Here it is, the second Saturday of September, complete with that sense of Fall with an early touch of winter. There is a crispness to the air that I had forgotten, and a sense of slowing down to recalibrate for the final quarter. This time last year I was caught in the chaos of putting on a conference for the first time. Oddly enough, it was at that conference, during a conversation with some users, where I got clarity: I was doing the right thing but in the wrong place.
The summer has been spent exploring that, and on a deeper level, exploring the perceptions I have of myself and what I do, and the perceptions others have of myself and what I do. Most of this has been done through creative writing exercises from various classes at StoryStudio Chicago, and through the Graham School at the University of Chicago. What I’ve learned is that my brain tends to operate like an accordion, expanding and contracting depending on the buttons pressed, the rhythms around me and the over-arching tune that is playing. When it comes to work, there’s expansion. I can see how parts fit together into the bigger picture, and find examples of lawyers already doing what everyone else has merely been discussing. The expansion exposes pockets, places, for example, where technology has yet to have an impact. Or where law firm recruitment and legal education are disconnected. Sometimes I’m able to contract and expand, play accordion to produce pieces on a particular tune, like privacy. Most of the time, I focus on finding other people to tell their story, believing they have experienced it and are thus better equipped to convey lessons learned. Truth be told, I am surprised at my success in being able to do that.
Other people are not surprised at my ability to find people to write about the pockets I see, but rather are surprised at my surprise. This is most common when it comes to editing other peoples work. My perception is that it is merely something I do, and something I happen to be good at doing. It holds no special spot in my arsenal of skills, it just is. That is surprising to people because they view it as a skill, and a skill few possess. One of my housemates still sends me drafts of things to proof because I am able to provide clarity and tone in a short period of time. I like that she appreciates it, but again, I don’t see it as a skill or something all that useful.
Through the creative writing courses this summer, I have started to see it as a skill, and am learning that my perception is skewed because I have not seen what I do (write well and edit better) as worthwhile. This came to light during a discussion in the “4 Ways to a True Story” class. The premise of the class was to take some significant event, and write it in four different ways, in the end producing four 1,000-2,000 word stories. We were introducing ourselves and what we wanted to get from the class. Everyone had a story to tell about some significant, life-altering event and the goals were lofty and exceptional. My goal was simple, by comparison: just get something written.
The writing in that class was phenomenal, and the stories tackled incredibly personal subjects from murder-suicide to abortion to love lost. Really amazing, truthful, thought-provoking work. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a class that challenged me to elevate my work, really come clean and not pull punches. It made me a drafter damnit.
I gradually came to the realization that perceiving what I do (write well and edit better) as merely what I do, cheapened it. I put no stock, and therefore no value, in it. That has translated into fits and stops as I automatically convince myself my story is not worth telling. It is not worth telling because it has been told before. If I have nothing new to add to the discourse, then there is no point. The class gave me pause, and reminded me of thought patterns. I had stumbled across a destructive thought pattern. I say “stumbled across” because it has been automatic. Until working through the exercises of the class, and hearing other peoples work and their struggles with getting things down on paper, I was not aware of that particular thought pattern.
Once a pattern is recognized, it’s interesting to see its pervasiveness. Whenever I’m drafting a blog post for work, it pops up and convinces me that my opinion isn’t contributing to the discourse so the post is abandoned. Writing summaries or “how-to’s” is more acceptable. It also pops up with regards to a graduate class I’m teaching on social and digital media in October. Working on the syllabus, the pattern will assert itself in a variation. It’s not my opinion doesn’t contribute to the discourse, but my ability to engage the class and produce meaningful discussion that is lacking.
Some will consider that doubt, and consider it expected given my limited teaching experience. Others will say it’s a lack of confidence that will be overcome once class starts, and that I can overcome it in terms of writing by publishing drafts instead of letting them languish or, worse, be deleted. All good points.
Patience might have been the overarching theme the past year, and remains a persistent element this year, but I’m starting to think self confidence is an overarching theme that has been ignored. I have no qualms about joining beach volleyball and dodgeball teams composed of people I’ve never met, or playing on a soccer team also composed of people I’ve never met, save for a coworker whom I just met. I have no qualms about giving feedback on writing submitted or read during class. I have no qualms reaching out to people to share their stories and experience, and working with vendors to develop good, practical stories. I have confidence as long as the focus is not on me.
I wonder, now, if this fall is a time to devote to developing self-confidence. Teaching a graduate class is one way, teaching it online is another, but perhaps I need to return to the thing I do best: writing well, and editing better.