Day 3: Buddies

Yesterday was the “getting to know you” sort of orientation where we all went around and introduced ourselves and tried desperately to identify with each other and pick out who our best friends were going to be.

Today was that “first day at the new job” kind of day. Paperwork. Orientation into the email system (I was booted out of their email system for reasons unknown and am still unable to access my email. This kind of technical malfunction is not at all unusual for me, and I am not worried about it.), into the stuff we’ll have to complete before we leave for our independent study periods (called “project periods” here). There was a sort of welcome breakfast, and then a “buddy lunch” where we were paired up with a current student who would answer our questions.

My person’s name is Isnel Othello. I emailed my buddy to ask whether the number of lectures I was planning to attend was a reasonable number, and after several days received the reply that I would probably want to take an afternoon off later in the week. I sat there in the room where the lunch was laid out wondering what my person would look like. Man? Woman? Old? Young? From the brevity of the response I had gotten to my email, I didn’t think I would have much to talk about with this person. I pictured a small Latina woman with hesitant spoken English.

Isnel is a 35-year-old Haitian guy. We have both worked as journalists and have a similar disgust for people who are intellectually lazy. We had a great lunch, and talked during all our breaks.

I met with my writing group. I had already read their submitted stories and made my comments on them, and I had already decided how I felt about everyone. When I met them in real life, the woman who wrote the absolutely delicious story about a small-time criminal with the priceless observation that he wasn’t built like a brick shithouse, but more like a kitty litter box, the one whom I thought I’d most like to hang out with, turned out to be a woman about my mother’s age.  A former lawyer wearing a Barney-purple pantsuit. Never in a million years would I have known how cool she was if I hadn’t read that story.

Every single orientation/welcome/familiarizing lecture basically said the same thing – “We know this is a lot to take in, but don’t worry…” And by the end of it, I felt like I had just gone to one of those extended-family gatherings where you’re supposed to remember everybody’s name and who they’re related to and whose kid they are and what their kids’ names are, etc. I have long since stopped pretending I was good at that shit. Nowadays I just take a lot of notes and hope that somebody will send me an email if it’s really important.

Not that I’ll be able to open it.

Day 2: Orientation

We were greeted at the orientation by representative members of the three writing concentrations offered: fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. The fiction guy was Steve Heller, chair of the department, so he went around and greeted everyone and shook hands and was genial and sort of majestic in that authority-figure sort of way.

He gave a speech whereby he promised us that participation in the program would change our lives. Those are the words he used. “Change your life.” I have to admit, I’m always skeptical when presented with claims of that magnitude. I can think of some ways in which I would like my life to change, and even more in which I don’t want it to change at all, but I also know that I’m terrible at predicting exactly what I’m going to take away from any given experience. I have a terrible habit of thinking negative, cynical things when presented with a situation (like, say, every single workplace “bonding” event to which I’ve ever been forced to go), spending my entire time at the event faking happy while secretly hating everyone around me for being so cheerful and gung-ho and myself for being such a miserable cuss, and then reflecting back on the experience later and admitting that I did get some value out of it. So…while I doubt I’m going to lose 20 pounds, become an extreme extrovert or suddenly become famous and sought-after, I’m sure that there will be a lot to take away.

Steve Heller left after his little speech, and was replaced by the heads of the poetry group and the creative nonfiction group. Ms. Creative Nonfiction got up and gave us a very helpful presentation about how our time will be spent over the next two years: ten days of orientations, lectures and writer meetings, followed by five months of working one-on-one with our mentors, doing a bunch of assigned readings and online book discussions with our groups, and completing papers. The the floor was turned over to Ms. Poetry, who talked for a long time about the “average” number of lectures people attend (we’re required to take 7, but most people take between 17 and 20 – I’m signed up for 22) and how it’s important to listen to your body and eat your normal foods like yogurt and fruit, get enough sleep because this whole process is so magical and that everything we’re doing here is going to change us as people and I thought she was going to break into Kumbaya.

I was happy to discover that I was not the oldest person in the group, nor the fattest, nor the most-tattooed or pierced, although I was the most-married. I was not the only harp player, not the only chicken fancier, not the only coffee hater…in short, I was in no way the odd one out, which is just where I wanted to be.

Lectures start tomorrow, bright and early at 9am. I’ll be interested to see how it goes.