Thursday, September 23, 2010

An Education (Mine!)

(This is gonna be a personal, rambling blog post with very few movie references.)

Fall always makes me a bit wistful and right now I'm a bit wistful for September 1990.

I think seeing Superchunk live last week, for the first time in maybe a decade, and then seeing Pavement on "The Colbert Report" this week -- singing my favourite Pavement song, "Gold Soundz", and suddenly realizing that that song was now 16 years old -- made me feel a bit old and nostalgic for the 1990s.

Lately, I've been thinking how lucky I am that I got my Bachelor of Arts degree. I know that's not much but in this economy it seems like a good thing to have.

My mom always said that as long as I "had that piece of paper" that I could do whatever I wanted -- meaning that I should get the degree even if I wanted to avoid an office job and just sweep floors at McDonald's; the education was its own reward, I guess.

Maybe if I had been raised in the kind of household that stressed the financial benefits of having a degree, I would have gotten out of college faster. Who knows?

(Kids from those kinds of households were invariably marketing and business majors in the 1980s and 1990s.)

As it is, I'm the first one on my mom's side of the family to get a degree.

My grandparents certainly didn't have degress; my grandfather -- the movie fan I'm so fond of reminiscing about -- had to drop out of school when he was 10 to go to work to help pay the family bills.

So, in the fall of 1990 here's where I was:

I had dropped out of Bible college twice (Fall of 1985 and then again in the Spring of 1987); I had dropped out of community college twice (Spring of 1986 and Fall of 1987); I had been briefly hospitalized for a sort-of-nervous breakdown when I was 20 -- at the same time I was up on criminal charges related to booze, destruction of property, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor -- minors, actually -- a long story best told at another juncture.

(All charges dropped, by the way.)

And I had been working in record stores from the Fall of 1987 onwards.

Sometime in the Fall of 1988, I got the idea of going back to school. I had just started to work at my beloved Record Co-Op on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park -- quite a feat given that I wasn't a student there -- and I recall some gentle nudging from management that I become a student on campus to keep my job.

As I wasn't the manager or assistant manager -- night manager, instead! -- I had to do that to make the suits upstairs happy, I guess.

But it turned out that I couldn't get into Maryland as a student!

Seems that even though my Bible college had not been accredited (and those few credits on my records thus not transferable), my GPA there was still such a bad mark against me that the University of Maryland would not let me in.

Now, when I finally wanted an education it was being denied me.

So I went to P.G. Community College for a year, transferred to Maryland, and was what was called a "pre-education" major that first semester.

Yeah, that didn't last.

After one disastrous semester -- the same in which the Record Co-Op finally closed -- I gave up on the idea of being an education major, pre- or otherwise; observing a real teacher on the job that semester convinced me that I was neither dedicated, nor selfless, enough to undertake that kind of gig for such little reward.

God bless teachers, really.

So, by the Fall of 1990, I had quit my summer job -- assistant manager, actually -- at Kemp Mill Records in College Park as it was just awful.

That whole story is good but that's for another time. Just picture me slipping the keys under the door that night without any warning that I was quitting -- it was that kind of scene.

Here I am in the Fall of 1990, still a student at the University of Maryland, with my somewhat exasperated parents still paying my tuition, and faced with the likelihood that I wasn't going to find another good record store job, nor was I going to be an education major.

I took a Shakespeare class on a whim, not having read any Shakespeare stuff since high school and still full of a little excitement about the playwright thanks to the previous year's Henry V from director/star Kenneth Branagh.

I get the syllabus below handed to me by Dr. Michael Olmert and, in an early class session, the guy mentions movie night for his class that semester with the film most likely being either Gregory's Girl (1981) or Local Hero (1983).


The bells went off in my head. This is the guy I needed to learn from at this point in time.

Not so much hero worship, or any of that Dead Poets Society nonsense, but rather the simple appreciation to the forces of the universe that I finally felt like I had found a place in the world of higher education.

Suddenly it was looking more and more likely that I might actually finish college.

I should add that that syllabus changed that semester as Dr. Olmert had some heart surgery -- we dropped a few of those plays and he added Pericles near the end of the semester.

I took his second Shakespeare survey course in the Spring of 1991.

And then, in the Fall of 1991 and Spring of 1992, I took independent study semesters with the guy in an attempt at reading the rest of Shakespeare's plays that I hadn't read yet in those first two semesters.

Not so fast: Olmert made me watch each play in those 2 semesters on video (the BBC versions from the late 1970s -- John Cleese in The Taming of the Shrew! Kate Nelligan in Measure for Measure!) -- and I had to write bigger papers each time.

Dr. Olmert also helped get this non-honors student into an Honors Senior Seminar on Shakespearean tragedy in my final semester of college.

The multiple Emmy winner might not have known it at the time but he was the intellectual kick in the ass that this student needed.

I graduated in May of 1993 with my B.A. in English Literature.

(I almost had to take Freshman English that final year but I got out of that one -- that's a whole 'nother story!)