October 2012   01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
There are times when I don't think I deserve to be an English major.

I enjoy literature. I get insanely thrilled over nerdy things like composition pedagogy and rhetoric. And I love to write. I'm even crazy enough that I'm starting to look into schools for a doctorate (which is a completely different, terrifying topic). But, however much I love my subject, I can't stand "academic" writing.

I say "academic," because I'm not actually convinced that the writing I hate should even qualify...or that, if anything, it should be classified as "bad" academic writing. Yet it's the kind of writing that we all know to expect. Heck, it's even the kind of writing our students "aspire" to, because those are the signposts they've come to recognize in "intelligent" writing. It's that article that is jargon-heavy, vague, and purely theoretical. The one that's so complex and hard to understand that you can't quite tell whether you're too stupid to understand it...or if the author never actually said anything at all.

This isn't the first time terrible writing has wound me up into a fury, but normally it's because--as a student--I'm being forced to read it. This time, though, it's the teacher in me that wants to scream.

I've been reading Robert Connor's Composition-Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy for an Independent Study class. I know. It sounds like a snoozer, but Connors actually does a masterful job of keeping a potentially dry subject interesting. He's funny, he's conversational, and he's clear...all while staying true to the rigor you'd want in a research textbook. As far as texts go, it's pretty great.

What isn't great are the writers he's talking about. Going through the history of writing instruction, it becomes increasingly obvious that Composition-Rhetoric methods have been forced into formulaic, prescriptive, boring frames because that's what was "easy" to teach. Because that's what's easy to write. And that's what's easy to understand.

Prescriptive, formulaic scholars like Alexander Bain weren't the only ones out there, though. There were innovative scholars. Conscientious scholars. Scholars who realized that the process and student interaction and non-linear lessons would get better writing than five paragraph essays. Except, time and again, Connors points out that their textbooks and articles just wouldn't catch on. And why not?

Because they were too difficult to understand.

Nevermind torturing those poor graduate students who are forced to study onerous textbooks for hours on end. These are decades and decades of prospective writers and learning minds who wasted years of writing instruction of formulas because academics couldn't learn to be clear.

I get it. Theory is complex. And, sometimes, the only way to discuss theory is in abstractions. Not everything can be put into practical, layman's terms. But if you truly believe that you've found a valuable, useful way of teaching... why wouldn't you make it accessible?

Obviously, the history of composition-rhetoric is more complex and relies on more than the writing quality of a few theorists...but it's not a problem that is stuck in the past. THIS is what we call academic writing. And these, truly, are the consequences we face.

As a teacher, I'm not sure I can think of anything more depressing than the idea that the tools are out there. They're just not being shared.

arspoetica: (Passionate Sense)

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind...

Posted on 2012.10.01 at 12:05
I never really got into Green Day until I had a roommate who was obsessed with them. I don’t know if it was her love for Billie Joe Armstrong’s eyeliner or simple exposure, but somewhere between “Basket Case” and “American Idiot,” I started to like them, too.

I especially liked American Idiot. There was a kind of weight to their music that their earlier songs had lacked. Plus, I’m a sucker for stories, so any album that can be turned into a musical is fine by me. I played those songs over and over, singing them at the top of my lungs with my roommates, so when 21st Century Breakdown was set to come out, I was thrilled. Another Green Day album with a storyline? Yes, please.

Except, 21st Century Breakdown was different. Sure, some of their songs were just as powerful and addictive as ever, but for most of the album, something just seemed… off. And then it hit me--

Breakdown is all about Bush and post 9/11 America. It might have been written after Obama took over the presidency, but the focus of all these songs was on the rhetoric of insecurity that dominated the airwaves once Bush’s popularity started to plummet. Suddenly, Americans found themselves trapped in a “them or us” dilemma, where criticizing the president and his policies was labeled unpatriotic. The Bush Administration’s rhetoric wasn’t about logic. It was about fear. People were patriots or terrorists. Emotion ruled the day. And if you didn’t like it, well, you better not say so, because then the terrorists would have won.

