I didn't attend university full-time until my early 30s, and at that point I'd read a bit and knew a little about life. While my life experience informed my view of the materials presented, my tiny talent for writing coupled with a penchant for the slightly off-kilter made for great fun. Indeed, I suspect my high marks in courses reflected how refreshing my view of the subject was after the professor read reams of desperately off-mark scratchings from my unengaged peers. My preference was for intense literature classes in which the whole merit of the semester rested on a mere 2 or 3 tests, preferably essay questions.
One particularly memorable course involved the origins of classical literature, with a particular focus on mythology including Gilgamesh and of course, Odysseus. On the final exam for that term, I hit a bit of a hiccup - unusual for me in those settings. The question involved extrapolating what Odysseus' Mrs. had got up to while he was away, the killing of the fatted calf at his homecoming, and yada yada yada. Our study of Odysseus (and my first introduction to that story) had been at the beginning of the semester, and I had rather dismissed the trials of his put-upon wife, Penelope, whose name I had a bitch of a time remembering, simply referring to her in every combination of adjectives for "long-suffering wife" I could conjure.
This was unfortunate, because my head is a zero-sum game- new information is crammed in only by purging the memory banks of other, previously important data that I crammed earlier material out in order to retain. I went round the bend in agonies trying to come up with that ancient sounding name that began with a P.
I made an A+ on that exam. The teacher didn't mention in remarks that I never used Penelope's name, but I clearly knew the story in and out, so perhaps she was giving me a pass. Or perhaps I trumped all other considerations when I cleverly wove a reference to Steve Miller into my recounting of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The story goes that Orpheus and Eurydice are so besotted with each other, that when E. is bitten by a snake and dies, O. is so forlorn that his mourning songs of sweetness and longing inspire the pity of gods of the underworld, and Hades and Persephone tell him they'll let him come to the underworld and spring his wife and bring her back to live with him. The one condition of this arrangement is that when he finds her, he may not look upon her, but must walk ahead of her and not see her until they are out of the underworld. Near the end of the journey - the end is within reach - he turns and glances at her, only to see her wrested from his grasp for all eternity, dadgummit.
Naturally, the line from Steve Miller that comes to mind is from Big Old Jet Airliner, when he says "you've got to go through hell before you get to heaven." I DID get a comment on being the first student to draw such an analogy. Incidentally, despite my garbage in/garbage out airlock on data storage, Steve Miller, old commercial jingles, and every embarrassing thing I've ever done or said seem to be exempt from the ranks of flushable data - those precious things will always be with me.
Anyway, I know reading and writing is not so simple for everyone, but it can be such a delight and such a great escape from mundanaity. What makes it all enjoyable is a very slight shift of focus, like looking at one of those magic eye images where the tiniest shift of focus allows a different dimension to unfold. By all means, we learn by hearing the accepted interpretation of stories, but it is important that we find a personal resonance for these stories and ideas. Also, for me the hallmark of good writing is the reader can take imagery in a wholly different direction than that envisioned by the writer, and in that way, the excitement of a story may expand exponentially. This is (or should be) a universal concept - not everyone can sing well, but everyone can be trained to sing better than they do. Same dif. But I'm rambling again, aren't I?
Oh, and one more thing: some people call me the space cowboy.