Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

Wyrd

I’ve graduated!!!!!!!!

I was so, so ready to graduate. I’m tired of the endless papers, of trying to cram interesting readings into a ridiculously short amount of time, of reading badly spelt post after poorly structured post, of listening to students whine and professors drone. I love to learn, but college will suck the life and joy out of discovery.

The more I talk with other graduates, the more I realise how lucky I am. I have a teaching job, a steady income job, music students, and plenty of other things to keep me busy while building my resume. At the same time, I’m already looking at Master’s programs. While that sounds like I’m all on top of things, really I’m very far behind. But here’s the deal: I’m tired. Stressed out. I’m carrying anywhere from 30-40 hours of work on top of a full load of credits, and have done so for some time. I rarely sleep. I forget to eat until nearly midnight. Why should I kill myself with more school when I’m plenty young yet and have teaching jobs already? I’ll take my B.A. and be happy with it for a year or two.

Still, there’s an element of urgency in my search for a Masters/Doctorate program. There are so many out there: do I go with a dual Masters/Doctorate, should I do them separately, should I stay in the US or go abroad, do I complete my advanced degrees in general areas, or should I specify my degree down to one area of expertise? Oh, and don’t forget about the battery of tests I need to take in order to apply to programs, the grammar review I’ll need because I am the WORST grammartician out there (see, I even make up silly words), plus becoming proficient in TWO foreign languages. Yes, I said TWO. (Because speaking English properly isn’t hardcore enough, I guess.)

It’s all very overwhelming to think about.

Then, the other night, I heard this song. I’ve heard the song before, but never really listened to the lyrics much. (WHAT? I have other things to think about, silly people!) However, this one line of a song really jumped out and slapped me across the face:

You see, I think this is what a lot of us graduates do when we get ready to enter the “real world,” we get scared, freak out, and do ourselves a disservice by acting out of that fear. So here’s my challenge: let’s not act out of fear. It doesn’t matter if you graduated today or 20 years ago, don’t let your fears decide what kind of life you’ll lead. It’s never too late to change your fate, so let’s do it!!! All together now….

 

That's me!

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Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Today was the first day of my last semester.

No, I can’t believe I’m typing those words either!!!! As I drove to school this morning, I got to thinking (dangerous, I know…but it can’t be helped). It seems like just a few days ago that I drove the same car to the same parking lot, walked into the same building, and wandered the same halls searching for the elusive room numbers.

At the same time, I remember every agonizing moment of each quarter: the growing pains as I adjusted to a classroom setting, the frantic pace of the eight-week classes, and the never ending panic attacks ensuing from technology that would never behave quite correctly.

I tried to focus on the good parts of today. Sure, there were the frustrations. Like large classes being shoehorned into awkward rooms, annoying freshies whining to their mummies about poor time management on the phone in the library, and the sneering arrogant attitudes of “those” students on campus.  BUT there was good too. Like the people in both my classes. Like getting to sit next to classmates that I’ve known for years now, catching up on summer fun, sharing class schedules and plans for the future. Like sitting in the library for a few hours and getting homework done. Like discovering hidden gems in my textbooks that I can instantly start applying to my life. Like loving my professors. Like enjoying the beauty of campus on my two LONG WALKS from one end to the other.

None of this hit me until halfway through my last class. There I was, laughing at my professor’s jokes, swapping whispered comments with my friend sitting beside me, and I realized that I was having fun. I was finally sitting back and enjoying the process. I wasn’t worrying about what classes I’d have to take in the spring, if the course schedule would come out soon, if my grades would dip my GPA below scholarship standards. I wasn’t worried about having to save some brain cells to make it through the next semester too. I was just enjoying the process.

My goal is to keep that zen feeling throughout the next 17 weeks. 17 more weeks…then I have my Bachelor of Arts.

I’m excited.

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This Race Can Be Won

You know, I really love when God uses music to minister to us…especially when He uses special people to bring said music to you. For today’s Music Monday, we are going to jump back in time a few weeks, back to the days of stress, strife, and suffering. Those deep, dark, dreary days known as…Spring Semester.

I don’t remember too much about this last semester. All I remember is being exhausted, reading and writing lots of words, and basically mainlining caffeine in any form possible. I spent whole days and nights at the dining room table, articles spread from one edge  to the other, a few bottles of caffeine scattered in the midst of the papers, and me and my laptop valiantly plugging away.

