Monday, March 9, 2015

Why We Tutor: Thoughts From the Writing Center

When I was introduced to the idea of becoming a writing tutor at PSU, my first instinct was to retreat to my room, binge watch Gilmore Girls, and never speak to another human again.

Okay, so that's my first instinct when I'm introduced to a lot of things that involve other people, but just go with me here.

I find it extremely unnatural to be in authoritative positions, so the very idea that I could present myself as someone who "knew more" or was better at writing than someone else wasn't something that I could easily grasp. I objected that I got a B+ on an essay once, and writing tutors just don't get B+'s. I was sure that anyone at the writing center could see through my phoniness and instantly demand a real writing tutor, a wise, learned writing tutor that says impressive things and writes groundbreaking essays about Paradise Lost.

As it turns out, none of this is true. Because, apparently, people at the writing center are not pretentious assholes who come straight out of British films. Good job, self.

 I've gotten a clearer idea on what it means to be a writing tutor, but it's not something a lot of students readily talk about--there's still a misconception that the writing center is a "fix it shop" where we'll instantly turn your commas into glittering pieces of gold and guarantee that shiny A on your paper.

While I've answered my fair share of grammar related questions, that has rarely been the most helpful part of a tutorial. I've also heard more than zero freshman composition students say that they came to the writing center because they didn't trust peer review and wanted advice from someone who wasn't in the same boat as them.

If that's the case, go to your professor's office hours. Because as an undergraduate tutor, I'm still in the exact same boat as an Engl 15 student.

There's a lot of ways I can tell you how we don't tutor. We don't tell you you're "wrong," and, as much as I love em dashes, we don't start throwing them into your essay like they're made out of gold. We don't write your essay for you. We try not to sass you back when you get annoyed that we don't write your essay for you, although this sometimes fails.

It's more difficult to explain why we do tutor, especially at a time when we want to be better writers right now, and get that instant A like it's a cup of ramen noodles.

I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that students come into the writing center to experience the joys of the collaborative process --that's a far too hippie-ish perspective, even for me--but in all honesty, it makes for a much better tutoring session when the student comes in wanting a second perspective on his paper, rather than wanting someone to fix it.

A couple weeks ago, a student came in with a rough draft of her speech outline--it turned out that we had the exact same speech professor and both felt that our speeches relied too heavily on narrative rather than informative techniques. I wasn't going to try and trick her into thinking that I was the great speech master of the 21st century; rather, I expressed my frustration that our introductions had to "state the thesis and preview the main points" like we were in 6th grade. There's no way to make this not sound cheesy, but the fact that we were able to collaborate on an assignment we were both struggling with made both our speeches stronger.

Plus, just by working with people who are applying to graduate school, I now know how to write a killer personal statement. So there's that.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Will the Real Hipster Please Stand Up?

So, my friend recently talked about how she's an accidental hipster, and at the time I was all "that's kinda weird; you're either a hipster or you're not." It seemed pretty obvious that anyone who listened to records and sported large glasses was a hipster, and that was it. End of conversation.
Sooo hipster

But then something strange happened--more and more people started defining me as hipster. I mean, I get it. I'm at Webster's pretty much every moment I have a second to breathe. I do yoga. Come at me. But I also am freakishly obsessed with glitter, pop music, and hot pink--all aggressively anti-hipster things. It wasn't until my friend explained that I was a true hipster because I was so indifferent to my "image" and just wore and listened to whatever I wanted, that I realized a great cultural shift is happening right before our very eyes.

Friends, the great hipster shift is coming. Brace yourselves.

We're now witnessing the great divide between the poser hipster and the true hipster. Those who try to be alternative are mainstream, and those who admit to being mainstream are hipster. I never thought I would see the day where I apologetically listened to Katy Perry and start getting labeled as alternative. I don't go in search of music that no one has ever heard of (unless it's Lindsey Stirling because she's amazing; don't ever fight me on that) because if I do try to bring up an obscure band in conversation, I know I'll have this give-away expression of hipster-ness. I don't know what a hipster expression looks like, but it can't be good.

While I've gotten more comfortable with this title of "accidental hipster," my friend gave me a label that better fits: I am a quagmire. I engage in hipster activities and have a hipster personality, but I almost always prefer mainstream music, books, and shows. Like, sometimes you just need some Zooey Deschanel in your life. There's no hidden deeper meaning in that. Sometimes you need some T-Swift to tell you to shake it off (and whatever Taylor says, goes). But these more mainstream forms of entertainment are so looked down on, it's almost cool and edgy to like them.

