Confessions of a Returner


  1. I was late with my first assignment.
  2. I forgot to number the pages before sending it in.
  3. Anxiety dominates my mood. Fear of new people and places? Or fear of commitment?
  4. When I was in grad school last time, as a Graduate Assistant I taught classes of Freshman Composition. We–the “GAs”–rejoiced when “mature” students walked into our classrooms. These “returning students” had lived lives, and would talk. “How many do you have?” we would ask each other.
  5. My goal is not to talk. My goal is to listen, with ears, brain, heart.
  6. I am also anxious about what to wear. Today, tomorrow, eight days of what to wear.
  7. This is a two-year commitment. Longer than I was married one of the times I was married.
  8. I want a back door open. I have had to teach husbands, other men, not to follow me into a bathroom, a small room with only one door. Do not stand between me and the exit.
  9. I can quit at any time. I can quit tomorrow. I can disappear and no one will know. And it wouldn’t matter what I wore.
  10. I got lost on the way to campus. I was late. No one noticed. No one knew.
  11. I brought eight pairs of underwear (there are no laundry facilities where I’m staying). The elastic shows in most of them.
  12. None of my clothes are new. I did not go back-to-school shopping. I did not want to go shopping. I hate shopping. And now, I’d have to size up.
  13. Because that’s a commitment I also resist, the commitment to stop eating sugar.
  14. I eat sugar when I’m anxious. I’m anxious when I eat sugar. Sugar makes me anxious. So does commitment. I have an adverse chemical reaction to both.
  15. I am sixty. My hair is now mostly gray. My body shows age, and sugar. I am a sixty-year-old, sugar-laden, graying woman in old clothes and worn-out underwear going back to school.
  16. I am a slow reader. Sixty and slow. Students are not supposed to be slow. Or sixty. But when I sat there tonight scanning the student body of this low-residency program, I saw mostly black hair and gray hair. Even white.
  17. I did not finish my homework. I am not prepared. But that’s okay because I can leave at any time. After two days, two months, two years. But then I’d leave with a new degree in hand: an MFA in Creative Nonfiction, a third degree in creative writing. I started working toward my first in 1976.  Almost forty years ago. Graduated in 1989. Got a Master’s in 1992. Went to a graduate residency program in 1998-99. Went back to school again in 2015. I’m afraid of commitment but apparently not of returning.
  18. I met a woman here tonight who also has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Hers have long names, with sciences in them. She is thirty years younger than me. Thirty years fresher, smarter, faster.
  19. I just recounted. Nine days I’ll be here for the residency portion of the Institute of American Indian Arts low-rez MFA in Creative Writing program. I hope I brought an extra pair of fraying underwear.
  20. Maybe I will go shopping here in this big city of Santa Fe. Buy something new for the new-student me. Maybe I won’t get lost on the way to campus in the morning. Or the way to class after that. Maybe I will finish my homework tonight. Maybe I will stay.


  1. I stayed.
  2. I went to class every day. A class of five women over fifty, and two thirty-something women, one of whom was the teacher. I thought she might have been disappointed that there were not more young students, people with fresh lives full of adventure. But she handled this group of returners well. We wrote every day, read every day. I did my homework. I listened a lot, but talked more than I meant to. Still, my heart is full. So is my brain.
  3. I met many wonderful people (including my teacher), loved the campus, made new friends. Felt, repeatedly, that my feet belonged right there, wherever I was walking.
  4. I did not go shopping.
  5. No one saw my underwear but me.

7 thoughts on “Confessions of a Returner

  1. Like, like, like! I smiled right through the whole piece BECAUSE you are more courageous and open and generous and smart and faster than you give yourself credit for being. Congrats on being a returner!

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