Life and Other Matters

Most of my posts recently have been about books I’ve read or playlists I’ve created, and while those things are all awesome, it’s been a while since I’ve given just an everyday normal update about life. And I really should because life happens outside of the books I’m reading and the music I’m listening to.

You’ve seen a lot of mentions of my thesis in my blogs, if you’ve been following for awhile. Naturally, the thesis-writing eclipsed my life for a long time. I started writing on Monday, Jan. 25 and wrote the last chapter on Friday, March 9. In those six and a half weeks, I managed to write 96 pages with a 4-page bibliography.

I submitted my thesis, after several read-throughs, edits, and slight revisions, on Tuesday, March 20, and I finally heard at the end of April that I had officially passed. Then, I had to officially title that huge paper, check the formatting, print 5 copies on expensive paper, and attend a session to upload my thesis to the database. The hardest part may have actually been the naming. How does one summarize 96 pages of info in just a line or two? Here’s how:

Seeing that title page made it feel sort of real–as if I’d actually just spent years working on an M.A. and had managed to write extensive criticism of awesome books. Exciting!

The title quote comes from Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, one of the three books on which I wrote my thesis. (The other two were Alan Moore & David Lloyd’s graphic novel V for Vendetta and China Mieville’s detective novel The City & the City.) “Heteroglossia” is an idea formulated by Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin; it’s the idea that the writers who are repressed manage to resist the dominant ideology of a political regime through becoming heteroglot, embracing a variety of languages and ideas instead of just blindly accepting the one hegemonic ideology they are being fed. I amended his theory and looked at ways that characters within these novels were able to salvage elements of language and culture in order to resist or overthrow a totalitarian governmental regime.

If I’ve lost you, I apologize. It’s hard to explain months of research and writing in a paragraph or two. Nonetheless, I have to say that writing my thesis was by far one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. Despite the long hours and exhaustion, I haven’t had nearly as much fun in a long time. I loved the books I was writing about, the theories I was reading, and the connections I found in three distinct literary works. And, honestly, in the few months following my thesis, I felt a deep loss that I was finished and didn’t have anything so huge to pour my life into.

Finishing the thesis was the last requirement for graduation, though. I am now an M.A. Here’s a picture of me in my regalia with my lovely thesis advisor, Dr. Shea Stuart:

Now, not only did I finish my thesis, I also won an award: the Gayle Bolt Price Award for Excellent in Graduate Student Writing. To celebrate, I went to dinner in Shelby with some of my professors and received the plaque then:

 From left to right:

Dr. June Hobbs was the English department chair during my time as a student at GWU. She taught a class on the American Renaissance in literature in Spring 2011. She is delightful, brilliant, and a woman of many varied interests. She’s also an expert on all things relating to death and cemeteries, a topic which I already found to be fascinating.

Dr. Shea Stuart: I never had the opportunity to take one of Dr. Stuart’s classes, but when I described my thesis idea to my academic advisor, she suggested I ask Dr. Stuart to advise my thesis. I sent an email describing my ideas, and from the moment I sat down in Dr. Stuart’s office during our first meeting, we were fast friends, bonding over our shared loves of China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Doctor Who, and all things British and sci-fi. I never expected to find a thesis topic that merged so many of my academic and “fun” interests, and Dr. Stuart fostered and encouraged those ideas (and still does!).

Finally, Dr. Theado is the current English department chair (GWU has a five-year rotation, and his turn has arrived). He is the only professor that I had the privilege of taking for two classes. In spring 2010, he taught a class on African-American literature, and in spring 2011, he taught an incredible class on Contemporary Trends in Literature. Both of those classes introduced me to a wide variety of authors I’d never studied before, and Dr. Theado’s chill, laid-back, discussion-style classes were a great fit for a fast-paced summer school course.

I’m blessed to have studied under these brilliant men and women at Gardner-Webb, and I can’t imagine a better experience for my M.A. than what I found there.

Beyond grad school, other cool things are happening. Since I have a Master’s degree now, NGU has added another course to my load. In the fall, in addition to the 2 sections of developmental writing that I normally teach, I’m also teaching a section of 1320, the second level of freshman writing, which focuses on argument and literature. I am both excited and nervous because it’s been a while since I’ve taught a class for the first time. In fact, in August, I begin my FOURTH year as a college instructor. I cannot believe that many years have passed.

But for now, it’s summer time, and I’ve been trying to relax although, honestly, that’s not working out so well. I’m filling up my time with activities and friends, but it’s a different kind of busyness, unlike the school year. I have friends getting married and having babies (not the same friends, to be clear). I’ve been going to the movie theater a lot; Harvin and I have a lengthy list of films to see this summer, and we’re racking up Regal Club points for our effort. I attended my first comic book convention this past weekend, and the Fourth of July is next week, during which I will spend most of the day with my small group.

