Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Death of a Salesman, Death of a Dream.... observations from first year, Theatre Lit Class

I'm tagged on a posted picture on facebook from my freshman year of college. I often look at that girl and wonder what she was thinking, she looks happy.  I know she had no idea that life many years later would look like what I have now.  She wouldn’t have believed it.  Two things freshman Erin remembers vividly are from her Theatre Literature Class and have crossed my mind lately.  
Who’d have thought one class could have such an impact, but this is one of the classes that stays with me to this day, often for reasons other than the course subject matter.  Since I was 19 and a somewhat sheltered suburban kid, I remember thinking that this was the beginning of adulthood and that those a few years ahead in college were really sophisticated and mature.  I also believed my instructors had the answers and were solid “adults”-it wasn’t until many years later one learns that we’re all just scraping by, doing our best and that often being an adult means you pay your bills on time and that may be it!
I loved writing papers for my instructor, Kathleen.  I put a lot of hours into the assignments and hoped for great input, the output clacking away on my brother word processor.  Usually at the bottom of the last paragraph was  her written comment-usually a phrase- and the letter grade (something I now do myself as an instructor).  Our two sections and the upperclassmen in her theatre history class always wondered why so little feedback, not realizing how much work it is to grade papers, as well as how depressing it can be.  It’s only something one realizes once they crossover to the other side of teaching.  It was not until mid-semester when some upperclassmen headed to the Bombay Bicycle Club for Happy Hour that we as students found our answer as to why the comments were so short.  

Three students walk into the bar and see Kathleen with a stack of papers, grading in a booth, as well as a few libations. All Kathleen had to say to the boys was “Oh! You caught me!”

I imagine the scene with a few empties, possibly martini glasses shoved away from the papers she was grading as well as the stacks of papers strewn all over the table.  Somewhat folklore and my wild imagination, it wasn’t until I was teaching my first semester, freshman and sophomores in three sections of Intro to Video that I found out why this grading method has some merit.  

I sat down eagerly and like a kid at Christmas, couldn’t wait to open up the “gifts”.  I wanted to see how this assignment opened eyes of discovery and how eager and excited they were to learn-like I was my first year in college.  Instead I was given papers where had not even used spellcheck.  I was appalled. SInce I was home, I now had the AHA! moment thinking back to the Bombay Bicycle Club Incident and understood why Kathleen graded the way she did.  I uncorked a bottle of red wine and just made sure not to stain any of birdcage lining papers that many students had made the choice to turn in.
Last week as I was leaving the community college class I am taking, I saw a poster for Death of a Salesman and once again I was taken back to a morning in my Theatre Lit class.  We had just been assigned to read and were present for the discussion of the play, Death of a Salesman.  Mind you, it has been the only time I’ve read it and to have a nineteen year old read it and comprehend the themes seems like a huge leap.  What happened next in that class was the reason I do not need to read or see the play again in my lifetime.  My professor, Kathleen, let us ramble on and turned the discussion from talking point to talking point and we were near the end of the discussion or at least class time when my fearless leader let out a cry, saying, “Doesn’t anyone know what the loss of a dream is like?  How sad it is?  To have a dream that never comes true?  To see a dream die in front of you?” 
The class of young adults were quiet and still, looking at each other-no, we hadn’t seen it or lived it. We were too young.
Then Kathleen began to weep, talking about how broken Willy Loman is and how sad it is to see a dream die in front of you.  I was stunned to see an instructor cry in front of a class-something as an instructor, I now have done- and I always think of Kathleen.  Looking back things in academia weren’t going to well for her, she eventually left the university and went on to do great things at another school.  And now, my life seems to parallel what was going on with my professor.  The other eye opener into adulthood and navigating university life was that our Theatre Lit class was dismissed and immediately headed across campus to hang at the theatre building and so word spread like wildfire of what had happened in class.  An upperclassman having a cigarette in front of the entrance to the building stopped Kathleen as she was returning to her office and he gave her a hard time about it, laughing manically and telling her to get a grip and of course Kathleen telling him politely to shove it and she didn’t want to hear it.  
  You never know what’s going on, on the inside of someone else.  As a kid, you think “When I grow up, I’m going to do whatever I want!” and what you find is that as a grownup, even a free day is filled with life’s have to dos and there really is hardly ever a day where you get to do exactly what you want to do.
Even on this side of the podium, I dare not to see a dream die, so it’s possible that I need to take the seeds elsewhere and find fertile ground for them to go and prosper.

_______________________ _________________________________


  1. I had her as well, my favorite memory (aside from the negative comments on all my half-assed papers) was when her lecture was interrupted by a loud train, as so often they passed Centennial, and she paused, looked forlornly out the window and said, "Some day I am going to be on that train." We laughed, a few years later she was!

  2. Was I in your class...I can't remember? Wow, it's been so long ago. I do remember Kathleen and those papers...so true. We were very young and naive. And of course the Brother word processor!! Thanks for the great observation Erin, and trip down memory lane.

  3. I saw that poster for Death of a Salesman and boy did it hit me last week!.