Foiled by a French Word

Hey y’all, I’ve emerged from the crazy place I’ve been over the last week or so, alternating between stressing, running up and down the library stairs, sleeping in/staying up too late, sneezing/sniffling/dehydrated, and seeking out random places to get work done (including 1 hour of grading last night at Hurts Donut in Middleton, and 2 hours of reading/writing in a booth at Perkins) while trying (and failing) not to have too many sugary snacks. Even though I want them.

Today was actually relatively productive. Even though I didn’t get my day really started until about 12:30, at least I was up around 9 or 10. I headed over to Colectivo to get a cappuccino (yum), a sandwich (meh), and a cup of onion soup (…nasty), and proceed to discipline myself to work. First, I decided to read a book I’ve been meaning to send out for awhile. I gave myself one hour, and by the time the hour was up, I was 5 pages from the end of the 230-ish page book, so I finished it, ordered a mocha, and steeled myself for an hour of working on some of the most difficult writing I’ve ever done.

So, there I am, typing away, click click click la di da di da, when all of a sudden my brain just comes to a screeching halt. I need a word that refers to an incredibly talented and versatile individual, but I cannot think of one. There is a specific word I’m looking for, but it’s in the wrong section of my brain and I can’t find it. I know it either is or sounds French, so I run through every possible French word I know. Panache? No. Savoir-faire? No. Je ne s’ai quoi? No. AUGGGHHH.

It’s. Right. There. But I can’t find it.

I call for backup. My parents are in Ocean City, and my dad and I have a several-minute long conversation about this word, which neither of us can think of. He asks my mom, who asks one of her friends who is fluent in French which is convenient because today is that friend’s birthday and she lives all by herself and my mom almost forgot to call her.

I get off the phone and start frantically writing words. Virtuoso. Au courant. Tour-de-force. One of these may or may not be the answer, I feel like I’ll know it when I see it.

I open up Google Translate and try out some French words, go to dictionary.com and thesaurus.com, make yet another call to my dad, and now twenty minutes have been spent on this one word and I’m so desperate that I open up the Wikipedia page on English words of French origin and go down the list, starting at A and getting up to C before realizing how ridiculous I’m being. After trying out a bazillion different possible words, I settle on “tour-de-force” and continue onward.

Up to now, I still have no idea what that word might have been, although tour-de-force is probably the closest I got. However, I came across some other French words that, in my opinion, should have different meanings.

Blancmange. It refers to a type of sauce, but I think it should refer to someone who is sophisticated enough to order the correct wine for the meal.

Legerdemain. It’s a lovely way to refer to trickery, but what it should means is, someone who is incredibly skilled at bookkeeping or journaling/blogging.

Demimondaine. It refers to something sordid. What it should mean: an aging leading lady (think Ms. Moore)

Peignoir. It has to do with a hairdo. It should refer to someone whose hair is so perfect that others doubt it’s natural.

Joie de vivre. Means “joy of living.” Should mean “let’s all jump around like we’re young lovers frolicking around Paris in the spring.”

And on a final, quite random note:

While I was grocery shopping today, I walked past the school supplies and for a moment, my eyes saw the word illegal pad” on a small notebook; upon closer examination, it was just an ordinary legal pad with an oddly placed logo. Who decided the legality of pads, anyway? What if I wanted an illegal pad? What would it look like? Would I have to declare it at customs? Would it be considered contraband? Would I have to throw it across the border into Mexico? So many questions.


Soothing Summer: That Favorite Coffee Place

I didn’t do too much today, but I did go to Michelangelo’s on State Street to get some writing done.

There’s something about that one special coffee place that just makes it worth going to even when you’re not thirsty. It’s the place you meet up with friends, bring out-of-towners, and go to when you just have to get stuff done in the perfect environment. I’m going to save a lot of other comments about coffee places in Madison for another post I have planned, but suffice it to say that Michelangelo’s is…the one. There are plenty of other places, but the Starbucks on State usually has too many vagrants hanging around and the wi-fi never works; Espresso Royale has delicious drinks but also its fair share of strange customers; the Starbucks on University and Blackhawk is where I’m friends with all the baristas, so I just spend the whole time talking and never get any work done; and CoffeeBytes is just…the worst place, ever. Michelangelo’s has all the good stuff – good food and drinks, friendly baristas, a corner with comfy Friends-style couches and chairs, several different seating options – without any of the crazy people or bad wi-fi. Plus, I get a nice walk down State Street on the way there and back, so I burn some calories, get some fresh air, not to mention getting to walk past the popcorn shop and the chocolate shop, both of which leave their doors open in the summer so that the smells waft out onto the sidewalk.

