What Inspires You?

What, or better yet, who, has inspired you? No, this isn't a puff piece that ranks which travel bloggers most inspire wanderlust. With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, I felt like it was only appropriate to tell the story of who inspired me to write and travel and to ask readers who it has been for them. Call this my Thanksgiving thank you letter. This post has double meaning for me, because this isn't just about the person who inspired to me to travel, but to also write. My sister has far and away been the most inspiring person when it comes to travel, because as a long-time flight attendant she helped me acquire a taste for travel at a young age. However, it was actually a professor from college who I owe my inspiration of writing, as well as heeding the call to go.

It was my senior year of college; well my first senior year. I was at somewhat of a fork in the road. I was a physical education major and starting my internships, disgruntled at the road I had chosen two years prior. How was I supposed to know that gym teachers actually had to teach and wake up at 5:30 a.m.? It was way too early in life for me to upgrade from pull-ups. A couple friends of mine had talked me into taking a Philosophy class on rationality and human judgement. The first college class I had ever taken was a philosophy class and I hated it. I signed up only because the description said something about watching movies. It failed to mention that the movies had to be watched outside of class. As a P.E. major, I had never taken a class with friends, so I signed up.

Before proceeding, I probably should mention that I was almost kicked out of college three years prior because my English teacher thought I was plagiarizing, which I wasn't. Despite my difficult writing English papers a couple years before, I still decided on taking the philosophy class, and was pretty sure I was making the worst decision of college. Ok, well second worst. The worst decision was playing a prank on some girlfriends by taking the back, driver's side tire off their cars. Unbeknownst to us, there were some campus capers that really had been stealing tires and selling them. We got the tires back on the cars, mere minutes before the campus police were going to come after us.

Idlewild Bookstore New York City
Idlewild Bookstore New York City

A mere days after starting the class, we got our first assignment, a five-page paper on utilitarianism. Like most things in my life, I waited to the last minute, and rushed through it, not really thinking or worrying about what the outcome would be. At the next class, Dr. Scott asked me to stay behind. My heart sank to the floor. Sure, you have those "special" kids that get asked to stay after class to personally be handed their essay with a grade of 100 or given another trophy, however, I was not one of those. I was always told I was "special", but I think it was because my parents conceived me later in life, some 20 years after my two sisters.

The conversation with Dr. Scott went a little something like this:

Dr. Scott: Spencer, I've never had a student quite as exceptional as you.

Me: Well, I'm as good as they come sir.

Dr. Scott: Your paper was so good in fact, that I wanted to personally give it to you. You scored a 100, the first 100 I've ever given.

Me: Well thank you sir, I didn't expect anything less.

Dr. Scott: It was so good in fact, that I want you to write the introduction to my next book.

Me: Let me see if I can fit it into my editorial calendar.

That's actually not how the conversation went at all. The conversation started with "Spencer", and then it was just downhill from there. I believe Dr. Scott's exact words were: "Spencer, this just isn't good". Dr. Scott was one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet and he was being especially nice, so I know that my paper was much worse, especially since I got an F on it. However, before making the walk of shame out of the classroom, Dr. Scott told me something. He told me that he believed in me and knew that I was a good writer, but that it just didn't come out in the paper. Nobody had looked at me with such sincerity and told me they believed in me like Dr. Scott did that day. Not only that, but he told me he would give me a clean slate and let me re-write it and he would grade it, as if for the first time.

There have been a lot of defining moments in my life, but that was one of the greatest. I had never considered myself a writer, but someone did, and there may have not been anyone else in the world who did so, but there was one person who believed in me. I felt like Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, when after stealing the bishop's silver, the bishop forgives him and doesn't press charges, instead telling Valjean to never forget this moment, because he has been redeemed from fear and hatred and has promised to be a new man. We had four graded assignments in that class and the first I had failed miserably; meaning to get away with a C would've taken a lot of work. However, Dr. Scott gave me another shot because he saw something that I, nor anyone else did.

I had 48 hours to write a completely new paper. I learned then that when someone shows sincerity, love, and belief in you, you'll do anything to show them that you can do that thing they believe in you for. I gave my all to that paper and wrote, proofed, re-wrote, proofed, and wrote some more. I hung onto Dr. Scott's words and if he thought I was a good writer, I was going to prove it.

At the next class I proudly turned in my paper, feeling good about myself. The following week, at the end of one of our classes, Dr. Scott asked me again to stay for a moment afterwards. After feeling so good and proud of myself, I was preparing for the worst. "Spencer, I've never seen such a turnaround. This is one of the best grades I've given to a student, a 98". I can't recollect the exact moment, but I may have dribbled myself a little bit when I heard those words. Dr. Scott often referred back to my paper when giving lectures throughout the year. At the beginning of the next semester, I changed my major to philosophy, and though I may not have gotten the same journalistic training that many have, I've been reading and writing ever since.

Though thrilled to change my major to Philosophy, I was disappointed when I heard that Dr. Scott, who had become my favorite professor, was leaving his post as the dean of the department to go to Montana to teach. My disappoint was short-lived. I never asked Dr. Scott why he would choose to leave his three-story log home in the Smoky Mountains and uproot his family to move to Montana. I didn't need to ask him. I knew there had to be something bigger than himself, something he sincerely believed in that made him heed the call to go. Dr. Scott took a risk on me and we both won, so I can only imagine he's basking in satisfaction in Montana.

People often ask me how I got into travel writing, and I respond with: "You got a few minutes". I tell them this story of Dr. Scott and how he believed in me and was the first spark of inspiration. Sure I remember the first time I was published, the first writing gig I got, and the first interview I did, but none of that was possible without Dr. Scott.

So in lieu of Thanksgiving, this is my "thank you" to Dr. Scott for being the one who helped inspire my wanderlust and inspired me to write. Who or what is it that has inspired you?

[Photo of me courtesy of Kirsten Alana]