When I was in high school I decided to be an intellectual. I got together with a group of social outcasts and we distinguished ourselves from the plebeians in our classes by dressing in black from head to toe. We called anyone we thought was intellectually inferior to us “cretins” (which we pronounced “CREH-tins”). We argued loudly with our teachers, especially in English class. We never even noticed that most of our teachers found us amusing.
Then I went off to Boston University. I was quite sure that an intellectual like me would be welcomed with open arms. But when I got there, to my great disappointment and irritation, I was placed in an English class full of “crehtins.” Even though I was just a lowly freshman, I proudly walked into the office of the head of the English department and demanded to be moved to a better class. He took out my records and said, “But you scored poorly on your college entrance exams.” I wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I retorted, “OK, how about my straight A’s in English all through high school? Doesn’t anybody even bother to look at that?” He smiled and said, “All right, I’ll see what I can do.” Within a few days I was in an advanced placement English course.
Then, since I was feeling pretty invincible, I joined the staff of the college poetry magazine, “Patterns.” All of the staff members were upper classmen, but I didn’t feel intimidated. After all, I was an intellectual. Our job was to get together and read poetry submissions to the magazine. After a few of these meetings, I realized that I was dealing with an extremely intelligent, but quite haughty, supercilious, critical, and even nasty bunch of people. I was tempted to feel inferior, as though my opinion didn’t count, but I refused and tried to act the same way they did.
In fact, I decided one day, since I wrote poetry myself, that I would submit a poem to “Patterns” under a pseudonym. I thought it was a good poem, and I was pretty sure it would be accepted, even by this uber-critical bunch. Imagine my chagrin when they literally ripped my work to shreds at the next meeting. They were unbelievably sarcastic and cutting and they even laughed and poked fun at my poem! Of course I couldn’t let on how humiliated I felt, and I also couldn’t just sit there silently, so I weakly tried to defend the poem. They all turned on me in utter scorn. “Are you KIDDING? This is GARBAGE!”
After that, I decided I was tired of being a hot shot intellectual. I resigned from the “Patterns” judging staff and decided to do something that was much more in line with who I really was. I designed a linoleum block cover for the next issue of the magazine, with a great sense of relief.