Category: college

Feeling Pressure: Learning to Perform under It

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“One of my professors assigned two papers that are due at the same time.”

This from my youngest son, a young man who believes he’s headed into the marketing industry. I’m sure once he’s there, his employer will never assign him multiple projects that share the same due date.

Yeah, right. What universe does he plan to live and work in? Certainly not the American one. Read more

Is a Power Point without a Presenter Worthwhile?

Isn't this a beautiful slide?
Isn’t this a beautiful slide?

Once again, one of my online professors has assigned a Power Point project. While I have no problems researching and designing these presentations, I wonder at their effectiveness.

What is the point of a presentation? It should display facts and media that informs or persuades an audience.

Can a slide show do that without a human presenter? I’ve seen musical displays that evoke deep emotions. Recently, the teacher I work with showed one about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in our reading class. I was choked up and teary-eyed. The music helped the pictures evoke an emotional response.

This would hardly be the point of my presentation about the major themes in A Visit from the Goon Squad. In fact, it has no sound bites whatsoever. Although it contains sound information in an appealing format, it seems dull and lifeless to me.

Even with my voice file giving the presentation, the Power Point I designed to “sell my skills” for a class last term seemed to fall flat. To me, these slides are a visual enhancement, but as the speaker, I’m the main attraction.

Am I looking at this all wrong? I would love to hear what my readers think about a Power Point presentation standing alone.

Analyzing Literature

circling sharks

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve read a prize-winning novel, and now I have to analyze it for my Seminar in American Literature. My analysis should run six to eight pages in length.

What is making this paper so difficult to write? I have two answers for this question:

  • I didn’t like the book – I did like the writing and I was amazed by Egan’s ability to break so many rules and still win a Pulitzer. There was no struggle to keep reading because I kept thinking, “This is all going to make sense in the end.” Wrong! This is what I didn’t like about it. Sure, that made it gritty and realistic, but I expect more from a book. I can get all the bad news I want from the newspaper – or my classroom. A writer needs to deliver closure in some form, even if it isn’t a happy ending.
  • Focusing in on loss of innocence is depressing – It sure hasn’t added any happy moments to the past five weeks. Even without writing about the “failed” characters in my paper, I couldn’t offer much hope or cheer. Since my thesis states that every bad choice is redeemable and no dream is unreachable, I forced myself to narrow my view to those characters that were able to turn it around. Still, it’s not a happy picture.

Actually, I think my difficulty might be because there is no way to support my analysis. Since the book is so new, there aren’t any journal articles published that deal with it. I can find book reviews, but that’s not the same sort of analytical thinking that comprises those peer-reviewed journals.

I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean, fully dependent upon an orange life jacket. Swallowing the sun, the horizon stretches for eternity. Somewhere below me, I’m sure the sharks are gathering.

In this scenario of sink or swim, it feels like swimming will zap all my energy, and the end result will be the same. Shark bait Slipping beneath the salty waves to sleep forever.

Wow, a paper that makes death look restful.

What Makes a Pulitzer Prize Winner?

Established by Joseph Pulitzer, prize-winning journalist, this award has become a coveted prize among many novelists. I dreamed I would be the winner after I wrote my first book in fourth grade. Did I mention I’m unpublished?

According to the Huffington Post (link below), “The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for achievements in journalism, literature and musical composition. They were established in 1917, and are run by Columbia University.” In 2012, the board at Columbia deemed “no book worthy” for the second time, the previous non-winning year was 1977.

This term, I’m responsible for reading two Pulitzer winning fiction books, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the winner in 1961; and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, the 2011 winner. As part of my analysis, I hope to find common ground between these two novels so I could submit my “shortlist” of qualities that make a novel worthy of this distinguished prize.

These novels are light-years apart in theme, character, story and basic concept. However, I did manage to find some broad common denominators between these acclaimed novels.

1.      Unique Writing Voice

Lee writes solidly from the perspective of Scout. Her voice is child-like and authentic. Egan jumps from point of view to point of view but every new character has his or her own distinctive voice.

2.      Strong POV Characters

Scout is a beloved character in literature. Even though she sacrifices her childhood, she gains insight that many adults have never acquired. Egan switches between first, second and third person and most of her characters garner reader sympathy or powerful commiseration. Some of them are stronger.

