Paper Writing Tips Part 3: Writing

28 04 2012

The saga continues. This is what I need to be doing right now, instead of being on the internet.

Step Three: Writing

This is the fun part for me. Once I’ve taken all my notes and read all of my sources, I finally get to join in the conversation.

Sometimes I make an outline before I start writing, but other times I jump in. Usually for English papers I make an outline in which I pull quotes from the book or poem I’m writing about, say informally what I think about them, citing “evidence” from outside sources, and then turn that into my paper. The thing about outlines is you can’t be afraid to break from them if the paper starts to go in a direction that doesn’t follow it.
For history, I try to just start writing, based on my research, and see where it takes me.

A quick word about thesis statements:Different professors will say different things about thesis statements. The general consensus, though, seems to be that you should start with your thesis and structure your paper around it. After all, how are you supposed to write a paper if you have no idea what you’re arguing? Right?
I don’t work like that.
I hate it when professors want me to turn in a thesis statement or write out the argument of a paper while I’m still in the process of writing it. I rarely know my thesis before I’ve written the paper. Usually I have a general idea of what I think and I always start with a thesis-like statement. For me, though, the whole point of writing a paper is to figure out what you think. How am I supposed to argue in support of my opinion when I don’t know my opinion yet?
Usually my conclusion contains my thesis and all I have to do is swap it in for my “fake” thesis and restructure my paper a little.
So, if you never know exactly “what you’re arguing” before you write your paper, don’t worry. Some people are like that. Others, however, have a clear vision of what they want to say the entire way through their paper. That’s awesome. I’m jealous. It happened to me once and that was the easiest paper I’ve ever written.

I really don’t have that much to say about this step, unfortunately, because writing comes pretty naturally for me. Here are some general tips about motivation and getting started.

Free-write to warm up. What do you think most of my blog posts have been? What do you think this is? I started this “series” because I didn’t want to write my senior paper. I’m editing/revamping it because of my seminar paper. I’m writing this part after a break, when I’m trying to get warmed up enough to write for real. Sometimes once you start typing and tell your mind, “okay, no more facebook or TV, it’s time to write” by writing something for fun, the words will flow better.

Be flexible. I mentioned this already when I was talking about outlines, but you have to make sure to be flexible. Papers tend to evolve and take shape as they’re being written. What you had planned when you started might not be where you end up, and if you try to force it, your paper probably won’t be as good. Don’t be afraid to make changes. Usually your paper flows better if you just, well, “go with the flow.”

Going off of that, I usually jump around when I write. I’ll write on one paragraph for awhile and then (usually without realizing it, and sometimes in the middle of a sentence) jump to another point. I don’t know why I do this, and I have no idea if it’s better or worse than writing a paper straight through. It’s just what I do. If this works best for you, do it, you’re not alone. 

Keep making notes. Sometimes while you’re writing one portion, you might suddenly come up with an awesome idea that will help another part. Write it down somewhere. If you already have part of that section written, [make a note in brackets]. 

[A note on brackets]: This is the key to my paper writing process. Sometimes I won’t know exactly how I want to word something, or I’ll have a vague idea of what I want to say, or I just won’t feel like writing about that part. I always make a note in brackets. Sometimes [it says what I want to say but not as well as I want to say it so that I can go back later and make it sound good]. Other times [it’s a whole bunch of talking about what I’m going to write about and then I ramble about nothing for awhile because really, this is just a place-holder because I know roughly how many sentences I’m going to say about something and I need to see how much room it’s going to take, so I spend awhile writing about random things. Usually I tend to encourage myself or just talk to myself about things]. Usually, though brackets are instructions to myself. I was struggling with a portion of my senior paper and it used to look like this:

Stuff about art and the memoir I’m writing on and some formal writing and sentences about it [flesh out later, please]. And later on, I had another place where it said [work in quote from p. 126].

Honestly, I feel like this use of brackets is the single most important important thing I’ve done when I write papers. It helps me develop my thoughts and allows me to jump between sections of my paper. Other people do different things to act as “placeholders” when they jump around. I have a friend who makes fish: <><><><<>><><><<><><<><> where she needs to add things. Whatever works for you.

As a random sidenote, when it gets really late, I add funny inside jokes with myself in brackets, so that when I’m editing, I’ll laugh. Make sure you catch these, though. It’s awkward when your advisor reads things like “DO. YOU. HAVE. A. WRENCH?”

Go informal if you don’t know what to say. Writing in the formal, academic voice can be hard. Sometimes you need to just write like you were telling your friend what you wanted to say, just to figure out what you’re saying. You can go back later and make it sound academic. When I was writing the first draft of my senior paper, it just wasn’t working. Around 3 in the morning I finally said, “Okay, this is what I think,” and wrote three pages. I used contractions, I used “I.” I think there was even some profanity in there. I wasn’t going to be able to keep any of it. But I figured out my thesis and the whole paper started to come together. 

Actually, that’s what I’m working on now. I need to make 7ish pages of informal notes and thoughts on To The Lighthouse sound academic.

My god, I don’t want to.





Paper Writing Tips Part 2: Research And Getting Started

26 04 2012

Step Two: Research

This usually my least favorite part of paper-writing. I’m totally cool with writing a paper, it’s the spending hours poring through books and trying to figure out what the heck you’re going to say that’s tough. I didn’t realize how much I hate research until this semester–I’ve gotten so used to just writing my senior paper and occasionally checking sources for quotes that when I had to sit and research for my seminar paper, it was horrible. I just want to start writing!

