Archive for November, 2007

Statements of purpose

[Don’t say I didn’t warn you: this will be a rather disjointed post because my synapses are not connecting. I’m not sure they ever were, really, but today they are all over the place. It’s like there’s a fantastically uncoordinated game of Pong going on inside my head.]

After reading this post by Sisyphus over at Academic Cog, I realized that I have been wasting a lot of time in the last two weeks (surprise! surprise!). I don’t really have that much to do either. I work 15 hours a week at a completely non-academic related job, but I only have 2 seminar papers and 1 grad application to complete. Compared to the last time I was applying to graduate schools, this is a piece of cake! For some perspective: the last time I applied I was taking three grad seminars in history, serving as a teaching assistant for an intro to American history course with a total of 160 students (and only little ol’ me to do all of that grading), working on the editorial board of the department’s journal, and applying to 15 schools (which I later dropped down to 9 because I–and my wallet–just couldn’t take it anymore). Hmmm, I’ve apparently lost my mojo since then.

Anyhoo, Sisyphus gives some good advice about approaching the monumental task of writing a dissertation: start small. Sub-section the bajeezus out of whatever it is you are writing and work on one section at a time. I mean, when working on a jigsaw puzzle you don’t pick up every piece at once and smash them all into a perfectly ordered final product–you place one tiny piece at a time. So I will try to embrace that as a strategy. I will sit my arse down in front of the computer and write (and write something other than blog posts). I need to get draft of my statement of purpose done today, and this weekend I need to make some headway on at least one of my seminar papers. Oh, and I need to make apple cider cupcakes because, well, they look delicious and baking helps me relax.

On another note entirely, I have decided that I will most likely drop out of most of my reading challenges (with the exception of the Russian Reading Challenge for 2008). Yesterday I found myself wanting to read some Cynthia Ozick and I hesitated because it wouldn’t count for any challenge. WTF? At this crucial moment in the semester reading really needs to be fun and not an obligation, as I have plenty of those to avoid already.

And a final note: I highly recommend this post on the ever-irritating statement of purpose over at Notes of a Neophyte.  Hi-larious. And so true.  And it’s sad, you know, when a spoof is so much better than the piece of crap I have right now.  Sigh.

My first Booking Through Thursday

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Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on?

I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that… Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors…

I would have to say that books for a reading challenge often fall under this category, but perhaps that’s why I’m so abysmal at finishing (or even starting) challenges. I have the best intentions really, but I agree with bookeywookey–I don’t want reading to be an obligation. I like having a list to work from, but I rarely pursue the list of books in any sort of orderly fashion and I’m usually attacked by random books along the way (going to the bookstore is something like an Indiana Jones adventure in my household–I’m constantly dodging appealing books. Or, I should say, my wallet is doing all the dodging). So ultimately, the reading I do for my graduate seminars ends up being the only reading that is really strung together in any sort of conscious and thematic sense (it also appears to be the only reading that I actually finish). After a reading binge I might find that there was something to link books together, but it wasn’t something I necessarily paid attention to at the time. I just pick up what appeals to me at any given moment (and all too often I put it down without finishing it when it no longer has that impact).

On Pride and Prejudice

Alternatively titled: I know way too much about Jane Austen and this is a really long post so I don’t blame you if you don’t read it. Alternatively, alternatively titled: How literature can change your life.

[Nota Bene: I realized after initially writing this post that part of it was really inspired by a conversation I had with Apparent Dip this morning regarding those literary reviews that ultimately highlight the reviewer. You know the ones. The ones that say, “Hey, I’m smarter than that person because of X,” or “I’m too smart to be taken in by that popular book,” or “This is the book that I think should be written.” I just wanted to give credit where credit was due. In other words, if you disagree with the post, it’s Apparent Dip’s fault.]

Today in my grad seminar on the Romantic Era novel, we discussed Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. One of the more interesting questions that came up was: Why Jane Austen? Why, when she was not as popular as other female writers (such as Maria Edgeworth) in her own time, has she come to stand in as one of the best known examples of Romantic era novelists? We threw around a lot of different ideas (she seemed “safely” English compared to Edgeworth, for example; her political arguments are rather subtly drawn–you can see it if you look for it, but you can also choose to ignore it in favor of the overall plotline; in the mid-1980s and into the 1990s the British government made a conscious decision to support film adaptations in the hopes of increasing tourism and giving a boost to the economy; she died young and there’s an air of mystery about her life due to that early death and the mythologizing that her family participated in by burning large parts of her correspondence leave one with a sense of possibility, etc).

The more material point of the discussion being: I revealed the full extent of my dorkiness.

Now, I could have made excuses for the fact that I have seen every adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (including the Mormon version–twice), Emma, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility. I mean, for a while I was a graduate student living in a really expensive city and away from my husband. I could barely afford my tiny studio apartment, let alone finance other fun excursions. But a subscription to Netflix is rather cheap by comparison. So I watched movies. A lot. Moreover, a few years ago I also worked in an independent bookstore in the San Francisco Bay Area. When you are responsible for shelving the fiction and mystery sections and the popular table titles, you’re bound to discover all of the Jane Austen fan fiction (and even read some of it). But that is only half of the story really. Now that I can afford cable (or I should say, now that Apparent Dip pays for the cable) I watch a bit of tv (not as much as I could, but quite a bit really). I fully participate in popular culture. And I continue to watch a lot of movies, often over and over again, particularly if they are set in England (I’ve just completed the entire Inspector Morse series, and I’ve also seen every Miss Marple and Poirot adaptation). They often serve as background noise while I’m reading or writing. And I’ll come right out and admit it: shows like Dancing with the Stars, Project Runway, and Top Chef are consistently recorded for my leisurely perusal.

