Thursday, April 28, 2011

P.S.

I'm having design issues right now. Seems my version of firefox doesn't like blogger anymore so its making everything a rather ugly. I find this distressing because my beloved 4 yr old Mac book is apparently now "old" and doesn't like new browsers. A pending switch to wordpress, perhaps?

Please forgive the aesthetic dishevelment.

And if your computer doesn't show the ugliness (bright blue links, strange heading formatting, etc), then ignore this post. And if you have any idea of how to help me, do not ignore this post at all but comment and tell me your hidden knowledge.

Reflections Upon My Last Undergraduate Course

Fifteen minutes ago, Elizabeth Kadetsky said she would let us out of our three hour Wednesday evening course early. Chris cheered because he is turning 21 in a few hours and we laughed and cheered with him. She asked who of us would continue studying writing, taking courses. I was one of the few who did not raise my hand. This evening, I completed my in-class time as an undergraduate student at Penn State. My final English class is over. There may be two essays left to finish by Friday but my time under a professor is over.

I may have started crying.

It is appropriate that my final class should be a creative writing course and taught by Professor Kadetsky. I have the distinction of following her around to three of her courses in the last two years of school-- apparently, this is more than any other student has ever done. I can only hope it wasn't odious. My first course with her was my first higher level creative writing course: English 412, advanced fiction writing. Fall 2009. I met Becca Ebstein and Chris Cascio in that class, two my best beloved readers. We were terrified after Elizabeth gave us a lecture in the first two weeks about the importance of learning to write "literary fiction" and not "genre fiction" (she decided to ban it). While perhaps a bit reductive of a dichotomy, the quality of work instantly shot up. Becca and I, in particular, mark that lecture as an important turning point in our writing. Later classes with Elizabeth included "Why We Write", a course looking at the sub-genre of writing about writing (and our personal, creative motives for writing ourselves!) and this semester with "The History of the Personal Essay" where I met F. Scott Fitzgerald the essayist, Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, and more.

I must note that Professor Kadetsky was one of many professors who taught courses that became very precious to me. I plan on acknowledging the scope of my English experiences in further posts over the next few weeks as graduation (May 14th!) approaches. For now though, I'm just stunned that this semester is coming to a close and that there won't be one to follow. Not like this. I suspect there will be more semesters. New. Different. Experiences that will become dear to me.

For now, I get to miss undergrad before I am even handed my official degree. I get to look at my growth as a writer this year, this semester, at how growing as a writer is bound up (indistinguishable, at times) in growing as a person. This year was the richest writing time I've had at Penn State: essay and poetry courses last fall; essay and my thesis this semester. I've fallen in love with the essay and "essaying"; learned (my lack of) conciseness and control from poetry; vulnerability and slow thought in my thesis. I experienced talking about everything I don't know about an essay by presenting on "Total Eclipse" by Annie Dillard-- it may be one of my semester highlights-- and watching the class figure it out together. I've experienced the joys of writing friendship in swapping genres with Mae, and the long talks at Word Parties with darling word lovers who "geek out" about craft and form and philosophy as much as I do... or more so.

It's been beautiful, even on the nights when I was convinced I could never write another word. I know I will keep writing. I will. But I will miss the classroom, the sharing, the being taught.

I am overwhelmed when I think of not taking any more writing courses. After Elizabeth asked who was going to continue writing courses, Megan Dutill asked why I looked so distressed. I replied, "I'm just intensely nostalgic right now. I think this means grad school."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lenten Reading

Confession:

My Lent was an epic failure this year.

The reasons are inexcusable. It started during Spring Break, I was not expecting it, school was crazy, I had  a thesis blah blah blah. They aren't good excuses.

So now it is Holy Week. Palm Sunday leading towards Easter. Even when I am fasting something (anything) for Lent, this week surprises me. Like Advent, despite its best efforts to prepare me, I feel like those silly women without oil in their lamps when it comes time to celebrate.

In the last few days, I've made an attempt to do something (anything) to realign my thoughts towards this coming Sunday. I've pulled out "The Man Born to be King" by Dorothy Sayers. It is an intensely rich series of plays (radio production originally?) that she wrote about the life of Christ. My dear friend Miriam loaned me the book years ago, saying that by the final pages, it always gave her chills. C. S. Lewis noted that it was also something he read every year during Lent

After years of reading this play, I would say she suceeds in her mission. It is facinating and dynamic to see characters take on voices that run around. So much of the play are direct quotes but they come with the inbetween explanations. It helps round it out, give a different take on stories I've known since I was small.

And Judas. He is the most interesting person in the play. And the most horrible because as much as I want to identify with the gentle and trusting John, I don't. At all. I pretend that I do. But of everyone in the play, I understand and relate to Judas the most. His thoughts, his plotting, his commitment to the "Kingdom", his un acknowledged pride, his deep understanding, and his manipulability into the greatest traitor known in history. What a thing to confront on Good Friday!

In combination with reading Luke (a dramatic book in its own right), "The Man Born to Be King" is as solid a refocus of mind and heart into this week as I could conceive of in the throws of my Lenten Failure.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Poetry Month

Last year, I had the pleasure of making a bulletin board (that kept falling down) in Simmons Lobby in honor of Poetry Month.