I was most surprised by her chapter written from second person. It was convincingly written and I felt like I was inside that character, even as he shoved at me with “you” and “your.”

3.      Character Arc

If characters don’t change, learn or grow, a story has been wasted. Although Egan’s character arc was difficult to follow because of the non-linear way she organized her book, the major characters did grow and change. From drug-addict to kleptomaniac to respectable mother of two, Sasha overcomes obstacles I’m happy to have never faced. Learning that friendship is more valuable than prestige, Bennie suffers through many losses but ends up emotionally ahead in the end.

4.      Theme: Timeless but Pertinent

Like all good books, both of these novels have numerous themes. I will focus on the one I found to be most relevant in any era.

One thing Atticus re-emphasizes with his children is the fact that empathy leads to compassion and true understanding. In the end, Scout comes to the same realization. Gossip and speculation cause people to form erroneous assumptions, but from the porch of the Radley house, Scout understands empathy is the road to ultimate truth.

In her novel, Egan shows that no one is unredeemable. Failures and detours mark every character in the story. No one is unscathed. In the end, there has been a small victory for each person.  Not that it’s a happy ending, but the reader walks away with a tiny glimpse of hopefulness.

The Two Pulitzer Winners
The Two Pulitzer Winners

I think I was more surprised by the things that didn’t seem important. In this case, there were literary elements I felt a Pulitzer novel should include, but either one or the other of these authors fell short of the mark.

In my mind, a literary prize should include:

  • A linear plot line (or at least a clear plot)
  • Beautiful language
  • Strong structural elements

In fact, A Visit from the Goon Squad failed to include any of these three items. I will concede that Egan used her words well, sparingly and effectively, but I wasn’t enthralled by any particular turn of phrase.

On the other hand, Lee uses all of these elements in her winning novel. Many pithy turns of phrase made their way into my Reading Journal.

Is the committee starting to relax their standards? Is there no strong writing being produced in America that’s worthy of this prize?

Source:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/nobody-wins-pulitzer-prize-fiction-2012_n_1429357.html

My Spring Break

Spring break spent on a sunny beach in Florida plagues the dreams of college coeds everywhere. Doesn’t it? Or is that so 1990s?

Not that it matters. I didn’t get an entire week there, anyway, only four days. Did I mention that I’ve been dipping into the sunless tanning lotion again?

Sometimes I love my husband’s job. Right now is one of those times. When his cell phone goes off at midnight – not so much. Thanks to his employer, my husband will be in Orlando for a conference on the Monday – Thursday before spring break (from my job, I don’t actually get any break from my college classes.)

Thanks to budget constraints, the Friday before break happens to be one of the eight days cut from my work schedule. Consequently, I flew out of Portland on Thursday evening and  awoke to a Florida sunrise.

I told myself: “If I spend every waking hour beside the pool, it will be a dream vacation.” Unfortunately, the weather was feeling fickle. Apparently, that’s a Floridian quality, not just one reserved for Oregon. I spent two hours by the pool on two days, but the sky was partly sunny at best.

On the last day, an enormous storm blew in. It’s quite the adrenaline rush when the “Emergency Broadcasting System” tone comes on and is follwed by a tornado warning.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see any funnel clouds. The wind reached 86 mph. Rain in the amount of nearly two inches was dumped within one hour. Thunder and lightning accompanied the ferocious weather. We sat inside an ice cream parlor, next to the huge glass windows, and watched it all unfold. Awesome!

What’s your idea of a dream vacation? What’s your most memorable spring break?

Dual-Purpose Novel

Reading thrills me. Books invite me in, feed my linguistic genius and hold me hostage until the last page.

It would be nice to be able to truly revel in the beautiful language Harper Lee uses in To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’ve got another novel (or three) to read before the month is out.

Considering the limited number of hours in my day (and my physical need for sleep), I hatched a brilliant plan. For one class this term, I had to select a prize-winning book to use for all the assignments. (This week I wrote a press release for it). In my other class, I needed to select a novel that had some theme related to loss of innocence written by an American author.

After a quick perusal of the Pulitzer Prize winners’ listing from the past ten years, I settled on a title. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2011. It sounded like the author used ingenuity in the construction of the novel, so I hopped over to Amazon and purchased it.

With a kleptomaniac and a washed-up music producer mentioned in the description, I knew Egan’s book would fit in the loss of innocence category. Score! I just reduced my required reading by one book.

