May I just tell you, all you who send me emails or comment here or ask me when we run into each other how this novel is going, how helpful your encouragement is? I never knew what a difference it makes.
I feel exorcised of the phantom professor who has not left off haunting my inner chambers since he commented on my master's "creative" thesis, . . . not yet a poet and may never be.
Not that he was wrong -
What am I saying? I was still learning. And he was one who had pretended to teach me. It is not that he should have applauded bad work. It is not the implied rejection of what may not have been poems except by intent. It is the explicit rejection of the intender.
And even later, when this professor was the one to present me with a poetry award - by necessity chatting off-stage beforehand - it was too obvious that my planting a flower garden was so much more comfortable a concept for him.
Why have I let this little man have such power in my mind - tut-tut-ing over everything I write? - even after I had seen his small and ragged preening when he and I and the other members of my thesis committee sat at lunch once with Robert Hass - the name dropping! the if you were an animal what would you be straining for significance! the mentioning of publications! Hass (this was a year or three before his becoming laureate) was polite and quiet, a little wearied-seeming. "So," said the professor to me, "you must be in awe to be sitting here. You must have questions to ask?" I had been invited last minute to take a missing person's spot. I had graduated the month before. I had had to bring my newborn baby who looked around her with big wide eyes and then fell asleep without fussing once. "I enjoy the way you break your lines, it makes them such a pleasure to read," was all I could think to say. "I wish I knew how you do it." The only time I saw Hass' face come alive was at the end when he came up after lunch was over, touched my baby's hand, staring intently into her sleeping face. He said, "It is like falling in love, isn't it?"
There are teachers and there are gatekeepers. And there are names for people like my old professor which I would not use in polite company.
And lately, I don't see much point in hanging out with company that isn't.
So, thank you for helping to show him the door, for helping give permission to Just Write.
And in return, this - the most polite of company: Wit - a movie with Emma Thompson - though probably you should not read the review but just see the film itself. Wit was mentioned, intrigued me - I reserved a copy at the library. And yes, it is about mortality, and yes, we cried. And even the morning after, driving home in the rain after dropping Young Son off for school, my eyes will fill with tears, or today standing in the shower - I find myself sobbing, my shoulders shaking, briefly, painlessly.
But cleansingly. As if exorcised.
As all good art, good work should do.
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