An Ode to Linda Hall
When I launched this blog, I forgot that for about 20 years of my life I wanted to be a writer.
I was a voracious reader as a kid. Before podcasts existed, I filled my head with books on tape (specifically Agatha Christies). When I was 9 or 10 I dreamed about writing a novel and on some floppy disk in Virginia lives the secret scribbles of a wannabe writer. As with many things, my reading and writing fell away in middle school and then my high school - a public, rural school - was… fine. Not known for academic rigor. It wasn’t a bad school, but it was realistic about what it was and who its students were.
And then I met Linda Hall.
In many ways, college was the first time I met my people. People who listened to the same music I did, who had the same progressive values that I did, who wanted to live in big, Northern cities like I did. It’s also where I met my first mentor, the person who taught me how to read critically, the first person who cared about my writing. Lhall, as my friend Alex and I affectionately called her, was (/is) an associate professor at my college, teaching nonfiction and political writing, and I took as many classes of hers as I could fit in. I, along with the rest of the world, had fallen in love with David Sedaris and I, along with the rest of the world, dreamt of being able to write critical, funny*, poignant, personal essays. Linda Hall was not only unphased by this idea but supportive of it, then edited me with care and precision. (She also, after reading one essay I had written, told me to move to New York. When I finally did, after about 8 years of feeling guilty for not having done so already, I reached out and said, I just need you to know that even though you probably don’t remember this at all, I moved here like you told me to and also you were right.) Under her encouragement, I wrote dozens of essays, was pushed to think more dynamically and learned how to hear constructive criticism. When I think about college, I think about her little office. About the time I showed up after biking in the pouring rain drenched but grinning and she looked at me with amusement, about the time she started to explain why a word was incorrect and then smiled proudly when I explained it to her, about the feeling of dread and excitement when she handed me back a paper.
After college, I thought a love of writing meant that I wanted to do communications. But it turns out communications, as a job, is very different than what I had imagined. Maybe, it’s dawning on me as I write this in an embarrassing realization of the depths of my own selfishness, its because I don’t care about writing about other people and their interests. I want to write about the things I am inspired by, driven by, moved by. I want to write because writing is how I think through ideas. It turns out e-newsletters and annual reports are not the place to muse about how your family has influenced your career.
For many years after leaving lhall’s hallways, I would forget about how I used to love crafting personal essays - until, for whatever reason, I was on a train, and then would suddenly be compelled to write again. I have notebooks and Word docs full of essays I started writing on trains and then forgot about as soon as I got off. It didn’t fully occur to me that this was the way I had finally figured out to bring the kind of nonfiction writing I love into my work, until the words “Linda Hall” showed up on my list of things to write about.
So thank you, lhall, for pushing me all those years ago and for, however unconsciously, inspiring me to launch this project. We haven’t spoken in years but know that I am still mostly just trying to impress you.
*Also, I swear, in real life I’m funnier than I am here.