That Teacher Lady with the Hard Last Name has a Life

by Kathryn Bucolo

I.

I’m only here at ASU because my undergrad senior thesis advisor forced me to apply.

He actually kind of forced me.

Really, it comes down to this:

He said I’m a writer, I said I’m not.

He said, If you’re not a writer, then why are you writing 100 pages of fiction for me for your senior thesis?

I said, Because I like the challenge. (Also because I didn’t want to read 30 books to write one of those 35-page literary analysis theses. That would have been stupid. And unpleasant. And impossible since the library stopped serving free tea after 1 a.m.)

He said, Why the hell aren’t you applying to MFA programs? My God, Kathryn. You can’t waste this! You’re a writer. You can’t—I won’t let you sit around in your parents’ blankety-blank basement after graduation. No. You are going to grad school.

(He actually cursed at me in front of ten people in a Chinese restaurant about this.)

Maybe I’ll take a year off?

Take-a-year-off, my ass, he said. You’re going to grad school. Here. Read this anthology of postmodern American lit. You’ll like it.

So, I applied to ASU and a couple other places to get him off my case. (And because I liked the anthology.)

(And because I actually wanted this—secretly. You know, I’ve always wanted to be a professor, to believe I could be a writer—an artist, even.)

II.

I used to live in Maryland when I was a kid. Merry-land. Used to go to the Smithsonian and the National Mall on field trips before 9/11. Used to play by the trees at the edge of the playground until the Beltway Snipers went missing. (The teachers blackened all the classroom windows with dark construction paper when that happened.)

I used to love going to the Lotte Korean market. (We always got lychee nuts and Choco Pies.) My best friend was Korean. One time she dared me to eat a piece of kimchi as big as my hand and I did. She catalogued the event in pencil on her bedroom wall. (She was the first person I ever met who was scared of worms.)

I loved Maryland.

When my thesis advisor told me I should apply to the University of Maryland, I said I couldn’t. My younger brother loved the University of Maryland but didn’t get in for undergrad, I said. (He still wears his red Terps sweatshirt sometimes, even though he’s over it.)

My thesis advisor said, Okay. He suggested six or seven other schools to which I said, No, too far north. No, my scummy uncle went there. No, I don’t like that school name. No, my other scummy uncle went there.

He just looked at me.

Well you should at least apply to ASU, okay? Look it up, check it out—you’ll like it.

III.

But, I said, I’m not a writer. Really, I’m not. It’s just a talent. Just a pastime. Just something I can do sometimes. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’d like to be a writer; it’s a dream I’ve always had. (Sometimes I had wanted to be a vet or an astronaut or an ambassador or a translator, but I always really wanted to be a writer.)

(When I was five, I told people I wanted to be a butterfly and swing from my hair.)

The question kept coming: Am I really good enough to go to grad school for an MFA?

I had been in denial for years about writing. I’m a big self-disqualifier, self-saboteur. (Of course, now that I’m actually in an MFA program, I realize that every writer has this complex…and that it’s actually a pretty good sign that you are one.)

I said, Well, I haven’t written very much good stuff. Maybe a couple successful attempts, but that’s not quite enough to make you a writer. (Singing in a church choir doesn’t get you in to heaven is what my mom said after her mom died.)

I used to think I wanted to be a poet. Used to write poems about berries and frogs and stars and stuff. All really bad. (I could never do that thing poets do where they say something about sunbeams but are really saying something about the transcendence of the soul out of time.)

But now, apparently, I can write stories.

At least, according to my thesis advisor I could. (And my mother. But she’s also still convinced I’d make a great Supreme Court Justice. Says I remind her of Scalia. Not sure how I feel about that.)

But I’d really like to be a writer.

Really, I just want to be an artist.

I remember one of my psych major friends telling me about how elementary school kids, over time, come to believe they’re no longer artists. How somewhere along the way, they learn they’re just kids.

I remember the transition. I gave up on being an art artist and became a words artist: a writer. My mom got me a giant yellow flower notebook as big as my lap. (That’s when I started writing.) That’s when I first fell in love. (The second time was when I watched National Velvet with Elizabeth Taylor. The third was when I got my own bass clarinet for Christmas. The fourth was when I flew to Nicaragua.)

I never had a creative writing class before going to college. Never. Just played word games with thesauruses, read Brontë and Stowe and Hemmingway, and amassed a huge desktop folder of unrefined bits of poem and story.

And I only remembered (admitted) I wanted to be a writer about two years ago when I wrote a short story while studying abroad in England, submitted it to an undergrad lit mag, and saw it published. (It’s a sad story about people named Heather and Christopher who lose a child in a miscarriage. Don’t read it if you’re having a good day.) That was the fifth time I fell in love.

And that’s why I decided to do the creative senior thesis and that’s why my thesis advisor cursed at me in Ping’s Café and Sushi Bar:

He knew I was a writer even if I still had trouble remembering (admitting) it.

