Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How did you spend your summer vacation?

Here is what I sent to a former professor in response to his questions. I sent him an email asking him to write me a letter of recommendation for grad school, but he didn't remember me--it's been 10 years and I was a run-of-the-mill B student who didn't do much to distinguish myself. He asked about what has happened since Valpo and, in the end, wrote me an amazing letter.

Valpo was the just the jumping off point for my interest in literature. I floundered so much during college about what I wanted to do and be that I didn't settle on an English major until late in the game and then knocked all the required courses off pretty quickly and graduated a semester early. After graduation two high school friends (really it was Kelly and Emily--neither of whom I went to school with, but both are from St. Louis and I know them through Young Life--but that seemed like to much detail to get into) and I decided we wanted to a)keep reading and b) learn to cook. So we started a dinner and book discussion night once a month. I don't think any of us had any notion of what a "bookgroup" was supposed to be or that other people did it (this was before Oprah made it hip!). So we read Tess of the D'Ubervilles, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Catcher in the Rye, Wuthering Heights and a self-made list of books we felt any well-read person should have read already. We had a ball. I think I was both so self- and grade-conscious at Valpo that I didn't derive much true pleasure or organic intellectual stimulation from literature (I have vowed to give my children the option of waiting a few years between high school and college--I think I would have benefitted greatly). So, sitting around in barefeet on a back porch drinking cheap wine, eating burnt food and discussing "what Holden Caulfield's deal is" was like a miracle to me.

When we first moved to Hastings, where my husband is a Lutheran pastor, people were all worked up about Harry Potter. Should they let their kidsread it? Will they all become witches? So, I lead a four-week book discussion on the first book in theseries. I figured it was best to have the parents actually READ the book, discuss the issues, and make an informed decision. I, by the way, am eagerly awaiting both the final book this summer and the day my kids are old enough to read the series. I wanted to do the same thing with the "Left Behind" series that people are so crazy about but I found the first book so awful (both in literary and theological terms) that I couldn't go throughwith it. I now lead a book group made of a diverse group of women from our church (ranging in age from 24 to 65) where we discuss "secular" books with spiritual themes. Many of these women are not avid readers, or normally stick to the Mary Higgins Clark-type novels. So, it has been a fun challenge to get them to see how rewarding it can be to work through adifficult novel and to appreciate the value and artistry in a novel even when you don't particularly enjoy the book as entertainment per se or, relate to the characters/plot on a personal level. I suppose that's what I want to do in the classroom as well.

My interests really haven't changed much since college. The biggest difference in my outlook. At 19 I only had eyes for results. The point of high school was getting into a good college. The point of going to college was to get a good job. The point of a good job was...what? Wealth and prestige? Somewhere along the line I began to see the intrinsic value in simply DOING. I began to see that results are an afterthought to the journey. That first book group was not preparing us for something, or gaining us anything external but it was so worthwhile. I will never be a rockstar, but I've been studying guitar for the past five years; writing songs; performing around the state; winning songwriting contests; and am recording my first cd this spring. And the performing, winning and recording are icing on the cake. Simply playing the guitar is a joy and something I will continue to do even when the other aspects die away. I've been crocheting for a year and knitting for about two weeks. Just this morning I ripped apart a sweater I've been working on for my daughter because it doesn't fit her. Of course this was frustrating, but I told myself when I started crocheting that I was going to learn the craft. My point is to learn the craft well and failing and ripping projects apart is part of that and it's okay. I've found the joy in just trying things out just for the sake of trying. They don't have to turn into a career. They don't have to be lifelong hobbies. I don't have to become an expert. It doesn't have to result in anything, but I am better for doing it. Every year we have "Meatless July" at our house. Why? To see if we can do it and it's fun to try new recipes and visit different sections of the grocery store. Last summer the kids and I biked everywhere (two off training wheels and one on a pedal-behind-contraption) to see how little we could use the car. We saw our town in a whole new way. We knew which streets had too many cars parked to ride safely in the street. We knew the easiest intersections to cross. We knew who had the prettiest flowers (the house where the whole terrace between the sidewalk and street was entirely filled with marigolds).

I'm very excited to start grad school. I'm eager to learn, be a part of a learning community, start down a new path. I have a graduate assistant job lined up in the learning center where I'll help undergrad students with their papers and provide accommodation services to students with learning disabilities--and I'm just as excited about that as my coursework. It's scary to think about juggling classes, job and home life but I know that it will be good for my children to see me working hard toward a goal.


jill said...

I just completely love this post. I would write you ANY letter of recommendation, for any school,'re going to be GREAT!

Hope said...

I am totally on board with the "it's the journey, not the destination" idea- especially since I probably will never end up finishing grad school and getting anything beyond a job at the coffee shop or Kmart. But the joy of knowledge for knowledge's sake alone is a beautiful thing and something that our culture doesn't value nearly enough. AS a teacher (not credentialed) there is something so refreshing about the C student who joins Spanish club because they love the language over the A student who's doing it just to add the activity to their college application. Giving kids experiences and curiosity and the desire to try things is a great gift and I think you and Paul are doing a wonderful job making your childrens lives rich for now and the future because you so easily get them excited about knowing. Your entering school this fall will be just another way of showing them the importance of learning and loving it regardless of whether it is a means to an end or not.

emdunbar said...

Thanks, Jill! Thanks, Hopi!