Sometime back in 1994, I went to Santa Cruz to take a class from a teacher I'd taken a class from before. That first class had been wonderful and extremely strange. The first day, the teacher had lectured and talked to us, teaching us her craft, telling us her stories, giving us examples to read, presenting us with a writing assignment for overnight.
I'd gone to that class with a friend, and we went back to our hotel and wrote, finding a kinkos in the morning to make our copies, and back we went to class the next day to read to the whole class. While I did not get rave reviews for what I wrote--really, what I wrote was terrible--I learned a lot that day even though the teacher could not speak at all. Apparently, she'd come down with an instant and strange case of laryngitis after the first day of class, and she whispered into the ear of her husband the entirety of the second day and he told us what she thought. It was like being taught by a ventriloquist dummy.
In any case, I learned things about writing, felt inspired, inspired enough to sign up for another class. I went home and continued to write, reading the teacher's novels, pressing onward with my poetry and short fiction.
I felt excited when I signed up for the second class, but this time I brought my husband and my two boys with me. During the day while I was at my class, they would go to the Boardwalk and the beach. At night, we would wander Santa Cruz and eat dinner.
But this second class was different than the first one, and now I can't tell you why. My memory does not serve in these particulars. I do remember the other writers around me getting a bit defensive, feeling prickly, complaining about the teacher. I took copious notes, and went back to my hotel with the same instructions as before.
However, this time as I was writing at night, I had two wired children--one nine, one six--jumping on the bed, watching television, too excited to sleep. I sat there and did my best, and in the morning, my husband drove me to get my copies and then to class.
As we prepared to read aloud, the teacher (who remembered me from the prior class) told me to start. I passed out my copies and began to read. It was clear to me that my story, a short piece about a high school girl and her feelings about her body, wasn't really hitting any marks. In between the lines were the kids and the jumping and the television. I could almost hear the whine of the hotel air conditioner and my husband's commands to the boys. But I forged on, and after I was done, I listened to my classmates tell me what I could do to it. I wrote down their suggestions and thanked them, but the teacher then jumped in.
I have one sentence I remember her saying about my piece, but it came at the end. All I know is that she was absolutely right and absolutely cruel. She let me have it with both guns, showing me what a lousy, terrible job I'd done with that story that might, one day, possibly, amount to something. If I was very, very lucky.
And then as we segued to another reader, she said, "Jessica has tried to write about sex. Let's see if someone can."
I blinked, breathing shallowly, staring at her. She smiled, and pointed to her next victim.
I spent the rest of the class in a fugue state, but by the time my husband picked me up to drive home to the Bay Area, I knew I was a failure. A flop. Who in the hell did I think I was? Who told me I had a chance at success of any kind? I had no business even trying to write something ever, ever again. My words were trash, I had no skills, no ability, no nothing. I looked out the passenger's side window and wept.
But then somewhere around Gilroy, I got angry. I got incredibly angry. She didn't have the ability to make me feel any of these things. She'd read one story, and one story only. I would show her. I would write anyway. I would keep going.
When we arrived home, I almost think I jumped out of the car and sped in the house to write something. I don't know what it was or if it ever came to anything. But it was my way of saying to myself that I could do it, no matter what this incredibly horrible, incredibly brilliant teacher said. And I haven't stopped since. Not for a moment, not even through the doubt that comes, the rejections that still come. Not when editors turn down whole novels. I would write no matter what and always have, despite the voices around me that say "Forget about it."
Because I know what I know. As Popeye said, "I am what I am." I'm a writer, bad sex scene or not.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org