Friday, February 8, 2008

Leap of Faith Friday #2

Today is the second installment in our 5-part series, LEAP OF FAITH FRIDAY. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to visit BD at the Busy Dad Blog and Piper of Bliss in Bloom who both posted their LEAPS in a much more timely manner than I have today. But without coordination there seems to be a common theme in all three of our posts… a look back at the past.

My leap of faith this week was to contact my writing professor from college.

When I was a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill I had grandiose ideas about becoming a writer. Really, I had decided to become a writer in the 4th grade, so the idea of college seemed to bring this plan some much needed energy. It was finally time to get started. I was so clueless, I have no idea how I managed to land a coveted spot in a creative writing class with Doris Betts, but somehow I did. Doris Betts was a distinguished southern writer, and a professor of celebrity-like status on campus.

I remember what I wore to class the first day. A white Ralph Lauren polo collared shirt with navy stripes, and its inverse navy Ralph Lauren skirt with white stripes. Here’s a leap within a leap when I also share the painful memory of some cream-colored buck shoes. In my defense I’d attended an all-girls’ school with a uniform for seven years, so clearly I didn’t know how to dress myself for going out in public.

Immediately I fell in love with the creative writing program. My writing classes were among the few that I would actually attend with regularity. There were only about 12 students in each class so my absence was conspicuous. Not to mention I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hear what Doris Betts was going to say.

As far as I was concerned she was as cool as a woman could be. Always just a moment late to class, juggling a pile of notebooks and papers, and clutching a fistful of pens. She always had ink on her fingers and a sparkle in her eye. She had energy and backbone and wit and humanity. And a great laugh!

During my four years at Carolina she was working on a novel – her first one in almost a decade – and every so often she would share gritty details about gruesome medical research she was up to. We felt so special any time she would give us a nugget from the book, although once I read it years later I realized how little she gave away. Doris Betts can write Southern as well as anyone. Her delicious tales of macabre spirituality leave you feeling as thought you were draped in Spanish moss.

She once told me that my stories surprised her. That my writing was much darker than I seemed to be as a person on first impression. I swooned.

Although given my hideous preppy Ralph Lauren outfit, I’m sure that wasn’t too hard to pull off. But I carried it with me as a compliment nonetheless.

I had Doris Betts as a professor for three out of my four years at Carolina. I can still hear her feedback:

-- “Show Don’t Tell.”

-- “We’re only together for 90 minutes. So if there’s something good in your story, let’s just assume you put it there on purpose. Our job is to tell you what’s not working.”

-- “Please don’t have your characters hand each other pretty little packages of dialogue, like they are just passing them back and forth, tied up with a pretty little bow.”

-- “Sometimes reality is just too complicated to be believable in a fiction class.”

When I left Carolina, I said goodbye to Doris Betts and my plans to become a writer. Instead I became an Assistant Buyer at Neiman Marcus. And then an Account Executive at an ad agency. Eventually Managing Director of a consulting firm. A wife, a mother, an ex-wife. A freelancer.

When I list it all out like that, it seems like such a long, long trip. Sometimes I feel like I went so far off-track, but other days I feel like it was a complete circle. Because this morning I decided to send Doris Betts an email with links to a few Chicken Fried Therapy posts. Here I am fifteen years later, once again wondering what Doris Betts thinks of my writing.

We’ll see if she responds! I think the spirit of these LEAPS is more in the “doing” than in the “outcome”, but I will let you know regardless. In the meantime I will confess that I chickened out on one part of the LEAP.

All these years I’ve had a question about her novel ‘Souls Raised From the Dead’. This is the book she was writing when I was her student. It was published a year or so after I graduated and the antagonist is named ‘Christine’.

I’ve always been a teeny bit curious where she got the idea for that name…

But I just like thinking it was me. So, Doris, if you do read this, can we just pretend that it’s true?


Please check out the other blogs who participated in LEAP OF FAITH FRIDAY. If you did a LEAP and it's not listed, please mention it in a comment here so we can all make sure to read it.

bliss in bloom
busy dad blog
keep believing


piper of love said...

