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.