Those Who Can’t (or Don’t) Teach

As a retired single guy who dropped out of college in 1969, I have a recurring fantasy of going back to get a degree or two. Not strictly for my own satisfaction or to fill the idle hours (though those are considerations) but because, degree in hand, I could teach electronic music at one or two nearby colleges.

It wouldn’t have to be a music degree; pretty much any accredited degree would do. There’s clearly a crying need for instruction in music technology, a need that I could easily fill if only I had that piece of paper saying I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

My impression is that UC Berkeley pretty much has to let me in as a returning undergraduate, since I left in good standing. Their music department is a good one, but I’m dissuaded from the idea of majoring in music by the performance requirement. Their symphony rehearses on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7:30 to 10:00 (after which I would have to drive home to Livermore), but I already have a Tuesday evening commitment to the local community orchestra. Oh, and orchestra is a 1-unit class. Five hours a week, to say nothing of the woodshedding, and they give you one lousy unit for it? Excuse me.

In any event, I hardly need experience performing. At the age of 25 I was gigging five nights a week.

Last night’s brainstorm was, why major in music at all? Why not major in English? After all, I’m a professional writer and an avid (though not very selective) reader. So this morning I had a look at the UC Berkeley English department.

The courses look very good indeed. I mean, it’s not my life’s ambition to read Moby Dick, but I’m sure I’d learn a lot.

What I found a bit discouraging, or at least disconcerting, is that almost none of the instructors in the English department is a novelist. Among those who list the novel as their specialty, not a single one lists a novel among his or her published books. Lots of scholarly criticism, but no actual (cough-cough) novels. Among the 12 instructors who list creative writing as their specialty, there are, by my count, three novelists. Mostly it’s poetry, poetry, and more poetry.

You’d think an English department would have a few novelists on staff. Or at least, I’d think that.

Here’s an evil thought. Though I wrote some poetry in my callow youth (a youth so long ago I’d have to look up the word “callow” to learn what it means), I long ago desisted. The only poetry I write now is, quite literally, refrigerator magnet poetry. On my refrigerator are a couple of hundred substantives (nouns, adjectives, and verbs) and a bunch of connecting elements (suffixes, pronouns, conjunctions, and prepositions). From time to time I assemble a wickedly surrealist poem in free verse. I jot them all down in a notebook that sits atop the microwave. So now I’m wondering … if I whipped out a dozen of those refrigerator magnet poems and edited or expanded them so that they appear to have some semblance of actual meaning, and then submitted them as original work in a creative writing class, could I fool a UC Berkeley poetry professor into thinking I was a real poet?

It’s almost worth enrolling at UC just to find out.

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3 Responses to Those Who Can’t (or Don’t) Teach

  1. Ron Greenman says:

    What school in the UC system is the creative writing or literature one? Berkeley is history and physics. UCL:A is movies. Davis is agriculture. San Francisco, medicine. Each has a particular strength. Kind of works that way. At Cabrillo CC in Santa Cruz when I was there we had James Houston (Native Son of the Golden West) and Jean Watanabe (A farewell to Manzanar). We also had Morton Marcus (poet), contemporary, friend, and arguably equal to Charles Bukowski. At SJSU when I was there we had Amy Tan. When my son started at UW the main speaker to the incoming freshman class was Charles Johnson (The Middle Passage).

    • midiguru says:

      Well, Berkeley is within driving distance. That’s my main consideration. I haven’t surveyed the entire UC system.

  2. Ron Greenman says:

    My point was Berkeley doesn’t focus on literature enough to pay for the high priced faculty/accomplished authors brand. Some other campus does. Geography is limiting when you’re stuck. Reed would be too far away today but not back in 1968. I went to Berkeley for a stillborn Ph.D instead of Duke because I was here and, although accepted, and had a full meal tuition deal, I couldn’t afford the move. Point again is, you can get a good education in any area but if you want the best in the field of study you may have to travel. The Lucas’, Spielberg’s Coppola’s go to UCLA and not US Riverside or USC for a reason.An old fart like you….

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