Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Class So Far...

Turns out you DO learn valuable information on the first day of class...which doesn't have to do with major assignments' due dates.

My spring semester of college is officially in full swing, as of last week. Just like thousands of other bleary-eyed students, I harvested printed syllabi, ordered or purchased over-priced books for class, and basked in that lovely old sensation of stress becoming part of my constant sub-conscious once again.  This semester bodes well for me; my classes do not, for the first time in my college career, involve:

  • forced gen-ed credits which have nothing to do with my major 
  • out-of-class lab time 
  • dangerous machinery 
  • graded knot-tying 
  • science 
  • deadlines (in the newsprint publication sense)
  • foreign language
  • early mornings  

They do, however, involve tons of writing and reading - but that's what I actually enjoy, so no worries there, right? *crosses fingers*

While kicking off a semester is generally a huge pain, it does have its perks. Namely getting to know the professors and the nature of their classes, as both are generally not at all what you expected. My "Films and Context" class, for example, is listed as an english course, but involves reviewing films of the 1930's, with weekly screenings and discussions of said films....something I would've expected for, say, a film and video studies course.  Not only that, but the professor's grandfather was a big time movie producer and was behind many of the major films of the period...something she likes to note frequently.

My sociology professor is also fascinating, as she is working on her dissertation and probably not much older than any of us, her students. She insists we call her by her last name only, which makes me feel like I'm back in high school. Since she's a sociology professor I have a sneaking suspicion this is because of some study or survey about class performance and calling the teacher by their last name being directly correlated.

My writing professor, Mel (the same one who forced me to start this blog in the first place), is, as always, cheeky and challenging. If I don't have at least one solid short story written when I finish this class, I've promised to demand a refund from him personally. 

But my favorite so far is my poetry professor. The class meets only once a week for three hours - it's more like a workshop. The professor offers an art project option for those students who aren't so big on writing their own original work and prefer to express or depict others' poems through art. She provides six different mediums the student can choose from (photography, paint, sculpture, etc) and use to build an accompaniment to a cycle of poems we'll be reading through the semester....simple enough. At the bottom of the handout on it is,


As we all read this, she explained that yes, a student actually attempted to do just this a few years ago.  Her only comment was, "Goddard (the campus health facility) is down the street....if you're gonna do THAT, you need to head on over there." She also stipulated, "If your work creeps me out, you'll get an F. Keep your creep to yourself.".......I can tell I'm going to love this class.

It's refreshing to feel - at least at the outset - that my loan money is being well-spent for once.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Want What You Can't Have

On Monday my Spanish professor gave a short lecture on the value of study abroad, saying (essentially) that the things you learn in immersing yourself in another culture are absolutely invaluable. He also said that during one's college years is the best time to go, because afterwards responsibilities and costs of adult life take over and travel becomes exponentially more difficult, if not impossible.

I completely agree with him - I would love nothing more than to use my time and the excuse of studying to venture beyond U.S. borders and see what the world is actually like elsewhere. In the same vein, we discussed the things Americans take for granted which those in other countries can only dream of - namely financial resources and the ease with which an American citizen can achieve passports and exit passes.  Listening to and discussing this made me feel quite sad for a variety of reasons.  While it's true, my living conditions and resources probably far outstrip those of other 20-year-old women around the world, travel is just as much an unrealistic dream for me as it generally is for them, on account of my own crippling limitations in funding. 

But it's about more than just my own bitterness about the stinginess of our government in helping students achieve educational goals. It's about how someone with such a comfortable living situation and a plethora of resources can still feel so dejected...perhaps more so than my peers abroad.  After reading an excerpt from Willie Weir's Travels With Willie about Americans' resources versus those of other citizens' abroad, we (the class) marveled at one Cuban woman's managing to become fluent in 4 languages with no more than a tape recorder...which she'd purchased through money earned from raising a pig.  To think what she could accomplish with language courses like the one I'm currently failing is humbling to say the least.  

I left that class feeling a profound sense of sadness and cynicism. It's true, I have so much to be thankful for here in the U.S., and yet I am in that particular bracket that makes tapping the resources at hand almost more trouble than it's worth. Both from a sense of pointlessness (why bother, it's not like I have the time or money) or simple despair (there's too many hoops to jump through and I'd probably come up empty-handed anyway). In a way it made me feel isolated...I'm the only person my age (that I know of, currently) who has never once in their life left the country. There's at least one luxury that most if not all my American peers take for granted which I can count myself exempt from...good for me.  I can't help but feel awfully bitter when I hear friends of mine pine to "go back" to whatever country they visited in high school...at least they've been once, more than I can say...but apparently that's not enough for them.

