When I taught creative writing at Saginaw Valley State University, the end of each semester was always interesting. Countless family members died, some for the second or third time that semester (oops!); computers in the computer labs constantly ate people’s homework (an update on the dog ate my homework excuse); and current students warned prospective students via RateMyProfessors.com to avoid taking classes from me. I was called bitchy, sexist, extremely funny, great, a poetry goddess, and one student wondered “Why does she even work? Her husband is a chemical engineer.” Goodness! I had no idea I shouldn’t be working.
I met a lot of wonderful students over the years, and I would like to thank them for everything I learned from them. Several years ago, I wrote an essay after a long day of grading. Whether or not you are a teacher or a student feeling the end-of-the-semester blues, I hope I can bring a smile to your face. This is my story:
Forty-three creative writing portfolios are stacked in various piles on my desk. I open the seventeenth portfolio during my grading hell: the week between finals and when grades are due at the registrar’s office. Each portfolio consists of four poems, two flash fiction pieces, one long fiction piece, and the artist’s statement. General themes have been suicide! Murder! Car crashes! Deadly illnesses! These are all subjects I have forbidden my students to write about. And yet, the students write them anyway as if to test my rules.
I open portfolio number seventeen. I begin to read the student’s long fiction piece, and I am hopeful she has learned something from my class. Will she apply what she has learned over the course of the semester to her final work? Will my comments have mattered to her? Will she demonstrate a clear understanding of what it takes to be a good writer?
I am startled when I read the line: “She woke up from a comma.” I blink. I read it aloud: “She woke up from a comma.” I look up, search for the hidden camera, and I wonder how in the hell someone wakes up from a comma.
I begin to imagine the feeling of being in a comma. How would my body be positioned? Would my head be the round blob that positions itself as the foundation of the comma? Would my body be the tail, always facing left? How would I wear a mini-skirt? Would I be forever stuck in time wearing pants with one leg longer than the other? And I would always be barefoot, my feet thin fish. My arms would hang at my side forever like the universal symbol on countless women’s restroom doors. I would never be able to wave at my friends, play guitar, or point at something in the distance. Or flip someone off.
I imagine awakening from a comma. I would un-bend my legs, locate my arms, and spread them from my sides like wings. One leg would magically shrink, and I would have two proportionate legs with regular feet in four-inch red heels. My knob of a head would suddenly sprout hair. I would be beautiful, younger, a feminist icon with a cheerleader’s smile. People would line the streets to watch me pass by, every day a parade for me, the woman who woke up from a comma.
And after I woke up from my comma, I would be suicidal, crash my car, murder someone, die of a deadly illness, and sell my soul to the devil for a hot cup of tea. Period.