This Is Harder Than It Looks

I leave Provo today.

Something profound and poignant is supposed to bubble up through my fingers and appear on the computer screen. It’s not quite coming that way. Maybe it’s because grades aren’t official or even up yet. Maybe it’s because I still need a serious heart-to-heart with this town. Maybe I don’t really need one but the formality of one would make me feel better.

This semester really humbled me. I didn’t start thinking I’d earn a 4.0. The ol’ rusty brain scattered a few moths as I tried knocking a few loose three months ago. Those Lepidopterans fluttered down to my stomach, where they stayed. They’re solely responsible for my ten-pound weight loss difference from this time last year. Anxiety dominated my life, and time kept going.

French class dazzled me: So many new and familiar words. All those rules that I latched on to. Cultural facts and food and cinema and conversations. Those classmates I observed and laughed with every day. Those exams every two weeks and quizzes and the instructor who graded hard and not on a curve and the butterflies using my stomach like a padded room, bouncing off of angled and opposite surfaces until the very end, when I became the curve which bumped everyone else’s grades up.

I probably wasn’t the only one, though.

Then there was the final, which I have no idea how I did.

But the class wasn’t about the grade, really. Bonne idée and “I suck moments.” Clubbing and parties and watching hilarious YouTube videos and breaking into other accents and showtunes and blurting slight irreverences and laughing everyday until the testing center beckoned us once again. Grading each other’s homework and correcting each other’s grammar and lying out in the sun after the final review quoting movies and turning somersaults and being under the influence of caffeine and sugar.

The class was about friends.

But I do have to wonder: Why would I add an –s to the je conjugation of an -er verb? Really, people.

Writing Literary Criticism class knew I how felt about it. The grade is going to reflect that. Classmates knew. Poor, unsuspecting friends knew. Sure, I enjoyed reading Jane Austen and Robert and E.B. Browning and Tom Stoppard, but for some reason, I couldn’t write for that class. My attitude could have been so much better. I snarked and resisted and I could tell the professor expected better from me. I got to know the two students who sat on either side of me; they were definitely serious enough, but they were also rather feisty and very becoming of Mormon women in (approaching) their 20s.

Fair enough that I got out of that class as much as I put into it.

American Literary History pretty much blew my mind. We read letters from Christopher Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabella. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Bryant, Emerson, Hemingway. I’ve raved about this class before, and the butterflies billowed my stomach especially because those Wednesday nights depended heavily on class discussion. Oh, man, the discussions got intense. The opinions were sometimes pointed. They rubbed and sparked and ignited, and the professor sometimes had to extinguish. I sat back and watched, amazed.

I got to know a few people in the class, those with whom I participated in small group discussions. The people in that class were so smart and far-thinking and articulate and aware. They inspired me to try to improve how I connect ideas and visualize concepts. They started me wondering what Thomas Jefferson would have thought about Herman Melville or Harriet Tubman or Frederick Jackson Turner. They stirred some thoughts on whether anything I might write will end up making a difference in future generations. My mind hasn’t opened up quite this way … since high school? Probably ever.

Fundamentals of Literary Interpretation helped me analyze the way I read. It broadened awareness, added dimension. I discovered just how much poetry rocks my world. We read Othello. We read The Age of Innocence. I wrote the way I wanted, and the instructor just went with it. She validated me and encouraged me to work toward publishing. I studied and worked and commented occasionally. Classmates seemed timid sometimes, but they were bright and insightful, and they love words as much as anybody could. Everyone is so different in reading and writing styles, and I appreciate how much the class opened my eyes. I would like to think we respect each other as peers and not just as teacher-student.

Socially, I’m pretty content. I’ve found a group of people who’ve taken me in and welcomed me and accepted all the crazy things about me. And yet, they also motivate me to become a better person. I like when we can laugh together or when they just let me laugh by myself (which is pretty often). I like when they plan food events I can attend. Jam sessions and bonfires and movies and pizza. They’re really comfortable. And so unabashedly cool.

Provo, I know sometimes it doesn’t seem I give you much of a chance. I’ve mocked you and tried so hard not to get too close…. You know what, though, you’re all right, with all these Mormons and this … culture, and especially your mountains. I can’t hate you for your mountains. The people I’ve met are pretty terrific, too.

Now, I’m waiting on a final load of laundry. I’ll go to an ATM to get a little cash, pack a few last-minute things, and head for the bus.

Heh, I thought the butterflies had left.

I’ll actually miss it here.

I’m Putting off Writing for Some Reason

Yes, the photo is noisy, but that’s okay. Click the photo for a few more around Provo.

I’m exhausted, people. The semester’s over, and I’m glad. I’m also a little sad. I’ve had incredible instructors and some really great opportunities. But maybe I just need some time away from writing. At least at a computer. Typing and typing and typing and hoping I make sense, when all I really want to do is write for fun. Not that what I’ve turned in this semester wasn’t rewarding, because it was. And I love putting ideas together and having them make sense. And the feedback? Nothing like it.

Well, except for the papers I didn’t like writing. But I don’t care about those papers as much.

So, maybe I’m wrung a little dry.

It’s time for some recuperation.

I Don’t Care If I Get A B in the Class

Tonight was the last of my final exams. As we turned in the tests, the professor returned papers we turned in a couple of weeks ago. Here’s a comment he wrote on mine:


This is a cool paper – very perceptive, very well written. Original, analytic. I like it a lot and wonder if you’d be interested in revising and submitting it to the journal [A Journal]. Let me know and I can offer you further feedback as you revise.

Then he goes on and tells me why the paper got an A- instead of an A, which is because I totally ignored/overlooked the instructions on the assignment sheet about what the conclusion is supposed to be like. Oops.

Anyway, I’m gonna go through with this and get published.

