Remember the Prairie

It’s strange being a college graduate.  I’ve worked so hard for so long and it’s odd to think I won’t be going back to Morris in the fall.  Still, the school sure does know how to send us off.  The ceremony was everything a graduation should be and I loved soaking in every minute of it.

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Having the event outside in the heart of campus, surrounded by all our class buildings, felt incredibly intimate.  The mall was absolutely packed and, the whole time, it felt like the university was wrapping its arms around me–giving me a long, sweet farewell.  The speeches and performances were on-point, and although the band sounded a bit off-key, marching forward to “Pomp and Circumstance” still made me tear up.

Our student body president and my fellow classmate gave a traditional speech reliving all our shared experiences.  When she came to the end, though, she shied away from the cheesy/vague encouragement that normally infiltrates graduation speeches.  Instead, she told us one simple thing: Remember the prairie.

I adore this piece of advice because it’s something tangible.  She didn’t tell us to pursue our dreams, reach for the stars, follow our path, etc.  (It’s funny, ’cause I draw from the path metaphor for inspiration on this blog.)  She told us to look back at the place we came from and remember the way it shaped us.  It’s a call to never forget where we have come from.

Since the ceremony last Saturday, I’ve moved home and am now one of the stereotypical unemployed English majors living with their parents.  Mind you, this isn’t a permanent situation.  My job hunt is going to be a non-traditional one, but it is already underway.  In a few months, I’ll hopefully be on my way to setting out on my own.

To conclude this post… I came to the prairie four years ago to study what I’m passionate about.  I cannot express how thankful I am for all the people I’ve met, lessons learned, and memories made.  It’s been fun blogging my way through college.  Although it’s time to embark on the next adventure, I will always have a special place in my heart for Morris.  I will always remember the prairie.

I’ve become a hermit and I don’t even care

These days, I don’t seem to get out much.  It’s been a month since I moved back into the dorms and it took until tonight for me to actually meet my floor-mates.  I rarely see my friends anymore.

At times, flying solo is a bit lonesome.  I go hours without talking to anyone but myself.  It’s easy to let myself get all sad and mopey about this, but I do my best to remain positive.  When it comes down to it, I don’t really mind.

After all, life continues to steamroll by and I’m moving with it.  Even if there are moments when I wouldn’t mind company, I’m staying busy and thriving.  I’ve been working hard and am ahead on homework.  In the evenings, I’ve got Bible studies, prayer meetings, and worship nights to attend.  Between work and study, I spend a ridiculous amount of time in the library.   I’m organizing a letter-writing program for college students and elderly in the community for a group project.  On Saturdays, I judge speech meets for the local high school team.

Then, there are quiet nights like this one.  The homework is done, library shifts completed, the meetings have been attended and there is only me, my paint, a jar of Nutella, and a Wes Anderson film.

Life, my friends, is good.

 

Being ironic on Valentines Day

On Valentines Day, it’s really easy to slip into being mopey when your relationship status is single.  However, I’ve gone through the routine enough times that I just ignore all the “Single Awareness Day” hate.  Yes, I’m single.  But I’m happily single.  I have no reason to be miserable on Valentines Day.

So, I’ve started playing a game:  How can I celebrate this romantic holiday in the most strange/ironic way possible?

Over the years, I’ve had some great moments.

During my junior year of high school, February 14th landed on a Sunday.  My parents were away for the weekend, so it was just my little brother and I in the house.  We skipped church and I spent the entire day reading the unabridged version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.  The best part is I spent the majority of the afternoon plowing through the fifty page tangent where Hugo describes all the details of convent life.  Because there’s nothing more romantic than soaking in all there is to know about nuns!

Then there’s my sophomore year of college.  Valentines was on a Thursday.  After class, I spent my afternoon and evening judging a speech meet for the local high school.  The categories I had to judge were Serious Prose and Serious Drama.  This meant three hours of high schoolers describing suicide, abuse, rape, death, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, etc.  Talk about getting you in the romantic mood!

Last year, Valentines was on a Friday.  Virginia Woolf was my Valentine and I spent the afternoon in the library reading Mrs. Dalloway.  (As you can see by this post, our relationship didn’t really work out in the long run.)

This year, I am determined to live up to its ironic potential.  Once again, I’m spending the day judging speech.  This time, I’ll be at a massive meet in the cities.  Most of my day will be spent on a cold school bus and the rest will be spent sitting rounds filling out critique sheets.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get a handful of depressing categories.

