Writing is easy. You just open up a vein and bleed onto the page.
I’m paragraphing Moyle Q. Rice, an unparalleled professor at Utah State University who taught many things but who taught creative writing with passion and heart. I thought of him this week because someone reminded me that I have been making my living with words for 28 years now.
When I stumbled — hopeful and stupid — into his creative writing class so many years ago , he could well have quashed any glimmer of hope I had about writing. I was terrible. I still remember the red pen notes he wrote on my short stories. The first one said: “Don’t make a crusade of it, but brush up on the rules of punctuation.”
Isn’t that generous and helpful? As were all his red-ink notes. I looked forward to reading them because he was encouraging and direct. There are some who would take great pains to circle every comma-spliced sentence and misused semicolon, every overindulgent exclamation point and unfortunately deployed elipsis. Moyle, with his fey smile, had no interest in crushing souls.
He saw something in me and nursed it along, not as professor to student, but as reader to writer. He took his students seriously, although he was funny and ironic and took very little in life seriously. He nudged me toward the best in myself.
And he wasn’t the only one. USU in the those years harbored another brilliant soul, Kenneth Brewer who wrote and taught poetry and who knew that meaning is slippery and that words paired in certain ways could change everything.
I did not know before I took classes from Kenneth Brewer that trees could speak of heartbreak and birds could speak of leaving and that water could tear down the fabric of the soul. As a poet, he was a master of evoking mood in his own writing with nary an emotion mentioned and he was as nuanced in his teaching. He would hold back when you were broken, but push you hard when you were slacking.
They didn’t know, and neither did I, that I would become a journalist. But they laid the foundation. They gave me the tools. You wouldn’t necessarily think that poetry and creative writing come into play in journalism. But they do. The art of writing headlines corresponds with poetry. Meter and line length matter. And narrative arc matters in a news story just as it does in fiction.
Ken and Moyle have moved on to other realms. I miss them. And I salute all the teachers/professors/mentors out there who understand how to keep a student’s dreams alive, while giving them the tools to grow. It’s difficult, beautiful, worthy work.