In the midst of one such session, I received a message from a dear friend in the form of a YouTube video link. I almost ignored it – how important could it be? It could wait a few days. Then, I glanced at the time. It had been over six hours since I last took a break from this paper. It was time for a little brain vacation. So, I clicked the link.

Boy, was that the right choice. Such an amazingly encouraging song!!!! I could literally feel energy running back into my soul. The song was instantly downloaded from iTunes, and I used to to get through the next hours of crunch time.

My friend didn’t know what I was going through. He didn’t know how weary I was. But he sent the encouragement to me anyways, and that means the world. Thank God for friends (and songs!) like this to keep us focused and motivated on life’s journey!

Happy Monday! Stay strong.

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I Will Hold On Hope

So, I know that I said I’d be away for a bit. But I’ve been at homework for 17 hours straight now (including Blackboard wiping my test clean and a professor pulling reference information off the website). I’m a little…stressed. Just a bit. Yeah.

Since it’s Monday, I thought I’d share some of the music that is getting me through the week. Sarah first introduced me to Mumford and Sons a few weeks ago because of the song Sigh No More. Being the awesome English major that she is, she was quick to point out the major selling point: the words to the song were taken  from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Well, that right there is enough to win my heart!

Besides, look at that crazy arrangement of strings! Bass, cello, violin, viola, drums, guitar, banjo, etc…right there we are looking at something unique.

A week or two after this, one of my classmates chose their song The Cave as the topic for his paper. Sitting in a drab university room, the words really hit home with me…and I think with a lot of us sitting there overall. This one is a little rawer than Sigh No More, but excellent in its reality.

You can understand dependence when

you know the maker’s land.

So make your siren’s call

And sing all you want

I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now

And I need to know how

To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope

And I won’t let you choke

On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain

And I will change my ways

I’ll know my name as it’s called again.

It’s good stuff there…a little rough, but good. I like the fact that their lyrics can be honest, yet they still find a way to make them hopeful.

If you are looking for a slightly mellower sound from them, I have two more for you. The first one has a beautifully British title: Thistle & Weeds.

But plant your hope with good seeds

Don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds

Rain down, rain down on me.

The other one I love is Awake My Soul. It’s laid back and lyrically poignant.

Awake my soul, awake my soul

For you were made to meet your maker

Caveat time: there is one song of theirs that made me unhappy with them. It’s called Little Lion Man, and despite all the awards it’s won, I don’t see any good excuse for the word they used throughout the chorus. So, I just want to make it clear that I am NOT endorsing that particular song. The others…well, they are just really, really good.

Oh, and you can now pick up the album Sigh No More at your local Starbucks! And, you can hear the songs there too! It’s a nice change from some of the weeping and wailing we’ve had in the stores recently.

There you have it. I hope you enjoy…and have a good week.

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ll = Pause

Well.

Huh.

Ugh.

Brilliant blog ideas are bouncing around in my head. Words that need to be written, want to be written, demand to be written. I want to blog!

But, it’s after midnight here. In 9 hours I have to be in class…haven’t done the reading for this class in 2 weeks (funerals and class cancellations put it on the back burner). Then I have to prep to teach at 2:30. Then, class at 6. Paper is due in that class…I’ve written the title so far.

And so life goes. I’m starting to drown a bit, so I need to step back, take a break. Hopefully in March I will be back on a regular basis. Until then, the posts will be sparse.

Stick with me?

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My *Hopefully* Last Spring Semester

It dawned on me today that unless my university totally messes up the class schedule for next Fall (and that is not beyond the realm of possibility), this will be my last Spring semester, the last time I’ll take sessions C and D. Trust me, this is totally sweet with no bitter-ness anywhere in sight.

I’m ready to be done with college. For reals.

With that end in mind, I’m tackling 5 classes this semester, something I’ve only tried once before. Due to a professor who apparently didn’t understand the difference between a 100 level and a 400 level class, it didn’t go too well – I ended up dropping a class. For those of you who don’t understand why this is even a big deal (because, let’s face it, most traditional students take 5 classes a semester), allow me to explain. My university is nontradional. Because we started as a graduate school, undergrad classes were an afterthought mostly just so people a few credits short of a Bachelor’s could finish up and move on with life.

