Thursday, August 30, 2007
A cat is a creature unto herself. I do not own my cat; my cat resides in my apartment, and I do her bidding. Occasionally I wonder if cats actually love their humans. Rory certainly seems to express affection to me, especially at 5:30 in the morning when she gets the urge to stick her cold nose in my ear, or wash my face, or crawl under the bedclothes with me. It's very sweet, really, but couldn't she wait an hour?
The kitten, Rowan, also expresses affection by nibbling toes as I stumble to the bathroom, or barging in while I take a shower. ("Out!" I'll yell and flick droplets of water). Rory taught Rowan how to push open doors, and sometimes they team up to get into my bedroom early in the morning. Rowan just wants to play, not understanding that she can't pull things out of my book bag, bat my pens off of my desk, or chew on the corners of my books. She's especially needy if she's been left alone all night.
Rory greets me as I walk toward my apartment, her loud meows and jingling collar following me toward the door. I pick her up and she purrs enthusiastically, but really what she wants is her food and water, and some petting--afterward, she cries to be let back out.
It's startling to realize that my cat and I have a special bond, an actual relationship. She meows when she sees me because she wants my attention, even if Lance is already petting her. (She knows he's the one to beg treats from, though). She jumps in my lap, snuggles with me when I sleep, and looks to me as her primary human being. She'll even try to follow me to work, if I don't stop her by putting her in the apartment or leaving when she's not looking.
But still, she is a cat, and she has her independence and own pursuits. Life with a cat may entail finding lost items (my contacts case used to find its way from the bathroom to under the refrigerator) and putting up with a furry body stretched across a book, but it's also pretty fun--and in the winter, a cat in the lap is almost as nice as a roaring fire to keep you warm.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
As promised, here is my edited version. I actually could do two--fixing this one while leaving the content largely intact, and then a total rewrite (with the addition of specific, concrete details). I'm too lazy, however, to do the total rewrite, so I'll just leave that one to your imaginations. However, I do make suggestions for good places to stick details.
This letter is in recommendation for [Student Smith], an applicant for the [People Who Gave Us Money] Scholarship.See? Isn't that a bit better? Even if it's too indefinite to be a good recommendation letter, at least it's more active and the sentences are not ugly, though perhaps just a little homely. It's assertive, and unlike the other one, is not repetitive and passive. Hopefully you think it is an improvement as well.
I have known [Student] for 12 years in several settings: as a student at [
X] School District, as a member the [Random Church] Youth Group, and as a [academic discipline] student at the . I have had the pleasure of working with him as both a youth adviser and as a staff member in the [academic department]. University
Throughout high school, he consistently ranked at the top of his class. A constant favorite with his high school teachers, [Student] is well-known for his hard work and dedication in academics and extracurricular activities. [Here's a place for concrete examples--awards, etc.]
[Student] fills the roles as both a young leader and a devoted honor student; I have every expectation that he will be successful. As a leader, he sets an example for his peers, [actively participating in class and volunteering for projects]. Since entering the university, he has shown a remarkable level of interest and dedication to his college education. His above average GPA ranks him [nth] in the [level] class, proving [Student's] commitment to his academics and to his future career. I look forward to observing him further develop here at the university and as a future [career title].
I believe that [Student Smith] is an energetic, well-respected, and talented individual who represents the desired qualities in a [People Who Gave Us Money] Scholarship recipient. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In the interest of providing concrete examples, I thought I'd post a version of the letter with all the identifying particulars left out to demonstrate how not to write.
I am writing this letter to give my highest recommendation in support of [Student Smith], a candidate for the [People Who Gave Us Money] Scholarship.
I have known Student for 12 years through a combination of ways. I’ve known him as a student through the [
X] School District, with the [Random Church] Youth Group as his youth advisor, and last year he came to the [Academic Department] at the as [department] student. In high school, he ranked one of the top students in the class all four years. This young man was always a favorite with all his high school teachers in the classroom, and he always worked hard with outside activities and projects. University
[Student] has always exceeded all expectations as a young leader, an honor student who is devoted to his education, and I have every expectation that he will be successful with his life’s goals. Since coming to the department, he has established the interest to go beyond a remarkable level of interest and dedication to his college career proven by his GPA and ranking [nth] in the [level] class in the first semester. He has always been the type of student that shows leadership and sets a great example amongst his peers.I am confident that [Student] will provide considerable service again to any department and to the University and I am looking forward to seeing him develop here and as a future [career title].