Anyway, some notes on research. NOTE: I’m a “crunch time” worker. I do my best work under pressure, so I usually start my papers relatively late. I’m more of a “research-for-and-write-a-12-page-paper-in-10-days-or-less” type of person (except for with my senior paper). It has pros and cons (that maybe I can talk about later). These tips are still helpful for efficient research, though.

Finding Sources might seem overwhelming: you type in a thousand different search terms and feel like you can’t quite find what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for books in a library, write down a few call numbers of books that apply to your topic and find them. While you’re getting them, look at the books around them. You might find other books that work for your topic. There have been times when I’ve gone to get one specific book, and come out with three others that will also work.

Check the index. There’s no point checking out a book if it only mentions your topic once. Also look at the table of contents to make sure it’s relevant.

If you’re still having trouble finding sources, ask a reference librarian or professor/teacher. I’m sure that someone, somewhere at your school will be able to help you get started. Promise.

Once you’ve gathered some sources, you can start researching.


Step Two-Point-One: It’s usually at this point that I panic.

There’s so much material! Look at all these books! There’s, like, a million pages of reading here! How am I supposed to get through all this? I’m only human! I have other classes and homework too, you know. I’m just one person! Where do I even start? Crap! I don’t know anything about this. I’m the stupidest person alive. This is a terrible idea. I’M GOING TO FAIL!!

That was me Monday night, trying to start research for my seminar paper. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a night like this relatively early in the paper writing process. Last night I was in a public place and I want, “GGGGAHHHHHH!” and tore pages out of a book because they didn’t have the information I wanted on them. True story. Then I sat there laughing and crying at the same time. I wouldn’t suggest this course of action, but if you need to freak out and cry a little bit, it’s kind of okay.

With every major paper I’ve ever written, there’s been an oh shit moment where I realize just how much work I have to do and get super overwhelmed. Over the years I’ve realized that it’s best to keep working as best you can. For me, though, I’ve found that if I embrace the panic and give myself a little bit of time to freak out, the feeling passes and I’m able to work. It’s sort of like the stages of grief: you have to bargain, get sad, get angry, and accept the fact that you have to write this paper. Then you can do it.

Monday was a very low point for me, but an hour and a half after defacing a book and crying in public, I felt like everything was under control.


Back To Researching

Take Notes. I’m the kind of person who likes to have all sorts of notes and information in front of her before she starts writing at all. My Russian history paper had to be 10-12 pages long. I had 26 pages of notes. As I read, I type out (and cite) quotes, summaries, and key points. I save these all in a document so that when I’m writing my paper, I know where everything is. It helps me organize my thoughts and figure out what direction my paper’s going to go in.

Prioritize Reading. You don’t have to read all of every book you get. Check the index to figure out which sections say the most about the information you need. Look at the table of contents to figure out which chapters are going to help you the most. Know when a source just isn’t working and set it aside in case you need it later. You can also skim large chunks of book to figure out if it’s even worth going back and actually reading.

Cross-Reference. Know when your sources are in conversation with each other. A lot of times once you get far enough into research, certain names become familiar. You might be reading one source that’s drawing from another. Check the other source out. Sometimes one horrible, vague, ambiguous book (that you may or may not rip pages out of) might be drawing entirely from another, better easier-to-read book. Know when to stop with the horrible book and just move on to the better book. I guess this goes back to prioritizing. That’s really the key to being efficient when you research.

I feel like I should at mention that I’m different than other people. I like to do as much research as possible before I start writing. Other people prefer to do a bit of research and jump right in with writing and just keep researching as they go. I have never been able to manage that. If you’re a “research as you go” person, more power to you.

The key is just to know how you work best. If I tried to start writing a paper before I felt I’d done adequate research, I wouldn’t get anywhere. I’d just stare at the screen going, “I don’t know enough, I don’t know enough, I don’t know enough” and rocking back and forth. I like to feel like I know everything I need to know (at least in terms of the paper) before I start at all. There are other people, though, who have to write as they go or else they don’t know what they need to research. Like I said, just know what works for you.

My little anecdote about changing the writing process goes like this:

My senior paper advisor is an essay/creative non-fiction writer. She wanted me to have a draft of my paper before spring break. I had been working tons on my paper up until that point, it was just that all I was doing was researching. I had to struggle to write anything, because I wasn’t done reading everything. It was a terrible draft and I felt awful about myself.

I’m not the only one who is like this. A friend of mine read dozens of books for her senior paper. She didn’t start writing until four days ago. Like me, she needs to have notes on everything before she can even begin to write.

But, mostly, research is kind of something you just have to wade through. It’s intense and overwhelming at first, then you hit a stride for awhile and everything is useful and interesting. Then, at the end, you are so damn tired of reading about your stupid, boring, lame topic and you’ll do anything for it to just be over.

