Thursday, September 9, 2010

These Are the Gators in My Neighborhood

from Rebecca Bauman, University of Florida

  • I'm ridiculously impressed by my peers -- not just their talent, mind you, but their intelligence and maturity and wit and brilliant, glowing skin. This is the first time I've been in a writing community and not wanted to kill someone right out of the gate. Maybe kill isn't the right word. I think punch in the feckin' face might work. But not these chicas (which we mostly are -- only two guys in the class of 2013). Classy bunch, here. Likable and warm and dry. Thank God. I mean, THANK GOD. This sense of camaraderie is priceless.

  • Campus is gorgeous. I'm very familiar with Northern Florida, and being around all this green and all these critters and all this water is exactly what I wanted. My apartment is pretty much in the woods -- I'm like Ted Kaczynski now. And there are gators in a nearby pond and all kinds of big birds and bugs and armadillos and I swear I saw a bear last night, but my boyfriend said that it was just a really fat raccoon.

  • Classes can be frustrating. I'm only taking two -- a seminar in Jane Austen and a poetry workshop that features nothing but crazy-ass, crack-dealer-whacko prompts that ask each poet to produce Sestina-level frustrate-work. It's a challenge and few of us produce anything we can be proud of ... they're all just exercises, and the products of these exercises are similar to the products of crossword puzzles; one might feel satisfaction, but do we really need to workshop this stuff? Still, I admit: The training is really helpful. Suck it up, Bauman. (NOTE: We have only one faculty poet on campus right now. One is on sabbatical and the other is stuck in Germany with major visa issues that endanger his work at this very American university. Anxiety all around.)

  • Teaching brings nothing but utmost ambivalence. When I'm helpful and feel competent, I'm over the moon. When it's clear I'm lost and bored even with myself, I feel like I might as well be playing handball against a shower curtain. I don't want these students to feel like they've been dicked out of a hard-earned education. Honestly, the moments I find most frustrating aren't in those lessons that ask me to teach ideas and concepts and techniques I'm totally unfamiliar with, but in those lessons that ask me to teach things that have been totally self-evident to me for years. Teaching this level of writing is like teaching a bowel movement; I don't know how to explain what you're supposed to do, because I've always just kinda done it. And, again, I worry about letting my students down, I worry about scamming them. I want this to be useful, I want to make them feel capable and excited ... but I'm just a one-trick-pony in many ways. I can do my one little dance really well, but the rest is just me flopping around on the floor, drooling and grunting. And it must be terrifying to watch.

  • I really miss working with animals. I feel like something is missing from my life. There's an amazing horse shelter/retirement farm in town, but it's only open 4 hours a week, Saturday mornings. I need my medicine -- someone bring me a wounded 'possum to heal, a squirrel to foster, a goat to feed! I need a sense of purpose beyond light verse and screwing up my students' understanding of active and passive voice.

  • I still feel ridiculously fortunate to be here. Every day. And it is about luck, though people will argue: "You deserve this; you've earned this." Truth is, if I hadn't been born a relatively healthy, white, middle-class American, I might not have had the chance to reach my "potential." I have no delusions; I am lucky to be here. It's less of a meritocracy than we'd like to believe. But I'm beyond grateful, and I hope to suck every last bit of marrow from this crapshoot opportunity.


  1. Grrrr....I lost my great comment about how shocked I am about how thrilled I apparently get over Unabomber references and your thoughts on luck vs. merit. Good stuff all the way around!

    On the animal thing, maybe you could volunteer at the SPCA? My son and I go walk dogs there every week. I'm sure volunteers get even more animal involvement. And to pooper scoop, but whatever. Just a thought.

  2. Ya know, I have never once heard writing (or teaching for that matter) compared to a bowel movement. Well done [: I think you're onto something...

    Good luck with your raccoon/bear and that cracked out poetry class of yours. Interested to hear how it turns out!

  3. Indeed, we are all very fortunate.

    I think the teaching is tough when you don't trust your level of teaching experience. Part of the point seems to be knowing that no matter what, they are learning, because they have a lot to learn...

  4. Yay for gators! I've always thought they were really cool, and it sounds like you're definitely enjoying your location and classmates.

    In terms of teaching, for me at least it got easier as I went along and was able to start personalizing the lesson plans I was given. Once I got to know my students and had some confidence in the classroom, I felt better about finding ways of approaching the material that worked for me and for the students.


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