12 May 2011

comps mini-journal, the poetry of oral exams.


humble one(gifted with 

illimitable joy) 
bird sings love's every truth 

beyond all since and why 

asking no favor but 

(while down come blundering 
proud hugenesses of hate 

sometimes called world)to sing

Yesterday as I waited to start my oral exams, I cracked open the complete volume of e.e. cummings on my desk for a bit of peace and perspective. I came across this poem. It was resonant in the moment-- humility after months of overconfident preparation-- what a concept! 

Yet during my exams-- a messy and unpleasant event in which yours truly, ever capable, totally choked-- I thought about what it means to be 'humble one bird.' As I waited for my committee to reveal my fate, I felt a raw yearning- it hit me, how badly I really want to do this. I sat for close to forty minutes as my heart was laid low, 'asking no favor but to sing.' 

You can imagined my relief that I passed my exams.
But that moment of encountering poetry deepened my gratitude.

I watched these trees behind my house get cut down yesterday morning before I left for my exams. It made me sad that they were getting cut down when they had just come into bloom. The lot is nearly cleared and the house is nearly erased.

05 May 2011

comps mini-journal, day 14.

So today I got up and was kind of like this:

Then I worked for four hours, went to school, met with a student, and worked for three more hours when I got home.

And then I was done with my comps.

Ok, not totally-- my plan is to print them out and do a typo edit during the final tomorrow (what else do I do for 2 hours?!) But finishing tonight was perfect-- a friend let me know that he had roasted a chicken and wanted to share, and I was like, "just let me finish my comps!"

I respond well to food incentives. 

somebody needs her hair did...
 but isn't the Temple Owl just the cutest mascot ever? so proud!

I feel... good. There is a little or a lot of letting go with this kind of assignment-- I mean, there's just not time to make massive changes. It's a little or a lot anti-climactic, as I felt much of the process was. And when I try to formulate a defense for what I wrote, it's just like well, uh, I had to work with the questions. So whatever. There's a lot of so whatevering going on right now. But in a good way, right? I mean, two weeks, 36 pages, and 95 footnotes later, the exam period is basically over!

04 May 2011

comps mini-journal, day 13.

The awesome thing about this process is how my capacity for sleep seems to be expanding. And how it takes me forever to really wake up. This brain is feelin' tired.

Today I rocked the no makeup look. It adds authenticity to the persona of frazzled comps taker that I am trying to perfect. Today I finished an essay- all it needs is a title and an intro quote (or for me to delete the note about inserting an intro quote). The big US field came in at 12 pages with 40 footnotes. As a sign of how little writing I've done this semester-- I forgot what a time suck footnotes are. I spent half my day cleaning up the essay and making the footnotes tidy, and boy are they beautiful! Imagine the satisfaction you get from totally cleaning your house. That's how looking at these bad boys makes me feel.
my precious

My workspace inspires no such feelings. I've tried to stay on top of the books and the detritus, but like a busy toddler, I get a lot of pleasure from taking the books off the shelf and putting them on the floor.

Needless to say, I have a lot of housekeeping to do this weekend. When my exams are turned in.

This is not entirely accurate, as I will probably turn my exams in around 7 am on Friday. Or maybe around 10:30, after I give the final for my TA class. I am starting to plan on an all nighter. The formatting stuff has taken so long on the 2 American essays that I am not entirely sure how my day of Latin Americaness will go. There's slightly fewer footnotes, but that essay is a complete wreck. So I'm soldiering on. Will finish the dissertation field essay before bed tonight so I can hunker down and work the shit out of that essay tomorrow.

Compsjams with Polly Scattergood:

I can't wait to be done.

(this is for you, Kara :) )

03 May 2011

comps mini-journal, day 12.

Is it over yet? I'm tired. Editing is a slog. Still have a less than half of today's essay to finish and then one more essay to do tomorrow. Much refining to do on Thursday. Seeing my advisor at a BBQ today kind of terrified me, but hey, that's why people drink beer at BBQs, right?

I'm getting whiny. When I talk to people about my comps, this is their reaction:

I am exhausted. It's hard sustaining interest in these essays every day when I am not sure they say what I want them to say about my mastery of the texts. I'm getting to the point where I think about alternate ways I could have answered the questions. That can be useful, not for the moment (far too late to make changes) but as I think about the defense, it helps me to account for the choices I made. 

It occurred to me tonight that this is largely an editorial process. There's only so much you can say in 10-12 pages, and everything that is in the essays is a result of choices I've made. I hate the exercise but it is making me think differently about the choices I make as a writer. Creating a narrative is a very deliberate undertaking. 

