Monday, April 10, 2006

An Open Letter to One That Inspired Me

Professor Frye,

My friend Hank and I took your class as a freshman English course at Southeast Missouri State University. You were a graduate assistant forced to teach an English course to freshman that scored less than spectacular on the entrance writing exam. Hank and I were unacquainted before the course. We lived on the same floor in the dorm and your class ultimately brought us together; a friendship that has now lasted thirteen years. He wrote me an email, yesterday that mentioned your class – hence my thoughts turned to your influence over my life.

Your fervor for the course was refreshing. It seemed that no one bothered to tell you we were forced to take a class that would not even give credit towards our university-mandated English requirements. You encouraged us to expose ourselves through writing, a difficult feat for children fresh out of high school. It was from you that I learned to only write “what I know”. It was also from you that I forever fell in love with the “first-person-narrative”.

You anonymously read our stories aloud, saving us the embarrassment, yet giving the gift of joy in acknowledging the worthiness of our accomplishments. I wrote two stories that you read aloud, over the course of the semester – I believe I was the only student you granted this honor. The first story took place during the last song of a middle school dance – you likened it to an episode of “The Wonder Years”. Near the end of the course you read a comedy I wrote, titled, “Old Joe and Testosterone”. While both stories were taken from my life, you seemed most enthralled by the second tale of my 40-year-old Wal-Mart bakery co-worker that spent the vast majority of his workday chasing and ogling women from afar.

Whenever Hank and I reunite, our conversation inevitably turns to you. Wondering where you have gone. I had four more English instructors at Southeast, after your course; and none matched the impression you left on both my writing and my passion for life. A few years after graduation, I remember seeing you working at the local Barnes & Noble. I remember thinking, “What the hell happened?” Inevitably, I feel like your fate was one of the deciding factors in my distrust in the rewards of graduate studies.

Hank is a physicist, now and I am a painter. Ironically, I believe we would both prefer to be writers. He recently wrote this to me:

“But you know, while I don’t seem to remember much from my Physics classes or math for that matter, I can still clearly see that ugly fiber optic lamp Frye Guy asked us to describe.”

Another friend from the course, Kim C. – went on to get her teacher certification in High School English. I wonder even now, where you might be… though I believe I would rather have the memory than the reality. - DN

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