And so it begins – Year Two of my MFA – with homework piled sky-high.
I’ve been describing it to people like this: Year One was like learning how to plan a fabulous, fun-filled, memorable vacation. Year Two appears to be more like learning how to build your own airplane. From scratch. With your bare hands.
As I write this (and yes, procrastinate on homework for a while) I am thinking about all of the assignments due before my next class meetings. The list looks something like this:
12 student chapters from my cohort, including a reread of my own.
7 short stories, one of which I am asked to annotate for structure.
2 chapters of a textbook on how to teach English Composition.
1 chapter of a book length project, ideally new pages, but, at a minimum, edited existing pages.
Develop a teaching assignment and grading rubric for said assignment and evaluate the student exercises conducted in class by three of my peers.
Draft a teaching pedagogy statement.
Draft a course description with objectives for an Intro to Creative Writing class.
Begin researching possible textbooks I might use to teach creative writing.
2 units in a workbook on diagramming sentences.
All of this is due next week…in four days. In case you’re worried, yes, I have already started but I still have much to do.
I think about this long list of assignments and reflect back on the fact that I did at one time, not so very long ago, hold a highly demanding job with far-reaching responsibilities. That job fully consumed my time, my brain and my life. It was not easy, but I managed. The major difference, however, is that I knew what I was doing (at least mostly) and that is why they’d hired me.
Now, as I take on these challenges of schoolwork, I don’t actually know what I’m doing. Which, of course, is why I am studying. But I’m realizing how stretched my brain is right now, how tired my eyes are, and how uncertain I am of being able to succeed this semester if every week is going to be like these first two.
When working full-time, there were often moments when I did not want to do a task, but I never doubted that I could accomplish it. The didn’t want to part is largely why I’m not there any more. I became burnt out because, indeed, I had done the same tasks so many times that they were no longer a challenge. I left that job and, for the most part, that career entirely behind me. I still do the occasional consultancy, but I no longer have my mind in that world full-time. I craved something new, something more creative.
As they say, be careful what you ask for. It’s cliché, but it’s true. I wanted challenge and boy howdy am I gettin’ it. For many of the assignments I find that I am doing a tremendous amount of research. Often the first piece of research is with a dictionary because I don’t even know the meaning of the word that titles the assignment. That is how much I have to learn.
My education on grammar and structure of the English language, for example, occurred mostly from the 2nd to 6th grades. After that, I either didn’t have great teachers or, aside from one or two college English courses, I simply wasn’t interested.
The 2nd grade was a very, very long time ago, and I often do not even recognize the words as I begin to relearn this topic. Somewhere deep inside those ideas are likely lying dormant, perhaps buried under a pile of old phone numbers and birthdays of former acquaintances I do uselessly remember, but predicate nominatives or appositives…where is the dictionary?
I’ve done a lot of things in my 50-plus years and, somehow I have managed to succeed in staying alive, paying my bills and securing housing and food so I guess I am not a total disaster. But this semester may prove that theory wrong.
I’m waiting for the night when I toss and turn as a nightmare plays out in my brain, the one where I am suddenly asked to teach a class of freshmen college students – probably from a major where writing is laughed at – and I must teach them how to reverse outline a memoir and identify all of the interrogative adverbs and adjectives and their grade will determine both if they can stay in school and whether or not I can continue to teach. And I’ll have to do all of this in heels and wearing false eyelashes too thick to see through properly.
Okay, I’m exaggerating just a tiny bit. The eyelashes wouldn’t be that thick, but you get the picture. This semester is a whole different kind of yowza and shutting my mind down to sleep these days, or rather these nights, is no simple task.
The good news – and getting back to where I started – is that I love to travel and flying fascinates me. So with luck my first analogy of learning to build an airplane may well prove to be a good one and, I hope, at the end of this semester – or at least at the end of my MFA – I’ll find my wings.