Humble Beginnings

As the semester begins to wind down to a close, I find myself reflecting on how I’ve gotten to where I am today.

As lame as it sounds, I honestly wouldn’t be an adjunct today if it wasn’t for Harry Potter. Without Harry Potter, I probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with teaching. I might not have majored in English. Heck, my entire life might have looked quite different if HP had never existed.

Allow me to explain.

I was first introduced to Harry Potter at the age on nine, when my third grade teacher began reading the first book to us. As we moved through Sorcerer’s Stone, I quickly became enamored with the magical world-building, the lovable characters, and the suspenseful storyline. Once we finished Sorcerer’s Stone, Ms. Masten moved onto Chamber of Secrets, and I was completely in love by the end of the year.

From that point, I started to read more and more. I read the third and fourth books, then I began looking for something else that could excite and inspire me as much as HP. While I found other books I loved over time, nothing could quite fill the Harry Potter-shaped space in my heart. Determined, I became an insatiable reader.

Around the same period of time, I began writing my first short stories. I figured that if I couldn’t find the books that were as good as HP, then I would write them. I quickly discovered that I loved writing just as much, if not more, than I loved reading. Every time a subsequent Harry Potter book would come out or I would encounter another excellent series, I just felt more and more motivated to write. By seventh grade, I was working on an elaborate book series and a handful of other written projects.

Needless to say, I have not become a best-selling author or anything like that (yet…), but my interest in writing fiction prompted me to major in English in my undergraduate studies. In college, Harry Potter became the quickest and easiest way to make new friends, especially with other English majors. We geeked out over our favorite moments, bonded at midnight movie releases, and took our Hogwarts houses very seriously. My friends’ house was even deemed the Hufflepuff Common Room, and they had a giant Hufflepuff crest fixated above their faux fireplace in their campus house.

By the end of college, I was still determined that writing fiction was what I wanted to do with my life. I applied to both MFA (fine arts programs in creative writing) and MA (regular English) graduate programs, and got accepted into one of each. After a lot of deliberation, I ended up deciding to stay at my undergrad institution and earn my MA so that I could apply to higher-caliber MFA programs later on. I was offered a teaching assistantship to fund my graduate studies, which meant that I would be teaching sophomore-level composition my second year in the program.

Sophomore-level composition at my university is theme-based, meaning that each individual instructor’s class is a different theme. I had a whole semester to design a course around whatever theme I liked, and I, of course, picked Harry Potter. The course was titled “From Hogwarts to the Humanities” and had units on identity, gender studies, religious studies, and philosophy, all connected to HP. When I finally got to teach the class in my second year, it was even more amazing than I had expected. I loved going to class every single day and reading all the great insights my students were bringing to the HP series in their writing and research. On the last day of the semester, one of the students asked if we could take a “family” photo. It was in that final class period, as we shed tears over a nostalgic HP tribute video and the end of our time together, that I knew I wanted to teach composition for the rest of my life. It probably goes without saying that, when I finished my Master’s degree, my graduation party was also HP themed!

So, while the concept may sound strange, Harry Potter truly changed my life. It impacted my hobbies, my friendships, and my career path. Without The Boy Who Lived, my life would look very, very different. Thank you, J.K. Rowling!

 

 

 

Tips for Surviving Mid-Terms

Whether you’re a college student, a grad student, or an instructor, we all know that mid-terms and finals are two of the most chaotic times of the year. During these times, we are stressed out to the maximum and often wonder how the heck we’re going to get everything done. Never fear though! You can (and will) get through it all! Here are some helpful tips for surviving the upcoming mid-terms:

