Thomas Doty – Storyteller

A Native View


Remembering a Teacher

On a day in October I helped bury Ted Huggins, a man who not only taught me how to write, but to love writing, and to care -- really care -- how the words go together.

Our friendship began in a college classroom. He was the teacher, I was the student, and a lazy one at best. When I saw the list of requirements for the course, I figured I had it made. Huggins required a certain number of words to be written for the term. That guaranteed a passing grade. Not necessarily a good grade, as I was to find out on several occasions, but a passing one.

My plan was this. I'd write a long story right off -- twice the number of required words -- and I'd coast through the rest of the term. Was I ever wrong. I got my story back with a note at the bottom. "Fine story," it said. "225% of course requirement completed. But that's no reason to feel guiltless."

That was the first of several lessons over several years.

I spent many hours with Ted in his office going over stories and poems. An hour spent on a sentence. Three hours on a paragraph. Days on a page. And the aphorisms: "Hammer your thoughts into unity." "Strive for the art that hides itself." "Words are precious. Use them sparingly. They cost you a buck apiece."

But the most important lesson was this. While other teachers told me to write what I know about, Ted Huggins taught me to write what I care about. That was not only a good lesson in how to write, but in how to live.

And for that I cannot thank him enough.