Undergrad classes, then, only lasted 8 weeks.

Before you go all “how cool is that” on me, let’s make sure we are on the same page. Imagine all the class work you do for an entire semester. Essays, papers, research, projects, tests, midterms, finals, the works. Now, instead of having 4 months to complete those assignments, you only have 8 weeks. To top it off, you either don’t get a class on campus, or you only get a two hour class every week. To make up for that, you write mini-essays every week and then reply to your classmate’s essays. This is ON TOP of everything else.

Recently, the undergrad program underwent some changes, and we are starting to transition to more traditional schedules. New classes are 16 weeks and on campus, meeting twice a week for an hour and some minutes. To be honest, after 4 years of rapidly cramming information into my head in a two week period, it can be hard to adjust to the pace of a slower class. The temptation is to put the assignments on a back burner because they feel less “urgent.” Or maybe that’s just me.

This semester, I have one 16 week class. We’re studying the Psalms, and the class is amazing! It’s taught by one of my favourite teachers, and taking it means that I’m almost finished with the Biblical Studies minor part of my degree. For the next four months, we are taking apart the book of Psalms, looking at structure, form, meaning, cultural relevance, and spiritual application. If you are interested in a non-scholarly approach to the book, I can’t recommend C. S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms enough. It’s simply brilliant.

“Finally, as will soon be apparent to any reader, this is not what is called an ‘apologetic’ work. I am nowhere trying to convince unbelievers that Christianity is true. I address those who already believe it, or those who are ready, while reading, to ‘suspend their disbelief’. A man can’t be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it.”

Yeah, this is going to be a great class, and is already sparking some ideas for blog posts. You’ve been warned!

Then, this session I have two 8 week classes.

Tuesday nights are helping me finish up my cognate (mini-minor) in Speech and Communication. We are studying Rhetorical Criticism- a research method that helps you identify the purpose and effectiveness of various communication symbols. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing papers on song lyrics, the State of the Union Address, SuperBowl commercials, and print ads. It’s going to be great fun, and I have a feeling that some of those papers will end up here too!

Last, but not least, I’m taking Milton and the 17th Century. This makes my English major’s heart very, very happy. I’ve never been a huge Milton fan, but his writings are so foundational to other English works that I know it will be a great course. Frustratingly, I can’t seem to get that textbook to come in (*mutters under breath about university bookstores not being quite forthcoming with information about shipping issues*)…but I’m hoping to have it tomorrow. I’ve taken every English literature class with this professor, and she’s awesome! It’s nice to have this class with her.

That’s the bare schedule that I have going on. There are a bunch of other things going on in the next 8 weeks too, but they’ll have to wait. I’ve got to go study!

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How To Survive Finals

 

Step One: Place syrup in cup. I use vanilla.

Step Two: Fill cup with milk

Step Three: Add ice

Step Four: Add espresso. I'm using Christmas Espresso Blend.

Step Five: Drizzle with yummy caramel

Step Six: Enjoy...and get back to the books!

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Ballads

It’s finals week! Yay because that means Fall Break is literally right around the corner, and Boo because that means I’m knocking myself out with studying this week. This is the first quarter EVER that I’ve not had a major paper due. It feels weird. It’s also the first time I’ve had a 100 question closed book final. Yikes!

Because I’ve been slammed, I haven’t had much time for blogging. So, I’m just going to steal a post from my teaching blog since it was pretty interesting (if I do say so myself). We were studying ballads; specifically the criterion for a traditional ballad.

Ballads were the poetry of the common people. “Serious” poetry was composed in French or Italian. Ballads were the way for the commoners to record their stories, history, thoughts, and ideas. Since they were not able to write down their stories, it only made sense to put those words to music so they wouldn’t be forgotten. The best ballads are of Scottish and/or Irish descent, and they mimic the highbrow poetry of the time.

In the 1970s, ballads and ballad form returned to music with the help of such groups as Simon and Garfunkel. For example, here is a classic example of a Scottish ballad that is still commonly played today:
So, that is what a classic ballad would have sounded like…what about today? “Hey Jude” is an awesome example of a modern ballad. While you listen, think about our six criterion for evaluating ballads:
1. Impersonal (Who is talking? Is Jude the speaker?)
2. Concentrated (Does it limit itself to one storyline?)
3. Dramatic (Is there conflict implied?)
4. Ironic (Is there a twist in the song?)
5. Incantory (Do the lyrics repeat?)
6. Simple (Is the verse structure uncomplicated?)

