Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the english major as a heroic enterprise

(my scholastic heroine face. harder than you'd think to pull--just the right amount of hoity-toity and fearlessness.)

i am a heroine, on a heroic enterprise in this journey to become a professor of literature. or so my faculty advisor told me tonight. as being such requires the biannual ritual of term-paper writing, i believe it is high time for the following list:

things i love about writing term papers:
  • the double-dipped chocolate peanuts. i'll be honest, that IS the first thing i think when term-paper time rolls around every year. no i am not ashamed okay maybe a little. they're in the bookstore at the fudge counter. they really help when it's 3 pm and you have fallen into the black hole of realizing that you don't a) have enough time to write the length of paper you need to, b) have enough time to write the quality of paper you need to, or c) even have an idea for what you are going to write the paper about. at that point, you begin losing any semblance of hope you had, and are nigh resigning yourself to utter despair! bad news. the good news: double-dipped chocolate peanuts will pull you out of the 3 pm black hole. you're welcome.
  • the stillness of writing a paper at 5 am on the bedroom floor. the morning really is a time when there is enough quiet that the right words seem all around. fruit to be plucked off the tree. (by 3 pm the fruit has been thoroughly plucked and the tree is barren (hence the 3 pm black hole). and then you feel justified in quitting, which is also a good feeling. which leads me to....
  • hitting the wall. i have become very attuned to my inner sense of focus. my brain hits walls. it used to take me 30 minutes to realize i'd hit a wall. now it only takes 2. when i see the wall, i keep running till i hit it, and then i pack up, and go home for a movie, or for some guitar time. you understand. i am good to my brain. i figure i've got to be if it's going to keep doing me good in this herculean task called term papers.
  • the nap you get to take because you got up at 5 am to write a paper.
  • finding cute boys in the library to sit by. sometimes this is the best way to keep me focused, because you think, "oh hey, that cute boy is here studying. that means i should study too." think of it as having your mom in the room with you when you're getting your wisdom teeth removed. in a weird sort of way, knowing friends (or cute boys) are around, sharing in my pain, helps me to be okay with being there, having the wisdom of my brain extracted. (get it, get it? it's an extended metaphor and also a pun.) (and sorry if i'm superficial or creepy for finding cute boys in the library. sue me. and sorry if the comparison of cute boys to your mom is weird. yeah it kind of is.)
  • finding your one song, the one that is always there to untie the twists you've gotten in your scholastic knickers. this year, mine's "The Longer I Run" by Peter Bradley Adams. (ironic title considering my procrastination rant yesterday)
  • having sentences just come to me, as i'm in the shower or walking to class or driving home or falling asleep. this results in me memorizing whole paragraphs to type as soon as i get out of the shower, veering off the sidewalk to sit amongst bushes and hammer out a paragraph or two on my way to class, scribbling snippets of sentences and phrases on the back of receipts in my car at every stoplight i stop at, texting myself outlines of my paper because i'm too lazy to get out of bed to find a pen and paper.
  • the pages and pages of scribbled notes and webs and outlines and sketches and maps that prove that i'm actually thinking, and not just sitting mindlessly staring into space. someday when i am a genius i will publish all of these in a sort of compendium to the art of crazy-writing.
  • that moment when you've been wrestling through empty ideas and tangled thoughts, and suddenly the enlightenment comes, and everything around you blurs and it's just you and the page and your words. those moments i could write forever, and never eat again and never sleep again, but just write until every truth in existence was unraveled in my pen. melodramatic, i know. but i live for those moments.
  • that last half-hour when you're writing the conclusion, and the words are just coming to you, falling like manna straight to your fingertips. and you ride the river all the way to the ocean, when your fingers show you the "so what?", the meaning, the magnitude of what you have just unearthed. i don't know that i've ever experienced this moment without crying a little bit. in a good way. crying at how lovely our minds are and the Spirit is that from two literary loaves and a few fishes, we can somehow construct a feast. i see this power in so many people around me, in the words they say, the lessons they teach, the papers they write. at the end of every paper, i am left with a profound sense of gratitude, for the capacity of our minds, for moments of enlightenment, for others' words that have inspired me, helped me make connections, deepened my understanding. for the very simple yet unknowable miracle that is words!
and now, thing i don't love about writing term papers:
  • the two weeks of acute anxiety i put myself through before allowing myself to experience the above joys. yes, this IS because of my habit of procrastination. don't mock.


  1. I





    [495paper due @5pm]

    thankyou, from the echoes of my soul, thankyou.

  2. i love carolyn. and i always found a cute boy to sit by for exactly the same reason. yes, it may be shallow, but i'll be honest: sometimes i am.

  3. right here with you, dear. hitting walls and creating crazy-writing art. love you!