During a vulnerable period in my early 20’s my college writing professor told me flatly but exasperatedly, “writers write.” I was and always will be a tone person and I will tell you emphatically that I did not appreciate his tone. I’m sure my face said it all. Because I had been writing. A lot actually. Mostly about rap music and cultural hot takes for music blogs and lengthy love letters to my boyfriend. But still. Words were being written. I was putting in my 10,000 hours like Malcolm Gladwell said in that book all the other writers read. I was writing more. Not necessarily better, but more. He didn’t know that and he didn’t care. His job was to push me toward the next echelon of creativity. He didn’t coddle me and I just keeled inward.
He critiqued my piece at the Art Institute of Chicago, which was the museum we frequented over our winter session. We visited a different room in the 264,000-square-foot building each time for hours on end. You could spend weeks there and not give all the pieces their just due. It houses over 300,000 works from artists. Those artists probably got a broad yet poignant critique during their lives too. But I couldn’t handle it. Not in that thick Midwest accent and not in that season of my life.
My professor gave us prompts occasionally but more often he would give us a long leash to write stories about the art that piqued our interests. He would assign all the writers a room or an exhibition and visit us to peruse our progress. The piece I wrote was a free-write about a beautiful, but comical, painting in the museum’s east corridor that I felt hadn’t been discovered yet. I felt bad for that painting. The lighting seemed lackluster. There wasn’t a proper bench in front to admire it for a long while. Recalling it now, that was so arrogant of me. It was in a museum for god’s sake and I was there looking at it, not the other way around. But enough about the painting. No need to give it poetic justice now because apparently the writing I had done wasn’t done well.
We were on a proper uncomfortable museum bench surrounded by the Father of Impressionism’s life work when we reconvened after our class. It was and still is breathtaking and quite frankly I found that to be irritating in the moment. Again, arrogant. I was 22. It was a frigid December afternoon, I was hungover, and I had just written on the cold marble floor for two hours. All predictable signs of the times.
He did not ease into his criticism but rather said my work as of late had lacked depth and emotional nuggets and style. He said I wasn’t digging deep or leaning into the pain of life or searching for answers to the questions I still don’t know. He was making many sound points but like other artists will understand, I just wasn’t there yet. He didn’t know me well enough in that time of my life to know that I probably shouldn’t be criticized when surrounded by the Works of Claude Monet. Comparison is the thief of joy. I didn’t say that but Teddy Roosevelt did. See what I mean?
There was so much to say then and I missed it. And I just keep missing it.