In conclusion, I believe that [Student] is an energetic, well-respected and talented individual who represents the “best and brightest" of [academic discipline] students and is therefore worthy of your consideration.
Please contact me directly if you have any questions regarding my support for [Student Smith] and his application for the 2008 [People Who Gave Us Money] Scholarship.
I know where to start on this atrocity (and I already named a few ways), but I'm interested in what you think. How could this letter be stronger? I'll post a revision tomorrow.
Monday, August 27, 2007
6. Do not overwriteI love White's description of being seduced by the keyboard. I know that I'll often add another sentence to a paragraph because I want the paragraph to look a certain way on the screen--silly, I know, but I usually edit everything viciously (because of Reminder 5).
Rich ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating. If the sickly-sweet word, the overblown phrase are your natural form of expression, as is sometimes the case, you will have to compensate for it by a show of vigor, and by writing something as meritorious as the Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.
When writing with a computer, you must guard against wordiness. The click and flow of a word processor can be seductive, and you may find yourself adding a few unnecessary words or even a whole passage just to experience the pleasure of running your fingers over the keyboard and watching your words appear on the screen. It is always a good idea to reread your writing later and ruthlessly delete the excess.
I also learned something that I didn't realize when I took the grammar mastery test about the construction "one of those [NOUN] who"--you must use the plural form of the verb with it. I think that answers the only thing I missed.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
All three pieces were marvelously written, and often funny--Atlick/Fenstermaker used his footnotes to make funny jokes with an important point about the use of footnotes. I kept laughing the further I got through the piece--I'm sure Lance and his parents would have thought I was silly for enjoying a scholarly article so much. (Just as he laughs at me for adoring The Elements of Style).
It was in the last piece, (Katha Pollitt--"Canon to the Right of Me") when I discovered that I was highlighting a sentence just because it was such a well-crafted bit of wordsmithing that I remembered why I'm in graduate school in the first place--to read lovely bits of writing (poetical, fictional, or scholarly) and to admire that beauty and attempt to be like them. Spending part of last semester with Jameson didn't help, since his writing lacks the grace and elegance of more reader-friendly writers.
I'm glad that I am being told to leave behind the purposefully obscure, horrible pieces of writing. Even if I have to study them, I can mock their terrible writing and strive to be an academic that can pride herself on the quality of her craft. I would like others to read what I write and feel that sheer enjoyment of the well-written sentence, as well as learn something interesting. Those academics who feel the need to be obtuse are idiots. No one will ever appreciate their prose style, and fewer will understand their perhaps brilliant points than if they had chosen to write like Terry Eagleton or Jerome McGann.
It does me good to be reminded every now and then that I'm not going into English to study and learn more about literature--I'm going into it because I love the written word, and I love the beauty and power of well-used words.
Friday, August 24, 2007
With the advent of the Internet and the ease of electronic communication, e-mail* has been increasingly popular in the workplace. I work. Thus, I receive 50,000 e-mails a day (an exaggeration, yes, but sometimes it feels like that), and have daily opportunities to cringe.
One thing I really hate in an e-mail is when the sender puts their whole message in the subject line. Perhaps it's because I hate long subject lines; I think they should be short and to the point. Plus, then I have to go to all the trouble of opening the e-mail to find that there is nothing there. I'm annoyed--but maybe I'm just picky.
The other e-mail rules that I hate when people violate are when they give you a word. That's all the message is--a word or two. I'm sorry, at least take the trouble to type a proper salutation and sign off. It's communication after all.**
And finally***, the people who obviously don't read over their e-mails before they send them out. We've all seen them--horrible misspellings, lack of punctuation, or just fuzzy sentences that you think you know what they are talking about, but you can't be sure. A simple re-read would catch some of the mistakes. But in their hurry to type something out, individuals often forget that there could be someone who is judging them by the state of their correspondence. I'm always careful when I e-mail people because I know they are aware of me as an English major. I'm also careful when I e-mail other professionals or e-mail authority figures because I want my communication to reflect my quality of work and dedication to my job or pursuits. It's inevitable that we are to be judged based on our communication, and somehow running Spell Check in Outlook before sending an e-mail seems like such a simple step to prevent a bad impression.
*This is actually the proper way to spell the word, since it is a shortened form of "electronic mail". But in their haste, people don't ever put the hyphen. I put it as a small form of protest against careless writing.