Now, I’m going to look at some gifs of coffee.


I Got A Letter…

…what could be better?

No, seriously, getting mail is one of the best things ever. In January, I started my 16 Penpals for 2016 project, and I’ve sent out 14 letters (btw, if you’re reading this and want a letter, let me know in the comments because I still have 2 more to send!), and so far, nothing back 😦 until today, when I got a lovely letter in the mail all the way from faraway Janesville, Wisconsin (about an hour or so down the road), from blogger-friend Michelle. I learned about her very interesting life and family, and it was a great surprise on a super-hot afternoon, so hot I didn’t want to do anything but I did because I had to.

Michelle, thanks for the letter, and another one is going to be on its way to you in the morning. As for the rest of you, I’m still waiting.


On Playwriting

Hey, look! It’s an actual post! At a normal time! How exciting is this?

I was going to go to the gym, but I had an impromptu meeting, and with not enough time to go before dance class tonight, I decided to give myself some peace of mind and come here for a bit. Tomorrow is my 28th birthday, and my parents are coming in, so it’s going to get busy, but this post is not about any of those things.

Today’s topic: playwriting.

I wrote my first actual, performable play at age 18, during my senior year of high school. In my school, seniors could choose elective-style courses for English, history, and science, and in my senior year, a new teacher offered a playwriting and drama course. I must have been daydreaming in class, because I heard something about “…writing a ten minute play…” and “…due Friday.” It was Wednesday, and when I got home that night, I had an idea for a short play, which I titled Confidential. I typed it up, printed it out, and absentmindedly handed it in to my teacher on Friday.

Monday comes, and the teacher asks to see me after class. He tells me that I missed the homework assignment (whoops) but he read Confidential, the play I wrote, over the weekend, and that it was “once of the finest pieces of student writing he’d ever read.” He also said that that was our final project for the year, so technically, I was done with the class and I got an A. I think this was in December or something. I got two people from the class to perform it, and then for the rest of the year, I got to either skip class or help other people with their writing during class.

I returned to writing plays around sophomore year of college, and though I wrote quite a few and some even won competitions, I “retired” AKA stopped writing plays for fun sometime around the year between Israel and grad school. I have been meaning to start up again, but I have been too busy with my reading and teaching loads, and blogging, to write any prose or plays.

One thing I have done, though, is teach others how. Sort of.

I firmly believe that there is no real way to teach playwriting. It’s trickier than poetry or prose, and not everyone can write a play, but it can be rewarding. I have taken several playwriting courses at the college level. Some were effective, others were not, but each class utilized a different approach. But by this point in my life, I feel like I have a better sense of what to do, and what not to do.

DO: Experience theatre. Before you write a play, read a few plays and see a few plays. Take notice of the dialogue, the staging, and the plot. If you are at a show, try watching some of it with your eyes closed and note the differences in the experience; what do you sense? What do you perceive? Where are the emotions, what is left unsaid, where are there pauses and why? Warning, though: the eyes-closed approach does not work when reading plays.

DON’T: Get a book from the library or bookstore on “how to write plays.” These books are mostly crap. Everyone learns and writes differently, and what works for that person who wrote that book may have worked for them, but it was not written for you. If you like learning by reading, read plays or books on theory, not instructional books. If you do, at least read more than one so you can cross-reference. I don’t swear by any book, but The Playwright’s Guidebook is a good starting point for a beginner, and Playwriting in Process could help the slightly more advanced playwrights, but don’t hold any book on playwriting as gospel.

DO: Start with an idea. An image. A problem. A historical event. Even just a line. And remember that inspiration comes from everywhere. I was inspired to write Confidential after thumbing through a baby name book (for some reason, I was obsessed with baby name books as a kid) and finding out that the name Cameron was Scottish for “crooked nose.” “Huh,” I said to myself, “well that’s interesting.” And later that night, that became the first line I wrote on the page. Seriously, I started out with this:

CAMERON: It’s Scottish for “crooked nose.”

