and, scene

I’m not entirely sure what to write about. After a semester of blogging, my brain is deficit of topics, replaced with a miles-long list of things to do as the semester wraps up in the next ten (!!!!!!!!!) days. With so many things to do and so many places to go, it’s hard to imagine sitting down twice a week and typing out a blog entry.

Assigned blogging isn’t something I expected to encounter in college, but here I am, writing for an assigned blog. The funny thing is, I kind of like  it. I’ve had to learn how to write in a way that is both personal and public, something that others want to read but still sounds like me.

I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to keep blogging after this semester. I’m more of a journal kind of person, not a blog kind of person I’ve discovered. Maybe I will in a few years when I’ve done Something, but for now I think I’ll take a break.

Hey summer, I’m kind of ready for you. See you soon.

love thy neighbor

Recently, I’ve been meditating on what it means to love one’s neighbor in a general sense, not as one’s self (at least, not yet). Instead of worrying about what a neighbor looks like, I’m going to assume it’s the people put in one’s life: from roommates and floor mates, to the person who swipes your card on the way into lunch. What does it mean to love someone who you see three times a week in your philosophy class? Does loving someone have to mean grand gestures of affection, or acts of self-sacrifice?

Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe loving one’s neighbor means vacuuming the floor and doing your roommate’s dishes when you know she’s had a long day, or stopping for five minutes to talk to the lady who swipes your card before a meal and see how her day is going. Little things might just be the ticket, not grand, over-the-top acts like cleaning the whole house every day (unless that’s your thing, then more power to you).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the little things often mean a lot more than we think they do. When was the last time you tried loving your neighbor?

“there is no way to write this”

There are so many things I could say about this section of Letters and Life. I could say how heartbreaking it was reading about Lott’s struggles with his father’s death. Or, how it felt warm and bright when he wrote about meeting Raymond Carver, and how kind he was in person.

In this section, Lott’s words sounded a lot like Anne Lamott’s when she writes about something perfectly mundane and turns it into something sublime and magical. She makes the little things, like a tennis match in high school into something more than it seems to be, or, maybe she’s just revealing all that it really is. She and Lott have quite a bit in common. They both find the magic in the mundane and bring it out for everyone to see.

I think that’s what is so impactful about this section of the book. Honestly, I wasn’t Lott’s biggest fan before this. I thought his Letters section was cliche and cheesy, not powerful or moving. This part may have changed my mind. Reading about how much he wrestled with the phrase “this is another essay about the death of a father” felt like he was speaking directly to me as the reader, not to the masses. It felt intimate and personal, like a conversation over coffee, not like a homework assignment.

Lott is right, “there is no way to write this”. There is no way to write about the love of a father except by writing about his son and his car, Veronica. There is no way to write about the strength of a mother except by her smile. There is no way to write about the death of a father except by bringing the reader through his life. In this, there is a way.

things fall apart (and back together again)

In almost 24 hours I will be home. I will be getting off of a plane that left at 6:30pm and landed at 10:59pm, making a few stops along the way. I will get in a car and drive home, tell my dad about how school’s been.

Make that 25 hours.

This week has been long. Last minute assignments, hundreds of pages of reading, too many questions left unanswered. But now, the homework is finished. There can be rest.

… Except for the discussion questions due by midnight. Right.

This week has been difficult, but it has also been full of beauty. The sun peeked out from behind her curtain of clouds yesterday and I said hello old friend, I’ve missed you. I opened the windows and let the light in. I wore rain boots, and for the first time in a while, it didn’t rain, and I felt both silly and wonderful. I hid in the library for hours with one of my closest friends, sitting in a sunspot like a cat, reading books about the incarnation of grace and the music of the heavens. There is so much goodness in the world. There is so much beauty. I woke up to the sound of birds chattering at my window. Maybe they were talking about the weather, or where to find good worms for breakfast. Maybe they were telling each other about what they saw yesterday, how the sun shone and warmed their bones.

There are so many things to see, to hear, to feel. There is so much to experience, even in the stillness before the day begins, in the moment the earth holds its breath, when the sun is still asleep. The earth comes alive at daybreak, and so do we.

“To be alive
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…

If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?”

— GREGORY ORR

collaborations

“Every collaboration helps you grow…” Brian Eno

In context, this quote is about Eno collaborating with the late, great David Bowie, but I think it works just as well out of context. Developing thoughts with others in class helps me see weak points in my work, or discover a new point that I hadn’t considered before.

It also forces me to consider how my work translates to different audiences, or how it could be better.