What I found interesting, however, is the sense that I got from my fellow grad students that I should somehow be ashamed of this. That there was something rather embarrassing about my unabashed (and so not ironic) fondness for Austen-mania. And at first I bought into it. But now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I’ve had a bit of an epiphany, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

I think that grad school is rough. And part of the reason I think this is so is that it breeds insecurity. We (and I know I’m generalizing here but hear me out), we academics spend so much time trying to justify our positions in the world and to act the part of a proper intellectual (whatever that is), that it takes a bit for one to realize that it’s ok to love sports and Jane Austen (hell, it’s ok to love Jane Austen period). It’s ok to enjoy the mindlessness of Dancing with the Stars while reading Daniel Deronda and thinking about other very serious matters. I know that I can think critically about the world around me and therefore, I don’t feel the need to perform for others all of the time in an effort to prove the same to them. Thus, I can talk trash about any football team that isn’t the Green Bay Packers and then turn to a discussion of Jews and the politics of authorship in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams. I enjoy cheesy chick flicks, mysteries, and romance novels. But I also enjoy delving into those books that might be termed “high” literature. I don’t feel the need to disdain popular novels just because they’re popular. I read what I read, I watch what I watch, and I have chosen the career of an intellectual because I want to. Because all of these things, contradictory as they may appear, ultimately make me a “round” character (and not just in the sense of physical appearance, ha, ha).* Plus, it gives me a lot to talk about, which is good, as I love to gab (my mom used to say that I made her ears tired).

Anyhoo, this is a long way of saying that I often worry about the fact that I feel so “old” compared to my fellow grad students. I mean, I’m essentially starting my graduate career at a point when most people are applying for jobs, ph.d. in hand. But at the same time, I think that being a bit older has given me the clarity to see that I don’t have to perform all the time. Oh, I still play the game when required, but I can relax with myself a bit more, in part because I’ve started to understand who I really am.

See? Reading Jane Austen really can change your life!

* I am using a notion of “round” characters as taken from Deidre Lynch, “‘Round Characters’ and Romantic-Period Reading Relations,” from The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 123-63.

And we’re back…sort of

Well, Thanksgiving was lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed a little mini-vacation in which Apparent Dip and I didn’t really do much of anything.  I am almost done with Daniel Deronda (only 75 pages left), and I finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice while making my way through some secondary literature for my currently thesis-less research papers (the desk is no longer the problem surface of the apartment–the dining room table has that honor now. Several piles o’ doom have apparently sprung up overnight!).

I also changed the look of the blog again.  The next couple of weeks will most likely be a bit rough on me, as I’m trying to finish course work, the weather is rather blah, and I somehow locked myself into having a statement of purpose finished by Friday (the application isn’t due until early January).  The dark blog was beginning to feel too dark, and this way I can change the header (and I get my Groucho Marx quote back, hurrah!).

Anyhoo, blogging might be a bit scarce around here as I attempt to get this semester under wraps, but then again, it might pick up, as blogging is an excellent tool for procrastination!   Off I go to put together information packets for the kind people writing my letters of recommendation…

messiness is next to godliness…

…right? At least, that’s how the quote should go, in my humble (and chaotic) opinion. I think I have figured out ONE of the reasons as to why I’m not getting much done. (For those of you who can’t stand, um, a wee bit of messiness, I suggest you avert your eyes, or make sure you’re sitting down) I present you with: my desk!

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At least, this was my desk a couple of weeks ago. Apparent Dip got a kick out of the fact that a big bottle of ibuprofen and a couple of boxes of bandaids are front and center (he thought it was related to my amazing ability to injure myself while spinning and knitting–didn’t know that fiber arts were contact sports did you?). In this picture you see several ounces of fiber waiting to be spun, a sweater project waiting to be knit, and waaaaay too many knitting and book magazines. Oh, and somewhere in there is my computer and the work I have to do for my courses this semester. I have since taken the desk apart and replaced it with a smaller table. I do believe that Jane Austen would have written something like this had she known me:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a horizontal surface, reasonably clean, must be in want of a bunch of piles of crap.*

So, in an effort to mitigate my tendency to fill up blank space, I’ve reduced the space altogether–so far so good (we won’t mention the fact that I have simply moved things to the dining room table. Better to just ignore that part of it, is it not?).

Given the fact that I have accomplished very little in the way of work lately, I am taking the rest of the week to get something done. I have two papers to write, a bunch of secondary sources to skim read, and I have to finish 1/3 of Daniel Deronda. Luckily, Apparent Dip and I have a very low-key holiday planned: for the first time in several years, we aren’t traveling or hosting Thanksgiving, so we’re planning on making way too much food for the two of us, getting some work done while the campus is dead, and then hanging out by the fireplace and watching the hoped-for snow. To all of my readers celebrating Thanksgiving this week: happy Thanksgiving! For the rest of you: happy third week of November!

*My apologies to Jane’s memory and linguistic abilities!

I talk English real good

Sign 75 bajillion that I really need Thanksgiving to get here: my language ability?  In the toilet.  I just left a comment on someone’s blog that would make most pre-schoolers ashamed to be seen with me.  What’s even worse–this inability to articulate myself is not because of overwork…I haven’t accomplished ANYTHING lately.  It’s just that my brain. won’t. work. anymore.  I feel like my cats: ooooh, shiny pretty thing.  It moves!  Wait, what’s that!  (runs off to investigate something completely invisible, knocking things over in the process).  Yup, that’s my brain right now…a cat with ADHD.

Coming up tonight: an actual post (with pictures) and more horrible grammar!  Yippee!

It’s snowing!

I need some hot chocolate, a fire in the fireplace, some warm slippers and Daniel Deronda.  Ahhh, bliss.