August quickly approaches, and I will, for the first time in a long time, not have to balance work/teaching and my own schoolwork. But for now, there are books to read and films to watch and people to see. Happy summer!

Reification

I’m reading Frederic Jameson, a Marxist critic, for a presentation for lit theory tonight. This guy is complicated and brilliant and fascinating, but I have to stop at the end of every sentence and break down what he says (and sometimes those sentences go on and on and on and on…).

As a result of his brilliance, I keep stumbling across words I’ve never seen before. Right now, I’m puzzling over the word “reification.”

The root word is “reify,” a verb meaning to make an abstract concept more concrete (something I’ve been doing with every sentence of Jameson’s that I’ve read).

But when I first read the word, I thought, “Who decided that we could ‘if’ again?” Yeah, that’s weird, I know, but Jameson is making up words, so maybe.

The word is actually derived from the Latin root re-, which means “thing.” So…”reify” essentially means to “thing-ify.”

And this is a scholarly word.  Who are these people who make these words? And how can I be one of them?

Musings

1. Just moments ago, I finished a complete, though unedited, draft of the final project for my Caribbean women’s writing class. At 5,052 words and 16+ pages, it’s the longest paper I’ve written in three years (though still quite short when compared to my lit theory paper and honors project). At the beginning of the semester, I felt overwhelmed looking at the syllabus. A 15-20 page essay due on the same night as a 5-7 page theory paper (which is actually 8.5 right now)? Plus a ton of reading–both primary works and secondary, critical essay. Overwhelming doesn’t actually come close to what I felt thinking about getting all this work done while working full-time and teaching. But I’ve done it! The end is here. The semester ends tomorrow night, after an informal 10-15 minute presentation on my final project and turning my essays in. Then…an almost two-week break before summer school begins. Once I push through that, I’ll have about six weeks of a summer break. And it’s gonna be awesome.

2. I bought the Doctor Who soundtrack. The theme song is epic, in case you didn’t realize. Epic music (without lyrics) is perfect for paper writing.

3. Speaking of Doctor Who, I found an awesome pick-up line/knock-knock joke on a Facebook group this afternoon:

Knock, knock?
Who’s there?
Doctor.
Doctor Who?
That’s right, baby.

It’s so cheesy, but I giggled. And I keep giggling (at least internally) every time I think about it. If a guy ever said that to me, I’m pretty sure I’d at least go to dinner with him. Maybe marry him. 🙂

That is all. Happy Wednesday!

The First Day of School

I got a call around 4:50 last Thursday from my admissions counselor at Gardner-Webb, asking if I was coming to class that evening.

“Have I been accepted?” I asked.

Yep. Sure had. The committee had approved my application just that afternoon, three days after classes started.

I registered the next morning for a World Lit class specializing in Caribbean Women’s Writing. I’m behind because I missed the first night of class, but my professor (who is also my advisor) told me not to worry about catching up. She’s been incredibly wonderful, and I’ve communicated with her many times now on the phone and in email trying to figure out what class to take and such.

I’m heading to Gardner-Webb tonight for my first class. It’s a long drive (aobut 50 miles from G-W to my apartment), but at least I only have to make the trip once a week. I’m already intimidated by the syllabus, but in a good way. We have three major projects: a 7-10 page lit review, a 15-20 page final project on a novel not covered in class, and a 5-7 page theory/definition paper on Caribbean writing. That’s a major step up from Converse, where my biggest project was an 8 page research paper with a 20-entry annotated bibliography. This is real grad school. Thank God I did this kind of work at NGU. 🙂

I’m excited, but a little anxious. The perfectionist in me is a little antsy at the reading load (lots of novels plus extra essays each week) and the projects. Also, G-W is apparently on the 8 point grading scale (where a 93-100 is an A), so what would qualify as an A (at NGU) or an A- (at Converse) would be a solid B. I don’t like B’s.

But…I’m excited by the reading list. I’m excited that I’m enrolled at a new school (in another state, even!). I’m excited by the challenge.

Also, I’m excited about my notebook. Last night, I covered an ordinary composition notebook with fun scrapbook paper and pictures from islands in the Caribbean. It’s pretty much awesome. My classmates will be jealous, and they’ll all want to be friends with me. I’m sure.

At any rate, I’ll find out tonight! Yay for the first day of school!

Get excited.

A list of things that I’m super excited about right now:

1) I applied to the M.A. in English program at Gardner-Webb University…to start in January (hopefully, with Coa!). It seems like such a sudden change, but I’ve known for months now that the M.A.T. program isn’t right for me. I don’t want to teach high school, and the student teaching and certification progress to do that would be a waste of my time and energy. With the M.A., I can take just English classes (yay!), write a thesis, begin teaching full-time at the college level (hopefully!), and eventually decide where and in what concentration to get my Ph.D. I applied to G-W last week, and I’m working on getting the rest of my documentation in. Then, I’ll work on financial aid. With the peace I feel about this decision, I’ll be shocked if everything doesn’t work out perfectly.

