Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Idea Theft: A Rant on Classroom Etiquette

Today I was verbally plagiarized. My professors want to know why I don't always talk in class...it is because of poor group dynamics and idea theft. There are always those who attempt (and sometimes succeed) in dominating the group dynamic. There is also the matter of a professor who has such a large group that they miss body language cues and ignore the reticent to speak class members' attempt at communication.
One poor guy had his hand raised for 10 minutes and then the instructor had the nerve to check their watch as he was speaking...we had 10 or 15 minutes left at the time too. During this time that he had his hand raised the professor called on at least 4 other people. I was waiting to talk about my idea when some guy wearing yellow, who worked with the small group I'd been in, decided he would repeat my idea, almost verbatim. This yellow-wearer hadn't even brought the text to class! I also had discussed the topic of my research paper with the members of the group quite candidly. I am certain those thoughts will come in handy for the guy in yellow for future discourse.
There are several reasons why I am so quiet in class. Number one, I am an auditory learner, thus I prefer to listen rather than speak, and I rarely think about what I am going to say while someone else is speaking. Yes, I know this contradicts my above comment about waiting to speak, but I was going against my nature for the sake of class participation credit. Number two idea theft. While speaking in small groups, before the broader class discussion, it is not cool to use someone else's ideas as your own. The proper thing to do would be to say "so and so from our group said this." The third reason I don't talk in class is poor group dynamics...the dominators who interrupt, think that everything they say is of the utmost importance, and who ignore their class mate's raised hands and frantic eye contact.
All of these things are frustrating and annoying. Why should I have to go against my learning style in order to garner my professor's favor or the necessary participation credit? Especially if I am going to be verbally plagiarized or bulldozed? Perhaps I need to kick it up a notch and be more assertive. Or perhaps the people in that class need to recognize classroom etiquette. Maybe there should be a standard Emily Posts's guide to Behavior in a Classroom Setting?
Some guidelines:

*Give credit if you are using someone else's ideas. Even verbally.

*Pay attention to other student's body language. Is their hand raised? Are they staring intently at the instructor? Let them speak. If no one else notices a raised hand perhaps even point out: "I think Jenny has something to add." This kind of goes above and beyond the call of simple etiquette into the realm of "Lending a Helping Hand to Those in Need."

*If you are a natural talker use the method prescribed by a brilliant professor I once had: Step up, and then step back. You may have some off the charts great thoughts, but dominating the conversation is incredibly impolite. Write them down. Hang out in the hall after class to talk with other students or follow your professor to bombard them with your brilliance.

*When someone else is speaking, especially someone who is normally quiet, listen with attention and respect. Don't just spend the whole time they are speaking formulating your own response.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Claiming What is Broken

Aren't we all broken in some way? Even the smallest things we do on a day to day basis that don't fit with who we think we are. No one thinks that they are perfect...right? We've all drifted off into our own headspace when we were supposed to be listening to our spouse, or left dirty dishes in the sink for too long, or muttered something under our breath while waiting in line or when a driver cuts us off on the interstate. We are flawed as human beings, but does this mean we are broken?
Another universal human experience, aside from our lack of perfection, is our capacity to feel emotional pain. Most of us manage to feel it to a point, and then our bodies and brains kick into survival mode. We turn away from what is broken in ourselves: our hearts, little bits of our souls we thought we knew, our minds and our bodies. The pain is too much for us to bear, so we deny its existence in our lives and choose to anaesthetize ourselves. We choose TV, food, arguments we made up to distract ourselves, alcohol, shopping, and anything we can find to comfort ourselves. All of this is done to fill a void; there is an emptiness within where our emotions could dwell if we claimed them.
When we choose to ignore our feelings, like an uninvited guest who's stayed too long in our house, we are constantly reaching out to find something to dam up the flow of our true emotions. What if we let ourselves feel them all? Would we die? Would we be carted away in a straitjacket? Would we end up wandering the streets and sleeping in dark alleyways? Could we choose to simply acknowledge what is broken, maybe even to let ourselves howl and scream if we need to, and survive?
There is a certain level of distrust in ourselves if we can't allow ourselves to view and experience the tidal shifts in emotion in our lives. Does this diminish the capacity for things such as joy, love, or peace? Sometimes the pain is so great we mentally pack our baggage into a neat mental U-Haul and decide to put it into storage and move away. Far away. Yet every month we are paying on that storage unit. It may be a thousand miles away, but somewhere in the musty depths, there are things we care about that we'd hate to lose. So we pay and we pay. It may not seem like much, but there is some level of energy extended to that discarded baggage, and it takes its toll in nickels and dimes. It adds up.
So the next time I am feeling angry, or there is a hurt which makes my chest and throat feel like they are going to explode, I am going to claim it in all of its broken stinking humanity. I am going to let the wave crash over me and feel the earth disintegrating under my feet. Because there is more space hollowed out after this marriage of what is broken with "real life." With the mundane. There is room for a force greater than me to move in and expand. The reward of this is a low tide, a period of calm where I can wade out farther than I ever imagined, until I can just barely see the shore.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Living In the Moment

