Updated: Jan 29, 2021
By Suzanne Hudson
Image (above) from the 2018 L.A. Times article by Melissa Chadburn and Carolyn Kellogg: "Literary ambition. Fabulous parties. A hidden past. Who is Anna March?/Nancy Lott?/Delaney Anderson?/Nancy Kruse?"
They are called “the helping professions,” that nest of occupations situated as a cluster within any aptitude evaluation--the cluster that includes such jobs as “police officer,” “ambulance driver,” “firefighter,” “nurse.” And “teacher.” Obviously, no one goes into most of these professions for monetary gain; we are truly driven by a desire to do something for others, to make a positive change in the spiritual ether of the universe, as it were. So it’s hard not to wax sentimental and trite when referencing my thirty-something year career in public education. But I am notoriously unsentimental, so let me try . . .
First of all, teaching was not my first choice, not even a little bit. I’m painfully shy by nature, certainly not one inclined to stand in front of a room full of adolescents, imparting knowledge. I wanted to be a psychologist, a field that was all the rage in the 1970s. I wanted a damn PhD and “doctor” in front of my name. But, after three attempts to pass statistics (what the hell IS “sigma” anyway? I always thought it was just a letter on a frat house) my denial cratered to the kind of insight one must have in order to be whole. I would be a sociologist, dedicated to improving the world, making my altruistic mark by the lifting up of the folks, no statistics required.
Then came a monkey wrench: I was taking a “modern short story” class as I satisfied the requirements for a minor in English, and the final exam consisted of two choices: analyze a modern short story from the textbook OR write a short story of your own. No brainer. Who would go to the trouble of in-depth analysis when one could simply make up a fresh set of lies? Long story short, the professor, Dr. Rountree, took me by the hand and walked me over to the creative writing teacher, Mr. Stewart. I subsequently and wholly dedicated myself to a degree in “English with a concentration in creative writing,” without any thought whatsoever about what sort of actual job might follow. Double minor: psychology and Spanish, statistics an itty-bitty reflection in my rearview mirror.
I had luck in publication early on--early enough that it spooked me, overwhelmed by the offers that followed, intimidated by the business side of writing world, an intimidation that has become a hardened cynicism over the last decade or so. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My education commenced in earnest post-college, when I figured out that there is only one good option, really, with an English degree: get yourself certified and teach. Thus began my foray into the world of roiling hormones, subterfuge, pimply preening, and mortification: the secondary grades--specifically, ultimately, middle school. Talk about a dystopian psychodrama! I sponge-learned, though--realizing that a teacher must not only be a setter of boundaries balanced with empathic warm-fuzziness (not too warm, though), but also a standup comedian, ever willing to make a total fool of oneself. One must also be unafraid of those three important little words: “I don’t know.” Didn’t Mary Poppins say that “Nobody likes a know it all”? Well, if not then she should have.
Over a decade in, I got my masters’ degree in school counseling and the world cracked wide open when the teeny tiny fiefdom that was “my classroom,” subject to my rules, dictates, and yes, whims, broadened in such a way that brought me shame--for griping, grousing, and complaining, as teachers are sometimes wont to do, when the bigger picture eludes them. The realm of my classroom, which had seemed so monolithic--as monolithic as my teacherly ego--was but a solitary phone booth in the bus terminal of educational life. There were a few things more important, after all, than subject-verb agreement, more worthy of eradication than, say, double negatives. There were some more attention-grabbing things in the lives of these pimple-popping, hormonal changelings--things like addiction, divorce, abuse . . . suicide. I got to re-learn what everyone learns and subsequently forgets throughout life: that no matter how pretty a package on the outside, the life of a family can be a maelstrom of chaotic destructiveness on the inside. And no matter how ugly and dysfunctional a “support” system appears to be, more often than not there is a sincere, well-intentioned love at its core.
And I have brought my lifelong matriculation into my second career, post-retirement, as an author, having played out the publishing-world games, having figured it all out the hard way: from first hand experience. My husband and I have taken to opining often about those “mad middle men,” who glom onto creative types in order to exploit them for all said creatives are willing to pay. And, sadly, too many wanna-be writers are willing to pay quite a bit of moolah for a measly shot at something like fame. So . . . note to wanna-be authors: if you are paying out money for any kind of “assistance” with your work, with your promotion, with your image--stop immediately. Ask for a resume--one that goes back decades, if necessary. Ask for references. Do your research about where your middle men matriculated. Speak to not a few, but to many of their former clients. I promise, you won’t find “middle man” in the standardized cluster of “helping professions” on an aptitude test, no matter how much they overcompensate by pointing out how “helpful” they are, how they “do it all for you” (inhale deeply and you’ll smell a well-practiced martyr). I speak as someone who was duped by such--who was fleeced, clipped, conned. Check out an L.A. Times article about one of these notorious literary parasites by Melissa Chadburn and Carolyn Kellogg, “Who is Anna March/Nancy Lott/Delaney Anderson/Nancy Kruse/?” You can find it on the Waterhole Branch Facebook page as a “post.” Educate yourself!
I experienced my own version of Anna March, my own “Annie Wilkes,” another kind of “changeling,” a grifter on the circuit of authors large and small, living and deceased, an uncredentialed fraud, whom a musician friend of mine, socially astute and keenly aware of energy both good and bad, immediately pronounced “a bullshit artist,” only, I maintain, without the art. Yep, having seen that particular emperor chicken-skin-assed nekkid and endlessly shameless about it, I feel the responsibility of saying, often and out loud: “Hey, Annie! Your butt-crack’s showing!”
It’s just another aspect of my ongoing spiritual and emotional matriculation--in the interest of giving any and all interested/affected parties a proper schooling.
You’re very welcome.