On the other hand, when you get sometimes research can get you really excited about your topic. Right now I’m reading a lot of stuff about Virginia Wooland it’s gotten me thinking about all sorts of cool things like modernism, Nihilism, and how awesome thinking about thinking about subjectivity can be. So, enjoy research as much as you can.
After all, once you’re done researching, the real fun starts




Paper Writing Tips Part 1: Getting Started

25 04 2012

I am writing a lot of papers right now. I have written a lot of papers of the past four years. I’ve noticed patterns in my writing habits and figured out what works and doesn’t work for me. My paper writing routine has become a finely-tuned (relatively) efficient one. I decided to write tips and post them in a series because it got long.

Here’s part one. It’s really short, but the tips on research were too long to post with it. So. Here ya go.

Step One: Pick A Topic

The longer the paper (or the longer term the project), the more important this is. You should want to research for this paper. You should (on some level) enjoy it. Granted, I’m one of those insane people who likes writing papers, but you should at least not want to strangle yourself every time you have to work on your paper. So, pick a topic you’re interested in, or something you’ve always wanted to know about. Last semester I had to write a research paper for Russian History. I wanted to do something “cool,” so I wrote about underground rock bands in the Soviet Union. It was so much easier to work on that paper because it was so cool. So, make sure you pick something interesting. Take it from me, you might think that writing an 8-page paper about Martin Luther’s view of salvation will be a piece of cake, but you’ll be so bored. Like I said, if you have to write a paper, it might as well be a little fun.

You also need to make sure that you’ve picked a topic that can meet the length requirement. Length requirements kind of suck. Sometimes it’s like “Okay, I can bullshit two more pages of crap about Martin Luther, or this can be two pages short of the requirement but be cohesive and less sucky.” Granted, sometimes being short of the requirement means you just need to research more, but sometimes the topic just isn’t that broad. Maybe there really isn’t more than 5 pages’ worth of stuff to say on Shakespeare’s use of language in this one monologue. I had a professor once who didn’t give a minimum length for a paper and he used the reasoning: The legs should be long enough to fit the dog.

That makes sense: a big topic needs a longer paper. I understand that if we didn’t have length requirements, we’d all just turn in 3-page papers, but sometimes it’s frustrating because you just don’t have enough to say on a certain topic. If you do have a longer page requirement, try to make sure you can get enough information out of it to get there.

On the other hand, make sure your topic isn’t too broad. It’s almost always better to go deeper on just a few points than to skim over a lot of them. Make sure you aren’t juggling so many things that, if you were to actually give each point the attention it needed, your paper would be twice as long as it needs to be.

Another word on picking a topic: if something in class has already sparked your interest and you already have opinions on it, write about that. Sometimes writing a paper is like pulling teeth–you just can’t think of anything to say. If you already have things to say in class about the topic, chances are, you’ll have plenty to write about. This is why I’m writing my seminar paper on To the Lighthouse. It’s the only book we’ve read all semester that I’ve had much to say about.

One last tip: If you really can’t think of anything specific you want to argue or prove, you can always ask a question and let your paper be the answer to this question. I guess according to how I’ve been taught to write a paper, that’s how you’re supposed to start. I usually do this kind of unconsciously. For example, my RussHist paper, as I’ve mentioned, was about rock and roll music in the Soviet Union. I examined the roll this music played in the fall of communism. I knew from the minute I started the class that I wanted to write about this. However, I’ll illustrate how it might have looked if I hadn’t:

Gee…I want to write about the Soviet Union, I think. What could I write about? I’m kind of interested in the culture and how the Iron Curtain fell. What aspects of culture contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union?

This is a good start. I’ve picked an era–the Soviet years, focusing on the end of them–and identified a place to start: I don’t want to write about politics, I’m more interested in the culture. But for a 10-12 page paper, this is still too broad. It needs to go further.

Well, they had censorship of writers. Obviously there are lots of writers and artists who were trying to bring the regime down.

This here could be a topic that I could narrow down with more research, if I wanted, but I took it further.

I wonder how it was for musicians. Yeah…what kind of music was there in the Soviet Union? If writers had to follow Soviet Realism, I bet songwriters did too. 

A quick search would have revealed that is indeed the case.

I like the Beatles, and they were big during the Soviet Years. I wonder how rock music worked in the USSR. The Beatles sang Back in the USSR and it was obviously ironic. Rock and roll is naturally kind of political and against “the Man.” I bet the Soviets hated that. What influence did rock and roll have in the Soviet Union?

And that is a research question. This is kind of really over-simplified because I’m tired and, frankly, I didn’t go through this process because I already knew I wanted to examine this. This is just a really exaggerated example of how the development of a research question might look.

Ugggh, this isn’t interesting to anyone, is it?

 





Here’s To The Night

21 04 2012

This was inspired by talking to my little sister about prom, because hers is today and she’s nervous.

Junior Prom, April 2007
I wore a long, shiny, dress that I loved. It was light blue and had a corset back. My impossibly straight hair was crimped so it was actually wavy and had body. Thanks to 3 bottles of hair spray, it actually stayed that way! A friend did my makeup and it was the first time I’ve actually felt really beautiful. My date was my best guy friend. He had a crush on me and was trying to “woo” me at that point so he treated me like a princess. Even though I had to drive (he wasn’t 16 yet) and don’t like dances, I loved this night. It sounds super cliche, but it really was magical. I felt special, pretty, and wanted. Every girl wants that. Also, after-prom was really fun. My date won me prizes in a raffle, there was a hypnotist, and we got to stay up all night. I wore my dress to church the next morning and I didn’t want to leave because I felt so pretty. It was all-around awesome.

