Monday, November 29, 2010

Writing Done? Rest in Peace!

What I learned from writing the RP: Now RP, is that Retinitis Pigmentosa? No, Ross Perot? How about rest in peace? Maybe Reformed Presbyterian? No, rite proper? Ah, yeah, research paper. After this class, I have become acronym challenged. C’est si terrible, n’est-ce pas?

Okay, once upon a time . . . and that’s not really as much of a stretch as it sounds because my writing approach is very emotional and very narrative. That works great for stories, personal essays, and the like, but it is a struggle at times to be so academically minded that I sacrifice the narrative for the organizational structure required for a research paper.

Once my thesis statement is reined in from the many ideas pinging in my brain and once I have the roadmap outlined, the challenge is to have every paragraph have its own proper topic sentence. Sometimes I just fly through and come back later to write it, but other times I like the sound of the words as they are and it seems like a betrayal to add a transition and a topic sentence. So dramatic! But with every paper I write, I become more intentional about doing the fundamental things that make for solid academic writing. And I need that push. If I didn’t have a pressing assignment, chances are I would not wake up one morning with a burning urge to write a synthesis essay. I would assume I just needed coffee!

One thing that has been interesting and underscores the creeping realization in me (Read: sneaking up on me in army boots.) is to trust myself. I must own my own work. There are many different opinions and many different conventions; and though I don’t want to relax in ignorance and bad habits, and I want to remain always teachable, I must do the work for me alone. If I do it just for the prof or the grade; if I Frankfurt my way through (alternative for BS!), I will not have gained as much from the learning experience and I will be less satisfied with myself. If I totally rely on peers or the Smarthinking people and make changes just for them, I will not have progressed as far as when I internalize the rules and take responsibility for every aspect of my writing and editing.

Speaking of Smarthinking: Though they offer some very good advice, they don’t always get it right. On my synthesis essay, I had already passed my thesis by Jennifer. The ST guy hated it and suggested I announce it like this: “In this paper, I will examine . . .” That’s exactly the kind of thing I have been avoiding. In my research paper, the lady did not like my use of semicolons. Semicolons link two related independent clauses, but there is an exception when there is already punctuation in one or both of the clauses. For clarity’s sake, this allows for a semicolon before the coordinating conjunction. So do I change because they say so? No, my point is we must own our work and do what is necessary to write and re-write and be the best we can be (sounds like the Marine Corps) for ourselves. So may we all continue to grow in confidence and skill!

(By the way, speaking of Marine Corps: Has anyone else noticed the misspelling of Corps on the green road sign on the 14 just south of Lancaster. Bless those Cal Trans guys! :-D)

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Wizard of Us

Peek behind the curtain.
Am I the wizard you expected?
Control never looked so tentative,
a bit of mystery,
but not bigger than life—
small, but able,
plain, but willing.

Draw back the curtain.
Are you the one with the ruby-red slippers,
who can click home whenever,
while I twist dials, draw strings,
do things that need doing—
disappointed, but determined,
misjudged, but committed.

Move past the curtain.
Am I the cog you expected?
The system is bigger than me,
but I’m here,
doing what I must—
insecure, but passionate,
diminutive, but necessary.

Pull aside the curtain.
Am I the wizard you expected?
In this odd land of
wonder and obligation,
promise and jeopardy,
ordinary miracles can come, perhaps,
from everyday people.