America is a difficult country to love sometimes. Its inhabitants are either grossly self-absorbed, incurably consumeristic, downright stupid, or all of the above. My professor mentioned this (more diplomatically of course), mainly focusing on how Americans are "so content with their situation here" that they have no desire to learn about other cultures' way of life. He talked about the crippling poverty in other countries and how THEIR inhabitants can't even entertain hopes of travel because its costs make that utterly impossible.  But ironically, it's currently the same way for me...and I am a child of one of the richest countries in the world.  True, I COULD travel one day (many many years from now) when I save enough money, but there's no guarantee my circumstances will allow for it.  

I suppose the moral of the story is make no generalizations because there's always that one, angry exception whose exemption from the rule will make her even more bitter than she was before she walked into your class.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Doubled Over

As usual, an interesting topic of discussion was raised in PW class today, which I will try to treat delicately, seeing as how it is a fairly controversial subject.

In an effort to get our little brains working on good short story ideas, Mel asked us to craft a roommate situation and "hitchcock" (ie make really creepy) it. In our discussion we wandered into what makes a good and bad roommate, and one of the attributes of a bad roommate, according to the females in the room, is one who habitually brings home strangers of the opposite sex to spend the night.  For the sake of gaining insight, Mel asked the guys in the room if they agree, and they generally responded with opposing complacence.

In a nutshell, girls who bring guys home get a big fat SLUT stamped on their foreheads and probably some passive to outright disapproval from their roommates on the grounds that they're not comfortable with a strange guy being around (it's likely that jealousy plays into it too). Guys, however, receive not only detached apathy from their roommates when they have a girl over but probably even congratulations. Let it be noted that the hosting roommate may or may not be having sex with their guests, though it is probably understood or assumed that he/she is.

 For the sake of diplomacy, I'll refrain from expressing an opinion on promiscuity itself and instead focus on the absurdity of this double standard. Girls live with a plethora of double standards, most of which are supposedly imposed by either conservative values of past generations or the opposite sex. This one, however, is seemingly imposed by the girls themselves. Now I will say that being uncomfortable with a male stranger in your living space while you sleep is certainly a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed between roommates before it becomes a problem.  

But judging a peer for their personal lifestyle, especially based upon generalized gender expectations, is very unfair.  Guys in this situation seem to really get it, in my opinion. Rather than spark bad terms and drama between them and their roomies, they establish an atmosphere of neutrality (excluding extenuating circumstances like guests who steal) and thus give their peers an opportunity to make their own choices free of exterior pressures and personal opinions, like adults. Girls on the other hand seem to favor puerile labeling, shunning, and sourness - perhaps out of jealousy.

Like I suggested before, girls DO have more to worry about in terms of their vulnerability, but unless the male guests are honestly threatening or unsavory or the roommates' habits obnoxiously interfering, the mere bringing home of guests should never be grounds for smearing someone's reputation. Even if you personally disagree with their choices. Seriously ladies. Double standards are not our friends, let's work to operate separate from them and make judgments based solely on what is best for all and not what society arbitrarily decides. 

It's a free world and people won't always employ their liberties in ways you agree with. Your only obligation is to be respectful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Willfully annoying

So for whatever reason I find myself blogging about professional writing class basically every week. At least I'm getting my exorbitant tuition money's worth out of one class; something I can't say for the rest.

I find it rather amusing how the students have distributed themselves around the room. Starting to the left of Mel (the teacher; for those of you who don't know) the students seem to be grouped by similar personality type. The tables are arranged in a horseshoe shape; each student sits on the outside and Mel has the floor inside. On the left of the room (from Mel's perspective) there are the go-getters. The students who took him up on substitute teaching job offers or are published on multiple websites; those who have established themselves as either personalities or high achievers (or both) within the class.

From there it's the mysterious group; the 4-5 students who sit with their backs to the door, facing Mel. Their attendance is good and their contribution to the class is enjoyable;  their personality type would best be described as sensitive, introspective perhaps. Mel enjoys poking fun at everyone in the class, but he seems to favor this group most of all; perhaps because he wishes to crack their shells a little. 

Round the curve and you have my side of the room; the skeptics, (possibly) scatter-brained, and silent ones. This group listens and participates, has comebacks, and makes comments, but it's  the most consistently late or absent (without prior notice) group. 

The funniest thing about this is that at the outset of the semester I was on the left side. I turned my assignments in early; I was enthusiastic and on top of my game. The one day I showed up late was the day that decided I would ever after sit on the right side of the room; through a chain reaction of unforeseeable and unfortunate events, I became discouraged into getting by rather than blazing onward. I faded into a haze of disillusionment and perhaps those who sit around me did too; maybe I'm just searching for commiseration where it doesn't exist.