Agreed, this is much more about the 'doing' than the 'outcome', however... unless she is in a coma, I'm certain that this leap is going to bring you the sweetest return. You are a marvel!

Once you receive her thoughts, please share them with the rest of the class.
'Show don't tell' ~ wow, I'm seeing all kinds of flaws in my own writing now!


Maria said...

Go Tarheels!!!

And um, I wanna know what she writes back! :)

Miss said...

I hope she does read your writing because its really good!!

I took a Leap of Faith!

BusyDad said...

If she makes it a point to only point out the bad, her email back to you will say:

Anonymous said...

Without a doubt she will get back in touch with you. Although I'm new to your blog I keep coming back here because of the way you write.

You absolutely must post about what her response is.

secret agent mama said...

Wow! I can't wait to see if she replies, and how cool would it be if she replied HERE!

Great Leap, Christine! Mine's just an intro, but next week will be really fun. You'll see. I promise.

Kimmylyn said...

All I could think of was Icebreaker and how beautiful that post was..

I hope she replies back..and that you share her response!!!

(ps.. loved the very detailed RL outfit.. :) )

Anonymous said...

LOVE your writing, Christine! It's very passionate and relateable, but never mundane. Proud of you for starting the Leap of Faith. I'm pondering joining...

LunaNik said...

Wow, what a leap this is. Having your writing critiqued by a pro is always stressful.

I hope she gets back to you.

I am eagerly awaiting her reply.

P.S. I'm so going to buy that book of hers now!

Amy said...

I really hope she replies to you! And yes you definitely have to share with us! I think you are an AMAZING writer, you truly have a gift.

Tara R. said...

I hope she responses back... that would be fabulous. I must believe that she would be proud of your writing here.

Sarabeth said...

I also hope she responds.

I made a leap recently in that I submitted my query to agents and publishers.

Blog hopping--HP

Dylan said...

That's so great that you did that...really inspiring. I should probably write to my old American history professor telling him that his work and inspiration and encouragement has directly led to me not only working in America, but being married to an American!

Love your writing still - I should comment more, and lurk less...

Hope Doris gets back to you soon.


Emma Sometimes said...

Go you!! I hope she gets back too...

Nice to read you.

blog hoppin
Mox on The Rocks

Karen MEG said...

Good for you Christine! I'm sure she will get in touch with you and will enjoy your writing. You are a talent!

Blog hoppin' Hi!

PG said...

I eagerly await the prof's response. I reckon it will be posted here. She seems like a sharp lady and will appreciate the opening for a grand entrance here. Well done Christine!

dlyn said...

my first visit to your blog, but ut will not be my last - love it, love it! I hope she writes bad soon!

Momo Fali said...

Seriously...only a tri-Delt would wear that outfit.

(In my defense, before I get attacked by sorority sisters...Christine ASKED for that ribbing.)

Darrin said...

That is a leap of faith, and I'm sure she'll write back.
Take Care!

"Sinatra Junkie"
From the weekend blog hoppers

FUN-ky Mama said...

Wow! how exciting. I hope she replies. I am writing down the name of the book; I'm a Southern girl who LOVES good Southern writing.

Christine said...

first of all, momo, you are absolutely right. I asked for the ribbing -- and I deserve it. If I could paint a more vivid picture of how awful that outfit actually was....yeesh.

more importantly, if anyone is interested in checking out two books by doris betts that I love:

* souls raised from the dead
* sharp teeth of love

thanks to everyone for all the amazing feedback!!! yall are the best.

Mental P Mama said...

Wow! Good for you. Can't wait to hear what she has to say. You will be hearing from her. Believe it.

Autumn said...

Excellent leap! I recently got in touch with MY Doris Betts (high school art teacher) and I was so happy I did. When we become wives (and ex-wives), mothers and adults, we tend to push that person we were to the side. Talking to her brings me back to that time and place in an instant. Hope yours turns out the same :)

FENICLE said...

I'm sure she would be very proud of you!