Some autobiography; or, in defense of the ignorant

We begin life with ignorance; sure, some instinct, but also ignorance.  And, certainly, some ignorance will always remain.

When I began writing poetry as a sophomore in high school, I, honestly, had no models beyond the generic, public notion of what “poetry” was: a rhymey thing with metaphor….  I hadn’t even read any modernist poetry.  My high school literature classes were lacking, focused primarily on fiction; I recall reading some Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe, but not much else.

I came across Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet at one point (probably junior year), and in my senior year I had the luck to discover T.S. Eliot when paging through an unused textbook.  But when I first started writing something I wanted to call poetry, I hadn’t read either of those yet.

The same year I began writing poetry (unassigned, by the way), I had begun taking chemistry.  I loved inorganic chemistry.  I adored the logic, the form of it, the conversions.  I began to have recurrent dreams of converting from moles to grams to atoms/molecules, and vice versa, and I woke happy.  Chemistry makes the world’s matter identifiable, translatable, reactive—chemistry symbolizes things, has things interact, has products, explores and describes varieties of form….  Not so different from poetry, is it?

My poetry at this stage was didactic (yes, a 15-year-old thought she had something to say about the world, some things different from what the people around her seemed to say) and rhymed.  It worked with metaphor at its most basic level; it had personification, anthropomorphism….

At the end of a manuscript, I put some realizations I had about the world; I had become an idea empiricist without knowing the term (hell, I was so ignorant I didn’t know there were ‘real’ philosophers beyond Ancient Greece!  Oh, the limits of my high school education, even though I actually took some college courses beginning that sophomore year as well!  Yes, I am disappointed by this.  I ought to have been taught much more….  Also, while I had Internet access in these days, the Internet wasn’t quite what it is now, and I hadn’t really realized how much I could find via Internet.  My home didn’t have Internet until I was 12, so Internet use wasn’t exactly instinctual for me in my teens).

Anyway, I had unknowingly become an idea empiricist; it was not until my sophomore year in college that I realized John Locke had also had the same realization that I had had at 15: I cannot imagine another sense beyond the ones I already have.

While I was ignorant, sure, I had some valuable qualities: passion, drive, eagerness, confidence….  At one point, I had a blog, and I posted a few poems.  Most comments were supportive, positive, but someone commented with such disdain and negativity about the quality of the work that teenage-me felt quite confused and hurt.

It was clear that this person thought I was writing rubbish and that I was ignorant (both certainly understandable perspectives!), but he/she offered nothing beyond that: no reading suggestions, nothing to help me become less ignorant.  I felt confused; I didn’t really know what else was possible!  I wasn’t hurt so much by the criticism as much as how the criticism was not productive; someone criticized me for my ignorance, but did not offer a way for me to get out of it.

My point is: we should criticize, we should point out ignorance, but we should not condemn the ignorant.  We should inform.

We need both confidence and humility.  Knowledge is a funny, odd thing.  Nobody can have it all, but feel entitled to have what you got.

And my hope is that however “ignorant” or “informed” you may be, you feel welcome here, welcome to read, welcome to ask, welcome to speak.

My thoughts, naturally, cannot be “finished,” but I share with you what I currently have.

How do you treat “the ignorant”?  How do you decide when/if to inform “the ignorant”?

How do you treat your own ignorance?