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Question of the Month: Promise

by Susan Henderson on September 1, 2008

Tell me a story about someone seeing promise in you. What did they see, and how did this affect you?

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Welcome back to all of you who took the summer off!

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Due to major technical difficulties, which kept me locked out of LitPark last month, I can’t feature my talk with a literary agent just yet. I wasn’t able to get to the places where I store my interview notes until recently, and I didn’t want to jam my guest with too tight a deadline.

I promise you we will have this interview as soon as I can reschedule it. But this Wednesday we’re going to do a little Where Are They (and You) Now? Be sure to stop by!

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolyn_Burns_Bass September 1, 2008 at 11:18 am

Wow, I’ve never been the first to leave my footprints in the sand at LitPark. What fun.

My first grade teacher–the one who tied me to my chair because I wiggled and giggled too much in class–asked me to stay after school one day. I was terrified that I’d really done something bad. When all of the kids had left the room, she pulled out a paint-by-number set and told me that she was giving this to me because I loved to paint. She told me it had been her son’s. Earlier in the year we’d learned that her son had been killed in a place with a weird name: Viet Nam.

While growing up I told everyone I wanted to be an artist, a painter. I wanted to pay back the promise Mrs. Jenkins saw in me. To do it though, I had to change the medium from paint, brushes and canvas, to letters, words and paper. Mrs. Jenkins will always hold a special place in my heart.

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SusanHenderson September 1, 2008 at 1:17 pm

Hi Carolyn! I think between the hurricane and so many folks out for Labor Day, the stories are going to roll in much more slowly. Your teacher really tied you to your chair? With what, and how often? What a full and complicated picture you paint of her, and how much she must have thought of you to give you something that had belonged to her son.

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LaurenBaratzLogsted September 1, 2008 at 2:32 pm

When I was 12, a teacher gave us an assignment to write a story about a nurse, a camel, and a priest. My resulting story prompted my teacher to read it to the class three days running. It was the first time the thought occurred to me that I had stories to tell that people might want to hear.

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frankish September 1, 2008 at 3:18 pm

An English teacher encouraged me to enter a writing contest. Although they loved the winning puff piece about a cute cat, she felt I should keep writing. My second place entry touched her and she said it would be a shame if I let the loss discourage me. Her words stayed with me through these three decades.

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Aurelio September 1, 2008 at 4:46 pm

There have been several people in my life who have seen promise in me, unfortunately, my own parents were not among them. I was raised to keep personal ambitions to myself. In my parents’ household, ambition was given a pursed-lipped, sideways glance and was tacitly labeled egotism: if you think you are good at something, it really means that you think you are better than others.

My desire to go to art school upon graduating from high school was met with this same deliberate disinterest, but I applied anyway. I got accepted to CalARTS, despite its very competitive qualification process (they accepted only 24 students into my program that year.) I was thrilled. I was also on my own, financially. I had applied for and secured a couple of scholarships, scrimped every penny I could, but was still a few hundred dollars short of making my tuition.

With mere days to go before I had to cough up the bucks or lose my spot, and all potential revenue sources exhausted, I swallowed hard and turned to my folks for help, already knowing their response, but still being reduced to tears upon hearing their answer. My dreams utterly shattered, I faced salvaging my life knowing that my single greatest opportunity at realizing my dreams had just been killed.

That same night, I was invited over to dinner by a friend. At the dinner, which was also attended by a few other friends, I was told that they had all talked about it and agreed that I had to go to art school. That it was my destiny. None of them had much money, some were students themselves, but they had pooled their resources and gave me exactly the amount I needed to meet my tuition, no strings attached.

What I was given that day was not those few hundred dollars. I was given nothing less than my self-worth. I was given permission to believe in and follow my dreams. Their gift has seen me through everything since.