Can you think of any other modern ballads that fit the old-fashioned criterion? Leave them in the comments!

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How We See Ourselves

We all have a certain way of viewing ourselves. Sometimes it is positive, and sometimes we are pretty hard on ourselves. So, what influences our perceptions of ourselves?

This is the question that we dealt with last week in one of my communication classes. It was a very interesting topic, so I thought that I’d share my most recent paper on it with you all!

If you have the time, skim this article (it’s the one that we read in class): Elastic Body Image

If you don’t have that kind of time, then you can skip straight to my paper. Enjoy!

Three people are sitting at a table smoking: a fit boy from Bosnia, an incredibly slim woman from the Philippines, and a slightly overweight woman from America. They are three amazingly different people with one thing in common: where they are from, their body image is not acceptable. The boy is not skinny enough, the woman is too slim, and the other woman is not skin and bones enough to fit her country’s “ideal” fantasy. As they look at each other, each of them envies the other’s body type, and cannot understand why the other people are unhappy with the way they look. This is the sort of observation that interested Myers and Biocca, and led them to conduct a study on media’s influence on young American women and their perception of their body image. What they concluded is that women hold three different images in their heads; the socially acceptable body, how they perceive their own body, and what their body really looks like (115). In order to understand why this is, Myers and Biocca evaluate the persuasive techniques of television advertisements to discover why women deal with this “elastic body image” (108).

The first thing that Myers and Biocca noted was that women are convinced when they look in a mirror that they are fat, and that this repulses them (109). Wood defines this phenomenon as a facet of nonverbal communication, stating that “based on physical qualities, we may make inferences about others’ personalities” (100). She deduces from this observation that people try to alter their physical appearance to fit an accepted “norm”; wearing contacts instead of glasses, coloring their hair, wearing makeup, and constantly dieting (101). This repulsion, however, is mostly a European/American construct. In other cultures, a larger figure represents wealth and beauty (100). Thus, the question must arise as to why American women are attracted to a slim body image and repulsed by a larger one.

The simplest answer can be found, as Myers and Biocca discovered, in advertising. For example, women want to be sexually attractive. If the models and actresses that advertisements show as desirable to men are super-slim, then women will create a subliminal observation that to be desired, they must be thin (Larson 407). Unfortunately for the average woman, “thin” will never seem thin enough. Every year the average weight of actresses and models drops (Myers & Biocca 113); women can never keep up. At the same time, scriptwriters and advertisers create a conundrum by creating what I call the “Gilmore Girls” effect. In the show Gilmore Girls, the two main female characters were always eating, consistently refused to do any sort of exercise, and yet somehow managed to get slimmer with every passing season. It is impossible to live their life and look as great as they do, a ploy used by television producers that is unfair to women.

The most interesting part of the study was the overall result observed by Myers and Biocca. After subjecting each woman in the study to a series of advertisements specially picked for their portrayal of women’s bodies, the women overwhelmingly portrayed their body as slimmer than they had before the study (127). The best conclusion that made is that this idealizing gave women hope that they may one day look as great as the women portraying the perfection in body image (127). Women like to conceptualize and idealize; if they see that someone has attained so-called “perfection”, then there is still hope that they may attain it as well.

Christian women know from reading the Bible that “charm is deceitful and beauty vain, but a woman who fears God is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30). They know that the “hidden man of the heart”(1Pet. 3:4)  is more important to God than any physical beauty. However, the impact that society has on our minds is clearly seen in Myers’ and Biocca’s study. The persuasive techniques at play here are subliminal, entering the subconscious without any cognitive recognition from the rational part of the brain (Larson 407). As a result, womens’ physical perceptions of themselves and others are skewed, thus their eternal struggle with diets, makeovers, and reinventions. It is time for society to stop demanding an ever decreasing waistline from women, and to start focusing on things of more worth than physical appearance.

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The Anti-Garden Path To Insanity

I’m posting to prove to you, my dear readers, that there is a reason I’ve not been posting more often- I’ve been writing papers like this. Thank you for being so faithful to check in with me! Over the summer I hope to be a little more faithful with my posting.

