Friday, January 12, 2024

College memories

BYU's humanities magazine arrived in my mailbox yesterday. 

Yesterday it was 60°F (15°C) and Benjamin and I went running in t-shirts, no sweaters (while in Alberta some of my friends were battling temperatures sub -40°F/C).

Today we've got rain and scattered thunderstorms throughout the day. The kids are busy getting their rain gear on so they can splash in puddles, and I sat down to fill out the crossword puzzle at the back of the magazine. I don't know why. I haven't ever really sought out crossword puzzles before and it feels a little bit like a "soaps and bonbons" way to fill the afternoon. As if I don't have anything responsible to be doing? Like editing the proposal I should be editing, for example...

And then—because I like to read things backwards sometimes, I guess—I flipped the page to read the faculty farewells and obituaries. Not because I was seeking such things out, necessarily, but because that's what happened to be there. And I have to was a rollercoaster of a read because two professors who were very meaningful to me were featured.

First, Deryle Lonsdale evidently retired after 25.5 years at BYU. When I took classes from him he was not even tenured! And now they want to tell me that he has retired?! Sounds fake, but okay. Apparently it's been nearly 20 years since I took a class from him. He was such a great professor. 

I know that I wasn't one of his favourite students (especially in syntax, where I was thrown into dysfunctional group on a semester-long project filled with so much drama it gives me nightmares to this day, and where I had several "run-ins" with the TA of the class, who was one of his master's degree students (who, until today when I looked him up, I thought was a PhD student (turns out he was just a master's degree student with a god-complex)), and with whom he co-authored six papers, but who was a complete...uh...person with whom I could not find a way to get along with). 

Story time: This TA once refused to give me credit for the "notes" we were spontaneously asked to turn in because I had turned my bullet points into flowers, which he deemed "high unprofessional." And when I tried to refute this bit of...what I perceived as...unfairness, Lonsdale simply told me that he "trusted [name redacted] implicitly."

(I still turn my bullet points into flowers sometimes, so you can see that this particular lesson really sunk in.)

The TA frequently belittled students for asking questions during labs and was just downright rude a lot of the time. After he made a girl (who was one of my study buddies) break down sobbing (he told her that if she didn't understand English well enough to know what "fuzzy" meant (she had asked for a definition of a word in a sentence he'd asked us to diagram) that she didn't deserve to be at BYU and should go back to the English Learning Center), I wrote him a letter telling him that he really needed to cool his jets and be a little kinder. He confronted me about it at the next lab—in front of everyone—telling me that he had shown the letter to both his wife and Dr. Lonsdale and they all agree that it was nothing more than pre-examination jitters...and then suggested that I was experiencing PMS and should maybe go see a doctor about that.

So, anyway, I'm fairly 100% positive that I was never solidly on Dr. Lonsdale's good side (at any rate, becoming acquainted with this TA certainly made me question his judgement of character). However, Dr. Lonsdale was one of my very favourite professors. His lectures were so good! And the readings he had us do were always fascinating. I learned a lot from him. 


Second—Penny Bird! She passed away last November (2022) after being ravaged by Alzheimer's disease. I took an English class from her where we dissected Persuasion by Jane Austen for an entire semester. The class just about killed me, but it did make me a better writer. 

I took it early in my career at BYU, and since I entered BYU with an associate's degree under my belt at age 18, I was taking 300- and 400-level courses with students who were a little bit older than me. This particular course was "writing about literature" (English 314), so not even a particularly advanced course, but a course which fulfilled the "advanced writing" requirement for general education. 

One day we were supposed to complete an in-class peer review of some writing we'd done and I was paired up with this one girl who was particularly sour that I was a "freshman" (I don't remember why she knew—it must have been part of our introductions, "I'm so-and-so, and I'm a freshman/sophomore/junior/senior" and I was probably like, "I'm Nancy and I don't know really what I am. I guess I'm a junior because of these reasons, but they transferred me in as a freshman because of these other reasons"). Anyway, after literally learning about how to graciously give and receive constructive criticism (like, a full-on lecture from Dr. Bird) we were paired off to read and respond constructively but critically to some of our peers' writing. 

I read my partner's paper and marked some passages that were executed beautifully as well as passages that could be improved upon and when it came time to verbally explain our feedback, I addressed each point I had noted in her paper—really trying to build her up, communicating that I saw the value of what she'd written, and then trying to help her see where she could elaborate or clarify to make her work better and stronger. I probably didn't do a fabulous job, but I did my best...

And then it was her turn to discuss my writing with me. 

She slowly shoved my paper across the table and said, "Yeah. I don't even know where to start. This paper was so bad I couldn't even finish reading it."

And that was it. That was her constructive criticism of my paper.


It was a little crushing.

Dr. Bird was a really hard grader, but she was also gracious, allowing for multiple drafts of papers. I did so much rewriting in her class that it isn't even funny. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote and in the end she told me that although she doesn't ever give out As (because there was "always room for improvement," a policy 100% disagree with because you can exceed expectations and still improve) she was going to go against her own principles and give me an A-! 

Which is still not-an-A to my perfectionist brain.

But it was an A- I was proud of, even though I vowed never to take a class from Dr. Bird ever again (and did not). I am so grateful that she taught me how to read deeply and rewrite freely (even if it was a painful, painful thing to learn). 

I also got an A- in the first class I took with Dr. Lonsdale (not syntax (I got an A in syntax), but intro to linguistics...and yet sought out every class I could take from him after that (which wasn't many because by that time he was teaching mainly graduate-level courses)), including syntax. 


And I just checked my transcript to verify this, but I took Ling 330 and Eng 314 the same semester—Fall 2003—which means that I met both Dr. Lonsdale and Dr. Bird the very same week in 2003, a full 20 years ago!

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