IV.

Okay.

I’m a middle class white girl who lives in Podunk, PA surrounded by cornfields, cows, and the Amish. (No, the show Amish Mafia is not realistic.)

(No, I personally do not live on a farm.)

(Yes, I have milked a cow.)

My town has 5,000 people tops. The only traffic light we have is on Main Street. I live off of North Sixth Street. There were maybe eight African American students in my high school. Maybe. There was one Hmong family with five or six kids. That’s it.

My town has a fair every September with a beauty pageant and hog auction and hot-wing-eating contest and everything. The ducks down by the creek are town celebrities. When one of them got hit by a New Yorker last year, it was all anyone talked about.

(Might as well rename the place Rockwell, USA, we say.)

(Might as well call it White-Bread-Without-the-Crust.)

I also went to a shockingly homogenous private college where, on the other end of the spectrum, everybody wore Vineyard Vines, salmon pants, and Sperry’s, and bought a week’s worth of overpriced sweatshirts in the bookstore when they didn’t feel like doing laundry. There was…limited diversity to say the least.

Okay.

I’m also not the first one in my family to go to college. I am also not the first to go to grad school. I’m not queer, don’t have any disabilities, and have never needed food stamps. I’ve never been abused, assaulted, or raped.

I come from a happy home. I have never gone to sleep hungry. My parents have been married since 1985.

But I have had some interesting life experiences, nevertheless:

I studied abroad my junior year of college: one semester in Bath, UK, and one semester in Mendoza, Argentina. I interned at a community center in Bath and traveled to Wales, France, Denmark, and Sweden. I saw an original copy of Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads from 1798 and the church where Shakespeare was buried. I saw Stonehenge and Jane Austen’s house (I hate Jane Austen) and took my courses at University College, Oxford for a week.

In Mendoza, I took all my coursework in Spanish at a top Argentinian university, volunteered making audio recordings of English language texts, got lost and found dozens of times on the city’s bus system, traveled to Chile, and saw Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas. I was in Argentina when Pope Francis was declared the new Pope.

I went on a life-changing trip to Nicaragua where I saw people living in garbage-bag houses outside of t-shirt factories, newly-empowered women building their own solar ovens, and farmers who could only afford to eat the rice and beans they grew. I went on a missions trip to Bolivia where I helped construct a red-brick church at the foothills of the blue Andes mountains. I spent two weeks in Italy eating pesto and cheese, seeing Michelangelo’s and Botticelli’s, and wandering through cobble-stoned Tuscan villages.

My sister is adopted from China, my brother speaks Arabic, and I speak Spanish.

I have been saved from death and devastation several times by none other than Jesus Christ.

I’ve seen just about every black-and-white film ever introduced by Robert Osborne on the Turner Classic Movies channel. I’ve only seen a few dozen movies from the past 10-20 years.

I played the clarinet for eleven years, the bass clarinet eight, and the bassoon for three; but I’ll always be a bass clarinetist in my heart, in my mind. (It’s the cello of the woodwinds; the most beautiful, the most misunderstood.) I played the bass clarinet competitively for seven years in adjudications and festivals, gaining local and regional recognition for excellence and a real love for beauty and art.

I fell in love for the sixth time when I ran into Nate Hill after he had come back from his year abroad in France and I had come back from my year in Europe and South America. It was a crush and I tried to squash it.

But by October we were getting weekly dinners together (as friends).

And by November I was editing religion papers with him, sitting thigh-to-thigh on the couch, letting my dress ride up a little.

And by December it was Christmas and the end of the fall semester and I wrote him an embarrassingly long facebook message about how much I liked being friends with him. (Guys, it was bad.)

And then he messaged me back and said he wanted to make cinnamon buns with me when we got back on campus for the spring semester.

In January, we baked cinnamon buns. I don’t think any other baked goods in the history of baked goods have even been created in a kitchen with more sexual tension.

On February 9 we danced in the dark in an empty classroom on the bottom floor of the English building after I got out of work. He asked me, hands on my waist, words shaking. I said Yes. We gave each other love poems for Valentine’s day.

In May we became long-distance.

In September, we got engaged.

In June, we will be married. (Only 47 days!)

V.

And so, I’m in grad school. Here at ASU.

I love it, wouldn’t change a thing, think I’m changing for the better. I think grad school is a lot easier than college, I think the East Coast is better than the West, and I’ve discovered $3 wine at Fresh and Easy.

So my life is pretty good. And I have one.

I’m not just some random teacher lady with a hard last name (but soon to be much easier!) who yells at you about MLA formatting and bribes you to come to office hours with candy. I write, read, edit, love, hurt, remember, think, dream, crave, laugh, wonder, hope, sleep.

I’m a writer.

I’m your ENG 102 teacher.

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