Ironically enough, I had the idea for this blog in my head last night, and didn't remember it when I first woke up. That was a prime example of not living in the moment. I was too busy making a to do list and it was only through the great coffee meditation that I remembered the topic.
The other day I pulled out my dusty gratitude journal, a lovely little book with "Flaming June" on the cover given to me by an old friend. I hadn't written anything in it since June of last year. The journal has gotten me through some extraordinarily tough times: my husband's serious, undiagnosed (for two and a half years), chronic illness, my battles with depression, two moves (each one a "downgrade"), and so many other events in our lives. I used to spend 5 or ten minutes writing in it every morning as my coffee was brewing.
I would write some outrageous things that hadn't even happened yet, particularly "I am so grateful now that my husband is healed." That was a mantra repeated over and over throughout the book. I also took the time to thank the universe for the things many people take for granted and I wasn't sure we would have: "Thank you for the power bill being paid, for food, for rent." So many of these things manifested through unexpected means. When my husband was at his sickest his family sent us a flood of cards and checks for a period of around three weeks. We were so grateful and didn't know how we would have survived without the help. A gratitude journal is amazing because it can keep you in the moment. Even if the moment hasn't occurred yet you can act as if it has and sometimes manifest great things.
Living in the moment is hard. My good friend V and I discussed this last week. We are both hard driving type A personalities, always looking to the next step in a chain of steps leading to the "ultimate goal." This is not very conducive to living in the moment. We pondered whether or not we even have the capacity to live in the moment. How many of us really do this? Do you find yourself reflecting on the "coulda, shoulda, wouldas" or the "wills" instead of the "I ams?" I am writing in my blog. I am enjoying a cup of delicious Costa Rican coffee. I am realizing that I sound far too much like a wannabe life guru or something.
There are so many clichés which express this, but the reason they are tried and true clichés is because they are true...It is the journey, not the destination. I have spent far too much of my life waiting for my life to begin. I have spent years focusing on my goals only to let valuable friendships dissolve, my health problems run rampant, and lately, I've begun losing focus on what I am trying to accomplish right now. This chaos, and living in an uninspired not-nearly-as-rich-as-it-could-potentially-be, existence is a sort of half life. Waiting for the next thing to happen to you is not living. With the risk of sounding more like a bumper sticker: living is that thing that happens to you while you are waiting for your life to begin. I am going to try to live in the moment for small moments, incrementally, one step at a time. Hopefully this will change my life, we shall see.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

You May Say I'm a Dreamer

I am a dreamer. This can be an amazing thing because many times I've had a dream and then it came true. Sometimes serendipidity had something to do with it, mostly it was sheer force of will. It didn't always last "forever," but part of being a grown up is realizing that nothing is permanent. I have had some pretty low points in my life, but I have never stopped dreaming. I've always gotten back up, survived, and sworn I would thrive. I owe a lot of this perseverance to my husband. He's taught me so much about optimism and is such a rock of strength for me. He's helped me get back off of the ground so many times. I've watched him resurrect himself from some pretty dark spaces too.
But being a dreamer is also at the core of who I am. It is in the connective tissue of my being.
Here are some things that I've dreamt of that have manifested: Meeting my husband (whose qualities I listed in a journal weeks before we met), travelling the US with him (we've traveled the US twice 62,000 miles and 10 solid months altogether), moving to Asheville, owning a business, buying and decorating a home (which we did sell, but it was still a dream lived out), being the first one in my family to get a college degree, reading my poetry at poetry readings and having it published (albeit in small school publications, but it is still gratifying to see your words in print), being well again after so much sickness, seeing my husband well after so many years of a mysterious illness, and many more small moments which have felt like dreams.
I still have so many things that I dream of doing. Here are some of them: getting the scholarship I applied for, finishing my BA with distinction, blowing the GRE out of the water, getting accepted to one of the many MFA programs on my list, getting my MFA in creative writing, publishing a collection of poems, publishing a novel, publishing creative non-fiction, getting a job as an editor, living near the ocean again, living in New York City, moving back to the mountains, buying and decorating another home, having land and a German Shepherd, getting healthy and in shape again, and growing old with my husband.
Yesterday one of my dreams came true. I got accepted into NYU's summer writer's program. I was so excited and in a state of disbelief. For some reason I think, well I hope, that $10,000 and a place to stay will fall into my lap. Even if I cannot actually go, getting accepted is one dream that I accomplished, and it motivates me to apply for the MFA at NYU later on. A place where poets like Sharon Olds and Yusef Komunyakaa teach. I can still see myself wandering Greenwich village with my ten pound laptop, searching for a bench where I can sit and write poetry for that evening's class, I can imagine myself at the historic Lillian Vernon townhouse listening to a brilliant student from some unremarkable place like Omaha (no offense Omahaians) read from their work, I can see myself at a slam poetry reading in Manhattan surrounded by new friends I met at NYU. So maybe it WILL happen, but even if it doesn't I can still mark one off of my list. I did get in, and I am still a dreamer so there's always tomorrow.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Admitting the Truth About Reading Comprehension

