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Forgiveness is overrated

by Katrina Knudson

About a month ago, I was offered an incredible job opportunity to teach at one of the best schools on the West Coast. They absolutely loved me, and our philosophies of progressive education were perfectly matched. Working there would position me to go anywhere in the education world; this was my dream teaching job, and I accepted without hesitation.

After letting my tearful clients know that I would be leaving, I received a call from the new school. A parent had googled me, and there were concerns about what I had written publicly. The school was still thrilled to have me on board, but in order for everyone to feel comfortable, it was requested that I eliminate my online presence, particularly all of my writing. I complied without thinking, anxious to please my newly-adopted community and ashamed that I was “in trouble” for something I hadn’t known was wrong.

In a follow-up conversation with my new boss, she revealed that she had been shaken to the core to discover, among other things, that I had once written a dick joke about terrorists. Equally problematic for her was the recent piece I had written about my struggles with infertility. What I had seen as an honest article about facing failure was to her the scandal equivalent of filming my OB/GYN exam and posting it on YouTube. As I spoke to her on the phone, I felt myself blushing with embarrassment. But I also found myself feeling something else.

The school’s issue, I realized, wasn’t the specifics of what I wrote; it was my judgment in sharing them at all. To them, writing about my work or about my personal life was both indefensible and in poor taste. And while there’s no accounting for taste, I found myself affronted to be told that my judgment as a writer was indefensible.

Writing doesn’t need a defense. We write about something because it’s interesting. Because it’s too good to keep to ourselves. We do it because we can’t not.

A friend of mine once told me about a particular low point in his life, and he said that even in that dark moment, he couldn’t help but think, “You know, this would make really good writing.” Of course we mine our lives for material. Of course we want to share our experiences. That’s how writing works.

Now I don’t want to brag, here, but I am one hell of a teacher. A good teacher is one of the most demanding jobs on the planet, because it requires you to be your best self every minute of every day, and to inspire every child in your care to do the same. I have had parents literally weep with gratitude because I have changed their children’s lives. And the only reason I could ever do that is because when I do my best work, I am one-hundred percent myself. That’s how teaching works.

Suddenly, my decision to accept this incredible job didn’t seem like such an easy one. Sure, I knew I could win those skeptical parents over eventually, and the school made it clear that all was forgiven. I could always write under a pseudonym; people do it all the time. I was being offered the chance of a lifetime to shine at the thing I am absolutely best at. So why didn’t I want it anymore?

For me, the decision wasn’t about turning down a job; it was about choosing a life. And when I thought about the life that working at this exceptional school would bring, it felt … narrow. I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done as an educator, but I don’t want to have to hide and apologize for the life I lead outside of that. How could I teach children to be proud of who they are if I can’t be proud of who I am? I love teaching; I love it with every fiber of my being, but who I am is a writer. It is the way I function in the world. And I could never, ever thrive in a life that didn’t value that.

For me, writing has been the realization that everything I have ever experienced has suddenly clicked into place. It is that sense of purpose, that “Oh, my God, it all makes sense now” moment that is usually reserved for religious awakenings. Writing is the Why and the Because. It is the Alpha and the Omega. And it doesn’t even matter whether I’m good at it or not. Writers write.

And that shouldn’t require forgiveness.

Katrina Knudson

About Katrina Knudson

Katrina Knudson is a writer, educator, and DIY philanthropist living in Los Angeles. She is married to Eddie Gamarra, a manager and producer at the Gotham Group.

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