In class, I was able to bounce ideas off of the other people in my group and get great feedback, which was good for developing my story, which was still very much in its infancy. The exercise was beneficial, and I would probably incorporate it in my future works if I need help sorting something out.

 

(great)ful

At this point in the semester, I make a lot of lists: things to do, things I didn’t do that I should have, thing to do later when I have more time, books to read when I have more time, people to email back, blog posts to write, essays to work on… there’s a lot. There is one type of list that I also try to make when I’m overwhelmed: a gratitude list. This is what mine looks like right now:

  • seeing the sun again after what feels like years of darkness
  • hot soup on a cold day
  • the weather starting to get a little bit warmer
  • interesting books for class
  • professors who challenge me and make me think
  • tv show marathons with my roommate while we do homework (or, pretend to do homework)
  • baking brownies
  • calling my dad for the first time in a while
  • sleeping in on the weekend
  • calling my boyfriend for the first time in a while
  • facetiming my sister and seeing my cats and bunnies
  • the really fluffy squirrel I saw the other day
  • the tiny little bird that tried to fight me over a worm (it thought I wanted its worm)
  • tv shows that make me think
  • tv shows that let me not think
  • my roommate’s fluffball of a dog who visits on the weekends sometimes
  • spring break is less than two weeks away (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

 

 

in defense of grammar

Grammar is something that one doesn’t typically think about (unless one happens to be a student learning grammar for the first time, or an instructor of said subject, of course). It’s something one suffers through in elementary school, slugs through again in high school, then promptly forgets by the time college rolls around.

Or is it?

Patrick Hartwell argues for the uselessness of grammar in his article “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar”. He cites several studies, argues from a “position of authority” and appeals to a sense of power imbalance he argues is present in the classroom.

Unfortunately, I will have to respectfully disagree. I would argue that Hartwell, in fact, has it all wrong. Grammar is far from useless, in fact it is incredibly useful in communicating with others; it gives us a common ground to refer back to, like Standard Written English but on a more technical scale. It allows one to begin to understand a mystifying topic because it allows us to understand individual sentences. Personally, I struggle with math. It’s difficult for me to understand and it involves more numbers than anything ever should. However, grammar allowed me to start to understand just what my math book meant when it told me to find the hypotenuse of a right triangle. I could pick apart the sentence and understand what it meant. It gave me something in common with a subject I generally struggle with.

Of course, that is a personal example. Perhaps something with more authority will make my point clearer. In his book On Writing, Stephen King notes that grammar, in fact, belongs “on the top shelf of your toolbox” and refuses to accept any arguments against this. He rightly claims that “[o]ne either absorbs the grammatical principles of one’s native language in conversation and in reading or one does not… and once you start, you’ll find you know almost all of the stuff anyway.”

I agree with King, grammar seems to be something we intuitively know. The problem, as I see it, has more to do with the way grammar is taught than anything else. I was taught grammar by the California school system, yes, but I was also re-taught it classically when I was in middle school. By allowing me to question why and see the reasons behind why it is so crucial that I learn where an adverb ought to go in a sentence my middle school teacher taught me much more effectively. The problem, as I see it, is not the subject, it’s the way it’s taught. If we can fix that, maybe grammar will become less of a swamp to slosh through and more of a puddle to step over.

something like falling in love

I was feeling homesick. The kind of homesick that sits somewhere in your stomach like an overgrown slug and refuses to move. It creeps up through your spine and ribcage towards your heart and just aches. I’ve been feeling this a lot lately, and I don’t quite know why. I’m happy in Oregon, it’s nice up here, but it isn’t California. Maybe there’s just too much rain, or maybe there’s too much stress going on in my life. Whatever the case, I wasn’t exactly having the best morning.

Then, I met him. He had dark hair and the sweetest smile, like sunshine. He was far too awake and alert for 7:53 am on a Wednesday, but I’m willing to let that slide this one time because he was just so cute. It was just before my 8am literature class, I had woken up late and felt stressed and rushed as a result. I didn’t expect to meet him, but it felt like destiny, fate, or something else all together.

He was potentially the world’s fluffiest St. Bernard puppy. He might have been a little older, I’m not quite sure. I have cats and rabbits, I don’t understand dog ages, so every dog I see is a puppy until I’m told otherwise. He was at least 78% fluff, at a conservative estimate. He was dragging his owner around, trying to smell everything, see everything, aggressively wag his fluffy little tail at everything. It was sickeningly cute and made me wish I’d had more coffee that morning so I could fully appreciate the moment.