Still though; class is enjoying. Or at least provides a veritable feast in terms of food for thought; which is all I could ask for.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Tomfoolery

Halloween is a holiday typically associated with children. They comprise a vast majority of the target audience because they love nothing more than to dress up in whimsical, spooky outfits, gorge themselves on candy (since they're far too young to worry about healthy diets), and because they're easily scared.

Most of Halloween's kitsch is cute and harmless, but there is a slightly-less-than-subtle dark element to it all. Seriously. When you think about it, Halloween really serves no purpose other than to give both young and old an excuse to expose, mock, glorify, and celebrate their over-fascination with the macabre; particularly anything associated with evil and death.

Traditionally (bear with my glossy summary), All Hallow's Eve, being the night before All Saints Day, was believed to be a night when all the evil spirits converge on earth to wreak whatever mischief they can achieve before the Holy Deceased have their feast day. Most Halloween fans are probably only vaguely aware of the implications of this holiday, but, true to its origins, Halloween does seem to bring out the primal pagan in its perpetrators.

This past weekend's experience is a prime example. Thanks to a good friend of mine, I had the opportunity to participate in an annual event put on by Oklahoma City's favorite rockstars, The Flaming Lips. As part of the official Halloween Parade, hundreds upon hundreds of loyal Lips fans (and their curious friends) suit up in skeleton costumes, smear paint on their faces, and march at the end of the parade in row upon row, carrying tiki torches and accompanied by wagons blasting fog and creepy music.

My friend and I showed up at the appointed time (the entire thing was coordinated by the Flaming Lips website, roadies, and the band members themselves), received our costumes, put on our makeup and lit our torches (after standing around for some time). I was somehow on the outside edge, nearest the onlookers, as was my friend who was directly ahead of me. Everywhere I looked were witches, ghouls, blood-spattered zombies and vampires and the odd star wars character. Most of them were likely drunk and, at the over-enthused prompting of my friend (who was very excited) shreiked and cried their approval. I entirely forgot that I was part of the freakish spectacle...I gawked at the crowd as much as they gawked at me. I turned while walking to stare wide-eyed at a street full of endless walking skulls and fire. It was utterly surreal.

The actual experience was pretty fun and silly. But it was unsettling somehow. Everyone knows there are things to be scared of in this world, and Halloween is a holiday in which people reveal rather interesting methods of acknowledging them. I understand this completely; heck it's really fun to get to dress up in something gruesome or funny or just simply odd.

But perhaps it was the magnitude of this event. Seeing such numbers of people all embracing their macabre side was mildly concerning. People have a fascination with evil, even in such benign forms as the off-color joke costumes like naughty nuns. Realizing this is universal and then giving everyone an opportunity to exploit this aspect opens the door for much less benign forms of cutting loose and having mischievious fun. That dark potential which lies within each of us is perhaps the scariest thing of all.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Guts: Trust them

So for those of you interested or involved in the medical field, I'd like to provide a quick disclaimer before I get on my soapbox. I do not doubt that medical school provides very in-depth education and specific training and I believe our blessed country has some of the best, most advanced medical care in the world.

That said, I think doctors sometimes forget the art of observation and listening to their patients' complaints and instinctual reasoning. They may have the 8 years' of education backing them up, but it's still the patient's body, and only the patient can really know how he/she is feeling.

My family has a pretty elaborate history of health woes. Diabetes, thyroid malfunctions, mental/emotional troubles, heart disease, cancer, and addiction have all surfaced in both mom and dad's extended family. Within the past 15-20 years we've discovered that my female predecessors have shown a strong susceptibility for endometriosis, a disorder of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries which, if unattended, will lead to infertility.

Endometriosis has some shockingly far-reaching side effects. The textbook case will likely include such troubles as severe abdominal and back pains with menstruation as well as violent emotional peaks/troughs and bowel and bladder irregularities - symptoms which don't seem logically related to the uterus at all.

Without going into too much detail, I had been suffering these and other symptoms for 4-5 years and all the while figured (based on my aunts' and cousins' experiences) that it was normal for me. When the emotional symptoms got too intense I went to my doctor and was presrcribed an anti-depressant to regulate the mood swings. It didn't have fantastic results, but it was enough for me to scrape by.

