Preconceptions re-examined after one year

I have realized recently that it’s been almost a year since I actually began my college adventure. I’m trying to remember what it was like back in the olden days, before I became a returning student and committed myself to showing up for class several days a week, against the stated preferences of the intervening years between my graduation from high school and the decision I made in May 2018 to re-enter the halls of learning. What did I think it was going to be like back then?

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Could I make a list? What, to be specific, was I thinking when I signed up for college?

  1. I wasn’t sure yet whether college would be “a piece of cake” or “no idea what I was getting into,” but I was relatively optimistic.
  2. I thought I would probably get snowed under with assignments in the first few weeks and wish I hadn’t started.
  3. I expected the younger college students to automatically treat me like a clueless old lady, so I decided ahead of time that I would play the class clown if necessary in order to deflect attention from whatever insecurities they suffered from, as I’m not as socially sensitive as they probably are due to my advanced age.
  4. I dreaded the thought of having to stay up all night to finish homework.
  5. I thought the teachers would be as inflexible as my high-school teachers were.
  6. I thought I wouldn’t have many friends.
  7. I was afraid that if I couldn’t take the heat, I would have to give back my FAFSA money and that I would have spent it already by then.

So, what am I thinking now?

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  1. College has not been “a piece of cake,” but while I certainly had “no idea what I was getting into,” it hasn’t been unbearably difficult either. It’s less like high school, more like getting ready for a craft fair. You work on things ahead of time but you still end up staying up all night before the final deadline, cramming. And it’s more like a varied meal than a slice of dessert.
  2. I did get snowed under a few times, but only a few. For the most part I was able to keep up just by observing a few simple guidelines learned over many decades of running a home and family. Not that I do all that well running a home and family, but at least it is familiar territory. The last-minute panic of a remembered responsibility in college is not all that different from the last-minute panic of a remembered responsibility in housekeeping.
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3. The younger students have been delightful, and I have enjoyed getting to know them. Some of them go out of their way to greet me when we meet at a different campus, where it would be easy for them walk on by in the company of their cool same-age college friends, pretending they do not know me. Whenever I’ve looked like a fool (and not always voluntarily), I have mostly been received with sympathy and understanding. My guess is that none of these youngsters had any idea I was trying to help them save face by acting like an idiot; they probably just figured I was naturally stupid, and extended the same grace to me they would have to their own Mamaw had she embarrassed herself in a public place.

4. All-night homework or exam-prep sessions have been minimal. I could probably count the times on one hand that I had to stay up to finish something. Could also probably count on one hand the times I had to cancel some other engagement in order to study.

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5. The teachers are mostly quite human. Even when they threaten torture or death to those who dare to challenge the deadlines, they generally only follow through if you really deserve it.

6. See #3.

7. So far, my GPA is good enough that no one has asked for any of my FAFSA money back. Which is a good thing, because I really have spent it all.

It’s been worth it.

Final exams for summer courses coming up this week and next; fall semester starts in a little less than a month.


Summer school is a-going out

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Well, just a couple of final exams to deal with, and summer school will be over.

As you may have noticed, there have been times in the past few weeks when I seriously questioned my decision to add two college courses to my vacation time. There were so many things I had planned to do this summer – get the house organized for next winter, catch up on my sewing…and instead I chose to plunge back into the world of classes, homework and testing. What was I thinking?

It’s almost finished now and I’m glad I did it. As I look at the calendar, it’s true that I am mentally adding up the weeks till the fall semester begins, wondering how much of my lost opportunities I can chase down in those few precious weeks. But I now have (or will have, assuming I pass those final exams) two more courses under my belt: solar system astronomy, and an introductory psychology course. And as has been usual in my college career, they have both added so many fascinating things to my internal library.


Did you know, for example, that Pluto, demoted from status as a “real” planet by a panel of solemn scientists in 2006, was reclassified along with several other heavenly bodies as a “dwarf planet”? That its diameter is only a little over half the width of the United States? That its composition is more like that of a comet than it is like any of the other traditional planets? Did you know that it has a large light heart-shaped spot on it (visible to us only since the New Horizons spacecraft took fly-by photographs of it in 2015)…and that with a few details added in, this spot takes on the appearance of a familiar (and appropriate) cartoon personality?


