Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Shout Out to My Cheerleaders

This past week, I learned one of my English professors, Victor Macaruso, passed away. And this prompted me to think of those still alive who support my writing.

The last time I met Victor was in 2002 when I returned to my alma mater, Mount Senario College. He taught one of my English Composition classes and I’ll always remember his exuberance. This was not a man who stood in one spot and lectured. He moved about, gesticulating and speaking animatedly, sharing his enthusiasm.

Then, the Mount was struggling to remain open. Sadly, it closed a few months after my visit, a statistic among other liberal arts colleges facing the same challenge. Even when I attended, there were ominous rumblings.

Despite the uncertainty, I don’t regret attending Mount Senario. Yes, the machinations of the administration were worthy of reality TV, which didn’t exist then. Those who attempted to stay out of the fray often found themselves lambasted for not choosing sides or choosing the wrong side. And in this maelstrom, I found two people who were among the first and earliest champions of my writing: English professor Rachel Matheis and writer Brian Oppenheimer.

Rachel taught Composition I and American literature. Shortly upon her arrival to the Mount, I attended her poetry reading at ChaliceStream, a dance studio run by Barry Lynn and Michael Doran (who deserve a blog post of their own). As a college freshman who wrote poetry in high school and briefly studied ballet, these performances inspired me to continue pursuing creative projects, especially (then) music and poetry.

Rachel was responsible for my moving to Louisville, being a former resident herself. I think she wanted me to meet other authors, something she probably believed I couldn’t do in northern Wisconsin. (Remember, this was before Facebook and Twitter.) :-)

We’re still friends. She reads my work and gives her honest, if sometimes brutal, opinion. And I may wail and gnash teeth. Guess what? We can do that to each other. She knows I’m listening to her feedback and, deep down, I can handle her honesty.

Like Rachel, Brian Oppenheimer had a connection with Mount Senario (financial donor) and ChaliceStream. I met him at one of Michael and Barry’s dance concerts, perhaps even at Rachel’s poetry reading. (Don’t recall. Sorry.)

Brian believed in writing the Great American Screenplay. He encouraged me to turn from poetry and short story writing to scriptwriting. But I wasn’t convinced at first. When it became evident my literary writing and journalistic careers were going the way of the crumpled manuscript papers in the waste bin, I thought why not give it a try? In 2004, I wrote my first full-length screenplay. By this time, Brian had moved to LA, selling and optioning scripts. Yet he never stopped encouraging me, even letting me rant when I feared I was a failure as a writer. We shared stories of success and defeat, cheering each other on when it seemed no one else would. Like Rachel, he would assess my screenplays and give his honest opinion. And while I still write the occasional script, digital publishing has opened the doors for my short novels, a form I feel comfortable writing in. However, this doesn’t mean I won’t submit my screenplays. :-)

So thanks, Rachel and Brian, for putting up with my idiosyncrasies and for not giving up on me when I gave up on myself. Your support is much appreciated.

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