Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday (Re)Visions

I feel amazing today. At least in comparison to yesterday, where I felt like stopped up...well, things that are stuffy. The decision to miss class was a wise one, as I was able to rest (and even knit a little!)

Currently, I'm working on a paper revision that I'm feeling really good about. When I turned it in originally, I thought it was terrible, but a conference with my professor showed me that while my writing was rough in spots, my ideas were sound. The confidence that she inspired has been helping me massively with this revision. No longer hesitating and wondering if I can think competently, I've been boldly editing and adding supporting evidence to my points. Last night I even drew a cool connection that I hadn't really thought about before that supports one of my minor points! How cool is that? I may post the best bits here, but we'll see. She's supposed to let us know if she thinks it's publishable!

I'm glad that I took Intro to Grad Studies. Not only is my professor fun and brings us cookies, and not only am I learning a good foundation for future academic pursuits, I'm learning to be a more confident academic and a better writer. It's a lot of hard work, but how measureless are my gains?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Uggh, Allergies

I'm seriously contemplating missing class tonight due to my watery eyes, congested head, and inability to breathe quietly. If it weren't a one-meeting-a-week class, I wouldn't hesitate as much. I pause, however, because I'd hate to miss a week's worth of class, and we are starting to talk about Housekeeping tonight. I'm halfway through it, and Robinson is a wonderful writer. Her descriptions are lyrical and poetic, and she knows how to spin a tale.

I have yet to decide. I'll probably go home after work and see how I feel after I take the decongestant that I have lurking in my medicine cabinet. Right now, though, I find the thought of sitting through three hours--even if talking about such a beautiful book--unbearable. And we will be discussing the book next week too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reverse That Colon!

I just want to take the time to appreciate a new writing trick I learned in Intro to Grad Studies: the reverse colon. I used it in this post to my personal satisfaction, and I felt that it warranted its own post.

Let us observe:
Time, space, death: one becomes aware of certain realities when jumping into deep water for the first time.
As opposed to:
One becomes aware of certain realities when jumping into deep water for the first time: time, space, death.
Both are certainly acceptable constructions. But it's as White discusses in his chapter "An Approach to Style" (see The Elements of Style, Ch. 5) that there are correct sentences, then there are sentences that catch the eye. Those eye-catchers have style.

The reverse colon in my example added that extra oomph. By flopping the elements of the sentence, I added a bit of mystery "Time, space, death". What on earth could I be describing? I've grabbed your attention (especially with the death element, which I have to thank Lance for--go second readers!). You want to know what could possibly follow that. Then I introduce the theme of my post, jumping into the pool.

The mystery and intrigue is removed by placing "time, space, death" at the end of the sentence. While the sentence is technically correct, it does lack a little glitter; it's wearing a denim jumper and loafers while the other one is wearing a red dress and stiletto* heels. The denim jumper goes by with a glance, the red dress gets a long stare.

Besides, it's a really neat element to use in writing. And it's so simple--you can add a little spice to your writing by simply moving around pieces of a sentence. A unique rhythm, an attention-grabbing series: both examples contain the same words, but the reader can hear a distinct difference.**

*"Stiletto" used to refer to a specific type of dagger. If you read much Gothic fiction, stilettos are almost as bountiful as castles and craggy mountains.

**Okay, so this example is a little contrived. But you get the point.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"It's Complicated"

When you live in a black and white world, you have black and white thoughts and split the world into black and white things, even if they really aren't. When confronted with an idea or a person who doesn't fit into an either-or category, the black-&-white thinker will either moralize the issue or somehow find a way to rationalize stuffing the colorful bit into one of the two modes of being.

It would be nice if the world were so simple. Honestly, it's easier to live and know what to believe when you don't have to wrestle with the complexities of any situation, if the world can be reduced so easily. If literature has taught me one thing, however, it is that the world is complicated. The simplest interpretation is rarely the only one, or even the best one.* Maybe I'm just defending my discipline, but there are reasons that we keep reading Milton, Keats, Byron, Donne, Shakespeare.** When a writer's life and circumstances are complex, then (reasonably) their writing (if it's any good) should also be complex. I like unanswered questions in books. Does Hamlet love Ophelia? I don't know, but we can discuss it!***

I don't mind disagreeing with fellow students, or having them disagree with me. It's all part of the messy, fun, complicated world of literary studies.

