Letter never sent to my professor, ‘DHG’

So I finally lost my mind Diana George. Just like you said I would. I went too long without writing and I went bananas. No one remembers that day in your classroom like I do. The lights down low, all those young writers gathered around you. One of them asked, has anyone ever lost their mind from writing? He was worried about that. And you just laughed and said I don’t think so. But some probably lost their minds from not writing. Now that’s me.

Diana Hume George. Your name suited you, rhythmic and strong. The 80s were nearly over but you hadn’t left the 60s yet, with your Stevie Nicks scarves and your peacock feather earrings. You with your olive skin and those tinted glasses that made your face look small. Hanging around campus with that philosophy professor with the eye patch who never smiled. He wore it to force his brain to think with the creative side. What planet were you from? You wrote that on one of my papers. We were all trying to be different, to find our voice. You helped us find ourselves.

So here I sit at my screen the way we did back then. It still starts with a blank page. Some of us had word processors and others had to go to the library, to find a computer and write under fluorescent light. We sent it to the printer and tore the edges off; the paper came in reams and opened like an accordion. We made copies and handed them out. We were expected to write comments on each other’s work, to be respectful. It mattered a lot to me what you said and I saved the notes you wrote on my drafts, I put them in boxes with my letters and pictures, and they followed me around the country wherever I moved. I imagined I could hear your voice like there was magic in your handwriting. What you said was an incantation, a prayer or a wish. It only takes a little to believe, and we all start as pretenders.

It’s been more than thirty years now and I’m still at it. I go to the woods to drum up ideas, to lose myself. But there’s only so much actual writing you can do when you’re not writing, when you’re “thinking about writing.” And it’s toxic, it will drive you nuts. There must be some energy or alchemy to it like what happens with storms. Guitarists don’t get any better at playing the guitar by thinking about it. Why would it work that way for writers?

I hit the trail in the early mornings and walk towards the sun. You only get an inch or two of light on the horizon but I like the way it looks. All the leaves are down so you can see clear across the forest. I’ve been out there picking around thinking of you, how much I can remember. Why I shouldn’t joke about losing my mind when it’s not true. How some things you can lose and find again (like your car keys) and other things (like your virginity) you only lose once. People lose their minds from time to time and sometimes, for real. Why was that kid so worried about losing his, from writing? Was he so controlled he couldn’t look inside himself? Or is that my problem: I’ve been looking in places I shouldn’t, realizing it’s what I have to do. Like you said, “You’ve exposed the raw, human nerve…now what will you do with it?” That was your challenge, what will you do?

All this is a ruse. I could look you up but I’m afraid of what I’d find. I did that with Archie Loss and he died several years ago. They whittle you down to 500 words with a few quotes from the family. You meant so much more to me than that. I’d love to talk with you about writing but I know what you’d say, I’d rather you just wrote.

Categories: Memoir, writing

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32 replies

  1. I will read this again but at 1245 Std Eastern Time, I want you to know that you gladdened my heart and glistened my eye with your reflection.
    I will read it again, @1247/SET.
    Kind regards

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I went ahead and looked her up for you. She gave a writer’s workshop this past July, so I’d say she’s going strong.


    She is listed as “Professor Emerita” on Penn State’s site. I guess that’s academic for semi-retired.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “It only takes a little to believe, and we all start as pretenders.” – love this!
    Wish I’d had a writing coach of this ilk – there are several leaders I’ve worked with via writing, but they were not writing coaches per se. Never took a true writing class. My daughter taught me to write poetry when she was in middle school. I’d been writing stories since my elementary school years and worked as SW technical writer for over a decade – poetry was a stretch initially but I pretended I could, and … well, I can. I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sweet Jazz! I love that your daughter taught you to write poetry, that’s amazing. And didn’t know you were a software technical writer…equally amazing! Yes I’m super grateful for a small group of mighty teachers I was lucky enough to study with, Diana especially. Didn’t realize it at the time…true of so many other experiences you don’t realize are super awesome at the time. Thanks for reading Jazz and hope you’re well. Flip the calendar if you haven’t already!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We could go mad together, Bill! Words are such slippery things anyway – worse than juggling an armful of eels. But apart from anything else this is a great post! As was the last one. And all the others. Tx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tish and thank you! For the eels, alright…happy you enjoyed these. I’ve been slowing down and trying to take more time, but that’s its own slippery slope when it comes to creatin’. Thanks for this and be well!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this one, and I hope Diana stumbles on it somehow and gets a good feel for how she’s influenced young brains. Then again, receiving the writing impulse is a blessing and a curse, so–gee, thanks, Prof.!

    I can just see this woman with Stevie Nicks scarves lighting creative fires under a bunch of aspiring students. And I can understand you keeping all those notes and comments through your moves–good instincts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey man, thank you…and belated thanks again, because I’m prone to nostalgia, for reading and supporting my efforts for so many years now! I’m going through posts I did starting in 2012 (it’s kind of painstaking) and remembering how you helped me with some advice this time of year in 2015. Shit-pie that’s a long time. Thanks and you’re right, you know better than me, the blessing-slash-curse. Cheers Kevin. “Get back to where you once belonged”


  6. I’d say that eye patch trick is ill advised. “You’ve exposed the raw, human nerve…now what will you do with it” Yes, I did this to myself in 2013 and I’m just getting over it. I enjoy reading about the impact certain teachers have on their students. I had one like that once.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oscar Wilde said “it is an honour to be ruined by poetry” but I think Professor George would counter that by saying that poetry renews rather than ruins; exposing the nerve is an opportunity to regain dulled sensations. Poetry, quoting another poet, Dylan Thomas, “Unpacks the head”.
    How to drum up ideas, though, is a tougher question, and one I’ve wondered a lot about. Guillaume Apollinaire once made fun of of Picasso and Matisse when they were sitting around a cafe in Paris, saying that as painters they were burdened by a need for paint and canvas and studio space while he’d written his entire poem “Il Pleut” in his head while walking around in the rain. Sure, he still needed paper and a typewriter, or at least a stylus of some sort, to get it down, but the point has always stuck with me. What’s the writerly equivalent of an artist’s sketch or study? We all write rough drafts but it can be disheartening even if they serve the purpose of getting us, often with help, to something we can call finished.
    You’ve certainly exposed a nerve here, and I look forward to whatever you do with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gosh Christopher, what a generous comment here. Kind of transcends “comment,” mini-essay is more like it. And I like that comparison, about painters vs writers…seems we are all consuming and re-working what passes through us, more on this I hope too. Appreciate and look forward to the exchange…delighted by your thoughts here, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Love the consistency of the way you address the “audience” here. And damn, you and these last lines, I swear.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This post is pure bliss, reminiscing to Professor’s time and still doing it in the realm of today. Sounds like a cool letter Bill with the visual imagery and description, something I am sure he will smile at. Fluid writing and relatable.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yeah, definitely send it to her. You’ll feel embarrassed about it (raw nerve) but in my experience teachers love to hear that they’ve been remembered, that they had an impact. Who wouldn’t love that? I began corresponding with my high school English teacher, who is back in England now. She remains a treat. I still have the note she wrote me at graduation. God bless the teachers who shaped us.

    I’ve been doing nothing but revising, editing, revising. Does that count as writing? It doesn’t feel like I’m using my creative muscles. More like a dog licking its crotch until it’s raw.

    Great piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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