Monday, April 30, 2012

Farewell

On that August day in 2010, I'd gone out for a lunch with Andria and wasn't gone for much more than an hour. I came home to find the back door kicked in and a lot of valuable and sentimental items gone. It's an awful, sinking feeling. Among the missing were two laptops, but we were left with a large, prehistoric desktop computer and later that evening I checked my e-mail from it to find that I'd been accepted into the Moss Workshop for Fiction with novelist Richard Bausch. It was a bittersweet day. It was a whirlwind year for my writing, one in which I was assigned my first cover story for Memphis Magazine and The Memphis News, accepted into the fiction workshop and won the Memphis Magazine short story contest. The workshop itself was a roller coaster of excitement and apprehension, fear and confidence. To sit quietly while Richard reads something you've written, and then listen as 10 people dissect it, praise it, trash it and question it, is a test in resolve.

Richard Bausch is moving on to Chapman University in Orange, CA. It's a huge loss for the University of Memphis and a boon for Chapman. He gave a farewell reading last week and I was fortunate enough to be asked to stand up and say something about Richard in lieu of any formal introduction. I was told I would be one of a few. I found I was one of seven, one for each year he was at the U of M. Had I understood beforehand that I was there to represent my group of Mossians, I would have been even more terrified than I already was. I hope I did them proud.

I'm not a public speaker. My heart races in anticipation, my mouth grows dry from anxiety, and I feel I can't concentrate enough to stand on my own, much less recite a prepared speech. But it's something I wanted to do for Richard, to give a little back to him since he's given so much to me.

Several people have paid tribute better than I - David and Maria, to name a couple - but this is what I said, or what I wrote and meant to say out loud. I'm not really sure what I said when I got up there, but I meant every word of it, or of this, at least.


My wife is not a fan of Richard Bausch. It has nothing to do with his writing, she likes that just fine. But on those workshop nights in the fall of 2010, when I'd stumble in from R.P. Tracks well past midnight on a school night, I had to blame the late hour on someone. And that someone was Richard.


I'd explain that it was all part of the instruction. And it was, too, because Richard's teaching is so wrapped up in who he is, in his stories, his examples, his experiences, his voice and his mannerisms that all we, as learners, have to do is open our minds up wide like a catcher's mitt and absorb what he says. I was determined to stay in that crouch for as long as possible.

The hell of it was, though, that the next morning I could remember little more than a stanza from a filthy limerick he'd recited or the punchline to a story about a car-driving monkey. An entire evening spent with a successful novelist spouting words of wisdom and I couldn't remember a thing.

But there is one thing I remember and it happened on one of the first nights at Tracks after a class. As we all got ourselves situated around a little table, and in the course of ordering a lot of drinks, Richard told the waitress that we were all writers. And he said it just like that, with no qualifier: we're writers. He didn't say we were student writers or novice writers or writing hopefuls. That night, around that table, we were a community of writers.

I must have laughed or made a snide comment because, even though I'd been a freelance writer for a couple of years by then, I never would have referred to myself as such in front of someone so successful doing exactly the thing I wanted to do. Richard must have picked up on this because he got very quiet, and he got very serious, and he assured all of us around that table, again without qualifier, that we were writers, and that we should never think of ourselves as anything less. I think it may be one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me.


Thank you, Richard.


2 comments:

Courtney said...

You were brilliant. Thank you for that and for sharing this.

Maria Browning said...

Courtney's right -- you were brilliant. No one could have said it better.