November 26, 2010

Bulk view

Reclaiming

Cate Huston writes about falling out of love with literature because of English classes, the urge to build instead of destroy, and the pigeonholing of people’s passions.

I know what that’s like. I read voraciously in grade school. My principal said I wasn’t just a bookworm, I was a booksnake. I split my free time between the library and the computer lab. I read everywhere, even while walking.

In high school and university, I learned that literature wasn’t my thing. My classmates wrote poetry, stories, even plays. I tucked my grade-school verses into a corner of my hard disk. They wrote clear, insightful literary analyses of irony or imagery—or at least I assume they were clear and insightful, given the grades they received. I struggled to do the work, or even motivate myself to do so. I still read for myself, tackling War and Peace and other classics on my own. But just like I’d ceded art to the artists, I ceded literature to others. It was not my domain. I was clearly the computer geek of my batch, and my enjoyment of that made it easier to avoid investing myself in other subjects.

We sometimes reflect on how children learn that they can’t draw, or that they can’t sing, or that they can’t act. They can, of course, but somewhere along the line, people stop trying. They think of something as outside themselves, not themselves, not for them. Despite the best intentions of teachers and family and friends, I learned that lesson. The good thing about learning that lesson, however, is that I’m learning how to unlearn it – how to reclaim those interests.

So now I write. Mostly blogs, but I’ve experimented with fiction before. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that other people see me as a writer – maybe not a Writer, but someone who enjoys and does well with words. I read. Mostly nonfiction, but also children’s literature (which I like because it tends to be unpretentious and not over-wrought), classics, and odd discoveries. I still can’t dissect the things I read, although I’m starting to be able to tell why I like some things and not others. I draw. Not the beautiful drawings my friends could make, but enough to make people smile. I revisit the shop and home economic skills that gave me anxiety in the classroom. I reclaim those parts of self that I’d discarded along the way.

Helping J- with homework gives me plenty of opportunities to re-encounter and reclaim. (I’m looking at you, biology, with your jargon and memorization…)

Would I have done things any differently? That overriding passion that crowded out the others gave me a lot of strength, confidence, and security, so I don’t think I would have discarded it to be more of a generalist. Some people in my class excelled in multiple areas. Perhaps if I had figured out earlier how to use a strength in one area to build strengths in another, and how to take advantage of complementary skills. I learned that towards the end of university, when blogging helped me develop reflective practice, speaking helped me learn how to scale, and learning with strangers helped me enjoy the process of figuring things out.

What will you reclaim?