Saturday, December 13, 2014
Making seasons bright
This morning it is clear, bright and cold, after the storm.
My trip to Riverside was a good thing. I was invited to sit in on a three-hour graduate seminar, discussing regional fiction. There were about a dozen students around a long conference table, and three of the students gave multi-media presentation based on a work of fiction, that they supplemented with facts, history, photos and video to tie in the work with a larger issue. Although I didn't have a syllabus so I'm not sure, I concluded that the notion was that, as grad students, they were preparing how to teach about literature this way.
The three presentations I saw were all well put together, ably presented, and fascinating. One was about the high plains, based on Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain." Another was about gentrification in poor neighborhoods of Portland, based on works by two local Portalnd authors. The third was based on an older work by a local Southern California writer, Victor Villasenor.
For each presentation, the discussion was lively yet respectful; analytical and targeted. The students clearly were engaged in the work, and in the issues raised. But in addition to this, the professor always brought it back to the main point - the writing. Yes, we are passionate about, say, the displacement of poor African Americans by hipsters in Portland's north east neighborhood. But how does the author Michael Jackson, in his novel, convey this to the reader? We kept circling back to the craft, the work.
The professor was encouraging and open and drew out responses from the students. She made the seminar a 'safe place' to have a discussion, even when it went into tricky areas like race.
I sat, mostly silent, sometimes nodding my head or uh-huh-ing, but really I was itching to join in the discussion. As a guest I felt it would not be right to do so, but every once in a while I couldn't prevent a "gosh, that's great!" or other brief comment from escaping my lips. It was exciting to witness - it would be even more exciting to be a part of it.
The students and the professor were very welcoming to me, and though I didn't really get a chance to talk in depth to any of them (it wasn't the right context), I felt I learned a lot about the program.
The following day I met with another professor, over coffee, and he generously gave me an hour of his time. This time, I was able to share about my ambitions and the work I want to do - he drew me out, even asking me questions about the work that I hadn't thought of before. I came away inspired, and very hopeful that my application to the program at Riverside would be accepted.
The other schools on my list are too distant for me to visit before applying, so I won't have this opportunity to observe them. Some of the programs invite accepted students to visit before they make their decisions, and I will take full advantage of that - if accepted.
When I finally made it home to Topanga, I felt excited and inspired, and felt like a thrilling future is on the horizon. What a good feeling.