If you haven’t read (or seen or heard of) Egan’s novel, I have to tell you she breaks every rule ever penned about point of view. Additionally, I’m still wondering if the book should be considered literature since I’m having a hard time identifying basic elements, like plot, antagonist and protagonist.

Do you think I made the right choice by getting a novel that could serve a dual purpose? If you’ve read Egan’s books, I would love to hear your insights about it.

Two Terms to Go

Image by 123rf.com

Embarking on yet another eight week tidal wave of mental expansion, I can’t help but smile. My beaming face dwarfs the sun. Of course, since I live in the rainy Northwest, it isn’t hard to eclipse that brilliant star. This time of year, the clouds do a fine job of it.

Both of my classes are applicable to my major and they seem interesting. It looks like I will be reading so much for class that I won’t have time for any recreational reading. I may even have to trade in my fantasy “one chapter before bed” for school-related reading material.

Context of Writing

In the class description, the context of writing should educate students on the publishing industry. With course objectives like: identify and examine the driving forces of the literary marketplace and examine current trends in publishing, it appears I might learn something.

Hopefully, the wisdom I glean will push me toward becoming published. If nothing else, it should at least help me determine if I’m going to go with traditional publishing, indie publishing or self-publishing.

I was required to purchase a prize-winning book to use for all the course work. In addition to reading this novel (more on that in a later post), I have to read Book Business by Jason Epstein. I hope it reads more happily than it sounds. (Newsflash: I read the preface and first chapter and it isn’t too dry – so far.)

Every week I have to write a short paper for this class and I also will keep a blog through the eight-week term. At the end of the term, a six-page paper on the future of the book business will wrap up my publishing enlightenment.

Seminar in American Literature

Finally, my senior level literature class has arrived. With it, To Kill a Mockingbird and a delightful anthology of short fiction taunt me with impending boatloads of reading assignments.

In addition to reading Lee’s masterpiece, I must read another novel. I’ll analyze this novel’s themes around the premise of the class. You’ll love this cheerful theme we’re focusing on: the American ideal of loss of innocence. Should the loss of innocence ever be considered ideal?

My final for the class is an eight-page analytical paper on this yet unnamed novel and a PowerPoint outlining its major themes. Along the way, I will have to write two other papers. Fortunately, the topics have already been given so I can begin the writing as soon as I’ve finished the reading.

Did I mention I’ll be buried with texts and reading assignments for the next eight weeks? I’m hyperventilating from the weight of literary dirt over my thin casket of time.

I was hoping that I might be able to get back to writing my novel this term. With the three blog posts per week, I’ve been barely keeping my head above water. Throw in two long term papers and some shorter essays every week for class, and I don’t see much creative juice being available for the novel.

Should I be making time to write that? I always feel so guilty when I’m not doing schoolwork, and so I write in unfocused circular motion.

What is Wisdom?

“Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences” – Norman Cousins

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Four months away from having a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature conferred upon me by a reputable institution of higher learning, I ponder the definition of wisdom.

Many of the quotations I found while searching for something that partnered well with my post inferred that wisdom was directly related to asking questions. I really thought that would be knowledge, so I went to the dictionary for a clear definition.

Dictionary.com says that wisdom is “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.” In my own words, I’d say wisdom means knowing the right thing to do and doing it. Additionally, I believe wisdom understands there is a “best way” for these actions to be completed and performs them accordingly.

Several days ago, I posted on my church blog about a wise woman from the Bible named Abigail. Her life, filled with unpleasantness at the hands of her churl of a husband, wouldn’t seem one that would lend itself to finding wisdom. However, that wasn’t the case at all.

Some Americans in this era act as if higher education is the path to wisdom. If you don’t have a college degree, you’re doomed to mediocrity and probably believe everything you hear on TV.

Education is the path to knowledge. Wisdom is the path of experience. After eight weeks of reading Shakespeare, I can safely say I’m not an expert in anything having to do with The Bard. In fact, by increasing my knowledge and experiencing more of his writing first hand, my ignorance was illuminated. However, the path to wisdom isn’t by thorough knowledge of Shakespeare.

Wisdom graces our everyday life with enlightened decision making. Exercising problem solving skills and higher reasoning, anyone can live wisely. The key is to think before you act (or speak) and recognize when you don’t have enough information to accurately judge what the best course of action would be.

