Nostalgia for academia came over me one day driving by our nearby community college. Was I not a taxpayer? Did I not help support American River College? But I was on the cusp of my eighth decade and the hoodied masses I saw streaming from the buildings looked like teenagers, which they were. Would I hear Barbara Frietchie’s stout defender call out in behalf of my grey head?
As always, I consulted my toy poodle Vida. Mine was her fifth home. If she could weather the vicissitudes of so many life changes…well that settled it. I would enroll and she would come with me. The next semester we signed up for two courses in the English Department. I eschewed the course that boasted “No Shakespeare,” who I thought a deity, and chose Poetry and Creative Non-fiction. I had a vague notion of what the latter meant, something like Truman Capote’s “non-fiction-novel” perhaps and certainly intriguing.
Our first class session was enlightening. I appeared to be the only one who had purchased the “suggested texts.” I was sans computer and found out that the material was readily available to those who were wired in—which was everyone except me. Textbooks add to a student’s already significant debt burden, who was I to begrudge.
Creative writing classes are usually small and as assignments mounted our class got downright intimate. How sad, I thought, not to be able to send their message to the world in more than “140 characters.” Writing classes are an essential antidote to tech-enforced brevity.
I had excellent professors and never addressed them without their title though most of their students were immediately on a first name basis or just spoke out. The raised hand has been phased out it seems. When we were asked to critique each other’s work, I handed my typewritten pages to the student in front of me. “Oh,” she cooed, “what a cool font, what is it?” “Eighty-five-year-old manual typewriter,” I answered.
Vida and I were not only accepted, but were treated with some deference. Our favorite desk, a survivor from another era and easier for me to maneuver was never usurped. When we divided into smaller groups I remember with fondness a young woman bolting across the room, “I want to work with Marilyn and Vida.” My peer evaluated papers were treated generously though one was returned with this comment: “Marilyn uses words I have never heard of, but I guess I’m not her target audience.” A small triumph: I beat a student with a Blackberry to the draw when a reference to Errol Flynn came up in a story we were analyzing. “Who is Errol Flynn?” someone piped up. My hand shot up. “A movie star of the 30’s and 40’s, a swashbuckling, hard-drinking womanizer.” “Yep,” my Blackberry fact checker said. “What’s a swash-whatever?” someone else asked.
When one of my pieces was published in American River’s prize-winning literary Review, I was one proud taxpayer, but after four years I was afraid I was becoming the school’s resident Betty White. Vida and I needed to give it a rest. We kept swelling the progress at evening readings and the yearly “Reveals” of the literary magazine. At one my favorite professor hailed us “I miss you too,” he said, petting Vida. “It was great having your, well more mature take on things. I have another older student now.” “Oh? How old?” I asked. “Hmmm, “sixty-ish,” he answered. “Ah” I sighed, “to be sixty-ish again.”