Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Afternoon with the Texas Poet Laureate

I am blessed, that's really all I can say.

This summer, I am teaching creative writing for the first time, which is, of course, something I've always wanted to do, although I admit that I've felt a little overwhelmed with the task of piecing together a curriculum that actually encourages and fosters creativity in college students. On my first day of class, I entered the classroom thinking, Oh my goodness what the heck did I get myself into?!?! These students, unlike the freshmen I typically work with, wanted to get something out of the class, something more than a grade. They had expectations. I couldn't let them down.

Well, after a few days in class, I received a curious Facebook message from Jan Seale, the 2012 Texas poet laureate, asking me to call her. Now, I've been to a few of Jan's readings, we've exchanged polite conversation, and she's a bit of a literary celebrity. I called her right away, wondering why SHE would want to talk to ME.

She invites me over to her house, saying that she has something she'd like to give me. Hurriedly, I scribble down her address and she says to swing by her house after I finish teaching the next day. How can I refuse such an invitation?

I'm so nervous and giddy when the time comes that I ask my husband to take me, so off we go to her house. When Jan greeted us at her front door and invites us in for tea, the nerves mysteriously disappear.

For the next two or so hours, we chat about everything from love, work, the writing life, books, our families, and finally, teaching. Jan and I have so much in common; it's hard to believe we're from different generations. She, too, taught at UTPA, and for many years. She founded The Gallery, the student-run literary journal that I was the chief editor for back in 2007. She worked on RiverSedge, which I now work on, too. She's friends with the president of the university and we exchange stories about him. She, too, got her start teaching junior high. She, too, was a "child bride." (Ok, not "child" so much as we both tied the knot when we were 18)

Well, she asks me how my teaching is going. I tell her that I'm beyond thrilled to be teaching creative writing, though a little intimidated, lost, and overwhelmed. Jan smiles and nods her head as though she understands (I'm sure she did!). She tells me that's why she invited me over. How could she have known? It turns out, she didn't, it was a lucky coincidence and maybe a little bit of fate/ divine intervention.

Jan tells me that she wants to give me her "life's work" of poetry teaching and workshop materials. I look over at Bruno, wide-eyed, ecstatic. "Really? Are you sure?"

She explains that she doesn't plan on teaching much anymore, and that she wanted to pass all of her notes, examples, handouts, books and journals onto someone who could use them. She has everything neatly stacked in a box, organized, set out just for me. I can't believe her generosity and promise to give her collections a good home. We hug the most wonderful hug as Bruno packs up the car with the gifts. Jan watches at the window, a little sad to see her "babies" go.

I've begun going through the materials and they're golden, not only for myself as a teacher but as a writer as well. It's absolutely invaluable and I'm still in awe at how she's given them to me, entrusted me to continue this work. I'm really just beginning as a writer and teacher, and having Jan as a mentor and friend is just such a gift. I promise to visit, to let her know how my first semester goes and to keep in touch. Someday, I want to grow up to be like Jan, if only I can be so fortunate.  Someday, I hope I can pay it forward and help some lost, confused, and young creative writing teacher find her way, just like Jan's done for me.