~~Lilly Green

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sleeping Lolita in Tehran

After reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, I wanted to get hold of some of the books that I had never read . . . or previously slept through.  I thought about doing a report on education in Iran, but since I had a used copy of The Great Gatsby coming from Amazon (I think it was like a sign!), and since I wanted an excuse to sit down and read it, I chose that prompt for my paper. 
I am more global in my thinking, so I took detailed notes on every page, which is not the best way to “enjoy” a book, but it certainly has utility value.  Even so, the language was a pleasure, even with all my interruptions to fill my notebook with illegible scrawl and red arrows and stars. 
The difficulty has been pinning myself down to a thesis.  The prompt allowed for various avenues of exploration; and when I would settle on something and go back and read the prompt, it’s like the idea would explode and I’d go off in another direction!  Since this was not supposed to be a twenty-five page tree killer, I knew I had to decide and just go for it; but with all the reading I’d been doing, I still could not come up with a thesis.  A few days ago, as I was in that state of dreaming but almost awake, I started hearing a thesis statement in my head.  I finally couldn’t stand it, and I forced myself to get out of bed in the Arctic air of our no-heat house (insert “frugal husband” here), and I wrote down the sentence and the notes that were coming to me.  Hey, maybe I’m a prophet!  Maybe it was a vision!  Maybe I was channeling Jennifer or Nafisi.  No, probably a lot of reading sifting down into the paper-writing section of my taxed brain. 
I wrote the introduction and sketched out some other ideas; then, I got rather stuck again.  It wasn’t what you call writer’s block.  It was more like writer’s web—too many sticky strands.  (In the meantime, I was going through RLiT again, taking more notes.)  I really love the Reading Lolita in Tehran book, and I really love the Gatsby book, and there are so many ideas to explore.  I really wanted to explore the use of color in both, but I would have had to shoe-horn that one into the prompt.  So yesterday morning once again, I was in that dream state, the room still dark, the dog snoring.  I started getting text in my head again for some of the main points.  (And it was not in textspeak, but proper English!)  The paper is writing itself . . . kind of.  This time I jumped out of bed before the words vanished like mist and started writing.  I tell you, if I start getting lotto numbers, you guys are going to be so jealous!  
So as of now, the paper is probably two-thirds done, but I’m still trying to rein in all the thoughts pinging in my head and connect all the dots with proper transitions.  Rabbit trails r us.  I still have a few days to work on it, but if I get stuck again, I tell you what:  I’m going to go take a nap!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

President Obama’s Recipe for Organic Chocolate Chip Cookies

Now that I have your attention:  I think for the most part my on-line communication style is consistent with my face-to-face speech, my letter-writing, and my phone conversations (except while talking on the phone, I may be paying Scrabble at the same time, which might make me lose my train of thought).  At this point in my life, I have developed a fairly consistent view of myself and my expression; and thus, I do not feel the need to juggle vernacular in my head to accommodate various venues.  I’m me, and I talk like me, and I write like me. 
Of course, there are differing levels of formality.  On Facebook, I might use !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! to underscore emotion, or a J or a :-D or a :-P.  But I would not use those things in formal writing, unless of course I was writing a dissertation on the effective use on Facebook of multiple punctuation marks and emoticons to communicate and underscore emotion.  J  Oops, sorry!
When taking an on-line class, like this one, I will sometimes use visuals in discussions, but not at first.  It depends on how the professor has tailored the class whether there is liberty there or not.  I had a history professor once with whom I would never have risked anything but spitting back to him what he gave us in the way he gave it because he had no sense of humor.  I did what I needed to get the grade.  That wasn’t hypocritical or schizophrenic; it was adaptation and survival of the fittest!  Also, very boring.
Chat is a big frustration.  It goes so fast, and I need to punctuate, check my grammar, and spell correctly.  No u r’s or LOL’s.  So I’m too slow.  Once I went on a chat forum for a homemaking diva turned criminal person—naming no names—and by the time I had contributed my thoughtful response, say on tofu-turkey (and self-edited), the frenzied participants were on to the next banal discussion item, say how to eat organically in the local jail cell.  The entries sailed up the page as if my computer had taken to scrolling on its own.  I surrendered my membership!  Too much pressure!
I feel like I’m not as stressed about it as I used to be.  I guess the more I chat with family on Skype or FB, or the more I IM my friends, the more I get used to it.  I find a quiet liberty to let that sentence sail off into cyberspace without a capital, the required semicolon, or proper end punctuation.  I can let that “becasue” go and breathe a sigh, knowing that that recurring typo will rear its ugly head again at some other time, but it does not diminish me as a person . . . . and besides, I can always send a correction. 
What I hope my style says about me is that I am intelligent, witty, thoughtful, and not as insecure as I feel at times.  I am a somewhat shy person, but the verbal me with ideas to share is always hammering at the door to get out, and the creative me is willing to take the risk.  And the me that does come out, hopefully, is dressed in the same clothes.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Random Thought:

Isn't it interesting that these blogs have the portential to reach the whole wide world; yet even in existing, even with all our effort, our reasoning, our creativity, and often painful transparency, our words could really reach absolutely no one except those burdened with have-to's.  I think there is a profound life metaphor there, and I'll let you know when I figure it all out!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Taking the Clothes Off

When I walk through Costco, a bit oblivious, scanning the aisles for my favorite products, it is hard not to notice when a woman of Muslim faith, dressed in traditional garb, walks down my aisle.  In trying to look nonchalant and not appear to be staring, assessing the costuming, I don’t let our eyes meet as I would any other stranger who happens to like Kirkland brands.  There’s that struggle again—trying not to be prejudicial, but in trying to be neutral, I end up being aloof.  In trying not to condemn, I alienate.  It’s not like I think she is a terrorist, but she is different and in some ways other, unknowable.
What struck me most in Reading Lolita in Tehran is symbolized by Nafisi’s description of the girls’ casting off their robes to reveal the vibrance, not only of their colorful clothing but of personality.  It is so easy to keep real people who have needs and feelings and dreams  just like me at a distance because they fall into a category that is labeled “Misunderstood:  Do Not Open Till Safe.”  Coverings, be they literal clothes or attitudes, piercings or ink, group associations or age categories, prevent us from seeing someone who is worth knowing. 
Because I disagree with the political state and its leadership and see them as a threat to not only Israel, but to the peace and safety of the world, it is easy to see its people as part of a great political monolith.  Each ranting, gun toting televised male and each trilling chador-robed woman is just a cog in an enormous machine that works and functions in a unified and sinister cause.  The book took the clothes off my perceptions and humanized the people. 
I think we all knew, because of the many reported escape attempts, that many people wanted to escape East Berlin and communist domination.  But it never crossed my mind that people in Iran were not all flaming ideologues.  It never actively crossed my mind that there were oppressed Iranians who in their iron chrysalis longed to be free—not free of their faith, but free of the constraints that would make them those cogs of the state and not liberated and unique individuals with valuable thoughts and aspirations.  Even when I heard about youth demonstrations, it was easy to classify their movements as different from other freedom yearnings.  An us / them.  In following Nafisi’s biographical journey with her girls, watching them change and grow strong, and in peering into Nafisi’s own thoughts and struggles, I have seen and identified with the part in us all that wants to appreciate beauty, learn, grow, explore live, and love.  I want to see beyond those things that would inhibit relationship and caring.
There are many things that cover us and prevent us from communing with one another.  Because those coverings conjure up images and expectations that make a person other, we are prevented in getting to know likeminded souls who, like us, have treasures to share. 

A Little Something for Humor Week

Daddy Always Loved Me Best
     Daddy always loved me best.  He thought I was the best-looking, the brightest, and the most talented of all seven kids.

