smart, and this hardly seems fair.  Why should their dedication to physical pursuits suggests they lack intelligence?

Certainly, one cannot paint all members of a group of people with the same brush, jocks or otherwise.  No person is one-sided, and I try to avoid making assumptions about other people.  To be fair, I know very little about the lives of the athletes I knew in my youth.  However, I have made assumptions about them, and perhaps, my own assumptions about how their lives have turned out are unfair.  Perhaps, I am guilty of discrimination myself.

Never that which is shall die. -Euripedes

I wonder sometimes how deep a mark I leave on the world.

I suppose that’s nothing unusual.  It seems a typical, perhaps even cliche aspect of modern existence to question one’s impact, one’s value.  In a world of seven billion people, of what consequence am I?  I am no saint. I save no lives. I invent no cures, I create no symphonies, I rescue no victims, I advance no technologies.  In a world of such incredible diversity, my meager talents seem mediocre at best.  What a sad proposition.

And yet, I often find myself delighting in the humble moments of others.  I love when a colleague at my school tells me about a student who finally had a breakthrough in their learning.  I am sometimes moved nearly to tears by the simple acts of friendship and kindness I see in my students.  (This morning, I watched as a young lady adjusted the pink flower clip in her friend’s hair, the friend’s own hands hampered by her disability, clutching the controls of her power wheelchair.  An act of kindness.  A smile of gratitude.  It was a beautiful thing.)  I read the kind and compassionate responses that my students leave on each others’ blog posts offering understanding and empathy, saying, “I hear you, and I am better for it.” These moments move me, and I cannot abide the modern cynicism that would say these moments are meaningless.

The modern world projects and echoes a cacophony of garish advertising, sensationalized news, and malicious gossip masquerading as fact.  Constantly bombarded by negative messages, it becomes easy to believe that the world is a horrifying place full of terrible people, terrible places, and terrible acts.  There is profit to be made from this cynicism, as capitalists lead us to believe that possessions are the panacea for all ills, and it’s this profit that leaves me skeptical.  Can the world truly be as awful as it’s made out to be?

I choose to fight this skepticism.  Vehemently.  I refuse to believe that these moments of joy and grace and generosity are truly overshadowed by the negative aspects of the world.  It’s the moments of beauty that truly do matter, if for no other reason than because they are what will combat the brutality and ugliness that pervade our cultural norms.

I am fairly certain that I will never cure AIDS, write a great concerto, heal the war-wounded, or invent the next modern marvel.  But I will bear witness to the beauty and goodness that I see.  Those moments will not go unnoticed.  They will not be rendered moot.  So long as a I choose to celebrate them, their impact will be known.  And so, this is perhaps the mark that I will leave on the world.  I hope that one day, I will be remembered for the little moments of lightness, for the validation of others, for the unapologetic optimism that I choose to pursue.  Perhaps, this is the mark – albeit a faint one – that will leave.

And I am content with that.

Note:

(Prompting quotation: “Never that which is shall die.”  I’ve tried to explain how moments that are important, that have existed, don’t die.  They “are” therefore they live on.  The same is true for myself in celebrating these moments.)

A Satirical Post: It feels good to be an activist!

Recently, I was sent a request on Facebook that read something like “OMG u should post ur bra color to raise awareness for breast canser!!!!! Don’t tell any guys they’ll be so confused IRL!!!”

If you’re a girl, I bet you received this one too.  And of course, I, like, totally jumped on it.

I mean, I’ve been wanting to become an activist for soooo long and this was finally my chance!  So I made sure to follow the directions exactly.  I mean, if I explained it to a man, that wouldn’t promote the cause, right?  So I posted and then laughed and giggled and high-fived myself for being such a good person.

I’m pretty sure it made a big difference, too.  I got like, seven “Likes” on my post, and a bunch of “Huh?” posts from my guy friends.  Their confusion just spread the cause!

Plus, I’m sure that my friends who have had to have mastectomies as a result of breast cancer felt all supported and loved when I did that.  I mean, they can’t wear regular bras anymore, but they can still be happy for me that I can!

So, since this inspired me to be all philanthropic and giving and stuff, I went out and bought one of those “Save the Tatas” sweaters and an “I Heart Boobies” bracelet so that EVERYONE knows how important breasts are and how I think they need to be saved from cancer.  I maybe could have just given some money to a cancer clinic, or sent a kind letter or phone call to a friend suffering from cancer…but nah.  This is better.  This way, the apparel companies profit, and I get to have everyone look at me for my “out there”, taboo fashion choices!  Win-win!

