Monday, June 6, 2016

Then & Now

I address you today as a new woman.

I am officially the mother of a three-year-old little boy; I am also a graduate student for the first time since 2006. Both of these developments are having a significant impact on my mood &, as you'll see, a direct impact on today's blog content.

It seems like eons have passed since last Monday. The book club met last Monday night at Cracker Barrel. The plan I spoke of last week worked beautifully. I was indeed early, I secured a table for eight, & I sat & drank coffee while waiting for the ladies to arrive. I smiled politely at the onlookers who occasionally gave me a curious (or sad) look, sitting alone at a table for eight as I was. They didn't throw further looks my way moments later when the book club gathering was in full swing & inordinate amounts of coffee & biscuits were being consumed. The only thing written on their faces then was jealousy.

Meanwhile, across town, Trey & the kids met his parents & members of his extended family for dinner. There were apparently some fireman dining with them, because this happened:

In fact, while I was on my fourth biscuit, I received a photo montage of the children's evening:

Pictured above are Trey's maternal grandparents & their six great-grandchildren, two of whom are local & were birthed by yours truly, four of whom are not local & travelled many miles to spend a few days with their Louisiana relatives. The eldest of the six is a completely delightful young lady named Joy. Let me tell you parents, this is your goal; she is the target for which you're aiming.

I came home Monday night & Trey told me that when he arrived at his grandparents' house with the kids, Joy told everyone I wouldn't be there because I was at book club, which she knew because she reads the blog. I have a fan! *Hi, Joy!*

The next evening I had the pleasure of speaking with Joy at Trey's parents' house. Suffice it to say, this blog is the least interesting thing she reads. She asked me if I had any book recommendations, & I started sweating a little because I have no idea what someone her age reads (Joy is twelve), what they can read or what they can read, if you know what I mean. I didn't want to be the reason for a years-long rift in Trey's family over a book suggestion.

I asked her what she's read, & among the lengthy list: A Tale of Two Cities. She said she didn't understand all of it, & I was like, Who does? 

While Joy & I were discussing literature, Reagan was raiding her Grandmama's closet.

I did suggest Kiera Cass's Selection series to Joy, a five-book series that goes something like this: 

The Selection
The Elite
The One
The Heir 
The Crown

The book club is reading The Crown this month, & that works out perfectly for a few reasons. First, we've already read the first four books in the series & who can live with themselves if they don't finish a series? (hint: not me) Plus, the book club's last two reads, All the Light We Cannot See & The Forgotten Garden, are long books. I plowed through them, did a fair amount of thinking in the process, & I can't handle another month of that. I need a short book that requires little to no brainpower on my part this month for reasons about which you'll hear more shortly.

I continue to reserve the right to return to The Forgotten Garden. I don't know when that's going to happen, but there are a few things about the book niggling me & at some point, my guess is I shall, like MacArthur, return to them.

Wednesday was a long day for me. It began auspiciously enough. You may recall (though likely you don't) that Trey's grandmother's birthday is June 1. As an aside let me tell you that this blog & the remainder of June's blogs are likely to be terse & uninspiring for reasons about which you'll hear more shortly, so allow me to direct you to these perhaps deeper, more structured thoughts I shared on Mrs. Ray's birthday last summer: Click - - - > HERE

Anyway, on Wednesday the kids & I dressed & met Trey & about twenty others for lunch & birthday cupcakes to celebrate his grandmother's birthday. Lunch was delicious. The cupcake was delicious, as was the coffee I drank with the cupcake. 

Post-lunch there were several errands I had to run. The kids & I stopped at four different places. We did the whole unbuckle, navigate the parking lot, run amok in a public place, parking lot again, buckle-up, shuffle four times. It was as relaxing as it sounds, & I haven't even mentioned meeting people's restroom needs.

I got home & went to sit in a dark corner in my bedroom with some coffee. It was June 1, you see, which meant the next day would be June 2, the official opening day of summer school for me. I'm going to make what could be a long & ranty story short by simply telling you that after weeks of successfully accessing my student email & the online portal that is absolutely vital to taking an online class, I was locked out of both Wednesday afternoon. 

As I was drinking my coffee & unwinding from the afternoon of errands, I thought I'd check & see if the instructor had posted anything. I was hoping for a reading assignment on which I might get a jump start, or maybe just a glimpse at the syllabus so I'd have a better idea of what's ahead in the next six weeks. Instead, I was told the system didn't recognize me; I was a stranger, a stranger who couldn't even execute the trusty change-your-password maneuver.

I had a little bit of a meltdown that involved a bag of chips. I won't go into all the details about what else I ate or what I had to do Thursday morning to regain the access I need, but my privileges were reinstated & by noon I was sitting in front of my computer gazing at my syllabus & shaking a little.

The class in which I'm currently enrolled is required of all (English) dual enrollment teachers by the university for whom I'll be teaching (dual enrollment English) beginning in the fall. This scenario seems to confuse people (at least I assume so because I've gotten a few questions about it), so here's the set-up: I will be a high school English teacher come August. A handful of my students who meet certain grade requirements & are interested will be doing work above & beyond what's required of senior English students, & this work will (if they pass!) result in college credit for English 101 (taken in the fall) & English 102 (taken in the spring). I won't be teaching anywhere but at a high school; I am not returning to Delta to teach English there.

