10

Final Paper of the Semester: This Is Not A Drill

So many potential titles for this post – “Final Countdown,” “The Last Night of the World,” “It’s the End of the Semester As I Know It,” “One Midnight Left,” “I am going to finish this paper tonight, dammit, part II” – but here’s the deal. I have one paper left, 15-20 pages. It’s due tomorrow at 1:00 PM, and as of 8:57 PM, I have exactly one page written.

So, game on.

Ride or die.

No sleep until Pune.

It’s all or nothing.

And during writing breaks, I am going to be live-blogging my progress, so stay tuned. I will probably be doing a pilgrimage up and down State Street. I’m currently at Michelangelo’s, with a sugar-free almond iced skim latte and a cheese sandwich.

I am shaking already.

UPDATES:

10:11 PM. One hour later, 1,011 words written – most of them probably crap – and only 6 sticky-noted pages covered out of about a million. Sigh.

11:19 pm. On my second latte. The coffee shop closed at 11, so I have migrated elsewhere, to the library. My laptop does not like being on campus and does not agree with the campus wifi so I might migrate again soon.

12:59 AM. Somewhere on page six or something. Took a night walk. Bad idea. Four more pages at least before I can think about sleep.

4:00 AM. Why the hell am I still awake? I’m typing like a madman to make up for the time I took off to take a walk. Probably none of what I’m writing will make sense tomorrow morning. Speaking of which, someone please wake me up in 4-6 hours so I can finish this thing. Around 2700 words at last count, so that means I’m just about at the bottom of page 9. 8 pages, not too shabby for one night’s work.

10:48 AM. Four hours of sleep, wake up to a fresh start, and probably too much of a Buzzfeed break = only about 10-11 pages. Gosh, could I go any slower? GAH. This next hour needs to be flawless.

Aftermath: 

So, all in all, I did not finish 15-20 pages. I got up to page 12, barely, but I did turn it in on time. I texted a classmate about it, and asked if it would have been a better choice to turn in 12 pages or nothing at all, and she said that she herself had once done something similar for the same professor – not a great option, but better than nothing. It’s only a first draft anyway, and I attached a note to it saying that even though I fully acknowledge that it’s only 12-ish pages, I did a lot of research and backing up of said research, and proofreading for grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and clarity, all things that have been issues, anyway, so I hope she doesn’t fault me for trying to get it right the first time. Hopefully it’ll result in feedback along the lines of, “…it’s short, but well researched.” Is that so much to ask? I would rather get that than have submitted 15 pages that were terrible.

But it’s been a six-continent day, so at least that’s happening.

Welcomes to North America (Canada and USA), South America (Peru and Brazil), Europe (UK, Switzerland, Germany, Albania and Finland), Asia (India and Saudi Arabia), Africa (Mozambique) and Oceania (New Zealand)!

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4

Complex: Me, or My Writing?

So, today I got an assignment back from my professor. It was a review of a very academically-written article on an arcane topic. Turning to the final page, I saw that the professor had written about four comments, and gave me an A.

This is the same paper I turned in a draft of two weeks ago to the “undergraduate writing fellow,” an English major assigned to critique our work, and was returned to me with a litany of comments in tiny black inked letters.

And from the way he/she wrote about it, I had written the worst thing ever…trouble for me, or just plain trouble?

I don’t like to preach or toot my own horn, but let’s back up a second. First of all, even though I hate playing the age card, I’ve probably got at least a good five years on you. Second, I’d be highly surprised if you had several published articles and a 150-page master’s thesis. Third, judging from the comments you wrote, you clearly had no idea what I wrote about. And clearly, my professor understood what I was writing about. So, I feel like I might have a little on you?

But maybe I’m wrong.

Eh, I don’t care, I still got an A.

 

0

People and Things I’ve Discovered This Semester (And How They Connect)

Now that, as of 11:58 PM CST last night, my political science paper is finished, I feel like I can breathe again. So while I complete my other three final papers (I just sent in my theatre paper as well), I can get back to blogging and Reading Like Crazy, like I set out to do.

But first, I would like to pay homage to all the work I pulled together this semester.

Let’s start with political science. I researched puppets and national identity. I came up with the idea by looking at a book which I ended up not using, but it did introduce me to Ubu and the Truth Commission, The Punch and Judy Show, Handspring Puppet Company, and Gary Friedman. On the topic of puppetry in nineteenth-century England, one of those who was also intrigued by Punch and Judy shows was W. B. Yeats, upon whom I wrote in my theatre paper. In that one, I focused on The Words upon the Window-pane, which involved mediums, spiritualism, Madame H. P. Blavatsky, and Japanese Noh theatre. Japan is where my history paper is traveling to, exploring Macbeth on the Chinese and Japanese stages. Heading further into the Pacific is my English paper, about the postcolonial stages of Papua New Guinea through Nora-Vagi Brash’s Which Way, Big Man?