All of this discussion of literature is just a segue into a deeper topic: my mother. As someone grounded firmly in the world of literary studies and who doesn't mind having unanswered questions, I am baffled to discover that my own mother thinks in such stark, boxy terms. Things are wrong, or they're right, and there is no middle ground. In her mind, there is no room for possible complex interpretations: perhaps so-and-so meant this, but it ended up like that.

I, however, dislike simple interpretations (except where warranted). Thus, I cannot agree totally with conservative politics, which often label ideas, peoples, and events as "good" versus "evil" (*ahem, Bush*). My mind does not allow me to make things out so simply. My mother, on the other hand, reduces the world to simplistic terms and refuses to acknowledge that it could be more than what she thinks. With the introduction of "faith", we add a new level to her perspective. When she says, "I follow what my morality and faith lead and that's it...if God wouldn't approve then neither do I...", she makes sure I know that my political leanings place me on the opposing side, and I am caught once more in the world of duality.

I realize that I'll never be able to convince her otherwise. I hate that she reduces my own beliefs, faith, and perspectives to her simplistic world-view, but what can I do? I think that if she'd just affirm that while she does not agree with me, she still feels my perspective is valid, then perhaps I'd not feel so defensive and trapped around her. But that validation would require her to see the world in wider terms, which I'm uncertain will ever happen. Such is life.****

*Though, sometimes it is.

**Besides the fact that they are damn fine books. Oh, and the words sound so nice.

***Most of the time, I think he does. Occasionally, and when viewing a really good production, I have to wonder though. Perhaps he's too absorbed in his own mind to really love anyone. Or perhaps he only puts that front on because he loves too much and wishes to protect Ophelia from his tortured mind...

****I foolishly cling to hope that she'll one day wake up and notice other colors besides black and white. It can't be helped. We must always believe that the ones we love can learn and grow. Meanwhile, I remain frustrated by her fundamentalism and reductionism.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jumping In

Time, space, death: one becomes aware of certain realities when jumping into deep water for the first time. Close both eyes; step off the platform; wait for a short lifetime until feet hit the water: then suddenly the world is blue and close and suspended. Time has no bearing in this place, this murky wonderfulness buoying the body and pressing in close, like a scared child or a reassured lover. Before one has time to blink, to think, the head breaks the surface of the water, and open mouth gulps air like a newborn child.

There are reasons that literature and mythology connect femininity and mothers to water. Being surrounded by water might be as it was before birth--calm, silent, placidly floating.

This feeling is fleeting, when jumping into the water for the first time. There I hung suspended between life and death for an instant that I thought would never end. But it was only an instant; I had no time to panic or do more than move my arms before I found myself at the surface again. I didn't have time to panic, but I did have time to wonder if I was actually moving. Of course I was, since my body automatically seeks to float, and I am a fantastic treader of water.

I am, however, a terrible diver--or rather, a terrible leaper-in since what I was doing was not diving. Tonight, I jumped in once with a flotation device, gulped water, and swam back to the side of the pool. Okay, I thought to myself, I enjoyed that moment, the feeling of being in the water and back up to the surface. Though I did gulp water somehow. Then I was told that I had to jump without anything but my own body.

My body. That's it? But what if my body failed me? What if I didn't make it back to the surface? What if I opened my mouth like a gaping fish and took water into my airless lungs and sank to the bottom? Of course the thirteen lifeguards wouldn't be able to save me from my fate. My hands shook slightly. I crossed them over my chest and took deep, faltering breaths that would likely be my last. I placed my toes over the edge of the platform. I gulped. Fear pressed into my chest and settled a nice stranglehold on my throat. Deep breaths. You can do this. My swim instructor looked expectant; the class kept their eyes on me, but I was only aware of one thing: that I had to jump into the water. It was the only way to leave this platform.