At present, I am not qualified to teach collegiate English. I am, however, qualified to teach high school English because I jumped through all those hoops many years ago before I decided to go back to school & get a masters. My masters is in Communication, hence my years teaching Public Speaking. I need eighteen hours of graduate-level English to bestow collegiate-level knowledge on English students, & I am, right this moment, earning three of those necessary hours. Thankfully I can earn the eighteen hours at a snail's pace while concurrently teaching dual enrollment. I know; it's weird. I had to make myself a chart. I told you the blogs were going to be lame this month.

The class I'm taking right now is an English course, but it is most definitely not a literature course. Not at all, y'all, & it's not material I find incredibly interesting, at least not so far. The title of the course is "Teaching College Composition." We're doing a lot of reading (& writing) about theories of teaching, & who's responsible for students who make it to college & still can't string a coherent sentence together & think it is acceptable to turn in essays containing "u" rather than "you."

After I was able to access the syllabus & other course material Thursday morning, I had my second breakdown of the week in the hours that followed. Graduate school is this different sort of monster. Graduate work is not necessarily always hard, but you have to be incredibly organized to even figure out what it is you're supposed to be doing, & you can up that organization factor by ten when the class is strictly online. By Thursday night, I'd opened approximately twenty new folders on my desktop, done a hard & punishing hour on the elliptical, & was feeling considerably better.

I'd also listened to a five minute pep talk from my mom . . . "You can do this, Anna! You wrote a book!" And yes, that's technically true. A 5,000-word research paper (which is a relatively short research paper) & a handful of 900-word journal responses don't seem as daunting as they would have to the Anna of ten years ago.

I've been thinking about what I didn't have ten years ago when I was a graduate student. I didn't have a dog, kids, a husband, a house to clean, a desire to write fiction, or social media distractions. Seriously, I joined Facebook about the time I finished gradate school, & Twitter came much later than that. 

Ten years ago I also didn't have a MacBook or an iPad, & using both simultaneously while I read journal articles & try & type thoughtful, scholarly comments about them has already proven to increase the rate at which I'm able to get work done.

A decade ago, I didn't know a lot about writing. I had no appreciation for how truly short a 5,000-word research paper is. It's basically one chapter of fiction. I tend to write long chapters; for many authors, 5,000 words equals two chapters, but either way, it's not much. A 900-word journal is a sneeze. I've written my first journal & it comes in at 1,200 words (because of course it does!). I may try & trim it some before the due date. Not only can I type faster than I could ten years ago, I *think* I can think faster, or maybe I've learned that you do not ever, ever wait for inspiration to strike before you begin typing. Sit & type & see what happens. Write something, anything. You can always edit later. You cannot edit a blank page. 

I'm sketching out a few opening lectures for the fall, things I want to cover almost immediately. One of the items on the list is word count. Students always want a word count when they are given a writing assignment, & they obsess over it. They type another sentence & then check the document's word count again. You have to forget word count. I have to select a research topic for my class. The research paper is worth half our grade, & so while the material we've read thus far is not overly interesting to me, I've got to find a topic about which I feel strongly that is related to the course content. On the list of possible topics so far: Word Count: A Necessity, or a Crippling Hindrance?

Obviously the biggest difference in my two experiences with grad school (aside from the lines on my face) is doing the work while being a mom. You'd think I could get some school work done during the day since we are "home all day." You'd think. Between grocery store runs & doctor visits & birthday parties & church attendance & my attempts to exercise, we don't have all that many days when we are "home all day" anyway.

Let's dispense with the idea that if someone's not wearing a suit & signing contracts or running for the Senate or something they're not really "busy." I promise you "home all day" "in pajamas" is not as relaxing as it sounds when there are tiny people "home all day" who need help with everything, save making messes so destructive an adult could not replicate them if they tried. Last time I was in graduate school, no one relied on me to wipe their rear end, or dispense insulin for them. In retrospect, it was silly of me to break out in all those hives given that the only personal hygiene issues I had to handle were my own.

The level of mental attentiveness required to do my school work is rarely achieved during the children's waking hours. I am confident I will be able to get it all done, even if it's done in the wee hours of the morning . . . when I usually blog, or read, or write what I want to write, which is fiction. Maybe next week we'll discuss the head trip it is to quell the desire to write about a graduate student who's writing research papers because you are a graduate student who is writing a research paper. Fictional graduate school is considerably more interesting than actual graduate school. The professors are immeasurably more fascinating when they live only in your head.

Many thanks to Trey's cousins, Haley & Natalie, for all the above pictures. I was too busy having a series of emotional fits last week to take any pictures. We are having a bit of a celebration for Mr. Henry later today, so the picture outlook for next week is looking better. I can't believe he is three years old. 

Last year, on his second birthday, I laid it all on the table for Henry. Click here for that blog, &, if you're so inclined, there are links on that blog to his birth announcement & various other events in his life as they've been covered on the blog. 

I make no promises about what's ahead. I suppose it would be foolish to ever do that, but I've a feeling things are going to be chaotic for the next five weeks, & then on the heels of summer school ending will be VBS, so who knows what you're going to get. Maybe a picture or two, maybe some Haiku poetry, maybe a random couple of paragraphs from Edie's sequel for your reading pleasure. Perhaps I'll post one of my journal responses from my class, or lure someone into guest blogging . . . any takers?

I am setting it all aside for the remainder of today to eat cupcakes & swim with the birthday boy. I worked ahead over the weekend & am prepared for mental frivolity. Your mom knows how to party, Henry, as evidenced by her use of the phrase mental frivolity.

We'll wrap it up with the birthday boy, then & now.

June 2013

And ONE!

And TWO!

The march toward three:


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