“Good luck with the pigs.”
It’s funny, the things you remember.
About twenty-five years ago, I took a correspondence writing course at the University of Minnesota. It’s the only writing class I’ve ever taken, and it consisted of writing 500 words or so, mailing them off to a professor, waiting a week, and then getting them back covered with red ink.
I’m not sure why I did it, but I can say that about a lot of things I’ve done over the years. It was an interesting change of pace from my regular life of castrating hogs and worrying about the price of soybeans.
It went pretty well and I started to think that maybe writing was something I could do and get paid for. That’s something else I could say about many things I’ve done over the years.
At that point in my life, I didn’t know any writers, so toward the end of the class I sent a letter to my professor, laying out my hopes and dreams. I guess I was searching for guidance.
The letter I got back from her when the class ended didn’t include a direct comment about my chances of being a writer - I think she was just glad my tuition check cleared. She ended it with, “Good luck with the pigs.”
As a whole, it seemed like a pretty clear message. I’ve often thought that if I could remember her name, I’d look her up and tell her that, all in all, both the pigs and my writing career turned out pretty well.
I didn’t get that “good luck with the pigs” comment. Maybe she was trying to be encouraging, but it seemed more likely that she thought she was putting me in my place. If that’s the case, let’s call it a swing and a miss. I’ve never been ashamed of being a pig farmer, never thought that being a farmer limited my possibilities in any way. I know a lot of pig farmers and none of them are stupid. In fact, I’m not a hog farmer now because many of them were smarter than I am and I couldn’t compete.
While I didn’t learn much from the class, I learned a lot from that final message. Ever since then, I’ve made a significant effort to not step on other people’s dreams. I always think that the difference between a stroke of genius and a crackpot idea is fairly slim, and in the beginning stages there’s no way to tell which is which.
I wonder how many dreams, how many great ideas, how many wonderful futures have been quelled or destroyed by the wrong word at just the wrong time.
For many of us, it doesn’t take much to derail our ambitions. I have enough guilt in my life already, I don’t want to have crushing someone’s goals on my conscience.
I shouldn’t be so hard on the professor. At the time, I didn’t know much about higher education. Now that I know how little money and security there is in the professor biz, before you get tenure, I’m a little sympathetic toward someone with an advanced degree checking the grammar of a pig farmer, late at night after her day job ended.
On the other hand, she was in the education business. Her job, almost by definition, was to be encouraging to people who are struggling toward an uncertain future.
Oh, well. I’ve long since gotten over the comment.
I’ve never forgotten the lesson.
Copyright 2019 Brent Olson