Day 2 – Letter to Dr. Nakhai

One down, fifty-one to go.

I decided to send the first letter to a woman who has been on my mind a lot lately because it’s been too long since I’ve seen her and I’ve been missing her like crazy. My college English professor, advisor, mentor, and friend–Dr. Mandana Nakhai.

Last May, I found out she was being honored for her long career as she prepared to take a short sabbatical. Upon her return, she would be diving into her next adventure as inaugural Thomas Green Chair Distinguished Professor of English and Dean of the Fellows Program. I wrote a little something in her honor. It certainly doesn’t express my deep admiration and respect of this incredible woman, but it’s something.

Enjoy.

I met Dr. Nakhai one cold day in February in the middle of Schoenfeld Gym. I was more than 1,500 miles from home and she was, by far, the most poised and elegant woman I’d ever met. She was dressed in a flawlessly tailored wine-colored suit, complete with a jewel-toned scarf, matching stiletto heels, and delicate gold brooch. She stood maybe 5-feet tall (even in heels), yet her regal presence filled every inch of that crowded room. 

From that very first moment, I was in awe of her. 

I’d spent weeks practicing a formal introduction. I wanted to make a good impression visiting the colleges on my short list. But Dr. Nakhai didn’t need the introduction. As soon as I said my name, she smiled and squeezed my hand and told me how much she’d enjoyed reading the portfolio I’d submitted. She fixed those warm brown eyes on mine and for the next ten minutes she made me feel like the most important person in the world.

Being a student in Dr. Nakhai’s classes always meant that you were going to spend the semester experiencing a healthy mix of excitement and fear. Her love of literature and writing is infectious, and the deep discussions of the significance of the canary in A Jury of Her Peers or the archetypal images in Huckleberry Finn set my mind ablaze. I’d find myself re-reading passages and scribbling notes in the margins of all my books as I eagerly awaited the next class session.

Until, inevitably, the semester would catch up with me, and I’d have one of those weeks where I spent too much time hanging out with friends in the Quad or playing video games and I’d sit in class silently praying that she wouldn’t call on me until I had a chance to at least skim through the assigned reading or maybe piggyback off someone else’s answers to cover the fact that I was ridiculously ill-prepared.

Some weeks I wasn’t the only culprit, but there’s no fooling Mandana Nakhai. Not even five minutes into class and she would notice that the pauses were too lengthy and the answers too vague and her voice would ratchet up an octave as she attempted to jar the room full of rapt undergraduates from our panic-stricken stupor. 

“Claaaaaaas! Are you awake?! Are you alive?! Did you just eat lunch?! Open your Harbraaaace!”

I visited Dr. Nakhai’s office hours like it was my job—sometimes with questions, sometimes carrying the umpteenth draft of a paper I wanted to get more feedback on, sometimes to nag her about spending far too many hours in her office trying like hell to cultivate the young minds in her care. 

But mostly, I just wanted more time. 

I loved the melodic lilt of her voice, the way her accent rolled words exotically off her tongue. I loved circling back on interrupted class discussions and hearing her thoughts on everything from feminist theory and fashion to politics and pop culture. I loved listening to her stories, how she once sewed her sleeping nanny’s nightgown to the bedsheets as a joke and how she felt the day she moved across the ocean to her new home. 

I even loved it when she called me on my bullshit, and insisted I own up to my mistakes.

If she is guilty of anything in this life, it’s that she cares too much and gives everything she has without asking for a whole lot in return.

It’s not uncommon to catch her in her office at odd hours, and I made a habit of knocking on her door or dialing her extension from the nearest callbox whenever I saw her office light burning far too late in the evening. I learned that first summer I spent on campus that popsicles are one of the more effective ways to lure her out for a short break and a breath of fresh air. Somehow she can’t seem to ignore the pleas of a persistent college student standing outside her window hollering at her to “Hurry please and get out here before these things melt!”

Dr. Nakhai made education her life and invested the last 31 years at Concordia because she loves learning and she loves students (even the troublemakers like me). She knows that knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we can give, both to ourselves and to others. And even if she always seems to set the bar so high that you’ll be running and jumping and stretching yourself farther than you ever dreamed you could to reach it, you can be sure she’ll be standing there in the front row cheering the loudest when you finally catch hold and pull yourself up.

She’s made of silk and fire and diamonds and steel. And she’s got the sort of quiet strength and unyielding tenacity that can move mountains, if she truly believes they’re worth moving.

I’m a better scholar because she is my teacher, and I’m a better person because she is my friend. I wouldn’t be where I am—I wouldn’t be here at all—without her.

And wherever this new adventure leads, I have no doubts that it will be absolutely fabulous.

Better Late Than Never

So our holiday cards are finally done, stamped, and ready to be mailed. Better late than never, right?