I inhaled and stepped out into nothing. I was in the water and kicking and waving my arms and thinking about getting back to the surface and not gulping down the pool. Up bobbed my head. Now I had the task of swimming across the pool. My instructor told me to swim with my face in the water, but of course I was still trying to breathe from jumping in, so I ignored him, but I made it across. I jumped into the water and swam across the pool and lived to tell it to you.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Little Truimphs

  • I learned the backstroke on Wednesday and swam several lengths in the pool.
  • A boost of confidence about my future in academia.
  • Getting out of class early last night, partly because we showed up early to watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and enjoy pizza provided by our professor. (I freaked Lance out by telling him I ate a veggie pizza with olives, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers--all things I normally refuse to eat on a pizza. But the combo--with feta and mushrooms--was wonderful, so maybe I can move past my prior pizza prejudices.)
  • Camping this weekend!
  • My brother home safe from a war that has claimed so many lives.
  • After missing two mornings, I was back at the gym at 6 am, and it felt great. I think it's a habit now.
  • I've worked out everyday except for one in the past three weeks--and the one I took off was for some much needed rest and relaxation (and I ran 6 miles the next morning anyway).
  • I did a good headstand this morning--usually I fall down after about 2 seconds.
  • I'm wearing a cute skirt and heels today, and I feel fabulous.
  •'s Friday!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Welcome Home, Andrew!!

(my two Marine brothers, Andrew and Brian--both have now served over in Iraq).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Very Nice Things

In a writing conference yesterday with my Intro to Grad Studies professor, I received a great boost of confidence. I turned in a paper, which I thought was not what she'd want, and then we scheduled a conference to meet with her over the paper. I thought she was going to tell me things like "start over" or "you're all over the place," but it ended up that she said things like "you have great ideas" and "this paper is coming along nicely". She also told me to hurry up and get on to PhD school--I'd do well there and have a better place to play with ideas.

Once in a while, I get insecure about my abilities as a graduate student. Leaving her office with her parting comment that I was an A student and she looked forward to my revisions gave me a boost and made me smile. After all, who doesn't like to hear nice things?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Whoops--I've missed almost a full week of posting. I guess I'll throw something out there, into the blogosphere.

Classes are going very well. I'm taking The American Picaresque:
The picaresque flowers in contemporary American prose narratives, openly fictional and ostensibly factual. In fact the descriptor is too loosely deployed in today's criticism; any narrative featuring travel is labeled picaresque.

We'll do better. Our picaresque will require rogue/outsider protagonists who may or may not travel extensively but who are invariably at odds with a surrounding social order viewed (at least by them) as at worst corrupt or evil and at best boring or stultifying. They'll live by their wits, often on the borders of the legal/illicit line.
and Introduction to Graduate Studies:
This course is designed to introduce students to the basic requirements of graduate study and of the profession of literary studies. It therefore seeks to achieve three goals: 1) To provide graduate students with the basic tools of literary research and analysis, including the use of research archives such as libraries and special collections (students will do original research in archives), and also computer research methods. 2) To teach students what is involved in producing publishable work. the course will teach students how to write sound, elegant, lively articles. 3) To teach students how to submit work to professional conferences, and how to present that work once they are at those conferences.
I like my class choices this semester; it is busy, but fun and challenging. Also, I really like the balance between a novel class and a research oriented one (even if the reading load is heavy for both). I'm learning lots, and my professors are great. I'll talk more about what I'm reading later.

Recently, I picked up swimming, and starting running again. I'm taking swimming lessons through the HPER, and I wriggle through the water like a wanna-be fish. I even got bumped up to the advanced beginner class (since I could already float and tread water--I just need help learning strokes and jumping in!) Each session finds me growing more confident in my abilities and desire to learn more.

I've also thrown myself anew into my running. I don't think until now I could really define myself as a runner, but on my 6-mile run Sunday, I found myself grinning--I just felt so full of energy and connected with my physical self (not to mention the weather was beautiful, and I was running around the park.) I've just about doubled my weekly mileage, and it feels great. If you look in my sidebar, I've added a little running thing. My goal is to run a marathon next year--a half-marathon for sure.