  1. Plan Ahead. Planning out what you need to do and when you are going to do it is a useful way to stay organized and help make your multitude of tasks seem more manageable. I personally keep index cards on a ring and write my t0-do list for each day on a separate card. While this is something I do really regularly, at mid-terms and finals I will write out to-do lists for several days at a time. This helps me to visualize what I need to do and how I can realistically accomplish those tasks within a given time frame.
  2. Knock Out Easier Projects First. If you have several assignments, consider tackling the quickest and easiest ones first, even if their due dates come after more extensive projects. By doing so, these projects will be out of the way and off of your mind, giving you more time and attention to dedicate to longer and more difficult tasks.
  3. Break Larger Projects into Smaller Parts. Long papers, cumulative tests, and extensive projects can be daunting. To prevent yourself from becoming totally overwhelmed, break these larger tasks into smaller, more manageable parts. For a long paper, for example, spend one day just reading over sources and pulling out quotes you might use. On the next day, develop a thesis and put together an outline. On the third day, start writing your draft, and so on and so forth. Working on one small part at a time is often more productive and less stressful than trying to do it all at once.
  4. Find the Perfect Playlist. Music can be a great motivator. It can also help you drown out your surroundings, eliminate distractions, and focus on the task at hand. Grab some headphones and find the music that works best for you when you sit down to study or work. Some of my favorites include the Fleet Foxes station and Harry Potter soundtrack station on Pandora, and the “Movie Score Study”, “Ambient Piano: Focus and Study”, and “Acoustic Concentration” playlists on Spotify.  
  5. Make Time for Rest and Relaxation. You know that quote about “all work and no play”? Well, there’s definitely some truth to that. There is such a thing as too much studying. When you reach this point, your brain starts to shut down and maintaining a high level of productivity becomes nearly impossible. Make time for relaxation and fun in your mid-terms schedule, whether this is watching a couple of episodes of a beloved show on Netflix, unwinding with comfy slippers and a glass of wine (if you are over 21), or hitting the town with your friends after a day of hard work.
  6. Get Some Sleep. In four years of undergrad and two years of grad school, I never once pulled an all-nighter. Did I have nights that I had tons to do and moments where I worked on something right up until the deadline? Absolutely. It happens. But did I ever stay up all night and go to class without a single hour of sleep? Never. It’s not productive and it’s just not worth it. Don’t do that to yourself. Stay up working until you feel your mind starting to slip (whether that’s 11 pm or 3 am), and then go to bed. Get up super early (4 or 5 am, maybe) and get back to work then. The sleep, no matter how brief, helps your brain to reset and will actually help you to get done with your work more quickly (and more accurately) than if you try not to sleep at all.
  7. “Treat Yo’Self.” As Donna and Tom often say on Parks and Recreation, sometimes you just have to “treat yo’self.” When mid-terms are all said and done, reward yourself! Hit up your favorite store, enjoy a luxury spa day, go see the movie you’ve been putting off, indulge in an over-the-top dessert, or do whatever makes you feel most like you are treating yo’self.  Not only will this give you a reward for doing a totally awesome job on all of your mid-terms, but it will also give you something to look forward to as you are still working/studying. And we can all use some extra motivation!

So there you have it! These are the foolproof tricks for surviving mid-terms and finals that have worked for me…what are some of the techniques you use? Feel free to share them in a comment below.

Good luck with mid-terms!

Love is…

I can’t believe Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love, naked baby angels, and chocolate hearts, is almost here again.

In high school, I tried to write a description of love. Inspired by a friend’s composition of a similar nature, I spent several hours trying to capture the feeling…the gooey-eyed stares, the blush-worthy text messages, the rush of that first kiss. The problem was that, no matter how right it sounded originally, nothing I wrote really said anything.

Only recently did I realize that those words seemed empty because I had never actually been in love. What I felt then was not real love, but I can only recognize this because I have now felt what genuine love is like.

So…what is love?

Love is having an ice-cold glass of Mountain Dew poured for you when you come over, even though they only drink Diet Coke. Love is that nervous flutter in your stomach every time you drive to meet them and every time their name appears on your phone, even though you’ve been together for over a year and friends for even longer. Love is acceptance…of quirks and too-soft bodies and the intricate patchwork of each other’s pasts. Love is safety. It is the whisper of a touch, a reassuring squeeze n the knee, and a hug that you wish would never end. Love is feeling at home whenever and wherever you’re with them. It is enjoying spontaneous adventures, planned outings, routine tasks, and quiet moments equally, as long as you’re together. Love is spending an entire week together and still wanting another week, another day, another hour with them. Love is saying the words out loud and truly meaning them, not just in the heat of passion or in the parting of ways, but in the quiet, ordinary moments too. It is trusting each other enough to talk about hopes and fears, past disappointments, spur-of-the-moment whimsies, bodily functions, and everything in between. Love is feeling scared of the possibility of spending the rest of your life with them, but being far more frightened by the possibility of ever losing them.

This is love. Or, at least, this is love as I’ve learned it to be over the past year. I wasn’t looking for love, and neither was he; love snuck up on both of us when we were looking the other way. But, now, our relationship is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I can’t imagine a future without him. I hope I never have to.

