Friday, June 19, 2009

Introduction: Elizabeth Moran

So the story goes: my mom read me a children’s book about potty training, and I immediately stood up, went to the toilet, peed, and never again needed diapers. My parents’ previous attempts to explain, in their own words, the why, how, and when of using the toilet had failed. A book had taught me what demonstrations and discussions could not yet. This development reinforced my mom’s faith in the power of books.

Strange introduction of myself? Perhaps less so to readers who understand how writing stretches into aspects of our lives that are not, at least on the surface, associated with literature.
But back to my mom’s faith in books. My dad has the same faith. Many lengthy biographies include, sometimes revolve around, the writer’s parents. This bio-post will not be lengthy, rest assured, but still necessitates some explanation of the foundation which has landed me, for the summer, at The Writer's Center.

The only child of divorced parents, who shared custody of me, I spent a lot of individual time with each parent. My parents, both English teachers, spent a lot of their time with books. They saw how the loves of their lives – me and literature – overlapped and benefited each other. They allowed me to find my own way, my own meaning, within and aside from books.

And so my parents’ literary histories instigated the beginnings of mine. Reading guided my parents’ lives before my arrival; and with my arrival, they let reading help guide them as parents and guide me as a child. My parents named me Elizabeth after Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. I am 30 years old yet mom still tells me she wishes she read Shakespeare aloud to me when she was pregnant with me. She still mentions her regret that she stopped reading aloud to me as often after I turned nine, and she was in graduate school, teaching, and working part-time at a bookstore. She still wonders if she should have named me Montana for its alliterative effect. My dad read aloud with me until I was 13. He threw me a birthday party which revolved around the PBS version of Anne of Green Gables. He suggested the names for my cats, Ozzie and Itzie, from one of our favorite short stories, Philip Roth’s “The Conversion of the Jews.” My introduction to literacy transitioned to a perpetual and gradual, though subtle, immersion into the world my parents inhabited.

I wanted to be in this world of literature but not in my parents’ all-consuming world of teaching English. I chose a college, Kenyon, in part for its well-known English department because I liked writing, not for any long-term goals. I reluctantly decided to major in English, aware that this choice would force me to continue resisting that vocation. After college, I worked for years in positions that didn’t require a degree, or even interest, in literature. Instead of enjoying the lack of stress that came along with an academic-free life, I missed the pressure and satisfaction that accompanied classes. After seven years of freedom from school, I moved from DC to my hometown of St. Louis to enroll in a Masters of English program at the University of Missouri – St. Louis in the spring 2008 semester. I started teaching Freshman Composition last fall and now feel the addictive nature of reading student papers.

As an undergrad, I loved my literature classes and really loved my friends, social life, and living in the isolated village of Gambier, Ohio. As a graduate student, I really love my classes. As an undergrad, I lived knowingly and happily in a bubble. I would have missed that bubble, when in graduate school, had I not created another one. The bubble of graduate school as a 30-year-old includes teaching while taking graduate-level composition courses. The bubble includes one or two other part-time jobs. The bubble includes rent, bills, and “adult” decisions unknown or unfelt to my undergraduate-self. There is so much other stuff in this bubble that it almost seems to resemble life after college more than life in college. Almost. The resemblance that remains, however, resides in the reason I returned to school: the enjoyment that arises out of the challenge that exists in reading, analyzing, articulating, and writing. Sharing this process with others increases the fulfilling nature of this sometimes tedious, often satisfactory process.

Of course, one doesn’t have to go to graduate school to engage in such a community. The Writer’s Center is one example of an outlet which fosters similar interests and challenges – and this likeness is one of the qualities that drew me here, to a place where I can gain experience I don’t yet have in a community I understand and appreciate.

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