Society has interesting names for people who decide they want to do the same thing forever. Some positive, some not. We have “terminal bachelors” (aka George Clooney) and also “old maids” (aka librarians, sadly). We have “eternal optimists” and “eternal pessimists,” “career politicians” and those who will “go down with the ship.”

But what about the eternal student?

There are positive versions of this, of course: my grandfather was a member of a Life-long Learning program, and he had earned more credits in his lifetime than anyone in the history of the University. He had studied in some way at colleges all over, and out of, the country. But he also held regular jobs at the same time, so maybe we can’t exactly put him in this category. But should we?

While browsing around, I came across this interesting article titled “How to become an eternal student,” (source) in which the author poses theories about the different types of students:

“Most often when one refers to an eternal student the automatic assumption is that of the Truly Dedicated Eternal Student. This is often a student who has chosen random and rather bizarre course work. You most often find these students among Classical Studies or History students. The reason is simple. No one cares about those majors except the people in them. Who really needs to major in Sanskrit anymore? It’s a five thousand year old dead language. So students of these types of majors can always find something old to study and claim the need to study that fully before they move into “the real world”.”

And this is where I really started to chuckle:

“These students can always find something else to study because the stuff has been around so darn long. Since no one cares about these studies anymore these students are free to hide is the sunlight-deprived coroners of dusty libraries and remain free from responsibility. The major difficulty in being a truly Dedicated Eternal Student is to lie convincingly enough so that the parents, friends, the university, and financial supporters all believe that the student needs to remain ensconced in their studies.”

And I cannot deny that there is some truth in this. As a medievalist, and a student of Latin, there is a definite scorn from some people out there – the beauty of it being that the scornful ones usually don’t have a clue about such topics, so you can project an atmosphere of learned intelligence that tells them to back the f*&# off.

And then we come to the next type:

“The Multiple Degrees Eternal Student is a nefarious schemer. This student is the only eternal student to ever actually earn a degree. And not only do they earn one degree, but they earn several. The primary goal of this type of student is to have more letters after their name than in their name. They will earn a BA and a BS and an MA, MS, MPH, JD, MBA, MD, PhD, DrPH, and on and on and on. In some ways this Eternal Student is the most talented and most conniving of all Eternal Students.

Not only must they posses the intelligence and talent for earning these many degrees but they must convince others that they actually need these degrees. The danger, however, in being a Multiple Degrees eternal student is that, unlike other eternal students, these individuals have actually completed acceptable levels of education. At some point their financial support will revolt due to the immense financial burden these multiple degrees impose and the student is generally told to go ahead and utilize their degrees. The best counterattack to this type of difficulty is to be educated out of any possible job and so, after a brief interval, return to higher education.”

Hmmm, this is dangerously close to the conversation I’ve been having with myself lately, upon nearing the completion of my current degree. Something along the lines of, “maybe I should go to law school…” And let us not deny that along with the ability to bullshit in prose that comes with an English degree is the ability to bullshit others into thinking  that all the money spend on said degree is well-spent, and that you would be wise to spend more. Nefarious scheming, indeed.

The article closes with this piece of wisdom:

“The privilege of Eternal Student-dom is not to be taken lightly. At no other point in your life is it a) acceptable that you not know what you are doing b) normal for people to give you excessive amounts of money and c) expected that you will do dumb things.”

Now my question is, is this article serious in it’s admiration of students, or is it mocking their very existence? I can’t help but wonder if eternal students were ever respected culturally, or always viewed as some sort of self-fulfilling characacher.

There is a tendency to believe that school is not “the real world.” But what is the alternative; “the imaginary world?” Sound more fun, in my opinion. What does the “real world” offer you? Whatever it is, we need Prozac and Ambien to deal with it.

If I can make a living out of living in the “imaginary world,” you can bet that’s where I’ll be. And it seems to me that most people worth knowing will be there too.


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Wrapped up in my love of all things written is a passion for words, and, respectively, their origins. After all, who doesn’t get a kick out of knowing that “bookworm” comes from the name for “a group of insects which largely have in common their love of devouring parts of books and other documents?”1 

Well I do.

Therefore, when a question about the word “embarrass” came up in my Latin class last week (we were learning superlatives and I think it was the double “s” that clinched it) I decided to look it up (ok, so I decided to do this while typing up thesis notes, but don’t judge me, procrastination is an art – and have I told you the origin of “procrastination?” Oh yes, I think I have.)

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First we must visit our old friend the OED, who tells us that “Embarrass, v” first means:

1. trans. To encumber, hamper, impede (movements, actions, persons moving or acting)."

b. pass. Of persons: To be ‘in difficulties’ from want of money; to be encumbered with debts.

