November 23, 2009

Educate Me

I vividly remember my first taste of injustice. (Okay, maybe not my first, but for dramatic purposes…) One of the first things they did when I went to kindergarten was test each child to see what he or she knew. I remember sitting in one of those orange plastic chairs next to a hulking teachers’ aid while she asked questions and then scribbled on a piece of paper. I remember being nervous ~ it was a test after all, and even at five I realized what this meant. She asked me to recite Hickory Dickory Dock (or some other nursery rhyme) but I had never heard it, so even when she prompted me with the first line I couldn’t complete it. I remember thinking: How unfair! No one ever taught me this rhyme, so how could I possibly be able to recite it?! Of course, now I know that they were just finding out what I knew so that they could start where it left off ~ and maybe gauge my intelligence and how I interacted. But at the time I was outraged in my mousy way.

I also remember my first taste of infinite possibility. I came to the University of Wyoming as a freshman not knowing what I wanted to study. I had wanted to be a veterinarian until late in high school, and changing my mind left a huge gap. I think the first major I chose was public relations ~ which is hilarious actually because that’s essentially where I’ve ended up after all these years. (Officially, I was in public relations, teaching, computer engineering, and art and unofficially considering nursing before I ended up in English.) I realized one day that I actually could be any major I wanted to and that all the knowledge I needed to learn for that major or any other subject in the universe was available at Coe Library. (This was pre-internet of course.) It was an epiphany: I could learn absolutely anything I wanted to! All I had to do was check out a book. It made me so happy I could’ve screamed.

What do these two things have in common and what does that have to do with writing? Well, first of all, it highlights how important learning is to me. I have always loved going to school and learning things. I love the life of the mind. Second, I think this intellectual curiosity is essential to being a writer. Certainly, you need emotional intelligence as well, but the ability to learn things allows you to be inside the heads of people from all professions and ways of life. All you have to do is read and learn. It’s like someone gives you a neat present every time you pick up a book or click open a web page.

Go forth and learn! I will till the day I die.

What I’m Reading Today: I read Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid in one sitting. It really captures what it’s like to be in middle school! Though from a boy’s perspective, of course. The changing allegiances. How grown-ups have the best intentions but often totally misconstrue everything. How alienated you feel. I almost wished for a little more lightness, but being disaffected is part of the gig.

PS Soon, this blog is going to occasionally include other writers expounding on craft. Consider yourself warned!

PPS Yes, I know I just split an infinitive ~ goes to show you’re just as geeky as I am.

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