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aimeepalooza September 1, 2008 at 5:17 pm

I always managed to get good grades in English but my English teachers hated me. I was a dark depressed middle school girl and refused to write shiny, happy papers. I wrote about mental illness, Mother’s killing their children….on and on. So, in 8th grade we had a surprise test. It included a section on basic grammar and a section where we could write whatever we wanted. We were given an hour, but I only got a half hour because I was sick the day the test was given. The test was graded blind by a high school teacher who was starting a pilot advanced English program. He picked 20 out of a class of close to 300 kids. He picked me. A total dark horse. Not in with the nerdy crowd and not a favorite of middle school English teachers. When my 8th grade teacher found out she said, “I hope you don’t fail out.” Yup, she said that to me, because I got in and many of her favorites did not.
The first project in his class was to write something Poe-ish. Perfect for me. I got the only A in the entire class. It was the first time someone allowed me to be dark and the first time someone got past WHAT I wrote to appreciate that it had been well written. It was also the first time anyone told me I was a talented writer. He changed me forever.

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass September 1, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Yes, the chair story is true. Remember those little-girl dresses that tie behind the back? Mrs. Jenkins untied my bow and tied it around the chair. I can picture the exact layout of that classroom, where I sat, and what she looked like. Of course, today this would be considered cruel and unusual punishment to a child, but hey, this was 1964 and I was a chatty wiggle-worm who was always being asked to stop “visiting with my neighbor.” I never harbored resentment of her because she was one of those teachers who tendered discipline with love. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Garrett, didn’t see any promise in me. She frequently put me in the “thinking box,” which was a huge cardboard box with one side cut out facing the wall. It was solitary confinement, dark and gloomy. Sometimes I had to sit in the “thinking box” during recess, which anyone knows is counter productive to a kid like me who needed to play out much of her energy. Ah, thanks for memories. Maybe I’ll put the “thinking box” in my novel.

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Kimberly September 1, 2008 at 10:32 pm

I only found this out a few years ago, but when I was eleven, my acting teacher pulled my mother aside after class one day (after I spent the entire session bossing around my scene partner) and said to her:

“Your daughter is a director, not an actor.”

I didn’t realize her prediction until 15 years later.

Better late then never, I ‘spose!

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 9:24 am

That little bow must absolutely go into the novel.

My teacher used to just leave me out of recess, and I would tell her, Great, that’s what I wanted, and then I’d spend the whole time trying to look like I was loving it.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 9:26 am

Lauren, so great to have you here! I think these early teachers and folks who give us some belief in ourselves are life-changers.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 9:27 am

Such a great story. I wonder if these teachers have any idea how much they mattered?

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 9:29 am

Well, now you made me cry.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 9:32 am

Glad you were able to tune out that English teacher who didn’t get you or your writing and find the one that did.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 9:33 am

You are a great director, and I’m glad you surfaced again. It wasn’t the same around here without you.

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Laura_Benedict September 2, 2008 at 9:38 am

Eleven years ago I got this wacky idea that I should write newspaper book reviews. So I wrote one and sent it to two Michigan newspapers. Both bit–One paper dropped its book reviews, but I’ve been writing reviews for Sue Thoms at the Grand Rapids Press ever since then. She liked the first spec one, but didn’t print it. I can’t imagine why–It was a review of Tabitha King’s SURVIVOR and it was only 4000 words long! (She prints 200-500!)

Glad to be back on the playground! xo

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Aurelio September 2, 2008 at 10:07 am

I cry whenever I think about those guys doing that for me. Obviously, it was a significant moment.

You know, your questions have this way of pulling very personal stories out of me. Stop it! I’m a fiction writer, dammit! 😉

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Aurelio September 2, 2008 at 10:08 am

She was right, you ARE a great director!

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Kimberly September 2, 2008 at 10:23 am

It’s been a wacky summer for sure. Still recovering, actually. Post-partum sucks. When’s the next Rock School show? I need to RAWK!

