I Went Back to School, and Dr. Seuss Saved Me

Picture this: you’re a 40-year-old walking around the “B” building of a large University, looking for classroom 321. Everyone you see is half your age, and they all seem to know where they’re going. You glance at your phone every few seconds, to re-read the email telling you to arrive at 11:30 am in room 321, but there’s scant other information. With your beard and glasses, you look like a professor.

That was me.

So Now I’m An Adult Student

You see, I went back to school to learn some new skills. Way back in 1998 I started post-secondary in a journalism program. 22 years later and I’m in a new school, getting part-time credits towards a new degree.

I haven’t quite figured out where I’m going with this yet. My official program is “Environmental Studies” but as I’m part-time, taking courses credit by credit, I’m pretty much free to build my own degree. Part of me wants to go with an English degree, while another part of me wants a degree in economics. After all, I didn’t take all those remedial high school math courses for nothing!

I’m a writer. So obviously English would help me the most. But I want to actually write about something useful, and economics mixed with environmental studies definitely has a future. That said, I’ll be closer to 50 when I graduate, so do I really need to think about a “career?” Part of me says to get a Ph.D. in English and become a tenured professor. Go all the way. I’ll need longer hair and stinkier cardigans.

But that’s beside the point.

Going back to school has been strange. My first course, English Composition, so far involved learning about proper source citations, proper academic expositions, reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, writing long post-colonial critiques of Frankenstein, and tearing apart Shakespeare’s King Lear.

And then we hit poetry. Groan.

Poetry + Me = YUCK

I despise poetry. I have nothing against people who like it, or poets themselves. But I find most poetry wishy-washy and pretentious. So studying it is painful.

That said, for my most recent project I had to find my favourite poem and then tear down its mechanics. What imagery did it use? What sort of meter? How did the author use alliteration as a device? You know, really useful stuff.

I had been putting that one off for nearly a week. I browsed a few poems here and there and discovered that I still don’t like poetry. The deadline for that project was fast approaching and I still hadn’t begun. Procrastination wasn’t helping me.

But get this.

Every night I read a couple of books to my kids. There’s nothing cozier than all of us cuddled under a blanket in bed with the soft glow of the lamp illuminating the room. My kids usually have a cup of warm milk with a bit of honey in it. It’s a comfort drink before bed. I love my kids and I love spending calm moments like these with them.

Dr. Seuss Saved Me

On this particular night, after a long day of not writing anything about poetry, I chose Dr. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat as our bedtime book. My kids love Dr. Seuss and the tale of the naughty cat is a favourite. And as I read this story, I couldn’t help but notice the literal imagery, the anapestic tetrameter rhythm of the story, and the genius of how it was constructed.

Damn!

That poetry unit had won! Suddenly, I realized that I had my poem. The Cat In The Hat is a classic work of poetic genius. Dr. Seuss writes “It is fun to have fun / But you have to know how” (Dr. Seuss, 1957)

Suddenly I was excited, and I rushed through the book, and hurried the kissy-kissy-nighty-night routine, and then raced to my computer. My wife, sitting on the sofa scrolling through her phone, looked up as I flashed by in a blur. Then she looked back down at her phone again.

I had it! For the next couple of hours, I hammered out a rough draft of my 750-word exposition on the poetic devices used in The Cat In The Hat. Today, I submitted it to my prof’s inbox. I’ll let them mark it and do what they’re going to do, and then I’ll post it here. If I were to post it now I could accidentally create a false plagiarism hit, so I’ll hold off.

I Win Poetry! Yay Me!

I feel somewhat devilish. Surely they were expecting some soppy, tear-soaked exposition on how some random Irish poet from the 18th Century sums up my feelings of abuse at the hands of one’s parents, or something like that. But I don’t play those games. Instead, I gave my professor a good dose of Dr. Seuss. Best of all, I backed it up with nuanced argument.

Take that!

Nobody can stop the Cat In The Hat. Certainly not the fish. Certainly not that.

UPDATE:

Since I wrote this post, I’ve gone on to pass the course. I scored 94% in the course overall, and 98% on my Doctor Seuss poetry critique!

Originally published at https://nathandrescher.ca on March 13, 2020.

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