Sweet Little Nothings

Inhale the future chocolate

When she’d been LDS—
a Molly Mormon on the outside
& some kind of nondenominational,
free-spirited Christian on the inside—
she’d had friends, good & plenty,
but when she’d lost her testimony
of Joseph Smith
& returned to her Protestant roots,
she reclaimed her creativity.
When she went back to school
at a liberal arts college,
where she was often
the red elephant in a room
full of donkeys
in varying shades of blue,
she realized that the life she was living
wasn’t a remake
but rather,
a sequel.

Community college is a great place to start; university is a great place to finish

loquat

One of the loquat trees around PSC campus.

Most of us go to college to get a degree so that we can have a career that will pay for that education.  However, if your sole objective is to get your degree and get the hell out, you’re missing out on everything else the community college experience has to offer.

Maybe this sounds idealistic or even naïve, but if you go to college solely for the degree, that’s almost as bad as going to work just for the paycheck.  

Though higher education is an expensive investment in oneself (timewise and moneywise), college has been proven to enhance critical thinking, oral and writing skills, abstract reasoning, and aid in the solidification of soft skills.  It also heightened my confidence and perspective.

What’s more, when you’re doing restaurant or retail work, you’re completing repetitious tasks, but in college, you’re advancing every four months to something more challenging (or at least different).  When you’re working for a boss, all they care about is that you get the job done; in college, most professors are interested in your success, provided that you care.  

One algebra professor gave us daily pep talks about practicing math and taught us that you don’t study math, you do it—sort of like brain surgery—and that “life is better with a degree.”  He admitted that Pizza Hut, where he worked so much harder for far less money, made him want to finish college.  He was interested in our minds, and, unlike a boss, wasn’t interested in keeping us there but wanted us to leave his class forever, and, if we must, “hate math again.”

I took him up on the latter, especially after I took Elementary Statistics, which was anything but elementary.

~

In college, you learn the answers to questions you didn’t know you had.  For example, this same math professor finally shed light on why we have to learn this “nonsense” (meaning algebra)—that it was to sharpen our attention to detail.  “Sometimes, we’re one keystroke from ruining somebody’s life,” he said, and so I could work on this nonsense with a newfound sense of purpose.

College gives you time to think, not just act, and will connect you to people you wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise.  

So, you watch Shark Tank and see the hustlers who never went to college (but who worked 24/7) and articles about people like Bill Gates being a college dropout, but a degree isn’t just a window of opportunity—it’s a door to experiences that are unique to the college life.  

The diversity of a community college makes everyone feel like it’s never too late to get an education, reinvent yourself, or launch a new career, so no matter your age or background, get involved in something outside the classroom. 

I did the newspaper and the literary arts journal.

Seek out internship (and work-study) opportunities as well, which you’re more likely to get as a college student, as you’re perceived as a serious individual.  Internships are the answer to that old dilemma about needing experience that no one will hire you without.

If you have the chance, take a few classes just because they interest you.  (Many people figure out what they want to do by getting a general studies degree.)  

College is a time of chrysalis:  I enrolled as a Health Information Technology major, so sure I wanted to be a medical biller and coder (to appease the introvert in me), and ended up graduating with a general studies degree in addition to that, because that was the degree I wanted to build on.

So, whether your passion is in STEM or the arts (STEAM is dumb because it leaves out writing), there is something for everyone at a liberal arts college.  

~

Now, I’m at university, studying Creative Writing.  This time, I know what I want to do.

I have experienced college life differently—as a thirtysomething with a family instead of a twentysomething living at home (or on campus).  I work two jobs, and so I don’t have time to hang out at the coffee shop (F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is a fantasy) or participate in clubs; when my friends and I get together, it is planned and deliberate, as we have jobs, kids, and other responsibilities.     

So, I will never know that twentysomething kind of college experience, but I feel like I am getting to know something better.  When I come home after a long day at school and then work at the Lab (where I concoct formulas containing commas and hypotheses based on Merriam-Webster), and the sky is just turning twilight, and the breeze through the window invigorates me, I pull up to my humble home, where, through the frosted oval glass in my front door, I see a little girl jumping, so excited to see me.  Behind that door, there is a husband who has missed me, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.  

Though I have a couple more years to go, I have lots to look forward to—an internship, a creative nonfiction writing class, and yes, even a grammar class, because I am just that nerdy.

