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Archive for the month “February, 2017”

There’s More to Life than School

Carrie Mason, Consultantcarrie-m

This weekend my fiancé and I traveled down to my home for some family time. I’ve done a little schoolwork, but not much, and this blog is the last thing I’ll do. I’m learning a slow lesson: school work – or even regular work – does not define my life. It is just a part. I enjoy academics, but it’s not the most important part of my existence.

You see, the thing is, on May 27 I’m getting married. There’s a lot of stuffs that go into this wedding planning and most of it I hadn’t even thought about before being engaged. And since I live with family in Louisville, while my fiancé lives in an apartment with friends, we also have to find a place to live. But I’m not writing this blog to talk about all the things that I have to do, I’m sure you also have tons of things you also have to accomplish.

What I am saying is that sometimes school just needs to take a back seat.

Don’t misread me, doing well in school is still a good and right goal; it would be foolish to abuse the privilege and skimp through the semester. However, it is infinitely more important for me to continue building a deeper, stronger relationship with my fiancé as we work toward marriage.

You see, dear reader, life is not all grades and articles and books to read. There is more than an essay exam. There are trees to see and flowers to smell. If I get straight As in every class and write the most profound papers, but I fail to cultivate lasting relationships, then I have wasted time. And if I end my academic career with institutional laurels, but have a mind full of demerits because I did not take time to care for myself, then I am worse than when I started.

So, dear reader, take care of yourself and your relationships. Keep working to achieve your academic goals, but remember there are other parts of life that would be unwise to neglect.  It’s hard to learn and remember, because right now everything seems to be on the very top of the to-do list, but remember, the academic accomplishments are more enjoyable if you have people to share them with. Besides, an essay exam only lasts about an hour anyway.

Flying Out Loud

Ashleigh Scarpinato, Consultantashleigh-s

As a Writing Center tutor, I am always encouraging the writers I meet with to read their work aloud because there are so many benefits: it helps find typos, places with awkward syntax, etc. Sometimes, I have noticed that hearing someone else read your work aloud is also very beneficial. So, I have also suggested to the writers I tutor to download reading software that will read their work back to them. Given that I offer this advice fairly regularly, you would think I would have taken that advice for myself.

I had the honor of reading some of my poetry for the reading series Flying Out Loud on Monday, February 13th. First there would be an open mic for any local poets, then the featured writers would each have ten minutes to read their work. I had never read in a coffee shop or for a reading series. I knew I needed to prepare accordingly, so I organized my poems and began reading them aloud, in a soft, mumbled whisper to ensure that I was within my time limit. With my printed poems in one hand and a copy of The Woman in White in the other, I walked into Sunergos Coffee Shop—the smell of freshly brewed coffee whisking through the air. Arriving early, I ordered a decaf Frappuccino, and when I picked up my order, I noticed that the baristas had pulled designs through the froth. I collapsed on the couch and attempted to get some reading done.

The open mic started just after 6 o’clock, and it was so enjoyable hearing poets read their work—with varying rhetorical choices. As one of my poetry professors once said, poetry is meant to be read aloud, so no amount of internal reading can quite do a poem poetic justice. And with each poet, the clock crept closer and closer to my time slot, and those familiar butterflies began creeping their way back into my stomach. Finally, it was my turn to read my work—to say aloud the words I had crammed in the margins of notebook paper and reworked into stanzas on my laptop. I was going to read some poems that I had never read for anyone other than myself; I never feel quite as honest as when I read someone one of my poems. I fumbled my way through the chairs in front of me and up to the microphone, centered in a dim spotlight. I began reading my poems to the audience, attempting to regulate my breathing and pounding heart. While reading, I noticed a typo on the page, but luckily my brain registered the error before my mouth could formulate the mistake. I knew what I wanted it to say, what it was meant to have said. And when I finished reading, just under my ten-minute limit, I looked up for an applause of reassurance. I kept thinking about that single error no one else was even cognizant of. After resuming my seat on the couch, I reflected on my decision to whisper my poems while practicing. I thought about the fact that if I had just read them aloud with a full, clear voice, I would have caught the typo before printing the copy.

