(This is a re-post of a blog I wrote 5 years ago today.)
Maybe it’s the time of year. Maybe it’s the sad state of my yard. Maybe it’s the sight of tulips blooming and redbuds flowering. Maybe it’s the amazing gardens I toured on my mini-vacation this past week.
It’s springtime, and I’ve been thinking about seeds, and the act of planting them.
Obviously, seeds require a variety of things to grow: water, good soil, sunshine. Planting the seed is a pretty minor event in the life of a tree or flower. Some plants die when mowed down or hit with the Weed Eater, or when the last frost blasts them with the final echoes of winter, or when the growing season is too wet or too dry. Even after the seed is in the ground, a lot of things can damage it, or kill it completely. Sometimes the person who planted it deliberately nurtures the seed and takes pride in the results. But sometimes, the planter simply walks away, and doesn’t know or care what happens to the seed after the moment it was put in the ground.
But this blog post isn’t about all of the variables that can help or harm a plant’s growth, although they are important. This blog post is about the symbol of human beings planting seeds in all areas of life, whether by accident or by design.
Someone planted a writing seed in my mind. He probably didn’t plan to do it, had no idea that he had done so, and may not have even cared that he did. I won’t mention his name because I’m not sure if he would be flattered or horrified that I wrote about him on a romance author’s blog.
In January 1984, 18 year-old me took an honors English course as part of a university requirement. The course was designed to review literature from the end of the ancient classics (Greek, Roman, etc.) through the Renaissance. If I remember correctly, I don’t think this professor was even supposed to teach the class, but there was an overflow of students, so another section of the course was created. It was a small class – 5 or 6 people. I’m not sure the professor—I’ll call him Dr.X—was too thrilled about teaching freshmen. He listened to our comments and questions with a smug tolerance that most people typically reserve for use with toddlers. But I developed a grudging respect for him and for his opinions over the semester.
About March, he gave an assignment to answer some question about Dante’s “Inferno”. I actually enjoyed reading Dante’s “Inferno”, but I had no idea how to begin this paper. I ended up writing and embellishing the dialogue of a dream I had, where a recently deceased friend (a sweet older lady) took me through the levels of Hell, explaining each one in her own unique words and with her feisty, indomitable spirit. I thought the paper was probably crap, but I turned it in anyway. It was painstakingly typewritten (no word processing in those days – geez, I’m such a dinosaur!), and perhaps a little silly.
When I got it back, there were a few ink marks on it. I think he gave it a low A. But one comment leaped off the page at me. Near the top, right under the grade, he wrote,
“You show signs of being a writer. Original essay.”
It was like someone hit me upside the head. Dr. X thought I had the potential to be a writer. Me! Of all people!
I don’t think it was idle praise; Dr. X didn’t give idle praise. It was constructive feedback paired with encouragement—a specific feature he liked (originality), with a statement that there could be more where that came from.
Over the years, I played at writing, fiddled with writing, wrote to work out anger and confusion and grief. Every time I disparaged my writing (and I did so frequently), a little voice in the back of my brain whispered, “Dr. X said you showed signs of being a writer, remember?”
And that one comment, that little seed, opened up an intellectual and emotional outlet I had never considered viable. I wonder how many other lives he touched that way over the years?
I never had Dr. X for another class, never saw him again after the semester was over. He didn’t ‘nurture’ me; he didn’t encourage me along the way; he didn’t constructively critique me. He’s not the reason I kept writing. He wasn’t my mentor or my friend or my inspiration by any stretch of the imagination.
He just planted a seed, all those years ago.
And it changed my life.