Random Night, October 2008
I was home for my first ever Fall Break and I hung out with my best guy friend (yes, the one from prom). We drove around in the country in his van. I’m not a hick, but I am from Iowa, and Iowa at dusk on gravel roads can actually be quite pretty. We wound up in this cool, semi-secret clearing. It’s hidden from the road by corn on three sides, and the shed kind of hides the fourth. There we smoked cigars and watched the stars come out.  It’s near the airport (we have a super small, rural airport) and that night someone was test-flying, so the runway lights came on and we watched a plane land. I felt young and rebellious (even though it wasn’t that rebellious). It was a good night. I’ve never been able to find that place again.

 Apples to Apples in the Elevator Night, September (?) 2009
One Saturday night, my friends and I piled into one of the elevators in our dorm and played Apples to Apples on the floor. It was really fun. We got tons of weird looks and several times we got people to play with us while they rode. There were also wonderful run-ins with surprised drunk people. Here is photographic proof that we really did sit in the elevator and play.

Cesky Raj Night, January 2010
Our entire class ate dinner together at the ski/spa/hiking resort we were staying at in the Czech Republic, after a day of walking around in snowy mountains. I hadn’t really made many friends, but nothing makes you feel close to people like sliding down a mountain covered in 7 inches of snow with them. One of the group leaders bought us all drinks. That night, Cassie and I “went to bed,” but really, we stayed up talking and laughing until really late at night. We’d been roommates all month, but that was the first night we really bonded. We’d wind up being roommates for another two years. That was a good night.

July 2, 2010
I actually remember the date. Whoa. Our foreign exchange student flew back to Spain the Tuesday (I think) before this. He’s like a brother to us, so I was really sad that he was gone. My Twin invited me to see the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Twin Cities. I drove to our college town (why did I not say the town? I’ve mentioned it before) the night before. We grabbed beers and walked down to the prairie. We spent a lot of the night wandering around. It was a great night of catching up and saying random, stupid things like, “It sounds like ‘coitus’ if you squint your ears enough.” It was a very good night. A lot of these nights involve walking or driving in the dark.

Wisconsin Tour, October (?) 2010
My roommate’s from Wisconsin, and our group of friends spent a weekend touring Wisconsin. Saturday night we stayed in the cabin her family rents at a church camp. It was by a lake,and there was an old dock. We all laid on the dock and watched the stars. Nothing too exciting happened, but it was so nice to just be with my friends and enjoy life. It was the textbook definition of a perfect night. Also, I saw a shooting star at EXACTLY 11:11. Oh, and there was a picture of Jesus in our cabin who looked like he wanted to sell us a car. We named him Car Salesman Jesus and he was AWESOME.

May 20-21, 2011
This was my first weekend in Germany. It was also the night the world was supposed to end. I was still getting to know the people in my program, so we went to some bars. When you’re staying in the town that has the most bars, per capita, in all of Germany you’ve gotta explore, right? We wound up in an Irish pub that we’d come to frequent

(read: visit three nights a week), talking about life, religion, and the world ending that day. We figured out that the world was supposed to end at 6 pm, EST, or exactly midnight, our time. We were already pretty drunk by this point, but when 12:01 hit, I had absinthe for the first time. That was a really, really good night. Not just because I was drunk (the absinthe actually made me feel sober), but because I had my first döner. Because no one in ‘Murricuh knows what a döner tüte is, it’s that thing to the right. It’s basically a Turkish kebab, but in a cone/box. It has roasted meat (veal, in Germany), “salad,” and fries. You stuff them all in the cone and drizzle wonderfully greasy sauce over all of it. It’s simultaneously delicious and absolutely disgusting.

July 1ish, 2011
My dad came to visit me between my study abroad sessions and we traveled. We ended in Luxembourg, because he had business meetings to go to. One night I got to hang out with him and a guy that works with him. We wound up going on a bar crawl, basically. I (semi) kept up with them. It was really funny, because really, they just wanted to get one drink at one bar, but then they had a second, each. And then they wanted to play darts and finish off with an Absolut and cranberry. The bar had neither darts, nor cranberry juice. Thus began the bar crawl. It ended at a hotel bar, with my dad and his colleague drinking Absolut and apricot juice while I tried not to laugh. It’s a cool thing when your parents become human and you realize that they’re actually fun.

July 4, 2011
Oh man. There is nothing like celebrating your country’s independence in another country. I can now say I’ve sung the National Anthem in an Irish pub in Germany. We got free Irish Flag shots out of it. That’s one of many shenanigans that happened that night. I can’t legally discuss most of them (I may more may not be kidding…I can truthfully say that I will not, with self-respect, mention some of them on the internet where anybody can read about them).
August 6, 2011
I was back in London and I got to see Much Ado About Nothing performed by David Tennant and Catherine Tate. I had a major nerdy fangirl moment because I also got to see them out back before (and after) the show. Catherine Tate touched my hand. Later, she bumped into me in the theatre lobby and said, “Sorry, love.” That night I also stayed up late talking with fellow hostel guests about all sorts of things.