The first two parts were originally published as “First Times and Second Chances” (with minor edits due to hindsight) in the September 2017 issue of The Corsair, Pensacola State College’s student newspaper.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #473: Six Words

The Drs. Zeus

When the 9 daughters of Zeus
taught at the Colossal Muse School,
Erato instructed them how to make notes
rather than take them,
even as New Age Melete taught them
how to shut up & listen.
Husky-voiced Calliope taught them
how to be long-winded,
even as Clio tended to repeat herself.
Euterpe paired with Aoede,
Euterpe speaking when she should sing,
& Aoede singing when she should speak.
Worshipful Polyhymnia tried to muddy
the separation of Church & State.
Melpomene just became a dramedy queen.
Starstruck Terpsichore danced with the stars
while stargazer Urania danced under the “real stars.”
Thalia tried her best to turn it all into a farce,
but Mneme was the master teacher,
for she taught them all
how to remember it all.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 473

Room at the Top

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This past week before the fall semester began, I gazed out the window of my office, watching the groundskeepers cut down the bahia grass, sprucing up for the incoming freshmen. The campus, as if it had been in hibernation for the summer, awakened with the earthy tang of fresh-cut grass. Pine straw spread around the trees are like sun-browned nests in a field of green. Moms accompanied their high school grads, the younger siblings tagging along, the air full of humidity and expectation.

The scene made me think of the movie, Liberal Arts, set in an unnamed community college in Ohio. The main character is everyman Jesse Fisher—a thirty-something college admissions counselor who returns to his alma mater to speak at an old professor’s retirement celebration.

My favorite conversation was in the dining hall, when Jesse is sitting across from a moody, brilliant kid he’s unofficially mentoring—a kid who asks him why he liked his time at this college so much, when he just wishes it would all be over, to which Jesse replies, “It’s the only time you get to do this, you know? You get to sit around and read books all day, have really great conversations about ideas…You could go up to everyone here and say, ‘I’m a poet,’ and no one will punch you in the face.”

*

When I got promoted to a higher position in the office I worked in, I had the opportunity to create a flier advertising an essay writing workshop, for which I was able to implement my creative talents (i.e. my wordsmithery and penchant for puns). I never thought I’d be interested in graphic design (as I’ve always hated my computer classes), save for the books I create on Shutterfly, but I enjoyed this project.

Every semester, I am learning more about what I enjoy doing, and could enjoy doing for a vocation.

*

My college’s motto is “Go here. Get there,” but it’s feeling more like “Go here. Stay here”—at least until I can find my niche in the medical field, hopefully, writing newsletters or press releases or something along those lines (pardon the pun).

Even though I will be taking all my classes online, college will be my home away from home, as all four of my jobs will be on campus.

Four years ago, while trying not to nod off in Health Care Law class, listening to a monotone professor read off PowerPoints from an overhead projector, I never envisioned I would be holding two supervisory positions, much less feel capable of doing so.

Despite this, and taking three classes (maybe two), I am undaunted, for, as my dad would say, “the wind is at my back.” I will not have to struggle through any more math classes this last semester before I graduate with my A.A. and my A.S.

The best math professor I ever had said something like “Just love it enough to get through it and then you can go back to hating it.”

I don’t even hate it now; I just hated doing it.

That’s progress.

*

A good friend told me it isn’t the happiness that makes you happy, but the pursuit of it. I pursued security through education, but the process made me happy, for it connected me to people who will become lifelong friends and helped me become my best.

As I’ve learned more, I’ve found myself teaching my daughter things I might not have otherwise thought about—like how the Big Bang was more like the Big Whisper, that Big Toe’s real name is Hallux, and that zero is really the first number. (She will also know how to spell Pi before Pie—that whole i before e thing, you know.)

So even though I know it’s going to be a busy semester, I look forward to all my classes—learning another language (which I like to say is like getting a brand-new set of colors you didn’t know existed), the intricate workings of the human mind (what writer wouldn’t love that?), and humanities in the arts (I predict a chapbook of ekphrastic poetry coming).

Furthermore, I will be writing, editing, tutoring, mentoring, creating, training, collaborating, and doing the kind of office work that frees my mind to brainstorm about the next “Great American Short Story.”

Maybe one day that story will be my own.