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I took a photography class in college. If I’m being honest, it was an intro course, and I was just looking for some mortar to fill the bricks in my senior year.

To be clear, I’ve never fancied myself a photographer. I won’t pretend to understand nuances or themes or whatever. I slap the Willow filter on instagram pics of my cat with reckless abandon. But still, I thought it would be fun to work in a darkroom, and maybe I’d learn something.

My professor had a very lax attitude about the course. He told us what sort of film to buy and then he sent us out into the world to capture whatever we liked. Most of my fellow students were passionate about photography, had worked in a darkroom, and knew what they were doing. To reiterate, I did not know what I was doing, a fact that my professor drilled into my head at every possible opportunity.

One afternoon, as I was measuring and cutting the mat board for my latest effort, he said to me, “Is that the photo you’re using for your final project?” I told him that it was, and he proceeded to tell me, “It’s the kind of hackneyed work I’d expect from a first year photography student. Nothing you’ve turned in this semester has been outstanding.” I reminded him that this was the first photography class I had ever taken in my life, and that he hadn’t exactly given me an outline.

He sneered. But he did it in that sort of subdued way that he presumably thought I was too dense to catch. Because after all, I had no appreciation for depth and subtlety. After a moment, he politely asked me what I planned to do after I graduated.

I shrugged. “Something to do with writing,” I said.

Now, he had seen my photos, so he was capable of making an informed opinion that they were not good. But he had not read my writing, had not heard me discuss my writing, and did not ask to hear my ideas. Instead he told me that his wife was a journalist, and that whenever she took on a new assistant, she sent that assistant on a Very Super Incredibly Difficult task that forced them to write under the gun. He told me that most of her assistants did not last. He didn’t outright say that I couldn’t do it, but my uneducated, dull-minded guess is that’s what he wanted me to take away from our conversation.

When he walked away from me, I am confident that he did not think he had offended me.

And honestly, he didn’t offend me, even though the student standing next to me muttered “well that was harsh” after he was gone.

I don’t remember the name of this professor. I’m sure that he doesn’t remember my name, either. And the things he told me are things that we all, at any stage in our life, are likely to hear at some point. Perhaps we’ll hear it multiple times. This professor represented the world through the eyes of anyone with an idea—an inventor, an artist, a photographer, a singer, an actor, or even one who would like to go on to cure cancer.

I still have the photos from that class somewhere. I may not be educated in the ways of photography enough to know whether or not they’re good, but I’m not peddling them for profits. They mean something to me, and I like them.

As to writing, his words were arrows being shot at a tower that extends higher than our sky and our world. They are nothing. Was my writing at that time any good? I didn’t know, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let that guy tell me it wasn’t. This professor wasn’t the first one to try and discourage me, and he certainly wasn’t the last. Anyone with a passion in life, or even just an idea, an inkling, has to build their own impenetrable tower.

If you have any ambition in life, the best thing you can do is ignore the voices of the cursed real world. They’re just a bit bitter, and we frighten them.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jan. 5th, 2014 06:02 am (UTC)
Ah, yes. That class.
I just had to comment, because I also went to AMC--I remember that class. And that professor. And that constant imparted failure without any sort of direction whasoever.

And I also have no memory of that guy's name. :) Hope he's read your books with a sense of "huh" floating about.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 1st, 2016 05:52 pm (UTC)
I've encountered this person as well - the one who tells you you'll fail without knowing anything about you. I was dissuaded from doing a computer programming course at aged 16 by a tutor who told me 'I might find it difficult keeping up with all the boys.' Or the adult education tutor who, as I signed up for a physics course, told me 'It's very difficult. I'm not sure you'll cope.' after exchanging two sentences with me. 'I didn't think physics would be easy' I told her. 'How do you know I won't cope? I could be Einstein for all you know.'

The best advice I can ever give anyone is 'Don't listen to people. 99% of what they say is complete shit.'
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Jan. 3rd, 2017 11:15 am (UTC)
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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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