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In industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology, were you aware that a structured interview (in which an employer asks the same questions, planned ahead of time, of every prospective employee, and a standardized rating system is used for each response) has been shown to be more effective than other types of interviews, in predicting how a candidate is likely to perform on the job?

It’s been a wild ride, especially since for some reason I had imagined that having “only two courses” during June and July meant a minimal amount of schoolwork. Haha. Two courses, each crammed into two instead of four months? If you think about it, that’s the same as having four courses in four months, and we know what that was like last semester and the one before that.

To be fair, I did get a little bit of housecleaning and a little bit of sewing finished. My current knitting project is also slightly advanced compared to its status before summer school started, and I have created quite a few drawings in my sketchbook, as this is a

Focus Photography of Silver-colored Ring

good way to keep focused during an I-TV class. So my original summer plans did not completely go down the drain. Who knows – if I hadn’t elected to take a couple of classes, maybe I would have slept in every day and spent the rest of my available hours sitting in front of Netflix eating bonbons and painting my fingernails. Not that I ever do those things on a regular basis, but perhaps I would have started, and how tragic a waste of time would that have been?

The world has been saved from the spectacle of me with painted fingernails (and a grouchy personality from too much sweet chocolate) thanks to my decision to study astronomy and psychology this summer. Education solves so many kinds of problems, doesn’t it?




What do we really want?

Sissy Spacek, Christopher Walken, and Hayden Tank in Blast from the Past (1999)

In the 1999 movie Blast from the Past, Adam (Brendan Fraser), born and raised in a secret underground bomb shelter when his parents took refuge there during the Cold War (after thinking The Bomb had been dropped), comes back to the surface as an adult, with the naïveté and perfect manners some 21st century screenwriters have universally ascribed to everyone in the 1950s and 60s (and, oddly, psychologically 100% normal after 30+ years underground with only two other people).

Alicia Silverstone and Brendan Fraser in Blast from the Past (1999)Of course, almost immediately he meets Eve (Alicia Silverstone), the girl of his dreams, which was his goal in re-entering society; and of course she falls in love with him – even against her better judgment, since she suspects his motives in “lying” to her about his past.

At one point, Adam defines the words gentleman and lady, saying that what gentlemen and ladies do is try to make sure the people around them are as comfortable as possible.  Did a definition like that ever occur to you?

Life is hard. What if we really believed we could make intangible differences in the lives of other people by helping them feel comfortable? Would we be more aware of our influence? I’d like to think so.  The question we sometimes ask now is whether it is possible to do this and also be honest, or tell the truth. We resent having to “wear a mask,” pretending to be kind and caring when we don’t feel that way. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves: what do we really want? Do we want to enjoy the brief thrill of saying exactly what we feel like saying at the moment, no matter who it hurts, or do we want to say something from which those who hear us will walk away as better people?

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There are times for awkward or even brutal honesty. It just doesn’t happen in every conversation or in every relationship at every moment. What do we really want? What do we  need? And as ladies and gentlemen, we also ask ourselves: what do others need from us? If our positions were reversed, what would we want those other people to say and do?


Summer college

At times I feel like Captain Kirk, whose rule for time travel was, basically, “Don’t.”

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Should I have said this to myself, more loudly than I did, when I was considering tacking two more college courses onto my summer schedule? Why did I do this, instead of taking the summer off to enjoy resting, catching up on art and crafts (including the ones that bring income to the family), cleaning and decorating the house in preparation for the fall

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and winter semester when (again) I will not have time for such things, and maybe catching a “Shakespeare in the Park” performance or two in Asheville, courtesy of the Montford Park Players?

No, I just had to go get myself involved in studentry again.

