How could I possibly forget Doc G? In my headcanon of our faculty family tree, she was our batch’s stern grandmother, careful to catch us in any of our lapses and particularly keen to call me out on my B.S.
I remember once making a horrible pun in class, when we were discussing The Great Gatsby and I suggested that Nick Carraway’s cautiousness towards judging others was a sign that his “cares were away…” My classmates were disproportionately annoyed and amused, but Doc G immediately snapped, scolding me for my extrapolation. I’d been warned that this was the version of Doc G to expect. From our first course with her, upperclassmen evaluated that she was the toughest prof they’d ever had; she often lost her temper and put Humanities students through the gauntlet of Herculean reading lists and grueling analytical exams. This proved itself steadily when a number of us took a class on Philippine Narratives, juggling graduate requirements with the commitment to read entire novels on a weekly basis. (Or was it biweekly? You may remember this better than I do. Whichever it was, it was always much shorter than the average time I spend keeping novels on my bed, which is a comfortable month.)
I remember sending her a text while I was waiting to board the plane to Heathrow for the first time. I’d waited so long to tell her where I was going and why, that it didn’t feel right to leave without letting her know. While I continued to debate it, the boarding call went out. I panicked, and the world around me started to feel a little flimsy. It was three in the morning, I had no way of telling if I’d get an immediate response, or if she would even see the message, since it’d been a long time since I last used that number to reach her. But I took faith that the strange currents of technology would get the news of my further studies to her eventually, and once that was done, I boarded the plane out of the Philippines.
Part of me must’ve thought that she would see it, since she always woke up at the crack of dawn to get started on work. I can never bring myself to whip up that kind of discipline, preferring the routines and schedules I set for myself in the usual waking hours. But, for all I know, I could be speaking too soon, and maybe years from now you will find me eating my words. I fondly remember one early morning class she asked to hold outside campus, just so we could share a sunrise breakfast and coffee. The early day habits track with her Herculean reading lists, I guess, because what can you do with all that extra time but read? For what it’s worth, when I taught at the university for a semester, I patterned my reading lists after hers.
I don’t know anyone who ever taught me as much about the joy of reading as she did. Indeed, our cohort often looked forward to her classes for this specific reason. She gave us the proper context to experience everything from the Theatre of the Absurd to the nuances of the various Asian literatures, though, in my opinion, the most important class we’d ever had was when she taught us how to hold onto two completely different but nevertheless valid ways of reading the same piece all at once. After an hour of going through “When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats, I made the conclusion that the poem was written to vindicate an unrequited lover. The second stanza, I argued, depicted the present moment of the poem, in which the subject is able to choose between many lovers of glad grace and beauty, while avoiding the choice of the one man who loves their pilgrim soul and the sorrows of their changing face. It had to be, because how else would they then see the speaker’s face in the third stanza, hiding amid a crowd of stars? Doc G put a stop this simply, musing very quietly that the poem got her to think of her late husband again. I think I learned more about perspective and point-of-view on that afternoon than I ever could if I was reading fifty ways to do it in fifty other stories.
A few months into my time in Norwich, I finally got the reply I’d been hoping for. Doc G told me that she hadn’t gotten my text after all, which made her reaching out to me through Viber rather fortuitous. At least from the steady structure of my dorm in another country, I could take my time in telling her what I was up to, how things were going, and how I was always where we hoped I’d be. Here was the woman who opened the doors to the world I wanted to be part of, here she was telling me she was proud of me.
As soon as I put my first book out into the world, one of the early copies is going straight to her door. I hope your memories of her are just as warm.
P.S. Hurm… homes talk, huh? That’s… not a bad idea…