Remember when that first heady taste of freedom met unsupervised hormones and the basic tomfoolery that accompanies the teen years? It's really a miracle any of us survive higher education at all.
I knew some serious students back in the day. Mostly I knew they looked at me funny. I'm trying to remember if I cared. No matter how I may have denied it, I cared what my professors thought, one in particular. Dr. Sandra Ballard.
She scared the PASHAZZ out of me.
I visited Brandywine Museum in Pennsylvania my junior year in high school, and the first time I saw Dr. Ballard I was convinced Andrew Wyeth had based his Helga paintings on her. She perpetuated this theory by being partial to braids.
I can still hear her voice as clearly as if it were yesterday (dear Lord, I sound old). She possessed a very calm, controlled demeanor, ice blue eyes, and a stare sharp enough to cut you. Jennifer Lopez on Saturday Night Live Cut You.
When she leveled that gaze at me, one thing was perfectly clear.
She was SO ON TO ME.
The year I graduated she gave me the book THINKING OUT LOUD by Anna Quinlan. When I read the inscription, I laughed. Dr. Ballard? Enjoyed my writing? What the hell? Was she kidding? 'Cause I was pretty sure she'd hated me.
Years of retrospect have changed that opinion.
I think she simply expected more from me than I gave. I think she saw something underneath all the obnoxious that had the potential to go somewhere bigger.
All these years later? She still does.
Guess who I emailed when I got my first request for a full? The offer of representation from Awesome Agent Holly? The book deal from Egmont USA?
Dr. Sandra Ballard.
She gives me advice, too. Here's some of the most recent:
I always wondered if "being yourself" really did work. I've come to learn that being someone else definitely doesn't.
Dr. Ballard signs her emails "Sandy." Maybe the terror from all those years ago translated to respect, but I can only be so casual as to address her as Dr. B. Besides, she's the Editor of the Appalachian Journal. She's all respectable and stuff.
She taught me so much, and she still does, about how to be a professional and a class act. And anything I didn't learn about punctuation is no fault of hers. I take full responsibility for my apostrophe problem.
So Dr. B? Thank you. And You Go Girl.
(That phrase is the one thing I taught her. It works even for respectable women, don't you think?)
Everyone else? Look around. Your greatest encourager might be hiding behind a pair of braids and an icy blue stare.
Don't miss it.