Spring Break, March 2012
I flew to Florida and hung out with my family for a few days. It was a really great few days, but this particular night was my second one there. That day we’d been at a spring training baseball game, so it was already a perfect day. That night we cooked dinner at the house we were renting, ate Choco Tacos (SO good, SO hard to find), watched March Madness basketball, and hung out. Before it got too dark, my brother, sister, and I went down to the beach and jumped in the waves. After dinner we sat in the hot tub and watched the stars. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

February 2012
Arta’s friend was visiting from another school for the week, so we got to hang out with her a bunch. It was pretty awesome. At the same time, a lot of my friends who are student teaching came back. One night, all of us went to dinner. Four of us wound up sitting on the fifth floor of Main, talking and looking at campus and town. It was a really pleasant hour and a half. Later, a bunch of us went out for drinks. It was a really good, really fun night. There’s Calihornia and I drinking our margaritas.

The Night We Became One, April 2012
The description sounds weird. That’s the point. Our friend Calihornia (pictured above) decided to take the rest of the semester off.  Cali, Arta, and I went to one last Mystery Beer Night together. Cali was my “bro.” Yes, I do mean bro. We’d drink beer and bro out. The three of us wound up molding into one big blob of awesomeness at the bar. We were laughing, talking, and doing what we do best – making Arta uncomfortable by poking and hugging her.

And those are some of the best nights I’ve had, so far. For some reason I decided I needed to share them with you.

I Wrote Like: Stephen King
This Sounds Like: A Female





A Love Letter To The English Department

17 04 2012

So I was trying to write an introduction thingy for my senior paper, and I was trying to sort of sum up my four years of academic experience. It turned into this…thing…gushing about how awesome it is to be an English major and how much I love it.

I have the best fucking department on the planet. We know how to party hard. At the department Christmas party each year, we hold hands and my advisor leads us in a Danish sing-a-long that ends with us sprinting through the empty concert hall/chapel/, hands joined, stumbling, laughing, and trying to keep singing. See what I mean? Our parties are seriously awesome. One year a deer tried to gate crash the Christmas party. It ran right through the doors. There was shattered glass everywhere. That was the same year we almost burned down the building. We’ve never been allowed to light the Advent wreath again. At our Halloween parties we dress up in literary costumes and try to guess who everybody is. One year we went as literary lovers. Puck and Titania were there, complete with an ass’s head. One year it was literary villains. I was a Nook salesperson. One crazy professor showed up as White Supremacy and kept showing us the “stogie” in his pocket (I promise it actually was a cigar; nothing dirty). I think that was also the day we discovered just how much our department head resembles Voldemort. Seriously. It’s creepy. I won bragging rights for guessing that another professor was Montressor from “A Cask of Amontillado.” This year we were literary rebels. In a stroke of genius, I was Madame DeFarge from A Tale of Two Cities. I had to knit all night. Another professor was the Beatles’ Revolution #9, and Professor Voldemort’s “I’m an obscure poet and I’m gonna stand here and make you try and figure it out for half an hour” costume made things sufficiently awkward.

I swear, it’s a requirement for our English professors to be awkward. If I don’t leave a meeting, party, or other gathering without at least one uncomfortable silence or moment, I feel a little cheated. Let’s look at some examples, shall we? First, I think I need to give them pseudonyms.
Professor Fro is so awkward ALL THE TIME. When I was a prospie here, I met with him. I had no further interaction with him until a year and a half later, at the Halloween party. With no introduction or anything he walked up to me and said, “You’re Kelly [last name]. You’re from [town]. In high school you ran cross country and played violin in the orchestra. You’re majoring in English and history and you play the violin in the Philharmonia.” Before I had a chance to recover or say anything, he walked away. Evidently Professor Fro has also asked my friends about my gchat profile picture. It’s of my brother and I in Alaska a few years ago, and I guess he was wondering if I had a boyfriend. AWKWARD. When you meet with Professor Fro, too, there are a bunch of slightly uncomfortable silences. Also, once, in class, he uttered the phrase “Peripatetic motherfuckers.” Another time, when we were talking about media stories with more pictures than text and he asked which type of story we preferred, a girl in our class said, “Pictures, because I really don’t like to read…”
He immediately turned toward my twin* and I to see our reaction. We were, of course, trying to hide our laughter. Also, once he sang I Gotta Feelin’. That was weird.

Professor China is one of the most insane people I’ve ever met. He’s my film professor and…okay, just picture the nuttiest, most scatterbrained professor you can imagine and then dial it up a bit. He is incredibly manic. Taking one of his classes is kind of like being inside a Faulkner novel – it’s stream of consciousness. One day this was the line of discussion (note: the movie we were supposed to be discussing was Stagecoach): westerns, John Wayne, Iowa (so far, so good…logical), Grinnell, Iowa, singing disco: there’s something happenin’ here….and what it is ain’t exactly clear (he sang a verse), fettucini, different kinds of pasta and how weird they are, butter, diets, getting fat, Germany, Berlin, bars, German cowboys, movie soundtracks, the typewriter sounds in Atonement, the Hermitage in Russia, the Romanovs, the Russian revolution, the Cold War, Alcatraz, earthquake, Chinese theatre, then he spoke in Chinese for awhile, and somehow we wound up wrapping up watching a gunfight on youtube. Professor China loves to ramble. I had trouble with vertigo a few weeks ago and missed class. Last week, he kept me 15 minutes after class drawing diagrams of the inner ear and telling me about that time he got vertigo while he was in China and had to do weird head movements to fix it. He sometimes changes the answers on quizzes because he disagrees with the right answer. Once, he uttered the sentence, “Quizzes are weird. It’s like you’re sitting at a desk going ‘Crap! What’s the Norwegian word for mitten?!” This last week he emailed me to remind me that my film analysis paper is due tomorrow. The problem was that he decided to abbreviate analysis as anal, so I have an entire email about the anal paper I have to turn in about my Midnight in Paris anal.

