Archive for the ‘What is Claire up to?’ Category

How To Kill Your Darlings

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

The above picture is a scanned copy of something that hangs prominently on my bulletin board in my room. It is a hand-out that I received in a creative writing class that I took my senior year of high school and it is brilliant. Every single bit of advice has been useful at some point in my writing career (if you can call it that) but the advice that I always go back to is within the title of this post: you must kill your darlings.

That particular bit of advice is from author, Stephen King (you’ve probably heard of him). He wrote a book called On Writing which is one of my favorite books of all time. In it are so many jewels of writing wisdom that he has acquired over the years. You probably zoned out after that italicized statement above. Claire…are you endorsing murder? No, of course not. I am endorsing literary murder. If you write a piece and the part that you think is excellent but doesn’t fit with the rest of the piece–KILL IT. MERCILESSLY. Delete it from the essay, short story, novel, etc. Then laugh maniacally.

Thus the life of a creative writer; write something brilliant then delete. Rinse and repeat.

I read an interview this past semester with the celebrated author, John McPhee, which I found to be very encouraging. I thought discipline was a result of some deep love of writing. Words pour forth from an author’s fingers onto the document onscreen easily. No. There’s nothing easy about writing. McPhee describes his writing process here:

It may sound like I’ve got some sort of formula by which I write. Hell, no! You’re out there completely on your own—all you’ve got to do is write. OK, it’s nine in the morning. All I’ve got to do is write. But I go hours before I’m able to write a word. I make tea. I mean, I used to make tea all day long. And exercise, I do that every other day. I sharpened pencils in the old days when pencils were sharpened. I just ran pencils down. Ten, eleven, twelve, one, two, three, four—this is every day. This is damn near every day. It’s four-thirty and I’m beginning to panic. It’s like a coiling spring. I’m really unhappy. I mean, you’re going to lose the day if you keep this up long enough. Five: I start to write. Seven: I go home. That happens over and over and over again. So why don’t I work at a bank and then come in at five and start writing? Because I need those seven hours of gonging around. I’m just not that disciplined. I don’t write in the morning—I just try to write.

Writers love learning about other writers’ processes for writing. It’s like finding out their trade secret. To know that literary giants lack discipline makes us wee Davids feel better about ourselves. As I write this blog post right now, I am simultaneously not writing my short essay for my Travel Writing class. I am however agonizing over what I will write. It’s a struggle to bring words to the page; to “tell the truth” as my hand-out instructs me to do.

Thus I reflect on my major and avoid thinking about how this will (or could) be a source of income in the future. All I have is the present assignments to mourn over my current inadequacy and strive towards a future where I too have the leisure to make tea and sharpen pencils all day until that fickle muse, inspiration, strikes.

What is this “skipping?” and the Master Plan

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Part One:

First, I’d like to record a meaningful moment in the context of this assignment and this year. Right now, as I sit here typing this, I am skipping my Travel/Nature writing class. Why am I skipping my favorite class? Well…I’m Senior so this is okay–or that least that’s what I keep telling myself. This is the first unexcused absence of the semester and we’re less than a month away from the close of the semester.

I told my co-workers at the mail-room that I was planning on skipping because I hadn’t done the assigned reading (there’s nothing worse than sitting in class silent because you didn’t properly prepare). I then told them that I was going to use that time to edit some of my writing.

“No!” they fervently replied, “If you’re skipping, you have to do something unproductive during that time.”

“Okay, fine,” I responded, “I’ll watch Parks and Recreation on Netflix.” They approved of the revision of my plans. So, after that exchange, here I am blogging for my Digital Storytelling class out of the guilt that I feel over skipping class. The lesson here? Senior or not, skipping is bad for your health. It can produce a number of unforeseen side effects including but not limited to headache, drowsiness, upset stomach, nightmares, missed deadlines, lower grades. I wish I could make ads like the anti-smoking campaigns that warn you away from skipping class. But I’ll leave that up to the experts.

Part Two:

The Master Plan. This is in no way correlated to part one; I just think that really short blog posts look like they’re missing something. I walked into the Nest today on my way to work at the mail-room when I was arrested by a group tabling in the front entrance. They had a poster with bold letters saying, “UMW’s Master Plan: A Step in the Right Direction?”

A college female approached me asking, “Have you heard about the school’s MASTER PLAN?” (the caps are all mine; anything with the word “master” in it demands all caps).

