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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Finish This…

Wow, a daytime post! It’s been weird the past few days, I’ve woken up between 7-8 AM for no reason.

So, I was cruising through my Reader and noticed a writing challenge set up by a person I follow named Nicole. She set up a weekly writing challenge of finishing sentences based on prompts. I’m not sure about doing this every week, but I’m always up for a challenge and maybe it’ll inspire a future post, so here we go:

1. If I could make anything grow on trees, it would be…okay, I’ll admit it, my first answer was money, but come on, that was yours too. Hmm…what do I need that could conceivably grow on a tree? This is kind of out there, but suppose you could plant an odd sock in the ground and it would sprout even pairs of socks? That could be useful – I always seem to be running out of socks.

2. I can’t stop smiling…when someone says something nice to me. I’ve been subject to so many hurtful statements about me said to me to my face throughout my life (my personality, my habits, etc.) so receiving praise makes me smile. Especially after I’ve performed in a show or delivered a presentation in class/at a conference. Unexpected praise or just a general nice greeting, comment, or interested question work as well; I’m not a tough customer. I also find myself smiling when I’m in the department. Mostly it’s out of nervousness, but sometimes I just don’t want to be that person who makes everybody angry just by walking into a room; quite the opposite.

3. I get back to nature by…geocaching, duh. In my high school days when caches were not so plentiful, I remember days doing several hours of hiking through the woods to get one geocache, if we were lucky. Nowadays, give me a moderately tough or creative urban/suburban cache that doesn’t involve as much woods over a bushwhack/long hike any day. Easy-medium caches hidden at places with awesome scenic views are the best; WalMart parking lot light poles and guardrails get tiring after a little while. Some light hiking is good, but not like that time where I almost lost it in Baytown, or that time in Katy where I stupidly went caching by the side of a gravel road in triple-digit heat.

4. I dread washing…dishes. That was easy. My way of washing dishes involves letting them soak and then scrub (ugh, hate that word) clean in an “I-need-to-clean-all-the-things” frenzy. Dishwashers are useful for this purpose, even though my mom says that they’re basically just sterilizers and you need to clean them thoroughly before putting them in. The thing I dislike about the dishwasher is unloading it, especially in my current apartment where the cupboards are about one inch too high for me to reach unless I stand on my tiptoes, which I usually do, hoping I won’t cause an avalanche of dishes on my head. In fact, when I hosted those three swing dancers from Minnesota in my apartment, one of them happened to be unusually tall, and quite easily put my washed dishes away for me, which was one of the best hosting gifts I’ve gotten, ever.

So there you have it, my first Finish This. The challenge requires you to comment on three others’ lists, so I’ll be doing that now. But not before a ironic gif.

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Equal Rights

Classes are over, and all I have left to do is one paper that’s already 17 pages long, and I’m going home in 4 days, so I think it’s safe to call the semester just about over.

That, and I had such a boring day that I couldn’t think of anything to post.

So here’s a list of equal rights. Or equals that seem right. Or rather, things that are equivalent to one another. Whatever, I’ve been writing all day…

Equal Rights

  1. Being descriptive = fail, but throwing a bunch of ideas at a computer screen like so many strands of wet spaghetti against a refrigerator = the way to go.
  2. Diet Coke = food group.
  3. Cheese and crackers = Wisconsin’s chips and salsa.
  4. Elevator rides = karaoke time.
  5. Einstein Bros. Bagels = always a bad idea.
  6. Reading everything that’s required = not required.
  7. Friends reruns = required.
  8. 3 AM bedtime = 2 AM bedtime.
  9. NYT crossword = nightly regimen.
  10. Blogging = writing, which = practice.

 

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How to Write A Paper for Grad School

Well, first of all, tervetuloa to my first visitor from snowy Finland (who was actually my friend Johanna), and bem-vindo to my first visitor from sunny Portugal (who happens to be a bookcrosser who has a blog here). Also, to my first hits from the state of New Hampshire and the province of Alberta. Welcome. You are special as well.

I have a paper due in the morning, so of course I’m going to write a blog about writing a paper instead of actually doing it.

Behold:

How To Write A Paper for Grad School

Step 1: Picking A Topic

Don’t just pick a topic because it sounds easy, because that’s lame. Where’s the challenge in that? You don’t need to make any great discoveries, but you’ve gotta do the assignment – caring about it a little helps. If your topic gets shot down, either a) amend it and go forward anyway, b) find a new topic (warning: results rarely satisfying), or c) go to your professor and say, “So what do you want me to do?” But not that bluntly, maybe.

Step 2: Prewriting

Yeah, this doesn’t happen.

