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Where Have I Been?

2004-12-18 - 5:30 p.m.

Your correct response to the title, by the way, is "I'm stumped; where?" If you can name that movie, you will win a prize that will probably be kinda lame.

So, the semester ended a while ago. One would expect that I would thus spend every day afterwards happily blogging away, relating the glories of being finished with my first semester in grad school to you all. Well, the week off that I've taken apparently included a week off from blogging. I hope no one threw themselves off cliffs, unable to stand the anticipation and feelings of abandonment.

Actually, this hasn't been that much of a week off. Well, no, that's not true, because I haven't had to think about anything and write down those thoughts and that has been pretty fuckin' sweet. However, there has been a good deal of mindless busy work. First of all, I had to transcribe an interview with one of my gorgeous, stylish fellow first years for my performance studies class. We made the interview as painless as possible, conducting it before and after a delicious breakfast at La Note. Why don't I eat there every week? Oh yeah, the price. Anyways, it was a fun way to spend a morning and it was great to find out more about one of the cool people I'll be spending the next five-ish years with. However, I didn't just have to interview. I had to transcribe.

In high school I took a course called "Historical Research Methods" with one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Bright. It was sort of a blow-off course, in that all you had to do was research something about the school's history, write a paper, and interview an alumna (I use the feminine because mine was, for many years, and all-girls school). I was in the class with two of my best friends at the time (one of whom I keep forgetting to call, the other of whom I banned from my life) and this girl I had a crush on at the time (who, in later years, felt honored to be the last girl I ever had a crush on). Like much of high school, I blocked the class out, which was unfortunate, because it might have been good to remember that for a good two weeks I had to come to school early every day to get on the computer before anyone else in the class so I could transcribe that goddamn interview. It hadn't even taken two hours with that overbred, overly made-up old lady to get the info I needed, and yet it took weeks to write down. I got so sick of hearing her voice--not to mention my own--and vaguely remember vowing never to transcribe an interview again.

So much for that.

The fact that it was a friendly voice helped, but it was still a pain to write down every "like," "um," and "y'know" that was said by her AND by me. And that "pain" is not a metaphor--my hands stilln hurt from typing 16 single-spaced pages and working a tape recorder all the while. No wonder people invented the dictaphone. I used to have this fantasy of always having a tape recorder and recording the thoughts of the interesting people I met on the fly. I no longer have that fantasy.

I had another task related to that class. Actually, the coolest thing about the end of the semester was my presentation on Arundhati Roy and the Performance of the Public Intellectual (snazzy title, no?) for my performance studies class. I was worried the entire time, even though I felt that I had actually written something that made a contribution to the field of intellectual scholarship (something I didn't feel about any other paper I wrote this year), because EVERYONE in that class delivered a wonderfully theorized, intricate paper that knocked my socks off. However, as I read the last sentence of my paper, Shjacks, the professor who has intimidated the Hell out of me for so long, let out--we're going to go ahead and call it a moan. It was an "Ugh!" sound but not an "Ugh!" of disgust. It was an "Ugh!" with elements of an "Oh!" and an "Ah!" It was decidedly the best sound that a person can hear when they've concluded a paper. That? Felt good. Then two people asked me for copies of my paper after class, including none other than Zephoria herself, who said something that seemed to indicate she wanted to post it. If she does, you will know by the "Eeeeeeeeeee!" that will appear in my journal should it happen. I've never had anyone put up a paper I wrote online, except for the queer newsletter at Penn.

And speaking of never befores, I found out yesterday that I will be presenting my first ever conference paper, on the reading practices of medieval women in relation to the Poems of the Pearl manuscript! Woo-hoo!

Anyways, once people actually wanted copies of the paper, I had to spend yesterday and today actually making it look reasonable, with footnotes and a works cited page and all that crap that turns a piece of writing into an actual paper. Oy. It's been a long time since I had to do all that stuff at the end of the paper. I now know why I learned this lesson in middle school.

In addition to all this, I have been cleaning my room. This has been a multi-day task, and not just because I keep getting clothes and dishes dirty as I go. No, this is a process that requires excavation. I should have tried to acquire a bulldozer, or a group of archaeology grad students. Fortunately, there was no food left out or anything--I'm not that disgusting--but assorted receipts had developed their own sophisticated subterranean government in certain corners of my bookshelves. It's a good thing I cleaned, though, because they were about to begin a colonization project against the leftover change. My goal is to leave the place virtually spotless before I leave for home tomorrow. My goal will not be achieved.

It hasn't just been work, though. I got to read Terry Pratchett's latest, which is decidedly not his best, but which is still better than the majority of works available to read (sort of like The Simpsons--yeah, I know certain seasons were near perfect, but the show is still worth watching, dudes). I started Virginia Woolf's Orlando and Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair (the double F comes from being Welsh, where they have a surplus of consonants). I attended a charming get together at my intro professor's house, where I brought my fabulous Mexican chocolate. It was, naturally, a big hit. I've tended to sleep in late and have big breakfasts.

There were two days, though, when I had to wake up. One was for the faculty meeting, which I attended to lend support to certain (but not all) graduate program committee initiatives. The best part was one point where they had to calculate the distribution of hours to credits. Watching the greatest literary scholars in the nation do math is a sight not to be missed. The other was to attend a conference made up of my fellow first year--at least, those of us doing British texts--in which I feel like everybody did very well except me.

This is the big problem with grad school at Berkeley. It's kinda like the Olympics. Everyone here has always been the best in their subject, and many of these people were the best at some of the best institutions in the world. Now, however, we're all working alongside one another. In this kind of situation, good feels mediocre. In order to really feel like you brought it, you really have to do your best. The little bobbles and half-steps on the landing ain't gonna cut it at this level. As such, doing one paper that felt really great feels like meeting the challenge, because this is my first semester. Maybe next semester I'll go for two.

Right now, everyone is going home, and soon I will too. Next semester, I will get to choose from Milton, Faulkner, Bollywood, Romanticism, and Censorship and the Novel. I will work on a show with some of the performance studies grad students. I'll still feel kinda dumb and like I'm behind, but I hope it will be a bit easier.

More than anything else, I feel lucky. I feel really lucky to have worked with these amazing minds, either as professors or as classmates. It's been weird and intimidating and scary, but it's been amazing. I don't want to write more until my Big Year End Entry, so as for now I'm going to stroll on down to the bookstore, then go home and pack.

For my fellow first years who read this, though, congratulations. We did it. And you were fucking brilliant.

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previous - next

The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
Sisters Lolita and Matronic Explain It All for You - 2005-01-31
Cowboys and Medievalists - 2005-01-30

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