Will I read again at another reading series? Yes, and I would encourage all poets to do the same. I truly believe that there is nothing else in this world quite like reading your work aloud. So, even if you do not have the connections to be one of the featured readers in a local reading series, try to do the open mic. You can hear yourself read in an authentic setting and provide yourself with an opportunity to see and hear the way an audience responds to your writing. After all, reading and writing go hand and hand, and along with that comes the benefit of reading what you have written aloud.

Artistic Awards in a World of Divisiveness

Katie Kohls, Consultantkatie-k

The Grammys were this weekend. Besides the beautiful and oftentimes odd fashion that will be on the pages of every magazine, musical artists (albeit primarily English speaking) were rewarded for their talents and creations. Since its introduction in 1959, The Grammys have been the highest award most musicians can achieve. The Grammys are ranked among the top award shows like the Emmy Awards (television), the Tony Awards (stage performance), and the Academy Awards (motion pictures). Like the Pulitzer Prize is for composition, these awards attempt to recognize creative people and their accomplishments.

I think it is important to appreciate what these awards, and others like them, attempt to do. They recognize and promote creative artistry that typically doesn’t have a pragmatic use. A song isn’t supposed to cure cancer, a film isn’t made to stop world hunger, a television series isn’t created to raise math and science scores, a stage production isn’t performed to create the next technological advancement, and many texts aren’t composed to achieve any capitalist aim. These pieces of creativity are crafted to appeal and help something that cannot be measured and that doesn’t have a logical end goal. In a world where STEM is prioritized and money seems to be the greatest source of power, these awards stress and celebrate almost a counter-culture of creativity for the soul’s sake.

And this is not to say that science, math, and pragmatic things aren’t good or necessary, but living in a world with only them is not only boring but also stifling. Creativity is necessary even for science and math and sports. A few months ago there was backlash against actress Meryl Streep for her comments on some people’s feelings on immigration and what makes America great: “So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.” You can read the rest of her speech here https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/08/arts/television/meryl-streep-golden-globes-speech.html?_r=0. Whatever your opinions on Streep’s talents or her political opinions, I think she gets at another issue with this comment. Football, MMA, and other sports aren’t the arts; they have artistic elements and places for creativity, but they are not the arts. They, like the sciences and math, have their places and uses, but they cannot be substituted for the arts. Sports champion physical strength and competition above all, and fall short of what arts allow and the people the arts bring together.

The arts bring people together not by competition or to see who is superior, but by something deeper that cannot be adequately defined. A song can’t cure cancer, but it can give strength of spirit and comfort to a suffering patient. A film can’t feed every hungry individual but it can bring recognition to people in need. A television series can’t raise test scores, but it can make learning enjoyable. A stage production can’t make new technology, but it can cause people to think differently about their world and history. And a piece of writing, along with most of these endeavors, can and do make money, but most of the time they have bigger, more important meanings behind their creation. The Grammys and other creative awards celebrate a part of our culture we must try to champion and show its importance. We must not let our creativity and connectedness be trivialized or dismissed. These award shows are important, and they, in some respect, represent all of us creators who dare to do something beyond the logical, beyond the normal, and beyond the expected.

Growing as Writers through Journaling

Jeremy Dunn, Consultantjeremy-d

Now and then writers I work with in the Writing Center ask me if I know of any tips to help them improve their writing. I find that offering cogent suggestions isn’t always easy. Perhaps part of my difficulty in offering “easy” tips to improve writing lies in the glacial rate at which my own writing seems to progress, and it’s difficult to imagine easy fixes for the challenges we face as growing writers. Still, it’s important to acknowledge the desires of writers (myself included) who earnestly want to know what they can do outside of things like going to the Writing Center to help them develop their craft. So, here goes my attempt at mustering a nugget of writing advice: First, if possible, allow yourself to let go of the anxiety to “improve” your writing. Second, keep a journal. In this post, I’ll try to explain my reasoning for these suggestions.