So where I'm going with this is that my 6th grade self was ahead of the times for being obsessed with The Cheetah Girls. At least that's what I tell myself at night. 

In ten years, all the new poser hipsters will probably love pop music and wear little black dresses and accidental hipsters will be ashamed of their beanies and typewriters. It's a vicious cycle.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Chasing Chaucer: The Plight of the English Major

So, as those in English at Penn State are aware, we are required to take a course on early British literature. As I'm trying to keep it a secret that I'm an English major who is not well versed in the classics (shhhh), I did my very best to feign excitement about this course. Fortunately, every student who has taken/is taking this course says it's terrible, except for grad students in training, who say things like "let me suggest that the agency of women..." Even my roommate, who is pretty much a literature genius, came back from that class with a look of fear in her eyes.

Needless to say, (except I'm saying it, so hah!) I wasn't exactly thrilled to face Engl 221 this semester.

As our class dove into the texts, however, a strange thing happened to me. Not only did I not want to shoot myself in the face after reading, I found myself enjoying the texts. I mean, Le Roman de Tristran let the hopeless romantics such as myself indulge themselves in the idea of true love. Beowulf was chopping off arms left and right and fighting dragons like a badass. Even Sir Gawain, a story that put me to sleep in middle school, made me want to drop out of school and start fighting green men with magical powers.


Then we got to Chaucer. And let me tell you, I have some things to say about this guy. 
Don't give me that look

First off, this isn't a direct complaint to Chaucer, but more so to the geniuses who compiled the Norton Anthology of English Literature. Every old and middle English story has been translated enough so that you can have some clarity about who the characters are and what happens--two essential traits in a story, in my humble opinion.

Then you get to Chaucer, and all of that is thrown out the window. Reading comprehension, who needs that? Why not just speak a bunch of gobbledy-gook and pretend you know a totally different language??

I know, I get it. It's middle English. But just like the middle child, it's irritating, takes forever to understand, and everyone forgets about it.

I mean, honestly. How am I supposed to read this without making my brain explode?

But then by time you actually have an inkling of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, you realize it's actually dreadfully boring. Chaucer takes an entire chapter to list out every single character and describe their best/worst traits. I swear, it's like speed dating, minus the inappropriate attire. Like, if I ever were forced to meet 29 people in the course of an hour, I'd kill myself. It's certainly not any better to read about it. 

While the actual tales are slightly more thrilling, there are parts that make me question why this is presented as sophisticated literature. For those of you that aren't familiar with The Miller's Tale, basically this married girl and some guy fall in love and trick the girl's husband into thinking there's a flood so that they can spend some time together (doesn't everyone?). While they're shacking up together, some other guy who's into this girl demands a kiss from her. The girl thinks it's hilarious to stick out her behind so that the guy kisses her ass, and then when he asks for another kiss, the girl's lover sticks out his butt and farts.

That's the highly abridged version, but you catch my drift. Chaucer is writing fart jokes, everyone. I feel like I'm in the 4th grade. 

I mean, honestly! All I ask from an author is to make an insightful comment or two about the nature of love, and leave people's butts out of it. All I got from this is that these people need to cool it and learn some basic manners. Oh, and not to sleep with people when they're married, but...priorities. 

Maybe I've failed as an English major. But I just cannot for the life of me understand the appeal of Chaucer. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Understanding Girls: The Breakup Hair Edition

So the other day, my friends and I were discussing the purpose of breakup hair. Breakup hair, in its purest form, is the drastic alteration of one's hair cut, color, or style immediately after the termination of a relationship.

Basically, it's an excuse to shell out $200 for the sake of emotional cleansing.

I myself have taken it to a whole new level and made breakup tattoos a thing, though I wouldn't advise it. #lifechoices.

But we're not here to talk about me, okay? We're here to reveal the true meaning of breakup hair. Hold on to your hats, guys, 'cause stuff's about to get real here.

My guy friend, who is perpetually perplexed by stuff girls do, claims that "girl logic is when you dump someone then try to make them jealous by looking extra good." One of these things is not true.

While I try not to generalize and I can't speak for all girls, it's hardly fair to say that we're a spiteful species that tries to tear out guys hearts by dumping them, only to make them feel worse because we hop out of hair salons looking like Heidi Klum. It doesn't matter if you're on the giving or receiving end of a breakup--you still want to outwardly show that you can move on, that you can look hot, and that maybe it took being single to realize that you were destined to be a redhead. Or something.