The courses I chose are Solar System Astronomy and Introduction to Psychology, both of which will fulfill requirements toward my goal of an associate degree. Both have been interesting (and challenging), and, oddly enough, just like what happened in the past school year, they overlap in ways one might not expect. For example, both had a section on light waves…who would have guessed? I am especially enjoying the discussion topics. We have to write responses to these, and, ideally, argue or at least discuss them a little, with each other. In the Psychology class, we are also listening to TED talks, and can choose the ones we want to write responses to. In Astronomy, I am writing a report on the Kuiper Belt, of which I dimly recall hearing before this class but of which I knew,

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literally, nothing. For such a dim, cold, faraway place with nothing much going on except for an occasional comet, it is associated with some intriguing facts…and the Oort Cloud is even more mysterious. (To get some idea of the actual extent of the solar system, may I recommend a fascinating project called “The Thousand-Yard Model,” or, sometimes, “Peppercorn Earth.”) And I hadn’t realized that Pluto, instead of being approximately the size of the earth as we once thought, is now known to be smaller than our moon, with a diameter just a bit more than half the width of the United States. Now I understand why the scientists decided it didn’t get to be a planet any more. It is now classed as a “dwarf planet” along with two or three others of its ilk.

So…education goes on, but while I appreciate the chance to get a couple of extra courses in that won’t now be crowding my winter schedule, I would like to have a few more weeks to get the housework done and maybe even paint the living room.

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College as billy goat

Recently I rediscovered this post which I apparently wrote some time ago (March), but publish now.

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In my ongoing search for metaphors to which to compare the college experience when embarked upon in one’s senior-citizenly years, I decided today that going to college reminds me of that old story of the poor man, the rabbi and the billy goat. For the benefit of those who may not have encountered this story before, I present my version:

This poor farmer came to the local rabbi for counsel. He and his wife were not getting along at all well, the children were quarrelsome, Grandma who lived with the family was ill with rheumatism as well as being irritable about the wife’s housekeeping skills and the noise the children made with their squabbling. The house was just too small for the family. On top of everything else, there wasn’t enough money to go around. What should be done?

”Well,” said the rabbi, “do you have any goats?”

”’Yes, we have a small flock, but we need them for milk. I can’t afford to sell – “

”Bring the billy goat indoors and let him live in the house with you.”

A week later the man came back. “We brought the goat in, Rabbi, but it didn’t help.”

”Give it another week.”

The next week the man was back. “Why am I doing this? Everyone is just as miserable as before, and now the house smells like billy goat. Plus, he butts everyone and knocks things over, and we are always cleaning up his droppings.”

”Give it another week!”

Two more weeks went by; the rabbi didn’t heard from the man. Three weeks passed and he began to worry a little about him. At the end of the fourth week, the rabbi and the man met at the market. The man was smiling as he told the rabbi about how happy his wife was, how the children were growing and helping in the house and garden when they weren’t playing peacefully with each other, and how the grandmother’s rheumatism had gotten better.

”In short, Rabbi, we are all just enjoying life so much more now that we finally got rid of that billy goat!”

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College for me right now is like that billy goat. Billy goats, as you understand if you have ever been involved in animal husbandry, are absolutely necessary if you want to continue to have goat milk year after year (we won’t go into AI right now, but all I can say about that is, well, someone has to have a billy goat.)

Please do not misunderstand me. I willingly acknowledge that while it is not everyone’s cup of tea, getting a college education has come to be an important step in my case. It is not that I don’t appreciate the chance to do so. It’s that college, like a billy goat in the living room, seems to take up a disproportionate amount of space. No decision can be made without consulting the schedule. When I have conversations with friends and family, I am invariably reminded of something I learned at college, something a teacher or student said or perhaps a quote from one of my textbooks or a film we watched in class. And I’m only going for an associate degree at the moment. Our middle daughter is working toward a masters’/doctors’ degree. She works on papers even during the holidays and over summer vacation.

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For those who would like to point out that people with steady jobs live under this kind of restriction all the time every day, year in and year out, I’ll just say that I was a SAHM with various home businesses until the fall of 2018. I was busy, sometimes even too busy, especially when my kids were all at home and very young, but I did set my own schedule most of the time. (See how the presence of a billy goat makes one’s former  conditions of life seem rosy even when they weren’t?)

