Saturday, August 28, 2010

Meeting an Idol

In the second year of my Creative Writing Course, I got one of my writing idols as a professor. Huge guy, a popular columnist in a popular daily, who is probably a shoo-in for a National Artist Award 10-15 years from now. I loved reading his books; his writing style wasn't in any way similar to how I write, which tends to be introspective and (slightly) feminine. His was macho and brooding, and the images depicted strength and a certain heaviness.

His class was "A Survey of Contemporary American Fiction", and of course we studied "Catcher in the Rye," "The Great Gatsby", "To Kill a Mockingbird", among others.

(Interesting aside, the moment I read "Catcher in the Rye," I immediately thought, "Oh my god, I am Holden Caulfield!" The idea lost its luster when I learned that every other guy in the English Department thought the same thing. It's not fun to realize you're not that unique after all.)

And so I was eager to go to my first class, knowing that I would reach new heights as a writer under the tutelage of a great master. I mean, and here was what I thought, how can one not learn so much from a man as talented as him? The idea was impossible.

But then it wasn't. The first class was okay enough; we studied Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," where I disagreed in his assessment that it was a great example of a short story that employs the "twist" as a literary device. I said the employment of that tool has to be done gradually, with hints made throughout the story, in order to make the ending surprising but, ultimately, inevitable. I said Jackson used a sledgehammer, when she should have used a chisel. He said I wasn't reading the story properly.

And it wasn't that I disagreed with him all the time. It was just that I disagreed with him a lot: in his point of view, or in his giddy appreciation of writers I do not have the patience to read. But it did not in any way dampen my respect for his talent. It did, however, generate my disappointment. And I learned, not that long after, that disappointment almost always follows from meeting your idols. They can never live up to your expectations.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Idols are human too. In my case, I realize that is what makes them excellent writers.

Photo taken here.


  1. As Venus Raj discovered, no one likes the perfect.

  2. I haven't read a single book you've mentioned here. Started reading "To kill a mockingbird" but somehow stopped halfway through it. I think the reading stories thing in me disappeared after I started reading science text books.

    And perfection is overrated. There's beauty in imperfection. :)

  3. 1) Hello :-) I like your writing; it feels like I'm listening to a friend.
    2) I love meeting authors (no matter how I end up feeling about them). Something about the new ability to "hear" a voice as I read a piece brings them down to Earth.

  4. Writing is very much a subjective art. There are some mass appeal works, as those you mentioned, but much like in music, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. I worked in radio for a number of years and had the pleasure of meeting a lot of celebs in various genres. Musicians, actors, authors, etc. While some were exactly like their public perception, many were not at all and it put "fame" into a new perspective.


  5. Hi :) And thanks for the comment on my blog!

    I *love* yours and I'm your newest follower :)

    AAH I'm sooo happy, this blog is EXACTLY what I like to read :)

  6. Ive met a few 'idols' in my past and quickly learned that they never meet up to the expectations you form in your mind/heart. I spent years chasing the rodeo circuit and along the way met country singers, top rodeo stars and others who I admired from afar. And some of them were great, sort of like your average friend when they would come to the after rodeo parties. Others Id have happily trampled with my horse. But to keep my illusions I stay away from those I think I like.

    Thanks for commenting on one of my blogs- it led me to yours and I enjoy your writing!!

  7. @rudeboy: Which was unfortunate. I loved her.

    @A: Glad you agree. I'm almost perfect in my imperfection.

    @simpledude: You worked in radio? I'm a little bit envious really.

    @ali: Awww. Thank you! :-)

    @mama sky: I do that too sometimes, staying away from people I really like. I didn't enjoy being disappointed by a personality I didn't like from a person I admire.

  8. Yes, its such a hard thing to be perfect.

    But then there would be no point in arguing with them, because they would perfectly convince you and would never let doubt creep in.
    Gosh, if anybody could be so perfect, he would be the World dominator.
    But yes, to strive for perfection makes us better doesn't it?

  9. @blasphemous: True. That is the paradox I think. We want perfection, but we also do not want it.

  10. Yeah, what started out as an on-air personality (DJ) career working in small worthless towns around the Midwest turned into a nice career as marketing & promotion director for a few stations in my hometown (not small or worthless). Fun gig thats for sure, with lots of free perks. Pay left a little to be desired though.

  11. I am so glad I came over to check out your blog. I'm definitely going to follow.

    Looking forward to the day I can enroll in college myself :)

  12. @simpledude: Yes, that's what people tell me. When I worked in a magazine I had the same problem.

    @justonefemme: thanks! And good luck with college. :-)

    @liz: I can't believe I missed your comment. Thanks. You're very sweet. :-)

  13. Well the problem with your "idol" is that he's transfigured with the idea that he needs to imprint his ideas on all of you (students) when teaching is not at all like that. I'm no teacher, but having read of many great masters in teaching (from the liberal arts, to the performing arts, to the sciences) it's hard to believe that modern day society can only come up with these: ego-inflated, narcissistic, I'm-right-you're-wrong attitude. Even if they PRETEND that you have a right to your opinion, they condescendingly and reluctantly allow it, right? Teachers, since the ancient times, are meant to be projected on by their students. That was their original purpose. Not for teachers to project themselves and/or their ideas unto the students. That's horrible. If anything that creates bias and ignorance, which to Lao Tzu was a big no no. And who knows, maybe he's right that you're not reading it properly, but who is he to even presume that even at the conscious level? Famous? so what? The greatest minds aren't famous or esteemed.

