Archive for the Writing Category

defining moment

Posted in Observations, People, Writing on December 28, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

I suppose all families experience a defining event in the life of the family.  Perhaps that defining moment happened years prior in the family’s history and is virtually unknown to present-day family members. For my family, the defining moment was right there in the newspaper, right there in the faces of word-less family friends, right up the street at Mary’s house, and around the corner at Dorothy’s, and in the log-house at 3250 North Cascade.

Some could probably argue that the close physical proximity of the affected families was a blessing, family members so close to each other to help each other work through the pain.  Another argument could be made that the closeness was not a good thing; the four households within two blocks of each other could not console one another because they all suffered a loss that day.  How could one turn to another for a shoulder to cry on when that person was in need of a shoulder herself?

County Road 149

Posted in Writing on November 27, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

 

Janie heard Uncle Steve’s car pull up in the driveway before her mom did and called out to her, “they’re here!”  Janie ran to the door just off of the kitchen, her mom a few steps behind.  The November morning had been cold, but it was warming up now and might reach the 50 degrees the newspaper promised.  Later in the afternoon, though, when Janie would be heading back, it could be chilly again.

Mother and daughter cut across the hard-packed dirt backyard toward Uncle Steve’s 1949 Studebaker.  He waved at his sister-in-law, Betty, and smiled at his niece. In the front seat with Uncle Steve were his nephew, Babe, and his daughter, Cynthia.  Betty went to the passenger side window to give Cynthia, who had just turned three, a big hug.  Steve’s hands flickered in the air.  Babe looked at Betty and said “He says we’ll be back around 3:30.”  Betty smiled at Steve and nodded “ok.”

Uncle Steve met his wife, Dorothy, at theColoradoSchoolfor the Deaf and Blind.  When Steve was three, he had contracted meningitis when the family lived outside of Walsenburg. The illness left him deaf and blind in his right eye.  Before long, his folks moved Steve, Eli, and the two girls, Millie and Mary, toColorado Springs.  When he was a teenager at the D & B, Steve got a crush on a pretty, deaf girl from the country.  Then they fell in love and got married.  Dorothy had to work at the Meadow Gold Dairy store on this particular Saturday, though, or she would have made the trip with her husband to get the girls.

When Uncle Steve was at the D&B, all his siblings learned the sign language alphabet along with him.  When Betty married Eli, she tried to learn it, too, but if Steve or Dorothy signed too fast, she had to ask for help in understanding or for them to repeat what they said.

Janie got in the front seat of Uncle Steve’s car and Cynthia climbed in her lap.  Babe was scrunched in the middle between his Uncle and the two girls.  Betty waved as Uncle Steve pulled his car around and headed back out the drive way toCascade Avenue.

Uncle Steve’s two older daughters were out at their grandparent’s house on this Saturday afternoon.  They had gone out late on Thursday afternoon, Thanksgiving Day, to spend a couple of days with them.  Marilyn and Suzanne were the cutest little girls – blonde curls falling over their shoulders, blue eyes, perpetual bright smiles.  Marilyn was in first grade at Lincoln Elementary, where Janie was in fifth grade.  Suzanne was four years old.

Janie loved playing with them, and she would love the ride back from Matheson with the two older girls with them.  She was glad that Babe wanted to come along, too, because the 50 mile drive seemed like an eternity for a girl just three weeks away from her 11th birthday.  And since Uncle Steve was deaf there would have only been conversation with Cynthia. Even though Janie loved playing with the younger girls, 50 miles with a three-year old could get old pretty quick.

It was just a little after 12:00 when Uncle Steve had the car headed east on Highway 24 to Matheson, a small town in the middle of  the eastern plains of Colorado.  Babe  flipped through the Highlights for Children magazine that he had brought along.  He liked the Word Search games and his third grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary always let him do those when he finished his lessons.  He and Janie would race to see who could find each word first.  He held the magazine in his lap and Cynthia and Janie were pointing at pictures, the younger one pretending to read the words.