2) Next week is Thanksgiving Break! It’s going to be wonderful to have a few days off from work and school. I’m going to Sullivan’s Island with Chris on Wednesday (and eating at Poe’s Tavern!); Thursday is Thanksgiving Day with my family; Friday, my family is going shopping in Charleston; and Sunday is a surprise for my mom (that you’ll all hear about soon)!

3) On Tuesday, I got my tickets to see Switchfoot at the Orange Peel on December 4! They’ll be playing the entire Hello Hurricane album from start to finish, plus some “old favorites” and “a few surprises”! YAY!

4) The end of the semester fast approaches. I’m finishing up final projects, grading my students’ final essays, and looking to Dec. 7 with mixed feelings. I’ll give my last final exam that day and take my last final exam at Converse. On that day, I’ll officially finish my first semester of teaching college English, which has been marvelous and challenging, and I’ll also officially end my academic career at Converse after a year and a half. I’ll definitely miss my very first students, and I’ll also probably miss the people and experiences I’ve had at Converse. But, alas, life continues on.

5) This morning, Michele, Harvin, and I had a discussion about Christmas. Right now, we’re planning a little trip. We’ll all drive up to Pennsylvania the weekend before Christmas, stay a few days, take a day-trip into New York City, and then we’ll leave Michele up there for Christmas with her family while we drive back home in time to get back to our families for Christmas. It looks like I’ll be heading back up north for the second time this year! I’ll see new states, and I’ll be in NYC at Christmastime! It’s gonna be amazing, and I hope we can make it work.

So there we are. Changes, adventures, life. 🙂

What’s Happening Here?

Yesterday morning, I finished then emailed a paper to my human growth & development professor. The paper was 12 days late, which is fine, I’m sure, as he told us specifically that turning it in late wasn’t a big deal. We’re adults, after all, and sometimes stuff happens that’s more important than school.

I’m sure he meant work, family, emergencies, things of that nature. But over the past few weeks, I’ve realized something about myself. A significant change, in fact. I’ve struggled to force myself to do homework–write this paper, study for finals, finish up a slew of journals for my world lit class. I’ve sat in front of the computer and found that I have absolutely not been motivated to work at all.

Two separate times, I specifically made plans to go home and work on my paper (this was the week before the paper was actually due). Both times, I turned down invitations from friends . . . once, to go to a class at church, and the other time to go to dinner after church. Both times, I still never made it home to work on my paper. I ended up having really great, and needed, conversations with two separate friends. Significant conversations, even.

Other times, I knew I needed to work on my paper and made other plans anyway. Dinner with friends after church (no, I didn’t turn that invitation down a second time), hanging out at the Silver Chair, crafting with the Leisters. And other than the occassional twinge of guilt at not having finished my paper yet, I regret none of those times.

I’m at the end of my first semester of graduate school, and I’m finding that school has dropped really low on my list of important things. That’s never happened to me before. Ever. I’ve always managed to find a balance before, and only in rare moments before have I chosen friends over homework. Not anymore.

Thinking about this, I realize that I could have two responses to this situation:

A) I could repent and remind myself that it’s okay to say “no” to people; after all, we can always go to dinner in a few days when my homework is finished. School should be more important. And I need to be more focused.

B) I could thank God that I have so many people in my life whom I deeply love and want to spend time with. And obviously, those people are in my life for a reason, and if I truly desire community and relationships, then I need to remember that people are more important.

Obviously, there has to be a balance here, but I’m definitely swinging more toward option 2. Fortunately, my semester ends tomorrow with my human growth & development final exam. Then, I’ll have a month off from school (and two of those weeks, I’ll be off work). And when classes start again in January, maybe my motivation will have returned.

Still, I have to wonder what happened. For 17 years (kindergarten through college), school was my life. My raison d’etre. The year I took off between college and grad school was rough. I even took New England Writers last spring, partially because I missed school so much. So, truthfully, in the past 18 1/2 years, I’ve had one semester off from school, where I took no classes. All that to say–why don’t I care anymore? It doesn’t seem to be some kind of early senioritis or anything. More like my values have shifted, and when I have so much more . . .

Total revelation just now, in the middle of blogging: for the first time in a long time, I don’t need school to feel validated, to be fulfilled. My identity has moved beyond just being the smart girl. I no longer feel like I’m just the girl everyone hangs out with so they can get MLA or grammar help. Maybe, for the first time, I’ve accepted that there’s so much more to me than just good grades. And maybe everyone else realized it all along, and I’m just the last person to catch on.