This weekend, I’m participating in a three-day poetry-writing retreat. Taking a poetry class is something important to me. Even better, the instructor is John Fox, author of Finding What You Didn’t Lose, a book I’ve written about on this blog.
Everything is in place. So . . . why am I nervous? Because taking a class involves a lot more than enjoying learning. It brings up memories and ideas of authority figures and being wrong and not knowing. Frankly, I was surprised. And then I wasn’t.
It’s normal for me to want to do well. So I can take a pleasant experience and turn it into something that causes anxiety. That means two things:
1. Handle my anxiety quickly, before it gets more elaborate.
2. Understand what people feel when they come to my classes.
Item #1: I will sit with my anxiety, not expecting to solve it or fix it. It will feel uncomfortable, and that’s fine. Most likely, once I admit to anxiety, it will fade and allow me to feel the delight of working with someone whose book I admire. If not, I will sit with my anxiety some more, maybe even engaging it in some conversation. Asking what this is really about, rather that telling myself not to be anxious.
I have a feeling this is linked to an embarrassing experience in graduate school, in a poetry writing class. The two classes are not connected and have nothing in common except they are both poetry classes taught by smart people who I admire. And that’s enough. I may have to re-write my memory–a trick I made up by accident.
First, I write down my memory, including all the emotions I remember feeling. Then I write down how I see the incident now. Finally, I write down what I would say to the instructor now, about the incident. Sometimes I use dialog, sometimes a list of questions, sometimes a narrative. In most cases, I see the incident very differently now, with the distance of time and growth.
Item #2: One of the ideas I got from my own fear is understanding the variety of people who show up in my class. At least some of them were sent as punishment. They are not looking forward to the class. I’ve changed the opening exercise of my classes because of that recognition.
When I go to the retreat this week, I will lower the bar of my expectations so the instructor doesn’t have to walk on water to make the class delight me. I will remember that part of why I came is to enjoy myself. I will not write a single word while thinking about what others are writing or if theirs is better than mine. And if I feel anxious, I’ll smile because I wrote a blog about it already.
—-Quinn McDonald reminds herself to take classes from time to time. She learns a lot about herself and a topic she enjoys. Follow QuinnCreative on Facebook.