Top Ten Things Papa Looker Taught Me

1. “The biggest lie ever is telling someone the sun will come out tomorrow.” I was twenty, in London, and drinking wine in front of a professor. He dropped this truth bomb on me while I was half way to a mildly embarrassing wine buzz. This was the most brilliant thing a person of authority has ever told me. Sometimes it doesn’t get better, and you can’t bank your happiness on that you’ll be happy in the future. Truth hurts, but this is necessary. I’ll tell you what though, I find I’m happier day to day when I’m not waiting on a tomorrow.

2. “If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.” I don’t know if he said these exact words, but this was essentially the moral of the story that he told me about him trying to learn tennis. *Spoiler Alert* His story ends with him getting so angry he breaks his racket and tosses it up into a tree where it gets stuck. I don’t see him as a violent guy, but it’s nice to know he has normal human emotions. I also appreciate the lesson that just because I’m human doesn’t mean I need to showcase what I’m bad at. I’m good at things, that’s all you need to know.

3. It’s perfectly acceptable as an adult to block someone from your sight. Physically. I think I was in Brit Lit II with him. He decided for whatever reason that he couldn’t look at me in particular while telling a story. I’m pretty sure he thought I was going to judge him. If it had been anyone but him, I probably would have, but I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Papa Looker, so I only admire him when he speaks. Anyway, he physically put his hands up to block me from his sight while talking. I walked out of that class with no less respect for him, and I’m now armed with a valuable customer service technique.

4. Awkwardness knows no educational bounds. This man is kind and sweet, but frantic and panicked all of the time. He’s shared with classes stories that are so funny, yet so embarrassing, I would not have survived them if they had happened me. But also, this man convinced professors of U of M to give him a graduate degree. He’s written books that have been published. He has a doctorate. Awkwardness does not hold you back from greatness. It enhances your greatness. It gives your greatness much needed color.

5. “My hope is that one day I can pour hot coffee into this mug and have instant coffee.” He didn’t wash his mug very often. When he poured water into it, the water had a soft brown hue. Most people find that gross. I find it inspiring. This man took laps around campus, I’m convinced purely to keep from getting the shakes. His veins held more caffeine than blood. In fact, my junior year, I believe he cut back to like three cups a day. I have dreams and goals, and even if they’re small, they’re important to pursue. I too want to pour hot water into my own coffee mug and get instant coffee. If only my roommate would stop secretly washing it behind my back.

6. Even guys with doctorates get emotional while reading. I’ve always thought I was weird for how interactive I make reading. I laugh, cry, talk, and yell while reading books that have really grabbed my attention. Especially cry. But I just thought that was a “girl” thing, as awful and 1950’s as that sounds. Then Papa Looker read Virginia Woolf’s suicide note to her husband and cried. Granted, suicide notes are not books and by nature desperately sad. Still, I watched him be moved by a piece of writing. He connected with it and shamelessly let himself feel. That’s an astounding way to let people know it’s not just right that they’re emoting over writing, it’s what they should be doing. Find something that makes you react.

7. I’m weird, and that’s okay. I think he actually said that I thought in a different way than most people. Yet, he treated it like a valuable thing, not something that should be changed or lied about. I’m crazy. I have a different way of looking at the world. That’s awesome. I embrace that. As much as I want to be an academic, I don’t think I am. I love school and I love talking about books and writing intelligently. I’m just not your cookie cutter graduate student. That’s okay. I still have valuable insight to offer that others might not have thought of.

8. “I became a teacher so that I could force a room full of people to listen to me talk about literature.” Get that audience. If you have something to say, don’t be ashamed about making people listen. I hate teaching, but that’s not my medium. Clearly, I’m honing my skills at writing lists of ten and then suckering my Facebook friends into reading them. It’s how I say what’s on my mind. Maybe one day I’ll publish a book and sucker more people into reading my thoughts.

9. It’s not the end of the world if someone you look up to disappoints you. My second time in London, my independent course was supposed to be about Jane Austen. In three weeks, we talked about Jane Austen maybe twice at most. The rest of the trip he sort of expected Haley and I to sit in on the Arts class that we already took. I did not participate only because I spent the whole night before explaining what the readings meant to everyone in the class. I had nothing more to say to them on the subject. In any case, I was pissed at Papa Looker. I don’t like saying that, but I was. I wish he would have sat Haley and I down and honestly said that having a third class, even if it was independent, was too much for him. I would have respected his honesty, but I wouldn’t have wasted my time, either. How do I feel about him now? I want to figure out how to talk him into having coffee with me every two weeks so we can discuss books. The guy is still my hero and mentor. Yeah, I really didn’t like him for a couple of weeks, but I could forgive him. The world didn’t fall apart. I got over it. That’s a crucial life lesson to learn. Getting over something and forgiving the person.

10. Be yourself. It sounds like a total after school special, but it’s true. I watched this man for four years in all of his crazy glory. He’s not perfect, and he’s fantastically weird. I have so much respect for him though. He’s brilliant and has fantastic thoughts. Because he’s only ever absolutely himself, the passion he has for his work and hobbies is 100% genuine. I respect that realness. I want to listen to him because I know he’s not pandering to me or spouting bullshit. He’s giving me real ideas. I want to emulate that. I want to be real with people too. I want to earn that respect from people that you can only get by being real. I struggle very hard with it. It’s the antithesis of my social anxiety, but I strive towards it regardless.


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