One of my absolute worse memory of college was a certain professor.
While I’m fairly sure he’s passed by now (he seemed quite ancient years ago), I will not mention his name. Let’s call him Dr. D. Dr. D. was a funny guy … I had him for many of my communication and writing courses. Most of the stuff I took from him was required, you know? So after my first run-in with him, I researched my major courses and, to my horror, I saw I would have him every year — nearly every semester — of my entire college career.
Here was the problem with Dr. D. I was a writer. I wanted to be a writer since I was in seventh grade, and my teacher encouraged some independent projects I had done. I pursued journalism, ’cause, you know, it would be a way to actually make money while I worked “secretly” on the next great American novel. I was set in my path …took every available English and literature and writing course available throughout high school … even did a couple independent studies (a whole semester with Robert Frost? Yes, please …). Imagine my excitement when the college I finally chose had a brand new writing major offered.
When I encountered Dr. D. my sophomore year of college, I was well set on my career path. I wasn’t one of those “let me think about changing my major” kind of kids. For all my rabble-rousing and … experimentation … I was a solid student who got good grades and depended on an academic scholarship to keep me in school. I was involved in on-campus stuff … I worked part-time. So I was focused on NOT dropping out of my love, which was writing.
I really tried in Dr. D’s classes. I got my stuff in on time. I worked on projects. I tried to be creative. I answered stuff in class. I did all the required reading. And I still couldn’t for the life of me get an “A” in his classes. All the jocks got “A’s”. Some of the students I did group projects with got “A’s.” I perceived that I had done something to piss Dr. D. off.
Finally, after weeks of deliberating with myself, I made an appointment with him. It was perhaps one of the scariest things I’d done in my entire college career. We sat in his stuff office … I was quiet, and he finally said, “What seems to be the problem, Ms. Walker?” (my maiden name).
“I … ah …” I stammered. I was not used to being a stammerer. He was intimidating, and I perceived that this man stood between me and my dream. “I was wondering what I would have to do to get a decent grade in your class.”
He looked at me. He smiled, and asked, “I believe I’ve been more than fair in your grades for your projects.” It was true. I was a solid “B” student in his classes. But at that time in my life, before I realized what was truly important in life (the living, not the grade), I was driven for that grade point.
“A ‘B’ isn’t bad … but…” I paused again. He set their with a smug smile on his face. I remember thinking, “This guy enjoys messing people’s lives up …” I took a breath. “I’d like to do better, Sir. I’d really like to 4-point your classes. And I know you give ‘A’s’. And…” I paused, because I was frustrated, but determined to continue. “I think you’ve been grading me unfairly for the amount of work I put into your projects.”
He leaned back. He brought his hands together, and thoughtfully considered his answers. At the time, I say it as his attempt at making me feel insignificant. Now, I realize he was probably trying to respond without blowing my immature ignorance up in my face.
“Ms. Walker …” he began. “I do grade you differently than most of my other students. I agree.”
I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. Everything in me was fighting back tears. I refused to cry in front of this horrible man. I was taking mental notes to share with the Academic Dean later. I would get this guy kicked out. He was sitting in front of me, admitting he was unfair and bias against me.
“Would you like to know why I do so?” I was quiet, but managed a nod.
“I have seen from your first class with my that you are a gifted writing. You have a wonderful way with words, and are a very good communicator. However, you lack the discipline it takes to truly be a great writer. My withholding ‘easy’ grades for you is my attempt to make you understand that it will take more than raw talent to succeed as a writer. You will need to develop good practices. You will need to hone your craft. You will need to really, truly want it if you are to succeed.” He continued looking at me.
But I didn’t know what to say.
At that point, I realized that he was right. OK, not at that point. I was angry, and all I could think of was I was lazy, and incompetent and “he” would keep me from accomplishing all I dreamed of. As my anger subsided, I began hearing different voices. How I couldn’t do it. How the idea of being “a writer” was ridiculous for me. I began letting up. No, I still did well in my classes. I think I may have ended up even getting one “A” from Dr. D. But it was at that point I think I lost the drive to really, truly write for a living. I think I thought I could never do it … because I could never figure out the discipline of it all.
I went on … did a lot of writing. But I have to be honest, all these years later, I still think about his comments whenever something becomes hard. Especially a writing project.
I’ve done a lot. I’ve been married nearly 27 years. Raised four amazing children. Survived a life of ministry for 26 years. Used my skills (mostly unpaid) for lots of people’s’ benefits. I mean, I write all the time. But I haven’t yet been able to crack my personal code on what it would take for me to really, truly wrestle all the thousands of ideas I have in my head down and onto a page.
It’s not that life is empty. But it’s definitely incomplete.
So I’m attempting to come to terms with it all. I hit a “magic” life mark this year. There’s a ton going on in my personal life. I’ve been able to find things to make money, but while they have been exciting and nearly fulfilling much of the time, there is a void.
A void that I know I can fill. A void that has been unappeasable for so many years. But something I’m coming face to face with, realizing I am the only one who can do it. I will need to remind people around me that this “discipline” issue will bring fruit in many areas of my life. But it’s time to tame the proverbial monsters of my memory and prove Dr. D. wrong.
Not for him, anymore. But for me.