Also, because I don’t have a significant other, I’ve chosen  William Shakespeare as my Valentine.  We’re covering Titus Andronicus at the moment in class, which is absolutely perfect.  Warm fuzzies abound.

So, readers.  Now you know about my weird Valentines Day traditions.  Please remember this is all in good fun.  I’m not actually obsessed with depressing stories.  I also don’t use these as coping mechanisms.  It’s true that I really, really look forward to the day I actually have a significant other to spent the holiday with.  Until then, I’ll remain happily single and will continue to find weird, quirky ways to celebrate February 14.

How are you celebrating Valentines Day?

Bill Nye comes to Morris!

A couple of days ago, a certain scientist/t.v. show host dropped by my small town on the prairie!  He found himself face to face with a full gymnasium (1,700 people in all… that’s nearly 2/5 of the town!) of students screaming “BILL!  BILL!  BILL!  BILL!  BILL!”.

Bill Nye gave a fantastic talk.  He was a charismatic, engaging speaker.  I was surprised at how genuine he was.  Most speakers I hear are used to the speaking circuit, and each talk is just another stop to get through.  I fully expected a fairly dry hour of science talk that would go over my head.  That was not the case.  He spoke for over two hours and seemed genuinely interested in us.  He cracked the stereotypical Minnesota jokes about cold winters, ice fishing, the Vikings, and promised us that there are such a thing as hills.  (Morris is known for being very flat.)

Photo taken from UMM’s photo archives

Instead of sticking to facts and figures, Nye’s talk followed a narrative.  In essence, he basically told us stories for two hours.  He took us through his family’s history, including his father’s obsession with sun dials, and lead us in stories about deep space exploration.  He was a passionate speaker and continually told us we could: “dare I say it, CHANGE THE WORLD!”

The one thing about his talk I didn’t like was that I felt he was unnecessarily harsh towards Ken Ham, Creationist opponent in a debate that took place last February.  I thought he could have shown more kindness and respect towards Ham.  I wasn’t offended by what Nye said because, although I do believe in Creation, I don’t side with Ham’s extreme views that the world is only 6,000 years old.  But I thought bringing Ham up was unnecessary.

One of the questions at the end of the talk had to do with being taken seriously by an adult audience after being on a children’s show for so long.  Bill said that, yes, the transition is sometimes difficult, but it’s a process.  He also said that he never regretted the t.v. show.  I realized that, twenty years later, he was still speaking to the same audience.  Most of the students in the crowd grew up with his quirky show.  Now, here we were twenty years later, and he was still speaking to us.  It’s come full-circle.

One of the cool things about the event was that it sheds VERY good light on my university.  Being a tiny liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, we often get sidelined, despite the fact that we are one of the most academically rigorous institutions in the state of Minnesota.  And having a nationally known cultural icon like Bill Ny did, and will continue to do, wonders for our public relations.  I mean… we got a hashtag trending on Twitter!

Taken from UMM’s Facebook page

It was a great night, though.  Although I’m not a science major, I loved his excitement as he encouraged our generation to engage in the world of discovery.  I grew up with Bill Nye–he’s the man who taught me all I know about magnets and nuclear power.  I used to run around the house singing his theme song at the top of my lungs.  Countless study-worn students, myself included, left the talk bright-eyed and refreshed to learn all they can and, dare I say it, change the world.

Friday Favorites II

It’s a bit late in the day for this, but how about another round of favorites to celebrate the weekend?

This book:

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Yes, another Virginia Woolf novel.  Woolf isn’t nearly my favorite writer out there, but considering I’m in a class devoted to her books… they’re kind of all I’ve been reading these days.  Orlando is a mock biography.  In it, we meet Orlando in Renaissance England and follow his/her life until the time the book was published–1928.  He starts out a young boy in the court of Elizabeth I and ends as a wife and mother in 1920’s London.  I believe Woolf viewed this book as a joke and wrote it for fun.  It’s very different from her other novels, which are highly experimental.  After weeks of To the Lighthouse and such, it was a breath of fresh air.

This girl:

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I’m the one on the left, but the lovely girl on the right is my friend, Anna.  We met while working at the same Bible camp last summer.  She lives in Austria, which is kind of on the other side of the world from snowy Minnesota.  I miss her dearly, but made sure to visit during my stint abroad last semester.  This photo was taken at Schloss Ambras, a castle near where she lives.

