My traditional education experience was somewhat schizophrenic. I attended Smith College as a theatre student who couldn’t act (I actually had a Theatre Professor waive an acting course requirement if I promised never to get on stage again). I also had a sociology minor but thanks to my social anxieties I avoided talking to people, an essential skill for a sociologist! What got me through was a lesson I learned from an English professor who took me on as a project.
In the words of the brilliant late Luc Guilleman, “everything you write is wrong, but somehow it works!”
During my senior year, he threw his hands up and said, “Fine, write it however you want, we’ll fix it later” and sent me on my way to begin writing my Senior Thesis paper. I spent the next six months, writing and editing while simultaneously directing the play which would correspond with the paper.
As usual, I took my own approach to things. The theatre department encouraged this. The paper, however, gave me fits. I desperately tried to understand the structure of quality writing.
January arrived and my Senior Production of “The Trojan Women” by Euripides opened. Thanks to the amazing men and women I worked with it was a success, but it addition to their skilled performance was a production unique in style and design. We opened to a full house and received rave reviews from the college papers as well as local news organizations and the theatre community.
But the paper still sat, mocking me with its incomplete state.
I had two working titles, as divergent in theme as they were in style. “Helen of Troy; Victim of Her Times or Whore” and “The Effect of the Peloponnesian War of Euripides Interpretation of the Trojan Women.”
The Helen of Troy paper inspired the Smithie Feminist within me as well as the rebellious part of me that wanted to explore our assumptions about her character.
However, the Euripides paper was more likely to pass the thesis review board.
So I wrote both. The second semester of my senior year was light on class work (although I did take a particularly awesome Odessi Indian Dance Class) and I spent most of my time writing. Half way through the semester I presented Professor Guilleman with both papers.
After reading them both, Luc called me into his office. Sitting his chair with his long spindly arms holding up his head he spoke the infamous words: “everything you write is wrong, but somehow it works!”
At his suggestion I abandoned the Euripides paper and devoted myself to working on the Helen of Troy idea. In the end, I did not receive Thesis credit for my work, but what I did earn is of significantly greater value: reaching the people who read your work is incalculably more important than fitting inside someone else’s mold.
As an adult, my “wrong” way of approaching work and writing has led to success as a business woman, a human being, and an author. I would have never learned that without the exasperation of one Professor Luc Guilleman.