Group Work Drama (on level with Reality TV)!

I hate group projects.  I know you’re not supposed to say that in public, because some future employer or professor might hear you and get offended.  But it’s true! Writing collaborative papers for a final grade is annoying, especially when somehow you end up with a C (because if you get four smart people working together, apparently we all miss a rubric point) and a very uncommunicative professor.  It’s also annoying when you’re the only one done with exams and so you’re left to hound said professor about a quick rewrite before grades are due.

But.  I’m more relaxed about the whole situation than I expected because I suddenly think I understand why it is that I hate working in groups (especially if we all have to write a paper).  As my psychologist of a sister says, “You are the quintessential type A”.  I’d have to reluctantly agree with her (my blood type IS A+, after all), and say that it’s my personality that makes it so difficult to work in groups.  My group members weren’t just to blame – I was contributing to all the horrible group dynamics I’ve experienced over the years.  This realization, although it may seem obvious to you non-type-A-types, was an epiphany to me.  And I had this revelation because that project we all got a C on?  There was an even more type-A person than me in the group (we’ll call her A. Archetypal).  And she was great to work with because you only had to suggest something and she would drop everything and facilitate whatever you needed.  Until (and here comes the drama…)

Portent of Doom

Until that last paper we had to write.  We had agreed that we would turn in the paper pretty close to its deadline, since we all were focused on other exams.  We all had a copy of the rubric of the paper, but didn’t really split up the paper.  We figured we would work on two rubric parts each and then  revise it together.  Well, I wrote my two rubric parts early and then studied for exams for a couple days.  It turns out that A. Archetypal, though, had freaked out about getting the paper done on time (understandable, since it *was* a final paper) and wrote four rubric points.  Then the day before the paper was due and without warning, she sent an email to the professor saying that me and her were the only ones working on the paper, which was untrue.  Yeah, cleaning up after that was delightful.  And we still got a C, because in the inevitable drama that followed (the professor gave the other group members a zero for the final paper until we could account for everyone’s contribution), we forgot about that rubric point.

Which really impressed on me that trying to do everything preemptively and on your own is a dumb idea.  Understandable, but dumb.  And that’s why I still hate group projects, but have come to a better understanding of why they’re so horrible (sorry, Sweetland Professors reading this!).

PSA: Group work sucks, but communicate with your group.  They usually want to help, if you’ll let them.

Early Reflections and Part Two, without the animated gifs

Discretion is the better part of valor, in all parts of life.  Remember that.

This semester has been one of the worst semesters of my college life.  Class-wise, that is. Non-class-wise, it’s been pretty great.  But class-wise, it feels like I’m back in high school.  Which, contrary to popular belief, is not the best time of one’s life.  Especially writing-wise, ugh.

So it should come as no surprise to hear that writing this semester has been a complete drag.  It’s basically been response papers to the same subjects presented in variations, or papers that inherently demand simplified arguments because of space and time restrictions.  I never thought I’d say this, but I really find myself wanting longer and tougher assignments.

So, because writing opportunities have been complete barf this semester, it’s also been my semester of mediocre grades (can anyone smell early-onset senioritis?).  I got my first B- on a paper in a long time.  It was in English, which kinda hurt.  I mean, if it was one thing I was good at growing up, it was the English language.  As my mother was always telling me and I was always thanking her, until I identified it as a back-handed compliment, to say the least.

When I got the grade, I was hacked at first.  It’s a lower-level English class, I’m a junior, and a B- isn’t even cutting it for MIW requirements, never mind my pride.  Besides, wasn’t complexities one of the joys of the English language?

Then, as the stages of grief go, anger turned to depression.  Okay, at this point I realize I was operating as if I had nooo life, but I’m just telling it like it was at the time.  Seriously, though, I was in a funk.  I began to tell myself that maybe I wasn’t even a good writer, that I deserved this grade.  Then it hit me – it was easier to tell myself I wasn’t a good writer than face the truth – I’m a good writer, but I kind of am doin’ it wrong.  And that acceptance really has helped me move forward in my writing approach.  I don’t think I deserved an A, on that writing assignmen.

And that’s where tutoring elementary children in how to write a paragraph came in handy.  One day three weeks ago I sat down across from K., my tutee, and heard myself say, “Well, you know, writing is about communication.”  And this is so true!  Complex writing is not necessarily good writing, if it fails to communicate ideas.   This fact had apparently escaped me when I was writing that pesky English paper.  This being real life, I didn’t exactly hear the proverbial angels sing.  But still, I went “huh.”  And then wrote a two-part blog about it, so I guess that’s something.

In other news, I’m planning on turning my next English paper in next week, so right now I’m working on simplifying.  We’ll see how that goes!