We got to Skype today!  It’s amazing that technology enables us to stay in touch with those we love, no matter how far away they are.  We talked about camp memories, what God is doing in our lives, school, and cultural differences between our countries.  She taught me a bit of German, I helped her speak in an American accent.  Although I probably should have spent the time studying, it was an hour well spent.  I’m excited to see her again this summer!

This grocery store:

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It’s the only grocery store in town, which means they can charge as much as they want for fresh produce.  Weekly, this place sucks all my money away.  But it’s also endearing.  There’s something special about small town grocery stores.  And only in Morris will you go looking for grapes and cottage cheese and run into half your professors.

(Then, while waiting for your roommates to finish shopping, said professors gather around you to make awkward small talk.)

This speech:

JFK’s inauguration.  We analyzed the rhetoric in class today and my professor declared that it is one of, if not the, greatest speech ever given.  Apparently, Kennedy spent two weeks writing it himself.  It’s a rather fantastic bit of spoken word, even without the famous “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” line.

Happy Friday!

When will I be blown up?

I’m on week two of a three-week essay writing spree.  Oh, the woes of being an upper classmen… papers due every week.  Last week, I analyzed Clara Durrant from Virginia Woolf’s novel Jacob’s Room.

This week, I am writing a rhetorical analysis of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.  So far, I’ve about seven pages in.  The further I get into my analysis of this speech, the more I find myself fascinated by it.  This is rather surprising, because I’m not too keen on Faulkner’s writing.  (As I Lay Dying… “My mother is a fish”… Anyone?)

One rhetorical method I’m using analyzes the situation and context in which the speech was given.  The situation gives need for rhetoric.  In this case, the need for rhetoric comes from increasing fear from the Cold War.  Faulkner discusses how this fear has affected writing, and issues a call to go back to the old ways of writing about the depth of the human condition.

It really is a beautiful speech, which is why I’d like to share it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Here’s a clip from 1950 of Faulkner receiving his Nobel Prize.  (Look for him in the 6:45 mark!)

February 14

This morning as I entered the Student Center after class to check my mailbox, a guy opened the door for me.  He didn’t do the whole enter first, then prop-it-so-I-can-catch-it-thing.  No.  He pulled the door open, looked at me, and gestured for me to enter.  It was probably the most romantic thing to happen to me… well… in a very long while.  Maybe ever, actually.

It’s Valentines Day, which means love is in the air.  Campus is decked out in cutout hearts, friends are giving each other cards, and I’ve overheard multiple conversations between male classmates trying to one-up each other on their efforts to impress their vegan girlfriends.  (One guy acted all macho because he was going to make a salad with raspberry vinaigrette instead of ranch dressing… oh so classy.)

The funny thing about today is that for people without lovers, it inspires all sorts of angst.  “Single Awareness Day” they call it.  All the talk of romance brings out all sorts of insecurities.

As for myself, I find myself single for the 21st Valentines Day in a row.  Am I bitter?  Am I depressed?  Am I drowning myself in chocolate and romantic comedies?

Nope.

I mean… I’d like a romantic relationship any more than the next girl, but for the most part, I’m happy being single.  I always have been.  Why?  Well, when you plan on getting married someday (which I do), that means you only get to be single for a certain amount of time.  Going solo can be lonely at times, yes, but it also enables you to do all sorts of awesome things… like move to Europe!  Which I totally did!  Dating or Europe?  Dating or Europe?  Sorry, but Europe wins hands-down.  (Although if I happened to be dating someone and we happened to go to Europe together… I’d be cool with that.)

Anyways…

I’ve had some pretty odd Valentines Days.

When I was sixteen, I spent the day with my nose entrenched in Les Misérables (unabridged).  Now, this scenario has lots of potential.  I could have been at the part that describes Fantine’s lover who abandoned her.  Or, I could be experiencing Marius and Cosette’s beautifully written first encounter.  But… can you guess what part I was stuck on?  If you guessed the fifty page deviation Hugo takes where he describes all the details of convent life, you’d be right on the spot.  Let me tell you, nuns aren’t very romantic–especially when there’s fifty pages about them.

Then there’s last year, where I judged a high school speech meet on February 14th.  The categories I weighed in on were Prose and Drama.  Do you know what those speeches contain?  Death.  Rape.  Suicide.  Parental abuse.  Drug abuse.  Alcohol abuse.  More death.  More rape.  More abuse.  Talk about getting in the romantic mood, right?

As for this year…

I’ve got a date with Mrs. Dalloway, plans to watch a zombie movie with a friend, and (as you already know) a random guy opened a door for me.  So until I someday have a special someone to share this holiday with, I think this year sounds about perfect.

