Monday, May 17, 2010

Skool Daze : Part II

Greetings, Kind Reader.

Before I began my sophomore year at St.Mary's university I had to select a major.  Normally in order to do this you get thrown into a huge room with about a thousand other people all clamoring for academic attention like pasty, sweaty, prematurely balding inside traders at the New York Stock Exchange while the Dow Jones plummets by seven-hundred points.

When I walked into this fray the following things were paramount in my thoughts:

(1)  I need to select a major that's in tune with my career goals.
(2) I need to select a major in a subject that I have an aptitude for, a vested interest in and have a proven track record with.
(3) I need to see what the shortest lineup is because, Man, am I hungover!

Just kidding.  *Ahem*  I'd actually selected all my courses in the middle of the summer (what else was I going to do while bored to tears at home?) Based on my first year spread I decided to go for an Honors Degree in English leading up to a path in journalism mayhaps.  Here's a look at what was in store for me:

The Early Novel  The course load for this one initially scared the bejesus out of me.  I remember the prof doling out the reading list and I began to hyperventilate in the middle of the lecture.  I called my parents just as soon as the first class was over and told them "Look, guys, I'm really not sure I can do this!"  as if I was about to audition for "2 Boys, 1 Cup".  Look, if you doubt me, the next time you're in a book store just pick up and flip through a copy of "Roxanna", "Moll Flanders" or "Tom Jones" and ask yourself if you could get through it.  Often times these early novels had nothing resembling paragraph breaks, chapters or organization, which in retrospect should have been the argument I  used when I passed in those first few atrocious essays the previous year.

Mercifully armed with a surplus of available time, a genuine interest in reading and an old set of encyclopedias with plot summaries in the back I managed to survive it, garnering an "excellent discussion" and an "interesting analysis" even while tearing into Jane Austen's precious heroine "Emma" for being "consistently shallow, overindulged and biased."  Kinda like a Georgian-era Heidi Montag. 

An Introduction to Poetry This class was overseen by a professor whom I believe was one of the original masons on the McNally Building and the powers that be just kept him around to grade papers.  This dude was older than Yoda.  Whenever he'd lecture about something particularly exciting he'd launch into a bizarre aerobics routine which normally saw him bobbing in place, grabbing out at the air with alternating fists, and shaking his head up and down like a cartoon character eating a cob of corn.  Typically the first two rows in the class were vacant since there was no guarantee you'd still be dry at the end of the class from all the wayward spittle.

Although I admired his moxie (in fact he may have invented the word) he wasn't the best provider of feedback.  Most of the papers that came back were marked up with cryptic red pen scrawls (words underlined, question marks, exclamation points) and one-word demands like "EXAMPLES!" , "WHY?" or "PUDDING!".  Typically you just took your arbitrary mark of "B-" and considered yourself lucky, since the prospect of reviewing your grade in his office was scarier than playing Russian Roulette with Conrad Black on Angel Dust.

An Introduction To Canadian Literature Was one of my favorite classes that year since it exposed me to the brilliant literary efforts of my very accomplished countrymen (and women).  Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Margaret Laurence, Michael Ondaatje and David Adams Richards all gave me hope for the first time that my voice could be heard in poetry and prose.  It also began my life-time love affair with Leonard Cohen (not biblically, of course, but...yknow, I could be persuaded) who's works such as "For Anne", "What I'm Doing Here" and "I Have Not Lingered In European Monasteries" actually inspired myself and an unexpected cadre of unlikely people including (EEEK!) commerce students on my floor to start up an informal poetry-writing cabal.  Often in our more boring classes we'd compose, go back to the floor and read our latest creations which were often alternately crude, pretentious or schmaltzy.  But, hey, it was fun.

The prof for this course was the same for "Early Novel" and we'd already established a great rapport.  I kicked ass and took names in this one, earning a shiny "A" with my "careful and excellent discussions".

Hey, look, I haven't gotten any encouragement for anything for the past fifteen years, so please forgive your Humble Author for blowing the dust off some ancient laurels, a'ight?

Narrative in Fiction and Film  This would prove to be my favorite course during my four-year tenure at St. Mary's.  The entire thrust of the class was reading stories, watching the resulting film adaptation and comparing the two.  It was presided over by Glenn Walton, a sharp and classy dude who was heavily involved in the local film scene.  At the time of our meeting he'd already completed several short films and years later he appeared as an extra in  "Titanic" and his 35 mm short Chamberpiece was featured in the Atlantic Film Festival.