Coming up soon: discussions with my mother (where I acquit myself with grace), books I've been reading, and hopefully some thesis work accomplished!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


(As I'm feeling a bit drained, and don't have much to say today).

The Good:
  • My brother should be flying home from Iraq today--yay! (He's on the bottom row, right side)
  • On Monday, my sister-in-law gave birth to Patrick Allen. A very cute baby, I'm sure, who looks a bleary-eyed from all the hard work he'd done to be born.
  • Justin posted about coffee today. Mmmm, coffee. I really would like an actual espresso machine so I can learn about making shots too.
  • I used up a bunch of tomatoes by making sauce*.
  • I ran 5 miles last Saturday (the farthest I've ever run), and I've been to the gym every morning since last Wednesday.
  • I'm taking swimming lessons!
  • I was on time to work this morning.
  • I should have a cell phone this afternoon *crosses fingers*.
The Bad:
  • I like to let the kitty sleep with me, but she insists on walking over my face at the oddest hours, which makes me get out of bed and throw her out the door. It is kind of cute, though, because she purrs a lot and tries to wash my face.
  • Broken cell phone.
  • I tried to check my voicemail, but I have no clue what my passcode is. You can change it online, but they text the new code to your phone. And since I have no phone...
The Ambiguous:
  • Lance is gone for the week. It's not a "bad", though, because he's doing stuff, and I (logically) should have extra time to get my homework done. But he is so useful to have around...
  • I have a paper conference with my Intro to Grad Studies professor next week. I'm not sure if it will be good or bad.
  • I must read lots this week.

*Those of you who know me slightly will quickly learn that I despise tomatoes, but I like them cooked in sauces, in soups, etc. Thus I glared all week at the GIANT bowl of tomatoes in my fridge until I decided that their fate would be sauce.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11th in Literature

I have some conflicted feelings about September 11th. While I believe that it was a sad event and that the people who died should be remembered, I also hate how it is used as a sign of patriotism, and a reminder of how we should all be afraid.

We should not be afraid. We should look forward with courage, and try to seek peace instead of retribution and more fear. But enough politicizing.

Recently, I've been thinking about how the events of September 11, 2001 have crept into our cultural conscious. In other words, how it is being represented in art, namely literature. More specifically, two books I've read in the past month both have representations (albeit small) of the events of September 11th from two different perspectives.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini describes the events from the perspectives of an Afghani refugee family. I found this one interesting because it was from a perspective of the people whose country was then affected by the ensuing retaliation against the Taliban. Their reactions--and the author's call for readers to remember Afghanistan--marked a contrast with the American reaction. Sometimes, we forget that there are other victims of world events besides our own citizens and our own soldiers.

The second book, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger*, tells the event from an American perspective. In a brilliant artistic move, Niffenegger simply shows Clare and Henry looking at the television, watching the planes crash into the towers. She leaves it to her reader's imagination to place their own reactions to the events into the story, a cleverly engaging device. It brings a stark element of the real world into this already wonderful book.

I'm interesting in observing how those events will continue to creep into art and effect the public imagination. How do audiences who could name specifically where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news react to such representations? I know that in both of those sections in both novels, I felt strangely connected, as though I had a shared experience with the characters, whose lives were otherwise different from my own.

*In an intriguing aside, Niffenger is a book artist, who teaches in Chicago. How cool is that?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bad Weekend for Technology

Technology and I have not been getting along lately. (Because of that, I've backed up the paper that I've been working on in a multitude of ways). It all started on Friday, when I glanced over at my cell phone lying on the counter, and realized that it was lit up. When I picked up the phone, it was acting as though the volume key on the side was permanently pressed in, rendering the phone useless. I couldn't operate the phone, and although I could receive calls, there would be a persistent beeping while talking.

Lance played with it in a variety of configurations, but nothing worked. So I was phone-less, which felt weird because I'm used to being able to use a phone whenever I need to (and have access to all of my phone numbers). Luckily, the phone is still under warranty, so my phone company is sending me a new one in the mail.

