“Your characters are flat and lifeless, Sarah Anne. They need depth; they need to come alive for the reader.” And there it was: more criticism that barked at Sarah Anne in bold red ink—and more rejection to tuck away into her tattered backpack. Thoughts whirled around in Sarah Anne’s head like an F-5 tornado and she wanted to scream them away. Hastily and with a boldness she didn’t know she possessed, Sarah Anne weaved through the crowd en route to confront Professor Higgins face-to-face.
“‘Smug’—a wonderful descriptor for Professor Higgins,” she thought as she sidestepped a fellow student. Sarah Anne had never received a compliment on any assignment given that semester and this latest assault to her writing skill was the last straw.
“Sarah Anne, what can I do for you?” he asked nonchalantly as he stuffed his weathered leather briefcase with more papers to critique.
The smile she usually wore to hide her true frustrations from the world could not be willed into place this time.
With her paper waving in her hand and determination in her quavering voice, Sarah Anne spoke.
“Time after time, I attempt to write with purpose, sir. My grammar is solid, my spelling is superb and my stories have a logical flow and a happy ending. While you mull over which red pen to use in order to murder my next assignment, I’d love to know what I need to do to receive a compliment from a pompous scholar such as yourself.”
The giant auditorium once abuzz with activity from harried undergrads fell silent during Sarah Anne’s tirade and the unfamiliar quiet in the room startled her back to reality. Fidgeting, she chose that moment to look into the professor’s eyes to search out his reaction to her accusations. Where she expected to be chastised by his gaze, she instead sensed empathy—even compassion.
To compound her confusion, the professor smiled broadly and began to clap excitedly, as if he had just won a major award. “It’s about time, Sarah Anne. I think you finally found your voice. Now use it! My comments on your previous papers were meant to light a fire in you. You are right—you indeed have mastered your technical writing skills. But writing is more than technicalities—writing is taking raw emotion and putting it down on paper. Take this spark and add kindling to it. Search yourself for what brings out your emotion and pick up your pen and write, Sarah Anne! I’ve sensed your potential from the first day of class. Now live up to it.”
Flabbergasted with a crimson face—from embarrassment and not anger this time—Sarah Anne stood motionless. “I’ll take that challenge, Professor Higgins.” With a renewed sense of dignity and purpose, she made her way to her rundown dorm room to prove herself a capable writer.
Nervous, yet excited to begin her next assignment, Sarah Anne delved deep into her emotional past to find the perfect muse from which to write. She had a fairly typical childhood except for—no, she wouldn’t even consider going ‘there’—it was no one’s business and she had moved passed it—hadn’t she?
“Now that the memory has crept back into my mind, I can’t get it out again,” she thought wearily. It had been 14 years, but the memory of that morning remained fresh in her mind. As Sarah Anne recollected her painful past, the memories of that long ago morning bubbled up like hot magma ready to burst through a crevice.
“Mama,” she cried out. “Why??” Her sobs shook her so violently that she had to steady herself against the cold concrete wall. “Why did you leave me—what did I do?”
Both her emotions and her tears dripped onto the page as she wrote about her mother and that fateful morn:
“With ice blue almond-shaped eyes, she could see through me as if I were a freshly washed window; my pain, my happiness, my sorrow exposed. And when she was truly happy, those eyes danced with merriment and sparkled like a dew-covered lawn on a muggy spring morning. The day she left us, the joy in those eyes had vanished and darkness created a void where light used to live. Mom was gone before she ever left the house…”
Sarah Anne quickly thumbed to the back page of her latest assignment and found a note—written in familiar red ink—that stated “Congratulations, Sarah Anne. You are a writer.”
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