Yesterday I took a research day after eking out a few poetry critiques. When I had exhausted my research with the materials I had, I contemplated going to the UNCA library to get the books on hold for me. But it was raining. Hard. I made a cup of hot tea and some Asian noodle soup, and watched "Revolutionary Road." For me watching a movie on a Sunday evening is unheard of. I am reaching burnout these days so I needed to recharge.
I then proceeded to read, for the first time ever, Paradise Lost. Well, that just about ended me. I was almost in tears, if not for the beauty of the language, then for its incomprehensibility. As a literature student I can admit I am not as well read as many of my peers. I am a non-traditional student. Meaning I dropped out of high school 15 years ago at the age of 15 before I was forced to read many of what my 20 something peers were forced to read.
However, I get really good grades, and I care about literature. Yet for the life of me...the long sentences and the technical skill of Paradise Lost detracted from the action. What the hell is going on? Once I actually looked up a synopsis online (I admit this only with great shame), I was still losing myself in the language. As a poet I just felt that sick jealousy one feels from time to time when reading something finely wrought. I only read the first book, and I am hoping something inside of my brain will crack open as I continue, like with algebra, and suddenly I'll be able to comprehend the text. Then I'll be able to shed tears of joy that I am not a complete moron. Perhaps the point is to draw the reader into Pandemonium literally? Word Pandemonium.
At any rate, here is my cold hard truth: literature can be really challenging. I am coming out of the closet and admitting this fact. Maybe I am just a hack, but I'd like to think I am someone who is confident enough in their own intelligence to admit that some reading is just hard on some of us. I spent hours reading 20 pages. I think I will try to speak up in my Renaissance lit class today and admit before 20 some odd other students that I had no clue what was going on until I looked it up. Perhaps they will be brave enough to admit it too. Maybe they will judge me; maybe you are judging me now. Either way this confession feels like a relief.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

It's the first day of spring. Unfortunately this coincides with a maddening time in the semester.
I have so many things that I need to write! I decided to take a break from it and write here. I have written three poems for my workshop in as many days, none of which I am satisfied with, and I am working on critiques of other's poetry. I also need to start one of my research papers. I am excited about it because it is on Toni Morrison's Sula. She is one of my favorite writers. I am also a little intimidated; all of these years as a lit major and I've never written a research paper on an entire novel.
I am actually feeling a little blocked. I am distracted by so many things. Not the least of which is my new blog...I am in that mode where I just want to read a bunch, maybe do some research, and not write anything for a few days. Yet here I am. I am compelled. I just wish I could focus, but there is a nice spring breeze coming through my office window. Spring fever, a major cliché, especially considering I usually hate this time of year. I get allergies, the time change screws me up, the weather shifts in the mountains are brutal, and other people being so happy that it's spring all serve to throw me off.
It is not the ideal time to be holed up in my office aggravating what feels like the beginnings of carpal tunnel. Plus my house is kind of a mess. I think all writers need a studio away from the distractions of housework and that people should bring them cooked meals. Oh to go to a writer's colony. There I would not be blocked. I would not need a couple of days off. Perhaps I should just ignore my laundry, clear the bills off of my desk and put them on hubby's instead, and get back to work?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Introductory Blog Written Before My Coffee Has Cooled Down Sufficiently

This is my first posting on this blog so I figured I would begin with the obvious introduction. My first cup of strong, black, Costa Rican coffee is cooling in front of me, not yet sufficiently cool enough to take the first sip. This is tantalizing. I am a hardcore coffee drinker. Since this is the first thing I do every day, besides the obvious like brushing my teeth, it seems like a good place to start. Okay, had the first sip.
I am a writer and I decided I needed a blog. I think blogs are supposed to be specialized. My topic is pretty broad, writing. I am a non-traditional student (I am thirty) majoring in Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. I hope to attend graduate school to receive my MFA in Creative Writing (I have heard it can be useless, but refuse to listen to reason on this matter). After this semester of undergraduate work I have a year to go. My primary focus is poetry, but I love to write most anything, other than academic papers, which I am tormented by. I will likely write on this blog when I should be writing academic papers.
After getting accepted into one of the dozen or so grad programs I want to apply for, hopefully, I would like to work in publishing. Don't judge me! I love to edit and read just about anything. I also want to make a little bit of money as I pursue my writing. Last time I checked poets didn't have anything considered a "salary." I am also interested in book design and learning more about every aspect of publishing. Of course I'd love to write The Great American Novel or a weekly column, or just about anything else.
I have been married for ten years to an insanely supportive man. I have often questioned his sanity due to him supporting my writing so vehemently. If I have false confidence and bravado it stems from his stubborn declarations of my word prowess. He is my ideal reader and I often bounce ideas off of him during revision. I don't think he really identifies himself as a "writer," but one day we hope to collaborate on his memoir. He has had a fascinating life, and will probably be mentioned frequently in this blog. Yes, we are one of "those" couples: madly in love, together as much as possible, best friends, and partners in crime.
Well, I have finished my first cup of coffee. I am off to pursue the rigors of academic life before I go to work this evening. I am excited to begin this new venture. I think it will be interesting. If this post does not dazzle with brilliance, blame it on the slow processing of my morning caffeine. Just wait until I have had too much coffee at midnight sometime...that's when I truly dazzle!