**This rule doesn't count if the e-mail is part of ongoing correspondence. In that case, it's like a phone conversation.
***Don't EVEN get me started on those stupid forwards. Since I'm concentrating on e-mail in a professional setting, I'll pretend like those e-mails don't exist.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Recently, I've become pretty interested in baking and learning more about baking methods. So I decided to start a new blog: Jenn's Baking Blog can be found following the link. I wanted to explore baking, but I didn't want to do it here, but I actually don't really like having more than one blog. But I felt that for its purpose--to learn more about baking and to play with recipes--a baking blog would be useful. And worth the separation factor.
This blog has been tremendously useful for helping me get out all my "I'm so excited! I love books!!!" emotions, so perhaps having a blog dedicated to my pursuit of more baking skills will be fun and help me learn better. This concept is probably why I'll make students write blogs for any freshman composition class/writing class that I teach--the act of writing, of having to set words to paper (or the screen) is as much a learning process as producing a more official piece of writing.
So mosey on over to the baking blog--when I make something yummy, I'll post pictures and possibly a recipe.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I stumbled upon this grammar mastery test on my daily Internet visiting. Since I pride myself on such things as my mastery of the trickier rules of Standard American English, I took it. I scored 48/50. Not shabby, though far from perfect.
As I was taking it, I actually noticed several problems. A few of the answers were identical, allowing me to rule them out, if I didn't quite know for sure. That must have just been whoever set up the test.
Something else was bothering me about this test, however. And then I realized--the sentences were designed to trip up the test-taker, not as representatives of good written English. Some of the sentences were far too complex and convoluted--if one of my students were to write like that test, I would scold them.
That's when it dawned on me about grammar education--we often teach students in a way that they should not write or would not use language. No wonder students often have a hard time grasping certain grammatical concepts. Grammar studies often operate in a vacuum, and students have no way to bridge from the abstract world of proper grammar to actual ways of speaking and writing. They can't make the connection, especially when we teach them using sentences that are unconnected to their daily modes of discourse.
Part of what I'm going to address in my thesis is the disconnect between freshmen composition and students' future writing. Students take freshmen composition, believing that they'll never again use those concepts, never making the connection between the skills taught in composition and the skills they need to be effective writers in the workplace. I hope I can find a way to bridge this gap, and help students be better writers and communicators.
Monday, August 20, 2007
I have class this afternoon. I'll talk about it tomorrow, possibly...
Good luck to those of you who are starting classes this week!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I'll be starting my fall classes next week. I'm excited, but when you work for a dean's office, it makes the first couple of weeks hectic as students try to get into their classes. It started yesterday as I alternated helping students and changing class information for professors and departments. I have no idea why they insist on waiting so long...but they do, and they will, and so I must trudge forth with a smile on my face. I enjoy helping these students, I really do. It makes me feel good when they walk away, their problems solved and questions answered, and they thank me for taking the time to help them.
So back to work with me!
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Why is it so funny? I don't understand. Is it because the poor spelling and funny ways of phrasing the captions are intentional? Part of it is the cute pictures of "kittehs" and other creatures paired with the captions.
I think I love it for the intentional use of poor spelling and grammar, and for the utilization of IM-speak. I've always enjoyed satires, and this one combines funny captions, cute picture of kitties, and satire. After all, if a person wrote in the manner of the image above, would they even be able to recognize perfect grammar if they saw it?
My roommate makes fun of me, but I like this site. What do you all think about it? I know it's the blogosphere craze right now, but I can't help but feel that it's popular for a good reason.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
But that has changed. I bought a desk this past weekend, and yesterday I worked to set it up. When I sat down in the chair, I knew that this would be a place, in my room and away from the "social" areas of the apartment, where I could read, study, do my work. It's a nice desk; it has room for my laptop, and little shelves for my Post-it notes. I can line my research guides up along the back for quick reference. I actually have a place to leave my laptop, instead of whatever surface I can place it on in the living room.
We'll see how nice it is to have a nice, private space for working and reading. Hopefully it'll help me keep my head above water when it comes to my homework!
Friday, August 10, 2007
Occasionally, I get tired of working the holding-pattern job and wish I could dive into PhD school. I think this feeling is especially acute when I'm either really busy from my classes and also when I'm not in class (no academia to distract me from working). I like my current employment. My co-workers are nice, the job itself has its challenges, and I get paid enough to live comfortably and go to Spain in December. So, really, it's not a bad deal at all.