I have been eating ice cream every day for at least a week-- the best roommate ever was nice enough to pick me up some at The Sev last night. My work the last few days has been powered by the delicious beans roasted at Tacoma's Valhalla Coffee Co. I am SO glad I splurged and ordered some of my homebrew! It's the little things that keep me hanging on. 

02 May 2011

comps mini-journal, day 11.

Was off to a slow start today-- thanks, whiskey. Now it's 11:30 and I am still working, something I have not done the whole 11 days. Editing is going fine, if fine means rearranging all my paragraphs and all of the sentences in those paragraphs, and generally just trying to figure out what on earth I was trying to do when I spewed everything out onto the page.

I'm definitely starting to feel the time crunch. There is no getting off schedule at this point, so it may be a late night.

marginalia that won't rotate


I remember on September 11, 2001, when my mom, an Air Force reservist, was called to base to wait to see if she would have to go to war somewhere.

I remember what it was like to know my uncle and brother's brother-in-law were close to the action during and after the invasion of Iraq.

I remember what it was like to live with someone as he spiraled into despair and addiction as he dealt with what he experienced there.

I remember what it's been like, over the past nine years to have another uncle, a cousin, and a stepfather stationed in the Middle East.

I remember that my mother, every single day, has served domestically and overseas to support those who have been involved in the War and their families.

I remember what it was like to have numerous friends filter in and out of my ward between tours to Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember how it changed them.

I remember what my family and so many people I know have sacrificed, all of the terror and worry we felt, all of the distance.  I remember of all of the other military families across the country. I remember that it's only a fraction of what people who have lost have felt.

And I don't feel any remorse. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, and maybe things won't change. It doesn't change the past and it doesn't bring back the dead.
But just for a moment, for me, for my family, for my country:
I am relieved.

01 May 2011

comps mini-journal, day 10.

 Day 10! I have three rough drafts, and boy are they rough! They look like mad libs puzzles-- insert detail here, date there, foooottttnnooootttes, and commands reminding me to inject the argument. Those bits are frighteningly highlighted in a number of colors, thanks to GoogleDocs, so I don't forget to delete them. The whole thing is a disaster, all 31 pages are a GD mess. I mean look:


I, too, am a mess. At the age of 26, I can say earnestly and without hyperbole that I am in the midst of the worst breakout I have ever had. So powerful that it has come on in spite of birth control, in spite of diligent facewashing, in spite of fancy face scrubbers, in spite of witch hazel pads. I chose for you the most whited out picture I took because I am, quite literally, horrified, and am plotting out how I can finish this damned process without leaving my house for the next four days while my skin clears up.

And I look tired! Not from lack of sleep. Probably from all of the stress eating! Ice cream every day! Coffee, gallons of it! Kit-kat! Dark chocolate Reeses cups! Lager! You get the idea. Bad life choices make this process so much easier! And probably aren't helping this whole skin problem.

I'm also realizing how much I'm aging. It occurred to me this week that I have permanent wrinkles under my eyes that will not be going away. There's this omnipresent crease on my forehead. And the white hair I found last week! I know I was aging before I started comps, but somehow comps makes it worse. It makes it real.

Ok, so this is the pit of despair. I get it. Rock bottom! The weekend is over and I've got 4 days left. The plan is, as I said in the beginning, to spend next week revising. Tomorrow, dissertation field. Tuesday, big US field. Wednesday, Latin America. Thursday, everything. Since I'm giving a final on Friday at 8am (joy!), I will probably just turn in the essays before I go to bed on Thursday night/Friday morning.  This is the home stretch, and it is awfully homely.

I am recognizing, at last, why the oral defense is scary: you have to account, to four brilliant people, for this dreck you've produced. 

And everything is italicized because it's just so damn dramatic!


This isn't stopping me from life's simple pleasures.

Yesterday I pickled fennel with orange, a recipe from The Joy of Pickling:

And today I finally combined my new Saltwater sandals with my new favorite nail polish, Essie "Meet Me at Sunset," a very orangey red that is the great lobster color that's everywhere this year.  This has got to be at least my tenth pair of Saltwaters- I've been wearing them since I was a baby, religiously since I was 14 and traipsed all over Europe in them. My brown and navy pairs were getting pretty raggedy, so I opted for gold because I can't resist metallic shoes. Saltwaters are nicely made, leather, and super durable- I replace mine about every 5 years. Which for 41 bucks (remember when they were $20?) is a pretty good deal. And this year they have been deemed so fashionable that Madewell is carrying them- but Madewell is not fancy enough for gold. And as we say at my house: