2016, Archives, February 2016, The MFA Years

Don’t Speak

Image credit: Miki Yoshihito

I don’t talk.

At least not in class. I am the person in the back corner of the classroom diligently taking notes who always knows what’s going on but doesn’t say a word. And I’m more than comfortable in that role. I like that role, especially since coming back to school. From that first day about two years ago on I got it in my head that I was behind the rest of my classmates somehow in education and ability. Listening to the discussions around me was my way of catching up to them. Plus, I’ve always been a better writer than speaker. I knew I could show my knowledge through the papers and essays assigned. I was more than fine trading in class participation grade for not embarrassing myself in front of everyone.

Back in January, before the start of my final semester of undergrad, I made it a goal of mine to speak more, to participate more, to not just be the girl in the back of the room not talking. The reasoning behind this had everything to do with the future. If I was good lucky enough to get into a MFA program somewhere, I knew actual talking about the work would be required. I could take this semester as a way of getting myself comfortable with it.

Two months into the semester and I’d call my progress a mix bag. I’m not sitting in the back corner anymore—mostly in the middle, one directly in front. In two of the classes I participate more than my classes from a year or two years or even a semester ago. But in the classes that I wanted to participate the most, my creative writing capstones, I have become quieter than ever. And, despite falling back into old habits, this didn’t bother me too much. I still feel like I have much to learn, especially in one of the capstones, and, for me, listening and taking notes is how I learn best.

But this past week something happened that has made me rethink that quiet acceptance. In workshop a person put up a story with characters that felt like overly done stereotypes to me. I had spent a few days thinking about what I wanted to say, how I was going to say it, and when I was going to say it. The workshop for the story came and went and I didn’t say a word. As time ticked on I kept wanting to open my mouth and say something, but nothing actually came out of my mouth. And when the author directly asked about the characters I still couldn’t say my piece.

I wonder when this normal reluctance to speak up will leave me. Maybe this is just who I am at this point in my life and there’s no changing it, but that’s a bit too negative for me. I want to speak up and be critical and not just be the writer that gushes over what I liked or what worked in the, well, work. This reminds me too much of my teenage years, when I would sit alone on the back pew at church, writing little stories on the one empty page of the church programs about the people who was at service that Sunday, and my mother would come up and say that one day I’ll come out of my shell. I always wanted to tell her that this was me and not a shell I needed to fight and crawl out of like a crab.

Besides, at 30 this is not a shell. This is who I am. But what do you do when you want to change your default state for the things and places it means the most to you to change? I don’t have the answers but I have two full months to try to sort it all out.

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