We seem to live in a goal-oriented age full of sensationalized bullet lists for self-improvement. For example:

  • Seven steps to lose 30 pounds in 30 days
  • 10 habits of highly successful people
  • Three ways to live a longer, healthier life
  • 17.6632173333333 quick tips to becoming a smarter, stronger, better looking, wealthier, more well-liked human being

Jeez.

I resist trying to make writing advice fit this mold. While I think we can take measures to improve our writing, I’m afraid the goal of simply “being better” at writing sometimes eclipses the importance of writing itself.

But in the university, where students often equate writing with assessment, a goal-oriented approach to writing seems nearly unavoidable, perhaps even natural. I often hear things like “I want/need an ‘A’ on this paper” from writers I work with. To be honest, I think the same thing while writing my own papers, even as I tell myself grades aren’t the point of writing. As writers in the university, we are writing in what we perceive as high-stakes environments where, for better or worse, assessments and credential-getting come into play. We value GPAs as means to keep scholarships, advance professionally, and measure our performance. However, I would like to suggest that by writing in situations where we can suspend quantifiable goals, we might give ourselves a better opportunity to grow as writers at a more organic pace.

Give up goals of becoming better to become better? How does this work? While my suggestion is admittedly based on personal experience rather than extensive research, I will venture to defend my suggestion by showing what writing in a journal—a venue divorced from assessment—has done to help me progress as a writer.

I’ve kept a journal, writing with varying degrees of regularity, for years. Outside of required writing for school or the odd freelance job, journaling represents my most consistent writing and has generally been the writing I’ve enjoyed the most. Over the years, keeping a journal has given me the chance to write about whatever I’ve felt like writing about, free from the pressure of formality or worrying about an audience. My entries tend to be pretty mundane, often just recordings of a day’s events, but I think writing routine journal entries has helped me become a better writer over time. To explain my thinking here, I’ll try to draw an analogy between writing in my journal and playing soccer. There’s a connection eventually, I promise.

Growing up, I loved to play soccer. I spent hours each week in the backyard kicking the soccer ball around. These hours were unstructured time spent doing something I liked to do. I had no clear goal and generally was not consciously striving to get better, but as successive soccer seasons rolled by, I began to see that my time spent playing soccer in the backyard was helping me become a fundamentally better player in organized games.

When I think about the journaling I’ve done over the years, it occurs to me that in many ways my journaling parallels my time playing soccer in the backyard. I started writing in my journal simply because I sometimes felt like writing something down. Beyond that, I had no real goal. For instance, I might take an evening walk, and there would be something special about the walk—something in the cool air, the way the sun sank behind a nearby ridge, some memory that came to me as I experienced everything—that would make me want to write about the moment, that would inspire me to try to find the best words I could to describe the experience. I might return home and write a short journal entry about the walk, not as a conscious exercise in writing, but as an attempt to pen down an experience I wanted to remember. Writing would, I hoped, help me find the words to do some glimmer of justice to the experience. Trying to write about various events in my life in short journal entries turned out to be a fair amount of writing practice and helped me become more comfortable with writing in general.

Journaling hasn’t turned me into Shakespeare, but the practice has helped me grow little by little as a writer over time. My journal is a place where I’ve tried on different hats as a writer, a place where I’ve recorded funny episodes, random thoughts, or events from perfectly unremarkable days spent working and running errands. I’ve written through times of happiness, melancholy, frustration, and transition. I’ve written simply to write. Free from the fear of assessment or judgment, I’ve experimented and played with writing for years outside of any formal writing assignments.

As we continue to negotiate new genres, assignments, and challenges in academic settings, perhaps something as simple as journaling at night before bed could go a long way toward making us more practiced writers. Journaling offers us the chance to get to know our own voices a little better and, just maybe, can make us a little savvier in our writing when we meet the next writing project coming down the road.

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