But I want to! A Response to the Internet

The Internet doesn’t want me to go to law school. And with good reason. Debt, long hours, a lack of jobs, no social life, schools lying about LSAT scores… and on and on and on.  Apparently there is nothing redeeming about the experience, and I should just pack up my Political Science undergrad degree and figure out something else to do.

But… but… I want to go to law school!

I’ve been trying to figure out which school to go to for weeks now. Like many before me,  I decided to ask the Internet for blogs about the personal experiences of students who go to the institutions that I am interested in. I can’t find any, but I have found many many articles, blogs, and one horrible website that equates law schools to backed up toilets and provides pictures of said toilets above their descriptions that assure me that this is the biggest mistake of my life. It has been an extraordinarily disheartening two hours. I really want someone to tell me the truth about law school- if going to a more prestigious school will really mean that much in the job market, how they liked classes, if they made friends with fellow students, if professors are at all approachable. But instead, all I have found are endless lists of reasons not to go to law school, and pictures of toilets.

Call me a cockeyed optimist- or just sing the song from South Pacific because everything is better with musicals- but I want to go to law school anyway! I realize that it isn’t going to be like the brochures everyone keeps sending me (especially Michigan State, good lord you guys really know how to compile brochures!) but it can’t possibly be as horrible as the Internet says, right? Right? Please let me be right… What I want right now is not some angry person who hated their experience, or some bright eyed-bushy tailed admissions officer but an average law student who is going to finish out their JD to tell me what their life is like. Maybe I am super delusional and all those average law students are the ones screaming at me to jump ship now before it is too late. But I can’t imagine there isn’t some medium.

A part of me is super scared now that I am making a huge mistake. Unfortunately for the Internet, it isn’t a big enough part of me to give up on my ambitions of becoming a lawyer, because that is what I want to do, not because I want to make money, or because I can’t thing of other things to do with my degree but because it is something I am interested in and think I would be good at. The other part of me knows I’ve been talking about this for five years now, and I’m sure about it. So the Internet can just go bother someone else.

Do you feel a lot of pressure about your career choices because of the economy or whatever? How do you deal with that?

My Television Obsession of the Semester

Confession: I’m a Netflix junkie.

My love of watching entire TV series at one time began when a friend of mine lent me all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls the winter of my sophomore year of high school. After Gilmore Girls there was Heroes, The Office, Desperate Housewives, and The OC. However, all of these shows were difficult to come by, since I had to either borrow DVDs or rent them from Blockbuster if they hadn’t already been taken out. Netflix was somewhat of a Godsend, as it has all the episodes of more television shows than I will ever have the opportunity to watch in a lifetime. Needless to say, it has made the process of finding, watching, and loving a TV show so much easier than it has ever been before.

After a torrid affair with How I Met Your Mother, I decided that I needed something more serious, something an hour-long so that I couldn’t watch five in a row because… it is just 20 more minutes. That’s when I remembered Mad Men, which I’ve been meaning to watch forever since it is extra zeitgeist-y and has owned all the Emmys for years. And now I am hooked.

Mad Men is the best example of what television can do as a medium. The writing is consistently excellent, the period details are well-crafted, and the story is paced in a really great way. You never really notice pacing in TV shows unless it is really bad or really good, and Mad Men‘s slow burn approach to story lines is absolutely perfect. But of course, it is the writing that truly sets this show apart from every other one on television about a charming, tortured, middle-aged, white, male (The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Dexter, all of the crime shows. All good writing, interestingly similar premises).

Like many shows, Mad Men has kind of a gimmick in that characters often pitch ad campaigns that somehow always have to do with the theme of the episode. Shows like Glee have relevant songs, crime shows have nicely analogous crimes, and my beloved Buffy had oddly symbolic monsters. But Mad Men‘s use of ad campaigns to explore the overall narrative have been nothing short of brilliant. Most notably, Don Draper makes a speech about a slide projector at the end of the first season that simultaneously explains how he is feeling about his life, making an excellent pitch to a client, and directly calling out the audience for watching the show because of nostalgia for an age that was not what it seemed. This, my friends, is how you execute a gimmick. Also a soliloquy, most shows really don’t go for moments when one character just talks for awhile, but Mad Men is not afraid of the soliloquy. Don has gotten a few lovely ones, and so has his wife Betty, whose speech during her last psychiatrist visit was one of the most intense scenes.

