Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Lonely Apprentice

On Thanksgiving Day 2010, I miss my guru, my teacher, Sensei. The apprentice still has much to learn and frankly, is enjoying the lessons.

I've done lots of learning in my 35 years, most of it conventional book learning. I took the expected path: high school, college, and grad school. Well, maybe I shouldn't say it was the expected path. I grew up in a small town, and the expected path for small-town girls is wife and stay-at-home mom, hopefully in that order. I never got that degree. I failed those courses. Every time I'd go home for holidays, I'd run into classmates, and they'd ask what I'd been up to. I'd say, " I'm getting my [fill in the blank] degree." They'd say, "Oh...but are you married?" I'd say no. They'd look down at the kids in their grocery cart, tussle the hair of the child clinging to a leg, and nod politely with that tight-lipped, smug expression I've come to know as pity.

My uterus only twinged occasionally, usually upon notification that another friend had become part of the sorority of motherhood. Mainly, though, those twinges could be numbed by spending an afternoon with a friend and her kids. It was partially like an innoculation: getting a mix of sugar and spice, with enough poison that it didn't kill me but enough to make me careful. Or maybe it was more like the driver's ed Blood on the Highway films: a scare-me-straight tactic that ensured that I'd keep my eyes on the education prize and so be methodically accurate in all matters of sex and birth control.

It wasn't that I wasn't focused, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd never sit at the table with the grown-ups. I was the kid set up with the cardtable lemonade stand outside the Starbucks selling it's green tea lemonades for $5. I was the one playing catch-up when I'd go home to my apartment, researching all the philosophers and literary critics classmates tossed casually about in classroom conversation. I just couldn't cut it.

And I was okay with that. I watched friends exit academia with their Ph.D.'s in hand, only to embark on rounds of unsuccessful job hunting that made speed dating look like a walk in the park. Or occasionally, you'd see the Ph.D. put to total non-use: a brilliant woman who was working in public transportation. To quote from the famous Mike Myers, I said, "Someone get me off this crazy thing called love." I loved learning but loved my sanity more.

I won't lie. It's an uncomfortable exit, and those who spend their lives in school know the skin-crawling feeling of non-academia. You feel like the knowledge you have will drain out your ears or emit from your pores like garlic, and you worry that you'll suddenly turn instantly dumb. But the truth is, you still learn, just not in the most structured of ways. You're no longer paying to learn, and so all the pressure's on you to get out of life whatever you can. I read copiously. I surf the Net. The poet and writer in me is the opposite of those See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil monkeys. Contrary, I see everything, hear everything, and say whatever I feel. Likewise, catlike, I rub up along all the wonderful people I can. There's knowledge everywhere and in everyone, especially in those who don't consider themselves knowledgeable.

Of course, you downplay an English degree around some. You know their inadequacies will squirm around in them until they blurt out things about poor spelling skills or having failed English classes--things you basically don't give a shit about. Thankfully, there are the brazen few who don't give a shit whether you have a degree. They consider a degree a piece of paper, but toilet paper also an important piece of paper and infinitely more useful. I love those people. My grandmother was one. My Uncle Dick was another. And my boyfriend is of this kind. Yet these 3 people are among the most influential in my life. They share teacher status.

My uncle and grandmother are gone, lost to cancer, and so my main teacher is my boyfriend. He is his own University, and I'm working at a degree. This semester, I've got a full load:

*I'm taking wrestling, with an emphasis on forehead slaps. If I am lucky, I will avoid an archaic torture form that involves "mushroom stamping," an archaic form of humilation that works well as a verbal threat.

*I'm enrolled in Baconology 101. This is an in-depth study of how many dishes can include bacon, even if the student has expressed a vow to avoid eating meat.

*I'm auditing History of Xbox. I'm noticing it is a bit like religion...with a box shrine-like and occupying a sacred space next to the professor's bed. It seems to involve lots of talking to the TV screen and writing notes about recruits in a special notebook.

*There are several classes on football. I'm struggling with calling the professor's beloved team The Saints even when it's the Patriots. When I'm quizzed about the colors, I say white, blue, and red...and I get one wrong: it's silver, not white. There are pop quizzes on first down, second down, etc. And the teacher insists that I choose a favorite player (Woodhead!), and we take field trips wherein I'm immersed in real-life scenarios of watching a game with real football fans.

*There's Masculinity 240: farting, being able to pop knuckles, packing a good chew, watching South Park, and selective listening when around girlfriends. Strangely, this class also includes sensitivity training: how to hold a kitty like a baby, how to make your girlfriend feel like the most beautiful, special girl in the world, and an addendum to selective listening: listening and remembering what really matters to your girlfriend.

* There's Musicology: how to mix NIN, Eminem, ICP, Led Zeppelin, and The Black Keys without losing your mind. There's a seminar class on how to desensitize your girlfriend to the lyrics that feature violent acts to women and cats. Additionally, there's a lecture on weird times to play Johnny Cash and how to sing silly and wonderful songs to your girlfriend in the darkness, just before you both drift off to dream.

* Lovemaking 400. This is a Master's Level class. A lab and many practicum hours are required. There are infinite opportunities for extra credit.

This is the sort of class that makes the student wish there was no Thanksgiving break. A week is too long, and 3 weeks is torture. This student is eager to get back to the classroom. She misses it very much.


  1. I LOVE reading your blog Wendy! Good luck in those classes!

  2. Loved the humor in this!

  3. Never stop learning!! This is a delightfully fun piece...

  4. Love this more than I can write in a blog comment.

    Why aren't you a full-time writer again?