“Kind of,” I mumbled, “I saw something online about it, I think.”

“Well, we’re trying to raise awareness about the proposed future of UMW’s buildings. Some of the changes they’re proposing are welcome like a new wing on Jepson but other changes would destroy the campus’s integrity and historical heritage.” This was gripping. A group of UMW students actually interesting in preserving the school? In the van ride to church on Sunday, one of the other students brought up the MASTER PLAN. I was interested but mostly ambivalent. At Mary Wash, you learn to let things happen because when there’s funding and a person in charge who desires something to happen, students can do practically nothing to stop it (take Eagle’s Landing, for instance).

My ambivalence was also linked to the fact that I’m a Senior. I seem to be playing that card all too often. I skipped class–oh wait, I’m a Senior so it’s okay. They’re planning on tearing down historic buildings and replacing them with Eagle Village style facilities–quickly built, sterile and cold. Oh, I’m a Senior. So, I won’t be here when that happens.

However, I felt compelled to sign up for the e-mail list to receive information about the movement towards transparency in the MASTER PLAN. I guess that was my way of saying that even though I’m a Senior, I shouldn’t use that as an excuse to cop out on taking a stand in preserving my school, the way it’s been for the three-plus years that I’ve called this place home.

For more information on the MASTER PLAN, check out or e-mail

My Reviews of the UMW shows–as promised

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Deconstructing Nostalgia or “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?”

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

If you’ve ever seen the play Avenue Q on Broadway (I haven’t, for the record) then you are probably familiar with the reference that I’m making in the title. For everyone else, here is the clip to which I am referring:

Now that you are sufficiently entertained, on to the serious stuff (kind of, I’m hardly ever fully serious). I was provoked to write this post by Professor Groom whose comment on my last post was as follows:

Can you be nostalgic for something you are still in? The root of nostalgia is actually Greek and it means a returning home, I wonder how that informs your relationship to UMW. How was this place over the course of four years like a home for you? What might that mean?

In class, we talked about the idea of nostalgia and how pervasive it is in ones life at any age. Here in this post I will examine what the word nostalgia means in its actual usage, how it correlates to the concept of home, and how I understand nostalgia and the concept of home.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, nostalgia means the “sentimental longing for or regretful memory of a period of the past, esp. one in an individual’s own lifetime; (also) sentimental imagining or evocation of a period of the past.”

According to Wikipedia, “the word is a learned formation of a Greek compounds, consisting of nóstos, ‘returning home’, a Homeric word, and álgos, ‘pain’ or ‘ache’”…if you want to see some fun Greek letters, check out the Wikipedia article). Also according to the OED, nóstos means a “homecoming or homeward journey as a literary subject or topos; spec. the return of Odysseus and the other Greek heroes of the Trojan War, as narrated esp. in the Odyssey.”

What is interesting here is how the word nostalgia in its usage has become attached to the idea of yearning for home; home being something to which one returns. It is fixed in the past despite the fact that a return to home is a future event; something to which one looks forward.

In my last post, I talked about missing things at UMW that I can still experience or attend. I guess what has changed is how I experience those things. For a season, my foreseeable future was at school so enjoying and taking advantage of my time at Mary Wash was the most important thing. However, as a Senior moving quickly towards my last semester, I’m learning to recognize that my college experience is soon ending. I am reconciling myself to this. The season of college will soon be over but a new season will begin and I’ll pursue God’s will disregarding my circumstances.

The notion of ‘home’ in the definition of nostalgia practically demands to be deconstructed. My apartment is home here at UMW. Professor Groom asked, “How was this place over the course of four years like a home for you?” I consider my apartment to be like a home because my “flatmates” (they love that I call them that) are like my family. My apartment is my retreat from the chaos of college life. I’m sitting at my laptop right now at the kitchen table. From this seat, I can observe the futon that’s always a bed (Sadie’s bed), our comfy plaid couch, our ginormous rug, our bookshelf with its mess of books and papers, the view of the brick Episcopalian church, the beautiful Fall foliage. I have many fond memories of this place. I blogged about my apartment life and based on the pictures in the post, Katie Jones (flatmate #1) said that “based on these pictures, we don’t look like we’re in college. we look like we’re all constantly waking up having just rolled out of bed–which I guess is what that snowstorm period actually was.”

