Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 4, 2010

Some Things Change

I once wrote about a writing teacher who one rainy day snapped open his black umbrella as we left the building and said he thought I had what it took to be a writer. Then added, But it’s a miserable life.

Over many years, on tough days I thought of his blessing as well as the sort of curse. And came into my own way of writing and living. I’d never say the writing life is a cakewalk. There’s uncertainty, waiting, the many mistakes we make on our way to the right words. But last week I found myself in my office in the building where I was a student all those many years ago, the building where I stepped into the rain beside that professor. This time I sat with a dark-haired young woman who smiles a lot, talking about the beginning of her novel, which she agreed might be a sort of Roahl Dahl meets Nancy Drew. There’s humor, action, a vivid use of language, and a slightly and wonderfully old fashioned feel in its characters and narrative drive.

“Why did you choose to set it in the fifties?” I asked, liking the choice, and curious.

“Well, partly I like Mad Men,” she said. “But also I just really like the period.”

I felt myself in her as she stumbled to describe the nature of her love. Who can ever explain what we’re drawn to and why?

“Keep going,” I said. “You have what it takes. I can’t wait to read more.”

And I didn’t add that it could be a terrible life. She knows that it rains, but not every day. And that every umbrella isn’t black: some of us choose those printed with cherry blossoms.



  1. I love this – and I love that you gave her the advice we all need. Everybody knows about the rain already. Also…I think we favor the same kinds of umbrellas. 🙂

  2. And some of us just hunker down and tuck our chins into our collars, knowing we’ll get wet but also that we’ll eventually get dry.

  3. You’re a wise woman! And really, if it were truly miserable, we wouldn’t do it. Me, I like my raspberry umbrella.

  4. It’s so nice that you pass on encouraging words, instead of the kind your professor gave you.

  5. It isn’t a miserable life. It’s a tough life in many ways, but it’s like hiking: hard work, and you stumble and sweat a lot, but the scenery is great and it’s somehow fun despite all the effort.

  6. I’m sure our umbrellas match or clash in just the right ways, Kate!
    Wishing always there were more teachers like you.

  7. Hunkering works.

  8. I’m glad there are writer/profs like you around. Who find balance in their lives.

  9. Re: This is so lovely
    Thanks, Tracie. Always glad to share a bright and flowery umbrella with you!

  10. Really, I wouldn’t teach children’s literature or writing if I didn’t think there was something there that could make peoples’ lives happier or richer. Thank you for commenting!

  11. Absolutely. And we are lucky here to have each other for companions in the stumbling and sweating as well as the quick occasional good view.

  12. You have what it takes . . .
    A perfect response. ;0)
    May she hold those words dear, as you held your professor’s.

  13. What a lovely, inspiring, hopeful sort of post. The world needs more teachers like you.

  14. I’m glad that new writer has you for a teacher to help guide her along the path. Lucky student.

  15. Re: You have what it takes . . .
    Thanks, Tami. I think all of us like to know that someone out there somewhere has some faith in us!

  16. Thanks, Kelly. Of course those who really care about a subject are the easy ones to “teach.”

  17. Class is ending, but I expect we’ll be in touch. Thanks, Susan.

  18. I think the guidance from the class continues long after the class has ended as she will likely, when alone, reflect on just about everything you’ve ever told her.

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