Wow, twelve comments on my introductory entry! I’m tempted just to sit back and let you guys write this thing for me. But I can’t procrastinate that way, so let’s begin our chronicle of Tom’s First Month-and-Change in Irvine. By the way, contrary to what I said before, I’m not going to do this in one monster entry; it makes more sense to do it in installments. Okay, here we go:
Saturday, September 20
The Great Departure, the Great Arrival. We (me, my dad, my step-mom, and Julie) stuff the station wagon full of my accumulated junk. Amazingly, we get it all in, bike included; of course, it helps that we’re not bringing any furniture down, or anything else required to live in a new place. My dad and I say goodbye to Julie and Catherine and begin the seven-hour journey.
There’s never anything to tell about I-5, so I’ll skip right to our arrival. After emptying the boxes into my blank slate of a room, we go off to Ikea, where I become, for the first time, the owner of furniture. I even match furniture styles (my desk and bookshelf are the same shade of blue, it really ties the room together). Back “home,” we find that Don, my roommate, has arrived; I met him a couple weeks before, when I came down here with Julie. He’s a fifth-year undergrad studying for the LSAT; he’s a nice guy with whom I have nothing at all in common. He’s even a Dodgers fan. More on him later, I’m sure.
So my dad and I build furniture until he has to leave. That leaves me standing in a mostly empty room, the floor covered in boxes and plastic bags and Allen wrenches. I finish building the bed and promptly sleep in it. Welcome to the next seven years.
Monday, September 22
School Starts. Today begins my “welcome week,” which consists of four days of TA training and one day (Wednesday) of grad student orientation, in case you were wondering what the department’s priorities are. Needless to say, I’m apprehensive as I go into the crowded room that morning. I’m about to meet my colleagues, and hopefully my friends, for my tenure here. Will they like me? Will they think I’m interesting? Am I going to be outpaced intellectually? While we wait for things to start, I say a few cautious hello’s to the folks sitting around me, trying to keep my mind keyed up. Finally, the head of the composition program says a few words about how important we are to the department and to the university as a whole. Many of our students will be taking their very first college classes, and our teaching abilities will make up their first impressions. I swallow and hope I’m up to the intellectual challenge.
Then they break us into groups and have us play the name game.
I’m not kidding. This is a room full of grad students. Some of the students are married and have kids. Some of them are over 35. The name game. Christ.
And I mean one of those embarrassing name games, where you have to say your name along with an alliterative adjective that describes you. So I pick “Talkative Tom,” which at least is apt. Of course, at this time I have no idea that over the next three days the composition directors will be calling us by those names. “Yes, Talkative Tom?” I’m already composing my list of things I won’t do when I start teaching.
But it’s not so bad. The best part is, I get to meet a few of my fellow TAs. I’m an unusual (though not unique) case in that I don’t start teaching until winter quarter; most PhD students start teaching at the beginning of their second year, not partway through their first, and all the MFA students start teaching at the beginning of their first year. I don’t know how they chose me to start teaching this year, but I’m not alone–there are four or five others in the same situation–and anyway, it’s a pretty agreeable situation. I get some time to settle into the year before I have to plunge into grading papers.
After TA training, I head over to University Center, the shopping center across the street from campus, for an informal meeting of the first-year English grads. A few of these I recognize from training, but most are new to me. I’m pleased to find they’re a smart, engaging group, and I once again hope I can measure up. I spend most of the time talking with this guy Joe (you’ll see more of him later on); he’s from Sacramento and went to Stanford. As with every conversation I’ve ever had, we talk about movies and books. At one point he says he doesn’t like Faulkner; I say I do, and I have a moment of intellectual panic when he asks me (not confrontationally, you understand) why. I ineffectually stammer something out, realizing that this is the kind of thing I’m trying to eventually get paid for.
This concludes installment number one. When we come back: orientation continues; and, 36 hours spent without wearing shoes. Happy Día de los Muertos.