This isn’t an unfamiliar tactic. Emotion is a powerful thing, and in times of crisis, it can be easy for people to slip into black and white generalizations. It does become pretty frightening, though, when that emotional manipulation is happening at the hands of one of the most powerful governments in the world. Particularly one that’s supposed to be all about free speech. And, in Green Day’s “The Static Age,” there’s a pretty vivid description of what this kind of rhetorical insecurity feels like. “…murder on the airwaves/ slogans on the brink of corruption/ vision of blasphemy, war and peace/ screaming at you…” Yikes. Emotional blackmail is a pretty underhanded technique, so it seems like this would be the perfect fodder for a punk rock band looking to make a statement. Except, somewhere along the way, something went wrong.

Remember the bit about Bush’s rhetoric lacking logic? It was all about slogans, sound bytes, and stereotypes. If you could piece enough of it together, you’d start to realize how little it actually made sense, but considering how often the American public was being bombarded, putting the puzzle together wasn’t exactly easy. And you would think, if you were going to criticize this rhetorical mess, you’d want to be the exact opposite—clear, intelligent, and logical.

Maybe clear and logical doesn’t make for good music. Maybe they were going for some kind of irony. Or, maybe, the only way to fight something so pervasive is to use its own style against it… but if you look—actually look--at the lyrics for 21st Century Breakdown… they don’t make sense. Like Bush, they’ve got all those powerful, loaded words, talking about “corruption” and “murder” and “charlatans.” They have emotions, driven by guitar riffs and intense drum solos. And they have a message driven by anger. Lots and lots of anger. But that's where it stops. Really, they aren’t very different from Bush at all, except that they’re on the other side.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from my music, but it seems hypocritical to fight fire with fire. I’ll still like Green Day. I’ll still belt along with American Idiot whenever it shows up on my playlist. But if I’m looking for meaning and inspiration…I think I’ll be going elsewhere.

arspoetica: (Default)

ENGL 103

Posted on 2012.09.07 at 14:44

Best Aunt

Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah. 

arspoetica: (Passionate Sense)

Don't Boo

Posted on 2012.08.29 at 17:23
Tags: , ,

I just want to say, wherever you fall on the political spectrum...

If you haven't already registered to vote, DO IT NOW. 

arspoetica: (School)

Writing Research Papers (The Real Story)

Posted on 2012.07.23 at 17:15
Beginning of the course:

One week before the deadline:

The weekend before:

One day before:

Day of:

In the aftermath:

Aka...this is a PSA announcing that I'm going to be dead to the world, for awhile.

arspoetica: (Three Rs)

The More You Know...

Posted on 2012.07.20 at 17:06
So, it's not English, per se...but it is a really cool factoid about medieval Europe.

Click on the image to go to the original poster

If anyone can read German, the academic article written on this seems to be here (Though I’m not sure. I took Spanish in high school). But it was definitely found by German archaeologist Beatrix Nutz. According to a few other articles I hunted down, the underwear is actually for men, not women. But the bra still changes fashion history.

arspoetica: (Planet)

Less Than Colorblind

Posted on 2012.07.13 at 16:52
I've been thinking about this week's performance (Henry V at the Globe) and I'm still trying to process everything. I can't get over how much I actually liked this play.

Not to say that I don't usually like Shakespeare. I kind of love it, really. But I tend to draw the line when it comes to his history plays. Even reading this, I was bored to tears. Yet, after seeing the stage performance, I finally get why they say Shakespeare was meant to be performed--not read. This just came to life. I completely forgot that I was standing for three and a half hours (in the rain, too. After walking uphill, both ways), and there were several parts where I nearly cried. Not to mention a bunch where I couldn't stop laughing. Overall, this was performed beautifully.

There was one thing about the performance that really struck me, though. I actually wrote this up for my Shakespeare class, so it's a bit more formal than usual...but I think it bears reposting here.
“Everyone’s a little bit racist, it’s true.
But everyone’s just about as racist as you.
If we all could just admit
That we are racist (a little bit)
Even though we all know that it’s wrong
Maybe it would help us get along.”

Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” Avenue Q

It is hard to say whether Avenue Q’s tongue-in-cheek ode to modern day racism is a blessing or a curse in regards to civil rights. On one hand, it highlights those day-to-day “quiet” racisms, exposing them for what they really are. On the other, it can be taken as a startlingly clear example of bandwagon mentality, with the characters laughing off their actions as acceptable, since everyone else does this, too. Yet, whether it is used as a mirror to show an unpleasant truth or an excuse to continue with unacceptable behavior, the song throws a spotlight on a reality that many (myself included), do not like to admit; it is not always as easy to be color-blind as it should be.

The Globe’s 2012 performance of Henry V was a fantastic example of color-blind and non-traditional casting. Brid Brennan played as both Queen Isabel and the Chorus, adding a stately and mellow presence to both roles, while Kurt Egyiawan, a black actor and native Londoner, was fantastic playing both Louis the Dauphin and Lord Scroop. Both were articulate, talented, believable in their roles, and fascinating to watch. Yet, where I could put aside Brennan’s gender after the initial surprise when she walked on the stage, I found myself coming back time and again to how Egyiawan had been cast.

I would like to say (and I hope that it would be true), that the difficulty I had was not solely due to his skin color. It also was not due to the King of France being Caucasian and having a black son. Egyiawan gave a complex and engaging performance as the Dauphin, where he was overly arrogant, pompous, foolhardy, and yet also sympathetic as he sought approval from his noble peers and was, perhaps, a bit afraid of the battle when it finally arrived on his doorstep. My difficulty, instead, lay with his role as Lord Scroop.

In the early scene where Henry discovers that three of his peers (and, quite possibly, friends) have plotted with France to kill him, his fury and his grief are equally evident. His reaction is powerful even when printed on the page, but on stage, his pain was palpable and it grew as he addressed each, successive traitor. The ferocity of Henry’s verbal attack was at its pinnacle, then, when he reached Lord Scroop, who cowered at the center of the stage, as the king roared down at him, calling him a “cruel, ingrateful, savage, and inhuman creature.” At that moment, I am not sure which made me flinch more—the anger and hurt in Henry’s ever word, or who those curses were directed at.

It is true that, at the beginning of the speech, Henry calls all three traitors “English monsters,” before he has worked himself up into a full rage. Yet the words seemed to take on a particularly disturbing force when directed at Egyiawan. The result was almost visceral in its effect. I was reacting to Henry’s pain, of course, but also to cultural expectations that had been abruptly turned on their heads. Long after the scene had passed, I found myself questioning Egyiawan being cast as Scroop. When he reappeared on stage as the Dauphin, I actually felt a surge of relief, grateful that he was elevated to such a role after being so thoroughly dehumanized only two scenes before.
Kurt Egyiawan, taken from
The Guildhall School of Acting
and Drama

And there I find myself at the crux of my discomfort and my dilemma. Henry’s insults are dehumanizing. Yet there was nothing in the performance or its delivery that was not in the original script, unless it is the sense of genuine pain that Jamie Parker, as Henry, brought to the role. And, surely, if I could truly call myself color-blind, I would have been equally uncomfortable if Lord Cambridge’s actor had borne the brunt of the assault. Had the roles been switched, however, I doubt the scene would have lingered in my mind past the point where it had ended and the report of Falstaff’s death had begun. It is Scroop’s color that made the moment stick.

This says as much (or more) about me as an audience member as it does about the actors and their performances. After all, as the Chorus importunes in that opening speech, it is my imagination that gave life to characters and my response. Yet, I find myself facing the same question about my reaction as I had when discussing Avenue Q. Is my reaction a mirror, reflecting an awareness of the civil crimes that have been (and still are) inflicted on people of color, or is it a continuation of those quiet racisms, uncomfortable for being brought to the forefront of my awareness? Whatever reaction director Dominic Dromgoole was hoping to get (if it was even done for a reaction at all), I do know that this was an unforgettable performance. Both entertaining and troubling, hilarious and heartbreaking, I enjoyed seeing Henry V more than I ever anticipated.