One windy day, I was walking across the library lawn to another class. Professor Voldemort was walking the opposite direction. He saw me, picked up his step as we neared each other, took of his hat, took a flying leap and screamed, “NORTHWEST PASSAGE, HO!”  Professor Voldemort also does contact improv. Once, for our Shakespeare play, he put an add in the college bulletin asking for a bear, gorilla, or any big scary animal costume. Rawr. On the subject of costumes, he wanted me to dress in something “fetching yet not ostentatious, but maybe a little snappy.”

Mrs. Professor Fro is one of my favorite people of all time. She, too, is an English professor (like half of my department is married to each other). I have taken two writing courses from her and she’s my senior paper advisor. She has seen me cry more than once. Like her husband, she’s very aloof. When you cry in front of her, she just kind of sits there and looks at you, squirming and clearly uncomfortable. She doesn’t make you feel weird or tell you to calm down, though, which is nice. I also always leave her office feeling good about myself.

Professor Snark is my favorite. She is caustically funny. She is able to deliver biting, sarcastic one-liners with a completely straight face. The moment is over almost before you notice, and then you’re left wondering if she knows that what she said was funny. She does. I promise you. She will calmly make sexual innuendos and references to masturbation before you realize what she’s doing. When my Type A friend finished her research paper way ahead of schedule and this fact came up in class, Professor Snark deadpanned, “You will be killed after class.”
She made us act out poems or do dramatic readings sometimes. In a faculty meeting when professors were talking about what to do when students have wrong answers, it was decided to “gently correct them.” According to legend, Professor Snark added, “…and laugh at them.” Whenever my twin and I would wind up partnered up in her class, she would pretend to be upset because she knew we wouldn’t get done. Once we built a fort out of desks and spent a period in there. Every semester after that class, whenever she saw us together around campus, she’d say, “Isn’t there a rule that you two can’t be together?” Once we were walking to the Union with our friend Katie. Snark paused and asked her to introduce herself. “Well, you seem like a nice person,” she told Katie, “but you should be careful who your friends are. These two are trouble. Be mindful of the company you keep.”

Finally, one day she found me in the Union before class. She was carrying a tub of her famous white chocolate and cranberry cookies. “Kelly, I’m so glad I found you,” she said, then turned to my friend, “Who are you?”
“Carrie,” she said.
“I’m glad to meet you, Carrie. Now, Kelly, I’m going to be late to class today so I need you to lead class,” Snark said. She proceeded to give me instructions and to tell me to let everyone have a cookie. “But you can take one now because you’re such a big help. Carrie, you have one too. You know, Carrie, I like you. You should come lead class.”
Carrie, who is not an English major but had been hearing my Snark stories all semester, stared after her in awe.
My GOD I love that woman.

Once, before a meeting, my advisor was talking to a student about studying abroad next year. She said, “Study abroad? Why not study a dude for us ladies? Get it? Study a broad??”

Professor Hippie is who I want to be when I grow up. She teaches Chaucer and also loves history. I always thought she was kind of quiet until I had her in class. Last week she asked, “How much money would it take for you to shove your hand up a man’s asshole?” She does not shy away from awkward.

That’s pretty much the extent of the awkwardness and awesome stories about professors that I can remember. I might as well just finish out the professors I know.

Professor Romantics teaches, you guessed it, the romantics. I really like him. There’s not that much more to say, really. He’s just a super nice guy and for some reason he reminds me of Pa Engels, even though he has wonderful white hair that is not at all curly. He has some pretty good one-liners. My personal favorite is one about cigars and the Clinton administration. He also once told us, “You’re not Americans, you’re English majors.”

Professor Alabama is loud and crazy. She’s the creative writer of the bunch and she’s a lot of fun to be around. She takes us to Iowa City for readings at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop once a semester. I only went this year, but man, were there adventures. Last semester she ran a red light and got pulled over. I happened to be in the other van, and we pulled into the McDonald’s next door and waved as she avoided getting ticketed.

Professor Africa holds a special place in my heart. He taught the first English class I ever took, and his special Walt Whitman Wednesdays made me fall in love with my major. He’s the one who went to the party as White Supremacy. He’s kind of manic. On the first day of class he said, “Poetry is about one thing: SEX. Well, and death, but who wants to talk about death?”

Professor Milton is married to Professor Voldemort and she is one of the sweetest people I know. Her class was the biggest academic challenge I have ever faced. I had six hours of homework a night and it was the most fun I’ve ever had. She encouraged us to tease each other in class, and it lead to really great discussions; we had fun and talked about some pretty big stuff. On my last paper for the class, she wrote me a note saying that I’m a wonderful student. It meant a lot to me.

My fellow English majors are great, too. I mean really. I have had classes with the absolute best people I can possibly imagine. It’s probably because our classes are so discussion-based, but the dynamics in class are fantastic. One day I arrived to find my classmates diagramming a sentence on the board. Before class had started. For fun. Another time Professor Africa told us to put our “Whitman Sex Goggles” on. It wasn’t long before someone had actually made a pair of Whitman Sex Goggles.

