No Joke: You’re One Class Short of an English Degree


A view of the Hudson during an October 2019 visit to Sunnyside. Photo by Tracy Hoffman



Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Today, April 1, 2020, I was scheduled to be on a plane for New York. I was to speak at a symposium honoring the 200th anniversary of The Sketch Book.

Instead, I’m “sheltering at home,” keeping office hours. Rather than briefly escaping Texas for an East Coast adventure, I’m posting assignments, grading electronic papers, and messaging with my students. Chances are I’d be grading papers and messaging with students on a plane, too, but I’d be adding some new excitement to my regular routine.

Students keep telling me on their reading responses, “the party’s over.” I feel that way, too. In addition to the New York trip, I was scheduled to visit San Diego and Cabo this spring. All three trips–canceled.

Washington Irving’s birthday is Friday, April 3. My classes had planned to have a giant sheet cake with Irving’s pretty picture on it–an event I always plan with my classes. We can’t do that. We will do something to celebrate, but we won’t have our cake.

4-13-18 by Sarah Ford Pic One

Washington Irving birthday cake for 2018 spring classes  Photo by Tracy Hoffman

Rather than continuing with my pity party, I want to share a nugget with you. And I’m hoping to bring this new idea full circle with my original thoughts.

I’ve been working on a list of reasons why I research Washington Irving, since so many people ask me this question, and I want to share one with you today.

One of the reasons I study Washington Irving is because I was one class shy of an English degree.

After already graduating several years prior, I received a letter from my undergraduate institution informing me that I was one class away from an English degree. That was too tempting of a carrot to ignore, so I spent one summer session taking the one class. A few years later, I completed a master’s in English, and then quickly moved into a Ph.D. program at Baylor, where I earned a Ph.D. in English.

But until I received that letter, I had no intention of pursuing English studies. Washington Irving was not on my radar screen. My focus had always been journalism, but my perspective changed after taking the one remaining English class. The bottom line: I would not be researching Washington Irving today, nor would I be writing this blog, had it not been for that one letter–from out of the blue.

Here’s my spin. I think we humans make the best plans we can, knowing what we know. But sometimes those plans get interrupted. When it’s crucial to our destiny, I think God moves things in a different direction.

You might call such situations luck or serendipity; opportunity meets preparation. Regardless of our various vantage points, we all recognize these life-changing episodes which change the trajectory of our lives. We’re in such a pivotal moment.

I’ve lived long enough, experienced enough life-altering shifts, to know we’ll get on the other side of this. When I think about what previous generations experienced–including Washington Irving who survived pandemic, the loss of a fiancé, and bankruptcy—and how their lives were completely interrupted by events out of their control, it reminds me to settle down, buckle up, and remember that this moment in history will pass. Sunnier days, along dramatically new paths, await us.

– – – – –

Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

CB picture 2019

Published in: on April 1, 2020 at 10:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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