Come on, you gotta cut us a little slack. We were totally on the ball with Thanksgiving, getting our Christmas tree up and decorated, buying all of our Christmas gifts and getting them mailed out so people would actually have them to open on Christmas. Hell, we even managed to make it through all 25 days without forgetting to move the Elf on the Shelf. Considering we have an infant in the house and I’m running on an average of less than 5 hours of sleep a night, the fact that we’re getting cards out this year at all is a freakin’ miracle.

Plus, we like to think that we’re being fashionably late.

So brace yourselves friends and family. These little beauties are headed to a mailbox near you.

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We All Make Mistakes

So, I recently challenged myself to do some more letter writing (click HERE to refresh your memory if you need to). And so far, I’ve kept up with my Letter-a-Week challenge. Why, I just wrote one tonight, in fact, to a complete stranger.

But let’s back up for a little more information…

About a month-and-a-half ago Steven and I started noticing that our mailbox was leaning a bit. Every day it just seemed to get worse. Then, after the big snowstorm on Cadence’s birthday, the little bit of leaning became a lot of leaning. Like a 45-degree angle sort of leaning.

Upon closer inspection, we saw that the wood post was completely rotted, and that the cement the former owners used to anchor it into the ground was all split and broken. The only way to fix it was to replace it, but the ground was frozen beneath the snow, which meant we would have to wait for warmer weather. So, we bought some wood shims, thinking it just might be enough to hold the mailbox in place until we could replace it.

And it lasted right up until Tuesday. Then, the storm and winds came through and blew the mailbox right over.

So, this afternoon while Cadence napped, Steven and I headed outside to get to work. On the curb, right in front of our mailbox was a huge pile of garbage. Apparently, one of the parents that parks in front of our house to pick up their kids from the nearby elementary school decided that it looked like the perfect spot to clean out the car.

Irritated, I headed inside to grab some gloves and a plastic bag to clean up the mess. I told Steven I wished I knew which parent it was, because I would just sit on the porch tomorrow and give the garbage back. But then, I spied something in the mess that gave me an even better idea. Oh happy day!

So folks, this week, I’m sending a letter to a girl named Shannon, who should really be more careful not to litter.

It reads…

Dear Shannon,

I just wanted to take a moment to return a few items that you left in front of my house by mistake. Since there is no public trash can in front of my mailbox, and since we both know that littering is a crime, I can’t imagine that you meant to leave this big pile of trash behind on purpose.

These days, you just can’t be too careful. Leaving things like doctor’s appointment cards and a letter from your bank that has your old address, new address, and bank account number on it lying on a city street can get you robbed, your identity stolen, or worse, which is why I’m sure you didn’t mean to leave it there. It all must have just fallen out of your car by mistake.

So, I am sending the stuff back to you that you really should be shredding before you throw it in the trash. Your trash. At your house, where the nice sanitation workers will come pick it up and dispose of it properly.

As for the rest of it–the Burger King containers, the half-empty packets of ketchup and ranch dressing, the dental pics, the empty packs of Kool and Newport cigarettes, the half-dozen crumpled receipts–I threw all of those in the trash for you. After all, we all make mistakes.

But next time? Next time, I’ll just box it all up and send it to you so you can throw it in the trash yourself.

Thanks!

Lori

Excavation 2012 – Day #48 – Please Mr. Postman

It’s probably not surprising that I’m the kind of girl who saves cards and letters.

I mean, with my book and photo addiction, it sort of makes sense that I would also be committed to saving all sorts of handwritten correspondence. And as I continued sifting through my photographs, I came across one of my boxes filled with all sorts of things that have been mailed to me over the years.

I’ve got Christmas photo cards and letters…

Letters from friends…

Letters from family…

Birthday cards…

Graduation cards…

Call me crazy, but I just can’t get rid of any of them. See, to me, these are works of art, pieces of history, my history. At different times in my life, people took the time to sit down and put their thoughts on paper, tuck them into an envelope, and send them to me. In today’s world of email and texting and social networks, good old handwritten letters are a dying art form, and I will do what I can do preserve them, even if my husband rolls his eyes and asks me why the heck I’m wasting space saving it all.

What can I say? I’m addicted to words, and I’m proud. 🙂

And  just looking through all of these old cards and letters again tonight made me seriously nostalgic for the good old days when I used to sit down with a pen and paper and write letters, and get so excited when I found one in the mail. So, I’ve decided I’m going to challenge myself to write one letter a week to someone I care about. It might be someone I’ve been thinking about. It might be someone I haven’t talked to in ages. It might be someone I think could use a little pick-me-up. Heck, it might even be just a name I draw randomly out of a hat. I’m already looking forward to the challenge because, for all the convenience of things like email and texting, there’s nothing quite like opening a mailbox and seeing a letter that’s been thoughtfully written just for you.

So, get out there, people, and start writing.

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