 

And then the 2nd definition, part B, is,

b. To make (a person) feel awkward or ashamed, esp. by one’s speech or actions; to cause (someone) embarrassment."

Then we come across this helpful passage:

“The English word embarrassed has taken an unusual path into English. The first written usage of embarrass in English was in 1664 by Samuel Pepys in his diary. The word was derived from the French word embarrasser, "to block," or "obstruct",1 whose first recorded usage was by Michel de Montaigne in 1580. The French word was derived from the Spanish embarazar, whose first recorded usage was in 1460 in Cancionero de Stúñiga (Songbook of Stúñiga) by Álvaro de Luna.2 The Spanish word comes from the Portuguese embaraçar, which is a combination of the prefix em- (from Latin im- for "in-") with baraço or baraça, "a noose", or "rope".3 Baraça originated before the Romans began their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 218 BC.4 Thus, baraça could be related to the Celtic word barr, "tuft." (Celtic people actually settled much of Spain and Portugal beginning in the 700s BC, the second group of people to do so.)5 However, it certainly is not directly derived from it, as the substitution of r for rr in Ibero-Romantic languages was not a known occurrence.

The Spanish word may come from the Italian imbarazzare, from imbarazzo, "obstacle" or "obstruction." That word came from imbarrare, "to block," or "bar," which is a combination of in-, "in" with barra, "bar" (from the Vulgar Latin barra, which is of unknown origin).6 The problem with this theory is that the first known usage of the word in Italian was by Bernardo Davanzati (1529–1606), long after the word had entered Spanish."2

 Ta-Da! We can now see how the English verb embarrass comes is connected to the Latin verb imbarrare.

And we can also see many of us, sadly, due to out lack of exuberance of funds, are unable to avoid embarrassment in daily life.

BUT – at least we can explain what it means, linguistically. Zing!

Not me, but she sure looks like a grad student!

No matter how hard you try, and how vigilant you are, there are certain things that seem inevitable in grad school. Such as,

  • sporadic moderate-t0-heavy drinking
  • brain lapses
  • finger blisters/laptop burns
  • late-night delirium
  • extreme productivity followed by days of nothingness
  • meeting a professor who calls out your bullshit (even if you didn’t know it was in fact bullshit)
  • lack of every-day hair-washing

Oh the irony: my school's library is named after Charles Shultz.

BUT, today’s kick in the ass is brought to you by the library, who so lovingly supplies you with books, and so hatefully charges you when you don’t bring them back, because, you are, you know, using them. (And definitely not letting them sit on your desk collecting dust while you write blog entries. Never.)

When you have 37 library books checked out, and 27 of them come to your from LINK+, from other libraries, one is bound to slip through the cracks. Add to this the fact that the lending period for LINK+ books is only a couple weeks, and you can only renew if for 2 more weeks. And if you happen to, eek, not return it on time, the fee is A DOLLAR A DAY. In the grad school world, that burns.

So many future drinks already gone.

And this weekend, I entered my office and checked my email only to see that I accidentally ignored an email stating a book was due 12 days ago. Which, math folks, is $12. Sigh.

Um, yes....?

So, in grad school, you will check out books. You will “forget” to renew them. You will accrue fines. And, screw it all, you will pay them. Because it’s the right thing to do.

…Ok, truthfully, you will pay them becasue the library will stop you from checking out new books until the fines are paid. Clever-tricky bastards. (Whom I love despite.)

During my years at grad school thus far, I have been plagued with the obligation to pass the 494 qualifying Master’s oral exam. Techincally, one is supposed to take the test during their first year, on the basis that the reading list should give you a foundation for graduate work, blah, blah, blah. But like 95% of my fellow grads, I put it off. And off. And off. (After my class they amended the English graduate handbook so that taking the test is a requirement for the first year. Wise decision, people.)

Enter my last year, when I need to advance to candidacy and finish my thesis – oh yes, and pass the 494 exam.

Perhaps I should preface this by saying that the reading list for the oral is a collection of 40 or so items including novels, poetry, and critical theory. not horrific in any sense. Thankfully I had read over half of it as an undergrad (this, however does not guarantee that one remembers anything about the text, including the names of the main characters.) And I’m not someone who feels they need to read every word of a text to get what you need to know; usually if you read most of it, and you know what happens, you can pass a test (I’m not advocating this for serious study mind you, but just for certain required readings that you’re no very into. Once cannot write a thesis based off spark notes.) Though there is one student in my program who is reading every single text in entirely, which I commend, but which takes a boatload of time. Eessh.

So at the beginning I contacted the head of the English grad department, and finally -dun dun DUN! – scheduled the exam for Tuesday October 5th. Let the studying cramming begin!