I can’t believe this.

What a great way to end my first semester back.

More School Stuff You Can Skip Over

I finished my big paper, and I’ll get started on the last one today. Tonight.

Then I need to prepare a powerpoint presentation on the Tom Stoppard paper I turned in today.

But I want to take a nap. And watch Chuck and Lost.

11 more days. Then I go to New York in 20 days.

I was talking with someone yesterday. I told her a certain class really validated me. She said some things about playing to our strengths and telling ourselves we’re good at what we do. And believe our friends when they tell us positive things.

That came after the part when I told her how insecure I get sometimes. She reassured me though.

We walked out of the classroom, out of the building. We talked about an author we both like. We talked about the different people who use the transit system. We approached the bus stop.

She asked about my plans to write, if I actually wanted to write. We talked about other classes I could take. She told me I should definitely work toward publishing.

She said other stuff, too.

Ego Boost, the Sequel

This is what I had to read for my history class this semester. Yeah, the one where I’m getting the B.

I just returned from that class. It was every Wednesday from 5:10pm to 7:40pm, and except for the very first class that I missed because my best friend’s wedding was more important, I’ve been to every lecture.

We read Postmodern and Multicultural writers for today’s assignment. We talked about Thomas Pynchon, Raymond Carver, Toni Morrison and Gloria Anzaldúa.

That bunch of students are among the most articulate and thoroughly thoughtful I’ve ever been honored to be in the same room with.

The professor is excellent, and he encourages dialogue and moderates debates. The class is so intellectually stimulating and intimidating at the same time.

Anyway, we got to the part of the classtime today where we focused on Toni Morrison. I wanted to be able to comment, because she’s one of my favorite authors, and seriously, she blows my mind and I can’t recommend her strongly enough.

The piece we discussed has racially ambiguous main characters. It is set in and around New York City.

So, there’s my first comment: With the names of surrounding towns in the NYC area, I tried figuring out the characters’ race, because we know some towns to have a certain economic status, and that status we typically ascribe to race. The professor responded with his fascination of the microcommunities and vast diversity of New York City.

That comment came out more clearly than I expected. Most of the time it’s “ga-ga, goo-goo.”

Regarding multicultural literature, the trope of the “usable past” describes parts of history that relate to us but cannot recover, so we use what we can recover and make the rest of it up for our own benefit, so we can feel we have heritage. The characters in the Morrison piece are a good example of this concept.

So, for my second, which was also my last comment of the semester for this class, because it was the last time we would formally meet, I related the idea to another trope from earlier in the semester. I said something like how the story makes me think of the nonrecoverable past as the “anti-frontier,” and the usable past is comparable to “imagined communities” in that it is an attempt to become part of a community we can’t access. So the professor responded saying he can follow the thought of “imagined communities” but could I talk more (and when he began that part of the sentence I looked down at my notebook and started to laugh, because I honestly hadn’t thought further on the idea) about the “anti-frontier.” Without pause, I clarified that the frontier is where we haven’t been, and the past is where we came from so it’s the anti-frontier, and the term was my trying to articulate the thought.

Then he said, “That sounds really smart. I’m going to write that down.”

The class giggled. I blushed. Then he wrote it in blue pen in the margin of his notes.

Not a bad last comment, for getting a B and all.

He concluded the lecture with a rousing speech about how he’s never had a brighter English 293 class. He’s enjoyed the dialogue throughout the semester. He encouraged us to go and do great things by being critics or writers, or just by continuing to have wonderful ideas. I felt a little heat in my throat  and my eyes well.

It was a truly amazing class.

Ego Boost: Check

We got these essays back today. Mine was about reading John Updike’s “A&P.”

Again, it wasn’t about the story; it was about reading the story.

I hope the writing here somehow transfers to the papers I’m writing for finals.

This is nervewracking. I’m glad my mom can’t see my cuticles now to yell at me.

Anyway, I like how the instructor underlined beautiful to describe my prose. I even like her suggestion to the right.

I also like the quaternary underscore beneath the … perfect score.

I’m taking university writing courses. This is so utterly cool.

Back to work.

300 Words

I keep having these dreams about breathing underwater.

Every time, I fall from the sky, at terminal velocity, before plunging into the ocean. I sink deep, fast. The impact empties my lungs. I try propelling myself to the surface. I’m too slow. I end up inhaling water. I gag, and the salt stings my throat. However, I’m not drowning. My lungs accept the water like air. Thriving, I explore my aquatic world.

One early morning in May 1976, a typhoon crashes upon Olongapo City, Philippines, hurling rain and lightning at a small clinic. Maybe sometime between thunderclaps, I am born.

My military father moves our family every two to three years, from the Philippines to Florida to Guam, then to Florida again, where he retires. I adjust to new schools, new cultures, new friends. I learn to excel socially, and especially academically, graduating salutatorian of my high school class in 1994.

In February 2003, I plunge into New York City. It completely surprises me. I have no job; I know two people among the 8 million surrounding me. I end up finding work lasting more than six years. I flourish under pressure, form strong friendships, and freely pursue my passions. I own two rabbits. I become an American citizen.

In January 2010, I sit poised at a desk, writing. This is not my first time at BYU. This is a return to familiarity, but this time I am different. My life isn’t a dream. I have been awake the entire time. I once respired amniotic fluid, and now as I break through to open air, my breathing is the same.

We may be creatures of habit. We grow accustomed to routines, sameness. The air may grow stale, but I remember I can breathe water.

I am a creature of change.

I know, people. Not very consistent of me.

The above may look familiar to some of you when I asked for feedback on it last September. I’m just having a little trouble breathing. I’m trying to figure out if my attitude now is really different. I’m trying to dig deep for that little extra kick for getting me through the next two weeks.

I’m trying to remember.