I’m still at Goucher College, nearing the end of my residency, which begins the two-year MFA program in creative non-fiction.
No, this post isn’t about the surprisingly good dorm food or my own desire to head to the kitchen and whip up salmon almondine.
It’s about humility.
I’ve been feeling it since my arrival here partly because of the newness of the experience, and partly because of all the talent surrounding me. My fellow students include Pulitzer nominees, newspaper editors, Supreme Court correspondents, college English professors, and already published authors.
Admittedly, the company of my peers feels a bit daunting. And yet, like the game of tennis, your skills only improve when playing better opponents. I don’t play tennis anymore, but I’ve tried to keep this example in mind when talking to my new contemporaries. Serve. Volley. Deuce.
In a lecture this morning by Tom French, one of my Very Accomplished teachers and author of the just released Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives, we learned that life at its truest moments occur in the kitchen – not at the dining room table where the party is taking place and the guests exhibit their best behavior. The comments were made in the context of reporting a story, drawing specifically upon techniques used by Nelle Harper Lee and her close friend, Truman Capote, while gathering research for Capote’s In Cold Blood. In order to capture the vivid details about Kansas, Lee ingratiated herself among the community, insisting people call her by her first name and asking, “Can I help you in the kitchen?” She wanted to observe all the background conversations, colors, tastes and textures to round out her understanding – those telling humble details – for the story.
It’s true in writing. It’s true in life. Humility is how you win the game.