Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Grad School Part II: Pretending

My second year of grad school was glorious.

Most of the graduate students in the English department were TAs, which stands for Teaching Assistant.  But at OU, that was something of a misnomer.  We didn't assist professors, we actually taught classes.  For the most part, that was English 101: Freshman Composition, although in our second years we were able to branch out a bit more into things like Intro to Short Stories or Intro to Poetry.

After my first year, I was able to convince my teaching adviser that I wanted to do a study of the difference between teaching composition in a traditional classroom and teaching composition in a computer classroom (Ohio University had installed computers in a few, select classrooms n the English building).  I suggested that I could even write a paper about the differences.  That did not happen.  Basically, I just wanted the extra money that came with teaching a second class so that I could quit my job at the gas station (to be described in detail in another blog post, I'm sure).

I worked at one of these.
I was no longer in a band during my second year of grad school.  The Local Arm (as we were known) had broken up at the end of the previous year with the graduation of our drummer.  And as much as I missed being in a band, all the ridiculous amounts of time that I'd spent on that was suddenly appropriated actual grad school related things.  I spent more time with my fellow grad students.  I worked on the literary journal.  I went to the big writers conference.  I acclimated.

And I wrote.

I won't say that it was particularly good writing, but it was necessary writing.  It was the next step in my evolution of a writer, an evolution that ultimately never ends.  But all those vaguely profound, emotional things that I'd been (poorly) singing about the year before were now coming through on the page.  I think I'm a decent songwriter.  I'm a much better writer.

I had plenty of fodder.  The on again, off again relationship of the previous year ended for good, although it was not without its after shocks.  I found myself embracing sadness over anger, because anger doesn't translate well to the written page.  I had plenty of sadness, and in many ways sadness gave me perspective.

My name is inside this.
I partied.  I partied with a flagrant disregard for my own well being.  I partied with the reckless abandon of someone who wanted to experience new things, who started each night genuinely excited about where it might take him.  There was sex and there were drugs and there was rock n' roll and it was all material.

When I finally committed to grad school and submerged myself in the culture, I realized just how insane it was, particularly for those engaged in "creative" majors.  At no other point in your life are you given such a perfect balance of structure and freedom.  We had to produce to pass our classes, but we also had nothing else to do but produce.  We had 20 hours out of a 24 hour day to write and that writing would then fulfill the only real responsibilities we had.

That second year of grad school was surreal in all the right ways.

I'll admit to some regrets.  I regret that I wasn't more focused, which has been a problem for pretty much entire life.  I may have been writing to fulfill my school obligations, but I had no vision beyond that.  It never occurred to me that I should be preparing these short stories for submission to literary magazines, or that I should be read said literary magazines to get an idea about what was out there.  For all my submersion in the English department, I was still operating in a bubble.

I suppose that's to be expected.  It was a bubble.  It was about writing without consequence, writing without pretense of something more.  It was writing for the sake of writing, writing because that's what we were there for, no more and no less.  There was no greater goal beyond producing stories that we felt were important, even if perhaps they weren't.

I hadn't realized it until just this moment, but I wish I could get back to that place.  I don't wish I was back in grad school (not really), but I do wish I could go back to the frame of mind, when nothing mattered about the words on the page other than the fact that they were there.

It makes me appreciate exactly why so many writers stay in academia; it's a safe place.  Teaching is your bread and butter in academia.  Writing is gravy.  Writing out here among the regular folk is harder.  You don't have the luxury to write for writing's sake.

Or maybe you do.  Maybe I just need to figure that out.