This December I’ll be earning my Masters in Writing, a highly impractical and completely unanticipated happenstance. I am, shall we say, beyond college age.
My thesis has obliterated my actual life. Communication with normal people is out of the question. I went to a party on Sunday and the only topics of conversation I could conjure up were grammar rules and formatting templates. I think I had better stick with other thesis students for the time being.
I’m currently writing this post to avoid doing footnotes. My nails are bitten to little nubs, there are colorful life forms growing on the dishes in my sink, and my butt is numb from sitting at my computer.
In the words of David Byrne and the Talking Heads:
“You may ask yourself, well — how did I get here?”
As with most worthwhile endeavors, there was some loss and letting go involved before new life could take root. A couple of years ago, my world got weird when I lost my mother to the Great Beyond, my brother to mental illness, and my job to burn-out.
I was adrift, and life held nothing but questions.
Embracing the Counterintuitive
I began attending workshops at the Bethesda Writer’s Center near my home, hoping that writing might be therapeutic and perhaps even unleash new energy and indicate a new life direction. I filled journal after journal. Fortunately, I had a decent savings account, but I occasionally worried about what was next. Freelance writing, after all, is hardly a lucrative pursuit, especially if it’s primarily of the angst-filled, navel-gazing variety.
Then one day, a young man read a sentence in our workshop. His name was Robert, and his sentence had something to do with a soccer game and a boy leaping into the air. It was beautiful. Magical. I saw that boy leaping into the air. I heard the smack of the ball.
“Where did you learn to write like that?” I asked Robert after class.
“I just graduated from Johns Hopkins in Writing,” he said, his brown eyes shining with pride. “It’s a part-time program with great teachers. You should check it out.”
I sensed that Robert had something I wanted.
Turns out that there was an open house that very weekend, and I went. Over crudités and seltzer water, I fell in love with the idea of becoming a fifty-something “returning student.” It sounded so — what? So risky, so bold, so romantic, so very not me.
I’ll admit it’s counterintuitive to spend your retirement savings on tuition, but I believe in destiny, and this felt like it. Or at least like fun.
I promised myself I would never take a class I wasn’t completely psyched about – the goal was not the degree, it was becoming the very best writer I could be and enjoying every moment. Losing my mother had taught me that life is short. I have kept that promise to myself and am having a blast. Okay, so maybe the writing conference in Florence, Italy was a bit extravagant, but it gave me memories, friends, and writing colleagues for life.
One Step at a Time
A year ago, nearing the end of the Hopkins program and still unsure of my future direction, I took a class in teaching writing. I thought maybe I could teach a workshop at a local community center or a nursing home or maybe even return to the Writer’s Center as a teacher.
Our first assignment was to create a syllabus. Ugh . For a college freshman composition class. Double ugh. (That’s literary language for ewww…) Mindful of having fun, I almost dropped the class but decided to stick it out another week to see what would happen.
I loved it! I created a detailed syllabus based on a topic I’m passionate about, environmental protection. When the professor returned it to me, he said I had gone way beyond what was required by designing field trips, including reading lists, and identifying guest speakers. At the end of the semester, he told me, “You would be a terrific writing teacher, just by being yourself. You absolutely have what it takes.”
It feels too good to be true, and it probably won’t pay much more than freelance writing, but I believe I’m being guided, one counterintuitive step at a time, to a new career doing something that I’m going to love!
I’m not going to do the graduation gown thing. I’m just inviting a few friends to the public reading where they’ll get free wine and cheese and listen to me and my twenty-something colleagues read our work.
Thanks to WordPress for the challenge to write a story backwards, starting with an event in the present and then following the wandering path back to the story’s inception. And thanks, Robert, wherever you are. It’s been a fun ride.
And now … back to my footnotes.
The Wandering Path