Notes from the Seventh Grade

Yesterday, I was in a hurry to go to a meeting/movie night for the English Honor Society so I grabbed a mandarin orange and ran out the door. The sun had already dipped just below the horizon and streetlights were lit up prematurely in the blue-grey of dusk. As I peeled and savored the bright fruit, I remembered an old poem that I had first read in the seventh grade – Gary Soto’s “Oranges.”

It’s a simple poem about young love, “the first time I walked/ with a girl.” On a cold December evening, the narrator takes this girl, whose face was “bright/ with rouge,” to a store and buys her a chocolate by trading in an orange because he didn’t have quite enough money. Like I said, simple. Seventh grade note-passing Pokemon-loving simple. But somehow, the words have always stuck with me.

I remember my literature teacher going on and on about the imagery. “Fog hanging like old/ coats between the trees,” she would quote. “Imagine that. Isn’t that beautiful?” At the time, I didn’t think that much about it. I liked the story and thought it was cute, but I didn’t see what the big deal was about the fog.

But now, when I see the misty fog as it hovers over Wilson Plaza, I imagine them to be coats, waiting to be worn by some fairy queen. And that evening, while I ate my orange, I remembered the words:

I peeled my orange

That was so bright against

The gray of December

That, from some distance,

Someone might have thought

I was making a fire in my hands.

I remember reading once that you meet your most important, most memorable books before the age of 12. To think that one’s reading career ended before high school seemed too sad and impossible to me, but to a certain extent, that statement seems to be true. The books that you like and the person that you will become are inevitably shaped by what you were exposed to as a child. When I walk to class, old lines of poetry come to me and a tiny orange becomes a bright orb of fire between my fingers.

Poetry makes the world more beautiful.

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Chaucer’s Revenge?

Hilarious email that I thought was worth reposting:

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than the other possibility, German.

As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded  that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as ‘Euro-English’.

In the first year, ‘s’ will replace the soft ‘c’. Sertainly,  this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will be  dropped in favour of ‘k’. This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan  have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced with ‘f’. This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more  komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent ‘e’ in the  languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and ‘w’ with ‘v’.

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’ and after ziz fifz yer, vevil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza.

Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer,ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

“I go alone/ Like to a lonely dragon”

A conversation with the boyfriend –

Me: Did you know that Shakespeare made the word “lonely” popular? Like people didn’t use that word until Shakespeare. But that’s crazy ’cause its so common now.

Boyfriend: Maybe people were just really happy before and then Shakespeare came along and opened Pandora’s box. And everyone was sad. 😦

Well… not quite, although Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human does make a similar (controversial) claim. Whether or not Shakespeare was the first to discover or conceive of individual psychology (and then make that concept popular), he certainly left us with a great set of new vocabulary with which to describe our inner selves. One of the most fundamental things that I believe and love about literature is that language can change the way we think and see the world. Shakespeare was a great inventor of language and he was so good at saying “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed” as Alexander Pope would put it. (Although, to temper my bardolatry, I will also say that he produced some duds like “unfix”.)

A lot of non-English majors I know shrug off Shakespeare like a chore, something they had to read in high school, and they wonder how Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing will ever be useful. Maybe its because Renaissance drama is my specialization, but I really do feel like Shakespearean studies is important precisely because Shakespearean language has influenced so much of Western culture since the 1600s. Ever use the words “dejected,” “ruminate,” or “pious”? Or even “abstemious” – which is usually the second or third word on any SAT vocab list? You have Shakespeare to thank for that.

Now that I’ve given my “why I love English” speech of the day, it’s time to get back to converting citations for my professor’s article on Shakespearean neologisms. It’s tedious, but also insanely awesome because it’s like I’m reading a top secret unpublished manuscript. I love my new job.

Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It

Life for the graduating senior really moves way too fast. The last time I posted, I was happily savoring my second academic conference and dreaming about the pleasures of research. Unfortunately, literally the day after the conference, my life became consumed by graduate school applications. From ordering GRE scores to mailing two dozen transcripts to chasing down fee waivers, my days quickly became filled with frantic runs to the post office and calls to departments about tedious procedural issues. Not to mention personal statements and writing samples to edit and personalize for each program. Every school has different requirements and little details like “Do you send it to the Graduate Division or the department?” or “Official or unofficial transcript? (And all colleges attended or just your degree-granting institution?)” will slowly start to drive you insane. I think I really underestimated how stressful it would be to apply to twelve PhD programs while still taking 17 units worth of classes and working on a senior thesis. It definitely didn’t help that my first and second round of deadlines were during and immediately after finals. For the massive number of schools with a December 15 deadline (Tuesday after finals week), I basically ended up ordering pizza, making ramen, and working on applications around the clock. While I made all my deadlines and do feel like I represented myself very well, I would have appreciated having a bit more time (and being less stressed out).

So I guess my most important advice to future applicants who aren’t taking a gap year is this: start early and allocate as much time for applications as you would a core class. Take your GRE and subject test early – preferably during your junior year. Research and finalize your program choices over summer. During Fall quarter, take a light course load and ease off the extracurriculars. Of course there are a lot of other things you should do to increase your chances of getting into a program, but the bottom line is that if you don’t take the time to present yourself in the best light, then all the work you’ve done to make yourself competitive will be completely useless.

However, even though application season was like a hellish nightmare, there were also moments when the process really made me appreciate why I wanted to go to graduate school in the first place. While researching faculty interests, I quickly found myself immersed in the research of those professors whose articles I had cited and whom I greatly admired. In reading their works, you indirectly engage with the greatest minds in your specialty and you desperately hope to one day get the opportunity to learn anything and everything from them. At some point in the application process, it dawns on you that this time next year, you might be studying under the likes of Stephen Greenblatt, Jeffrey Knapp, or David Scott Kastan. And it’s absolutely thrilling.

Since the new year, I’ve given myself a few weeks to wind down, but recently things are picking up again. I’m going over the unit cap again with 22 units and 5 classes this quarter so there really isn’t that much room to slack off. My senior thesis (40-60 pgs!) is due in March (my tentative draft deadline though is February 15) so I think I’ll be focusing mostly on that for the next few weeks. I also just got a research assistant position under my Shakespeare professor this week AND I still have two midterms, a few quizzes, two papers, and three finals left in the next six weeks so it will be a hard run to the finish.

The view on the other side of this quarter is going to be great though. I will be presenting at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in St. Louis in March the day after my last final and at the University of Montana, Missoula in April for the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). By then, I’ll have heard back from all my schools and the annual Westwind/Aleph Conference in May will be a nice cap to my senior year. Then graduation!

In four months and one week, my “college years” will be over and the days of just pretending to be grown up will be gone. Am I ready to be a grad student, live alone in a new town, and fend for myself? Am I ready to be a grown up? Just thinking about it takes my breath away.