In that moment, a wise person asks questions. They seek knowledge to inform their decisions. So, I suppose all those quotes that saw a correlation between wisdom and asking questions were insightful, after all.

Wisdom: no college degree required. In fact, a college degree might give some people a false sense of confidence.

I hope and pray I’ll be wiser in four months. I’ll be exercising decision-making skills every day until then. In the meantime, I’ll remember that “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:28).

I hope I’m wise enough to keep my mouth shut.

The Power of Guilt

Tragedy upon tragedy, that’s been the consensus drawn from this Shakespeare class. My final paper addresses whether or not Macbeth is a moral play.

According to this website http://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/eng/lfletcher/macbeth/papers/ksteiner.htm, a morality play, or moral play, is when a hero is tempted, falls from grace and must be brought to justice for order to be restored.

Compared with the other happy and uplifting (sarcasm drips from my fingertips) plays we’ve read this term, Macbeth seems to fall into this form more than the form of a simple tragedy. In fact, Macbeth doesn’t seem to have the ambition to promote himself in the beginning of the play and haply serves Duncan.

I’ve always felt that Lady Macbeth resembled Pilate’s wife. The greatest difference is that Lady Macbeth cajoled and belittled her husband until he finally became a murderer – thrice over in one night. Afterward, guilt ate at her, driving her to walk in her sleep while trying to wash the blood from her hands.

Pilate’s wife had a dream and warned Pilate not to condemn Jesus Christ. This was a wife who pushed her husband in the moral direction. Unfortunately, Pilate tied his hands by offering the mob a choice.

Guilt seems to affect Macbeth at first, too. He sees the ghost of Banquo at a dinner party he’s hosting and all the guests think him mad. Once he becomes king, he hires his evil deeds out and assassinates the family of one of his peers, after being warned to “beware Macduff.” This seemed to be the point when he carried things too far and began losing the support of his own men.

Guilt wields cutting power to rival a sharpened scimitar. Of course, guilt can be silenced and disarmed if a person has no moral compass. Guilt’s power comes directly from the assumption that there are absolute truths and standards. Once these standards are disregarded, guilt salutes the offender with a resounding “en garde.”

Macbeth shares characteristics with moral plays, but Shakespeare broke away from being “preachy” and gave the audience the freedom to determine the guilt of Macbeth.

Talk about a Dysfunctional Family

Working in a middle school in a town that is the county seat in a state with an unemployment rate that exceeds the national average, I see plenty of dysfunctional families. Who would have thought I would have been amazed by the crazy family dynamics of a play written in 1605.

Things I see in my everyday student interactions include:

  1. Students with four sets of parents
  2. Students whose parents are in jail
  3. Students who live with their grandparents or aunt and uncle
  4. Students with hyphenated last names because of their parental marriage situation
  5. Students who don’t have enough food, clean clothes or their own bed to sleep in
  6. Homelessness

I could continue, but just writing this down is depressing me.

In King Lear, we have a crazy king with three daughters (no one knows what happened to Mrs. Lear) and a lord who has two sons. None of these people live happily ever after.

The king disowns his youngest daughter for no apparent reason and bequeaths his worldly goods to the other two (and their spouses) with the stipulation that he will reside a month at a time at either of their estates. He will arrive to the oldest daughter’s home with his retinue of 100 knights shortly.

These loving daughters turn him away. He can’t stay unless he gives up his knights. How could they possibly support such a hoard of hungry men? Oh, I wonder. Using the money you just inherited from the very father you’re denying perhaps?

From USAToday

Our other model family is Lord Gloucester and his sons. His oldest son seems somewhat dense but fiercely loyal. His youngest son is illegitimate and weary of being overlooked. Big brother gets all the strokes and carries around dad’s name. He decides to betray them both.

First, he manufactures a plot against his father and says his brother planned it. He sends the brother away, claiming he will take up his cause with their father. Not a chance. Later, he allows the father’s eyes to be gouged out and the brother to wander aimlessly.

In the end, they all die. After all, this is Shakespeare. The two older sisters fight over the illegitimate son and poison each other. The older brother kills the younger brother in a duel. The disowned daughter is murdered and the king dies of a broken heart.

It’s worse than any soap opera aired today. Exponentially worse.

Do you feel that Shakespeare needed to kill so many of his major characters to get his point across? Do people have to die for a story to be considered tragic? I’d love to hear from you.