I printed out a 75+page compilation of sparks notes of all the books (just to brush up, you see) and summaries of all the theory texts, and proceeded to re-read all the poetry selections, skim the short works, and make page after page of notes summarizing main ideas, concepts, memorable lines, etc. I memorized publication dates and biographical information, and read Norton introductions to all of the time periods. I reviewed the texts, reviewed the notes, re-reviewed the notes, and skimmed pages right before going to sleep.

Finally, Tuesday arrived. As I got closer to school and the department building, the nerves started to kick in a bit, and my heart began to pound (my usual trick to calm myself down is to cup my hands in front of my face and breathe in some carbon dioxide. Usually works. Like a paper bag, only less psychotic.) I did a quick review in the bathroom (don’t judge) and then arrived at the conference room, 10 minutes early.

But I should tell you, my school operates at a usual delay of about 10-15 minutes, so my exam started at 12:10-15ish. And a strange thing happened: as I sat there in the room, I started to calm down; I knew I was prepared, and that I was going to pass, and that it was not frightening at all – mostly just getting it over with was exciting!

And then a small act of God: one of my questioners – who is notoriously combative and harder to please –  was out sick, and replaced by the dept head, who is a fluffy bunny in comparison. So it began.

It opened with a question about the Fairie Queen, and as a medievalist, that made me a little happy (though we did skip over Chaucer, sadly). We discussed Keats, Melville, Roth,  and Woolf – and that was it. I brought in a few other texts, some critical theory, some fiction, to support my answers, but in all considerations the exam was not comprehensive. The hour passed like it was 5 minutes, and the professors not only asked me questions but commented on them themselves, making it feel more like a conversation than an intense question-and-answer session.

So here is the secret my fellow-grad friends: From what I experienced, and what the examiners told me, what they really want to see in a qualifying oral is not that you can read 50 books and rattle off the information, but to instead be able to engage critically with texts and bounce ideas and concepts around texts easily. They want to see if you can take an issue like racism and see how it works out in different texts, to make connections. But most of all, they want to see that you are at a graduate level of engagement. If there’s a question that you don’t know the answer to, admit it, and talk about what you do know.

What I found funny was, after about 40 minutes, the dept head simply said “I think that’s enough” and let me go, saying that it was clear I had proved what needed to be proved well. It was a strange feeling; it felt like I had just gotten there, and there were so many other texts that I wanted to talk about. But that’s not important, because after all this time I was finally done. I can now move further into my thesis without having the 494 in the back of my head, and that is certainly worth a couple days of cramming!

Now I know that Ph.D orals are notoriously awful, but if you are worrying about your Masters orals, relax. It may put the fear into you, but it’s not there to trip you up!

[And holy $%@# does it feel good to have them over with!]

Procrastination – from the Latin “cras,” meaning “tomorrow,” and the prefix “pro,” meaning to put forth. Literally meaning to put something forward to tomorrow. (cited from the dictionary of me being bored in Latin class)

Yesterday, I graded 17 papers. Tonight, I will have graded 17 papers. Somehow that equals me being sick of the (poorly) written word.

Today, a guy in my Latin class (a classicist, and therefore an English/history major hybrid, with a bit more pretention added in) saw my stack of said yet-to-be-graded papers and remarked that he couldn’t wait to be a teacher, so he could have “that sense of authority.”

Chuckle.

I replied with the notion that the more time one spends grading, the less one feels authoritative, and instead mentally abraded.

He then said that I must really “bring the smack down” to seem more authoritative (and perhaps badass?) in my classroom, because I’m normally so nice (and blonde? in the sense of hair-color, not intelligence) and not angry-professor like. At that point the conversation shifted, but I smiled to myself knowing that classroom authority is a complex animal, and that at the end of the day, knowledge is authority.

It’s a thrill really, sitting in a classroom, as either teacher or student, realizing that you actually know something about what’s being talked about, and maybe knowing more than is even being discussed. When a professor mentions some specific moment in a text not being read in the class and you actually know what they mean, it feels like all that learning is starting to pay off (well, not literally – wouldn’t that be nice if it did).

As a slightly-weathered grad student I say that you should not feel pretentious or rude for giving evidence of your knowledge, or showing that you truly know something – such moments are much less common than the ones that make you feel like an undergrad wearing pajamas to a black-tie affair. Don’t be the know-it-all (there’s one in every class, you know who you are) but if you really do know a little, I say own it. Maybe you’ll get a little authority out of it, or at least some respect.

***

ZOMG: How awesome is it that this shirt exists in the world? Albeit the fact that it’s slightly dorky…

And if you were thinking that you would like to express your constant  state of mental-overload-by-grading without sacrificing your fashion sense?

warning_driver_grading_papers_bumper_sticker-p128875244845743505tmn6_210

Problem solved.

