Friday, January 20, 2012

Goodbye, Ruby

I opened up the latest issue of the UC Davis Magazine today to learn that Ruby Cohn had died.

Ruby Cohn, a noted Beckett scholar, was one of the first professors I ever had in graduate school. She taught in the Graduate Theater Department. When I saw a Beckett class in the catalogue I rallied to get in. I'd taken a lot of Playwriting and Drama courses during my undergraduate education. Rumor had it that she had also been his lover. How could I pass up the chance to learn from his muse?

Ruby Cohn was mean.
And old.
And humorless.
And hard.

I was the only Master's student in her class, surrounded by didactic Ph.D candidates. I was 23. They were...older. I was intimidated, SO intimidated. It didn't matter that I'd read "Waiting For Godot" for the first time in my AP French class in high school. Crap, "Godot" was the easy one. It was "End Game", "Krapp's Last Tape" and "Happy Days" that were the doozies. I think we even read his essays and novels. I had to write a 20-page paper at the end of the quarter. What could it have been about? I remember meeting Ruby Cohn one-on-one to go over a draft I'd written and I don't think she was impressed. I believe I even spelled something wrong and she looked at me with disgust.

Becket died in 1989 and this was 1992, so in retrospect, Ruby Cohn might have still been mourning his loss. I'll never know. All I know is that I strive to be the OPPOSITE of Ruby Cohn in my teaching. I am friendly, humorous and certainly NOT intimidating. Sure, I get mad at typos and misspellings but I don't glare.

Her obituary said she stopped teaching at Davis in 1992 so I probably was one of the last students to have her. I wish I remembered her fondly. Perhaps I remember her for all the wrong reasons. Or maybe, just maybe, on some weird, subconscious level, she's the reason I got into teaching in the first place. Stranger things have happened. (Just read Beckett)

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