And then, there’s the additions to the reading this: Power and Performance, The Spiritualists, Writing and Rewriting…to name a few.

And, now, onto Ubu, finally.

0

It’s 10:15 PM, do you know where my brain is?

Yeah, that’s basically my entire thought process right now, and over the past three days.

I have spent a good portion of my waking hours on this mind-numbingly impossible political science paper. 8000-10000 words, my…whatever, man. I went to bed at 4:00 this morning with about 5200 words (not an all-nighter), and belying my fears of not getting the word count, I sit here with an hour and a half left until midnight with 9000 words down and several sources to go. What is my paper about again? Puppets? South Africa? Something like that? Why am I subjecting myself to this torture? Why?

And there were sporadic thunderstorms following me around all day as I went from Espresso Royale to Noodles to the Steepery over the past ten hours.

Oh, and welcome to my newest flag, Bulgaria. As they say in Bulgaria, finish your paper and no one gets hurt.

And then, I WILL finish my review of Ubu.

After all, I already have a several thousand word headstart.

0

The Differences Between Reading and Writing

Read, write, read, write, read, write.

This has basically been the last few days of my life.

What I’ve learned though, and want to share with you now, are the differences between reading and writing.

Reading requires way more of my attention. It is best done in the study, with no cell phone or timekeeping device around. Sitting in the upright position is best. Food and drink yes, a lovely view of course, and the more I can feel like I’m in my own private Idaho – I mean, library. The biggest thing: no music. I know, music makes everything better, but if you try reading in a quiet place where you can follow your internal monologue and even moderate a debate with yourself, uninterrupted by noise other than those of life.

Writing, on the other hand (at least for me)…bring on the noise, bring on the funk. Growing up with a TV-addicted sister who “couldn’t focus without the white noise” basically led me with the choice to either tune things out and write or get bad grades. Somehow, I ended up doing both. When I’m really in my head, I can pound out the paragraphs while completely blocking out the sound. Sometimes the music even helps me write. When I have the TV on, I often end up tuning out the show to write and then being jolted back to reality by the loud commercials, going back to writing once the program comes back on. Now, I’ve learned to mute the commercials, but sometimes they still catch my eye. And on the plus side of this skill, I can write virtually anywhere. I’ve written on planes, trains, and buses. Once, I even wrote the majority of a grad school paper in a crowded Starbucks in Manhattan.

Both reading and writing are a challenge in the face of a game, tasty treats, checking my blog stats (hi, Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Panama, Mozambique, and Tanzania!) or even, sometimes, cleaning.

And as always, anxiety.

2

A Philosophy For Blogging

I’ve been doing this thing a lot lately – this thing where I wait until the last minute to start a blog, publish it before I’m done so I can get it in before midnight to keep up a streak I’ve had since January 1, and then stay up for another few hours working on it and editing it, therefore delaying (and sometimes deleting) any hope of getting any schoolwork done. I’ve discovered that this method is no longer conducive to healthy study habits, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: my streak will most likely end tonight (if I manage to finish and hit publish before midnight). Most of the past weeks’ posts have been almost cheat-y in that way, including last night’s. I was going to write about the Oscars, but it wasn’t until 11:59 PM that I realized that I had been glued to my TV through the entire ceremony and Jimmy Kimmel’s post-Oscar show and hadn’t written a word. I’m probably going to go back to that post tomorrow and edit it to incorporate some thoughts about the Oscars.

Basically, I’ve been rethinking my whole blogging style.

I used to have a LiveJournal when I was a teenager (who didn’t?) and I would write mundane posts about nothing (truly, actually, nothing) just to get a 1 on my calendar for that day. I’m sort of falling into that pattern again, and I don’t like it. I know that some of my posts are significantly worse than others, and I’d like to minimize that in the future. More substance, less “word vomit.”

I’m a huge fan of Hyperbole and a Half (if you haven’t seen it, you really should; Allie Brosh is incredibly adept at capturing oft-misunderstood emotions and encapsulating them in childlike imagery via MS Paint) but what I like most about it is the philosophy of blogging that the author shares in her FAQ section.

Some of the points that I’d like to echo in my own blogging

  • Updating frequently does not = the best quality, necessarily. Though I’ve been known to write alarmingly quickly (like that time in sophomore year when I started a 15 page paper at noon on the day it was due, finished it 8 hours later, and turned it in 15 minutes before the cutoff time) sometimes my ideas are flagging since I’ve been focusing on other things all day that day and have nothing much going on inside my head that is substantial enough to share (and that bar is pretty low).
  • Sometimes it takes a while for inspiration to hit, or to find the time to get the ideas and details down to a publishable point. I have about seven drafts at any given time that I always mean to get back to, but never find the time to give them appropriate attention. Maybe this is a sign I should go back to those.
  • And yes, my details are sometimes selective. They’re not really exaggerated (at least not to my knowledge) but she’s right in that it takes the adding/cutting of details to make a “you had to be there” story into one that’s memorable and worth sharing on the Internets for all time. Basically, storytelling that has elements that keep it rolling, moving, entertaining, worth writing about and worth sharing.

