by Kathryn Graham
When I was a freshman at Marist College, I was deeply insecure about my writing.
I didn’t trust the people I knew who said I had talent. Of course they did, I thought, they loved me. They were hopelessly biased (hi mom!), and even if they wanted to be objective, they never could be.
I needed real answers. A psychic. A guru. I didn’t want to pour my time, my heart, my agony into something that was going to amount to nothing more than ‘personal growth’ (yuck, who needs that?)
So I looked for another, more impartial judge. I went to the Writing Lab.
The Writing Lab’s main purpose is to help students who have trouble writing papers or need an extra set of eyes on an assignment. It is not to be the arbiter of skill or to encourage young writers. But I didn’t know where else to turn.
The man on duty that day was a greying older gentleman. I don’t recall his name. I handed him some poems, short stories, some semi-fanfiction. At the time, I rarely wrote without being motivated by class assignments.
I’m sure that he was expecting to help people construct a simple paragraph that day, not to hold the dreams of a kid in his hands. This wasn’t something he was prepared to answer, and he was deeply uncomfortable. I pressed him anyway.
Did I have talent? Could I be a professional writer?
His verdict: “It’s no Hemingway.”
I admit what I gave him wasn’t the best writing in the universe. I was eighteen years old. I always had potential, but I needed a lot more work, more guidance, more learning. You know, education.
Still, he could have encouraged me to seek out someone who could help me improve. He could said ‘I see potential here’ even if he saw none. He could have at least commented on the fact that I could write in complete sentences.
Instead, he broke my heart.
I never should have asked him. It was stupid. I know that. It didn’t stop me from carrying that around like a ‘shard of glass’ that cuts me even now. That’s the problem with ‘knowing’ something in your mind. It doesn’t always communicate well to your heart.
Instead of giving me the validation that I craved, he inflicted on me the wound I’d asked for. I gave this random guy in the Marist College Writing Lab the edict of the gods, and he had found me lacking.
I’ve never read Hemingway. Or if I had, it hasn’t stuck with me. This certainly didn’t motivate me to start.
Fifteen years later, in an interesting twist, my dad setup a new writing laptop for me and named it “Hemingway”. I feel like there’s a message here, but I don’t know what it is.
I want to say something inspiring, like: I didn’t let him stop me! But, I kind of did. At the very least, I let him slow me down. This guy whose name I don’t even remember. This guy who didn’t deserve the power I gave him.
I’m not Hemingway. I don’t want to be. But I’m still here, still writing, still hurting, still starting and stopping, and going slower than I’d like. Still wondering if I’ll find an audience – a genuine human connection – and a career that I ‘wouldn’t trade for the world’.
In the end, I’m not that much different than that insecure kid now. I just have more help to push past it. I hope one day I forget all about it. Maybe it’ll never go away, and that’s all I can do. Take it and keep going, no matter how bad it feels.
For me, it at least reminds me to take extra care to be kind when someone presents me a piece of their soul. It’s the least I can do.
NOTE FROM LB: For the record, Kate, from my keyboard to your eyes: Hemingway sucks. Just another moderately talented show off who parlayed his ability to make his life sound like one God would’ve wanted to lead into a highly overrated literary career. If I told you, “You’re no Hemingway,” I’d mean it as a compliment.
ANOTHER NOTE FROM LB: So I think I will. Congratulations, Kate! You’re no Hemingway!
Kathryn Graham is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor and munchman’s secret fav. Learn more about Kate HERE