(If I had the cyber-savvy, I would have fiddled with the name of this blog, adding a carrot pointing upward to the words "Big University" but since I have no idea how to do that I'm taking this low-tech approach. It is a skill on my To-Do list for this year.)
At 5:40 am the alarm on my BlackBerry went off, filling my ears with its faux African drumming. The plan was for me to brew the world's most excellent cup of coffee (Oren's Beowulf Blend...pricey but so worth it!) while answering the emails I had neglected to address the previous night due to a Mad Men marathon, jump on the treadmill from 6:15 to 7:15, shower, take a phone call from a soon-to-be-ex client at 7:30, dress, check email again and sail out of the house at 8:20 with the intention of arriving at 8:30 sharp for the first day of Orientation for my MA program in Art and Culture writing at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
That was the plan. What ended up happening was the gulping down of two cups of coffee when I realized that the email I needed to send included a report I had forgotten to write, the writing of the report, the taking of the client phone call while sneakily proofreading my report, a hurried shower while pondering the report, a mad dash back to my laptop to edit the report, the emailing of the report, a hair drying frenzy that resembled an epileptic fit, a mirror-free make-up application in the elevator and an Olympian dash out the front door of my building at 8:55 causing me to arrive at the J School building with my dress glued to my skin with sweat.
But, dear reader, that is where the stress ended and the wonderfulness began. Gathering registration material, I went up to the Lecture Hall on the third floor to meet my fellow MA students and to begin my life as Bungalow Babe in the Big University, an adventure I have waited 27 years to claim!
Yes, it was 27 years ago that I met the NY Times writer who was to become my husband over the matter of Columbia J School. He was a renowned graduate of the school and I was a new college grad who had just gotten admitted into Columbia's MFA program, about which I was having severe second thoughts. (Hint: huge tuition; nothing that seemed terribly marketable about the degree; worry that students were silver spoon kids.)
I cringe/laugh to recall that I arrived for our meeting at the now-defunct Famous restaurant on W72nd Street on an overcast day in February bearing photocopies of everything I had ever published in my life...all my college clips (lots of reviews and feature stories), short stories, essays and poetry and the secret hope that he would be so bowled over by my oeuvre that he would call his editor who would hire me on the spot.
Well, that didn't happen but what did was that:
a: he told me I didn't need J School
b: he called me 10 days later to say he was reading my work, thought I was a really good writer and would I like to go out with him
c: I didn't attend the MFA program at Columbia, went elsewhere, hated it, dropped out after two semesters and I
d: got married to said Times writer
e: became a freelance writer
f: became a publicist
g: had three fabulous kids
h: nurtured the hope that one day I would indeed attend the J School
That day has come to pass and I cannot quite believe it. Neither can The Three Babes, all of whom are proud/queasy of my sudden student status. Amusingly, I bolted out the door to my orientation just as Little Babe was crawling out of his adolescent slumber, staggering to the bathroom to get ready for his 10th grade orientation. As I reminded him that I was off to school, he gave me a look familiar to parents of teens everywhere; the combination eye-roll and silent plea to be put out of one's misery.
En route to the J School, I received a text from Middle Babe giving me the report from her Maryland college campus and wishing me luck and even got a shout out from Big Babe, my journalist son in Berlin, an accomplished arts writer who is contemplating grad school himself. (Byline: A.J. Goldmann)
Exactly 12 hours later, I returned home with a spring in my step and a song in my heart and two Margaritas coursing through my veins, the result of Happy Hour at the Underground, a bar on West End Avenue I had walked past hundreds -- nay thousands -- of times yet never patronized. I was not yet a student.
As I unpacked my reading material for next week, the names, faces, stories and voices of my new classmates swirled around me, forming a kaleidoscope. The details of their lives were points of riveting color -- the guy who reported from Haiti, the female journalist from Atlanta whose father is a minister, the young woman traumatized by covering homicides, the student who heard my Elliott Smith ringtone and told me he loved "Waltz #2" -- and I marveled at the transformative quality of a single day.
It is not hyperbolic to state that today, my entire life changed, folding in on itself like the back cover of Mad magazine where A meets C and forms an entirely new picture.
There is so much to report about today but I'll be telegraphic, focusing on a few savory takeaway tidbits:
- Food is needed. Instead of extra pens, I'm bringing snacks with me, chiefly string cheese, nuts and soy chips. Everyone was famished.
- Water is needed. The water fountain on the second floor is filled with the moldiest, warmest water in Manhattan.
- Turning off your cellphone, BlackBerry and laptop for several hours to discuss ideas is essential to brain function. The presentations we heard from our deans and professors today precluded being plugged in. Our two-hour class meeting was uninterrupted by bleeps, screens, urls, electronic messages and the culture of false urgency and instant responsiveness. As a result, my mind sprouted wings and soared. Quite literally, I had flights of intellectual fancy.
- I am in the company of extraordinary people. By this I mean my fellow students as well as the school's faculty. I could weep with gratitude at the opportunity to learn alongside and from them.
- Hope is the thing with feathers. Whatever that means. But what I mean is that, unless I am really wearing candy-colored glasses, this particular school or program attracts people who are hopeful about the future. Or their ability to positively impact it.
- The thing I've done for the past 16 years -- PR -- is not evil. In fact, I'm especially proud of a story I pitched which appears in today's Wall Street Journal. Written by the uber-talented Diane Cole, it is about the newest High Holiday Prayerbook of the Conservative movement, a beautiful work called Lev Shalem -- Complete Heart.
You can read it here.
It's now the morning of Day Two of the Fabulous Life of Bungalow Babe in the Big University. I actually fell asleep blogging and resumed in the pre-dawn hours. HOBB has already secured my promise to pack early so we can head up to the bungalow right after the J School picnic this afternoon. It is the last weekend of the summer and we are hosting a dinner Saturday afternoon at the Love Shack in honor of our 27th anniversary. I have a dorky inspiration to sing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" to my husband at this shindig but might resist as Little Babe will be in attendance.
Having a student mom is one thing. Having a student mom who performs songs from The Lion King could prove costly, necessitating years of psychotherapy.
Besides, I've got reams of reading for school to do, plus my first assignment: to cover a cultural event I would not normally attend. I am salivating at the thought of perusing the weekend section of the Orange County, NY daily, the Times Herald-Record, searching for the very calendar listings that made me roll my eyes in the past, teen-style. In the lower Catskill region there are scores of weird-ass, redneck, Hasidic, quaint and otherwise inexplicable cultural offerings... and they all bear my potential byline.
The transformation is underway.