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Reality Check

Everyone has a point in their lives where they realize that they have to grow up and stop believing in fairies and magic.

For me, that point just happened to be halfway through my first semester of college.

It had been building up for weeks. We’d been reading nothing but realistic fiction in my Interpreting Literature class, and we’d been drawing shoes and apples in Drawing. So many of my assignments had to do with the real world, and even though all I wanted to read about were dragons and all I wanted to draw were fictional characters, I gritted my teeth and did my assignments.

Until that fateful check.

For all of my responses to readings in Interpreting Lit, I had praised the authors on their style or use of literary devices, pointing out symbols and themes. I skirted around my true feelings about the readings. They bored me, and I wanted to escape into different worlds, not go deeper into this one. I stayed on the surface, trying to find the good things about their writing. I always got check pluses on my assignments. And then, at a certain point, I couldn’t do it anymore. There was a reading about a grandfather with Alzheimers, and I didn’t hold back in my response. I hated it.

This came up during the class discussion, and of course my professor asked me why.

“I just don’t like realistic fiction,” I told her honestly. “I don’t think I can really analyze this effectively.”

My next homework was just a check.

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In Drawing, we always draw from real objects. I took the class so that I could learn proportions and techniques so that I would be able to draw my characters and scenes from my own stories. I have learned quite a bit, but all of it has been from real life. For homework, my professor usually assigns us an object to draw, while practicing a certain skill from class. A shoe, a vase. Whenever possible, I would ask if I could draw different objects. A hat? A statue?

When I met with her for a mid-semester check in, she looked through my past homework grades.

“You take a lot of risks in subject matter,” she said. “And sometimes it pays off.” She pointed to my dreamcatcher hanging on the gallery wall, a check plus plus. “And other times, it doesn’t quite turn out the way you want it.”

I knew that I was at a crossroads. I was a creative writing major, trying to learn how to write better so that I could transport other people into the magical worlds inside my head. It didn’t make sense to me that the key to improving as a writer would be to immerse myself in the world that I found the least interesting. The real one.

“So for your short story assignment, you’re writing fantasy?” my lit teacher asked me the next week in class.

I nodded.

“That’s a surprise,” she said with a chuckle.

And that, I think, was when I decided.

I had already started my short story, Patchwork Magic, but I put it on hold, and opened a new document. Well Wishing. It was going to be realistic fiction. I was going to hand in two short stories next week.

In Drawing, we’ve been drawing the figure, with ink, charcoal, and graphite. We’re trying to capture movement and poses. As I filled my paper with sketches that looked like people dancing across the page, suddenly, I could see that my drawings were telling a story.

If I thought that college was going to let me sink deeper into made up worlds and learn how to pull others into them with me, I was wrong. It was clear that my classes were going to immerse me in the real world. The only question was whether I was going to resist them, clinging resolutely to dragons and magic and what I knew, or if I was going to try to learn something and maybe make good art.

I never liked staying in one place, not if I knew there was a new world to explore. In this case, it’s the real one. So I’ll be putting away Grimm’s fairy tales and drawing from real life for a while. Whether or not the art that comes out of it is good doesn’t matter, if I’ve discovered something new, in a place where I never thought to look before.