The characters are complex and well-drawn, everything that could ever be said about Don has already been written by anyone who has ever written about television. My personal favorite is Peggy Olson, who could have been a one-note Girl Friday sort of character, but whose drive and focus gives her definition.

So if you’re going to watch/write a television show, may I point to Mad Men as inspiration?

What I did this Summer or Things About Restaurants

At the end of the last school year, I went in for my semesterly writing minor advising appointment to see Ray (hi Ray!). When he asked me what my summer plans were, I told him that I was going to work somewhere in Ann Arbor, probably in food service. He asked me what I was going to do with my mind over the next couple of months. I kind of spluttered; I’m a college student with grand aspirations! Of course I would find something to do with my mind! Well Ray, you were right… after taking the LSAT, and becoming immersed in my jobs at Gratzi, an Italian restaurant on Main Street, and at Star Vintage, I took a vacation from mind-using. When not working, I did quite a bit of sleeping, watched lots of How I Met Your Mother, and ate many, many sandwiches.

The summer was not a total waste of my neurons however, as it gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn about restaurants. Specifically, fancy Italian restaurants. If I ever cope with the crippling self-doubt (among other things) that prevents me from writing the Great American Novel, I will probably find all of this information useful.

So for my Blog Post of October here are… the Top Ten Things You Didn’t Want to Know About The Restaurant I Work At Still Because Law School Applications Are Expensive.

10. The Waitstaff Can Hear You (and they’re talking about you). Yes, adorable high school couple wearing homecoming clothes and intensely discussing the implications of the concept of the Anti-Christ, the girl pouring you water can hear every word you say. Yes, couple negotiating their divorce over ravioli con pancetta, your rather loud conversation will be all we talk about for the next week and a half. I’m not saying to censor what you say when the waiter comes around. No, seriously, this is what makes our nights worthwhile, gossiping about customers, and tips.

9. The Waitstaff are Definitely All Dating Each Other. Along the same lines of “Oh my god, the service industry is composed of HUMANS,” next time you go to a restaurant, remember that about half of these people bringing you drinks are going to go home together. They all definitely hang out after work, and some of them are definitely hanging out after everyone hangs out after work. Restaurant workers are among the most touchy-feely people I have ever met, so it is really no wonder that people who touch each other on the arm and lower back all day for no apparent reason end up dating.

8. That Napkin You Are Putting On Your Face? We Use Those For Everything. Not that they don’t get washed. Because they really, really do. They get sent to an industrial laundry facility where they are sanitized within an inch of their napkin-y lives. But not until they are used as doorstops, and glass wipers, and covered with anti-bacterial solution to wipe down high chairs.

7. Your Stupid Long-Lasting, Beyonce-Approved Lipstick Can Withstand A High-Powered Glass Washer. So think about that before you put it on your face.

6. The Manager Posts Your Yelp Reviews in the Break Room. So yeah, we kind of have to read them. Maybe think about being a little bit nicer next time. Or at least don’t mention any names. We did not mean to spill water on you, it was an accident, and it is not our fault the napkins aren’t that absorbent. We were really sorry about it, actually.

5.  There is this Really Racist Song on the Soundtrack. We play the same 30ish songs on a loop to create atmosphere. Every so often, this one comes on called “Brave Indian Warrior” which is about the most uncomfortably racist thing I’ve ever heard, and no one can explain to me why it is on a playlist with all of that Frank Sinatra.

4. You Can Take Classes on Wine. You know your friend who for some reason knows which wines go with what type of food? They don’t just magically learn these things. There are actual, $500 classes a person can take to learn about different types of wine. I haven’t taken it because wine is objectively kind of boring.

3. People from Out of the Country Don’t Tip. Like at all. Even if they are a huge party, and they stay for hours, and the waitress is really nice to them. Apparently tipping isn’t a thing outside of America.

2. Everything is Actually Really Clean. I know you were all expecting this to be a list of gross things in a restaurant that is supposed to be pretty fancy. Unfortunately for anyone who likes to be grossed out, Gratzi is actually one of the cleaner places I’ve ever worked. To put that into perspective, I’ve worked at a McDonald’s and Mojo’s dining hall, so I suppose that is not saying much. But all in all, if you go to Gratzi, you can be fairly confident that everything is sterilized and checked over before you use it.

1. Please Don’t Be That Table. You know, the one that stays an hour past closing even though they’re the only people in the restaurant besides the staff, who are all standing around the bar area, watching the local news and waiting for you to leave. There are 24 hour places in town, and we just don’t happen to be one of them.

