Love Lessons: Mentors
I have now missed two behind-the-scenes posts in a row: my apologies. This is of course because of the aforementioned health crap. I’ve done sort-of updates on FB and twitter, but to recap: going vegan and gluten free has helped a lot but not, alas, magically solved everything. My legs are MUCH better. I could now pass most of their tests they did on me last Friday. However, my lower back is still slightly numb, and I’ve shifted gears into an intense, recurring vertigo. This is something I’ve had before, and it seems to stem from my skull wanting to align itself sideways. All it takes is a quick hammer from my chiropractor and it goes back…but it doesn’t stay. He showed me what my neck/skull is doing, how it’s pinching nerves, and yeah, it’s no wonder I can’t think. It makes me walk stupid, makes me feel foggy and disconnected, and sometimes makes me irrationally angry at nothing at all. Everything feels too loud, too intense, even when I’m able to intellectually acknowledge there’s no real threat.
Many, many, many of you have emailed, commented, FB messaged, tweeted— friends, family, and total strangers. I cannot express how much those messages have meant to me, and thank you very much. I’m utterly humbled by the staggering number of people who’ve offered to help feed me in Atlanta. Thank you so very, very much. A repeated theme is to suggest possible ailments, which I appreciate, though I want to assure you I have a crack team on the case beyond just these neurologists. My mother has made several vows to drag me by the ear to the Mayo clinic if they don’t give good answers Tuesday, and my close friend and former family doctor is also giving this attention. So don’t worry: we’ve got this. Or rather, my village has this.
Anyway. That’s the update. Now on to the long-overdue behind-the-scenes. Today is the story of the man behind the dedication to Love Lessons. In the book dedication all I did was say something vague about him being my anchor. This blog post is going to be the love letter I always wanted to write.
When I first showed up at Wartburg College in the fall of 1991, I was so beyond hot mess I don’t even know how to talk about it. My parents were in the middle of a divorce, several other things from high school had rolled to a crazy head, and basically I wandered around gormless. I had no idea what I was supposed to do or what I wanted to do. I felt empty, anxious, and terrified, and I had nowhere to take these feelings, nowhere to funnel them. I wanted to grow up, I wanted to get my head on straight, but I had no idea how to do it, and every attempt I made only made me flounder harder.
Then I met Dr. Scholtz.
I’d decided during my first semester I wanted to be an English major. For three seconds I wanted to be English Education, but then I realized I would take almost no literature courses, only psychology and “how to teach” courses, and I said no thanks. By the time all this came down, I was into my second semester, and when I had to get a new advisor, I immediately said I wanted Dr. Scholtz. I was taking Introduction to British Literature III, and there was just something about him that made everything in me want to sit and behave and learn. He was smart, he was quirky—irreverent in a way that made me laugh, made me feel heard and okay. But above all he challenged me, and that was exactly what I wanted.
He swears to this day he never said it to me, but this was the teacher who told me, for the first time in my life, “If you want to continue taking classes from me, you need to learn how to write.” For years and years and years everyone had effused over my writing, to the point that it had been a decade since anyone had pushed me to do better, to be clearer, to focus. No one would set a bar for me, so I kept dishing out the same sentimental crap that seemed to make everyone happy. Not Scholtz. He wanted me to work. To earn an A from him was something won by blood and sweat and more often than not, tears.
I earned many, many As from him.
I took every class he offered, and one memorable May Term, I took an independent study which meant for a few hours every afternoon we wrestled over critical theory together. But it wasn’t just teaching that Dr. Scholtz gave to me. I often went to the local church instead of the campus one, because I was a fussy traditionalist and didn’t like the way they fancied-up the service; this is where Scholtz and his family went too, and I often ended up sitting with them. I will admit now I always hoped it would work out that way, because it was just nice to sit with a happy, burgeoning family and feel okay. I babysat for a lot of professors, but for Dr. Scholtz I sometimes took the kids (all four) for free, sometimes for hours, just because it made me feel good.
My undergraduate years were a time of turmoil and chaos the like I had never seen before and haven’t experienced since. I felt the loneliest and frightened that I have ever felt during those years and in the years immediately following graduation. I felt foolish and stupid and terrified I would be found out, that any second everyone would realize the reason my life was so awful was because I was so awful. I didn’t want to be that person, but I couldn’t see a way out.
Dr. Scholtz was, in so many ways, my star, my way to find the right path again. When I didn’t know what family was anymore, I looked to his. When I forgot how to strive, how to reach for something greater than myself, I remembered how he made me work, good, meaningful work, and I applied it to my life. When I struggled with moral questions, I remembered the many million conversations in and out of class, about literature and about life. When I was sad, I remembered his laugh.
As I look back at who I was in my undergraduate years, I think I must have been more than a little scary. I’m not sure I would have the time for the hot mess that was Heidi Hoerschelman. She had to have required a great deal of patience. I know without question she was a great deal of work. Not once, though, did Dr. Scholtz make me feel a burden. Not even for one breath of one moment.
The title of the novel I dedicated to my most important mentor is Love Lessons. Because of what I write, because it is a romance, it’s easy to think that title refers to romantic love. It doesn’t, not to me. What I learned at Wartburg is what I tried to show Kelly and Walter learning: that love is not about sex, not about ideals. Love is about being there for people when they need you. Love isn’t about erasing pain but holding hands through it. Love is teaching, and love is patience.
Love is the lesson that Dr. Scholtz taught me.
Thank you, sir, for being a light when I needed it most. Thank you for listening, for redirecting. Thank you for teaching me what my gifts were and how to hone them. Thank you for teaching me about literature. Thank you for teaching me how to be a teacher better than my masters degree in education did. Thank you for arguing about Henry Fielding with me. Thank you for finding the Sonnet to Scholtz endearing and not crazy. Thank you for coming to my wedding and sending me all those Christmas cards. Thank you for teaching me about respect, about honor, about duty. About love.
Thank you for your patience, your kindness. Your love. It has shaped my life and my work. I know for a fact that this novel can’t come close to honoring what you’ve meant to me. I’ll tell you now I never did get rid of that doubling of nouns and adjectives, and despite the fact that this novel is much tamer than my usual stuff, I’m sure you could still school me on the curtain of decency. I tried to work in the smashed extra sandwiches from the sack lunches, but it just didn’t work. They’re there in spirit, though.
Despite its flaws, I hope you find the novel…worthy. I hope you find Dr. Williams flattering, even though he swears more than you would. I hope you see what I’ve grown up to be as someone you can be proud of. Above all, I hope you understand how instrumental you were in my arrival here.
Thank you, Greg, forever and always.
Love Lessons: Love doesn’t come with a syllabus.
Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.
Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.
Warning: This story contains lingering glances, milder than usual sexual content for this author, and a steamy dance-floor kiss. Story has no dairy or egg content, but may contain almonds.
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