I’m the type of person who likes to think about the future and prepare for it emotionally and physically. So, I can look towards the future and envision a time when I won’t have UMW as home any more. My current flatmates will soon become former flatmates. However, as a Christian, the idea of home is cannot really be understood as a physical place. I’ll let the Word of God explain this better than I can:

1For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.6So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

(2 Corinthians 5:1-10 ESV) *emphasis is mine **the “tent” that is referenced here is the flesh or the physical body

Like it says in this passage, a Christian’s true home is in Heaven. I heard a great quote the other day, “you can’t ever kill a Christian, you just change his address.” This is how I understand the concept of home. Home is a place to which one looks forward to returning to but that return is an event that is fixed in the future. UMW is a home. My house in Chantilly is a home as well. My eternal Home though is with my Father in Heaven. My friend Liz wrote a great blog post that discusses this idea titled “In My Father’s House.”

Going back to the definition that Wiki provides, the Greek word salad of nóstos, “returning home” and álgos, “pain” or “ache” is exactly what the Scripture passage is describing, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” I long to be in Heaven with God. That longing for Home (capitalization is intentional) is nostalgia. Therefore, I feel nostalgic for the future, for a place to which I’ve never been. Upon doing this deconstruction (that’s what you do with a B.A. in English), I understand nostalgia now.

I’ll leave you with Sara Grove’s “Going Home” which is a beautiful illustration of how Christians feel nostalgic.

Nostalgia, is that you?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I was sitting in a coffee shop (cliche) with a friend talking about life, God and what we think about Mary Washington and our experiences there. That’s when my nostalgia kicked into overdrive. I felt a warm tingling sensation in my chest which I know wasn’t from the soy dark chocolate drink I just consumed (bad choice). All the memories of what I’ve done at UMW, what I’ve learned, how I’ve been stretched in my Christian faith surfaced in addition to a twinge of regret. What if I don’t take advantage of the college experience and graduate, never knowing what’s it’s like to attend the silly but fun events that people work so hard to create?

That said, I’m resolved to not let that happen. First, I want to clarify. I have not spent the past 3+ years holed up in my room imagining what college is like. I think I’ve done quite a lot. I’ve attended poetry readings, movies on the lawn, the infamous free stuff fair, retreats. I’ve been responsible for planning events and seeing them through like my sophomore year, I was in charge of coordinating the Hard Questions Panel, an outreach event for the BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministries). I’ve made so many friends whom I plan on having as bridesmaids in my wedding (whenever that happens). With these friends, I can be myself. I can talk about those hard questions that the speaker at the panel didn’t address.

I’ve done a lot of things but what do I have left to do here? Two things come to mind right now. First, I’m going to go see the Tennessee William’s production, Summer & Smoke, brought to us by the UMW theatre department.

Tennessee Williams weaves a sultry and sensuous tale of unrequited love, desperate passion, and insistent devotion at the turn of the 20th Century in this remarkable play by one of the most significant writers of the American theatre. After a lifetime of repressed desire, the lonely minister’s daughter, Alma Winemiller, begs for the attention of the dashing Dr. John Buchanan in a desperate attempt to garner his affection. As her tenacious yearning intensifies, Summer & Smoke erupts with life changing consequences that shatter the stifling tranquility of a sweltering Mississippi summer.

My friend Mairin is starring in it so I want to support her but I also want to take advantage of those $4 tickets. A few weeks ago, I went to NYC for Fall Break and the Broadway tickets cost considerably more than that. I saw the UMW production of Romeo and Juliet last semester and was thoroughly impressed. The man who played Romeo is starring in this film. It looks pretty fantastic, doesn’t it?

The other event that I definitely plan on making an appearance is the Mr. UMW competition. My friend Ryan is Mr. Jefferson and I will be supporting him. Also, from what I’ve heard, it’s fun and who can say no to fun?

For both these events, I will report how they feed (or not) my nostalgia. Oh UMW, I’m not finished with you yet.

The Fulbright Program…Am I fully bright?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

You can probably tell by now that I like to ask lots of questions in my blog posts. I think it encourages reader participation, even if the question is rhetorical.

This semester as of the 18th of October, I am a Fulbright applicant. Save your “ohs” and “awes.” It’s pretty dang competitive so I’m mostly expecting not to be chosen. What is this Fulbright program, you ask? I will tell you.

According to the Fulbright website, it’s “the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars, and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.”