I love the way these campaigns focus on women who haven’t lost their breasts to cancer, making it clear that it’s the presence of their breasts that makes them valuable.  I mean, what’s a woman without her boobs?  I bet women with mastectomies are glad to be reminded of this, validated that they are less-than-perfect because of their life-saving surgeries.  Everyone wants to be validated, right?

So now, here I am sitting in my tata-sweatshirt and my boobie-bracelet, sporting a pink hat and sweatpants, feeling all proud of myself.  I mean, I’m pretty sure that the money from all this pink stuff goes to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (whose 10 employees earning between $120,000 and $300,000 have totally earned it based on this brilliant pink marketing scheme.)

It feels so good to be an activist!

“The truth will set you free. But first…”

In my fourth year of university, I met my nemesis.

Children’s Lit.  Large lecture hall.  Professor Fussypants* presiding.

(*Note:  Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.)

By this point, I had been an English major for three years.  At 6 English courses a year, that’s about 75-ish papers written, countless detailed analyses performed, and more literature read than the average person would ever hope to encounter.  I knew my stuff, I thought.  English was my wheelhouse.  I could craft a phrase, deconstruct a character, and apply literary philosophy with the best of them.  I transferred from a big-city college to a small-city university with a 3.8 GPA, a letter from the college announcing I’d made the Dean’s List, and a massive chip on my shoulder.

Don’t get me wrong; I hadn’t always been this confident.  As a kid – and even more so, as a teenager – I had struggled with self-image and self-worth.  But if there’s one thing I had never questioned, it’s that I was smart.  Not necessarily math-smart, or street-smart, but the kind of smart that gets you good grades, and that gets people to look the other way when you screw up under the impression that you’re a “good kid”.  I was the kind of smart that got me recognized for my maturity and overlooked for my bad choices.  And so far in my life, it had worked.

When I went to college, I continued along the same leisurely jaunt through my education, digging deep when I was interested and going through the motions when I wasn’t.  But, hey – it was working, right?  My grades were good.  My skills were good.  Life was, well, good.  Little did I know, “good” wasn’t nearly all there was to life.

Enter Professor Fussypants.  Despite moving into a university setting, I found myself confidently entering my Intro to Children’s Literature class, finding a familiar face to sit beside, and settling in to what (I thought) would be an Easy A.  This was children’s lit, after all.  Like, for kids.  After analyzing Joyce, Blake, and DeLillo, this would be the proverbial walk in the park.

Fast-forward to essay time.  I wrote a paper on Peter Pan, or Treasure Island, or some such text.  (The fact that I can’t even recall the subject of the paper should illuminate my level of dedication to the task).  I proofread it.  I submitted it.  I waited to get it back.

And then, I nearly hit the roof.

My paper.  My paper.  Covered in red ink.  Professor Fussypants had left no paragraph untouched, no idea unquestioned.  Didn’t she know that this was my voice?  How dare she question my casual turn-of-phrase, my pithy insight?  Devaluing my work because it wasn’t what she would have written seemed spiteful, and I cursed her spiteful, essay-hating, children’s-lit-analyzing face.

All of this, of course, happened among my friends, my boyfriend, my fellow students.  Not once did I consider approaching her to discuss her comments or to seek additional feedback.  This woman had an advanced PhD in Children’s Literature, for Pete’s sake.  Surely, I could found something to learn from this published, esteemed, and altogether-authoritative literary expert.  But my self-image was wounded, and in that pain, I failed to see the incredible compliment and opportunity of her commentary.

This eloquent, educated young woman took the time to engage with my ideas, with my words.  She had disagreed, but she had seen my ideas as worthy of disagreement.  And this is what I wish I had understood before: that engagement with one’s ideas – even for the sake of refutation – is an acknowledgement of their inherent value.

Looking back, I’m glad that I had this experience.  While my initial reaction could fairly be characterized as hostile and defensive, it did eventually lead me to a sense of humility.  Yes, I am intelligent, and yes, my many of my ideas are worthy of engagement.  But I am not infallible. I am not always right.  And, I have discovered that I learn more about myself as a writer, as a thinker, when I defend and debate my point of view.

In the end, I’ve come to see, it’s not from others’ constant approval of others that we learn, but from our willingness to entertain the criticism and commentary that will inevitably come.  Gloria Steinem’s dictum that “The truth will set you free[,] but first, it will piss you off” rings true for that 21-year-old version of myself.

Maybe Steinem had Professor Fussypants, too.

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