An Uncommon Joy

A likeness of Towles & Go-Go Boots

I chose WordPress as the place to house my blog because I liked its name, the imagery of it. Sometimes, I imagine myself working in a big word press. Not a Gutenberg-style word press but alone, at a really cool-looking old table, pressing words, by hand, into paper – with something like hot wax.

I imagine how long it would take me to write an essay using hot wax and my own personal, homemade word press and am then infinitely grateful for my Mac.

Anyway, I recently wrote a book proposal for the manuscript born of my MFA program. I think it’s a pretty good manuscript, and I normally don’t think such things of my writing, but I worked really hard on this one (while holding a full-time job) and I nearly lost my mind in the process. (All real writers lose their minds, don’t you know?) Plus, I had some really great teachers.

As I wrote my manuscript, I sometimes imagined myself as a contestant on that TV show “The Biggest Loser.” I came into the MFA program with a lot of fat in my writing – overly-rosy, wheezy sentences; a tone that one especially keen mentor likened to a voice-over on a History channel war special – and no idea how to lose it. There were lots of people counting on me, expecting me to get better, to surpass the goals I’d set for myself. That this process of mine was not actually part of a reality tv show could not be more of a blessing. These past two years have been a little messy.

But what I realized throughout the manuscript-writing process was this: facing scrutiny is an uncommon joy. It is exhilarating; stomach-squeezing; life-giving. Without it, all good ideas die in the word press.

And this is something I love about education. Something I love, specifically, about being taught. Within the realm of education, as long as it leads to realization, we are allowed to fail and flounder. We are never too lean or too old or too talented to learn something vital; to reach into criticism (terrifying as it may be) and grow; to find ourselves on some surprising, splendid plain of reason thanks to the caring, carefully incisive wisdom of people who have been there, who urge students forward and out of whatever comfortable, simple life-rut they’re walking in.

I don’t have the slightest idea what will come of this manuscript, my book proposal, the strange mating dance we writers have to do to woo an agent. But I am bolstered by the teachers who have believed in me and in my writing, by both the encouragers and the criticizers. Without them, I’d be off working as a compliance officer in some financial services firm (this is only a very slight exaggeration), or washing windows, or wearing go-go boots.

So, here’s to teachers … and uncommon joy.


3 thoughts on “An Uncommon Joy

  1. Towles,
    First off…Love reading your blog, and reading about what’s in your head. I love the imagery of pressing words into paper with wax.
    I start teaching the summer quarter tomorrow morning after a two-week break, and still feeling completely worn from the last quarter. Your entry Uncommon Joy, in only minutes…redirected my thoughts to the greater purpose of teaching instead of the frustrating details that ought not to overwhelm, but often do. Thank you, I needed that:-)


  2. my metaphor for writing is scuba diving — mostly because the process of finishing, of setting the writing aside or turning off the computer, feels a lot like the act of coming up for air.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s