Maybe it goes without saying...but I'll say it, all the same:

Seriously. Who looks at the English weather
and says "I think an open air theatre is a
GREAT idea!"
There is nothing like seeing Shakespeare performed live at the Globe Theatre. Yesterday, we got to go see Toby Frow's production of The Taming of the Shrew. The production itself was amazing, but the experience started when we walked through the archways and into the main theatre, itself.

While things have definitely changed since Shakespeare's day (a coffee bar in the theatre lobby, for instance), it definitely feels authentic when you walk inside and find yourself standing on hard-packed dirt, surrounded by balcony seats on all sides. It's not as packed as it would have been in the 16th century, but it was still crowded, with people inching their way forward to be closer to the stage.
The cons of the Globe? Standing for a three hour performance and the fact that, if it rains, you're screwed. The positives: You can see and hear everything. We were only feet from the actors, and the way they interacted with their audience and the intimacy of being so close just brought the whole show to life. It hasn't ruined other venues for me, but it definitely made me appreciate how unique and wonderful this particular one was.

Dealing with aching feet was helped by the fact that The Taming of the Shrew is one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, and the actors made it worth every sore muscle. They actually found a pretty interesting balance between Petruchio and Katherina. Both were unreasonable and difficult and crazy, so there was no "good" or "bad" member of the relationship.
When you're close enough to the stage to see
THIS, you know you've got a good spot.
Photo by Alastair Muir
They were both violent and interesting and flawed. My only complaint was that Kate's final speech, where she talks about the duties of a wife, seemed to completely remove all the personality she'd had through the rest of the show. Of course, that's a difficult speech under the best of circumstances (I'm sorry...if my husband asked me to put my hand under his boot, I'd tell him exactly where he could shove it), but this Kate had so much fire and wit and strength...I would have liked to see some of that still showing up in her speech. Still, the actors did an amazing job. I'm incredibly glad that we get to see another show here before the end of the trip.

arspoetica: (Default)

I feel like I'm at Hogwarts

Posted on 2012.07.01 at 16:09
Getting up at 7am and walking a mile to classes is totally worth it when you get to have breakfast here:

I <3 Study Abroad.

As much as that sounds like a slogan for a cheesy t-shirt, I can't stress this enough. I think study abroad is one of the best things anyone can do, at any stage in their education. My first experience (living and studying in Sydney, Australia for four months), was one of the most amazing times in my life. Even in an English speaking country, the culture clash and the opportunity to see things from a different perspective really open your eyes to the kind of world we're living in.

During that first round, I had to make a difficult choice. My alma mater offered two study abroad courses that I was interested in: Studying English at Oxford, or studying the arts in Sydney. Being the classic overachiever that I was (I was taking the maximum load, summer courses, and only doing a single major because my advisor put her foot down about doubling), I decided I needed a break. As appealing as Oxford sounded, Sydney won. Oddly enough, I don't think I ever worked as hard during my undergrad as I did during that semester, but it was because I was loving my classes. I wanted to jump all-in. Part of me still longed for Oxford, though. I mean, how many chances do you get to take an opportunity like that?

Apparently, the answer is two.

In little over a month, I will finally be heading to Oxford. It's five weeks instead of four months, and I'm a graduate student rather than an undergrad, but I'm going. I get to live on campus. I get to live, breathe, and eat there. I already think it's amazing, and I haven't even set foot there. However, there are a few things that have changed since my first experience with this whole living abroad thing.

It's funny, but you don't realize how much easier it is to travel while living with the parentals until you try to travel while living alone. So far, I've needed to arrange for a house sitter to check the plumbing and electricity and mail while I'm gone. I have plants that need watering. I have a lawn that needs tending.

And I have a cat.

Maybe he just doesn't like my taste in music.

While I'm risking sounding like the proverbial cat lady, when it comes to traveling, having pets really isn't all that different from having children. You can't leave them alone and, if you want them to survive your absence, you really need to make sure they can eat and drink.

Sure, I could ask the house sitter to do it, but that means my poor cat would be home alone most of the time...and considering the way he makes me feel guilty when I've only been gone for a day, I don't want to think about the fallout of five weeks of loneliness. So, alternatives have to be found.