Step 3: Research

This is the most best part. If you’re me, you get to go and search online in a bunch of databases for articles that may or may not be beneficial, scour the card catalog for colorful books in all sections of the library and possibly libraries in other cities and states, and then curse the fact that it’s 2 AM and you have to wait until the morning for the library to open so you can hunt down your materials like so many artifacts in the Hidden Temple.

Step 4: Realization

This paper is due in like ten days. There’s no way you can realistically read all this stuff you have.

Step 5: Contemplate Your Choice to Go to Grad School

Self-explanatory.

Step 6: Do Anything But Your Paper

Hang out with friends. Call your dad. Talk to your landlord. Do a crossword puzzle. Fold some laundry. Try out a new recipe. Drink. Take a walk. Go to the gym. Watch just one episode of Family Guy. Stare at the wall. The possibilities are endless!

Step 7: Realize That it’s Due Tomorrow

Freak out.

Step 8: Blank Stare

This should be directed towards your computer screen. If your stare lasts for more than four hours, see your doctor.

Step 9: Hot Tub Dip

No, not an actual dip in the hot tub (this should have been covered in step 6) but rather write with fire and passion. Emerge with six words.

Step 10: Just Write Something

Something. Words. Anything.

Step 11: Write Something On Topic

This will start with one word, then expand to five, and then la di da type type type for like an hour and, voila, you have approximately 2-3 more pages than the assignment required, so now you have to delete some of the more purple and verbose stuff. Usually, it’s that time of night where everything makes sense, so send it to your printer, go to sleep, and try to remember to bring it to class in the morning. YOU HAD ONE JOB, DUE DATE.

At least that’s how it always works for me.

Your results may vary.

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I Like Bad Puns And I Cannot Lie…

…and pop culture references as well.

I know that just about every has some level of tolerance for bad puns, but mine is particularly high. When other people make them and they work, sometimes I can’t even think of that person without associating them with the pun they made. When I make a bad pun, usually I roll my eyes along with the rest of the world but inside, I’m cheering like I just scored a goal at the World Cup…of life. After all, what is language but a system of communication that is inherent fun to poke fun at and play around with?

As someone who’s been in school for the last, um…all of the years of my life, my usual form of writing is that of the essay/paper variety. I once read somewhere that even in the most serious of papers, the title is where the author gets to have fun; it’s the only gray area in the whole paper. It’s a shame that the one time that I actually was praying for a bad pun title was for my master’s thesis, nothing came to me and therefore the title is terribly boring. But, then again, it is an accurate reflection of my mental state at the time: just string the words together like so many popcorn kernels on a Christmas tree decoration.

So with that said, I’d like to share a list of my favorite bad pun titles I’ve produced as a writer.

  • She Works Hard For the Funny: Examining the Role of the Lady’s Maid in the Works of Moliere. UMass Amherst, 2009. Pretty self-explanatory. I guess I was feeling Donna Summer that day.
  • Tennessee, Anyone? The Life and Literature of Tennessee Wiliams. Program notes for a production of A Streetcar Named Desire that I dramaturged at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters’ Theatre in Baltimore in 2010. Many thanks to Fuzz and Sherri for controlling their rolling eyes. Or at least while I was around.
  • The Edge of Glory: Love, Loss, and What We Hear in A Little Night Music. Program notes for a production of A Little Night Music that I dramaturged at Spots in ’11. Based on Love, Loss, and What I Wore – something that exists, but have no idea of what it is. A book? A play? An article? Someone’s to-do list?
  • Looney Toons: Art, Media, and the Dreyfus Affair. University of Houston, 2011. This was about political cartoons and their role in influencing the outcome of the Dreyfus Affair in France. Reference is obvious, but I can’t remember if I was watching anything when I did my writing or not.

I’ve got another one that I can’t share right now that’s so good that it hurts, but it will appear in a future post.

To all the Bad Pun Lovers of the World: Don’t be shy – spread your wings and squawk on with your bad selves.

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Getting Through Tough Times

For some reason, I’m having a hard time of it these days. In a lot of ways.

Mostly, I’m just not feeling the inspiration to write much. I get these ideas, think they’re good, and then think a little more and think that they’re kind of meh. Then it keeps going downhill from there, and then I’m back to square one.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a better story to tell, but for now, I should probably get started on the paper I have to turn in in like…five minutes. Hope it’ll be fine.

That’s something I haven’t written about yet – thinking about the worst possible consequences/globalizing/making too big of a deal out of things. Sounds like a good topic to build on in the coming days.

Oh great, there’s the conference proposal I have to work on.

Maybe that “what’s the worst that could happen” post will have to wait for a little bit.

But I want to get back to this, so don’t let me forget.