Remembering Brent

An Illustration from AustenRecently, I lost one of my heroes.

Dr. Brent Chesley was a professor at Aquinas College and a big influence on the person I became. For a while I even wanted to be Dr. Chesley as I applied and was accepted in a Ph.D. program in Literature at Michigan State University. (In time that didn’t feel like a good match for my skills and I transferred over to the University of Southern California’s writing program where I eventually got my MFA.)

Everyday Dr. Chesley celebrated literature.

Everything was worthy of a discussion and everyone’s opinion mattered. To emphasize this, he would begin each class by welcoming his students as “persons of quality.” If hearing that, even on a stormy Monday, doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I don’t know what will.

After graduation, Dr. Chesley and I stayed in touch. We would meet for lunch once a year or so, where we would discuss writing and maybe Worf on Star Trek. We kept in touch over emails and Facebook messages. Whenever I had a funny or depressing story to share about the world of literature (and my adventures in it), there would be an email out from me followed by a few from him.

The world felt right knowing Dr. Chesley was out there. He was the fan of literature that writers dream of. Someone that will really give your writing a chance (not just skim like someone waiting at an airport) and find the possibility there. For years, he would have me come into his writing courses to speak to his students (you can listen to one of those appearances here) and a part of me always wanted to begin by saying “Do you know how lucky you are to be in this class right now?” We all have those wonders if you can go back and relive certain moments in your life which would you choose. Of course, like most people, I will point to holding my children as babies again or when my wife and I were married, but I would also include being a student at Aquinas College in that list.

When I went off to study writing on the graduate level other students would ask why I went to Aquinas College as compared to a major university. But Aquinas College turned out to be the perfect starting place for me, and the professors that were there then, like Dr. Chesley,  were able to give me the attention and focus I needed. I wasn’t just another student dreaming of publishing stardom. I was unique and special there. And we all like to feel unique and special, don’t we?

Pride and PrejudiceWhen I wrote my novel A Jane Austen Daydream I had to create a series of articles for websites and press releases about the book and Dr. Chesley would always sneak into them. For it was Dr. Chesley, who introduced me to Ms. Austen. As any of his former students will tell you he was obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and considered it one of the greatest works in English Literature. Today, I heartily agree with him, but before his class I would never have considered picking up one of her books. Oh, how wrong I was. It is one of the reasons why I gave him a cameo in the book, acting as the doctor in Jane Austen’s hometown.

It still feels right to me that the doctor in Jane’s hometown is actually a doctor of literature.

A few years after I graduated Dr. Chesley told me I could just call him Brent. It felt weird and then strangely like an honor. How many other students got to call a professor by their first name? It was something I had earned. So when I think of the person that left my life, I don’t simply think of a professor that encouraged and inspired me, I also think of a good friend… and a hero.

Goodbye Brent. Tell Jane I said hi.

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The Mary Jane Legacy (It’s not about what you may assume…)

Something different on my site today, and from a different Scott Southard! My dad has his own blog where he writes on his experience working in health care and as a manager. In his most recent post he shared memories of his mom, my grandmother. It is a touching piece and I think really captures her strong personality and amazing mind. I hope you enjoy it.

Healthcare Leadership: A Discourse

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of my mother, Mary Jane Southard.  She was a hard worker and a very smart woman with several graduate degrees, held a position in public education of which she was the first Michigan woman to do so, and was responsible for launching the education of innumerable children in our community.

Grandma S. copy

Even now, people in her town still recognize our shared last name and ask about her or have an endearing story to share of her seemingly unceasing generosity and kind heart.  It always fascinated my sons and me when out with her that people in their fifties or sixties would approach her and ask if she knew who they were.  And, like some sideshow act, she would look into these people’s eyes and without fail recognize them and call them by the name they preferred as a five-year old… and then…

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Running Shoes

Running ShoesWhen I was eight years old my family was hoodwinked by our local newspaper.

The journalist decided that he wanted to do a story about a runner and his family, so he collected three different families for interviews. It sounded fairly innocent, benign, but the first warning sign should have come to us when he had us pose for a front image for the story.

He had me and my little brother sitting on a curb, holding a sign (I believe it said “Go Dad”) and looking sad as my dad ran by in a blur.

A few days later the story came out with our sad expressions filling up almost an entire page. The journalist cherry-picked quotes, creating an image that runners when they run take time away from their families. Personally, we were all disgusted by the story, and to this day I like to imagine there is a ring in Dante’s Inferno for journalists like that. (I imagine it would involve them all interviewing each other and seeing their own words taken out of context.)

The fact is I never lost anything by my dad being a runner. If anything it taught me the importance of being healthy and exercise. Yeah, running was not my thing and my dad had to begrudgingly accept that (I lean towards biking more), but at least I do exercise. And as a teenager I would bike alongside him as he ran and talked. My dad was always known for talking while running. Continue reading

The Art of the Blog: Getting Personal

Blogs are always started with the best intention. A writer feels they have something to share, something that could enrich a reader out there in the stratosphere of the internet.

The funny thing is you see this a lot around the newly published, both self-published and professionally published. Did I say “a lot” in that last sentence? Good, because I meant to say “a lot.” And usually on these newly minted blogs there will be a few posts about their book, their experience writing it, and a few helpful suggestions and then… nothing. The internet is littered with the remains of these kinds of websites, something akin to a field after a rock concert. The party is done, but no one bothered to clean up the mess from the show.

Frankly, what the beginning blogger doesn’t realize is that it takes guts and stamina to write a true blog and to build a readership for it. A blog is more than a marketing tool, it is a new writing platform (and in my opinion could become its own powerful writing medium right alongside writing for plays, books, television, etc.), and if you don’t see it as such, you won’t be able to use it to its full potential. Yes, you can fill it up with advice and your opinion, but for people to come back again and again, there has to be something in your blog that is not available anywhere else on the internet…

I’m talking about you, by the way.

Continue reading

Life’s After Thoughts

I don’t believe in ghosts.

I can say, for example, that someone died in my bedroom  (It is an old house) and I have yet to see any specter on a dark moonlit evening. No screeching screams demanding I leave the premises; nor have I felt even the slightest presence in the room. For my children, it is the refuge they go to after a bad dream or to seek comfort. There is nothing there to scare them away.

One of my favorite stories about the “unknown” comes from my little brother when he was a kid. He and one of my young cousins got their hands on an Ouija board and decided to talk to demons. He came running up to me later declaring that they had spoken to Satan!

I, being the arrogant teenager I was at the time, said something like, “Oh yeah? How did he spell his name?”

My brother proudly replied, “S.A.T.I.N.”

The Reason

My grandfather, my last grandparent, passed away earlier this year (I wrote about writing his obituary here). To say my grandparents had an impact on my life is to put it mildly. Next to my parents, they were one of the most important influences on my life. They were my safety net and they caught me numerous times while growing up. Continue reading