Tag Archives: writing

Welp, I’m back

Sorry about the break. I really did think I could write a blog post about each day of the written portion of my comprehensive exams. Friends, I could not. I had no idea how much energy that was going to take out of me, including the one-hour commute each way. The day I wrote 5000 words, I slept the sleep of the dead. But, I’ve handed in my answers and it’s in the hands of my committee now.

How do I feel? Terrible. Well, not today. Over the last day or two I have settled down, but where I thought I would feel relief I only felt shame. I came out of the process feeling stupid, unprepared, more than an imposter, but a charlatan. I was (and kinda am) still thoroughly convinced that my oral exam will just be my committed expressing this disdain and then handing me packing boxes to clear my things and go. I was exhausted on Friday and cried. I blew up on Saturday morning and cried. Today, no crying, but still anxiety.

I’m going to stay as busy as possible this week so I don’t have time to think about anything negative. I will listen to every Agatha Christie book my library has and catch up on all my manga. Yah. That’s the plan.

Comp Exams Day 1 – the OS update

Thanks to the advocacy of previous graduate students, our school changed the structure of the English Ph.D. comprehensive exams from a 5-hour, in-person essay test to a take-home, multiday writing test. We still have questions that test the breadth and depth of our knowledge, but now we’ll be answering them in a way that more closely reflects how we actually do scholarly work.

Today I received my questions via email at 7 am. I was ready, so ready I forgot to take my pills. (I didn’t notice a difference aside from my disappointment, but I will not forget tomorrow). I took some time to read over all the options, made a few early selections, then grabbed a few relevant books (yes, I had to take the heavy one) and left.

I have a long commute, so it gave me the chance to let the back of my brain stew while I focused on my breathing. By the time I got to my office, I was ready to go. I took some time to create my draft documents, copy the selected question into the file, then do a preliminary–more like prepreprepreliminary–outline and listed out the texts/authors I would be using. Some of the questions were really interesting and I felt myself being pulled into working on them. Others I’d already written a thousand or more words about the topic. I chose the latter where I could.

That all done, I spent the next thirty minutes just going through papers and taking notes while my MacBook updated…

…then I was ready to go! The writing was sluggish at first. I felt myself tripping over how to phrase ideas and wrote too floridly and sometimes too simply, then convinced myself to get SOMETHING down because you can’t edit an empty page. I was aiming for 2400 words and I left at 1911. That’s not a failure.

I still had to finish grading the work in my summer class and needed to get the final papers out. But after getting that finished, I still ended up working on one of the other questions and getting more words in. Since this is a different format, the word count doesn’t really matter, but the hard work of selecting texts is done.

I think tomorrow will be a more productive day. I’ll be able to start writing right away, knowing I have minimaps in every draft document. I plan to come back to my DAY 1 answer tomorrow night, after I’ve allowed it to stew while I work on DAY 2’s answer. NIGHT 1’s answer has the bones to it, and I have a book here that can help me make sure I put them in the right spots.

Feeling optimistic and ready to keep rolling!

Always write your notes as if they’ll be found

While I was transcribing my notebook today, I came across this paragraph I wrote about the first chapter of Richard Miller’s Writing at the End of the World:

Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club is discussed in detail and while I’m pleased we found the time to discuss a female writer, I’m saddened that her story has to be about hope generated through the expression of her psychological and physical trauma and that her contribution is about forgiveness. Thank goodness for the lady nurturers. “It might seem that by organizing these readings in this way, I’ve been building up to a spirited defense of the social and therapeutic value of writing one’s memoirs” (24). Reader, he is not. Amis, Krakauer, Descartes all new that writing could exemplify, amplify their anxieties: “extend one’s sense of despair and one’s sense of superiority” (24) but they lacked the knowledge that Karr had, that writing could generate hope and forgiveness and an understanding of one’s own past and path. Miller forgets to point out that men often have the space, time, leisure to amplify their pain because the women compromise, cajole, and cooperate. Karr finds hope and optimism because she is not allowed the space to brood and sulk in the literary world. Her pain isn’t vented through literary doppelgangers or shooting sprees—it burns until it’s contained and only valued when her trauma is transformed into that most useful of all stolen artifacts—hope.

My Unofficial Teaching Philosophy

There was a video get-together for the launch of a fiction anthology that I have a story in. It was a little awkward for me since I didn’t know anyone, but someone asked me about teaching freshman composition and here’s my 3.5 minute response (Starts at 53:34 if the video link doesn’t work properly):

This was also posted on Facebook.