Research Writer Interview With Nita
About Writing, Learning, And Career
I was just about to go to sleep, in that half-awake, half-drowsy state; just sort of lying there, mulling over things, when I asked myself the question: "What do I think about writing academic papers?" I sat bolt upright in bed, dwelling on a half-forgotten incident that occurred years ago.
I was a mother of three small children, when I decided to go back to school to get a teaching credential. (I had no idea at the time, of the challenges, joys, hardships, and triumphs that would result from that innocent decision).
The little town I lived in boasted a tiny community college, housed in what had once been a private parochial school. There were only three classrooms, and a faculty of five teachers taught the full curriculum. I had one teacher, John Hopkins, for three subjects. Mr. Hopkins had already teased, cajoled, and threatened me through a speech class (which was the bain of my existence), and next was English Composition. In English Comp I, he taught me the intricacies of writing a term paper (my first experience in "academic writing").
Back then, computers were unknown. Research for college papers was conducted at the library, and notes were tediously penned on 4x5 index cards, with the text on one side of the card, and the reference on the other. Then the paper was typed up on a cranky old manual typewriter, and several drafts had to be presented before one was deemed by the teacher to be worthy of submission as the final paper.
The title of my paper was "Mentally Retarded Children Can be Taught." (A brave thesis to undertake in that era). I was determined to get a good grade on my first big paper. I followed all the teacher's instructions, duly filled out my index cards, and wrote several drafts. Finally, it was time to type up the paper. I fixed dinner, put the kids to bed, and was ready for the last step in the creation of my first "academic paper." I hauled out my old typewriter, began to type, and after a few words emerged, the paper went blank. I was out of ink!
I panicked. The paper was due early the next morning. It was 11:00 at night. I had no money and no car. Even if I had possessed those amenities, I certainly could not leave my children in the middle of the night, to go out and buy a ribbon for my typewriter. After some thought, I knew there was only one thing to do. I sat up all night working. I made lines on typing paper with a ruler, and sat up all night, painstakingly printing my 20-page term paper. I finally finished it at five in the morning. I was exhausted, but I got ready for school, greeted the babysitter, and somehow managed to wend my way into the classroom, term paper in hand. I captured my teacher before class and stammered out an explanation as to why to my paper was in its untyped state. Mr. Hopkins had not had his morning coffee yet. He grumped, grumbled and complained. Then he seemed to become aware of my disheveled and exhausted state. He grinned, patted me on the arm sympathetically, and said, "Don't worry." With those cryptic words, he went off to join his fellow faculty members for coffee in the teacher's lounge.
That morning in class, I was very tired. I kept drowsing off and forcing myself to wake up. Then suddenly, about 10:a.m. I simply fell asleep, right there in the front row, and began to snore. Suddenly, I teetered over and was about to fall out of my desk, and onto the floor, when in one chivalrous (but involuntary) gesture, Mr. Hopkins grabbed me and began trying to set me upright. (In spite of his bravado in the classroom, John Hopkins was a shy and single man, who was not known for his prowess with women).
About that time, the college administrator, Mr. Higgins entered the room with a group of visiting dignitaries. I will leave it to you to visualize the look on his face when he found his most tenured professor in his classroom with an armful of female student (although I assume that somehow everything must have gotten set to rights the next day, since the escapade was never again discussed, at least not within my hearing).
Mr. Hopkins did not return our term papers, but he did apprise each of us privately of our grade, and I was the happy owner of my first college earned "A."
After that harrowing but triumphant experience, Mr. Hopkins, a writer himself, ushered me happily through his Creative Writing Class. However, he soon began to climb up the academic ladder. When he became the assistant administrator of the college, he no longer taught classes.
When graduation day finally arrived, John Hopkins was there to hand out our diplomas. I climbed onto the stage with a two-week old baby in my arms and three shining little faces in the front row of the audience. As I turned to receive my diploma. John Hopkins grinned, and said, "I thought you might like to have your first academic paper back." I was surprised when he handed me, along with my diploma, that tattered term paper I had written almost three years before!
As usually happens, everyone went their own way after graduation and scattered to the four corners of the globe. I began writing seriously, not long after, and although I have not seen Mr. Hopkins since, I still receive an email from him now and then, when he sees some of my work in a magazine or on the Internet.
No matter how much I write in other genres, there will always be those certain, sudden moments that cause me to peel back the curtain, and reveal the memories of my first "academic paper."
Random writer: /2/writer-miles