It was a brief encounter: he waddled over to say hi and I ran to class, but it was enough. I’m officially in love.

old shoes

I never thought of writing having a gender. To me, women wrote about the things that they do because they are important to them, and men do the same. I’ve read plenty of high school essays about sports written by women and essays about the crippling effects of young love written by men. Gender only came out in the topics, at least in Tobin’s article. His young man wrote about “stereotypically male” things like sports, casual theft, and car wrecks, all of which clearly mattered to him and were important enough to write about.

Elizabeth Flynn notes that women are more focused on community in their writing, while men are more focused on the individual. My sister would write about how she and her team worked together to score a winning goal and close an triumphant season. My deeply Romantic friend would write about his internal struggle over whether or not to confess his admiration for a girl he’s known for years.

Reading a story about a wandering knight and his slightly dopey but lovable squire and how they manage to save a princess is charming and sweet. Reading about how the princess saves herself, however, is also equally delightful (and slightly feminist, which is also nice). They are not mutually exclusive.

Tobin offers the example of a young man who scrapes the surface of his writing potential, but I find his analysis unsatisfactory. While his arguments make sense and I have nothing against them in and of themselves, I don’t really understand how this only applies to men. The young man he analyses sounds more like an inexperienced writer, someone who is just starting to find his literary voice. That concept, that idea of a person, is far more universal than Tobin says, in my opinion.

In my own writing, I probably come across as incredibly feminine by Tobin’s standards, and in some ways by Flynn’s standards – my creative writing usually involves some group of people or another, but that is how I think. It makes more sense to have many different people because then you get many different voices and make your writing all the richer for it. I write about poetry for my blog posts and Romantic stories for essays because those are what I love to read, and usually what I am reading for class. I write about these things because I like them and they are what I’m comfortable with. They’re like an old pair of shoes that fit so well I never want to take them off.

 

I think my conclusion is this: I honestly disagree with the claims and conclusions Flynn and Tobin come to. I agree that women and men write differently, but I wonder if that is because of gender or because of interest. Do I write about John Keats because I want to or because I feel like I have to? (It’s usually the former).I think women can write compelling individual stories and men are perfectly capable of writing about communal things. I think everyone writes in an individual way until they are taught otherwise – our own voice is the first one we truly know well enough to write about or in. It makes sense for us to write about what we know, after all, isn’t that what we’re told to do?

there’s just this one word

Plethora. Noun. “A large or excessive amount of (something).”

For four years I have wanted to use that word in a paper, and for four years I couldn’t find a way to work it in. I would forget to substitute it in for “multitude” or “many” or “a great deal” (unless I was trying to reach a word count, then I would sacrifice “plethora” for a chance at reaching my goal). Why was I so obsessed with such a weird word?

Plethora was my writing teacher’s favorite word, and I was determined to fit it into one of my eighth-grade papers because not only was it her favorite word, it also sounded incredibly pretentious, therefore I just had to use it.

I was exactly as insufferable as I sound.

When that didn’t happen, it became my ninth-grade goal. Again, I was unable to find a way to use it or forgot it in place of a different word. I continued the struggle well into my first two years of high school, and continued to be unable to fit it in any paper whatsoever. There was just no logical way I could make that singular word fit.

Finally, this year, my first at college, I was able to use “plethora” in a paper (God bless Melanie Mock’s Creative Nonfiction class).  I was probably more excited for it than any reasonable person should be, but it was something accomplished after a long week of unaccomplishing things. Negative accomplishment. Steadily not accomplishing. Watching my list of things to accomplish grow larger and larger, like some awful swamp-paper monster.

It was rough. The point here is not just my borderline fanatic obsession with the word “plethora”. The point here is my writing teacher’s effect on my writing. She taught me how to read an article that I had to write a paper on in the most efficient way. She taught me how to make and outline and write a rough draft. She gave me a list of banned words (am, is, are, was, were, been, be, being, said, suddenly) and then gave me better words to use. She handed back my essays covered in hot pink gel pen marks and helped me make them better. She taught me the methodical approach to writing that I still follow, even when I’m not thinking about it.

Because of her, research papers are a little less intimidating, less like a hydra and more like a baby dragon (at least you can get rid of a dragon) (or keep it as a pet, whatever floats your boat). Comparisons are easier and contrasting isn’t as painful as it first was. I can write with some semblance of decency, which is really, really nice. I learned how to write a journal article, how to edit a magazine, how to cite a tweet I found online.

I’m insanely grateful for all the things I learned in her classes. Actually no. I’m insanely grateful for the plethora of things I learned.

There.