No matter the class, it doesn’t take long before we’re all friends. Suddenly, reading As I Lay Dying isn’t torture, because you know you get to discuss it with awesome people. You know that there are going to be some hilarious allusions to “My mother is a fish,” because your professor is snarky and your classmates are awesome. You’re a little disturbed when someone knows a bit too much about decomposing bodies. You almost come to blows arguing about the race of a character in a Toni Morrison short story. One of your classmates will come right out and say, “All right, this is about a penis.” You talk about sex and death and everything in between. You make totally immature, dirty jokes and everybody laughs at them. When there’s a terrible line in an awful Gothic novel, they’ll laugh when you dramatically gesture and scream it: SHALL WE HURL HER DOWN THE PRECIPACE?!

We get into heated discussions about John Keats’ love letters and wind up screaming across the room at each other. We knit in class and laugh at grammar mistakes and like having class outside. It’s not even scary to workshop papers because you know that even if your paper totally sucks, they’ll be nice about it. Everyone is your friend, at least for the time you’re in class together. You bond over bad book choices and being made to act out poems or write ridiculous papers or being forced to be in a play. It is my firm belief that English majors are some of the best people there are.

I’m probably quite biased, but I mean it. We come from different friend groups and backgrounds. A lot of us have different second majors. But when we’re together it’s raucous, and hilarious. We all love to talk and laugh and tease each other. At parties we play lame word games or the “dirty book game.” Oh, you wanna know how to play? Okay.

Name a book title. Any book title.

I’m going to say Hard Times, because it’s sitting right next to me.

Ready for the next part?

Add “…in your pants” to the end of the title. It’s immature but oh so hilarious. It’s even better when your professors join in.
In classes some of us take it upon ourselves to create a “snark corner.” Pretty much that means that we sit in one corner of the circle and make snarky, sarcastic comments. Basically, we’re smartasses. But it’s fun and no one minds and everyone’s doing the same thing anyway. In pretty much all of my English classes, I’ve enjoyed a perfect balance of silliness and seriousness. I learn a lot and we have great discussions, but we also have fun. God, I feel like I’ve said that a million times. You’d think I’d have learned to be concise by now.

Anyway, the point is that it’s almost impossible not to be friends with these people. They are all so nice. They’re funny and interesting and nerdy and insane. They’ll tell you about the time they hit a squirrel with a rock and then had to kill it so it wouldn’t suffer, or laugh at your Vonnegut reference, or whack you with Jane Eyre when you forget to bring the crossword to class. They’ll say things so outrageous and zany that you’re rolling on the floor laughing. When they disagree with someone’s opinion about Satan in Paradise Lost, they’ll slam their hands to their desk and spring forward, screaming, “NO! He’s not a villain! I like Satan!” before realizing how absurd they sound (even the Satan is totally a tragic hero figure in that epic). When you were all up until at least 3 in the morning working on a ridiculous paper, you’ll spend the entire next day in class going collectively insane. When a classmate sends you all a picture of your group on a class field trip, you’ll receive an email on the thread saying, “I would like to view the sensual picture, please,” and it will remind you yet again just how hilarious your classmates are. Of course, the fact that there’s a sensual picture to ask for is probably a pretty good indicator.

These are the people who will slay you with sarcasm. They like to argue and interpret things and twist words. When you read a particularly good sentence, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear a chorus of “mmmmmmmMMMMs” murmured throughout the room. When someone says something about sex, they’ll all explode in laughter, while people from other majors look on in bewilderment. Sometimes you’ll wind up eating lunch together or meeting during Shadow Block to do the crossword. Sometimes a boy in your Shakespeare class will tip his (imaginary) hat and say, “Good morrow, fair lady!” when he passes you on the sidewalk. Sometimes you’ll spend twelve hours doing a marathon reading of Paradise Lost in the Union. During the Fall scene, your professor will pass out apples and you’ll take the bite with Eve. You will never, ever be bored in class, even when that one classmate refuses to drop her feminist goggles.

You’re classes will get you so inspired that you’ll start a Dead Poets Society, and you and a bunch of other crazies will get together to read poetry in the dark. They’ll read sex poetry in the chapel. You’ll celebrate Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday by reading his work in a dark building by flashlight. Your professors will pass out poems for you to “gift” to other people.

From almost burning down a building to making a point of being sarcastic to reaching that one amazing epiphany in class, being an English major here has been absolutely amazing. I love this department. I love the professors, I love the classes, I love my classmates. Some of my best friends in the world have come from this department. A lot has changed over the past four years, but one thing hasn’t: I have always been excited for English classes.

My god, I am going to miss all of this.

*She’s not my real twin, we’re just uncannily similar.

I Wrote Like: H.P. Lovecraft
I Sounded Like: A male.





Oh God, Oh Man

16 04 2012

Ever get that thing where suddenly your life just explodes in a huge mess of insanity? Because that’s what’s happening to me. I’m kind of staving off a panic attack type situation here.

A badass poet once wrote that “April is the cruellest month” and I completely agree. This is what my life looks like right now:

Tomorrow I have a film analysis paper over Midnight in Paris due. I’m slightly calmer now because I’ve read the textbook chapter and watched the movie, but that wasn’t true three hours ago when I was sitting in class flipping the fuck out.