—–

Betty checked the kitchen clock and then slid the birthday cake in the oven. Her daughter Deb turned two today, and they would have cake later when Janie got back.

—–

It always seems that the wind is blowing out here, Uncle Steve thought to himself, his eyes sweeping over the brown prairie at the grasses waving in the wind.  He was so busy surveying the prairie that he almost missed the turn off to the dirt road that led to his father-in-law’s farm.

“Whoa,” Janie and Babe squealed as the car slowed suddenly and made the turn north, past the Post Office, on the county road.  They laughed as they tumbled into each other, the Highlights magazine sliding off of Babe’s lap and onto the floorboard.  Janie squeezed Cynthia to keep her from tumbling off the seat, too.

They giggled again as the car bumped over the railroad tracks that paralleled Highway 24.  They watched the prairie, excited that they were only about five minutes from getting the girls.

Marilyn, the oldest of the three girls, saw the dust cloud behind their father’s car first, even before she saw his black car emerge from the little dip in the dirt road, as he speeded up the road to her Grandpa’s house.  She called out to her grandparents and her other sister, Suzanne, that their dad was almost there.  Their grandmother grabbed the little suitcase with their clothes and their dolls and set it on the front porch.

—–

Betty checked the clock and saw that it was almost 1:30.  They’d just be getting there, she thought, and then calculated in her head that Steve would stay to talk for a few minutes and then get back on the road. She figured they would pull in to her driveway around 3:30.  Maybe a little before.  As she was taking the cake out of the oven, her oldest son, Steve, came into the kitchen.

“I thought you were staying downtown to see the movie.”

“Ahh Jimmy never showed up.  I stood outside of the theatre all the way through the first movie.  He never showed.”  Steve’s two youngest siblings, Phil and Deb, were playing at the kitchen table.  “Can I drive the car in the driveway?”

“I guess so,” his mom said.  “But when Janie gets back, we’ll have dinner and then birthday cake.”

—–

Grandpa Lamm called the five kids over to the car as his wife hugged their son-in-law at the driver side door.  The children all scrambled to get in the car.  Marilyn and Cynthia climbed into the front seat. Cynthia sat between her dad and her older sister, who had her arm around her while they played with the hand-made rag dolls their grandma had given them during the visit.  Cynthia was too tiny to even see over the dashboard, and Marilyn was just barely tall enough to see out of the passenger side window.  Marilyn was sure her baby sister – tucked under left arm and snuggling against her — would be asleep not long after they got on the highway into town.

Janie jumped into the back and slid over behind Uncle Steve.  Babe boosted Suzanne into the car. Janie tugged her over close as Babe climbed in and shut the rear door.  They all waved to Grandma and Grandpa Lamm as Steve backed up, swung the Studebaker around, and headed back to County Road 149.

Uncle Steve checked his watch, 1:45, and knew he’d make it back toColorado Springsaround 3:15. He accelerated south down the straight county road toward Matheson.

In the back seat, Babe flipped through the Highlights magazine.  Janie and Suzanne were laughing and giggling as they pulled at the golden yarn pony-tails of the handmade doll in the calico dress.  Little farm-girl rag dolls.

Babe looked out of his passenger side window when he heard the train’s warning horn blow. A flicker of sunlight flashed off the silver and maroon front of the east-bound Rock IslandRocket.  He looked over at his Uncle whose eyes were fixed straight ahead of him down the dirt road.  Babe glanced back at the speeding train which was just passing the grain elevator.

“Train!” Babe yelled as he lunged to tap his Uncle’s shoulder.  The four girls looked up at the sound of their cousin’s voice. Janie shot a glance at Babe across the back seat and saw only the flash of silver light.

—–

A little after 3:15, Betty had finished frosting the cake.

Her son, Steve, was still outside driving his parents’ 1951 Buick.  At 13, he was just a few years from getting his license and his parents let him practice driving the car up and down the driveway, maybe pulling out onCascade Avenueto turn around before heading back down the gravel driveway.