 

 

 

Oh, really?

It seems like every English class I take, the class after everyone turns in their first piece of writing is devoted to telling us all that we clearly do not know what we are doing. This speech was definitely more effective my freshman year, but as a senior, a Writing Minor, and a taker of 300 level English classes, I am rather sick of it.

I swear, this is not just me complaining that I got a bad grade on a piece of writing (Which I did, two weeks in a row, no less). The fact is, every time I take a class centered on writing, someone complains about the state of undergraduate writing skills, proceeds to tell us that they will not teach us how to write since this is not a writing course, and wastes an hour telling us all things like “it’s means ‘it is’ and its means ownership” because seriously someone still doesn’t know that. This feels rather like passing the buck. Obviously since English professors do not take each others’ classes, none of them know that I have heard this same speech probably five or six times. But if they are all so troubled by the state of undergraduate writing, why do they keep saying “this is not a writing class, and I am not going to teach you how to write”? Clearly, someone needs to just sit down and teach us!

However, I believe that we are not such bad writers. Actually, I maintain that I am a fairly decent writer because after hearing this speech, and getting one bad grade on the first paper of the semester, I have gone on to receive As on almost all subsequent papers. Either English professors are all in collusion to scare everyone into writing better every semester, or they all just have different standards on what constitutes good writing. If it is the former, I tip my hat to them, because apparently this works. If it is the latter, I object, because if we all learn to write to the specifications of a different professor every semester, we are not learning to write, we are learning to please a very specific person.

This is all to say, Professor L, I am on to you…

WRITER

What is a writer? I know what an author is, and what a biographer, or novelist is. But a writer? One who writes? In books and movies it is such a declaration, such an assertion of identity. John Irving’s characters, especially Garp, in The World According to Garp, which I recently borrowed from Hannah, always have this sense of themselves as “writers.” This is possibly because that is how Irving felt; the emotion is too consistent across his novels (though, to be fair, there are many other things consistent across Irving novels, which is why I try to space them out). Even less Literary with a capital L characters in media do this. In the very beginning of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie, Carmen, who is describing each of her friends in turn, says that she is “Carmen, the writer.” Despite the fact that Carmen is rarely seen writing in either movie (or even in the later books), it is still for some reason important to establish this about her character in the opening lines of the film. She says it in this very distinct way, which reminds me of Irving’s characters and their inherent writerliness.

I do not know if I am a Writer. I enjoy writing, and have often been told that I am not terrible at it. I have always wanted to be a Writer. But I do not know how a person gets to be one. I have Writer friends, who say things like “I can’t go out tonight, I am taking some time to Write” which is something I have never said, and never anticipate saying. Perhaps one of the reasons I hesitate to identify myself as a Writer is that many of my Writer friends enthusiastically share their work which never turns out to be quite as brilliant as they’d hoped (caveat: this is referring to none of you, I am thinking of very specific people who do not go to this university) (Yes, that is horribly mean of me.) I worry that if I tried to be a Writer, it would turn out that I am not one at all, in any sense of the word. So I suppose I am a small-case writer, rather than an upper-case one.

Any thoughts on what makes one a Writer? Do any of you feel like Garp and Carmen? Are any of you just writers rather than Writers? Anyone think the word “writer” sounds weird now?

 

Reflection

This semester was not my favorite in terms of what I wrote. I am finishing up some distribution requirements, so I had a couple 100 level classes that didn’t have any writing at all, and I am not super proud of what I did end up writing for my two other classes. My capacity for procrastination actually got worse; I’ve never put anything off as long as I did with a couple papers this year. The longest paper I have ever written, 12 pages on sex positive education, was possibly the biggest train wreck. By the end of the weekend that I spent writing it, I was too burned out to edit it thoroughly.

It isn’t that my writing has gotten worse, at least I don’t think so. But writing papers has taken on this route feeling, like I’ve done this before a thousand times and will do the exact same thing a thousand more. The middle of the night grind is not particularly inspiring. This is, of course, partially my fault for waiting until the last minute when everything that can possibly be produced is the essay equivalent of cafeteria food- there is a lot of it, and it looks okay, but it all sort of tastes like potatoes.

Sigh.

So anyway, I’m taking an English class next semester to get out of this funk because that usually helps (see my earlier post). Any of you feel that way about papers sometimes?