  14. This is so true. I think that this reveals not only the fact that everyone has faults, but also causes us to realize the faults in ourselves, such as the human compulsion to hold people/ideas/things to a much higher standard than that which they are capable of reaching.

    "Catcher in the Rye" is the only one you mentioned which I have not read. I very much enjoyed "Mockingbird" while reading, and "Gatsby" as well, that is, after it digested a while and we discussed it in detail. And I completely agree with your view of "The Lottery." I must not have been reading properly either.

  15. My english lit professor was a lot like your prof.
    His opinion was better than everyone else's and I happened to be one of the few who disagreed. That year was interesting to say the least. We were up to our necks in Shakespeare during the first semester and for the second, he decided he wasn't going to do much so he handed us a dissertation to have completed by the end of that semester. Bah! No more debates and arguments!
    That year taught me that some people just don't want to listen to anyone else except themselves and that I was never going to be a writer! So here I am, 30 years later, a blog, a neurotic cat and equally neurotic husband and my knitting needles and hooks. Makes for some interesting posts and photos.
    Thanks for visiting my blog :)
    Yours definitely caught my eye and my brain. I'll be back!

  16. Oh!
    PS. I also idolized that professor before I started his lit class. He went down so many pegs in my esteem of him, I had to lift a tile to find him :P

  17. @pragmatic spector: It wasn't that bad I think. But I did sort of feel like I shouldn't disagree with him too much.

    @miss meg: I agree. And I love that you agree with me on "The Lottery". It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great either.

    @marieange: Hahaha. In fairness to my professor, it wasn't that you weren't allowed to disagree with him; it was more you weren't allowed to disagree with him too much.

    And thanks for dropping by!

  18. in the words of Albert Einstein Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized.

  19. Hmm history professors never lived up to expectations either. I'm pretty sure my supervisor fancied me, she used to stare at me that little bit too long in tutorials. Worrying.


  20. i remember in english class, all the guys were so interested in catcher because they so identified with him. and i thought he was a great character. but, i just needed a solid conclusion to that book!

  21. Never meet your idols .. ever...
    Unless of course you decide to bed them.. in which case the disappointment is prolonged for atleast another 45 mins.. if your lucky

  22. @becca: that's a nice quote. :-)

    @alexandra: Hahahaha. Good luck with that one.

    @K: Thank you.

    @thelayeredpancake: Hahaha. It is a bit hanging.

    @Pavla: Hahaha. That's an interesting take on the topic.

  23. I totally get your point about an 'idol' not living up to one's expectations. After having the opportunity to meet my celebrity crush I realized I felt ZERO chemistry with him... despite the fact that in photos he appears to be hung like a horse... but I digress.

    Your assessment that a twist must be deployed gradually is spot on. But then what do I know? I was the kid who managed to piss off one my high school English professor's because I understood some of the classics better than she did. It was war from then on out...

    Oh, and apologies again for grossing you out with the booger picking/eating story and video on my blog.

    Have a great week, The Empress

  24. if this is who i think he is, i met him too at a book signing. he wasn't warm and didn't charm the audience. i was disappointed. he was every bit the academic. but this didn't stop me fro menjoying his books.

    btw, i disagree on the lottery. i think jackson gave enough clues.

  25. @the ranter's box: No problem. And thanks for dropping by. :-)

    @eon: Hahaha. No names please, or clues. Thanks.

    Re: the lottery, that is what he said as well, which is why he told me I wasn't reading it properly.

  26. Haha. I've taught 'The Catcher In the Rye' before and I'm pretty sure every 17 year old boy in that class felt EXACTLY like Holden. Fuck I love that book. I've been in a similar situation but in a Philosophy class. He was a guest lecturer and I was so excited. Talked to him post class and he found it difficult to focus his eyes anywhere above my neck line. He was still an awesome Philosopher just a major arse-hat who had lost the respect of this bright eyed kid.

  27. @corianda: That sounds like a much worse experience than the one I had. :-)

  28. I had him for my Humanities I class, and I'll forever be grateful to him for making us read "Catcher in the Rye," my ultimate favorite book. Holden reminds me so much of my father, I made my mom and siblings read it and they think the same, too.

    I also remember "The Lottery." And "Hills Like White Elephants," I think.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog.

  29. @Dea: I didn't know he taught Hum I. He liked Hemingway, I remember.

    Thanks for dropping by too.

  30. Idols.. they are more than Human!! The "Photo" you put up - deity is India. We worship day and night!! Sometimes.. Idols.. can be more than what they just look like. It is all in the perception..Who really cares some damn *** thinks "HE/SHE/IT" is imperfect?



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