Betty checked the clock again.  They should be pulling into the driveway any time now.

Steve reached the end of the driveway just as a different black car was trying to pull in.  Steve put the car in reverse, stretched his right arm out on the back of the front seat, and began creeping down the driveway in reverse.  He’d glance at the car following him, making sure they were noticing how well he was driving, and then direct his eyes back to the rear-view mirror or check over his right shoulder.

When he got to the side of the house, he put the car in park and rolled down his window, his expression was between a cocky smirk and a confident smile.  He hoped the people in the car were as impressed with his driving skills as he was.  He didn’t know who was in the car, probably some friends of his parents, and they didn’t look happy at all.

An older woman in the back seat rolled down her window.

“Steve, Janie is dead.”

Steve staggered out of the car stuck somewhere between disorientation and disbelief.  “What?”

“Where is your mother?  Janie was killed.”

Steve headed into the kitchen where Betty was finishing up with the cake.  His sister, Deb, and his younger brother, Phil, were playing around at the kitchen table.

“Mom, some lady’s outside.  She said Janie’s dead.”

Betty spun from the kitchen sink.  “Oh no, not my Janie!”  Deb and Phil recoiled at the shrill sound of their mother’s voice.  Eli, who had been watching TV in the living room, ran to the kitchen at the sound of his wife’s scream.  She stood trembling, crying, and stared in shock and disbelief at Steve who delivered the news that shaped the course of my family.

.  Four days later, on a grey and overcast Wednesday morning, six coffins were arranged in a row at theEvergreenCemeteryjust south of downtownColorado Springs.  Five of the coffins were of the size that signaled something terrible happened – five coffins, each small enough to only hold a child, lined up for interment.

Family members sat with friends behind them on cold, hard metal folding chairs as the Lutheran minister laid the children to rest with words that would never soothe the hearts of the mothers or the minds of the fathers who had lost their children.

 

 

The Cat and the Hat and I are the same age

Posted in Observations, Teaching, Writing on April 10, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

One recent morning, in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday earlier in the month, I was privileged to read to students at Carver Elementary School in Colorado Springs. I could have chosen any appropriate book, really, to read to the students, but I wasn’t sure which grades would be my audience. As I looked at the choices in the media center, my eyes were drawn to an old favorite: The Cat in the Hat. Even though before I chose the book I was told that I would be reading to a 2nd grade class, then a 4th grade class and I would wrap up with a class of kindergarteners, I stayed with my gut decision. How could the good Dr. let me down with The Cat?

I was proven right. The experience was different for each class, and it was a valuable experience for us all. I was remind — and reminded the 2nd and 4th graders — that you cannot get tired of a book you love. We had all had experiences with the book…but we are older and different now, I told them. I love to re-read a favorite book. They all things to share, too about the book: new insights and favorite memories.

The kindergarteners were wide-eyed and a bit in awe of a 6’4″ man whom they had never met before read them an unfamiliar book. But they loved it..this mischievous cat, a talking fish, two kids flying kites in the house, and waiting for mother to get home.

The book has withstood the test of time, of course, and reminds us the power of language, the appeal of rhyme and of illustrations, and, as evidenced by the engaged look of the 4th graders and the thoughtful comments they had about a well-known story, being read to never grows old.

Here’s to another 54 years, Cat.

Writing Shifts Thinking

Posted in Writing on April 10, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

The Text, The Tweet, and Ernest Hemingway

Posted in Teaching, Writing on March 25, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

I suppose my passion for Hemingway first surfaced in college when Dr. Zoellner (about whom I have written earlier on this blog) taught several of Hemingway’s short stories in freshman English. Of course, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” was on the list, and we may have read “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” Later it was For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Despite all the criticism leveled at Hemingway, I was intrigued by his writing; what male wouldn’t be: bull fights, fist fights, African safaris, fishing the banks of the Two Hearted River. Growing up in the midst of the feminist movement impacted perspective, naturally, and probably for the good.

