So, I arrive in Robinson B 106 and this time the corridor is pretty empty. It is 4:00 (the calls starts at 4:30), and there is no sign of students.
“Oh my God,” I think. “Last week I lost my class. Now I have lost the English Dept. If I keep coming here, I will lose the university”.
A woman of about my age arrives wheeling what appears to be a shopping cart containing a scarf and one very lonely book. She introduces herself and she is in “Research for Narrative Non-fiction”. I have a fellow student and what’s more, of about my age. She explains that the class last week was cancelled because the professor had a writing deadline.
We enter the classroom. She works out how to turn on the lights and we sit at a round desk. (Round tables fill the room signifying that this room is used for seminars, or group lunches.) She explains that she is writing a family history. I quiz her about who are the best professors to study from.
Meanwhile students arrive and stand in the corridor outside. They have obviously concluded that these two people in their room are professors and should not be disturbed.
Finally they come in. We have a class.
It is like a combination of landing on a remote planet at the same time as entering a time warp. Shades of H. G. Hells The Time Machine.
Luckily I spy one other oldie at a nearby table. Should we all sit together? If so, maybe the room might tilt or we could start an age war. But, I like the mix and somehow wish I was at a more diverse table. (Maybe next week) However my level of discomfort is already enough in the situation, and I decide to stay where I am. It is close to the door, and escape is still possible.
The lecturer arrives in the room, and by his manner it is obvious that I am the only person who still is not a fan, although open to acceptance.
He gets some basic logistics done.
“What did you read over the break?” “What break?”, I think. “Was I on a break?” He is definitely not referring to the 20 year break since I was here last time. That is something that I am as yet unaware of. Oh it is some magic code or language into which I have not yet been initiated.
In turn, each person in the room states their name, background and what they read over this magical ‘break’. Someone even bravely admits that she did nothing.
I look towards the door. “Is it too late to escape?” This is weird. I have never even heard of the books they have read. I do no read fiction. I have only read a couple of fiction books in the last couple of years: “Night Train to Lisbon” and “I Claudius”. “I Claudius” is hardly fiction, and yet it aligns with the subject of this class. It was really strange for me. I can only imagine how strange it is for them when it is my turn.
I turn and say what I have read: “Thinking Fast and Slow”, “Half Life of Facts” and a book on computer programming.
If I was stunned by what the other students had read, I think they suffered major bafflement. For me, the names of the books were like a foreign language. For them, I named books whose titles had familiar words but were in some almost gibberish order.
Luckily, the professor latches onto one title, “Half Life of Facts” and asks me what it was. In my nervousness, I give what must have been one of worst explanations ever stated. However, I think he sees that it rightly aligned with the subject of the course and does not send me to the corner to put on the dunces cap.
“Do I still have time to escape?”
The class discusses logistics further and I am starting to feel more comfortable. We are all going to use Blackboard. “Great. I know what a blackboard is.” Yet the room only has white boards. Then I discover that Blackboard is a software application obviously familiar to everyone in the classroom; everyone, except me.
Assumptions are interesting. It is assumed that everyone in the class is familiar with Blackboard. The last time I was at GMU, 20 years ago the concept of students in a classroom even having access to a computer during class time was totally alien. We used pen and paper, and maybe a desktop at home. At that time, we were still discussing the possibilities of desktop publishing, a term that now no longer exists because it is assumed.
So, I will need to get this logistic set up later. Luckily, everything is displayed onto a board and I can follow.
Time for a break.
I have overcome my major fear: being able to last through a class without having to go to the bathroom. Age sucks, but one more uncertainty overcome.
We resume. I feel more at ease. We are still discussing English stuff.
We do a site read. I have never heard of a site read. Oh. It is a sight read. Not a place, but a process. The lecturer displays a piece of writing on the board and we discuss it. The key is that you have never seen the piece of writing before, so you have fresh and initial insight into it.
The sight read is about the first atomic tests. The piece is really great. I immediately notice that the concept of the light from the explosion is the dominant thing in the first paragraph. Holy Hell; the word ‘light’ is in the second, and the third.
The lecture asks the class what they think of the structure of the different paragraphs. I do not know the lingo although I sort of get what he is getting at.
“Anything else”, he asks. So, I open my big uneducated mouth and say: “I like the way the whole composition is held together. It is all about light. The word is in every paragraph. It is almost the last word.” The lecturer rolls the text on the screen to the last paragraph and it is the fifth word from the end of the article. He sees it. One of the other students picks up my comment. I now have an ally. This guy appears to be a MFA senior student and class guru.
I am accepted. Well sort of. I have now progressed to the classification of idiot savant.
The lecturer concludes by talking about distance: distance in time and distance in experience from any piece of writing. I totally get it. He is talking my language.
He asks about the moral goal of the article. The girls in the class say it’s about how bad the atomic bond is, and all look appropriately sad and worried.
So big mouth gives it one more shot. “When something is written it is on paper and lives forever. What we understand is not necessarily what the writer meant or even knew.” “The article is a celebration of achievement. The first paragraph is about the success of this amazing thing. Then the writer explains how it happened. Then he says what has been achieved since then. It is a celebration.” The teacher smiles. The younger students are dumbfounded. I add that you can add morality in articles but if you are too heavy handed, you will immediately lose readers. The teacher smiles even more.
Class is over. Time is up.
I am still sitting at the desk trying to get organized.
And when teacher leaves, he smiles warmly at me and says “Thanks you”. He has a class with discussion. He has a class with discord.
For me it is great. I feel that this class will be great. Although not a writer in a class of writers, I will get a lot from it. What’s more: I got to the end without having to go to the bathroom.
Class 1 survived. Now I start to work.