Today I’ve learned a lesson.
I’m back in Iowa taking another summer writing workshop and thinking, for the first time, I shouldn’t be here. I should be writing instead.
I shouldn’t spend two days discussing what I’ve written, agonizing about how bad it is, and bemoaning the fact that I don’t know how to fix it.
I’m starting to question the value of this kind of painful acknowledgement.
I’m enrolled in a class focused on teaching how to put feelings on a page when I suspect I should just be at my keyboard putting feelings on a page.
And to add to my sense fatalistic frustration, two of my current classmates were former classmates from past Iowa summer workshops. This summer one of them has a terrible cold. Her ideas and contributions are the same, but the germs she is sharing in class add a new level of cooperation.
Apparently, we are all still working on the same projects.
Maybe the people who actually completed their projects no longer attend classes here.
Maybe these workshops are really for those of us who dawdle and procrastinate while trying to convince ourselves classroom time contributes to the work. We can ask each other:
“How is your book coming?”
“Oh, it’s coming along. Thank goodness for these writing workshops.”
“I’m glad to see you are making progress.”
“Yes, me too!”
But I’m wondering if this is really progress. I’m considering a possible different use of time.
I’m thinking of getting a tattoo.
My sister recently dyed the ends of her hair purple.
I’m kind of thinking like that.
It is Van Gogh ear kind of thinking.
As a schoolgirl I learned Van Gogh cut off his ear in a moment of crazed creative despair. He supposedly mutilated himself in search of artistic inspiration. Theories and expert opinions about his poor missing ear reached far enough into the world community to enter my middle school class in New York. Apparently even school children were riveted, revolted and intrigued by this glimpse into the world of art.
Did it provide further inspiration in his painting?
Did the pain drive him to greater artistic heights?
I read recently that some historians believe it was the result of an accident involving a close friend with a sword.
Staring through the shopfront window of the tattoo shop down the street from my cozy rented rooms here in Iowa city I wonder if Van Gogh didn’t just feel a need to shake things up? Maybe he was bored.
I’m an ardent believer in education, and I wholly endorse the necessity of open discussion and learning from the people around us. Communication leads to understanding and new ways and perspectives to think about things.
I believe this.
But now, instead of thinking about education I’m thinking about tattoo needles. I’m researching infection rates and least painful body art placement locations. I’m considering what image I would like to wear forever on my skin.
So, one of my lessons this week is learning where education can inadvertently take you.
Into spirals of self-doubt. I think, it is not the class that’s the problem. It is not the vagueness of the materials or the self-inflating comments from my classmates. It is not my own stammering response when enticed to read aloud.
It is clearly just my lack of tattoo.
I’m heading off to a lecture and a new workshop this afternoon. My walking path will take me once again past the tattoo shop. Maybe I will stop at the glaring pane glass window and watch while someone less undecided than me lies upon the table with a tattoo artist leaning across his shoulder. Perhaps I will even wander inside.
Who knows who I will be at the end of the week?
I expect however that I will still have both ears.