When I went on to actually teach some Hemingway, I found a text called The Hemingway Review published by Ohio Northern University. The only edition I have is the Spanish Civil War Issue which includes Hemingway’s 30 NANA Dispatches. I don’t know how else to say it…the book is pretty cool and has become sort of a prized treasure of mine. In it, the editors explore Hemingway’s cable dispatches as he covered the Spanish Civil War. The discuss The Field Notes that led up to the dispatch: “The writing of a dispatch usually began with field notes of some sort. Either in a notebook or on quarter-folded pieces of paper , Hemingway jotted down his observations as he went along” (93). Later, he drafted his story “sometimes in a cablese style adopted by correspondents to cut down on cable costs by reducing the word count” (93). One set of his notes turned into the short story “Old Man at the Bridge.” Other observations that he made were notes used in For Whom the Bell Tolls. (In fact, in creative writing classes, I used to hand students a piece of paper folded into quarters and then take them on a walk around the building to make notes. Homework that weekend was to take more quarter-folded sheets and head to the mall, a restaurant, the street corner and take notes. We’d draft some into poems or stories later.)

I had been thinking for the past several months how Hemingway would have used platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Instead of his notes on folded paper, he may have sent Tweets from his phone directly from his location. Give him 160 characters (to type — not to develop) and see what sparse prose Hemingway would craft. Then I read the NY Times Op-Ed piece posted by Jim Burke on Facebook: Teaching to the Text Message. Andy Selsberg makes terrific points about precision and eloquence. His examples of what types of shorter writings can be valuable for our students to try are authentic types of writing that students encounter every day and probably produce every day as well. I see a plethora of opportunities for students produce concise writings that are rich, eloquent, and demonstrate a command of language to express a sharp insight or make a precise observation of the world around them.

Instead of saying “put your cell phone away,” I may be asking students to take them out and text me their responses.

A Conversation with Tim O’Brien on Writing & War

Posted in Writing on March 9, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

Prose Poem

Posted in Observations, People, Writing on November 7, 2010 by Vince.Puzick

I watch her snap the skateboard’s tail to the street just like her boyfriend does, mount it, one foot at a time, steady herself and roll to the corner. Her right foot steps off, kicks twice, three times, and she accelerates, soundlessly, her black hoodie flapping like wings by her own breeze. I wave at her back, she kicks again, accelerates, her boyfriend waits at school, she’s a silhoutte obscured by the neighbor’s trees, kicks again, rolls, gone. I take a backward step on the porch, my hand on the railing, think I hear her wheels rolling, hear her distancing herself in the cool autumn morning.

Inscription: Writers I Have Met (DRAFT)

Posted in Arts and Creativity, People, Teaching, Writing on November 2, 2010 by Vince.Puzick

So I was at the CLAS conference this past weekend and one of the speakers kept mentioning names of various writers she had met, their little quirks, maybe a nugget about their approach to writing. It wasn’t name-dropping to impress her listeners, necessarily, and by the end of the presentation you realized how incredibly rich of an experience, in sum, she had meeting these writers. So it got me to thinking…who are the writers I have met and what is the sum impact of those encounters?

The first two writers I met were at the same event in Denver in 1977. I first met Yusef Komunyakaa when he was a student at CSU and was attending a poetry reading by Adrienne Rich. I went to the event with Victoria McCabe, a poetry instructor at UCCS. We met other folks from CSU, too, including Bill Tremblay, an English professor. The encounter with Rich was brief and uneventful. A quick introduction and she was gone. After the reading, though, Victoria and I went to somebody’s apartment and talked about Rich, poetry, and, no doubt, the state of the world. I was 20, working in a factory in Colorado Springs, and taking a class or two at UCCS. Later, when I had returned to CSU, Komunyakaa wrote in his chapbook, Dedications & Other Dark Horses, “To Vince — Hopefully this book gives you a glimpse into the eyes that I see through. Hopefully I am where the heart takes root, where the blues begins in all of us. Yusef K.”