So, tonight I get to write a 4-page paper for Film, as well as read about 100 pages of Virginia Woolf for my seminar. That’s gonna be fun.

Then for Wednesday I have a journal assignment on the Wife of Bath’s tale due for Chaucer, plus some reading for my other class. The rest of the week, as far as I can see, is just general homework.

The problem is that in eight days my senior paper is due. Oh god, oh man, oh god, oh man, oh god, oh man, oh GOD! You know…I’m gonna redo that so you actually understand the sentiment. Ready? Kay.

My senior paper is due in eight days:

That’s better. That’s exactly what I’m doing. On the inside. Actually, I’ll probably wind up doing that on the outside at some point. ANYWAY. I do have a draft done, but I still really need to add things to it and make some major revisions. I was actually supposed to have done that already because I had to turn in a draft to my advisor today. I just kind of never did. Come to think of it, I should probably actually turn it in to her, huh? Shit.

Anyway, I’m freaking out about my senior paper because, come on, it’s my senior paper. It’s supposed to be the capstone of my college experience or some crazy bullshit like that. So, I need to hardcore work on that a lot this week.

There’s also, however, the minor problem of my seminar paper, which is conveniently due FIVE DAYS AFTER MY SENIOR PAPER. That’s a 15-page paper and I have no idea what I’m writing on yet. It’s gonna get real fun pretty soon. I don’t even know what I’m writing about for that paper. It’s sad, because instead of celebrating and dancing around like a fool at 5:01 on April 25, I’m going to be like, “Well, my senior paper’s done. Guess now I have to write another 15-page paper.” Also, the day after my senior paper’s due, I have another paper due. And the day after that another. And then on Sunday the seminar paper. WHAT. THE. HELL.

It’s like suddenly life is moving way too fast and on the one hand, I really want to get it over with because this is just insane. On the other, though, I don’t because then I have to graduate and I have absolutely zero plans. I need plans. I need to find a job. I need to apply for stuff but guess what? I don’t have time because of all these papers!

GGGGAAAAAAAAAAAAH, I see a lot of sleepless nights in my future. This ranty posty thing was supposed to help calm me down. I’m not sure why I thought that writing about the things I’m freaking out about would calm me down. It didn’t. Really I should go sit in the cave under the spare bed and read for awhile. Except I don’t have that luxury because I HAVE A PAPER TO WRITE. Well, actually, I have FIVE papers to write.

Don’t worry, as much as I’m bitching, I love it. Sort of. In an insane, masochistic way.

I haven’t  done an “I Write Like” for awhile. Let’s go do that.

I Wrote Like: Cory Doctorow.  AGAIN? My god, I guess that’s just who I write like.
I Sound Like: A male!





A Book Survey!

15 04 2012

Because I don’t want to do homework. I stole this from some blog written by married stay-at-home moms. That explains the Anne Rice question, I think.

Which book has been on your shelves the longest?
The Harry Potter series.

What is your current read, your last read and the book you’ll read next?
I’m gonna go ahead and just eliminate all the books I’m reading for school, because when you add those in, I’m currently reading like 5 books. So.

Current: Solo by Rana Dasgupta
Last: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Next: Whatever I’m feeling. Probably IQ84 by Haruki Murakami. Either that or the third book in the Game of Thrones series.

What book did everyone like and you hated?
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The writing is damn good, but the book itself was just kind of lacking. Also, there was a sociopathic talking turd. What the fuck?

Which book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read?
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I keep meaning to read it, but it’s sooooo daunting.

Last page: read it first or wait ’til the end?
That depends. The more I like a book, the less likely I am to flip to the end.

Acknowledgements: waste of ink and paper or interesting ?
I’m kind of indifferent to them. I understand why writers feel like they need to do it. Sometimes I read them, but if I don’t want to, nothing’s forcing me to read them.

Which book character would you switch places with?
Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. I’d love to be powerful and glamorous and a total, complete bitch. Also, I’d really like Meryl Streep to play me in a movie.

Which Authors do you want to read that you haven’t yet?
David Foster Wallace. I’m sure there are others, but I can’t think of them.

Which books are still on your shelf from when you were in school?
I’m going to refrain from answering this, because I am still in school.

Which book has been with you to the most places?
Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I never go anywhere without it.

Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad ten years later?
Well, I’m not ten years out of high school. HOWEVER, my senior year of high school I really hated The Great Gatsby. I reread it a few summers ago and absolutely adored it.

Stephen King or Anne Rice?
I have not read either, but I plan on reading Stephen King and I have no intention of ever, ever, ever reading anything by Anne Rice.

Used or brand new?
I’ll take either. Usually I buy brand new because I’m in bookstores, but there’s something really cool about used books.

Have you ever seen a movie you liked better than the book?
Well, I can sit through film adaptations of Jane Austen books and enjoy them. I cannot, however, read a Jane Austen book (except Northanger Abbey) and enjoy it.

Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?
I don’t really know. I kind of just read what I want to read. Usually I’ll at least consider most recommendations. There are a few friends I ask for book advice more than others, though.

Recommend a series/ or book:
You want a generic recommendation? That’s hard. I guess I feel like everybody should read The Perks of Being a Wallflower at some point, so that is what I recommend.