Possibly necessary clarification to last week's post: I don't find Betty and Tamsen annoying. I think they're cute and funny. But I don't find Willie Scott, Navi, Jar Jar Binks, L3-37, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez annoying either, so take my opinion with a proverbial grain of salt.
Moving on, I got this piece of paper this week. To be precise, I walked into my previous apartment and it was sitting on the counter so I stole it.
Finally I have confirmation that I didn't flunk anything last semester. I wasn't man enough to check, but I had my concerns about Magical Realism and Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing. I just wasn't smart enough for Magical Realism, and also I stopped participating after the first day when half my classmates laughed at my awkward phrasing of a comment. Of course the professor did nothing about it and instead penalized me for not wanting to talk anymore, because that's how life works. But Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing was another kind of hell altogether. I didn't think it would be. I did pretty well in normal Creative Nonfiction Writing. Russ told me that my voice was unique enough to make him willing to read just about anything I write, that my essay "Ass Burgers" was one of his favorites of the term, and that I should strongly consider expanding it into a full-length memoir. Of course I also got plenty of constructive criticism because that was the point of the class, and I took it gracefully. I'm not afraid of criticism. I want to improve the shortcomings that I know exist in my writing, so I like it when people point them out.
The Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing class was a different beast altogether. Jennifer decided we were all going to write "flash nonfiction", which is two or three page essays where every word counts and there's a second, deeper meaning behind the story. Frankly, I think that sort of thing is pretentious more often than not. I put "deeper meanings" in my novel to make it more interesting, but they're subtle and nothing is really lost if somebody misses them. My novel's purpose first and foremost is to be an exciting adventure in space, period. And in nonfiction, I don't even have the freedom to make up events that serve a certain narrative. More to the point, this metaphorical stuff is not my native language. I don't even like metaphors. Similes are all right, but this concept of saying that one thing is another thing when it's not has always rubbed me the wrong way. I only get used to it with cliches that are so overused that nobody ever thinks about what the actual words of the metaphor literally mean (e.g. rubbing me the wrong way). Even those pissed me off when I was little. Why do you ask "Can I see that?" when you're already looking right at it, jerk?
The possibility of talking to the university's Disability Resource Center about my autism had been presented to me, but I didn't go through with it because I didn't think of it as a disability in the context of academic stuff. It's mostly just a disability in making friends, being attractive, and getting an adequate amount of sleep at any point in my life. If I had thought about all the class participation I would be expected to do, I probably would have talked to the people. But I'm smart, and I'm usually a great writer in large part because of my autism, and I didn't see myself as having a disability that the university needed to address. I'm not used to writing garbage. I'm used to writing really good stuff that I'm really proud of until the next day when I'm sick of it and think it's garbage. In my attempts to fit the mold set out by this class that was completely disloyal to the way my brain works and anything I would ever write voluntarily, I wrote garbage. It wasn't great for my delicate millennial self-esteem.
Like Indiana Jones in "The Last Crusade", I faced three devices of lethal cunning. The first challenge was finding anecdotes from my life that could be condensed so briefly. Technically our essays didn't have to be about bad things, but that's what makes for compelling literature. I wrote about stuff like the time my parents' friends' daughter convinced me to help her pull all the limbs off a daddy-long-legs, the time I was alone with an older male relative and he whipped out his disco stick and exhorted me several times to suck it, and the time a girl I met online pretended to be in love with me because she thought we were both joking. The second challenge was thinking of deeper meanings that could be applied, and Jennifer assured us that an overarching theme would evolve for our chapbooks at the end. My overarching theme was that I'm insecure. The third challenge was deftly weaving these meanings in such a way as to enrich the essays without either being too subtle or insulting the reader's intelligence. I failed miserably at that. Nobody understood what I was going for in any of them.
My first workshopped essay was about the incident already related here. In addition to it being garbage, I made several stylistic choices that people didn't understand. I put in quirky details that I just thought were interesting, like the bridge over the St. Lawrence River that wobbled when we jumped on it, but people expected them to have relevance to the story and then they didn't. Okay, fine. I mentioned that my friend's house "once served as a bed and breakfast but now serves as a far more modern and permanent business: a video rental store." While this may not be a great joke even by my standards, I would certainly hope it's recognizeable as one, but a classmate felt the need to say that she didn't think a video rental store was a modern or permanent business. So there's an unwritten rule not to attempt humor in these serious artistic ventures. I put the whole work in present tense because that seemed to fit, because I wanted to write it from the perspective of idiot teenager me while only hinting that the increased wisdom and regret of adult me, and this led Jennifer to speculate out loud (in gentler terms, of course) that maybe I'm still a homophobe.
Going into detail about one of the friends who happened to be the weirdest friend I've ever had, without focusing the essay on him, was admittedly a huge mistake. Again, I thought his weirdness was just interesting, but it confused the crap out of people. Granted, this guy in person also confused the crap out of people. So I scrapped the original essay completely and wrote one about him instead, about how I hated him at first but then I realized he was a person with feelings too and it was really sweet. You can imagine, anyway, that in this workshop I felt eaten alive like in no workshop before and didn't feel like coming back to class ever. But I did because I didn't want to flunk, and eventually I noticed that the one person who knew me from a previous class, one where I was actually good, had messaged me afterward to say she didn't agree with all of the others' assessment and felt they had treated me unfairly, so that was nice of her. I'd screenshot the message if I could get back into Canvas, but I can't so you'll just have to decide whether I'm a trustworthy source.
EDIT: The trust I know you placed in me has been vindicated!