Although it is not a “meet” the author encounter, this is a pretty cool story. In 1981, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I read with interest the announcement about a poetry reading in Cody’s Bookstore in Berkeley — a bit of a drive from Palo Alto, but worth it. The poet reading: Adrienne Rich. I made the drive over and listened to her read — this rather small, Jewish woman, who moves me with her poetry. She signed her book A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far. In 1986, when I was in the Stanford Teacher Education Program, Adrienne Rich was a guest professor. I went to one of her lectures, sat way in the back, and at the end of her class session, went down to her podium. Reintroduced myself to her and explained I had seen her in 1977, 1981, and now. She laughed, held my outstretched hand for a beat or two after the shake had finished, and we went our separate ways.

Two years later, in March of 1988, I heard Yusef Komunyakaa read in San Francisco. He was, by then, a professor at Indiana University. He was on his way to winning the Pulitzer Prize. In my copy of Dedications he wrote “For Vince — Here in California where the light brings out the hidden images. Peace & Magic, Yusef”

I had a long drought of book signings in the 1990’s. It wasn’t until the summer of 1999 that my inscriptions took on a new momentum. At that time, I was teaching English at Palmer High School and had the opportunity to go to San Antonio as one of 26 teachers selected for the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute. The focus was Mexican-American Literature and Culture in the Classroom. It was a seminal summer for my teaching / education career.

At that Institute, I was honored to meet Rudolfo Anaya who inscribed my copy of Bless Me, Ultima — one of my favorite novels to teach. He wrote “Vince – A Great Future! Rudolfo Anaya” I met other Latino and Latina authors as well: Pat Mora who wrote Aunt Carmen’s Book of Practical Saints and inscribed my copy with ‘For Vince, Joy! Pat Mora July 1999.” Cristina Garcia, in her lovely novel about three generations of Cuban women called Dreaming in Cuban, inscribed “To Vince, Good luck with your writing. Cristina Garcia.” A young writer named Sergio Troncoso wrote “To Vince: I hope you enjoy these stories about the moral character of my community in El Paso. Sergio” Elva Trevino Hart, in Barefoot Heart / Stories of a Migrant Child, wrote “For Vince — from my heart & hands to yours– with Love, Elva 7/17/99.”

One of my favorite inscriptions is in Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. I told her the copy was for my daughter, Jessica, and she wrote “Para La Jessica. Felicidades! Many happinesses to you today — always. Sandra Cisneros. July 9. 99.” A few weeks later I was honored to have dinner with Ms. Cisneros. I was encouraged by the professor who proposed the NEH Summer Institute to contact Cisneros. I emailed her and waited. She replied. We could go to dinner Saturday night. Well, the conference was over Friday night and I was driving back to Colorado Springs the next day. She replied we could go Friday, but it would have to be after her dance class. We agreed to meet at a local smokehouse. I was a bit surprised at her choice. When I showed up at the restaurant, I was only mildly surprised that she had a chaperone. It was her house painter who, she explained, was there because she did not like to meet people alone. I could understand. Our conversation ranged from Mango Street, to the act of writing, to the fact that it is difficult to be a teacher AND a writer at the same time because the creative energy is aimed at creating engaging lesson plans not on the writing a writer may choose to do.

When I talked briefly with her about Mango Street she said “it seems so long ago that I wrote it” and that echoed the sentiments expressed by Anaya when I spoke with him about Bless Me, Ultima. For novelists, those works are old news. At this point, Mango Street was 15 years old (published in 1984) and Ultima was 27 years old (1972). Talking about these works, they both showed the pride similar to that of a parent for a child with the recognition, too, that lives move on. Cisneros was just working on Caramelo. Anaya was working on mysteries. What they did talk about was commitment, to routine, to dedicating time to writing every day.

