Susan is my dearest friend. We met in graduate school, getting to know one another in a particularly miserable novel writing class. Our professor was the kind of person who called all the women in class “You,” but he called all the males “Mr. [insert last name here]“. Needless to say, his misogyny encouraged the females to bond, and as a result, a friendship was born.
Susan is an amazing writer. The first time I read one of her stories, I knew she was a bona fide superstar. And her talents don’t stop there. As you’ll see from this post, she is scary smart. Plus, she’s a fabulous teacher and a super-mom. And, she’s beautiful, too! How lucky am I to have her as a friend and a guest blogger?
Today, she writes about the therapeutic nature of friendships, particularly the ones that take us through the stresses of college. I know that without all of our after-class chats and Thursday night pizza and Friends get-togethers, graduate school would have been a lot less bearable. I’m grateful for her friendship, and I’m so excited to share her post with all of you.
It’s been a long time since Gina and I shared the learning, laughter, stress, and roller coaster that graduate classes can bring. With the exception of (I think?) one class, we took all of our classes together, at first because of coincidence, but soon it occurred by design. What I remember most was the comradeship gained by sitting side by side during class, followed by chilly walks to our cars, chatting all the way.
The talks were not blatantly intellectual; there was enough of that going on for the three hours we had spent in class. Certainly, we shared our thoughts on the material discussed, but what was so important was the sense of decompression, the relief felt from sharing silly details from class. For example, on one occasion, our highly serious Virginia Woolf Seminar included a special guest: our professor’s frisky dachshund with an acute flatulence problem. The pungent gas emanating from this canine was silent but deadly. Of course, no one wanted to say anything: what could we say? This class was part of high academia, and in each class we deconstructed Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness modernism with the utmost acuity. But, let’s just say my turtleneck was stretched over my face, while Gina’s hand not only supported her chin, but also covered her nose. As I recall, we did not look at each other very much because we knew that we would burst out laughing if we did.
Catharsis. Cleansing. Clearing the serious nature of literary study with a hoot of laughter on the way to the car. Looking back, these experiences were as memorable and necessary to my graduate degree as the learning itself. Why? It was not just for the sense of fulfillment and support that this friendship provided. In short, sometimes we need to loosen the rhetoric and just live a little.
In a recent New York Times article, a scientific study analogized that downtime for the brain is like sleep for the body: it gives the mind the chance to re-group and to develop connections. So, as we trudged down the sidewalk with our mammoth backpacks trading stories about nonsense and fluff television, our unconscious minds may very well have been conjuring theses for analytical papers on Orlando and The Waves. Freud and Foucault may have been whispering through our synapses as we waxed poetic about the latest episode of Friends or the dust bunny lodged in a particularly pedantic student’s hair.
Or, at least I’d like to think so.
Now that I am an English professor, I notice that this same friendly banter and comradeship still takes place with my colleagues. However, now it happens in the adjunct faculty office, the cafeteria, and the classroom during the “changing of the guard” as students file in and out, flash drives are swapped at the teacher’s station, and essay piles are gathered. Like ships passing in the night, we sigh and smile and share a joke or a sarcastic jab: somehow, the brain clears. Somehow, we are ready.