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Thank you, Mrs. Russi!

Posted on April 21, 2011 at 1:05 AM

It’s almost midnight as I start this. I've plowed my way through the majority of a bottle of Cabernet, Dana is out of town with Lauryn leaving me alone to my own devices and I’ve spent the better part of the evening listening to music that is achingly depressing. (My current drug of choice is Avril Lavigne’s, Goodbye. “Goodbye my love. I can’t hide what has come. I have to go. And leave you alone. But always know, that I love you so. I love you so. Goodbye, brown eyes, goodbye for now. Goodbye, sunshine, take care of yourself. I love you so. I love you so. But I have to go. I have to go...")

So it’s the time of night when bad mistakes can be made; where $500 shots of 40-plus year old single malt scotch can be ordered and then not remembered and horribly regretted the next day. In my case, these are often literary mistakes; things that are typed and posted and things that are then lamented. And, truthfully, I  probably should be going to bed instead of typing. These are the moments that lead to posting some kind of Jerry Maguire-esque mission statement/manifesto.


But, instead of taking the reasonable, safe road, I am instead putting some John Mayer Trio on the Meridian system, cranking the crap out of the volume -- Damn! These things have amazing imaging! I mean...damn! -- pouring another glass from the remainder of the Cab, and firing up the laptop. Because, ultimately, that’s how I do.

 

 


In fact, instead of shying away from Jerry, I’m pulling a page from his mission statement. You may recall that it was titled “The Things We Think and Do Not Say." Well, I’m thinking them. And now I’m saying them. Or at least one of them. And, so, here we are... Follow me down the rabbit hole, will you?


In this moment of nostalgia, I want to talk about my high school English/journalism teacher. Her name was Mrs. Russi. And in that memory pantheon of teachers that inspired, teachers that motivated, teachers that impacted, teachers that you can actually remember, Mrs. Russi stands tall. When you wake up one morning and find yourself married, with a family and many, many years out of high school and you are actually pursuing journalism and using words as tools and weapons and entertainment and wage earners, it’s not too far of a stretch to think that you would have connected with your high school English and journalism teacher. Even if she didn’t look like a San Francisco 49’er cheerleader. (Which, I’ll be honest, was always more of an interesting anecdote and bit of adolescent braggadocio than any real reason why I really connected with Mrs. Russi. Though, since we’re being honest, she was every bit that good looking. And in the 80’s. Outside of San Francisco. When the 49’ers were winning like every Super Bowl. So, yeah. There won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness. So I got that goin' for me, which is nice...) 


And even though she has since suggested/implied that we are now at a point in our lives/careers/post-teacher-student relationship – some 20 years after graduation – of me being able to call her by her first name – we are “Linked In” and she occasionally flatters me by taking time out of her still busy teaching schedule to read this blog – it is difficult if not virtually impossible for me to do so. And this has nothing to do with the fact that even though 20 years have passed and she still looks more like my contemporary than my teacher, and that even now she would likely still be the hottest “hot for teacher” member of any faculty she happened to be a part of. It’s far more a respect thing. It’s a “thank you” thing. It’s a “you’ll always be my teacher” thing. When you’re a teacher on a pedestal, I don’t think you can be so easily removed from the pedestal and reduced to something as pedestrian as being addressed on a first name basis. You shaped my life. You helped make me who I am. How could I possibly ever call you anything but “Mrs. Russi” without feeling slightly wrong about it?


I was perusing my “Linked In” updates page and I saw a little blurb from her. She had added someone to her network or some other bit of banality. And I don’t know what touched it off, but I had a flash that I wanted to reach out to Mrs. Russi. I wanted to thank her. To tell her how much I appreciated her for all that she did for me. To thank her that she took the time to foster in me something worth fostering. To thank her for the comments jotted on my papers. Comments like, “I like where you’re going with this, “ or “This makes me want to find out more!” or “You need to develop this paragraph more; THIS is the heart of it!” To let her know – even without saying it – that I remember that she encouraged me to enter that high school writing contest that I ultimately ended up winning. And that now, 23 years later, every time that I receive a dividend check from Wells Fargo – for that single share of stock that was the prize; that single share of stock that has split and split into the 16 shares of stock it is today – that every quarter when I take that $1.60 dividend check to the bank, I think about you and what turned out to be the first paid piece I ever wrote.


For someone who thought – and still thinks – that every word he commits to the page or screen is a perfect, polished jewel, Mrs. Russi helped knock off the rough edges and make me love this crazy world of being creative. And let me think that I could be good at it. To let her know, “Hey! You did it! One of your students…we made it! We took the journalism dream, we embraced it, we loved it, we followed it, we pursued it, and we made something of it!”


I wanted to thank her.


So I did. In that 21st Century version of a pat on the back, I “Recommended her” on Linked in. And this is what I said:


Mrs. Russi – Jodie – was my high school English and journalism teacher. She inspired me to pursue my love and passion for creative writing and now I am fortunate enough to be able to turn that love into a career writing for a living. Few of us are fortunate enough to have a Mr. Keating (Dead Poet’s Society, oh captain, my captain!) teacher in our lives, but some of us get to have a Mrs. Russi and we are the lucky ones; the ones that are given the inspiration to pursue our gifts and our dreams. Not only would I gladly send my daughter to Mrs. Russi for education, I would consider her among the lucky ones that are given a chance to fully explore their dreams. While not much of a recommendation, I can only offer Mrs. Russi my sincerest thanks.


Like Jerry Maguire wrote…the things we think and do not say. But why don’t we say them? Even for the cynical jerk that I can often be, not everything that I think is mean or hurtful. In fact, I bet a lot of it is nice and inspirational. What holds us back from taking that step to say, “Hey. You made a difference. You helped me. I’m better because of you. Thank you. Really. Thank. You!”?


Who has impacted your life? Who has inspired you? Do they even know? Have you told them? I’ll probably never be able to have the chance to tell Becky Frodsham how she impacted my life. I sincerely think that some of that “I never talked to Becky and I’m not gonna let that happen again” helped me become the person that talked to, wooed, and ultimately won Dana. But she’ll probably never know. But I CAN tell Mrs. Russi. And however it felt for her, I can tell you how it felt for me...it felt good. No. It felt great. It was like a personal, mini, “Yo, Adrian! We did it!” Rocky moment. But it was my moment. And I could share it with someone who helped me get there. And when I shared it, it become OUR moment.


Who has helped you beat the Creed? Do they even know that they helped you get there? People don't often get or seize the opportunity to let those people know how much they inspired or impacted them and their lives. Maybe the world would be a better place if we all took a second to just say a sincere "Thanks!" to those that took an interest and did their gest to help us. So I wanted to take that moment.


“Thank you” is such a small, such a simple thing. Yet it is so powerful. If you can, embrace the opportunity. Let some of the things you think also be the things you say.

Categories: April 2011, On Writing

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1 Comment

Reply Craig
10:30 PM on May 26, 2011 
Given the topic, I'm not sure why you didn't crank Van Halen on the Meridian system instead of John Mayer...

And, for the record, although I originally enrolled in Mrs. Russi's English class, I dropped her because of some schedule conflict or some such trash. I think I ended up with Mr. (Larry) Freeman who was kick ass in his own right.