My first semester in my very first full-time grown-up professional job, I taught four English courses at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. A week before the semester started, I turned twenty-five. My next youngest colleague, the last full-time hire before me, was forty-seven. She’d been on the faculty for seventeen years. There was a lot of guffawing in the days that led up to the start of the semester about how young I was. Some of my students, my office mate informed me quite gleefully, were likely to be considerably older than I.
I was assigned to teach two sections of developmental writing, a noncredit course students were placed into when they weren’t yet prepared for credit-bearing English. I had one section of Freshman Composition and, in an eleventh hour switch, a section of Advanced Expository Writing into which piled several honors students. Three of my classes met Mondays and Wednesdays; the other one met Tuesday-Thursday.
It’s quite possible that I have never been as tired as I was after the first day, a Wednesday. I remember lying on the carpet of my apartment, the upper floor of a tiny beach cottage three houses from the Long Island Sound, unable to move, barely lifting my head when the phone rang. I would continue to be that tired, all semester long, trying to stay one step ahead of the prep for my classes and reading and responding to the writing of nearly a hundred twenty students.
As my colleagues had predicted, my students’ ages were indeed mixed, from seven years younger than I was to old enough to be my parent. In fact, one of my students that very first semester was the mother of a college acquaintance. The small world continued to spin; however, and my enthusiasm mostly made up for my age. Raised to call anyone older than I was by a courtesy title and a last name, I was learning to address all of my students by their first names. As a graduate student I had welcomed my students to call me by my first name. So that very first day I invited my students, young and old, to call me Robin. Some of them did. Some of them struggled with pronouncing my last name. Many of them never called me anything at all. A young man who would go on to take two more classes with me and who would eventually wind up an English professor at the same community college found his own solution: He called me Professor Robin.
I wrote to my students because they wrote to me. Many of the assignments that kept me up past two in the morning were informal and ungraded: journal entries, reading responses, or writing designed to get the students expressing themselves on paper. Even responding to required reading, they often spilled out their hearts to me, telling me stories they had rarely before revealed. It took my breath away. They needed to know I had read their words, even if my responses were brief. I used techniques I had learned in my composition courses, underlining phrases I found compelling and querying things that felt half-developed or contrary to their own logic. I made few grammatical corrections, but occasionally an observation where there were errant grammatical patterns. At the end I always wrote a note, a response of my own. And then I wrote, “thanks for sharing, R.”
Thanks for sharing can have a snarky application. I’ve been known to say it to my children after a particularly gnarly report of something disgusting. But when I appended it to my message to these students whose secrets stared up at me from their scrawling penmanship, I meant it as sincerely as I’ve ever meant anything. I signed the letter R because it seemed somehow to be me without being the first name many of them felt uncomfortable calling me or the formality of my last name.
And the R stuck. My first (and second and third) email address was RBourjaily. I started signing nearly everything simply R or, for documents, R Bourjaily. A few people even thought to call me R.
When I opened Radiant Om Yoga, my lawyer encouraged me to apply to trademark the name. It seemed grandiose, unnecessary. Why would anyone else want to have the same name as my studio? I had struggled, though, to find a name that wasn’t anywhere else (and a quick google search suggests that the 87,500 impressions are by-and-large related to my studio, albeit some awfully tangentially). I began to understand that protecting my work and my brand was a good idea. Her office filed the application in the summer of 2011.
The talented designer who created the studio’s logo laid out a business card for me and included a tiny “tm” between Radiant Om Yoga and LLC. In the ensuing twenty-one months, twice the federal trademark office sent back rulings I didn’t understand—were we on our way to a trademark or about to be denied? I couldn’t tell and the lawyer assigned to the file was not inclined to be optimistic. But we agreed it was worth pursuing because none of the trademark rulings were an outright no. For the most part, I rarely thought about the application, focusing instead on teaching yoga to students from six to well over seventy.
Then one day this spring, a letter from the lawyer appeared—my trademark application had moved beyond review and into the final stage. So long as no one challenged the application for thirty days, the trademark would be mine. A trademark. Mine. Somehow the idea made my studio feel a little more rooted, more real. Radiant Om Yoga would be a recognized brand. The thirty days crawled along, but finally in an email confirming the trademark is mine, the lawyer assured me I could begin using the registered symbol. And guess what it looks like? Now encircled, my R has come back to me!
The new strawberry moon is covered by clouds, but it sweetly launches us into summer, with school over and new adventures beginning. Wishing you the sweetest summer possible as your journey continues. Thanks, as always, for sharing in mine, ®xo