Because of my complaints about severe menstrual pain, my doctor recommended birth control. I was hesitant - this seemed a little extreme, after all it was just some bad cramps (I ignored other symptoms since they weren't as interfering with my daily life). I sought the advice of a gynecologist, but they said the same thing. My aunts had tried birth control as a solution to their problems and had all suffered such side effects as infertility and significant weight gain so I stubbornly refused; putting on pill weight didn't sound like a good solution to depressive episodes.

I toughed it out for about a year and a half, pain and weird symptoms getting continually worse. One of my mother's sisters who had been suffering from severe endometriosis for 8 years was told by her doctor that she was barren as a result. Since she was engaged to be married and desperately wanted children, she sought the advice of a specialist in Nebraska. Her symptoms were a more severe version of mine, so I got scared and went back to the gynecologist. After just talking to me (and not doing any tests or exams) they ruled out endometriosis (even though I described hallmark symptoms).

Meanwhile the violent emotional difficulties and incapacitating menstrual cycles started affecting my school and work. My parents were concerned as I was starting to despair and think this was my predicament indefinitely (lest I cave and start taking birth control). After some particularly bad incidents, we managed to find a doctor who didn't prescribe birth control at all, and after one session with her, I felt my hope restored.

Based on my descriptions she told me I almost definitely had endometriosis (and was incredulous as to how 2 other doctors had so cavalierly ruled this out). She explained how all my symptoms (even the emotional craziness) were connected to this disorder and scheduled me for a laparoscopy, a surgical procedure which is the only way surefire way to diagnose and treat endometriosis.

I went in for the laparoscopy yesterday morning. The surgery went well, and sure enough my doctor found inflammatory fluid and adhesions (scar tissue) already beginning to form on the fallopian tubes. Had I taken the initial advice of other doctors and gone on birth control, the medication would have not only masked the symptoms and thus hidden the real problem, but actually fed the scar tissue with the estrogen it produces and rendered me infertile after a year or so.

Moral of the story? Doctors aren't always right. If you're not getting the results or options you want, seek a second, third, or fourth opinion - you might dodge some pretty frightening, unforseen outcomes.

Monday, October 5, 2009


So I've been putting off blogging for several reasons...which could all be summed up in the fact that I really have nothing good to say or talk about as of late.

However, thanks to the only class which I consider worth my hefty investments (Intro to Professional Writing) I do have a topic of interest for those of you kind (or bored) enough to actually read this...spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen "No Country For Old Men"

Toward the end of class today, after Mel had discussed the essential elements of scenes in fiction, the question was raised about resolution-less endings in stories - namely the ending of No Country For Old Men. Mel expressed his intense dissatisfaction with the film's ending (despite its otherwise being magnificent), and I, being the devil's advocate that I am, expressed my counter-active appreciation for it.

No Country For Old Men presents the iconic clash of good and evil; there is the psychotic (and very creepy) villain, and a handful of hopeful heroes who attempt to thwart his drug trafficking, serial killing rampage through South Texas. In the end, everyone is dead, the last standing hero is disillusioned and retires, and our villain escapes with the money, but is also (in my opinion) stripped of his own twisted romantic view of himself. Mel hated this, mainly because the hero we're all rooting for recognizes the futility of the fight and quits his quest to bring a very evil, dangerous man to justice. By a mere twist of fate, the villain is badly hurt (but not killed) in a car accident in one of the last scenes, so in some way he gets to suffer, but hardly in proportion to the horror he has wreaked.

I argued for this ending because I am, almost without exception, a pessimist. I liked this ending because it seemed so true to life - ultimately, breaking even is the best you can hope for in my opinion. Good doesn't always make a smashingly triumphant exit, and Evil often doesn't get what it deserves. Sure, the ending to No Country was something that made me recoil and feel pretty bummed. But at the same time it made me believe everything I'd seen, because more often than not, that's how the story really ends.

People often argue against movies and stories that are too truthfully depressing, saying that we use these and similar media as an escape from that reality we are painfully conscious of. I agree completely - total victory of good morals and noble aspirations has universal appeal; it's what everyone wants to see. Not only that, but we want to see it win against all odds and escape highly dangerous situations with lots of dramatic explosions and perhaps some clever dialogue.

Everyone dying or despairing in the end? That's way too realistic....for most. Mel said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the younger generation can afford to be pessimistic because they've lived long enough to expect not-so-great, but haven't lived long enough to actually experience it. Those who HAVE experienced their fair share of injustice need the hero and his/her ultimate victory in their stories. It preserves the hope that all that injustice will one day be served its dues.

I agree to an extent. When/if I ever have kids, I will certainly not read them stories where everybody dies in the end, they'll figure that out on their own. But will I give them the false impression that good people always get rewarded for being good? Probably not...mostly because I don't want them to wind up as jaded as I am.