The poets, on the other hand, were a bit more … immediate … in their response. Poets see the world through image, or insight, or impulse, or maybe an intuitive moment. In two lines, the poet expresses an image, an inspiration.

So the impact of those encounters…these encounters with writers let me know that craft is the result of work. Writers write.

Some "natural drifts" from this morning

Posted in Arts and Creativity, Observations, People, Writing on June 24, 2010 by Vince.Puzick

I’m not sure if watering by hand is more economical than watering by sprinkler system, but I know it is more therapeutic.  During the 30 minutes of watering my lawn and plants this morning, I was able to get clarity on a work issue, enjoy the cool transition offered at sunrise, notice the three buds about to bloom on one rose bush (and two other buds on a second rose bush), think about my daughter’s approaching 17th birthday, and consider the day spent yesterday with the friend (not “a friend” but THE friend).  The automaticity of a sprinkler system just doesn’t cut it.

***************

Rush Limbaugh is a dangerous guy.  He has no accountability for anything he says, so he can say, propose, recommend anything he wants without repercussion.  And that’s fine, really, since he is a talk show personality and can enjoy the freedoms of voicing his views and opinions, but he is still dangerous.  At some point, I will write a longer critique of his program (his continuous resorting to ad hominem attacks, his amazing ability to state an opinion as fact, his faulty assmptions), but I don’t want it to taint my day by thinking about it too much this morning.  However, while I am here, I recalled today that about six weeks ago (or so), he said that the oil in the gulf amounted to little more than “seepage” and, more recently, that the ocean would simply absorb the oil in a relatively natural, efficient, and effective manner.  The true danger, he says is when the oil reaches the sandy beaches and marshlands.  Seems like a bit beyond the effects of mere seepage from my perspective.  (Note:  some of my fellow liberal and moderate friends think I am crazy for listening to Rush on a frequent basis.  I like to think of it as knowing thy enemy. If you can’t know the opposition’s argument, how can you know where the threat is?)

**************

My own “worst” critic.  Sometimes I tend to be a tad hard on myself:  the yard isn’t quite right; the car’s alignment wouldn’t be off if I had done “something” different (as if I can prevent potholes and the washboard road in 11 mile canyon); the kitchen floor could be a bit shinier, etc.  If a friend was telling me about these things, I would be kind and gentle and reassuring.  Instead, I am my own “best” critic — I don’t miss a thing!  I’m going to be kind and gentle and reassuring to my own Self and Soul today.

In Memoriam: Dr. Zoellner

Posted in Observations, People, Teaching, Writing on March 21, 2010 by Vince.Puzick

I was a late bloomer when it came to academics.  I didn’t go to college right out of high school, and when I did enter Colorado State University in the spring semester of 1976, I was enrolled in Dr. Robert Zoellner’s Intro to Literature class.  It was the first of four semesters I would have with him during my college career.

During that first semester, we read what could be deemed pretty typical fare in college freshman literature classes:  a novel or two, a handful of short stories, some poetry, a play.  Grades were based on a mid-term and a final essay, written in class, in blue books.  I’ll never forget Dr. Zoellner’s comment scrawled across the last page of my exam:  “Mr. Puzick, You have a fine mind for literature. Your analysis of Rich‘s “Orion” is by far one of the best in the class (I am at the bottom of the stack), but your discussion of Hamlet, on the other hand, is weak and perfunctory.  You were clearly rushed for time.”  I remember going to the dictionary, first, and looking up the word “perfunctory” — a word not used by many of my high school friends or college dorm peers!  His words stick with me today because they set the tone and expectations for my own study of literature for the next 3.5 years (and beyond — into my own classroom teaching):  commit to your interpretation, be passionate in your expression of that interpretation, and watch the clock.

At this year’s Colorado Language Arts Society’s Spring Conference, I learned from Dr. Bill McBride that Dr. Zoellner had died.  I didn’t catch the date of his death, but Dr. McBride said that there were no funeral services, no obituary, no notice except for a few phone calls from the office secretary to a handful of his colleagues.  He said Dr. Zoellner’s last few years were painful — hunched over from physical conditions, a painfully slow gait, isolated from others.  I think Dr. Zoellner was a troubled soul — and it saddens me because of the impact he had on my life.