Seeing as this blog is called “the art of book collecting,” I thought that it was about time I posted something that was actually book-related. I’m going to try to do this once-a-week or so; consider it my nerdy version of The Soup. (Which means I get to pretend to be the sarcastic wittiness that is Joel McHale, only without the skinny tie…and random people yelling in the background. Unless you’d like to yell a catch phrase or two? Heh?) So here we go…

This week’s randomly selected book-related thoughts (note to self: think up catchy title):

~Please do not all Dante by Dante Alighieri; the Alighieri refers to where he’s from, it’s not his name. (And, by the way DaVinci isn’t really Leonardo’s real last name either)

~ Dante’s Inferno is surprisingly different from what I expected; the poetry is almost soothing in meter, and much more Romantic than I would have thought, you know, since it’s set in Hell and all. And purgatory seems a little silly at times, downright funny at others (flatterers walking around in a river of crap, fortunetellers with their heads on backwards, suicides as trees being pecked by harpies – it reminds me of a Monty Python movie). Maybe  it’s because I’m not a religious person, but perhaps I’m diffusing the situation with humor because the whole concept of this type of belief-system hurts my brain, and tickles it at the same time. The thought of every great lover from literature and every person who existed before the invention of Christianity stuck in Hell just seems wrong. And I’m sorry, but the woman who told her lover that he was “extremely pleasing” does not deserve to be in one of the lowest circles of hell along with tyrants and dictators. All for a little while lie?

~ If you took Dante to the DMV, what would happen….?

~ Medieval Italian is very similar to Latin. Just in case you were wondering.

~ Sorry creators of The Office, but Dante beat you to the punch: there’s a Michael Scot in Inferno. (which is sort of fitting…)

***

~ Kids, when y0u’re sitting in English class hating life because you’re in the middle of a Grammar lesson, just remember that your teacher is probably just as miserable. But wait, you say, I thought English teachers lived for that shit? Turns out that not only do teachers hate teaching things their students check out on, grammar is as hard to effectively teach as it is to learn. (I’m speaking from both ends here people.)

~ My boyfriend, who avoids books as fervently as I read them, is finally waist-deep in a book….wait for it….he bought for fun. And it is a real-deal paperback that you can a. not buy at the grocery store b. has nothing to do with football and c. is critically acclaimed non-fiction. So apparently you can change a man, if you date him for 7 years and surround him with hundreds of the items you want him to be interested in.

~ I now have a ridiculously extravagant number of books on my nightstand, because I couldn’t resist stocking up on “fun-reading” despite the fact that I’m trying to read 10+ books for my grad-school oral exam while teaching and TAing at the same time. Just because I don’t have time to read them doesn’t mean they can’t live in my house, right?

Right?

I need to go read.

Sometimes I wish there was a better way to protest things.

Tomorrow, for example, there is a rally on my campus called “Walk out for education!” where everyone is going to leave their classes and congregate on the quad to make a fuss (I will be there, of course, I have to – as a grad student and college teacher I’m meeting both ends of the sharp stick). BUt it seems odd to me, to protest our dwindling education system by missing class-time. Granted, we can’t protest on Fridays, because the campus is technically “closed,” another lovely effect of the budget crisis, so any other day is going to have scheduled classes.

So come on everyone, let’s protest our watered-down classes by cutting down on our own class-time!

But it’s not as if all forms of social protest are nearly counter-productive. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, and people held sit-ins, camping out in all sorts of establishments. These are great examples of non-violent protest that gets the point across effectively. Walking out of class to protest lack of classes is akin to African Americans refusing to ride the bus at all , or visit certain restaurants because they didn’t have equal rights. They wanted to right to be treated equally on buses, so they forced society to do so.

But I suppose we can’t protest budget cuts by holding a sit-in on campus, right?

My generation is, in many ways, in a bit of a tough spot. We don’t have the furvour of the 60s, yet we many of our issues are a great a threat to our future. My mom , a protester of the 60s, is always saying that we need to band together and protest things so that the authorities are forced to listen. But is our situation really solvable in that way? One might suggest that the problem of global warming can’t be solved as easily as stopping the Vietnam war. Can you compare the major issues of time periods, or are they apples and oranges?

I wonder if our generation needs some of that old blood, or to have some threat to our very existence thrown in our face. Will 20-somethings march on Washington if someone threatens their access to TV, iPods, or the blogosphere? Will “going green” become a lifestyle rather than a state of mind? Will California’s economy return the sparkle to the golden state?

I’ll be at the protest tomorrow, but whether it is the correct form of action is still yet to be seen.

 

(p.s. many many bonus point if you can figure out what movie the title comes from)