On Cheese, Henry James, and Learning How to Write (Part One)

***Warning:  This blog post is very long-winded.  If you are a hungry college student and the cheese part grabbed your attention, then I am sorry to say that all cheese-related thoughts are limited to the first bit.  Thank you. *** 

For me, learning to write can sort of be tracked by a downward spiral in ideology.  What I mean is that I used to think that writing was the best thing since sliced cheese, and sliced cheese is AWESOME, since it cuts down on a good two steps when making grilled cheese:

1. actually slicing the cheese, and

2. realizing with a sinking feeling that once again you’ve sliced too much and are, once again, going to consume enough cheese to give a horse indigestion.  Good thing my stomach is still young and naively forgiving of the things I put in it.

Anyway, I used to think writing was great.  No – noble, even.  It was the best thing you could do with your life, because who needs a social life when your immortal words would be passed down from generation to adoring generation?  I had dreams of grandeur.  I obsessed over thesauruses the way some girls obsess over eye makeup (sorry if that sounds bitter – I still haven’t got the hang of poking my eye with pillowed sticks).  In elementary school, I wrote in the margins of my math worksheets.  In middle school I wrote great Diatribes Against Society in secret scraps of paper.  In high school, I doodled song lyrics incessantly on essay tests.

In my first year of college, resolved to hold the title of Proper Writer someday, I bought my first writing notebook, a five-subject, spiral-bound Mead.  And that simple decision was the seed of a very large change.  You see, consolidating my writing made it:

1. less easily lost and and therefore

2. more easily re-read.

And upon this closer examination, my writing turned out to be a warped version of Lord Byron – sad, bad, and painful to know that I wrote it.  Nevertheless, I remained fresh and rosy-eyed.  I told myself all I wanted was discipline, revision and to read more books.  After all, I was living the dream.  I was at one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation and I was reading Milton by my second semester freshman year.  There was hope for me yet.

And the hope seemed boundless.  The more I read, the more I wanted to be a writer.  I particularly idolized the Modernists.  To write social commentary as deftly as Henry James, to do away with entire lists of literary traditions at the sweep of a pen like Stein, to break the heart as nonsensically as Djuna Barnes.  That, surely, was what I was meant to do.  And I was going to do it.

But there came a point when romanticizing writing got in the way of actually writing.  This point came quickly.  After all, I was at one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.  To hack it, I needed to be able to write, and write well.  But I was too swept up in language.  I wrote galloping papers that had sentences three lines long.  I wrote breathless papers that threatened to bring on hyperventilation in its unfortunate readers.  In short, I had forgotten the first rule of writing: its goal is communication.

Funnily enough, it took me tutoring children in how to write a paragraph to remind me of this fact, and the fact that Modernism is dead.

The less I write the more it’s killin’ me

… and let’s just say I did not expect that.  I am taking what is referred to as “a light semester”.  At this point, my roommates are rejoicing because that means a whole lot less complaining and a whole lot more baking from yours truly.  But oh, this semester is killing me in ways I did not expect.  For one, my mind has seemed to take doing work as an all-or-nothing proposition (which it is not, for the record).  For another, I have practically no writing to do.  Sure, I have papers every week, but most of them are opinion papers a mere one to three pages long.

By this point, some of you may suspect that I am bragging.  I am not.  Because here’s the kicker.   If you didn’t notice, I added that last sentence about papers after the “this semester is killing me” part.  Not because I’m one of those meek and mild people who actually like writing 20 page research papers, but because I don’t have an outlet for my academic writing side – which apparently is quite determined to be let out.  It builds and builds until I am writing things like this:

The similarities between Basilosaurus and the bottlenose dolphin are striking.  Over time, the distinct “legs” of Basilosaurus shrank until they became flippers similar to that of a bottlenose dolphin’s.  Tooth shape changed, too; as diet changed from eating large fish (Basilosaurus) to eating smaller fish such as tuna (bottlenose dolphin), the tooth point became smoother.  Body shape is very similar across the species.  Both share a barrel-chest, a wedge head, and both tails come to a sloping point where the back flippers attach.

The problem?  This was meant as part of an answer key for Kindergarten to second grade students for a museum scavenger hunt.  My boss returned it with a succinct “Simplify” across the top.

If only I could just “simplify”.  This is not the only example of me overthinking a simple writing task.  Astronomy homework, American Culture response papers (hey, I said I was taking a light semester) – recently they’ve all been easily a page or two longer than they have needed to be. I wonder if this newfound issue in simplification will be permanent.  If so, I understand why less people than you’d think write children’s books (okay, write good children’s books).

PSA on Self-Reflective Comments

Well, Naomi (and other Sweetland Writing Profs).  You have succeeded in brainwashing me.  Here I am, sitting in the library determinedly writing various papers until my computer runs out of batteries (currently at 9% – I have been here awhile), and I am writing self-reflective comments!  I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I had written a couple and started to rearrange some paragraphs.  And then I realized that I have been using reflective commenting quite a bit lately.  At work, in my internship, when reviewing friends’ papers … and it’s just so handy!

