Thursday, September 2, 2010

The First Week of School: A Review


I stock my snack drawer with Parmesan Goldfish, Kashi crackers, chocolate, and aspirin. I dust my picture frames. I eat celebratory back-to-school pizza. I put the magnet of Bucky the Badger I got on my trip to UW Madison this summer on the fridge. I point it out to my office-mate.

"Listen," I say, "Bucky doesn't take any shit. Look at him. When one of our students acts up, we can just point to Bucky and say, 'DON'T UPSET THE BADGER."

"Because that'll work," he says.

"Right," I say.



The chair of our department bursts into my office.

"Did you hear what those girls were saying out there?" she asks.

"What girls?" I ask.

"The girls in the hall," she says.

I haven't heard anything. I've been in full-on nerd mode. I've been organizing the folders and sub-folders on my class's Blackboard site. I've been admiring the neat little nested list and how easy it is to find everything. My brain, otherwise engaged in this, its own version of porn, has blocked everything else out--especially the conversations happening feet outside my door.

"Oh, it's really good!" she says. "One of the girls asked the other girl who she had for English 101, and the second girl said, 'I've got The Girl.'"

"The Girl?" I ask.

"The Girl!" she says.

"Oh! Me?" I say. "The Girl is me? I'm The Girl?"


I shrug. "You know what? I'm turning twenty-nine in two weeks. I'll take it," I say.


The chair comes into my office. "I just got a weird phone call," she says.

This is never good news.

"All right," I say. "Let me hear."

Turns out, two students in my creative writing class were so appalled, horrified, and repulsed at one of the essays I had assigned for the first night of homework they decided not to come to me and discuss their concerns--which would, you know, be a reasonable reaction--but instead went straight to their adviser and demanded to know what's what.

The students swore I was making them read porn! Smut! Revolting trash that had no business being considered literature. It was crass! It was filthy! It was disgusting! They wouldn't read it! They wouldn't! And they wanted someone to tell them they didn't have to!

The adviser asked them to furnish a copy of the essay, and when they did he read it and agreed with them. So he called up the chair. He said it was crass! It was filthy! It was disgusting! It wasn't literature! Why was this trash being taught in a creative writing classroom?

"Oh Jesus," I say.

The chair rolls her eyes. I roll my eyes.

I go into class a few minutes later and--surprise, surprise--everyone who's present loves the essay. They love it so much we get carried away discussing it and before we know it, we've got to leave for the day because there's another class coming in and they're waiting in the hall.

Two people had been suspiciously absent from class, and--sure enough--when I check my e-mail there are two e-mails from them. They tell me how appalled and disgusted they are. They tell me they can't believe I'd post such trash. They tell me they're shocked at what this college is teaching. They don't believe such work is necessary in a creative writing classroom. They tell me they are dropping my class. This isn't a slam against you as a person, one of the e-mails says. Just so you know.

I roll my eyes some more. I roll my eyes a lot. But then I decide to leave it be because I don't teach on Fridays (which means I'm free for the weekend!) and I've got four days off coming up (hello, Labor Day!) and tomorrow afternoon I am sitting on the back porch with Emily and a pitcher of these babies, and that's all that really matters right now.

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