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College Daze: Writing and Literature

September 6, 2009

When my kids were still small, I went back to school, intent on getting a degree in Education. I finished a two year program at a local community college, applied for and got a scholarship to the University of Northern Colorado, and attended classes there. Didn’t finish, which is a whole ‘nother blog post, but I was pretty proud of myself for what I’d achieved as a non-traditional student, nonetheless.

I LOVED my composition instructors at the cc. In particular, Dr. Russ Ward.  He was my writing hero.  Still is.  He presented me with my composition award when I graduated and told the audience I’d made him prouder than any student he’d ever had. I’ll never forget that feeling as long as I live.

I was the second person to receive the award. They’d only started it the year before. The first winner was a guy named Fred Taylor. A pre-law student. Too bad, given his gift for words.

I was friends with him during our cc days, we had composition classes together, and we often critiqued each other’s work before turning it in. He had a sweet girlfriend I was also friends with, whose name escapes me. Why is that? I can see her plain as day, but I can’t for the life of me recall her name. I actually got closer to her than I did Fred, yet I can’t remember her name? I can only conclude it was because he was a writer and she wasn’t.

My best memory of those two was a day we were sitting on the floor in the hallway at school, all three of us, and I pulled out an essay I’d written, due the next day, and handed it to Fred for his input.

He read, and as he did, this pained expression started to form on his face.

I knew this wasn’t good.

“Uhm… you’re not really going to turn this piece of shit in tomorrow, are you? Who the hell wrote this? It couldn’t have been you?” Fred told me.

We were always pretty brutal with each other, and I liked that about him. I can’t stand it if someone reads my work and gushes over it like it’s the greatest piece of work since The Grapes of Wrath. Be honest with me please. Straight up. Trust me – I can take that better than a bunch of fake fawning.

Without missing a beat, I said “Oh hell no!”

The three of us burst into uncontrollable laughter there in the hallway, nearly toppling completely over onto the floor.

Needless to say – that essay hit the trash bin later that afternoon, and I composed something entirely different for the next day.

Good times, me, Fred, and whats-her-name.

University of Northern Colorado. I loved it there. Most of my classes met in old basement classrooms that looked and smelled like academia is supposed to, in my not-so-humble opinion.

I struggled in my Elizabethan Lit class. I don’t think the instructor liked me. Not long after the class began, we came in one day to find a message written on the blackboard by an unknown visitor: “We f****d here”

There were the usual stifled giggles and snorts as the majority of the still-adolescent class  noticed it, and then the instructor walked in.

He saw his class smirking and pointing, and turned to look at the blackboard. He handled it right smartly, I thought.

“Well… at least they could have been Elizabethan about it!”

The class laughed.

I couldn’t help myself. It was an opening that was just too good to pass up. I jumped up out of my chair, grabbed the chalk,  placed the appropriate accent mark above the ‘e’ in the ‘f’ word, laid the chalk down, and said “There. NOW it’s Elizabethan!”

He wasn’t impressed, I don’t think. I’d gotten A’s for the first few papers I’d turned in, but nothing above a C on anything for the remainder of the class. I can’t say with any certainty that my smartassiness contributed to my lower grades, but…

Anglo-Saxon lit – I LOVED this class. I learned to love Beowulf here. Oh sure, I’d ‘studied’ it before, in high school, when I was a snot-nosed brat, not paying any attention beyond rote memorization of what I needed to know to ace the tests. This is the advantage of being a non-traditional student. You’ve matured some, and you’re actually interested in LEARNING about the things you’re studying.

I learned more about Anglo-Sax lit not from the instructor, but from one of my classmates. Her name was Lucy, and I can still see her sitting at her desk, intelligent blue eyes, long dark hair with a grey streak in it already, though she was only in her early twenties, clad in blue jeans, old t-shirts, dangly earrings, and flip-flops, no matter the weather, bent forward, ring-on-every-finger-including-thumbs hands gesturing (though not wildly – Lucy was low-key), a look of total obsession for the topic on her face, giving forth the most amazing insights into the literature being discussed.

Lucy was wicked smart, and completely awesome. She was like E.F. Hutton. When Lucy began to speak, the whole class turned to listen. Attentively. Even the most disinterested of the lot. Even the instructor. He got this huge smile on his face when she spoke, and that look that said “This one has really got it!” I got my share of looks like that from him too, but not nearly as much as Lucy did. I was so thrilled to have her in my class that I briefly considered asking her what her major was, and what classes she was taking the following semester, with the plan of signing up for as many as I could that Lucy would also be taking. Yeah, I was almost groupie-ish about it, but I don’t think I was the only one. Everyone loved Lucy. I’d love to know where she is now, and what she’s achieved. I’m betting she’s a published author.

I hope one day that I am too.

I miss school. I’d love to go back and finish. Maybe someday I will. I have this thirst for learning that nearly parallels my hunger for writing.

I think I’d major in English this time.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2009 5:02 pm

    We all need a Fred in our lives. Someone who will just tell us the way it is. Like you, when I ask for critiques, that’s what I want. Yes-people are nice for the ego, but not always helpful if we’re trying to improve our craft.

    • September 6, 2009 5:41 pm

      Precisely, Jack. While I do value and take note of the opinions of non-writers that read what I’ve done… especially avid readers… fellow writers are the ones whose opinions I value most. There’s many reasons for that, not the least of which is because I know they understand that ‘being polite and saying something nice’ about something that’s a total heap of garbage is not what I’m after. Even if it’s good… I still want to know where the flaws are. They’re always there. A fellow writer will tell you, straight up.

  2. September 7, 2009 1:52 pm

    You have some nice memories of school. All my memories deal with being on the edge of panic. I was never prepared, in over my head, and well, just flat got tossed out in the third quarter. The US Army was happy to take me in. That didn’t work out so badly in the end. Still, no warm fuzzy school days type memories for me…panic, pure and simple.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

    • September 7, 2009 4:55 pm

      I guess I’m lucky, Galen. High School was a nightmare. We had some of the most horrible teachers and administrators ever. College I loved, and still do. I’d be a professional student if I could.

  3. Carolyn Yalin permalink
    September 8, 2009 11:06 am

    I think we never stop learning. I love taking classes here and there. Once my daughter gets older I may try to pick up a few classes at CSU.

    • September 8, 2009 2:06 pm

      Hey Carolyn! 🙂

      CSU is a great school. I didn’t take any classes there but a lot of people I was going to school with did, and it’s got a good rep. I REALLY wanted my daughter to consider the Veterinary school there.

      Thanks for dropping by!

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