So, as we approach Valentine’s Day once again, let’s all celebrate love, even if you’re completely single. Because love is real, love can be true, and love will find you when you least expect it. Trust me.

This piece originally appeared on my main blog, adventuresinenglishstudies.wordpress.com

An Oregon Adventure

An Oregon Adventure

The forty-minute drive seemed to stretch on for hours as we barreled down the coastal highway. Erin and I fidgeted in the backseat of the Subaru as Robert yawned from the passenger seat, his thumb tracing patterns on Sarah’s shoulder as she drove.

When I had first planned my trip to the Pacific Northwest, the impending moment was one of the things I had been looking forward to the most. For years, Erin and I had swapped idyllic photographs of our destination on social media and at family gatherings, daydreaming of the day we would finally behold the sight with our own eyes. And, finally, here we were, just a short drive through the pines away.

I’ll never forget the moment that the road curved against the mountain side and the coast first came into sight. Massive rock formations jutted out of the water, Haystack Rock rising above the rest. Anticipation swelled within my chest. I couldn’t wait to get down there.

Of course, the wait was still a little longer than expected. Wrong turns sent us up a mountain to the entrance of Ecola State Park. Then, when we finally made it down into the coastal town of Cannon Beach, the parking situation was horrendous. Sarah circled the parking lot, a vulture in wait, until a spot finally opened.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you see something in real life that you can’t accurately process as reality? That’s how I felt when I first crawled out of the back of the SUV and into the sunshine and salt-air. Unbeknownst to any of us, Sarah had managed to park right next to Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop I had seen online in my trip research but never thought I would easily find. Seagulls swooped across the skies above us, cawing at their mates. Haystack Rock was absolutely massive, looming ominously over everything. As I sipped my Sleepy Monk coffee and headed down the boardwalk to the beach, I felt like I was drifting through a dream world.

When our feet hit the sand, Erin and I both had to pause for a moment and just take it all in. Neither of us had ever seen the Pacific Ocean. Hell, Erin had never been west of Chicago before. Rocky coastlines and cold ocean water were foreign to us. The four of us strolled along the beach, heading toward the giant rock of The Goonies fame.

Tide pools peppered the area around the base of the rocks as sea birds strutted along the shore. Children squealed as the ice-cold Pacific water danced across their toes. Mussel-covered rocks held secret hiding places for colorful starfish, and the sudden rushes of freezing water nearly knocked us down as we tried to snap a few pictures. Waves crashed against the rock formations, sending sea spray high into the air. I had never seen anything so beautiful and frightening all at once.

After a few hours, we finally had to head back to Portland. As we left the beach, I gave one last wistful look at the magical, mysterious Haystack Rock. I stared out the window as we drove through the center of town back towards the highway, taking in the quaint bed-and-breakfasts and cozy seaside shops. I had never been anywhere like this before, and I knew, someday, I would make it back here again.

 

Identity Crisis

Even as a published scholar who has been teaching writing for several years and formally studying English for even longer, I still struggle sometimes with identifying myself as a “Writer.”

I started writing short stories around the age of nine, a habit that persisted all throughout middle school and high school. I had a reputation for always carrying a notebook around with me and scribbling in them when I should’ve been paying attention to math problems and biology lessons instead. I was the girl who was always writing, the girl that was going to be a Writer someday. At the time, that’s what I thought a writer was…someone who published bestselling novels.

This perception followed me all through college and well into graduate school. Even when my first academic article was published and I held a physical copy of my own writing in my hands, I didn’t see myself as a Writer. I saw myself as a graduate student who had published some writing.

Only when I started teaching composition did I finally allow myself to recognize that I am indeed a Writer. As a teacher, I could see my students’ individual writing styles, their unique written voices, and their passion for some of the topics they took up in their writing.  They were absolutely, 100% writers, whether they could see it or not. This showed me that I, too, was a writer, regardless of the type of writing I was doing. Sure, published novelists are definitely writers, but so are bloggers, journal-keepers, academics, closet poets, and so many other types of people.

My main goal with keeping this blog semester is so that I can emphasize to my students that their struggles with writing are often my struggles too. That writing can be challenging, regardless of how long someone has been doing it. That even English professors can occasionally question whether or not they qualify as writers. We often think of writing as a solitary endeavor, but it is really quite collaborative and communal; we’re all in this together, folks.