On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My apprehension was mainly for naught. I feel very comfortable in grad school, in part because of the teacher, in part because of the other students, in part, perhaps, because I am older and wiser than I thought, yet so much younger than I appear.

My class, “Writing Across Genres,” appeared at first glance to be a snap. Heck, I TAUGHT poetry—studying it should be review! Well, surprise, surprise! There’s a ton of information out there beyond the normal high school exploration. I am learning words I never came across before, methods and styles that surprise me with their seeming simplicity yet deep complexity. And that’s just form, not even content!

The most exciting thing is that I feel I am learning to think differently, to look at poetry—and, indeed, at words in general—with a new and fresh eye. How exciting that even at my advanced age, life can still surprise me!

There’s a line in a song from the show Pippin that I try to live by:

“I believe if I refuse to grow old,
I can stay young ‘till I die.”

I think surprise is what keeps a person young. When we are just starting out in the world, every day is an exciting surprise, a gift, a party. Somewhere along the way, we tend to lose that excitement in the day-to-day reality of making a living, raising a family, losing loved ones, and blindly barreling along our own road to that dark unknown. I think as long as I can keep a sense of wonder, I can keep a youthful outlook.

That’s what I loved about teaching high school: the daily surprises presented by my students. I could watch their highs and lows, listen to their delight and pain, and myself experience their contagious celebration of life. I especially love directing young people in theater. To see the light come on in their eyes when they suddenly grasp a concept is nothing short of thrilling. To watch them grow before my eyes feeds my need to share, to nurture, to encourage. I have letters from students thanking me for giving them a little knowledge, a little push, or a little courage. Little do they know that they give me back so much more than I gave them.

Lesson: Keep up the wonder, keep up the hunger. Look to tomorrow as a challenge and enjoy each surprise, and you will never grow old.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I’m here. Actually, by the time I post this, I will have been there: my first class.

I left home early because I wasn’t sure how bad traffic would be in the city—it wasn’t, and I arrived on campus with 40 minutes to spare. So after being reassured by a campus cop that I wouldn’t be ticketed for parting in a permit-only lot, I began walking around the campus a bit. It’s a beautiful place, with many heavily-shaded green areas. One was right in front of K Hall, where I would have my class, so I sauntered around, trying to soak in the educational ambiance.

I walked over to a large concrete bench, mottled from time and weather. Just below the seat were engraved the words “Class of 1896.” A sudden emotion washed over me, and I sat down. I was connected, if only peripherally, to the past and to the thousands of students who had sat on that bench before me. I was bound to and part of the primordial need to learn and grow. The feeling was nearly overwhelming, and I wanted to grab every student who passed me, to shake them and demand that they understand how lucky they were to be here, and how important their place was. I wanted to shout, “Seize every opportunity, enjoy every minute!”

I didn’t, of course. Instead, I strolled around the mini-quad, enjoying the sounds of the trees, the smell of the lake, the cool depth of the shade. There were several sidewalk paths throughout, and it gave me satisfaction to see how they, too, were as interconnected as our lives. Everything fit, the stars were aligned, it was right.

It was time. I entered K Hall.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Today I am a co-ed. Or is that word outdated, along with all my memories of college life? Once more, I am on the periphery.

I went to get my student ID card today, in preparation for starting classes next week. I remember ten (TEN?!?) years ago, one glorious spring day, taking my son to visit the same school so he could examine it and possibly apply. He was not enthusiastic, but I pushed, and he became more interested in the school as we followed the chirpy little tour guide who extolled various school advantages. Even more than piquing his interest, however, I found myself longing to be a student again, specifically at this school.

Well, long story short, my son went there, and loved it. And now, finally, I, too, will be able to call myself a student at that very university. Yet, somehow, it’s different: the feeling, I mean. As I walked through the student union after receiving my new ID with the regulation horrible photo, I still felt slightly out of place.

I am older, wiser, and my student years will not include frat parties, midnight movies, or pizza runs. I won’t be singing in the dorm shower at 3 a.m., nor will I eagerly check the school entertainment programs for suitable weekend fare. Instead, I will be commuting an hour-and-a-half each way, twice a week, to reach my goal, rushing home so I can get some sleep before getting up for work in the morning.

No, it won’t be what I felt stirring that gorgeous spring morning, but then again, how could it be? I was longing for the carefree, exciting life of a student, exploring new ideas, expanding my mind, meeting different kinds of people. But that’s for a youth I’ve long since passed. Of course, I will still be exploring, expanding, and meeting, but by the very token of my “advanced” years, it will be with eyes not so much open in wonder as wary in experience. My children are grown, but I still have responsibilities—a job, a house, a husband, and a dog, all of which need tending. Now I have an end in sight: a degree that will allow me to expand my opportunities for job advancement, along with a personal satisfaction that I can still “cut it.”

So it won’t be the same. It never can be. But on the plus side, I also have a lot more to offer this time around. I have experiences unmatched by youth. And I have opinions, forged by time. My mind is not the gooey mess it once was, sucking up ideas without first sorting them out. This time I will not go gentle into that good class; no, I will speak my mind as I accept new challenges. Not only will I absorb new ideas, I will know how to analyze them, shape them, change them and come up with something entirely new.

So I am still on the edge, the outside looking in. But this time, I am ready to fly.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I'm starting grad school.

That might not sound so earth-shattering, but I am 54 years old, and nearly 35 years out of college. It is a big deal.

I applied as a lark--figured I'd never be accepted (it's a VERY prestigious school!), egged on by my husband who intoned, "The kids are done. It's YOUR turn! At least apply." Well, I did apply, and I got in, and now I face 2-1/2 years of classes taught by people younger than I, facing a new "peer group" (also younger, with a lot more brain cells!). Yes, it is frightening, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that I have certain advantages.

First, and maybe foremost, I am old enough to really appreciate education. I didn't the first time around--just thought of it as a means to an end. Now it is something for ME, and is the end itself. My grandfather (from the Old Country) always emphasized the importance of education to us, saying, "It's one thing that can never be taken away from you." Spoken by one who once had everything taken away, those words had an impact. I am heartened by the thought that even if I don't make it all the way to that terminal degree, I will have something more than I had before, something that will increase my personal worth.

Second, I have the advantage of experience. I am working toward a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, and I have years of developing into the person I am. As a writer--as a student of writing--that experience is invaluable.

Third, most important and perhaps tied to the first reason, I am studying something I truly love. I love to write. There, I said it. I have never had writer's block, I have never gone cold at the sight of a blank page. Indeed, there is too much to write, and too little time. I have written articles, poems, plays, songs, novels, short stories, reviews and columns. I taught writing in a high school, and now I write for a living, developing children's writing materials. I love, love, love to write. I hope these traits don't desert me when I am faced with assignments and deadlines, but I am confident I will get through it all. I want it, and I believe that if you want something badly enough, you will get it.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, wish me luck. I start next week.