But then I'm struck with the yearning to be able to dedicate all of my time and energy to being a graduate student. Even if I were to teach classes to pay for my student life style, I think I would still be more content. (Especially if I didn't have to take out loans or work another job). I love school, I love going to class, I get excited when I get to read neat stuff and find something interesting to say about it, and I love rubbing elbows with other students and professors. It's a satisfying state of existence. It's why I miss my undergraduate days.
So I tell myself that I'm lucky to have found a good job. And I also remind myself that I won't have terribly much longer (in the grand scheme of things) to work here until I can move somewhere new for PhD school. Sometimes, I just wish that day were coming much sooner.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Yesterday, it was time to say farewell to my teachers. They had a nice dinner planned for us all--everyone was dressed in their finest (except me: I didn't change when I got home because I was in a rush. Luckily I was at least wearing something respectable from work). The teachers had dropped by at work the day before to leave me with some gifts. I had planned to give them books I'd made, but I was waiting for the farewell banquet.
It was nice. I sat and listened them chatter excitedly in English and Spanish. I met more of the students in the program, which was lovely. Even though we were on campus, we had giant bottles of wine on our tables, which some of them drank liberally (Wendy, at one point, was deleting pictures from her camera and muttering about drunk people attempting photography). Oh, and the pictures. Everywhere you turned, digital cameras were wielded, and I was often asked to either take or pose for yet another photograph.
It was a nice way to say farewell, and also a way for the program participants to be recognized for their hard work and achievements. They received certificates (and took more pictures), and finally, at 10:30, I had to say my last goodbyes and head home. Wendy made me promise to come visit her in Mexico, and Haydee and Brenda also told me to visit, so I may just be making a trip across the border sometime soon.
I think I'll be a teacher buddy again next year. And if I have my own apartment, maybe I'll offer to be a weekend host! I had a great time; I really enjoyed getting to meet wonderful new people, and I hope I'll keep in touch with them as they journey back to Mexico to teach their students.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Well, actually he is visiting the grand state of Arkansas, so I've been busy with showing him around my town (and making sure he's well fed), which has been loads of fun. Check out his recent posts for his take on The Natural State.
Monday, the day I took of to show Secret Knitter around, also was the day I had a class meeting, so I spent part of it finishing reading Amy Devitt's Writing Genres. This is an excellent book for introducing genre theory. Interesting to read, it touches on the major issues in genre theory right now, including the separation of rhetorical and genre theory. Good stuff.
And because I'm lazy, I'm just going to let you read the assignment I had to type out. It pertains to my thesis, however, thus you might be vaguely interested. We were asked to address three questions based on our readings: which genres are we interested in, what are the interesting questions, and where can I go for more information.
I am also interested in the professional writing that engineering students will be asked to create when they enter the work force. Students may not see their freshman composition (or any writing they do in school, except for lab reports, perhaps) as pertaining to their future careers. However, as genre theories (and the concept of an underlying genre theory for writing) discussed in all of the readings, different forms of written discourse are connected and genres influence and shape that discourse. Devitt’s book is interesting in this regard because she discusses both the genres used by tax accountants and literary genres and believes that they share commonalities, at least as genres.
- What are the skills used (or presumably used) in student writing?
- What’s the purpose in an educational setting for student writing?
- It is it effective, educationally? (I.e. does it meet the goals set by the genre?)
- What are the intended goals set by the genre?
- How can we provide students with a meaningful rhetorical situation they can use to shape their writing?
- How can an understanding of genre help students?
Devitt’s book has been particularly enlightening for my purposes. She discusses at some length the generic issues associated with freshmen composition courses and student writing—namely, the lack of genre stability and the issue of teaching students genre to empower their writing. Her research has directed me to other interesting articles and books such as David Russell’s work with activity theory and genre, and his book Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History. The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre also provided some interesting articles and directions that I could turn to find more information on my particular interests and questions. Both volumes contain not only good information, but sources that I could read and study.
Student writing is increasingly important as more researchers (and universities) turn their attention to composition classes, student writing, and what students actually take away from these courses. Just from David Russell I find more sources dealing with questions on making composition more effect, and I believe genre in many ways comes to bear on that problem. Devitt’s chapter on teaching genre awareness in turn provides directions and ideas that will be useful to my own research.
