Saturday, February 23, 2013

Name Drops

It's easy to talk about the big names that influenced my writing. Writing for the people that read this stuff (friends, people on twitter), using the big names makes more sense - they are characters you can easily identify (or Google). There are three people I don't talk about as often when it comes to my writing. They aren't people I aspire to be like, but figures that have shaped me.
Sadly, I cannot recall the name of the first. He was a professor in my junior year of college, teaching the 19th Century British Novel. It was a fantastic course. This man looked every part of an elderly English professor - flannel shirts, gray hair, teeth stained from too many cigarettes, and a perfect cadence. I remember our first assignment very clearly:
"Write a five page paper, but do it in two pages."
That resonates. Even though I no do not always adhere to this, it influences my editing. Do I really need that modifier? Is this really the "most" or "best"? I feel so much shame that of all the things I forgotten, his name is one, especially considering that almost ten years later one of his assignments still sticks.
The papers I would get back from class would be covered in pencil edits, more than I had ever seen. From the amount of marks, I thought I had failed. I would flip to page two and see a B+ or an A. It does not matter if your work is excellent, it can always be better. If he had just let me rest on a strong paper and not shown me the errors, well, he'd be an awful teacher.
He wasn't. So thank you.
The second is another professor of mine from college, whose name I remember clearly- Allen Eller. I signed up to take four classes with him during my college years. The first was Science Fiction, the second was Horror Fiction. What professor Eller taught me was that there is value in all great writing, no matter the subject matter. He knew he had important things to say, and would routinely throw students who were disruptive out of lecture (in the 400 person lecture hall). When I finally signed up for British Literature 1 (a required course examining the basic texts, think Chaucer and Beowulf) I could finally see the path from these ancient texts to Star Wars. It was so cool. I loved that class so much I signed up to take a course on Beowulf with Eller the next semester.
I never got to take the course with him, which is why I remember his name so clearly. A horseback riding accident ended his teaching career. I took the course, but it wasn't the same. I never got to thank him. For everything.
The last person who shaped my work, well, I hated his style of teaching. He would take his red felt tip Bic pen and mark up a wonderfully crafted five page paper, and reduce it to four pages. I'd come back with more edits and improvements, and the red pen would come out again. Over and over, nothing would ever please him. I would finally relent and turn in the paper. Get an A. 
He'd still want to make changes.
His name is Seth. 
He's my dad.
Without him constantly pushing me, forcing me to think about my words and sentence structure, I wouldn't have made it through college as an English major. I don't think I would have made it through grad school either. Those days, hunched over an old NEC desktop were master classes in writing, from one English major to another.
Thank you dad.

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