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Bark-Bark-Bark - Joyce McKenna

Signing up for a Master Class on writing is a great idea. That is, until your dogs start galloping around the house because they heard a tiny something irregular outside. Maybe it was one of my neighbors driving up our private street. Maybe it was a dog barking three miles away. I didn’t hear it. It was that faint. But the natural response – if you’re a dog – is to go ballistic and bark-bark-bark your way from the family room, through the kitchen, on to the living room, reverse, through the kitchen, on to the family room, to the kitchen, back to the family room, back to the kitchen. Bark-bark-bark. So, Neil Gaiman’s thoughtful words about “subvert the familiar” don’t reach me the first time through; I see his mouth moving, his splayed hands reaching forward to add meaningful punctuation to something he was imparting. I’m forced to replay that particular recommendation. Bark-bark-bark.

How did I end up signing up for a Master Class on writing? It began yesterday morning when I decided I wanted to enroll in a masters degree program on writing. I googled “best online degree programs writing”. I navigated over to, because everyone knows that .org is the stamp of legitimacy. I didn’t recognize the first in a list of 30-best, so I clicked on the second one, Southern New Hampshire University, because I did (and not because I had heard great things about the school). Of course I was fully aware that for the next who knows how long, I would be seeing sidebar ads for anything to do with academia. In short order, I had “requested information”; no sooner had I clicked that button, and my phone rang. Literally, it was “no sooner”, which I found vexing because my eyes had just begun to read what I could/should be doing in preparation for my call from an admissions person.

“Hi, this is Tam. How are you today? Have you had a chance to think of questions for us?”

“Well, Tam, no, as I just clicked the ‘request information’ button 7 seconds ago.”

“Ha-ha-ha. So, do you? Have questions?”

I had questions. . . plenty, not the least of which was, “Can I transfer credits for a few classes I took years ago when I was first contemplating a writing program?”

“Well, how long ago?


“Oooohh, we usually only accept up to five years.”

“Is that because our brains decline and we don’t remember anything beyond five years?”

“Ha-ha-ha. It’s. . .uh. . . just our policy, but you can make your case for it if you feel strongly.” (Of course I feel strongly. . . now. . . 32 years later.)

Before I hung up, I had promises of “We’ll send you the program description; we’ll send you the application link; we’ll send you the instructions to set up your student portal; we’ll send you a link to our newsletter; we’ll send you an authentic ‘Petey the Penmen’ quill and inkstand, also an autographed glossy of Petey.”

“Wait, what?” That last quote was you, and I inserted it just to see if you were still with me. (But, honestly, their mascot is a colonial dude with muscular thighs and shoulders, powdered wig, dancing eyes and impossibly straight, white teeth. (That last part needs to be read twice for dramatic historical anachronism.)

Tam then delivered as promised. She sent about 200 email messages with all relevant information and links. She sure was efficient. But, here’s where up became down, and down up. Tam wasn’t Tam. Tam was Tim, and not – obviously – a deep-sounding, middle-aged woman who had a cigarette addiction. So, I sat still for about five minutes, while my brain was making every effort at recall; I had a desperate need to reconstruct the conversation. How did I not know that Tam was a man? And, did I have a different kind of conversation because I thought I was talking with a middle-aged woman? Would I have said things differently? Would my off-hand comments have been more geared towards a young man? Would I have even resorted to my usual quips about age and spent brain cells and, gosh, timessurehavechanged? (It did seem as if my jokiness was not landing as deftly as I am accustomed to, although I may be casting it all in a different light given my “new knowledge”.) It was a very revealing moment for me, for I realized how much we must tailor our speech depending on the presumed gender and age of the other person, even if the objective remains constant on both sides.

So, I’ve naturally concluded that SNHU is not the school for me. I couldn’t bear the thought of running into Tim.

But, before I struck SNHU from my one-item list, I texted my niece, Michaela. She is my reliable go-to when I want an enthusiastic yes, do it! Michaela said, Yes, do it!

For comparison’s sake, I investigated University of Iowa’s program, too. I’d like to say that when I added up all the dollars for the total number of credits, that that was the reason for abandoning the idea of another master’s program. It’s much more likely that I considered how big a commitment it would be, and, as my closest family members and friends know, I am averse to commitment. Even making weekend plans or - worse - deciding what to thaw for dinner causes me to squirm. And I always have to have an exit or escape strategy. For this reason, I’m called “Bolt” by my most observant siblings, because that’s often what I end up doing. They’re very funny people.

The logical conclusion to this story is that I signed up for a Master Class. I’m thoroughly enjoying Neil Gaiman’s – when I can hear his words between the bark-bark-bark of my dogs.


I'm a retired public high school foreign language program coordinator, having recently ended a 30-year career centered on language. In her retirement, she entertains a loyal following with her blog "Scosche of Class", essays that are at various times droll, serious, and historically-based. Her tagline is "It occurs to me", and she draws inspiration from her large family of Irish Catholic heritage, her natural surroundings, and her two dogs whose greatest skill is converting every walk into a Chinese jumprope competition. Nonfiction is my preferred genre.

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