After feeling the immediate sting of loss, there's not much to look forward to. There's that sense of "I'm waiting for a new person to fill this void," irrational as that may be. While that void goes away with time, breakup hair allows that immediate sense of urgency to go away. When you're anticipating a new person, you have no control. You have no idea when Johnny Depp a new guy will waltz into your life. However, when you're anticipating a drastic change in appearance, you know that an exciting new thing will happen next Thursday, at 3:00 PM. It may be a distraction from all the new unknowns in your life, but hey, it's more constructive than alcohol or staying up till 2AM watching The Notebook.

I'm not trying to fool the male species and claim that breakup hair is "100% all about me." I'm sure many a female who has gotten breakup hair can attest to the fact that we want our exes to notice that there is something different (hopefully for the better) about us. But it's a little too simplistic to say that we want our exes to be jealous, or regret ever losing us in the first place. Perhaps we want to invoke some curiosity, but we're not maliciously going "haha, I look better now than I ever did when I was with you!"

Obviously the reasons for getting breakup hair vary from girl to girl. But guys, if you suddenly see a girl sporting bubblegum pink hair, don't automatically assume she's trying to make her ex cry himself to sleep. In the words of Jenna Marbles, "girls are magical unicorns," and we're a little more complex than that.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

English Professors: A Breed Classification

So I've had quite a few English professors over the past three years, and I've made the recent scientific discovery that animals of this breed exhibit a wide range of appearances, lectures, and  obscene amounts of reading homework assignments. Until my entry into college, I had assumed that every English professor was the same eyeglass-wearing, nature-loving hippie, only to realize that I'd spent too much time with my father and it wasn't normal to end every sentence with "let's look at this from an eco-critical lens!" (love you, Dad).

Despite this realization that not every professor is going to rant at you about Lord Byron for an hour (although some will, and he'll spend the first half hour going "Byron is my hero!"), there's something inherently...English-professor-y about these varying breeds. For instance, everyone likes thesis statements--they make for a clear, concise essay--but I have yet to meet a professor who didn't love thesis statements with the same level of enthusiasm that you might have for, say, chocolate cake. And I can guarantee you that every English professor will at least mention Freudian theory, even if they back up their statement with "but that's completely bogus; you guys talk about sex enough as it is."

And that is all true. 

So how do you distinguish these breeds? Of course every professor is his/her own unique snowflake, and you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, blah blah, insert more nice clichés here. But I've at least jotted down some observations on certain trends among professors, in hopes that you can then tailor each essay to your professor's random expectations have a more fulfilling educational experience.

1) The hippie professor.
This professor will go to great lengths to find the meaning in everything. I mean, that's what great literature is for, right? To find deeper meaning and make some grand revelation about life? But this professor will not just stop at the meaning of Hamlet's "To Be or Not to Be" speech. Suddenly he's looking at every semicolon, every comma, and going "what did you mean to suggest to the reader through this comma?"

Um, I meant to suggest that there was a pause in the sentence and I know how to use basic grammar? Hello?

This professor will desperately want his entire class to become lifelong friends--if everyone doesn't sit around a fire together singing "Kumbaya," he considers himself a failure. This can present a bit of a problem to said professor because, as noted by my fellow English major friend, no one talks in English class.

The easiest way to distinguish this professor is through his collection of body jewelry, crazy opium eyes, and a collection of ties that had probably seen better days in the '70's.

The perk of having the hippie professor is that you could probably get away with meditating in the grass for an hour and calling it college. So that's fun.

2) The professor that "isn't here to make friends."
This professor knows that liberal arts gets a bad rep. She realizes that people seem to think that English majors are getting stupider while, coincidentally enough, universities get richer. However, this professor refuses to pity you and your story about how you have to work 30+ hours a week just to pay for your schooling and she has no need to hear your traumatic story about your dying cat Dennis. She is the academic version of that girl on America's Next Top Model who "isn't here to make friends":
If you're in tears and throwing books around your dorm room, you either A) are crazy, or B) have a type 2 professor. She will be sure to assign at least 4 hours of reading each night and will only give A's to the kids who don't seem to need sleep or food or a moment to breathe. Her favorite phrase will be "you need to earn your grades, kids," all while making it impossible to get anything above a B.

3) The professor that is here to make friends and influence people.
This professor knows that college is hard. She sees your creativity being squashed by textbooks and exams. She makes it known that she despises the way universities are being run like corporations and she wants you and your creative spirit to run free. The biggest perk of this particular breed of professor is that she does not believe in exams and she wouldn't give grades if the university didn't force her to. Similar to the hippie professor, this professor wants to talk about the meaning of things, though this meaning almost always relates back to her students' lives. She is forgiving of students who don't do the reading, but only if they have a convincing story about their dying cat, Dennis.