So all of a sudden, I had a character, Cameron. Luckily, since Cameron is a unisex name, I could have either a male or female Cameron. I chose to make her female, and then I inserted a question which would lead to that answer, which ended up being someone complimenting her on having a beautiful and exotic name. Then, I needed some back story; who is asking her this question, and what’s going on around them? The first thing that came to mind was “job interview.” So now I had two characters – a boss and interviewee – and a situation. To expand even further, I wanted to know just why he was asking her this question. And then it just came to me, “because his ex-wife’s last name was Cameron.” And it kept rolling, until I had 10-11 pages of dialogue, and a whole story built around it. All because of a crooked nose.

DON’T: Make the story/subject matter too big, or make too much backstory. You can’t write about everything, especially if it’s just a ten-minute play, and if you try to pack too much stuff in there, it just comes out like a cake with too many ingredients: a hideous mess. One of the worst plays I’ve ever read involved medieval England, botany, biology, zoology, astronomy, the priesthood, religious heresy, puppetry, suicide, revenge, and sexuality – and that was just the first act! Needless to say, the play took 3 hours to read and it made absolutely no sense, there was no story there. There were some poignant moments, and some moments of comedy, but it was just a mish-mosh of words and situations and way too many characters. Too much backstory is also an issue; I knew a playwright who wrote an entire page of backstory for each character before the text of the play, including everything from the character’s birthdate to their eye color to their profession to their views on feeding animals in the wild. Leave some things for the audience to figure out, and room for the characters to grow via the actors. And less is more, especially when it comes to casting. Unless you need to write a play for a specific amount of people, or an entire community, 1-3 characters are enough. 4-6 are plenty, and any more than 8, proceed with caution, unless you intend for the parts to be doubled. In that case, knock yourself out.

DO: Use good playwriting format. Be consistent with your spelling, especially character names. Separate and distinguish stage directions. Make it easy on the eyes.

DON’T: Write something just because someone told you to, write it the way you want to write it, or tell the person to write their own damn play. When making assignments for a playwriting class, make it specific as to the goal of the assignment (a monologue, a dialogue, a three person scene where it’s 2 against 1, a one-word-per-line scene), but any more than that and you’ll get frustrated writers writing things they do not care about.

DO: Look for the character’s voices. Look for beginning, middle, end, pacing, character development, plot, conflict. Don’t write sounding like you; get in the character’s head and write how they would talk. If it sounds too much like something you would say but your character wouldn’t, rewrite that line. Use language as action, and action as language. Make the story yours, but be open to criticism and rewrites if you’re looking for feedback or if you want it to get to production. No one likes working with the playwright whose words are individual drops of literary gold. Chances are, the more they think that’s the case, the more it’s not.

DON’T: Get discouraged; if/when you’re stuck, do something else. But if you’re on a roll, continue. Sometimes, if you’re having trouble deciding what comes next, maybe take a step back and ask yourself what would happen if you just ended this scene (at least for the moment) and moved on to the next one.

DO: Have fun doing it, because that’s the most important part! If you don’t like what you write, or you don’t like the direction it is taking, change it! Keep an open mind! And know when you’re finished, and celebrate with some chocolate chip cookies, or a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free alternative.


One Step Closer

One paper down.

One 21-page-6840-words-total paper down.

One more to go.

One step closer to my torrid fantasy menage a trois…

…consisting of me, my bed, and my books.

Actually, make that an orgy.

One more paper in the way though.

But I’m almost there.

And of course, some howdies to all the continents but Australia: North America (USA and Canada), South America (Colombia), Europe (UK, Germany, Norway and Portugal), Asia (India and Singapore), and Africa (Nigeria and Mayotte). Eh, almost there.


Ten Ways to Write a Better Research Paper

Bland title, I know, but for the past few days my life has been research, writing and then everything else (while worrying about research and writing). I skipped going to the gym today, for the first time since Sunday (go me!) and did a crazy at-home Buzzfeed workout for 30 minutes, and a shower and protein drink later I’m still dizzy and sweating, so excuse me if something in this post is misspelled or doesn’t make sense.