Oh and I forgot to say how my acting teacher’s prediction affected me:

When my mom told me the story, right after I told her about my decision to direct full-time, I laughed, but to be honest, I actually felt resentful. I had a long (painful at times) journey that eventually brought me to where I am today. I really wished that someone had told me sooner, which might have made the road easier for me. But, as always, my mother probably knew me better than I thought. If she had told me what to do, I would have run screaming in the exact opposite direction. I’ve always been the sort of person who has to figure out things on my own.

Now, though, as I look back on it, I would not be the person I am today without that journey. And it makes me feel really good to know that I’m (finally) doing what I was meant to be doing all along. I just wish I knew how to track down that acting teacher and let her know that her prediction came true, albeit a bit late!

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Kimberly September 2, 2008 at 10:25 am

Aurelio, I’ve got a five-spot with your name on it right here on my desk anytime you need it! 🙂

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Kimberly September 2, 2008 at 10:26 am

Aw shucks…

*blushing*

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EkEkEkEk07 September 2, 2008 at 1:01 pm

“you show a lot of promise.” where have i heard that statement before? on the dance floor? on my knees? on the stage? in the classroom? on the baseball field? in the bedroom? in the swimming pool? on the altar? in the kitchen? how many people have said it and were any of them right? did i really show promise or were they just trying to get me to gain confidence? i probably blushed and made an awkward squeak. i recently read an excerpt from a personal essay i’m writing and the feedback made me hyper and vulnerable. but no one used the word promise. “good job.” “that was…wow. that part about the spit bubble…wow.” “you read that very well!” “you didn’t seem nervous at all!” “i can tell you have a background in theatre!” i promise to try and show as much promise as i possibly can in everything i do, but i will run away when anyone mentions the promise they see in me.

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LaurenBaratzLogsted September 2, 2008 at 1:43 pm

I don’t know. But if they ever figure it out, they’ll probably ask me for a percentage.

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LaurenBaratzLogsted September 2, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Ack! I just replied to your reply to the post above me – I’m such a nimrod!

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 3:31 pm

Glad for the company! I thought I was the only one.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 3:31 pm

I like when fiction and non-fiction influence each other.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 3:36 pm

They’re doing a Funk and Reggae show at the end of the month. I’ll call you with dates. It should be all kinds of fun. They’re doing James Brown and Herbie Hancock, We Want the Funk, Love Rollercoaster, and a bunch of songs I love hearing around the house.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 3:38 pm

I didn’t even know you did book reviews. I like the 4,000 word ones, but you’re right, it’s hard to find newspapers that will commit that much space anymore. The tight word counts really tie your hands, so you feel like you’re writing the little paragraph on the back cover.

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Ha! I love to hear a counter-opinion!

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SusanHenderson September 2, 2008 at 8:57 pm

This has nothing to do with anything except it might say something about my family. My kids had their friend over today, and the friend brought his much younger brother. And mostly, they played nicely, but I noticed the younger brother wanted to go in the tree house until Green-Hand told him something that made him run away. And the younger brother ran directly to me and said, “Mrs. Henderson, is it true you have a hobo named Bob and you keep him in the tree house?”

School starts tomorrow!

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troutbum70 September 3, 2008 at 11:22 am

I have a hobo story for you. The day I got married was a beautiful spring day, the sun was shinning, flowers were blooming, a string quartet played in the background and champagne flowed. The champagne had flowed so much that the plastic wedding flutes had been discarded and people were swilling straight from the bottle. Somehow I found myself in the parking lot across the street with all the groomsmen and bridesmaids drinking with a hobo named Payday. Here we are seven or eight people in wedding attire drinking and eating wedding cake with an old bum. Anyway, when I was a senior in highschool we had to write a term paper, I wrote mine on Jonathan Swift, when I got my paper back scribbled in red ink was the question. Where did you buy this? Directly under that was a big A.

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5speener0 September 3, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Don’t our experiences (facts) contribute to our fiction writing?

Your story made ME cry too. I’m such a pushover for feeling other people’s pain, so my tears may not count.