In the meantime, Lance had an old phone that I could pop my SIM card into. It's really old, but it functions. Or did, until I left it in my gym bag when I went for a run on Saturday. I had also tossed in a bottle of shampoo with the intention of showering after my run. However, the bottle of shampoo opened, and leaked all over my phone, and though I tried to clean it off, the keys got messed up. Useless phone number 2.

There were other small incidents involving my use of computers, my iPod, and other technologies, so I threw my hands up in the air and prayed that I could get my work done, since I seem to be cursed. Technology can be openly hostile at times...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

English Arguments

In class on Thursday night, I had to wrinkle my nose as another student (PhD, for that matter) described The Confidence Man as "literary masturbation". The book is difficult and confusing, but I hardly think that term applies to it--Melville's purpose is reasonably clear to a perceptive reader, and he employs devices that achieve that purpose. But mostly I objected to that phrase because something about it strikes me as pretentious and dull, the sort of thing you'd say if you wanted to sound smart but had nothing of meaning to contribute.

Perhaps I'm a bit harsh, but certain phrases and ways of speaking annoy me. As does certain ways of writing, like that of the brilliant-but-terrible-to-read Fredric Jameson. I later argued with the same classmate about what makes good writing: she asserted that Jameson was "wonderful", while I rolled my eyes and said that he had good ideas, but was an awful writer. I personally despise academic writing that is obscure for obscurity's sake, instead of merely dealing with the material as clearly and concisely as possible.

(Perhaps I hate it because I find myself adopting academic-speak, but I still dislike it strongly.)

She argued that it was just how we were supposed to write--the establishment would deny any attempts to write in a "low-brow" way. We're expected to adopt the "high-brow" academic discourse, even if we could be clearer (and better) in our papers. I thought this was bullshit.

Terry Eagleton argues against obscure, empty writing in After Theory. Several other great prose stylists can write engagingly while dealing with difficult material. Why does academic writing have to be so awful sometimes? We study some of the best writing in the world, and yet our own writing is muck meant to mire an unsuspecting reader in jargon, obscurity, and incomprehensibility?

I hope I can be a good writer and show insight into my material. I want to write articles that are both informative and enjoyable to read. It's going to be a long process, but perhaps I'll get there in the end.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Dish Rag Tag

We interrupt this blather about literature to bring you coverage of the second-to-last segment of the Dish Rag Tag.

Over lunch yesterday, I trekked to the post office to retrieve this:

Hurriedly, I opened it to discover:
Goodies! How generous Terri is! And I love red. She made the sheep-shaped soap and the pillowcase--so cute.

But now to the work of knitting the dishrag. Since we're already out of the running, I was looking for a fast turn around time. And since it was Friday, I didn't want to have to wait until Monday to send it--so knit I must. After getting dinner started after work, I set out to knit the Lacy Mock Cable dishcloth. And early this morning, I finished, and will set off to the post office in haste.

Here's my finished product:
Off to the post office!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Words, words, words

(Hamlet's snide reply to Polonius)

While reading The Confidence Man, I ran across the word "savan". Uncertain as to its meaning and wishing to be a good graduate student, I searched for it on Google to no avail.

Luckily, I spent yesterday afternoon learning about our library's awesome resources as part of the library tour in Intro to Graduate Studies. I learned that we had access to such resources as the MLA Database, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), as well as some really neat online databases. So I searched the OED for "savan" and discovered:

{dag}sçavant, savan. [Fr.; subst. use of savant adj., orig. pr. pple. (synon. with sachant, now the only form in this use) of savoir to know:{em}popular L. *sap{emac}re = class. L. sap{ebreve}re to be wise: cf. SAPIENT.
The misapprehension of the obs. Fr. spelling savans of the plural has given rise in Eng. to the incorrect form savan.]

A man of learning or science; esp. one professionally engaged in learned or scientific research.