*insert trumpet sounds here*

*unroll Fulbright banner here*

I think that’s a large enough image to demonstrate how huge this program is. I first heard about it when my best friend’s older sister was selected as a Fulbright scholar. For a year, she taught English in Innsbruck, Austria. And traveled–a lot. Her experience as a Fulbright scholar was amazing. Since I am more inclined to be persuaded by another individual’s personal experience than lofty ideals such as international exchange, global communities, blah blah blah, Faith (the Austria Fulbrighter) was the person who convinced me to apply for this thing.

This thing was a truly comprehensive application. Though it was not as intense as the Peace Corps application (I’m told they want to know every shot, doctors visit, band-aid you’ve ever applied), it was time consuming. I found out that some schools actually offer courses that are entirely focused on preparing you for the Fulbright application process. I know–whoa.

The first information session was the 31st of August. I went with my friend Kelsey (who would have been a dead ringer for the scholarship had she gone through with the application) and was immediately inspired by Professor Al-Tikriti, the UMW Fulbright adviser, to apply for an English Teaching Assistantship to Turkey. Turkey has been my number one place I want to visit outside the U.S. for quite some time; ever since I watched a Rick Steve’s video on that amazingly diverse and ancient country. In Google images, Turkey looks like this…

Completing the application was a consistently stressful process: It required two essays, three recommendations, my transcript, a lot of other information like my employment history, an interview, etc.  The process inspired a sense of community between myself and four of the other UMW Fulbright applicants. We could connect because we were each in a similarly stressful situation. When we encountered problems or had questions, we could talk to each other about it. For instance, when the system absolutely wouldn’t let me upload my transcript, my fellow applicant, Katie Matusik, was able to let me use the fancy art department scanner.

But, I am happy to report that I was successful in submitting my application on time and complete! I will find out if I can move forward in the process in February of 2011. I’m really at a point right now where I’m trusting that if God wants me to teach English in Turkey, then it will happen. If not, I trust that He has some plan in mind for me that’s even better than that.

What’s up with that title?

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

I realize that we’re pretty far into the semester and I have yet to explain the origin of the “Are we there yet” that seems to follow me from blog to blog. My number one reason for using that phrase as the title of both my blogs is to unify the purpose of the two. My original blog is for general class assignments and random reflections on things brought up in class. This blog is specifically for the class project. Back to the question I brought up in the title of this post. I realize that I’m only posing questions right now without providing any concrete answers but I promise that I have a point.

I’ll demonstrate what I just did: why did I title the post –> what’s up with that title? –> the title being “Are we there yet?” –> of which the subtitle is, “No really, are we?”

So many questions that you’re probably hitting your keyboard in frustration. If that’s the case then I ask you to settle down because you’re breaking your computer by doing that.

I’m using a series of questions to express the ambiguity of my future. No one really knows what’s going to happen next. For instance, if you apply to a job that you’ve dreamed about your entire life, let’s say, insurance salesperson (it could happen!), and you get said job and then you find out that you hate your job (now that’s more likely to happen), you couldn’t have anticipated that that would happen. You thought you would love filing paperwork and telling people to rest assured if their house catches fire or zombies attack or Texas breaks from the Union. That’s the thing about dreams. Dreams can be sources of disillusionment.

Now, before you think that I’m going to proceed to crush your dreams like a professor would after it snows two feet and you’re taking your dogsled to the class that was not cancelled, wait. Give me a little credit. If you read my “what’s this blog about” section, you’ll see that I am making this place a jumping off point, a repository for my own dreams and ambitions. As a type A personality (when it comes to planning), this is a bit of a compulsive thing. This blog provides a space for me to start that planning process. You may be thinking, “Wow, Claire, overkill much? You have seven months left until you graduate!” Here’s how I feel about that statement. “Right, seven months, I’m already behind.” Deadlines for Summer things are early and approach quickly. I don’t want to be unemployed next August like some of my recently graduated friends living in my parents’ basement waiting for a job to come to me. That’s not how it works.

“Are we there yet?” is a question that I pestered my parents with on long car trips sitting in the back seat trying to read and not be car sick at the same time. I don’t want to take a back seat in regards to my future. I want to be intensely involved with the direction that my life takes after I leave Mary Washington. This school has given me so many memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life but I don’t want to dwell in the past at the expense of the present and the future. So, the question that I posed in the title of my blog is something that I will consistently be asking myself throughout this semester into the next. May 6th will arrive soon enough and I want to be ready.