I consistently forget no matter what tactics I take, that April is Poetry Month.

But when I remember, I always take the opportunity to force poetry down people's throats. I'd like to imagine this blog is one way of forcing poetry down throats. I'd like to imagine the reader has no choice but to read what I write when they come to the page.

This is clearly false. I have an active imagination.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Thesis Status: Complete

This morning I used the EE computer lab and Eric Seidle's unlimited printing to print out my 96 pages. Took them to the HUB, had them bound, and took a copy to Burrowes by 9am.

And now, at least for a time, I am done with my undergrad thesis. It still must be signed by three faculty members and then I can declare the whole ordeal officially done with. But the writing, the printing, is done. I have a hard copy sitting on my bedroom floor.

So I am spending today celebrating what I know I am going to miss. I went back to bed and stayed there for three hours. I took a long shower. I read lots of essays by Joan Didion. Egg sandwich with feta cheese for lunch. Baking cookies. Watching Return of the King and quoting it out loud. Making plans for the weekend. I like celebrations.

It could also be a time to thank the people who helped my thesis. I didn't include an acknowledgment page because I wasn't quite sure how to thank people for the small and large ways they influenced and helped me get to this. Perhaps this is dramatic seeing as how the thesis isn't like a published manuscript at all. But it was/is very significant to me. So here are some shout outs:

Eric Seidle for free printing. Jaimy Joy for showing me how to make a table of contents. Ryan Smith for helping me with the page numbers. Janet Lyon (honors adviser) for an abundance of information that I still probably screwed up in my final drafts. Dan Conway for the thesis template. Dan Conway for the wine selection at the thesis party. All attendees at the thesis party. All thesis complainers on facebook giving me hope. Erica Reitz and Fiona for reading my initial essay. Elizabeth Kadetsky for her revisions and the many essays in the work that started in her courses. The ballroom dance community at Penn State. Mae Sevick for reading lots of sub-par poems by me. The Festival of Faith and Writing. Encounter 10. Christy Tennant. Courtney, Stephen, and Cameron from Winthrop, SC for their welcome at Encounter. Alyssa Wilkinson for her Word help over twitter. My cousin Brittany for writing about these things at PBU before me. The many who loaned me books to read (Tom Houston, Alex Wattlington, Julia Kasdorf, and many others). "Girl Meets God" by Lauren Winner, "The Mind of Indirection" by Jane Hirschfield, and Scott Cairn's poetry as primary inspirations. Megan Dutill for feeding me peanut butter and jelly when I was hungry.

And, finally, Julia Kasdorf, for acting as my adviser and, as I would like to call her, my thesis "amma": constant question asker, challenger, encouragement, and good book provider (I had at least ten books from her library at any one time).

Friday, April 01, 2011

NRT: Moon for the Misbegotten

Katherine Leiden as Josie Hogan, Jason Cassidy as Jim Tyrone

 Show times: Friday April 1, 8pm. Saturday April 2, 2pm and 8pm. 111 Forum Building.

No Refund Theatre did it again. I am floored.

This time, instead of raptures as after Othello, I left quiet and provoked. Strange that after only 2.5 hours I felt so familiar with a cast of three primary characters. As if I had watched their entire lives before coming to this stretch of a few hours in their lives. Eugene O'Neil's writing has a great deal to do with this. That man knew how to write dialogue that carries the narrative alone. There is not "epic-ness" to this play. No on stage deaths. No sword fights. Every scene takes place on the front porch of the Hogan's farmhouse. I realized during one of the longest acts that Josie and Jim had been sitting for almost 45 minutes. Clearly, this is a character driven play.

What amazed me then was how well the NRT cast pulled it off. Perhaps that is the wrong phrase. "Pulling it off" makes it sound like they did a lot of tricks to make it work. But they don't. There aren't any tricks in this. Just acting. It would be easy for this play to fall flat on stage without quality performances from all of the characters. There is nothing that any of them do. They talk. And making this talk full of the spoken and unspoken, the rising and falling, the sudden shifts in mood, in intention, expressing the deep confusion each of the characters processes about what they want. Wants are very hard to express in the body. They don't come in grand actions or stage directions. They come in performance (even if O'Neil tried so very hard to control every performance with his obsessively detailed stage directions). And this cast does it.

I might be a little biased, but Katherine Leiden did this especially for me. There were several moments where she revealed, without words, a truth about her character that she would not verbalize for another two acts. I remember being astonished at how convinced I was that an assumption about Josie was wrong relatively early in the play. When Josie then confirmed this belief in words towards the end of the play, I could only be impressed that Katherine had so thorough a knowledge of Josie that one facial expression could draw on a fact that we only learn later. A whole character was at play from the first time she stepped on the stage.

Well done, NRT and Eugene O'Neil!

PS. Warning: It is long. And it is character driven. You should go even if these two things daunt you. But don't say I didn't warn you.

PPS. Also, shout out to Katherine for holding Jason for a very. long. time. And Jason for being so still for such a very. long. time.