Thankfully, my dad is more than willing to watch him while I'm gone.

Not so thankfully, this means that--for the past several weeks--I've been carting Sam back and forth between my place and my father's so he can get used to it before I abandon him for good. Not only is this stressful for Sam (he hates car rides), but it's stressful for my dad's cat (she hates Sam), and for me (...if you've never been in a car with a panicked, yowling animal, count yourself lucky).

I'm going through the usual preparations. I've made packing lists and attended orientations. I've bought adapters and loaded textbooks onto my Kindle, and charged the batteries for my camera. And I've already started looking up scholarly criticism for my Shakespeare class. No matter how much I still need to do, though, none of it is quite as difficult as forcing a kicking, frightened cat into his carrier and driving him around for two hours at a time.

I'm looking forward to England. I really am. I'm just hoping my nerves can handle it.

arspoetica: (One More Word)

Once Upon a Life

Posted on 2012.04.12 at 06:39
Tags: , ,
 It's funny, really. I seem to remember a time when college meant rushing to get to the cafeteria before it closed, meeting with groups in the library and getting yelled at for being just a little too loud, trying not to think too hard about what sharing a bathroom really means, and trying to navigate from one end of campus to the next in the ten minutes between classes. And I remember just how much of that time I spent surrounded by people. They were everywhere.


Okay...maybe not that straight-laced

They were in the dorm lobbies and dining halls and classrooms and parking lots and all those places they really weren't supposed to be...but were anyway. I was never a partier (truly. Look up straight-laced in the dictionary and my picture will be right there), but for four years there was never a part of the school-year where I was ever alone.


Grad school is...well...different.


I have plenty of friends here. When you're in small classes like these, desperately fighting deadlines alongside the same faces every day, you connect. It's a survival technique (I'd say it's also a last-ditch attempt to keep your sanity, but we passed that point long, long ago). So the potential for a life is there. The time, however, isn't.


I'd love to go with friends to see a movie or a concert or even just get a drink. (Hell, sometimes I'd even be excited for a shopping trip, and those are usually the bane of my existence). But even though my full-time schedule claims it consists of 9 credit hours instead of the oh-so-overwhelming 18 I took during my undergraduate years, the numbers lie, my friends. Free time has become a thing of the past.


Never mind that I finally have a beautiful, full-sized kitchen (complete with actual dishes!). Dominos, Thai Pavilion, and China Hut have become my new best friends during dinner time. Especially if they deliver. Movies I can see on Netflix, played as a soundtrack while I grade papers or, horror-of-all-horrors, write my own. And drinks...well...I'm assuming that I'll be able to afford those again, some day.


Sam resents the slight to his conversational skills

If only he could learn to cook and clean.

To be fair, it's not mindless business. If anything, I'm happier than ever with the direction I'm heading as I get to see myself doing real research...the kind that I hope will make a difference when I get out of taking classes and can devote all my time to teaching them. But there are times when I long for the days when my cat wasn't my only company. Because, as much as I love him, he's got a long way to go in terms of conversation.


All around me, projects are stacking up. My kitchen table spends more time as a bookshelf than an eating place, and my coffee table should probably be considered a natural disaster area. However much I'd like to clean, priority has been given to the two research papers I have due in the next three weeks, as well as a portfolio, a website, a syllabus, and an insane amount of grading. Frankly, having time to sleep is miracle enough.


But maybe, sometime soon, I'm going to have to say screw it and rescue a few of my fellow cohort members for a night of pizza and movies and conversation that doesn't revolve around literature and cats (okay...so not only around literature and cats). Because I love what I'm doing now...but sometimes I miss having college be equal parts learning and socializing.


The communal bathrooms can stay in the past, though. They were overrated from the start.

arspoetica: (Default)

Cleaning up dark icons

Posted on 2012.02.26 at 16:20
So I'm definitely not an expert at photoshop...and I'm sure there are plenty of people who can do this better than I can. But since I've been having some success with cleaning up icons, lately, I figured I'd share what I've been learning. ^.^

Cut for images )