 

Write Something!

I want to write something! Something awesome, that I’ll be excited and passionate about! I have no idea what!

I’m terrible about writing short stories when I’m not in a class that makes me do it, and this isn’t a terrible poetry mood. Obviously, writing my Political Science essay on the pros and cons of adversarial legalism isn’t going to cut it (though I should start that because I do not want to stay up all night on Thursday trying to finish). So I’m writing a blog post, I guess. Not that I know what I want to write about in this blog post, except that I just really want to write!

I think my problem is that I didn’t take an English class for the first time in all of my semesters at this lovely institution. And everyone knows English essays are much more exciting than Political Science or Women’s Studies essays. My friend from SAPAC keeps telling me I should have been an English major; I am beginning to think he is right. I am having English class withdrawal.

Last year, around this time, I was writing a really fun essay about Pan’s Labyrinth and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It was all about imagery! and themes! and sacrificial imagery! Man, I want to write something like that!

A Thing I Do Not Understand

Honestly, I could just make a recurring feature on “Things I Do Not Understand,” like course distribution requirements, dubstep, the Republican Presidential candidates, and when boys are flirting with you and not just saying absurd things. For someone who considers herself basically intelligent, there are many many things I don’t understand. But today, we’re going to talk about fan fiction!

Disclaimer: If you write or enjoy fan fiction, and I’m sure one or two of you do, I have nothing against you. I would love to get coffee sometime, and listen to you explain why you love this medium, and how it helps you express yourself. My lack of understanding is not meant to offend or judge.

I just have a lot of trouble getting why people do it. I am a self-identified fan girl of a variety of things, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, a variety of superheroes (BATMAN), and such fan fiction-friendly properties as Harry Potter and the CW’s Supernatural. But I have never felt like I could improve upon, or expand those stories with any sort of authority. Maybe it is some sort of weird, misplaced reverence for the writers and the canon material. I just don’t believe that there needs to be more to the story if the creators decide to end it.

What bothers me more than that though, is the fact that most fan fiction revolves around the character’s love lives. Some of these characters do not have long-term romantic partners in the original story like the brothers in Supernatural, or are paired with someone the fan fiction writers do not deem worthy or something like Ron and Hermione, who are featured often in fan fiction but rarely together. Fan fiction writers come up with such cringe-worthy pairings as Hermione and Draco Malfoy, two sworn enemies who treated each other with contempt in the books and movies that some seem to identify as sexual tension. My least favorite pairing by far has to be the icky idea that the two main characters of Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester, who are most definitely BROTHERS, are somehow attracted to each other. Fan fiction seems to be based around making couples out of every character available, even taking characters from different books or movies and deciding that if these two met somehow, they would be perfect for each other.

Entertainment Weekly featured an article recently that interviewed a few fan fiction writers justifying the whole “pair everyone off” mentality. One woman was particularly adamant that fan fiction explores potential romantic tensions that the television shows should. I disagree. Exploring romantic tension works great for publicity, and its nice to see your favorite characters happy, but shows that pair off every character just to “explore the tension”  can’t maintain a sturdy plot. Take Glee and Gossip Girl for example. I love both of these shows, but now that every conceivable couple has explored as much tension as possible, it is almost hard to believe all these characters are still friends. Glee especially suffers from insufficiently established romances between just about everyone. Putting everyone together all over the place does not add to the plot, but confuses it.

The thing is, while many people watch shows purely for the love interest story lines, there has to be other things going on. What about the unexplored tension of friendship or family? Why can’t the Winchester brothers have an intense bond in a non-sexual way? What is wrong with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her mentor Giles having a real friendship based on mutual respect and love without romance? I think this speaks to the way that our society devalues friendship and family compared to romantic lovers, and it is a sad trend. Some of the best scenes in Glee feature Rachel, Kurt, and Mercedes watching musicals together or discussing their fears about the future like normal teenagers. I think that friendships and family dynamics are much more interesting than romances between increasingly absurd couplings, and looking at those make for much more compelling writings.

That’s all for Things I Don’t Understand, Issue 1, Volume 1. How do you feel about fan fiction?

What is “A Space?”

This post isn’t going to be about writing, so much, as about language. Which we use for writing (YAY Alex figured out words!). More specifically, the language we use at the University of Michigan.

