I just received a typed page of notes on my paper, my first in 14 years, from a professor at NYU. She opens, “Well you can truly tell you are a writer.” How strange, and wonderful, that in my first college paper at Principia, I received a similar note, although not one nearly so affirming. Dr. Campbell told the little freshman me, “You could be a writer if you wanted to be, but you’d have to give up family, fame and fortune to do it.”
I have been haunted by that sentence for nearly two decades. I have even avoided the use of the word “writer” in any sort of meaningful identity sense, opting instead to see it as a skill I enjoy. Better to be a publicist, because I won’t lead a life of misery, as described by my former prof. To be fair, he was an excellent teacher, making me a far better writer by insisting on “a sparkle in every paragraph.” You see, I remember the good stuff he said, too. I’m not sure professors know the full extent of their influence, at least on me, at any rate.
So now, I am told I am a writer without the nasty, arguable baggage. I have achieved that state of being, and in her eyes, the sentence ends there. Period. Ah, glorious punctuation! Praise aside, my current professor also gave me valid and ample constructive criticism. Frankly, I suspected I need to be more precise and get “closer to the texts.” I’ve always leaned on the lyrical quality she praises, and used it to “get away” with stuff.
This was not born of a lazy attitude, but rather a warped sense of time. For 14 years, I excelled in promoting ideas at an extremely rapid pace. Breadth over depth was richly rewarded.
The well-fed writer I accidentally became viewed time in terms of billable hours and “client delight.”
Now, not only do I have the luxury of time, I must demand myself to use that time to go deep into the texts. This is my new job. The writer aspires to be the scholar. I have a lot of unfamiliar work to do.