For the first time in 31 years, I have homework.

A couple of weeks ago in a hotel room in Phoenix, I decided to go back to school. A few weeks before that I’d convinced myself that I had a calling to be a hospice volunteer. But by the time I’d signed up for training and read all the disclaimers, I grew cold to the idea. It seemed like a dark endeavor. And then there was the hearing disability. Dying people and their relatives were likely to speak in hushed tones. The lights would probably be dimmed, making lip reading near impossible. Faking comprehension, something I have years of practice doing, seemed loathsome in such circumstances. So I quit being a hospice volunteer before beginning. I told no one of my folly, my dramatic overestimation of myself. Like I could comfort the dying.

But school. That was a different matter. I loved going to school. No, I loved going to college. Actually, what I loved was the idea of going to college. I am as devoted to higher education as some people are to religion.

And I have had plenty of religion. I went to college for twenty years, starting as a lonely, heartsick freshman at Central Michigan University in 1966, dropping out, moving to Michigan State University, then finishing a B.A. at the University of Michigan-Flint, starting graduate school again at Michigan State University, and then finishing a M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1986. I paid for all but three semesters of college myself. I say that to people now and they look at me like fairies are braiding my hair.

So I decided to apply to a graduate program in English/Creative Writing. I wanted a totally online program; even a low residency program was too much for me. I don’t want to sit in class and I sure as shit don’t want to have to show up anywhere at a specific day and time. I had years of that. If I own anything, it’s my time. So I found an online program that exactly matched what I wanted to learn. And I applied. They wanted transcripts, wanted to know when I started and finished programs, details. I rifled through drawers looking for diplomas. When did I start going there? I asked myself. Who knows. The dates blur. They’re going to flip out when they see how old I am, I thought. But I’m not telling them. Let them do the math.

So, as they say, ‘you pay your money and you take your chances,’ right? My first course looks to be a bear. The text talks about stylistics and the first assignment is focused on how to read like a writer. There is an insistence in the syllabus on critical thinking and consistency and I already know that my lack of discipline with both reading and writing will hammer me. But that’s why I came. To get the rug pulled out from under me, to be pushed around a little, to leave the land of endless compliments and live in the world of  knowing better and doing better.

All this makes me nervous.

I love that.

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Photo: JJ Thompson