(Day 3 of our Transatlantic passage across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to Barbados)
I’m writing you this letter because I wish I could talk to you. In fact, if you could only get this letter that might be good enough. But your unexpected death took you away when I assumed you would always be there. Now, the irony is I’m in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean writing to my dead professor who drowned.
You were my mentor and your passion for student journalism still burns in my memory. When I met you I was only 19 and yes, I did follow you from one college to another. But you were the only person I always felt saw through my failures and could see the best in me. You made me think I could do the things buried in my heart. You made me think I could write.
I’m sorry your last trip to see me in Daytona never worked out. I’m sorry that I had you at the top of my list of things to do: ‘Write Dave what he’s meant to me,” and I hadn’t gotten around to getting it done when you died.
So here’s the deal. I’m traveling with a published author whose critical eye on my writing, my vocabulary, my grammar has made me want to stop trying. Yes, my spelling too and oh how Dr. O would get on me for that way back at Kansas State.
I try to recall your pep talks. It’s a learned skill, something that you must practice and fine tune. I tell myself it’s like yoga; it’s a practice and there is no one perfect end result. Only once, when my life was threatened from a column published about the military, did you see my doubt and doubt me. Rather than sympathy over my tears for the call that came to the J-department saying “Tell her, her life is in danger,” did you bark at me, “if you can’t take the heat, don’t write it.”
Now it’s different. Years have passed and my career choice took me far from the rules of writing. Any writer must take criticism from editors to readers, but this feels deeper than points on grammar. This feels like the core of my being.
So Dave, I just needed to hear you say something. Anything.
But you’re not there and the voice inside me says; “It doesn’t matter.”
It doesn’t matter if I’m liked. It doesn’t matter if I’m read. It doesn’t matter if on the first draft I make mistakes because I can barely edit with precious electricity and minimal internet. I know that I know and if I don’t I know I can learn.
What’s more, I know that as much as I’d love to be published, writing is what I do regardless. It’s getting the demons out whether it’s written into a personal blog or column. It’s love of the written word whether it’s reporting or recording a story or adventure. Some writers view their time as discipline; I have always regarded it differently. I can’t imagine all writers have the same habits or techniques and that one is the only way. Of course I acknowledge rules of the road… keeping a stricter eye on grammar and spelling. You would be disappointed if you saw some of my mistakes also.
But I’ll listen to that voice and just keep writing.
And Dave, I didn’t get to tell you but I wanted to thank you for your kindness, mentoring, fun spirit (on the brink of crazy), and friendship long after graduation. I wanted to tell you what a difference you made in my college experience. I wanted you to know that your voice still rings in my head with encouragements and advice. That everyone should follow their heart.
And that is what matters.
Note: Dr. David Adams taught at Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, and most recently Indiana University.
He was an acclaimed student journalism advisor serving on national boards. Under his leadership, every school newspaper and yearbook that he advised won numerous national awards.
Student Press Law Center, board member 1987 to present, board president, 2003 to present
2004 Journalism Educator of the Year, AEJMC Scholastic Journalism Division
2001 Fulbright Senior Specialist, Zambia Institute for Mass Communications Education Trust, Lusaka, Zambia.
1997-1998 Fulbright Lecturing Fellowship, China School of Journalism, Beijing
1997 Inducted into College Media Advisers Hall of Fame
I was privileged to be given the Society for Collegiate Journalist’s “Presidents Award” my senior year at KSU by Dave. He maintained many strong relationships with past students. We miss him.