Friday, July 15, 2011

Mr. Rowe

Yesterday, on a whim, while thinking of my passion for writing, I googled my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Rowe at Sun Prairie High.  I honestly didn't expect to find anything.  I'd done it a few time over the past 20 years, but hope springs eternal in my case.  To my surprise, I found a blog entry posted by another of his students.  Apparently Mr. Rowe passed away earlier this year.  I posted a comment to his blog, and wanted to include it here as well:  Joey, Thank you for the tribute you've made to Mr. Rowe here in your blog. I hadn't realized he'd passed. You are so correct.  He made a difference, and he is remembered and loved by his students. 

I loved his writing classes and I'm sure my passion for writing is in part due to what was cultivated in his classroom.  I thought of him today out of the blue at the age of 43 and I was his student when I was 16.  That's a long time but I still remember the last time I saw Mr. Rowe like it was yesterday.  It's made an indelible imprint on me...the message he left with me that day. The passion with which he delivered that message was lost on me at the time, but years later how I wish I'd had the good sense to heed his plea.

You see, I didn't chose a career in writing, instead focusing on computer programming. For certain, I have made a successful and lucrative career of it. And I do enjoy a certain pleasure in my chosen profession. Yet I have regrets all these years later, that I abandoned my true passion, writing, for comfort and financial security. So now I dabble with the idea of writing, a novel perhaps, and wish I were back in Mr. Rowe's classroom learning and relearning the lessons which he taught with such passion.

The last time I saw Mr. Rowe was the first week of my Junior year. He walked up to me in the hall, while I waited for my next class to start.  He always had such a masterful presence, a show of authority, dignified, and somehow above the trivialities so rampant in high school life.  He wore that lovely tweed jacket of his with the leather patchwork elbows and held his portfolio in front of him as he confronted me. "Miss Edge, I'm looking at my class enrollment list and I don't see your name.  Why aren't you taking my advanced creative writing class?" 

I looked at him confused, not understanding why he was there and what it mattered that I wasn't taking his class. "I'm taking all the computer programming classes offered, so I didn't have any electives left to take your class," I explained with a look of utter confusion on my face, I'm sure.

Now I could see that he was mad and also, perhaps, frustrated.  This emotional display was so atypical of him with his rather stoic demeanor. He took a few seconds to regroup and then chastised me in an elevated tone, "As far as I'm concerned, you're flushing a perfectly good talent down the tubes."  He slapped his portfolio shut forcefully as he said this to elaborate his point.  Then he turned and stalked off down the hall.  I never talked to Mr. Rowe again. 

At the time, I didn't understand the significance of that interaction. But all these years later, I find myself thinking of that pivotal moment, when I could have stopped him and told him I didn't need to take that Pascal class or that Basic class so badly as all that. Could I be writing today professionally, had I listened to him, had I followed my true passion and not "sold out" for the money and security of a technology job? I'll never know the answer to that question; although, I will always remember Mr. Rowe coming to bat for me, an impassioned appeal to the good sense I did not yet possess. He recognized and valued that passion in me before I did myself. For that I am forever grateful.  Thank you, Mr. Rowe. You will always remain in my heart. May your hereafter be as fulfilling as your presence was to us, your students.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why the romance genre? It's the happy ending guarantee.

I don't just read romance, but do primarily read romance. Until today, I wasn't sure why. Maybe it was just being that typical woman in midlife with unmet desires?  I hoped not. We've all read the derogatory talk that makes women want to shy away from admitting we crave the stuff of romance novels. The talk that makes us out to be such incredibly superficial and wanton women with inattentive partners and lives that lack personal fulfillment. Okay, some of that may be true, in part, for at least some of us romance novel readers.  But I can't believe that it's just that.

In previous blog entries, I've already talked about my views on a female biological imperative that puts us in a catch-22 and how the fantasy romance sub-genre allows a loose reconciliation of those conflicting desires. But why romance at all?  It can't just be the primal biological drive that has me running off for fantasyland, can it?

Just having finished The Pact: A Love Story by Jodi Picoult, I found my answer.  A friend recommended Jodi and the title sounded like, well, a love story, so I went into the book with a particular expectation.  Coming away from the book, which is an incredibly good read by the way, I was disappointed because my expectation wasn't met.  This was a romantic tragedy and I expected a romance novel. The key difference is that in a romance the ending is happy, the heroine finds love, her needs (and his) fulfilled.  I came away from this book feeling hopeless. The love was there, the romance was there, the feelings of desperation and conflict were there.  But the story was a tragedy, without hope.  Closure, yes.  Hope, nope.  I felt alone, with regret, a mere shell of the person I had once been or had the potential to become. That's tragedy for you.

My life has been tough.  I'm not whining.  But it's true. There are regrets for certain.  But more importantly, there is a feeling of having missed something somewhere along the road called Life.  Was it the meaning of life? My purpose here? The connection to a soul-mate?  Some significant contribution to humankind? Or a lasting difference in the life of just one person?  There is a lot of sacrifice made.  A lot of effort expended.  Tears shed. Choices made or made for us. And what has kept me going through all of it was hope that there was a meaning, a reason, a person, a life, or difference to be realized. As I age, I still have hope of filling that elusive empty space within me. The desire to fill it remains strong.  In my fantasyland romance novels, those strong desires are fulfilled, the girl gets what she needs, finds the answers, makes the difference, fulfills some hope or dream or unmet desire or even something she didn't even know was missing.  It is satisifying to read because the good guy (and equally important girl) wins, I'm filled with hope, fulfillment is possible, answers attainable, complete.

Can I get that from other genres?  Yes.  Is it a guarantee with other genres?  No.  So when I write my novels, they will probably have a romantic thread, regardless if the stage is in an enchanted forest, on another planet, in a high school classroom, in the fires of hell, or on a spaceship.  My message will likely always be one of the deeper values of love, hope, and fulfillment.