Friday, August 03, 2007
However, as I was telling Lance yesterday, the more I read, the more skeptical I get of certain trends. The biggest one is the tendency of dividing the world neatly into two halves: good/bad, right/wrong, black/white, etc. This dichotomous labeling of the world makes me nervous and makes me skeptical of anything related to it.
This skepticism is directly related to my growth and development as an academic. In literature especially, the interesting questions are not in dividing the work into neat labeled pieces; the "good stuff", the most intriguing ideas reside in the bits of a novel or poem where ideas are messy, mixed up, and a little uncertain. Milton's Satan isn't interesting because he is purely evil against God's purely goodness. He's interesting because he's a fallen creature, a tragic hero; he's someone the reader can sympathize with even while we are supposed to be loathing him. That's more interesting than a Satan who is so positively evil that his character only elicits hatred from the reader instead of sympathy.
I think this suspicion of pure dichotomies is why I stopped believing in God as my parents do, or practicing their brand of Christianity. At the risk of sounding heretical, I don't think good and evil can be so neatly divided, nor can be people be lumped easily into groups. The world should not be filled with people who are either moral or immoral, going to heaven or going to hell, devils or saints. The world is full of both beauty and pain, in all its messy gloriousness. And that messiness, that inability to be easily classifiable is what makes life so interesting, and the pursuit of the divine and spiritual so meaningful.
I was reading The Slacktivist's weekly exploration of really crappy literature, and his snide comment about the evangelical's negative, anti-intellectual attitude really made me laugh:
That last sentence is again, the major theme of the LB series: You may think you're intelligent and educated, but you're a fool if you don't realize that Tim LaHaye's "biblical" prophecies are the Most Important Thing Ever. You'll see. You're all like, "Oh, la-di-da, I'm an intellectual and I think the Bible is all about like, loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor as yourself," when you should be all like, "Tell me, Rev. LaHaye, sir, do you perhaps have some study tools for sale that might help me to prepare for the coming apocalypse, the coded foretelling of which is the primary purpose of scripture?" Your failure to appreciate my genius will be punished. You just wait.His post today got me to thinking about the simplistic interpretations of both the world and the not-so-neatly-interpretable-Bible. Too easy, folks. Maybe that's why Bush scares me so much with all his talk of our "evil" enemies, and Americans as the knights in shining white, ridding the world of this evil. I think there's as much that could be labeled such in our own country that we could focus on righting, were we not so busy pointing our fingers at the Jews, the Muslims, or those damned intellectuals.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
- The Confidence Man (Herman Melville)
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (H.S. Thompson)
- Angels (Denis Johnson)
- Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson)
- Fool's Progress (Edward Abbey)
- Vineland (Thomas Pynchon)
- La Perdida (Jessica Abel)
- Flaming Iguanas (Erika Lopez)
- Elements of Style (Strunk and White)
- Literary Research Guide (Ed. Harner)
- MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (Ed. Joseph Gibaldi)
- Glossary of Literary Terms (Ed. M.H. Abrams)
- Chicago Manual of Style
- Chicago Guide To Your Academic Career
- Poetic Designs (Adams)
How would you like the title of the World's Worst Poet? One William McGonagall (yes, he shares the name of a Hogwarts Professor) has been granted this honor. The Scottish are known to take their poetry seriously. After all, they produced the likes of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, and the Scottish are a little touchy about appearing inept to the rest of the world. They had the English telling them for years that they were nothing but barbarians who didn't know how to open a book.
But seriously--a poet who had to take an umbrella with him to shield himself from rotten vegetables? He must have upset some readers. Also, I'm sure thinking that he was second to Shakespeare in genius didn't help. I mean, really. Even if you're good, you don't go around claiming that you're in Shakespeare's league. And judging from the samples of poetry, he really is a pretty poor poet.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
I love it. It's a wonderfully efficient system--I can request everything online, and they usually get my requests back to me within a week, even if it's a book that's coming from another university. And articles? This is the best part of ILLiad: they send me a PDF copy of the article, so I can both save it electronically and print it off.
It makes the research process fun and painless. My library doesn't have what I need, and I can't find it online? No problem! Just plug the information into ILLiad from the ease of my home computer (or work, usually) and wait a few days. The literature shows up practically at my door!
I'm thankful for Interlibrary loan. And I'm glad that my university has a good system, since finding articles and books is a breeze.