Of course, there is the obvious language, like “The Cube,” “The Diag,” and “Angell,”  not to mention the endless acronyms like CCRB, MLB, ITCS, OSCR and SOAS. It must be really odd for out of town people to listen to U of M people talk; I barely have an idea what I’m talking about half the time.  But the language of this university goes beyond our buildings, administrations, and freaky art installations.

I took a class last year, in which the GSI (another one of our Michigan-specific terms, most people have TAs)  liked to use really abstract language. This really frustrated me; I’m a concrete person, and I wasn’t always sure what she meant. She would say things like “negotiate” in this special way that meant “figure out” but in an inexplicably more meaningful way, like to “negotiate one’s identity in a patriarchal society” or “negotiate the power dynamic of one’s relationship.” My least favorite word was “space.” Space meant just about anything to this GSI, from physical space, to emotional space, to the space of the classroom we were in. It was an almost metaphysical concept which she used frequently and interchangeably. My favorite part of the class was when she’d inevitably combine the two and talk about how to “negotiate this space.” Oh, how she loved negotiating those spaces, whatever that meant.

Space?

Another professor, one I had last semester, was in love with the phrase “the way in which,” instead of just “how.” Every few minutes, it was “the way in which.” If the GSI ever procreated with this professor, their children would probably talk about “the way in which he or she negotiates this space” endlessly.

The worst part is, that this is not specific to this professor, or this GSI. People I work with at SAPAC talk quite about about negotiation and space, and more and more professors enjoy using “the way in which” as I take more classes. And I have definitely caught it. When giving people advice, I’ve started saying things like “I know it is difficult to negotiate these parts of your identity,” and in a conflict with my parents, I asked for “a space to understand things on my own terms.” “The Way In Which” has worked its way into many of my papers lately as well.

What do I mean by these words? It is different every time. Sometimes, though, they are the only words that make sense for a certain concept. There are many other words as well that carry a specific meaning in the language of this university, like “identity,” “triggering,” and my absolute favorite, “intersectionality.” Saying any of these things makes immediate sense to anyone who goes here, but take it outside of this context, and the specific way you mean the words can get lost.

Does anyone have any thoughts on why U of M has so many words that carry a different weight than they usually do? Any other examples of words that took on a new meaning after you started going there? Does anyone know what “negotiating a space” looks like?

7-10 Pages

If I have learned anything so far in college, it is the art of writing a 7-10 page paper. Well, that and what “intersectionality” means, but that is a whole different story. Nearly every class I’ve had (except science classes) has instructed me to write a 7-10 page paper on something. Often, I get to pick that something, which is getting easier with time, though starting off in English 124, it was pretty daunting.

Now, I know many of you hated English 124/5, but being the nerd I am, I quite enjoyed it. Whether this was because of the interesting reading material (I highly recommend reading Paul Auster’s City of Glass), my wonderful, hyperactive GSI Asynith, or the cute guy I did projects with, I couldn’t tell you. It was a pretty standard general English class. We spent most of the hour and a half learning about papers, workshopping each other’s papers, and watching Asynith bounce around.  But this was where I first learned to write a 7-10 page paper, though of course, then, they tended more toward 6 and a half. I had no idea I was even able to come up with enough material for that many pages. I remember asking Asynith if we were just supposed to make the three body paragraphs extra big. Cause I was still pretty stuck in high school at that point, I hadn’t even begun to imagine writing more than five paragraphs!

7-10 pages has since become a pretty standard part of my life. I write probably 8 per semester, sometimes more. Last semester, I definitely had five in one three week span. At the end of my undergraduate career, I want to just go through my Microsoft Word files and count how many pages I’ve written. Just for fun. Or so that I can put it somewhere on my Facebook.

Someday though, I will no longer will have to write 7-10 pages with an introduction and a conclusion. Well, I suppose I may have to write the same amount, but they will no longer be musings on in-class readings, or analyses of other people’s obscure political science research. It actually makes me sad that in a year, I will no longer have a reason to do a critical reading paper about a book or a poem. This semester was the first that I did not take a traditional English-y class, which makes me feel like something is missing. Most of my favorite papers have been about a book or poem, rather than about political theory. English-major envy, probably. I already miss those types of papers, and I wonder what it will be like to not get to create the things that have been such a source of pride and stability over the past three years.

Anyway, my point is, that though we all struggle with our 7-10 page papers, they won’t last forever. Most of us will actually be done with them alarmingly soon. And yeah, we’ll still get to write, creatively, personally, or for work. But it won’t be the same, you know?