Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The journey begins...

As I started out my college career at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, I planned to become a teacher. In my sophomore year, I did a teaching practicum in an elementary school in Puyallup, where I shadowed an unfriendly fourth-grade teacher with no control of her classroom and a kind kindergarten teacher who told her students which colors to use on their drawings (yikes!). In my junior year, I felt bored to tears by the education faculty, the other students, and the pass/fail grading system they used in the School of Education.

Dennis Martin
Suzanne Rahn
Tom Campbell
I gobbled up as many English classes as I could fit into my schedule and felt invigorated by the mostly fascinating professors who made me think and work hard. I started out with a disappointing English 101 course from a retiring professor who I had found fascinating at Holden Village (I think she was losing it); Medieval Literature and Children's Literature from a tough, Pre-Raphaelite-looking professor, Dr. Suzanne Rahn (who is apparently now a noted authority on The Wizard of Oz); Contemporary Literature and American Literature from a wonderful prof who wrote in my journal that he saved reading it for last because he enjoyed it so much, Dr. Dennis Martin; British English from the young department heartthrob, Dr. Tom Campbell; letterpress printing and editorial procedures from Megan Benton (the only formal course on editing I've ever taken); and Advanced Composition from Dr. Charles Bergman, a published writer and photographer who had a reputation for being extremely tough and demanding.

Charles Bergman
In that class I wrote a deeply personal essay, sharing a traumatic incident by not only documenting its details but then reading it aloud in the class. He was the one who convinced me that I should consider majoring in English. The thought had never occurred to me until he wrote it on the back of one of my papers.

After the shock wore off (not become a teacher???), I realized it fit. I'd always done best in my English (and other Liberal Arts) courses. What on earth would I do with an English major, though? I had no clue!

Joanne Brown
But I was off and running, and I never looked back. Studying with another encouraging English professor and Irish scholar, Dr. Audrey Eyler, I did my senior project on George Eliot. (Although I cannot find her photo online, she is an extremely elegant, poised, and intelligent woman.) With a minor in religion, in my senior year I designed an independent study course to marry my English major and religion major: a study of feminist fiction, including Doris Lessing's weighty Children of Violence series, with my feminist theology professor and mentor Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown. I feel deeply grateful to these wise professors who sparked my creativity, encouraged my writing, and helped me realize my passions.

In those days at PLU, English majors had to meet with the faculty during a "junior review," when they discussed their coursework and plans for the future. I announced my intention to go directly to graduate school. (What else do English majors do?) Each one of the professors discouraged me from going right to grad school. I wonder now, did they have regrets of their own in becoming academics? Or did they just want me to live a little?

I followed their advice, and I never got to grad school!

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