Friday, March 5, 2010
Today is the fifth and final day of the NAIWE challenge, five daily blogs written in succession, following a prompt from the brilliant staffers at NAIWE (National Association of Independent Writers and Editors.)
What person in your life helped you understand the importance of choosing words carefully? What would you say to them if you met them today?
Lew was my creative writing professor, freshman year, Clark College, 1967-68. He was a bit of a radical, introducing me and a handful of other select students to anti-war protests on the other side of the river (Vancouver, Washington/Portland, Oregon), questioning our level of racial tolerance and forcing us to shed a lot of pre-conceived notions we had brought from our well-meaning, moral Christian homes.
Lew had a knack for discovering the sharp kids, the ones with an edge, rebels like himself. He threw them together and leaned against his desk with crossed arms to listen to their voices rise by decibels, with an amused air, while his students nearly came to blows. Lew Sanders loved a rousing debate, even if the participants hadn’t the faintest idea how ignorant they proved themselves.
Lew gave me the best failing grade of my life on a paper I didn’t write. I had been studying for an Associate’s Degree in hooka-loading the previous weekend and totally spaced a Monday morning in-class essay I needed to bone up on. Instead of delivering the required material, I wrote an eloquent composition on what becomes of students who don’t pay attention. He gave me an F, marked in large red ink and told me it was the finest piece of bullshit he had ever read by a freshman. I was a true writer, he said, and possibly a future politician.
Lew taught me how important it is to create for the reader the senses of smell, sight, touch, sound and taste. One poem I wrote about walking the streets of Portland on a rainy evening is forever lost, but I will always remember how moved my teacher was as he read it. I had captured the sense of raindrops landing in the dusty street and how they reflected in the lamp light. It was my words that affected him and the promise of things to come.
What would I say to Mr. Sanders if I met him today? Besides thanks? I would tell him I’m sorry I haven’t lived up to his expectations. I would say that like that failed essay, I have lived my life in a disguise of who I really am. I have not written the great American novel. I am a cheap article author, who knows there is a truly brilliant writer hiding inside. I have lived a life rich with experience, thrills, agonies, bitterness, joy, holiness, gloom, challenges and triumphs. I mean to get some of it on paper, if I can only live long enough and find a way to pay the bills in the meantime.
Thank you for reading.
And thank you to NAIWE for the opportunity to achieve a little of what Lew Sanders expected of me.