Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Scribblings #147--Phantoms and Shadows

I started my college creative writing program in the fall of 2004 with the hopes of becoming a poet. I almost fancied myself one of those artsy, beret-wearing, coffeehouse-frequenting moody types who wear black and don't talk. You know the stereotype. Anyway, when I started the program, I realized that poetry was okay, but not really my thing. I wasn't sure what I wanted to write, but I knew I wanted to write something.

The next semester, I reluctantly signed up for creative nonfiction. I thought this sounded horribly boring, as I associated nonfiction with textbooks. My advisor thought it would be a good choice, though, and as my school didn't have many creative writing courses during any one semester, I decided to give it a go.

I'll admit I thought my professor was a bit odd, and even crass at times, but I grew to like him. He was painfully honest about his students' work, and I didn't mind taking constructive criticism from him (though I was generally pretty sensitive about having my work torn to shreds). I learned a lot from him. Taking this class, I knew I wanted to be a personal essayist, rather than a poet. I ditched the bohemian ideals and focused on just being myself (though I have learned to love independent coffee houses, and I'm even making myself a beret!).

Things were going well. My professor had told me that he could hear my voice in my writing. That's a good sign. He liked my style, and he was teaching me to cut out unnecessary details, while expanding on more meaningful ones. Then, on April Fool's Day, I started to walk into class just like any other day. I was consciously remembering that it was April Fool's and that someone would try to trip me up when I least expected it. But when one of my fellow classmates told me that the professor had died, I wasn't sure how to react. That was a really cruel April Fool's joke.

We all wandered into the classroom, expecting the prof to barge in at any moment, saying something like, "Oh, I was just wondering how many of you actually cared if I lived or died," but it never happened. Instead, the department head came in and confirmed the professor's death, assuring us that this was not an April Fool's joke. I had to go home. I couldn't go to my ancient literature class--this was all too weird.

A few weeks later, the coroner's report indicated suicide. Who knows what was going on in my professor's life. I know he really impacted a lot of us, though. If I could go back, I would have had all those conversations with him, the ones I always thought I'd "talk to him about next time," not realizing that there would be no next time. Wishing I'd told him I thought his Johnny Cash poster kicked butt, thanking him for being such a great and helpful critic of my writing, telling him what an awesome professor he really was, just talking. I wondered why I never went to any of the local bars to hear him play bluegrass music with his band. Now I'd never have the chance to hear them. For weeks after his death, I'd have nightmares of me trying unsuccessfully to save him, only to wake up knowing there was nothing that could be done. Yes, if I could go back to the spring of 2005, I'd sure have a lot to talk about with my professor.

Dedicated to M.S.

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13 comments:

BJ Roan said...

This was a very moving piece. We all wish we could do things differently, if only we had a second chance.

Tumblewords: said...

So very well written - he would be proud of you!

Marguerite said...

Very nice tribute. I didn't realize MS was your creative non-fiction prof. And, yes, I think he would be very proud of you.

SmallWorld at Home said...

Wow! What a tragic story!
I began my master's thinking I'd write fiction, and ended up doing my thesis in poetry and creative nonfiction.

Fledgling Poet said...

This is so heartbreaking...it must've been such a shock. I agree he would be proud that you're using what he taught you and moving forward with your writing.

Ann said...

What a thoughtful tribute. This particularly resonated with me because last month a professor at the university where I work died in a stupid accident at home. He was a personal friend from years back but I hadn't made time for him in a very long time. I wish now that I had. I read the thoughts of his colleagues and students and thought of all the lives he had touched.

Your professor also touched many people and had so much more good to do in the world. It's such a shame that one can be so consumed by one's personal demons that death seems the best option.

Lilly said...

A very moving piece on a subject that sadly too many people have experienced.

Robin said...

This gave me chills. I think your professor would have been proud of you.

paisley said...

i think it is wonderful that you remember him with such fondness.. and even if he couldn't see it in himself,, he was instrumental in your life,, and i am willing to bet you are not alone... if no other solace can be found,, he is at peace now,, a peace he evidently could never find in life.. someo of us just never find what we are looking for here,, and there is no shame in being willing to move on,, to look elsewhere even if that means on planes we do not even know exist...

justin manas prince jaspher ligin said...

write more and dedicate it to your great professor..

rosey said...

You wrote this with so much tenderness and deep feeling. My take on the prompt couldn't be more different. I'd love you to read it.

Alisa said...

I know what you mean when you say you always thought you'd see him one more time. We sometimes take the people in our lives forgranted and just assume they'll always be there. What a good reminder that it isn't always so. Nicely written, he'd be proud.

Patois said...

This is such a well told, emotionally full piece. Ditto what Tumblewords said: he'd be proud.