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It’s been so long since I posted that I had to reset my password!

Years and years ago, I was an undergrad at Portland State University. I lived in a small apartment with a wild kitten named Oscar, and on weekday mornings I would fly down the stairs, run 2 blocks, and catch a rumbling Tri-Met bus across the Hawthorne Bridge to downtown, where I’d usually catch a second bus up the hill to the university, because I was pretty much always late. But coming home was different. I’d meander down through the Park Blocks under the enormous elms, kicking at the falling leaves. The most brilliant leaves would be collected and pressed into whatever books I had with me that day; Victorian Prose and Poetry, or Anna Karenina, or Norse Mythology. (Yes I was a Lit major, in case you couldn’t tell from the cat’s name) In spring, I would skip class on sunny days to sit under the bright new growth fuzzing the branches, and I would justify it because Romantic poetry should be read outside, and also anyone who studies Hemingway and Raymond Carver should skip class sometimes.

fall

I like how this hipstamatic filter makes it look blurry and wet, which is was. Another change: taking pictures with my cell phone. 

Life moved on and so did I. Until this year. This year, I’m back and once again an undergrad at PSU, scurrying up that hill two afternoons a week, and strolling down afterwards. Some things have changed this time round though.

For example, email. I was supposed to get it automatically, and I kept getting an error message. I could tell when I called the bright young thing at the IT help desk that she, enormously patient and supportive, thought I didn’t know how to set up email. That wasn’t the problem though, we found. The problem was that I have already graduated! I pointed out that I graduated  before email was really a thing, but the system was adamant. We did eventually work it out, so I could have another inbox telling me how to get health insurance, how to handle temptations of being on my own, how to avoid phishing schemes, where to get a flu shot.

Also, when I went to PSU last, I applied by writing my name in blue or black ink in a series of little boxes. One of the areas to fill out was gender, M or F, and I was expected to check just one. Now, of course, it’s all online, and I can’t even remember how many gender options I had, but I think there were at least 8, including the “prefer not to answer.” In addition to gender, I had to choose sexuality; again there were a lot of options.

Donn and I are taking Arabic 101. We don’t sit together in class for reasons (I am a confirmed back-row dweller and that has not changed) but the class is not big and we arrive and leave together, plus we are partners for the oral presentation (Hello! Hello! How are you? I am fine!), so I thought it was obvious. But the other day, one of the other students said, “Wait! Are you guys married?” We said yes, and she gushed, “That is just so cute! You taking a class together! So cute!” So I guess we’re cute.

I expected to be the oldest in the class, and to stand out amongst a group of fellow undergrads, all of whom would be the ages of our kids, but I was wrong. PSU is an urban campus and has always had a healthy percentage of older students. Our class has 4 senior citizens who are auditing the class for free, which seems a really painful way to spend your golden years.

I also expected to be the best and brightest for the first 2 weeks, because we know a fair amount of Arabic, although we’re finally learning to read and write. But no. Our class has a lot of “heritage” students; kids from Arabic-speaking families who need to improve, learn their letters, etc. We are very average in all ways (except for being so cute!).

Arabic is painful, as I knew it would be, but it is also more manageable than I expected. That’s because much is review, dragging out of my brain things learned in the past and relearning them, pinning them down, finally having a place to slot them into and remember them. I go to the library and check out baby books in Arabic, learning words for colors and animals. I check my pronunciation with my friends. It’s kind of fun. When the insomnia inherent to my age and gender tries to strike, I now have a new weapon–I just go through the Arabic alphabet slowly, picturing each way to write each letter, and I am asleep by the time I get to jeem.

Donn and I drive down together, so we’re always on time–even early. One day I came down on my own and managed to be 15 minutes late to class…plus ça change, I suppose. We can afford cups of coffee from the local Starbucks, and on-street parking. I need that 16 oz cup of dark roast to stay awake in the afternoons, and I recall a teacher of Contemporary lit from long ago, reading Charles Bukowski to us, and I think of how I understand the frustrations and weariness of age so much better now than I did at 19. Arabic 101 is not as stimulating as literature, but I am much older, and much tireder, and I realize this as I climb the 4 flights of stairs to my classroom.

 

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