Late-night Googling, a face from the past, and renewed intent
Couldn’t sleep, so I went a-Googlin’. Picking names from the memory banks, the older the better, seeing what’s what. A friend from junior high, an old work colleague. One name leads to another, mostly dead ends or the occasional Facebook profile. A way to pass the wee hours until sleep returns. Then a name I hadn’t thought of in a while came to me: Robert Reid III, the college English professor who told me I would—or should—be a writer.
His words stayed with me, even though I didn’t give them much credence at the time. True, I was just three units shy of an English minor in undergrad, and Reid wasn’t the only professor to express confidence in my abilities. But design was my bag, writing was a hobby.
My Googling revealed a small black and white thumbnail of an older version of the professor I knew and admired so many years ago. It linked to an obituary. The usual flood of emotions when you discover someone you knew but had forgotten about was now gone forever. The thumbnail triggered a vivid memory of his younger face, and I could hear his deep, resonant voice. There was another photo in the obituary: a younger Professor Reid, standing tall in suit and tie, a little girl hugging him tightly around the waist, gazing up toward his face—a face that was now looking at me across the years, across the country. A daughter. More emotions.
For a couple of years after undergrad I stayed in touch with Professor Reid. He was something of a friend, mentor, and counselor. He knew I’d hit some rough patches, and was there to listen and talk. He also never stopped telling me I should be a writer. He said that if nothing else, writing was “cathartic,” a word I learned from him. Still, I didn’t acknowledge his advice: words were baubles, not tools, and I wanted to build.
And yet, for over two decades as a professional designer, I’ve always been about words: briefs, narratives, stories. I believe design is a method of communication, and that words and language are essential and intrinsic to the process. I love the challenge of crafting microcopy, coming up with the perfect label (how rarely that happens!). When given the chance, I enjoy producing copy. Unlike many designers, I usually begin by writing, not sketching. I start every new project with a story.
Outside of my role as a designer, I’ve sought professional writing opportunities and had a few small victories. I’ve journaled for years. I’ve always had a blog (or two), and I enjoy writing here on Medium. But a writer? Formally, and with intent? Not as such.
At a recent Jewish funeral, the rabbi said that the best way to honor the dead, and to keep them alive within ourselves, was to emulate the things about them we admired, and to heed the guidance and wisdom they offered when they were alive.
Professor Reid was passionate about words. He was a gifted teacher and a kind soul. He believed in me when others didn’t. And though I haven’t thought about him much over the years, he has been with me all along. So have his words. “You’re a writer. Be a writer.”
The gift of time is clarity. Strip away the chaos and clutter of the moment and things make sense, if you’re willing to look. As I stared at the glowing rectangle in my darkened bedroom, reading and re-reading his obituary, I thought, “Professor Reid was right. I should be a writer. I am a writer.” And so I’ll honor his memory by redoubling my efforts. To be a writer, formally, and with intent.