This probably won’t be the last thing I have to say about my blogging philosophy, and who knows, maybe it’ll change. But for now, I guess I’ll get back to that paper proposal that’s due tomorrow over which I’ve been agonizing.

2

So, Tell Me About Yourself

Even though my dad calls me self-obsessed sometimes, I find it hard to write about myself.

Bios are one thing. For a program, I usually just rattle off my degrees, and two or three past projects. No biggie.

But writing for an extended time about yourself, like a paragraph, or a whole page? It’s like…what do you do?

Well, there’s one thing. Who better to write about you than yourself? You’ve been living with yourself for your whole life, and chances are you know yourself pretty well, unless you’re prone to fugue states or have spent most of your life in a coma, in which case you probably wouldn’t be in the position of writing a memoir (The Diving Bell and Butterfly excluded). But there’s also the intense pressure that comes with it; what if you write something that sounds stupid or unimportant in retrospect. What if you write something about yourself that’s just plain wrong, based on an incorrect memory of people/things/events? And how do you write about yourself without being so gosh-darned self-serving?

Here are a few ways to write about yourself.

1. I’m Awesome

You’ve probably accomplished some stuff and probably prevailed over adversity at least once in your life, so write about that. You can write about yourself as a child prodigy. You can write about learning how to play the piano, or how you were captain of the varsity lacrosse team, sang in a choir, won a spelling bee, or had your poem published in a school/local newspaper. These are all things that happened to you, so they’re factual, at least. Transitioning into adulthood, you graduated high school and got a college scholarship? That’s perfect. So many Americans (and people in other countries) do not or cannot do that. You studied abroad in China? Great, there’s a chapter right there – it doesn’t matter that it was on your parents’ dime and you drank a lot while you were there, at least you went on an adventure across the world alone and met new people. You had family, friends, and pets that you adored and adored you? They’ll work as supporting characters, mile markers on your just to becoming the amazing person you are today.

This is problematic, because inevitably, you’ll slip up somewhere and someone will notice. Or, someone reading it will pick out the one detail that you made seem bigger than it was. “So, you were a Boy Scout? Tell me about that,” someone will ask, and you’ll struggle to cover up the fact that you never made Eagle Scout and dropped out after a year and a half because you decided you liked riding your bike around the neighborhood and watching TV better. Also, inevitably, you can come off sounding like an incredible jackass, making everyone else seem inferior. Or that you enjoy tooting your own horn so much that you could join an orchestra.

2. I’ve Suffered a Lot and I’m Stronger Now

Modesty could be the best policy. You were born in a hospital, parents got divorced, didn’t make the basketball team, got the worst part in the play, accidentally broke your great aunt’s glasses at Thanksgiving dinner, and didn’t get your first kiss until you were 21. Or, all those times you had to miss school because of illness, or that you knew some people and they died and that sucked. But through it all, you managed to stick around and you don’t know how but somehow you’re here for a higher purpose.

Billy, don’t be a hero – your life’s not all crap and you know it. It’s like those kids in art class in third grade who were all, “my painting is the worst in the class,” only to make you feel sorry for them and then tell them that it was good. Looking back, I probably should have said, “Yeah, you’re right, your painting does suck, and you’re also not great at other things either.” But then you’d probably get told on and have to spend recess sitting alone in the corner, which isn’t too bad because the other kids are smelly anyway and you can work on your plans for world domination.

And now for something completely different…

3. This is me, total honesty. Just me.

You’ve written a bunch of stuff down, but since it triggers bad memories, or you don’t want people to know, or that is embarrassing or embarrasses someone else or that is boring or that never really happened, or did, but not the way that you recall it. So you erase all that and start with the facts. You were born, on a day ending in Y, in a hospital, you had parents and a sister and a bedroom in a house, took a bus to school, had a bunch of friends, and then went to college or entered the workforce and did stuff. Then you erase all that stuff, because who’d want to read that, and then go back to numbers 1 or 2.

In conclusion, you just can’t win. You either come off sounding like an incredible jackass or that your life is completely morbid or that you’re so normal that you’re mundane or that you hate yourself. One or more of which might be true, but you don’t want people to know that. So now you’re tasked with finding an official biographer, which is probably going to cost you money.

If I ever get around to writing it, my memoir is probably going to be a clusterfumble.

See ya in the Marshalls clearance aisle!