Writing in the Short Form – Some Examples

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Vapors: post10 for "Artists"

Lincoln Park, as it turns out, is at the center of my life; more particularly, Halsted and Fullerton where Lincoln angles northwest. When I exit the Elevated station, memory washes over me. Like in a Robin Hobb novel, I seem to touch jitzin in the wall to activate phantoms from the city’s glory days who re-enact troubled moments within my remote viewing.

My son graduated eighth grade at the church in DePaul’s quad that used to be a seminary.  When he was in diapers, I took undergraduate classes on the same campus. Kathi’s husband David taught at the Theatre School, and we attended compulsory senior scenes to provide audience, all the while trying to hide our inebriation. I lived on Clifton or Altgeld or on Magnolia while my son attended Oscar Mayer grade school, then entered Lincoln Park High. 

More vapors. I worked at a performance bar on Lincoln Avenue during my ill-spent youth and knew many adventures. One day Susan and I got high in Oz Park, then made silly jokes about Alice’s rabbit after a friend passed in a hurry with his bandy legs pumping as he walked away. I dumped a lover during one snowy winter, then couldn’t visit my favorite bar because that was his hangout.

On Fullerton my steps slow and stop while I balance the weight of vertical time. I breathe deeply, taking in bus fumes and jasmine scent and texture of life and–

Anyhow, the English Department is located in McGaw Hall, protected in the quad with its back to noisy Halsted Street. 

I attend adjunct instructor orientation with Rhonda who greets Laura, a smiling suburban married woman with MS. Rhonda insists, “You and Laura attended the same MFA classes at the School of the Art Institute.” I don’t remember her. 

Electricians haven’t finished special wiring in the lecture hall that needs to be ready for the first day of classes, so we must make do in a cramped classroom. Think about it, though, 45 English teachers discussing pedagogy and student performance and all those forms to  complete by thus-and-so time. Tedious day.

Around 10am, I remember Laura from graduate school and can place the hated class we shared. She was so different in 1999, bitter and bony and committed to vagina literature. She had hot eyes and no use for a conservative like me. Now she has soft hair brushed off her face and a quick smile and wanting to succeed at teaching. Marriage agrees with her. Her steps are halting from the MS, but she makes several gestures of independence. Okay, then, she can stay.

Lunch is provided and we take sandwiches and pasta salad to a picnic table by the parking lot. Several adjunct instructors including pretty blonde Amber who used to tend bar at a place on Wells two blocks from the artist studios. And Suzanne, big boned and lovely, who asks thoughtful questions during the breakout group session. 

Adjunct offices are in the lower level of McGaw Hall. I sign up for office hours between my MWF classes, then hunt for which mailbox is mine. The lack of instructional orientation feels similar to when I supported myself by waiting tables. “There’s the ketchup; there’s the coffee. Have at it.”  Now I’m told to submit a syllabus and fill out these forms and upload student information to the online course site. Have at it.

Orientation finishes by three. Rhonda wants to visit the Brown Elephant searching for a cheap couch because she cannot commit to home furnishings and doesn’t want to be poor. We start a lengthy discussion about how the biggest purchase a family makes, after the home and a car, is a couch. We rent, of course, and Rhonda’s car was a gift from a former lover. But the couch she must buy.

Rhonda admits she’s not happy with her new apartment, which is perfect for her, and considers moving into something cheaper. She couldn’t part with the money for a red couch we saw on Milwaukee that would have defined her livingroom with style. She returned the anwar we found on a different shopping trip, and even paid for trucking it both ways. She’s eternally undecided, so nothing in the Brown Elephant meets her needs. 

We trek over to the campus bookstore to be sure our textbooks are in stock. I do a pantomime of her sunny attitude, avoiding the part about indecisiveness. “You draw people together with your cheerfulness. We’re all sitting there thinking, ‘They hate me; I know they do.’ But you say, ‘You must meet Eileen ‘cause she’s great and you’re going to love her and she’ll love you and it’ll be great.’ Or you say, ‘Meet Laura who you met before and liked then, and she likes you and we all like each other,’ It’s a talent not to be discounted. You should teach motivational seminars or something.”

Rhonda is pleased with being complimented and kind to me for the remainder of the day. She even pays for my dinner.

So I read the textbooks for my classes and develop a syllabus for each and submit them to my new boss Eileen who only glances at them. I have several questions that she tolerates. Then I hedge with, “I don’t need all my questions answered on the first day.” I’m uneasy, though, without some training on how to manage a classroom.

What source for this university assumption that an MFA degree qualifies a person to teach? Except Candish teaches art at Columbia College, and she’s bipolar with mood swings and unable to complete anything. She taught even during the months she was off her medication and homeless and sleeping in a vacant warehouse, according to Paul. She practiced hurried hygiene at the school gym, which explains a lot.

I’m determined to muddle through the first week and pester Eileen with questions about how to compose quizzes and how to handle failing students and how to discipline a class or reach an unresponsive class.

That jitzin sensation lingers, though, prompting memories of coming home each time I step off the Elevated. Just the sight of tall cottonwood and locust trees in the quad can incite a flood of old images from lush days spent with fleeting friends and hearty laughter.  Nothing in Lincoln Park acknowledges me, yet I feel embraced.  Memory is like that, tricky and unwanted. 

I remember, for example, when I was a student at DePaul, and the classes I took at this campus.  That was thirty years ago when students were still taught by Jesuits.  St. Vincent DePaul College had recently absorbed the seminary and was allowing female students to matriculate.  Now those same students comprise the bulk of the adjunct faculty, such as it is.  

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