1719 F. HAUKSBEE Phys. Mech. Exper. v. 225 [He] made a Report thereof to the Royal Academy of Sciences of France; and, upon his return home, those Scavans thought it worth their while to re-examine the matter. 1750 CHESTERFIELD Let. to Son 24 May, At will find a cargo of letters, to very different sorts of people, as beaux esprits, sçavants, et belles dames. 1765 H. WALPOLE Let. to G. Montagu 22 Sept., I dined to-day with a dozen savans. 1805 Edin. Rev. VII. 232 On one of these occasions, the savants in waiting were Quintus Icilius and Thiebault. 1848 E. FITZGERALD Lett. (1889) I. 189, I saw Alfred [Tennyson], and the rest of the sçavans. 1864 Chamb. Encycl. s.v. Manzoni, His mother [being] the gifted daughter of the great savan, the Marquis Beccaria. 1874 SIDGWICK Meth. Ethics III. v. 263 How shall we compare..the service of the savant who discovers a new principle with that of the inventor who applies it?
Savan is savant. Got it.

However, the OED is fantastic. And you know what? They have an RSS feed "Word of the Day", which means I'll be prompted to go over the the OED and read the etymology of words, learn new words, and just generally get to revel in the glory of words.

Did I mention that our library is superb? And that I'm a nerd?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Eight Unknowns

Tim has tagged me to provide you with eight things you would possibly not know about me (Lance doesn't count--he has superior knowledge). I say possibly because I may have told you them before (or you might have inferred them), so if I'm repeating, I'm sorry.

#1: I'm the head of a book arts club
You probably didn't know this because I just recently volunteered to be the "facilitator" for the Paper and Pen Book Arts Club, which basically involves marshaling people and sending out e-mails, as well as begging a certain member to stop sending me incessant e-mails and just convey the information to the group himself. We're still in the formation process.

#2: I can draw/paint more than stick figures
I drew a logo for the book arts club!

I have skills (without a "z").

#3: I'm dating a person who doesn't rinse his dishes in hot water!
I just found this out myself yesterday, and let me tell you, I'm appalled. When I hand wash dishes, I always use water that's just under the point of scalding. You must wash and rinse dishes with HOT water. Not cold. Not tepid. HOT.

#4: I own a ring made of a 1963 quarter.
It's awesome. Lance made it for me. It makes up for his lack of hot water usage.

#5: I have never read Melville's Moby Dick
To my everlasting shame in my American Picaresque class last week, I was the only one who'd never even attempted to start reading Moby Dick. Apparently it's some sort of rite-of-passage for English majors.

#6: I'm taking swimming lessons this semester
While I can swim, I don't swim well. And I never got thrown into a pool as a little kid, so I'm slightly afraid of water, even though I love playing in it. Luckily the university HPER is offering swimming lessons at an affordable price, so I'm going to take them.

#7: I got up at 6 am this morning and went to the gym
Sorry, I'm running out of unknown things.

#8: I'm the one liberal in a family of conservatives
Somehow as the only girl in my immediate family, I abandoned their strong conservative tendencies. Occasionally we abuse each others' views--or rather, they abuse mine and if I attempt to argue, bad things happen. We now simply avoid the issue, except for snide comments on their part. It took me about a year to admit that I voted for John Kerry in the last election.

All right! Hopefully you learned interesting things about me. If you read this blog and haven't posted eight things yet (Kerry? Justin?), then take up this meme.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Study Room of My Own

Of course, it is a study room that I share with another graduate student (my roommate, actually). But I went over there today on my lunch break to read a bit of Melville's Confidence Man* And I liked the room.

It's small. It has a nasty florescent light that make a nasty noise--but it also has lots of desk space, a little shelf to stick books on, walls for Post-it notes, a lamp left by a prior occupant. It's quiet, but it has the right feel to it. And I can shut the door and lock it. And best of all it's a room dedicated to studying.

My Study Hole (as I like to call it) will hopefully help me to get more work done. And since it's in the library, I can go find books as I read, if the material refers to one. I did this the other day and was very happy. Yay for a study room of my own!

*For the American Picaresque. Sorry folks, I have yet to do my fall lineup for classes. Also, I was tagged by Tim...guess I have posts for the next two days. Oh, and did you know that (according to the Elements of Style), when you refer to a book as I just did, you can drop any articles before the title? Thus The Confidence Man by Herman Melville becomes Melville's Confidence Man.