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It’s like this: things I have enjoyed in the past look even more appealing when I can’t do them because I have too much homework. Even things I didn’t enjoy in the past (such as housecleaning) look attractive when I really can’t get around to them. I find myself daydreaming about sorting through boxes of stuff and maybe painting the whole downstairs, putting up decent curtains and (finally) getting more of my framed art on the walls. I keep imagining that there will be so much more time when the billy goat is back out in the barnyard, at least until next fall when the new semester starts.* By that time, perhaps we will have emptied out enough stuff from our cluttered environment  that we can relegate the billy goat to his own corner and enjoy living in the rest of the house. My secret misgiving is that I will not do all these things even during summer vacation. But at least the billy goat will be out of the house for a while.


*If you read my previous post, you know by now that I have already signed up for two summer courses. Just getting ready to go to the first class right now.










School’s out

The pleasure of being out of school could never have struck me as forcibly when I was a child as it has now that I’m a senior citizen.

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What was my first year of college like? Well, being in college is like having a baby. As someone (Erma Bombeck?) once pointed out, once you have a baby, you have it. “Having” a baby starts off with, but is not limited to, a one-time event.  This baby will need to be regularly fed, changed and held. Has anyone else ever thought how much this is like keeping up with homework assignments? Maybe not as warm, cuddly and noisy as a baby, but the responsibility of it, I mean – the always-in-the-back-of-the-mindness of it. Sometimes going to college even keeps you up, awake and worrying, at night.

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Being in college is also a little bit like watching a horror movie. Even being familiar with the genre, you still never quite know what is going to happen from one minute to the next. And whether you like the genre or not, it just feels so good when it’s over and you can go back to real life. (Or so I’ve heard.)


Or you could say that going to college is like drinking a cup of very strong coffee. (This one is for people who don’t particularly like coffee.) After, apparently, some thought, my older brother revealed to me that he had figured out why grownups drank it (both of us were too young to be drinking coffee at the time.)  “It tastes so awful,” he explained, “that everything else tastes good in comparison.” A couple of months ago, I found myself wishing I had time to fold the laundry or do a bit of decluttering, one of my least favourite jobs. Even such tasks would have been a relief compared to writing another essay on another famous author whose work I intensely disliked.

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Having made all these unfavourable comparisons, why, when people ask me how I liked my first year of college, do I say that I did in fact like most of it? The classes were mostly very interesting, and I did learn a lot, even in the one class I basically re-took because I couldn’t test out of it (having mastered most of the skills some forty-five years ago, back in my earlier school career). The teachers were, without exception, exceptional. Also, I proved I could do this, which I was in doubt of about a year ago when I first began thinking about going to college. How could I not have positive memories of my first ever college experience?  Yet here I sit working on my first blog post since March, glorying in not having to go to school this week, relishing the chance to catch up on all those things I missed while I was busy writing essays and taking online quizzes.

On the other hand, if I’m so glad to be out of school, why did I sign up for two summer classes, which start next week?

Well, all our teachers kept impressing upon us that one reason we go to college is so we can learn to think logically. I guess I still need a few more years of practice in that.


The pleasure of accomplishment

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Two weeks ago I was seriously questioning my decision to go to college. This week I’m thinking maybe it will work out after all. Don’t misunderstand me…there is still a lot of work and I am still behind in most of it, but in the past two weeks several things have happened:

1. An essay I wrote for English composition class – the one that was so bad the teacher returned the first version without even attempting to grade it – has been accepted in its second version, and I got a 96% and several complimentary remarks on it.

2. I have successfully created and submitted not one, but two movies, for two other classes.

3. I have written and submitted at least one “petite écriture” in my French I class. (Now if only I could figure out how to easily insert accent marks using my “American” computer keyboard.)

Also, I’m not sick on the weekend for the first time in a while, and that’s just wonderful.

Spring break is coming up in a little over a week.

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