Dr. Zoellner was either loved or hated by his students.  I doubt any students could have had either a “neutral” or “moderate”opinion of him.  He was old-school in his approach to literature but taught me the power in close reading and explication de texte.  All that mattered to Zoellner was what was on the page, between the covers, in the body of the work.  And he was, no doubt, a chauvinist.  In 1976 and beyond, many of the female students in my classes found him coarse, crude, offensive.  I do not question nor doubt their feelings and perceptions of him.  While he could certainly teach the likes of Rich, he was at his best with Melville (see Zoellner’s “The Salt-sea Mastodon“), Hemingway and Robert Penn Warren.  And Faulkner.  The man could teach Faulkner.

If my memory is correct, each course I took from Zoellner was at 8:00 a.m. MWF.  He was usually on time, walking in either right at 8:00 or maybe a minute or two late.  If he came in late, as soon as he crossed the threshold, he would offer an apology — or mutter it might more accurately express his tone.  If he had not put out his cigarette before coming in the building, he disposed of it right when he came in the class.  At times, his eyes were a little bloodshot, weary, but intense.  He stood about 5’8″, maybe a little taller, and had short cropped light brown hair.  He was old school. He was blue-collar in his approach to life and to work. He could have just walked out of the Gates Rubber Plant in Denver.  He’d plop his book down on the table, turn to wherever we last left off or wherever he might want to start that day, and begin working his way through the text.  Discussion was minimal — usually non-existent.  Perhaps a question or two to the class and then back into the text.  Classroom relationships were not his forte.

The other three courses I had with Zoellner were Survey of American Literature (from 1917 – 1945 and then 1945 to the present) and English 505: Major Authors: Faulkner.  We studied something like nine novels that semester.  I was the only senior in the course; the rest were graduate students.  On the Friday before spring break, Dr. Zoellner asked the class what we should read over the break.  Nobody had a response.  “What would you like to devote your time to over the next nine days,” he asked again.  Leaning back in my chair, I blurted out “The Hamlet.”  Heads turned and eyes glared.  Coming in at about 450 pages, it wasn’t a popular choice among my classmates.  “Great choice, Vincent.  The Hamlet it is.”

I  had gone to Dr. Zoellner at the beginning of that last semester, the Major Authors’ semester, and for some reason felt it necessary to tell him that I had taken his courses four semesters and not once had he called me by name. When he actually said my name in the last semester of my undergraduate career, I felt somehow acknowledged. I suppose I looked to him as a mentor, certainly in his handling and negotiating of challenging texts, and felt somehow I had arrived (even if I had to ask!).

I had gone to him earlier, too, in the beginning of my senior year, and asked his advice as to whether I should enter the professional semester for secondary education.  He suggested that I graduate and then head out of Colorado.  Head to LA, he said, or Chicago, or New York — somewhere there were home offices for large corporations.  See what it was like in the business world or the world outside of education.  “Schools will always be around.  See what else your liberal arts degree will bring you.”

I took his advice.  Graduated from CSU in May of 1981, travelled west to the Silicon Valley, worked for five years in the private industry, and then recognized my own need to work in the world of education.  I contacted Dr. Zoellner to see if he would write a letter of recommendation for graduate school.  “Certainly, I will,” he said, “sure thing, Vincent.”

When I entered CSU in January of 1976, I was a confused 18-year old.  I didn’t know my place — shifting course from factory work to college campuses more than once — and didn’t really have a destination in mind.  Dr. Zoellner helped shape the direction my life was to take.  To think of his last days and years as disconnected, pained, and isolated hurts my own soul.  Thank you, Dr. Zoellner, for the literature you taught but more importantly for the guidance you gave when you least suspected it.

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