Friday, August 27, 2010

It Starts. (aka Orientation)

I'm sitting in the atrium of the student center at the university, having just gone through the one-hour orientation session the English Department held for incoming master's students.  I'm trying to remember what kind of orientation we had the last time I did this, and since I've already admitted how old I am, I will even confess that it was in 1983.  But I can't remember.  It was too long ago.

I do remember a woman named Mary from that program.  She was probably in her early forties--younger than I am now--but to me at age 22, fresh out of undergrad, she was ancient.  The ink was barely dry on her divorce.  She had a couple of teenage kids.  And she was so, so excited to be in graduate school.  It was the kind of excitement of someone who has been given a Get Out of Jail Free card and is looking about in wonder and amazement that all of this has been here all along, while she was slaving through whatever it was she had done before.

We were not fans of Mary, those of us who were young and smugly, unknowingly arrogant about where we were going and what we were doing (even if we weren't exactly sure what that was).  Even though she was older than us, she seemed naive and backward in a way that made us uncomfortable to be associated with her.  She asked breathless questions. She could often be found after class talking earnestly to the professor about who knows what.  If the professor assigned a 5-7 page paper, she wrote 18 and handed it in bound in a formal report cover.  If we were supposed to read Tom Jones, she read Joseph Andrews, too, "for perspective." The rest of us were still thoroughly of the undergrad mindset where one does the least amount of work possible to achieve the desired grade.  We had Things To Do.  We were Busy and Active and Involved. She seemed, honestly, a little pathetic.

You can probably already guess where this is headed, because oh, yes, I have become Mary.  (Except that I will never write a paper that's longer than it's supposed to be.  Not my thing.)(oh, yeah, and I'm still married.)  It's a funny feeling.  I want to tell them that even though I don't know the buzzwords that let everyone know that you are in with the cool crowd, I am a smart person.  I am not a complete loser.  I have raised children, I have filed my own taxes, I have owned a home (three of them), I have held jobs and made money and been a productive member of society.  But I know it's useless, because I remember how I looked at Mary.  There is nothing she could have done that would have convinced me that she was One of Us.

OK.  so now that I've gotten that out of my system.  I should also say:  it's not so bad.  I don't mean to whine.  I'm not here to socialize.  I can just keep my head down and do my work and get it done.  Oh, wait, I forgot where I live.  That should have been "get 'er done."  *smirk*

So.  orientation.  It was, for the most part, a description of the timeline we should (ideally) follow if we plan to complete the MA in two years-- which I would like to do.  So it was useful.  A little intimidating, but useful. I'm not planning on setting the world on fire or coming up with any original insights that will recalibrate my field of study, I'm planning on finding a topic that interests me and researching the heck out of it and writing it up.  (get 'er done, right?).   So sticking with the timeline would actually be a good thing.  Now I just have to find a topic.


  1. The thing that struck me and (I think) showed my age the most is my lack of interest in a theoretical approach. I am fascinated by critical theory and am looking forward to learning more about it. I appreciate what I've already learned to the extent that it has made me a better reader. But still, my primary interest is in the literature. In reading Keats or Spenser or the pearl poet or Hemingway. I don't think that's true for the other students. I think their primary interest is theory. We went around and everyone said what they were thinking about doing their thesis on (excuse grammar), and I was the only one that mentioned an author. Everyone else talked about a theoretical approach.

    See? ancient. out of date. But I do love lit, and it IS a master's in literature we're getting, not a master's in theory.

  2. You will be great. Grad school is about the content, the subject, the reading, the writing and the professors. Much less about socializing than undergrad work. Your life experience will only help you. Let us know how it goes!