This paper is based on about the only enjoyable story I read in my American literature class this session. The story is narrated by a woman who is suffering from a slight nervous breakdown, and her doctor/husband takes her and their son to a new house for the summer. Unfortunately, he chooses to put them in a room with hideous, mottled, fading, peeling yellow wallpaper. This wallpaper eventually drives her to insanity; she first imagines that there’s a woman trapped behind the design of the paper, and in the end she thinks that she is that woman attempting to escape.

There’s another angle to the story, this connection with nature that she has in the beginning slowly fades as the story progresses. It is this perspective that I look at in this paper. So, here goes:

In Charlotte Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman explores the inner workings of a woman’s mind. This is not a story of an ordinary, happy, carefree woman though. Instead, this woman is struggling with her grip on her family, health, and even her sanity. Through her decline and eventual mental breakdown, the only change in her life is in the amount of contact her husband, John, allows her to have with nature and the outside world. Thus, “The Yellow Wallpaper” exemplifies the idea that disconnection with nature facilitates a decline into insanity.

From the very beginning of the story, the woman admits to having had health issues recently. So far she, under her physician husband’s direction, has coped very well with her infirmity due to certain measures which included “air, and exercise.” Her only complaint with this method of treatment is that she wishes for a little more excitement, but overall she is content with her life and her stabilizing health. As she describes the summer home they have rented for the summer, she goes into raptures about the state of the grounds.

The most beautiful place!…It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden—long and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.

The garden is the real focal point of the house for her. She is not fond of the building itself, nor of the room that John assigns to them for next three months of living. Again, her dissatisfaction only comes out of her love for, and need to connect with, nature. The room she wanted opened out on to the rose garden, but the room John chose is on the top floor—as far from the garden as is possible.

With the room and the hideous yellow wallpaper providing an effective barrier between the woman and the garden, she finds herself growing weaker and increasingly unable to leave her room. Despite her physical weakness and the ugliness of the paper in her room, the woman still does her best to connect with the natural setting that she cherishes so much. She writes about the views from the windows:

Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deep-shaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees. Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house.

Here the reader gleans the first inkling that the woman is not going to be mentally stable for much longer. As she glances out the window to the lane, she admits to the fact that her vivid imagination is beginning to take over reality, and she fancies that she sees people walking about.

As the summer wears on, she tries to keep her tenuous grip on her connection with nature. Even into July, she is able to get out from under the spell of the mysterious and all-consuming yellow wallpaper and make it into the garden. She writes that “I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal.” At the same time, her focus turns inward to the room and the wallpaper. By the middle of July she is spending hours gazing at the wallpaper, and ignoring her direct examination of nature. In fact, the only mention of natural elements comes from their attempts to make contact with her. She talks about that moonlight, and how “the moon shines in all night when there is a moon.” Even though she is not consciously attempting to connect with nature, it does its best to reach out to her.

These attempts at connection fail. The woman finds herself fixating on an unpleasant odor permeating the house, and she blames it on the natural elements she appreciated just weeks before. Too, she projects her paranoid tendencies on the natural setting; when she does look out the window at the natural settings, she sees the result of her dark fantasies:

I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.

Nature, in the woman’s mind, has turned from being an escape and a respite to being just another arena for her imagination to dominate. Nature is tainted by her dark fancies, and by all apparent signs her madness is, at this point, complete.

As a final interaction with nature and a last example of how far her mental breakdown has gone, the woman uses a plantain leaf to hide the key that locks her husband out of the house. The transformation from health to insanity is complete in her life, and her use of nature proves this. Where at the beginning of the story nature provides an escape and a link to sanity, here at the end of the story nature has become a tool to aid and abet her madness.

While it is impossible to tell if the outcome would have changed had the woman been able to maintain a healthy connection with nature, during her lucid times she seems to think that nature would help her in her illness. She seems to know instinctively that a room opening up onto the gardens would be better for her than the horrid room at the top of the house. Although she tries her best to make the most out of a horrible room and living situation, her best efforts fail. In the end, she becomes as warped as the wallpaper in the room, the antithesis of the lovely, unblemished, holistic beauty that she could once admire in nature. As distortion sets into her brain, one of her last acts of madness is to turn nature to suit her own insane purposes. Her disconnection with nature is complete, as is her lapse into insanity.

Photo of Crepe Myrtles, taken at the Botanical Gardens last summer.

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