I whipped out my phone as R reached for a book. “I’m totally telling him that we got kicked out of class,” I said. I hesitated and chuckled, “Is that okay?”
R and I had a great plan to take a creative writing class. Hell, since I didn’t have to pay for classes as a University employee anymore – let the real learning begin. Part of the plan, knowing the clique-y atmosphere of the MFA program at our school, was to be the two snarky kids in the back, doing good work and maybe learning, but not getting trapped by the quagmire of MFA hoighty toighty pontification.
I was excited about this class: I’d have a friend in class, I’d be taking a class for no grade, and I was enthused about the instructor. I went to a reading for his book with J a year or two back. In the middle when J woke up and listened, he leaned over and said, “This guy…he writes like you.” Yea!
I was, however, a tad crestfallen when I inquired to the MFA director about creative writing classes and was told that my writing skills needed to be, in effect, judged by a Form and Technique class instead of just letting every Joe Blow into a workshop class. [I just graduated with an MA? In English? No? No.] Whatever, shmatever.
This story needs a background so let me back up. There is a fun dichotomy between R and myself. R is a crazy good student who gets amazing grades. I am a meh student who gets really good grades. 30 percent effort gets me a B, 50-70 percent effort gets me an A. I’ve hovered around the 45 percent point of motivation the last couple of years and have let the chips fall as they may. But while grad school increased my Meh tendencies, it’s followed me my entire academic career. Somewhere in second grade I read that B meant Above Average and… I made peace with that. So when I read a story, I close the book and think, ‘That was a good story.’ Maybe I think about why it affected me so I can steal it for my writing. When I borrowed R’s copy of I Am Legend, I noticed the scribblings on the sides of page that were roughly like this: “Interactions speak to misogynistic tendencies – does this occur with all females? Are females the Beast?”
Whoa, uh, yeah. She’s a Good Student who doesn’t just read but READS.
And we’re off. One class per week on Tuesdays, Form and Technique: Fiction Writing. Class starts at five. My department is very relaxed about time and I waited for R whose department is not so relaxed and lets her out at five. We trundle into class to a fanfare of comments which continue into the break. “Am I going to have to start class fifteen minutes late for you two?” he asks with a swagger. Har dee har – Not. Feathers ruffled, but slightly proud I do a very dorky grab of R’s arm, “We’re Working Professionals.”
Week two. I had ordered my books online in anticipation for class, but the entire week, from Wednesday morning to Monday night, I was out of town. Did I bring my books to San Francisco? I think not. I was waiting for a comment in class, itching for it. Did I read? NO! Why? I was in San Francisco beyeotch!
It was going to go just like that. Maybe with a bit more mumbling, but JUST like that. I was happy to take notes and listen to the discussion and punch out my, “I pass. But thanks for thinking of me!” if needed.
And here’s where I’ll get the teachers in the audience making points like, “Well, doesn’t sitting in class ruin the story for you? You’ll be informed about the story and have it poked to death in discussion.” This thought gets my goat. You can tell that everyone in class read the story with an angle. Just from the comments offered in class you can tell people did not read these with a blank slate: “I feel that there is this limited perspective…”
I’m not even sure it would be possible for them. Is it really possible for anyone? I’m not a fan of tabula rasa and I think the evidence against it gets more and more pronounced when watching people try to correlate their reading experience (with any text) with their innate sense of the world. Sitting in class, even without having read, is a worthwhile endeavor. If I haven’t read, don’t call on me. Simple. Dock it from my “participation points” and let’s move the hell along like grown-ups shall we?
But noooo. Not in this class. And after countless belabored comments like:
“Have you read XYZ story? Yes, no?” *pointed looks at R and me* “It’s okay if you haven’t, but if you have…”
“This reminds me of a Holden story… You’ve all read Holden right?” *pointed looks at R and me* “It’s okay if you haven’t, but if you have..”
It was somehow R’s turn to take it. Noticing that she didn’t have her books he makes comments like, “Oh I’m mad at you, R, but not KidX [Who was in class the previous week], because he hasn’t registered yet” with a chuckle. I could see her body change. She hunched together. He broke discussion to move her around to pair her with someone that had a book. I was watching like a wrestler waiting to get tagged into the ring, ‘Tap me baby, TAP ME.’
He asked who in class had children and R hesitantly raised her hand. “Can you tell us about the stor- oh, you can’t.” And then the knockout punch. “You might as well not even be here,” he says with a lilting vocal grimace. “In fact, you might want to buy your books right now.” R’s face flushes. He looks at his watch absentmindedly, “They’re still open right?” I cough a, “They’re not open” across the room. She mumbles that she has the call numbers for the books in the library. He says, “You might just want to spend your time in the library. They’re open aren’t they?”
She begins to scoop her things together, tail between her legs. I think briefly, ‘I’m her ride…’
Then, breaking all rules of fighting, he kicks her while she’s down. “I’ll even write you a hall pass,” he laughs. She moves against the wall out of the room.
I slap my book closed. I turn to grab my purse and backpack and not even putting my notebook away, I rise. As I make my way to the door, he looks at me bewildered, “You’re in the same boat?” I grunt at him and walk to the door. He calls out after me, “It’s a small boat.”
This is where I deft “Fuck You” would have been appropriate. But by that time I was out of the room. R stood looking at me as I left the room. “Let’s get coffee,” I said, shaking with excited anger.
R asks me later, “Are we a self fulfilling prophecy?” I laugh. This will be a great class. As I remember from the strangest movie of all time, The Vikings: love and hate are horns on the same goat – and in between there is a whole lot of KraZie.
Read R’s version.