Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Maggie Braswell- 'Relax, diagram a sentence'

I just completed a semester of “Structure of the English Language” ENG 321.  While my professor was incredible, inspiring, and hilarious, the material was difficult.  The textbook?  Dense.  Class discussion?  Confusing.  Basically, my class spent four months diagramming sentences and analyzing the possible structures inside a noun phrase.  It was exhausting.

For two of our four tests, we students were asked to grade our own papers.  We were asked to compare our answers to the correct response, and take off as many points as we saw fit.  At first, I was extremely uncomfortable with assigning myself a grade and I erred on the side of being too harsh on myself.  Even though I felt like I deserved an A on the test, I was afraid to give myself a score higher than the average score in the class.  Then, I had an epiphany.

If college is really about the individual, and classes are for the student’s benefit, why should we as students focus so much on the grade?  Why do we feel that a professor should validate us by assigning a number beside our name on the roster?  I need to know grammar structure rules so I can teach English to high school students once I get a job, not so I can get a gold star on my test and stick it on my fridge.  I should feel comfortable grading my own test any day, because I need to personally see what information I know, and what I have misunderstood out of the course.  This material is important not so students can regurgitate words onto a page; it exists to promote the development of ideas.  Grades are simply indicators of effort expended on learning.  So relax, diagram a sentence.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reading and Writing- What's the Point?

Someone recently asked me why I love literature and writing so much. This happens more than I would have expected when first declaring myself as an English major. “Writing is just too boring,” they said. As a student of literature, you can guess that I was a little disappointed to hear their opinion of the written word. Despite how many times I have been asked this question, I feel that I can never give an adequate response right away. Fittingly, it is only when I am given the chance to sit down and express my thoughts through writing am I able to discuss my passion. Even so, I feel that my explanations are never enough; there is always more to why we are so intrigued by topics.

We write to remember, and to forget. We write to forgive, to explore, and to express. We write to make a mess, and we write to make cohesive sense of an event. No matter why we write, we do it. We pick up our pens and scribble, draw, or write random words. We write whole sentences, and paragraphs, and pages. We open our computers and tick tack away, watching the letters turn into words that flow from our brains to our hands. We create these words, these images, these stories, and these documentations. But they also create us. They move and shift us. They disturb us, and set us at peace. They infiltrate our thoughts and affect our interpretations. We bring a piece of ourselves into writing. Fiction or non-fiction, there is always some speck of who we are in our words. Our experiences and the memories of our experiences seep into writing, no matter how hard we try to remain distant.

I recently finished a memoir, The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok that explores the untrusting nature of memory. Recent research by psychologists, as Mira tells, proves that the human mind is infinitely more complex than assumed. When we remember and extract a memory from our mental storage unit, we are often recreating things that might not have truly happened. Every time we retell a story, something happens to the brain’s neurons that create a chemical change. In our lives, we rely so heavily on our memories. They allow us to maintain our identity, to give us a sense of where we came from and who we continue to be. We use our memories as points of reference so we don’t feel lost or out of place. But what does it mean when current research is proving that memories are extremely unreliable? In a sense, we are being told that we create our own memories; what we believe to be held as factual and truthful may indeed not hold accountability.

I find this interesting, because it causes me to wonder about the genre of memoir and memoir-writing. If we create our own memories, our own stories, how can we believe the words a memoir-writer says? How do we know that what we have just read is true, and how do we trust them? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Unless you are a journalist or biographer, you don’t have to have one hundred percent truth. The memoir genre is beautiful in the sense that it combines both fiction and non-fiction. It allows you to take pieces of the past, things from your or someone else’s perspective, and create a story out of it- imagination and memory work together to produce an authentic story bound by perspective and intuition.  

So when I think about writing and literature, and why I love it so much, I remind myself that it’s like a key that unlocks so much more. It allows us to explore and experience things we may have never been given the chance to. For me, reading and writing is a mainstay, a source of lifeblood. No matter what your passions are, remember that writing can help you dig into the core meaning and purpose of their existence in your life. 

-Kathleen Bure

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cameron Storey- Edwidge Danticat Lecture

Edwidge Danticat spoke on her ties to Haiti in an elegant, yet emotional manner. Her tone, though it remained even, conveyed a great deal of powerful emotion. As she shared in the history of her people it became obvious her writings echo the history of Haiti and the lasting marks its broken past has left on the futures of its people.  The title she chose, “Love in the Time of Massacre,” helped to explain why her stories were needed. To Danticat, writing is not only a way to ensure that stories from the survivors emerge, but also a way to represent the transformation of emotions and attitudes in people. 

She spoke readily of how the brutality of her home country changed people and left them scarred. The violence in her land vastly overwhelming and seemingly unending, even after many escaped to the U.S.A. One story she told, that truly stuck out, was the notion of a people so hopelessly divided. She spoke of one particular massacre that centered on whether or not people could pronounce the word “parsley” the “right way.” The Haitian people were found out by their speech, and killed because of it. Language in this instance, Danticat explained, held an immense power over the people. Those who could fake a different dialect often survived. Those who couldn’t were killed. This word, “parsley” held such great power in that place, and this notion of language being such a determiner, helped to show Danticat the power in words.  

Danticat takes her role as a writer very seriously, her ties to her people remain obvious, and her willingness to share their struggle pure. To her, words unify and mend a part of what is broken. Though the struggle is real, words allow her to testify to its power and effects. This was apparent in the way she carried herself across the stage. From the moment she appeared she remained composed and spoke with dignity. She did not demand sympathy, but allowed for the stories to speak for themselves. Her language, her diction, carried the weight of disaster in a way that demanded nothing, but evoked deep empathy. Danticat represented a people and a fight that has lasted for generations, she did not demand an audience, but rather took the time to openly share. In her powerful language the depth of her ties to the Haitian people was heard. Through her words the meaning of her stories were felt instead of forced, and the power of her language felt. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Literary Studies: The Radical Art of Learning How to Be

This is a video of the keynote address of the 2010 Streamlines English Undergraduate Conference which was attended by three Sigmas from UNCW.

The title of the address is "Literary Studies: The Radical Art of Learning How to Be." The speaker is the head of the English Department at the University of Dubuque.

It is one of the most profound and inspiring things I have ever heard. The reading copy of it was given to me by Dr. Barz.

-Kirk Barrett