I did write one essay, the night before the chapbook was due, that I don't think is garbage. Mind you, I'm not saying it's great, but I can read it without throwing up and I think it's the closest I ever came to the objective of the course. I may have slightly improved on this skill that I have little or no intention of ever consciously using again. At least enough to not flunk the class and be prevented from graduating, which is good enough for me.
My parents never let me have a Nintendo or a Playstation. It shouldn't have been a big deal, but I had enough trouble making friends already without being unable to participate in my church and school peers' conversations about the video games they played on the Nintendos and/or Playstations they all had. So it wasn't a small matter when we visited my grandparents one year and Aunt Laurel or Aunt Michelle – they're twins, so I don't remember which – asked if I wanted to use their Nintendo. I asked if they had any Legend of Zelda games. They said they did have one, and they put it in and the rest was history.
I'd only seen one Legend of Zelda game, “Majora's Mask”. The kid who owned it never offered to let me play, but I had so much fun just watching him that I fell in love with the series. Laurel's and Michelle's game was the prequel to it, “Ocarina of Time” – which, unknown to me then, is widely regarded as not only the best Zelda game, but one of the greatest video games of all time. Understandably so. It sucked me in just as much as the first. I played it every chance I got, trying to compensate for years' worth of missed opportunities in two weeks. Laurel and Michelle had to play for me half the time since I didn't know where to go and didn't dare take on the Bosses myself, but that was all right.
Link was the default name for the protagonist, but I named him Christor. I don't remember if there wasn't room for Christopher or if I just assumed there wasn't because there seldom was. Anyway, Christor started the game as a small, unassuming boy from the middle of nowhere. A silent protagonist, in fact, with no dialogue beyond grunts and shouts.
At one point in the game, Christor drew the Master Sword and opened up the doorway to the Sacred Realm where the sacred artifact, the Triforce, lay hidden. And suddenly he wasn't a kid anymore. He was too small to wield the Master Sword, so it put him to sleep for seven years. When he awoke, he was a ten-year-old in a seventeen-year-old body, forced to grow up too fast and emerge into a darkened world full of evil. Because it also turned out that his quest to stop Ganondorf from stealing the Triforce had enabled Ganondorf to steal the Triforce. Christor, the alleged hero, had royally screwed everything up. But it wasn't his fault. If only he hadn't listened to Zelda, Hyrule would have been in that mess.
Then there was a whole new quest, a much longer and more difficult one. The rules were the same, building off what he had learned in his trials as a child, but the puzzles got harder and the enemies got stronger. At least he'd had a chance to learn, to prepare before growing up. But could anything really prepare him for what he had to do? In any case, he must have been terrified. He must have lain awake at night sometimes, sweating and palpitating over the things he'd seen and experienced.
When all was said and done, though, Christor was significant. Christor made a difference. Christor saved Hyrule. And then Zelda, realizing that everything was her fault, sent him back in time to before he fell asleep, so he could live through the years that he'd missed. Since he never said anything, I never knew his thoughts on the matter. I wonder if he considered it a blessing to live time over, or if he worried about all the mistakes he would now have a chance to make. After his one big mistake that wasn't really his fault, he'd been safely out of harm's way for seven years. Now that would be undone.
Another side effect of this was that Ganondorf's reign was prevented (why didn't they just do that in the first place?) and people no longer remembered what Link had done for them. After all the countless hours he spent serving people and being a hero, he didn't even get to attend the victory celebration, and then nobody cared at all. As far as they were concerned, he was insignificant, even nonexistent.
I didn't think about all these implications while I was playing “Ocarina of Time” as a child, but I think about them now.
Ta-da! Notice how I tried to subtly manipulate you into feeling sorry for poor little me? Did it work?
So was this piece of paper "worth it"? Was it worth the seven and a half year wait, the change of majors, the leave of absence, the mornings I walked to campus at quarter to seven with ice in my hair, the mornings I got up even though I didn't want to be alive anymore, the loss of my scholarship after I spiraled into depression and stopped giving a ---- about school, the suicide attempts, the tens of thousands of dollars of debt that I'll be stuck with for God knows how long, the research papers I wrote when I could have been doing literally anything else, the countless rejections large and small when I tried to build a social circle or get a date? Not really, no. Not when it turned out to be virtually useless because in today's economy I need a Masters' degree to be worth anything. But it's what I came for and now, after a ridiculously convoluted and circuitous journey, I have it. I guess it was worth the handful of really good enduring friendships I did get, and, oh yeah, I actually learned a few things. From my current major I learned how to be a better writer and from my previous major I learned how to explain to creationists that they're wrong.
Even though, given the state of my health, I don't anticipate living past my early forties, I don't mind having my own pace of adulting that's slower than almost everyone else's. It's not the absolute slowest. There were three people in Advanced Nonfiction Writing in their early thirties. And as far as I know they're still in school this semester while I'm not. But it's not a contest because individuality and stuff. And I don't even hate the prospect of graduate school anymore. I hope I can do it here, because nowhere else will do. After all these years I find myself truly, madly, deeply, hopelessly, consummately in love with the Ray B. West Building, Utah State University, and Logan Utah. I'm not cheating on any of them. They're like a Siamese triplet kind of deal. I wonder if graduate school will take another seven years? I was just thinking in terms of that one biblical story today, that if I had started working for a wife when I came to Utah, by this time I would have one and I would only need to work seven more years for the one I actually wanted. That's kind of a messed-up story when you think about it.
Congratulations! You reminded me of when i sat in writing workshops, i think i had an occasion or two to send emails to classmates who’d been put through the wringer unfairly, I’d thought. I’m baffled as to why writing critiques stray from the writing and become scrutinies of the writer. I remember Angela coming home to tell me of the psychiatric run down her class had given her during a workshop, which i didn’t think was the point.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.