     Okay, well maybe I wanted him to love me best.  Actually, I think he loved Gwen the best.  She was soft-spoken and calm.  She went about her mischief in quiet, smiley ways.  She was also one of those irritating people who has always known what she wanted to be.  When she was young, she wanted to be a nurse, even though she couldn’t stand the sight of blood; and today, she is a nurse.  I still don't know what I want to be.
    Or maybe Gayle; maybe he loved her the best.  She was first with long, beautiful, auburn braids.  The rest of us got the bowl cut.  She was strong, intelligent, and a terrific little homemaker.  I was always a little less than terrific, but even though I didn’t do my chores as thoroughly, they were done with a flourish and a song.  It was the right-brain approach.
     Then again, he probably liked Kathy best.  She was a self-sacrificing missionary type who went to the wilds of Africa with her husband, oldest daughter, and red-haired baby twin girls.  She was bold and courageous and fully in charge.  I only went to California.
     Leah could have won his heart.  Actually, I know for a fact she did.  She was born early and the tiniest wee bit of nothing you ever saw.  I’ve seen a picture of her dangling from daddy’s big farmer hands—all spindly legs and arms.  She became a nurse, a musician, a singer, and a pastor’s wife.  She’s still tall and disgustingly lean.  I’m not really jealous; afterall, when you have more fat, the wrinkles don’t show as much, and it’s important to lay in an extra layer of fat for those brutal California winters.
     Caroline was the baby—special, with a cute little overbite.  He loved her best.  She’s six feet tall and graceful—an artist and a musician.  She married a gentleman farmer of all things.  To top it off, she works extremely hard, which is a work ethic my dad admires.  Personally, I think she’s a bit compulsive.  I’ve never felt the need to work quite that hard; I’m saving myself for retirement.
      Actually, I’m almost certain he loved my brother Stewart the best—a thorn among roses.  He’s tall, handsome, musical, and intelligent.  He’s one of those brilliant engineers who can put things in space but can’t match his socks.  He married well though, and she keeps him organized.   He didn’t take over the farm, so that’s a mark against him.  But he’s the only one of us who had his own room, so Daddy must have loved him best.  It may have been a walk-in closet, but it was a special space for someone who had a special place.  I’ve always resented him for that.
     Now that I think of it, I don’t think Daddy was in the least bit partial.  He always said he was proud of us and loved us all the same.  I guess I just wanted him to love me more.  Probably a suppressed desire to be a spoiled only-child.
     He loved us all the best.  He often said he wouldn’t take a million dollars for any one of us; but, of course, he wouldn’t take a plug nickel for another one either.

     Now he’s enjoying his role as a grandfather of twenty grandchildren.  His grandchildren are the best looking, the most talented, and the brightest; but do you know what?  He loves my kids the best.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New pics

I've added some new pics from our anniversary trip to Sequoia, Yosemite, and Tahoe.  Beautiful scenery, gorgeous stormy weather, and I only took about 1300 photos! :-)

Monday, November 1, 2010

What’s Bouncing Around in My Head

When I sit down to write and I’m inspired by something, the words flow.  No problem.  I have words bouncing around the inside of my cranium, asleep and awake, some with musical notes dangling, others wearing commas.  One of the most difficult things for me, though, is reining in those words to make them do exactly what I want them to do. 
Backspace and erase are difficult.  When the words are on the page, particularly in big chunks, it is hard to be ruthless and to delete them because they really aren’t doing the job.  It’s like if you delete something that you think is basically good but not applicable, you are destroying the baby, so to speak.  So each class I take helps me to focus on writing more clearly and succinctly, disciplining the “baby” to do the work it should.  So is that child labor?  Off topic!
One of the hardest aspects of essay writing is developing a cogent thesis that is truly arguable and presenting it in one, not two or three, but one sentence.  Can’t we revise the rules and have a three-sentence thesis!  And what’s this thing about its always being at the end of the first paragraph.  See, when you’re famous, you can break all the rules.  So like the poet Cummings, you can mess with upper and lower case and spacing, and you get a bye because you’re famous.  I’m sure he drove his teachers nuts, though.  So I’m going to work on being famous so I can break as many rules as I feel!
Now in music, you can put things in any order you like, and you can write in poor grammar as long as it’s funky.  “Don wanna go there no more, yeah, baby.”  ♪♪♫  But in writing, the rules make your meaning discernible; whereas, in music, if it’s got a groove and you look profound, the audience can assume it probably is—profound, that is. 
Back to the thesis:  Pruning down my ideas and the direction my research is heading into one precise statement is like catching mercury.  When I was a kid, I was sick in bed and broke the thermometer after taking my temperature.  I kept trying to catch all these little balls of mercury rolling around on my sheets, and they would not be caught.  When you get them going in one direction, they slither away in another.  It was a near impossible job to collect and dispose of it—that is saying nothing about the toxic mercury exposure I was having.  But writing a thesis is like that.  It is reining in the almost unreinable.   Writing a thesis that is more like a schmooze session with friends is so much more comfortable.  It’s like thinking out loud.  But being put in a position of needing to do it, paper by paper, helps me refine the process more and more even when I don’t like it.
The grammar and MLA part, I can handle—it’s that obsessive compulsive part of me.  I punctuate my grocery list, and I read grammar books for fun.  But speaking of reining in:  I see the word number thingy says 535, so I’m reining in.  Done! J