Seriously.  When I look at my life before I knew about reflective commenting (and the “add new comment” function on Word), it’s like those scenes they show in infomercials – you know, black and white, and everyone’s frustrated by the stupidest things.  And now everything’s all technicolor and awesome, like Dorothy’s shoes in The Wizard of Oz.  A bit dumb?  Yeah, but hey.  It’s the small things that make life enjoyable.

Before I used commenting on papers, especially if I had to give feedback on something, I would get mixed results.  If I gave feedback to them in person, they’d be all like, “Uh, wait.  Can you write that down?”.  And if I tried to write it down within the body of the paper or by using track changes, they’d be all like, “Uh, now I have to erase all this crap”.  But seriously, commenting.  Awesome!  (Gotta go, my battery is dead, so that means I can leave!)

Playing Hooky from Responsibility

I just got finished playing “Marry Sex Bury” (to call it by its PG-rated name) with friends.  Fun game, but here’s the thing.  I thought we were supposed to be adults by now.  Earlier in the day after class, I went to the bank and filled out paperwork. Then I paid my rent and signed forms to drive University vehicles.  Then I went to work, cooked dinner, went to a meeting, did homework and … listened to Robyn and played that game.

Granted, we used historical figures like presidents and composers but that makes it a bit more pathetic, really.  I said this just now to my friend, and she just laughed and reminded me, “College is our last chance to act like kids”.  So maybe that pathetic-ness is what I should embrace about being a college student.  After all, we have license to act irrationally and make mistakes.  We’re under large amounts of stress and our immature pre-frontal cortexes can’t handle it.  Though I’m afraid playing M.F.K. is still a bit pathetic, as irrational actions go.

Guess the Party’s not Quite Over

Anyone else notice how much this class just seems …. to stick with you – you always think you’re done with something and then you find out you should do more?   That’s a sign of valuable education.

Anyway, I guess I have to talk some more about myself, particularly my process in creating the portfolio.  It was hard work, and it was frustrating.  Self-reflection is good for the writing process, if you don’t over-think it, but while you’re writing it, it’s a pain in the butt.  Like pulling my own teeth, I swear.  That’s what made the portfolio process so annoying, because I left the self-reflection for the last minute because I had decided to create better drafts of the material I posted on the portfolio.

I am happy with my portfolio, as I have said.  I don’t think I did justice to the type of writer I wanted to portray myself as, but that is because this portfolio included mainly writing minor pieces.  I did not upload many of my professional and academic pieces simply because I had no time – this is finals season, after all.  Still, the amount of work I did for this class was staggering – and this is coming from someone who was taking upper 300 level classes all semester.  But in the end, it was a good kind of work.  I hope.  It’s just a bit hard to see the forest for the trees, around finals season.  You all know what I’m talking about, I’m sure.

Aside from what I just said, that’s pretty much it.  I am “self-reflected” out.  I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Enjoy your break!

The Party’s Over

Yes, I am finished with all the coursework in this class …. unless I do really badly on my re-purposing paper.  Then it’s back to the batmobile o’ writing.  Y’all can check out my portfolio at:

I’ve formatted it to be a sort of rough draft for the minor’s final portfolio.  At this point, it’s not especially pretty but it does what I want it to do, which is to showcase my work and to be potentially suitable for future employers.  All in all, I think I’ve gotten pretty mediocre at website creation, which is something I never thought I’d say.

Enjoy your break, everyone!


Item of Interest to Like-Minded Luddites

I was reading this article in The Economist (which only just now came?!?!? ugh, slow postal services …) about Facebook and “Mirror Worlds” at the breakfast table this morning, but haven’t had a chance to post it until now.  You know this time of year – busy, busy, but productive.  Here’s the link to the online version:

It may be of interest to some of you – especially the part where Gelernter claims,

“A lot of convenience and power could be gained, and a lot of unhappiness, irritation and missed opportunities avoided, if the [computer] industry thought about design … We need more people who are at home in the worlds of art and the humanities … There are not enough articulate Luddite, anti-technology voices.”

I had to smile over my coffee at that one.







(Sort of) Travelling Back in Time

This Thanksgiving  I went through all of my old elementary and middle school papers.  Seeing how my writing style changed was pretty strange.  In middle school I started to devel0p a very odd sense of humor.  It was self-consciously over-the-top.  For example, in response to a unit in seventh grade on why drugs are bad I wrote an exceedingly bad satire that involved a policeman cornering “drunk teens” with “inspirational posters of the kitten persuasion”.  Whatever that means.

I’m not really sure whether I should be impressed with my mother’s saving ability or depressed by the fact that I distinctly remember throwing many of those wildly inane satires away as soon as they were written.  Either way, I still want to know why I seemed obsessed with making fun of inspirational posters.  Because that part of younger me was headed in the right direction.