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23 insights into judging speech

Speech kids, listen up.

I was on the Speech team all four years of high school.  Now that I’m graduated and well into my college years, part of me has held onto my Speech kid background.  How?  I moved from a competitor to a judge.  Instead of being the person talking to walls, I’m the lady with the folder that everyone fears.  When I enter the room, the chatter immediately hushes and the air brims with awkwardness.  As I scribble on critique sheets, I can almost hear the speaker’s thoughts: “Oh gosh, she’s writing.  Why is she writing?  She hates it.  She’s going to give me a terrible score.  Oh gosh.  Why did I think this was a good idea?”

Frankly, I love judging.  It’s all the perks of high school speech with more down time, no stress, and (best of all) FREE HOMEMADE FOOD.  Not to mention the fact that I get paid to do what I love.

Speech judges don a particular mindset when walking into rounds.  Consider this a glimpse of that mindset: a sneak-peek into what’s going on in our minds as we scribble away on your critique sheets.  Keep what I say in mind next time you’re at a speech meet–you never know when it could help!

So… here we go.

  1. Judges want to like you.
  2. Negative critiques do not mean your speech was bad!  It just means there’s room for improvement.
  3. We want you to improve!  We want to see you push your performance to be the very possible best!
  4. First impressions are everything.  Within the first minute of your speech, we pretty much already have you placed.  So make a good first impression.
  5. Speak with energy!  Be bold and confident–if you look like you are excited about what you are speaking about, we will be too!
  6. Don’t hold your script in front of your face.
  7. If you’re in a performance category, utilize characters.  Please.
  8. In addition to the above, make your characters as over-the-top as you can.  There’s nothing worse than flat characters.  Make them dynamic!  Even if it’s uncomfortable and you look ridiculous, GO BIG!
  9. If you’re in Prose, stop being in Prose.
  10. If you really have your heart set on being in Prose, please pick something innovative.  If I have to sit through another selection from The Lovely Bones or A Child Called It, I’m going to punch someone in the face.  (Okay, I’m  hyperbolizing a bit.  But still.  Do something original.)
  11. Also, Prose kids–that weird calm, soothing tone you all adapt during narrative portions of your speech?  Don’t do it.  You all sound exactly the same and it makes it hard to tell you all apart.
  12. Negative critiques do not mean we hate you.  They mean that we want you to improve!  We are trying to be helpful!
  13. If you’re in Great Speeches, PLEASE use a rhetorical method more original than Aristotle’s stylistic proofs.  I’m sick of hearing about ethos, pathos, and logos.
  14. Other cool rhetorical methods include Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation, Metaphorical, Feminist, etc.  Do your research.  There’s so many cool ones to choose from!  (And no, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is NOT a rhetorical model.  So don’t use it.)
  15. Also, while on the subject of rhetorical models… please use them correctly!
  16. If you’re in Info, don’t do your speech on a disease.  It’s so boring.  And, please, don’t explain at the end that a family member suffers from said disease.  Yes, this sounds awful.  But it doesn’t further the informativeness of your speech and just makes it cheesy.
  17. If you’re going to pick a stupid, unoriginal topic in Info, be creative about it.  I once saw a girl do a speech on flowers and she talked about how they were used in ancient cultures and it was super interesting!
  18. Poetry kids–for goodness sake, pick something good.  None of this sappy contemporary nonsense.  Let’s see some Tennyson!  Bring out the Whitman!
  19. If you’re in Creative, make sure your script is well written AND well-performed.  You can do an amazing performance, but if the script sucks, you’re screwed.  And vice versa–if your script is amazing, but you can’t pull it off, you’re not going to do well.  Balance is key.
  20. Please, please, please DO NOT TALK BETWEEN SPEECHES.  Or eat.  Or text.  Or make weird noises.  Or do anything that isn’t sitting quietly and patiently.  Between speeches, we judges are trying to gather our thoughts and give last-minute comments.  Don’t be distracting.  It’s really annoying.
  21. Don’t sass the judge–especially when their back is turned.  Contrary to what you may think, we CAN hear you and we hold the power.  We can (and might) dock your score for rudeness.
  22. If we rip your piece to shreds on your critique sheet, it’s only because we care about you and want to push you to be the very best!
  23. Speech is fun.  SO HAVE FUN!

Also, if you think awards ceremonies are boring now… wait until you become a judge.  They’re ten times worse.