I Remember

I remember what I hated about grad school. I had forgotten.

I remember the excitement of discovering new ideas and information. I loved that. Sometimes I’d be so excited by what I was learning that my senses would open wide, and I would absorb everything, not just what I was reading. I can recall, for example, the night I opened Rollo May’s slim volume, THE COURAGE TO CREATE. I can still feel the texture of the couch under my thighs, the taste of Maxwell House International Coffee on my tongue (yes, I confess, I really did drink that stuff), and the soft glow of the lamp in the darkened living room. Creativity wasn’t dependent upon an illusive muse, I learned. Creativity could be cultivated.

My mind exploded. I think we all have a secret dream, one that we hide for fear of being ridiculed. (Or perhaps, I was alone in that, having been shamed often while growing up by teasing neighbors and relatives.) The desire of my heart was to be creative. It didn’t matter to me whether my creativity shaped words or visual images. I just wanted to be creative. Unfortunately, visits from muses were few and far between, and they never lasted long enough for me to complete anything substantive. (I had started, by that time, three novels — none of which had progressed beyond the first chapter.)

After reading May’s book, I began to work at cultivating my skills so that I was prepared for the muse when she arrived. By doing so, I discovered that as much as I love writing — and I do take pleasure in crafting language to shape ideas — painting allows me to dig deeper and reflect a more authentic vision. That authenticity lies at the heart of the best art, so I knew I needed to paint to realize my dream of being a creative person.

But, that’s a tangent — which, of course, indicates painting is on my mind tonight. I didn’t get to paint today, though I did consider trying to squeeze in an hour at the easel before turning the house over to the housekeeper for cleaning. I finally admitted that I needed more than 45 minutes (with 15 minutes for set-up and clean-up) and opted instead to extend my prayer time. Still, I’m restless tonight; I really need to paint tomorrow.

At grad school (the topic of this post, for those who have been distracted by my meandering thoughts), I also delighted in meeting my classmates. They fascinated me. I ended up in a summer romance with a tall young man who was trying to find himself by taking a variety to classes to discover what resonated with his inner self. I met a nurse who spent more hours on the road in a single week than I would have tackled willingly in a month, but who somehow managed to find time in her life to mother me. I met a stunningly beautiful model who married a German businessman she met while on a photo shoot in his homeland. I met an adulterer whose perfidy wasn’t limited to enjoying physical intimacies with men other than her husband, but who also managed to rob me of an assistantship with a few well-chosen remarks to a couple influential people. (Truthfully, my delight in her friendship ended when I learned of this betrayal.)

That’s what I enjoyed most about working in the newspaper industry, too. I delighted in meeting people, in talking with them, discovering what excited their imaginations and gave their lives meaning. It wasn’t unusual for me when assigned a news story to discover, during the course of an interview, information I could later develop into a feature story. The sheriff who built a plane. The public works director who built engines for race cars. The rancher who invested in a resort for those who could afford $10,000 in annual membership fees. Everyone has a story to tell; the trick is discovering the story and retelling it in a way that honors the person.

But, again, that’s a tangent. What I hated about grad school was writing papers. Conducting the research fascinated me, and organizing my ideas was  instinctive, for  the most part. I didn’t have to work at it. But putting the ideas together with all of the proper footnotes, end notes, citations and references was a nightmare — especially in those long-ago days when papers were typed on machines that didn’t identify misspelled words or allow corrections to be made easily. (I still wonder if Wite-Out clumped on the brush for everyone or if I mishandled it in some way.) It didn’t help that as a single parent, I often didn’t have the opportunity to sit down to work on a paper until after the girls went to bed. In other words, I was usually tired before I pulled the typewriter out of its case and rolled two sheets of paper, separated by carbon paper, into the carriage. It’s amazing I completed as many classes as I did.

All of this came to mind today because I was proofing my daughter’s thesis. She’s embarking on a doctoral program this fall, and I’m trying to help her wrap up her (second) Master’s degree so she can devote her attention to the new program. Something else came to mind, too, though.

When she was born, I was a college drop-out. I took one look at her, and wanted to give her the world. I knew I could only do that by setting a good example, so I went back to college  and somehow managed to graduate just .08 short of honors even though failing grades for a full semester — that dark semester when I was in such despair I attempted suicide — wreaked havoc on my GPA. Then, I demonstrated the importance of pursuing personal dreams by striving to build an art career, while working two jobs and raising two girls.

It was hard — raising the girls, trying to meet not only their physical needs, but also their emotional and developmental needs, while pushing myself to go beyond just meeting those basic needs. It was hard to bear the full burden of responsibility, to know that I alone was responsible for ensuring those precious children had solid foundations on which to build satisfying lives. I was blessed with friends and family who acted as sounding boards and helped out when possible, but the responsibility was mine and mine alone. I knew this every single day.

Now I know that I did not err in deciding to be a role model. I see Sara achieve more than I ever dreamed for myself, and I know those sleepless nights and other sacrifices were worthwhile. I wasn’t able to give Sara the world, but I did teach her enough to help her begin conquering it herself in her own inimitable style. It’s not the same thing, but it’s not bad — all things considered.

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