I’m currently at the end of my eighth (!) year as a college student (with two degrees so far to show for it, thankyouverymuch), and though I’ve had my fair share of frantic moments, freak-outs, and failures, I’ve managed to get this far without any horribly bad research papers, and I don’t think I’ve had any late ones either, at least not that I’m aware of. I have also never pulled an all-nighter (yet), not even when I was writing my master’s thesis, although I did spend a solid 8 hours one Sunday in same spot, writing for the bulk of it. So I’d like to think I’m onto something here. Now, here’s my top 10 ways to write a better research paper.

1. Be realistic. Pick a topic that’s not too broad or too general, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Be bold, but always come back to the facts as best you can. Also, be realistic about goals. Some people can write a 20 page paper in 5 hours, and while it’s possible, I am not one of those people. I’d need at least 8.

2. Set time limits. Write for an hour, solid, then break. If that seems too intimidating, set a timer for an hour and during that time, even if you’re just rereading the same sentence or staring at your computer screen or end up with seven words, if you’ve done it with no distractions or breaks, congrats.

3. And your point is? Not you, necessarily, but your sources. Make sure you know what they are saying, that you’re not saying the exact same thing (or if you are, add something new to it), if you agree or disagree, and if it’s relevant to your overall point. Abstracts are very helpful when looking at articles, as are tables of contents and chapter numbers in books. Use them. If a source is not making sense anymore or is repeating themselves or is quoting other sources you’ve already used, just stop right there and move on to the net one.

4. Notes, notes, notes. Post-it notes are my best friends, especially color-coated ones; I put them on the first line of every paragraph in every book I want to quote. For my Indian theatre paper, I used yellow post-its, and for my Brecht paper, I used pink ones. Also, it’s so, so satisfying when you go back to those notes, say “I am done with you!” then take out the flag and throw it away, or keep it in the reuse pile if it’s still sticky enough.

5. Notes, notes, notes, part II. Here’s one way to take notes: Open a blank document and put the full bibliographic information at the top. Then write the current page number on the next line, then on the line underneath, write all the notes you found on that page. If there’s a thought that overlaps two pages, put it beneath the ones from the previous page, then continue with the next page’s notes. As far as copying the info itself, I’d suggest either a) paraphrasing everything, so that when you go back to write it, you’ll probably paraphrase that, making it doubly separated from the material, or b) quote everything, so you can return the books to the library knowing that you’ll have to change your notes because they are directly from the source. I have been known to mix these techniques, especially when there’s a block quote I want to use. I usually indicate that by rewriting the author’s name and page number, or simply putting it in block quote format so I can just copy and paste it.

A made-up example:

Featherstone, Darcy M. “Postmodern implications of the munglewung: a study.” The British Journal of Obscurities 24.1 (Fall 2011): 13-36. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 14 May 2015.


the munglewung in prewar Europe had little effect on the proletariat

it gained in relevance after the first World War


World War II caused the munglewung to fade into obscurity


“If the Church of England would have had its way, the munglewung would not have metastasized to the level it did in 1950s Europe. It was commonly seen in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, but the French wanted no part in it. As history relates, the British got their way, although at a price: the barriers created by this discrepancy would prove difficult to overcome, especially in light of the rapid mobilization of the Russians” (Featherstone 18)

6. Biblio as you go. Citations are a good way to fill some time when you’re trying to think of the right words, and it will save you time at the end to already have your Works Cited ready to go, so you can spend that extra time making up an introduction.

7. Subheadings are your friends. First, they add a line to your page count, so there’s that. Second, they help you organize your thoughts and contribute to easier transitions between distant ideas. Third, no one will mark you down for attempting to organize your thoughts better or make your reader’s life easier.

8. When you get overwhelmed? Don’t jump ship. Separate things out, declare some parts finished, and make sure all the parts are decently fleshed out. Then, if you see a discrepancy, fix it. Sometimes you just need to end it, somewhere, before you drown in a sea of hyperbole. I’ve done that enough times to know that.

9. Don’t compare your progress to others’ progress. You are beautiful and wonderful, and if you’re behind someone else, you’re no less of a person. If you’re ahead of them, don’t gloat too much or rest on your laurels.

10. Have fun. If you’re not excited about it, why should your reader be?

But most of all, just go for it. Once you turn it in, you’ll forget about it in about 60 seconds and return to your regularly scheduled worrying.