The professor that is here to make friends can be seen wearing floral skirts and tee-shirts with bold political statements. Hence the confusion with the hippie professor.

At the very least, you know you can impress each breed of professor by throwing in a Derrida reference or two, and if that doesn't work, there's always the option of dropping out of college and selling yourself to an art gallery, à la Eddie Izzard.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Very Grownup Christmas: Things that Happen When You Feel Like a Kid, but Have to Be a Grownup

Friends, an interesting thing has happened to me in the past couple of years. It feels like I've acquired some kind of terminal illness where I'm supposed to give money to the government, pretend I like giving rather than receiving happily give gifts to my friends and family, and un-ironically say things like "back in my day..." This disease is called adulthood, and I would very much like to find a cure for it immediately.

I may have mastered the whole wearing hats that aren't animal faces thing (that happened like yesterday, I don't want to talk about it), and I can do that bit where I go "I'm Kira, and I do impressive things; please hire me!" But the one time I struggle to be a grownup is every single day Christmas.

The thing about Christmas, is that my family made it a month-long shindig. This, friends, is one of the perks of coming from a divorced family. My parents were all "oh, we can't be together as one big happy family? Let me give you all the material goods in the world!"

If love can't come from a giant collection of obscenely priced American Girl dolls, I don't know what can. 

Since then, our Christmases have leveled out a little bit, but my feelings towards Christmas seem to have not received the memo.

For instance, everyone knows that the best way to start hating Christmas is to enter a grocery store any time between December 1st-24th. Having worked at Wegmans for 3 years, I should hate anything and everything involving the holiday season. But somehow, when a customer says "what do you mean you don't have sturgeon caviar?? Everything is horrible, and you've ruined my Christmas!" I cannot muster the strength to give the typical "glare-and-say-passive-aggressive-things" response. Instead, I smile and go, "but it's Christmas!" as though that should solve every bad mood in the world.

The only good thing about this disheartening realization about the holidays is that I can drown my sorrows in alcohol drink responsibly, which everyone knows is the true meaning of Christmas.

However, the other thing that happens to me on Christmas is an abuse of online shopping. This can go two ways. I'll spend an hour looking for one nice, thoughtful gift for my friends and family. My friend group, apparently, has not heard of secret santa, so all us broke college students decide to spend exorbitant amounts of money (that none of us have) on gifts. But the thing is, I'll start off with one cute tee-shirt for my friend. Then I'll find a million other things that would be absolutely perfect for her, and all of a sudden my hand is directing me to click on "purchase" until my credit card limit explodes.

Even sadder to admit is that I do this for myself. It's like I know that it's ridiculous to buy myself $100 flat irons, but wrapping it up in overpriced paper and slapping a sticker that reads "to Kira from Santa" makes it okay. That's still another $100 that I don't have, but hey, Christmas is all about giving, right? Including giving to yourself, said no one ever.
It's not greedy if it's from Santa

At least I've mastered the art of sleeping in on Christmas. That's adult-ish, right?

Merry Christmas!  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In Defense of Tattoos

For the most part, my friends and family have been supportive of my tattoos. Even if they're not the type to go out and get inked, they give me the "oh Kira's being...interesting" look and let me spend obscene amounts of money on body modifications. But every once in a while someone will ask me "why are you doing this? Why not get a nice piece of jewelry instead? You know it's permanent, right?"

No, I didn't. I just spent $200 to scrub away at my skin for an hour and freak out that the ink wouldn't come off.

The thing is, so many things that people say about tattoos could easily translate to questions about marriage. Think about it. "But you're so pretty!" "Think about how it will influence your future." "You know those things last forever, right?" "But it'll be so painful if you decide you want it removed."

Those are all legitimate things to say about a husband/wife. And let me tell you, weddings are a hell of a lot more expensive than tattoos.

I'm not trying to claim that marriages and tattoos are interchangeable, and I understand that committing your life to another human being is probably more meaningful than putting a tulip on your calf. But you shouldn't automatically assume that anyone who is inked is impulsive, obsessed with instant gratification, and/or part of a gang.

I got the om tattoo because I wanted to remind myself of everything that yoga has given me/can offer me. I want to strive to be peaceful, calm, and compassionate. The om symbol doesn't inherently give me those qualities, but it reminds me of the person I want to become. It's like a pep talk and art all in one. Two birds, one stone. Except don't kill birds; that's just cruel.

If in ten years I decide that it's stupid to have something that looks like a 30 on my shoulder, I'll tell my family that they were right. But until then, I'm allowed to rock some ink and not be considered a horribly impulsive person. Save that for when I decide to get a pixie cut (#never).