Aurelio, I want to come to wherever you are and hug you for having survived what your parents thought was “the right thing” or “the right way”. You are a lucky friend to have endured that kind of pain, but, oh, what joy in seeing the support of those wonderful people! You just cannot fail, when you’ve got strength like that supporting you!

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5speener0 September 3, 2008 at 5:49 pm

You’re fortunate–you got to hear it! Yay! It might have made things easier–to go straight up the mountain to the top–but, having been in the shoes of those that you now direct, well, I imagine your time spent acting makes you a better director. Right?

I live in a small town in South Carolina. How can I see some of your work. I am VERY interested, especially after visiting your web site and seeing how much the other folks in the park think of your work.

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5speener0 September 3, 2008 at 6:00 pm

The biggest boost for me was, about two years ago, during a class on Women’s Leadership (something like that). The director of The Women’s Leadership Institute spoke with my friend and boss at the time and told her that I’d scored “off the charts” on creativity. That was after they’d studied my Myers-Briggs Type thingies and other assorted “puzzlements”.

My friend/boss said, “Why don’t you use that here at work?” to which I replied, “I do…no one sees it!” Obviously, I had to do a little work in improving my presentation skills. Not everyone saw what I saw, when I threw out this great idea. Consequently, no one “got it” like I did. After this validation of my genius my friend came to me with any challenging issues and when she needed a different thinker.

This became my first step in moving closer towards my writing career. Here, here! Let’s raise a glass to the “first step”.

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5speener0 September 3, 2008 at 6:07 pm

You two are killing me! :))))) So, funny! Susan, you just reminded me of my days working as a “teacher” of three- and four-year olds.

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Aurelio September 3, 2008 at 7:49 pm

Thanks, Despina. My folks were convinced they were morally doing the right thing, but being trained to feel guilt about one’s accomplishments is ultimately pretty twisted and self-defeating. Thankfully I found a very good therapist to help sort it all out. 😉

I think those of us who don’t get the family we want or need find family in our friends. These friends are those kind of friends.

And since then I’ve been there for others when similar situations warranted it – another nice result. Kindness begets kindness.

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Aurelio September 3, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Careful what you say, you may end up a character in one of my books. :-O

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5speener0 September 3, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Hey…we’ve got to talk or e-talk at some point. I’ll look you up on MySpace and you can check out my book on…tah-dah..The Kindness of Strangers.

There can be such comfort and love in life, it’s such a shame that there’s so much of all the negative stuff. I subscribe to a magazine that you may enjoy–it’s called “ODE”. Wonderful!

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SusanHenderson September 4, 2008 at 11:10 am

Great story. Wonder what happened to the guy?

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SusanHenderson September 4, 2008 at 11:14 am

Terrific! And now, what’s step 2? Because I have my glass raised for that, too!

By the way, on Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ: http://typelogic.com/infj.html They say only 1% of the population is INFJ, so if there are others out there, I want to know!

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Kimberly September 4, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Oh that is so sweet! I’m glad I checked back in on this page!

Also – I love that your name is Despina (my fave character from Mozart’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’). You can email me thru my website and then we’ll chat!

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5speener0 September 4, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Opera lovers in the park! I love it!

Despina (or Thespina, as we say it in the Greek way) was my grandmother’s name and it is also part of the name of the Virgin Mary. It has something to do with being a virgin, but we won’t test that out.

I do try to be like Mozart’s Despina, and people tell me that I’m wise; I’ll accept all that, but only if I can pass on my definition of wisdom: applying lessons learned from many embarrasing mistakes made throughout life. 🙂

I’ll check in with you on your site soon.

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5speener0 September 4, 2008 at 9:55 pm

Oh, that’s ‘Th’ as is ‘this’ or ‘that’, not as in ‘thespian’, and the emphasis is on the ‘e’, not that I’m concerned about someone really screwing up the pronunciation of my name…

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troutbum70 September 5, 2008 at 9:20 pm

With a name like Payday he probably stumbled on a drug deal gone bad and is living the high life on a beach in Mexico.

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