As far as I was concerned, this man was Orson Welles.  If I'd considered film-making sorcery up to this point in time, well, I'd just met friggin' Gandalf. 

The course itself was fantastic, and if I wasn't completely mentally drained as well as terrified by insurmountable student loan debt when I eventually graduated, this class really represents the crossroads of an alternate reality for me.  If I could just jump in that time machine and go back to this point I'd tell myself:

"Did you notice how interested you are in all this?  Look no further for what you want to do with the rest of your life!  Pursue a career in film with the same tenacity that 'The Dog' hunts bail jumpers!"

To which I would have replied:

"Whoa, old dude, will I really have that much gray hair when I get to be that age?  F#@^!!!  And who is this 'Dog' you speak of?"

I had a blast with this course, particularly in writing movie reviews.   I got an "A-" for my review of Zeffirelli's "Hamlet" starring Mel Gibson (which I groaningly referred to as "Great Dane!").  For my review of David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" (titled "Rockin' Good News"!) Glenn responded "This is insightful, intelligent and reads with the kind of energy the film must have.  You're style successfully emulates the film's".

The highlight of the course, however, was a term project that was right up my alley. I was asked to either take a pre-existing thirty-page short story and adapt it into a screenplay or create an original thirty-minute script.  I opted for the later, interpreting a creepy horror story I'd written in High School called "Dark Harvest".  I pounded it out in a few days, completely driven to see it appraised.  Typically residence is a procrastination factory but no distraction proved tempting enough to stop me.  Professor Walton's comments regarding the submission still can't help but make me beam with pride:

"Brrrrrrr...This has lots of chills and weirdness, is well set up visually and catches the gothic, small-town ambiance.  The church scenes are particularly good.  I can see this on the screen and the actors could have a great time with subtext."

Up to this time this was the greatest thing anyone ever said to me.  Until I submitted my final paper to him, which was a review of the film version of George Orwell's "1984":

"This achieves your usual excellent standard, David.  The review is full of intelligent comment.  I wish you all the best - you have a definite talent for writing and I'd like to encourage you to continue with this rare ability.  Good luck!"

Yknow, I've always bitched that I never had a mentor.  At the risk of sounding maudlin, Glenn Walton was as close to one as I'd ever meet.  I wish I hadn't been so damned shy and reserved at the time other wise I would have put him in a choke hold, forced him to the floor and screamed at him  "Luck?!??  My gray-haired, pathetic future self says I need more than f#@%*&; luck!!! Help me, you motherf#@&a@!!!"

* Ahem *.  Goodness, where did that come from?  

Political Science 200 To prove that everything didn't come up smiles und sunshine that year: here's into Poly Sci!  I was prompted by my academic adviser that I'd best start getting acclimated to learning about Canadian Politics.  Frankly, the concept was about as exciting as watching paint dry but I wanted to ensure that my studies remained at least semi-practical.  Boredom in the class is is clearly evident in my  hand-written notes, which are filled with references to "Poly-Why?", "I Wanna Be Sedated" and open invitations for people within line of sight to "Please Shoot Me".  Occasionally the margins are filled with itemized lists of how many Iron Maiden songs I could remember off the top of my head or as many professional wrestlers as I could name.

The Poly-Sci prof was a feisty Philippine lady who certainly cut us little slack.  After disaster was averted with formatting and pagination in my intro courses I though I'd ironed out what was being asked of me but I continued to struggle with the lack of consistency amongst the departments.  A paper submitted to the English department wouldn't be suitable for a History assignment.  An essay intended for Poly Sci would be rejected for Intro Marketing.  It was a constant juggling act.  Eventually, since the lion's share of submissions I made were for English classes, this became the most familiar process to me so often I'd throw caution to wind and ignore the sometime-stinging comments that came back.  

Her notes on my papers are amusing to read now.  They sound like a mother urging her child to take it's first steps.  Some prime examples: "This is a good effort - as far as it goes", "You have only begun to answer the questions you've posed", "Your reference form is inaccurate" and my personal favorite: "Keep trying, L'il Shaver!"

Okay, I added the "L'il Shaver" part but I'm reading between the lines.  Eventually we had a bit of a breakthrough and I moved from "Don't Stick That Up Your Nose" to "Very Good Discussion!" and finished with a respectable "B-".

I also decided I would rather become a rodeo clown than become a political journalist, so something good came out of it in the end, n'est pas?.


FAIL:   I officially did a copyright on the E.Coli one, by the way, so don't think about stealing it...

No comments: