A Backward Glance Before Moving On

Chapter One: Overtures 

 By: Damiano Consilvio

Maybe these words will be like a great finale, like the great rumble of exploding gunpowder that you feel in your ear drums just before the firework show is over. These words fall onto the page as the black caps all fly into the air at commencement. It happens during the best of times, but also the worst of times, in an age of innocence as well of reason, of ambition as well as fear. Graduation, a great victory, is followed by great fear. I am afraid as I reach the conclusion of my Master’s degree. In choosing to study English language and literature, I chose to pursue what I loved, but what if there is not a market for it? Teachers are a dime a dozen, right? What if I don’t get accepted to a PhD program? What if my articles don’t get published? Will this all be for naught? People of the baby boomer generation fail to appreciate the uncertainty and fear that students face post-graduation. It is not a sure-in of success. You can have a college degree, and still struggle.

In trying to cope with my own post-grad life anxiety, I’ve taken to reflecting upon myself. While in no way a “Song of Myself,” I am using this space to take a backward glance before moving forward towards the last step of my educational journey: the PhD. Hopefully it will help me understand the person that lectures on college composition, and give me more confidence in his ability to succeed. I’ll need it. Many programs accept a mere two to three applicants a year. Applications are expensive. I plan to apply to fifteen schools. I need to look back to find out, what sets me apart from all the rest?

I have always been skeptical to the memoir form, just because of how reserved I am with my emotions. By trade I am an academic, and a literary critic, so I dispense my emotions into my research writing in an indirect way. Often the topic of my research will reflect the currents of how I am feeling. For example, I’ve studied the Anglo-Saxon Elegy poem during the year of my life’s most painful break up. I consider getting a tattoo some day of the Old English phrase “Wyrd bið ful aræd.” It translates loosely to “fate is fully fixed.”

But despite this deep emotional connection to my work, I don’t—and haven’t—ever used my writing to speak directly of my-self. I never wrote a memoir about how I felt during those times. Instead, I would study Poe, or Byron, and the rest of the Dark Romanticists, to empathize with their melancholy. Now however, I feel the occasion is upon me to commemorate the past six years of my intellectual life through the lens of my creative side. These past four years have been memorable, perhaps the most memorable of my life so far. And how better to show my appreciation than to capture those fleeting years in writing?

But where to begin? I write that question redundantly, because I know exactly where I want to begin this backward glance: at the end, where I am now.

On a Wednesday morning during the Spring of 2017 my eyes open at six forty-five am. My room is dimly lit blue as the sun cuts through the suburban New Jersey tree-line and into the blinds of my bedroom window. My alarm is set for seven, but I always wake up just before it.

I get up and put my black corduroy suit on my bed, then a grey V-neck sweater, underwear, socks. Then I get a shower. By seven fifteen I am dressed and having coffee, checking e-mails on my phone. Sometimes there a few, but today there are none, because nobody is likely even up yet. Most people make it to school by ten. The people who I am expecting to hear from today will not check their emails until at least ten.

By the time my brother has dropped me off at school it’s eight o’clock and I am at my most alert. I teach at ten, but I get an hour of reading and an hour of writing in before I walk over to my seminar room. I work on two papers in my office, one on the moral conflicts of men and women in The Canterbury Tales, and another one comparing the psychical models of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Then I read a few peer review articles for my thesis project, to compose a scholarly edition of Edith Wharton’s novel Ethan Frome.

Working like this before teaching has my intellect invigorated along with the peak in my bodily and cognitive energy. By ten I am ready to go in and review the students’ papers with them. They have submitted drafts to me, and I noted several stylistic errors, like when novice writers sometimes announce themselves in their writing  (like saying “For this first section I will take a look at students respond to online learning), or their use of colloquial expressions where a more sophisticated one would serve better (as in a student saying “Paid maternity leave is a hot topic among women workers because they need to take care of themselves and their families”—I would suggest that they say “A pertinent issue in the female workforce is the allocation of paid maternity leave, as women must balance between care for themselves, their careers, and their families, all within a delicate time in their lives).

This is typically how my class is run. I think of Composition as a workshop in academic style. I spend much of the class talking to the students about their work and their craft, but I do not talk at them. I do not tell them what to write. They tell me what they want to write, and I guide them. My design is to be a fellow artist helping to groom other artists, not an arbitrator enforcing rules.

How I’ve come to believe in things this way is a story written along the path the lies behind me. I don’t think about that enough, because right now I’m looking forward to the next lesson, to the next year, to my PhD applications, for instance. But I do feel something now as I glance at my reflection in the glass door to my classroom right before I walk in. I think that today I rose to complete a task, to serve a purpose to society. I am responsible for these students learning. They are depending on me to come and give them my service and knowledge for their own betterment. It is a responsibility that I honor, and that I love, but also one that I am thankful for.

In being important to them, I myself become important. I know that without my students, without people that want and need my knowledge, I am useless, I have no contribution to give to the world in return for my existence. But the fact that I can give my time and effort and mental energy to serve them makes me valuable. I realize that the importance I gain through my ability to educate, is what makes me a member of society, of the world. I realize that it is what makes me a man

But how? What got me here? Why am I so special? So lucky? I am on the verge of completing my Master’s degree in English at the humble age of twenty-two. I am the first in my blood to get a college degree, and I aspire this year to apply to doctoral programs and become a professor in the humanities. It is my life’s wish to earn a doctorate in English literature and become a professor, and write books about the literature that fascinates me. In my mind, to be a scholar would be the ultimate contribution of love and appreciation to my passion for art. But in order to achieve this, I must excavate those recesses of my mind that tell the story of how I got here, before I approach my last stop at the doctoral programs. I must look at that man that adjusts his tie one last time before walking into the classroom, and ask him of his origin. To be the person that I want to be when I reach for these great aspirations, I must look back, I must look back upon myself and understand the child, the child the father of the man.

To be continued

 

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