Tools of the Trade

“College is my job.” “I’m a full time student.” These are both things that I’ve heard from many different people. I agree with them. I know that working during college is essential to paying the bills, while I’m here, my first priority is my education. With that in mind, there are a few things I find essential to my success as a student.

  1. A Good Laptop. This has been so incredibly helpful to me. Besides just its obvious capabilities like typing and internet connection, my laptop also helps keep me connected to the people I love. I can text my parents, FaceTime my best friends, and check social media to see what’s going on in the lives of people I know.
  2. A Good Roommate and Floor. The community I am experiencing here is something I have been so thankful for. My roommate is great, she makes jokes when I don’t want to do my reading, encourages me to go to the gym, and makes me eat when I get loopy. I am so glad that I have people around me that care for me and want to see me succeed. On that note…
  3. Engaged Professors and Advisers. One of the things that has been most beneficial to me is the availability of the staff here at school. Having approachable professors and career coaches that I can ask questions of has already helped me determine, in part, what I’m going to do in the future- or at least next semester.
  4. Sleep and Coffee. Would this be a post about surviving college if these two weren’t mentioned? One thing I’m frequently surprised at is the amount of sleep students don’t get. I aim for seven a night, and some nights even that’s ambitious. However, I know that sleep is important, and I can tell a difference in my ability to succeed when I have enough of it. And for those nights when I don’t get as much sleep as I want? That’s when I head to Coffee Cottage and bask in the warm and cozy smell of coffee and delicious muffins.

These are just a few of the things that have helped me make it through most of my first semester of college (That in and of itself is crazy to think about!). What are some of your essentials?

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Writer’s Block

I always thought of writer’s block as some sort of giant cube that old, wizened authors sat upon when they wanted a day off. I just figured it was a place for them to stop and relax, but now I know that is not the case. Writer’s block is far more serious than that. It is a near chronic disease that affects everyone of a certain profession.

I almost always find that every time I am cursed with the dreaded writer’s block it happens right as something important is about to be due. Every time I forget about the project at hand until its due date is pressed upon me. Every time I pull some bit of writing from the recesses of my brain and put it onto paper and turn it in.

And so, that brings us to the present.

I am sitting in my dorm room with my roommate, who is very studiously being productive. We have all of our string lights and lamps on in order to avoid turning on the harsh overhead lights. I’m hovering over my key board, trying to formulate some semblance of a blog post that is readable and enjoyable to the public. I’m snacking on my $0.99 raspberries that have half frozen from being too close to the freezer part of our mini-fridge trying to figure out what to write about. Finally I realize that I have my topic right in front of me.

At this point, I’ve decided to write about writer’s block, as you have probably deduced from the title. I don’t know what causes writer’s block or how to make it go away.If that’s what you’re looking for, you might just want to google it, or look on Pinterest for those lists of topics that are supposed to inspire you. I suppose that I could have also done that, but this seemed like more fun.

And so, in writing about the very thing that plagued me tonight, I have found a subject matter. I guess that goes to show that sometimes all you have to do is sit down and go for it.

But What About Gender?

We have been reading a lot about gender in class, and its something that has been on my mind a lot. I say that I wouldn’t consider myself a feminist but I’m beginning to wonder if that is true anymore. I have often disagreed with “radical” feminists. I actually think that men are OK and that they can hold jobs. I also think that being a stay-at-home mom is a perfectly acceptable job, if that’s what a woman wants to do. In my head, feminists were always out to ruin men and take their jobs and not ever have children. However, since coming to college, I’m realizing that there is more to feminism and gender stereotyping and sexism than I thought there was.

Last night I attended Melanie Mock’s presentation on gender in the church. I thought that it was fascinating, and it opened my eyes to things I had never noticed before. I never would have thought that sexism would still exist here, at a 21st century Christian college. To me, sexism, and gender stereotyping goes against all that I know of what Jesus taught. The split between men and women is one that I find fascinating, but it is also cause for concern.

I never thought that gender was something that affected how I write or what I write about. I always just figured that I wrote about what I wanted to write about, no questions asked. And I do think that I care about the subjects that I choose, but now I’m wondering whether I choose them because they’re what I like or because they’re what I know. I do think that I can write about whatever I would like, but would those pieces be successful? Would they be read and published?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but as I look back on what I’ve read, I know that women and men get published. Both genders can become critically acclaimed authors of best selling books. Does my gender affect how I read those books? I’m not sure that I can fully answer that yet. I know that I have read books and recognized that they are specifically targeted for either boys or girls. I know that I often dislike female protagonists and like male heroes. I think that as a society trying to create “Strong Female Characters” we have gone from one end of the scale (prim and proper princesses) to the other (female warriors who care nothing for themselves and only want to defeat the “evil” in their worlds). I often find myself thinking that the women in these stories seem a little cartoonish and exaggerated in their behavior. They are frequently so extreme in their actions that they seem comical.  Writing a strong, accurate,and inspiring female character seems hard for most authors to do.

Gender, and how it relates to writing and reading, is not something I had ever given much thought. I always just assumed that personalities drove writing styles and topics, and maybe even the goal of writing. Are men more likely to become published authors than women? I don’t have hard, fast answers to these questions. However, you can rest assured knowing that I will be thinking about and looking for them.

The First Time I Said “Crap”

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

“That’s not a bad word Anna.” I know that now. But let me tell you, as a seventh grader, I thought I was so cool. All my eighth friends said it, and they were the epitome of awesome. I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. This particular memory came to mind when we were asked to write a narrative about “Firsts” this past week during my writing class. This is not what I wrote about, but that prompt did get me thinking, and so here we are.

The year was 2010. I was at Hume Lake Christian Camp’s Winter Camp with my junior high youth group. I loved that youth group, I looked forward to going every week, and I made some of my best friends there. I had been looking forward to Winter Camp for weeks and weeks. Two days with my best friends, in the mountains and snow, sledding and eating junk food, playing the iconic game of Broom Hockey. It was everything my thirteen year old heart wanted.

The pinnacle of my weekend was the annual Boxsled Blitz. This competition requires different youth groups to build sleds out of card board and duct tape, and then launch them down a hill, where they are judged on speed and style (I mean, what else would you judge a cardboard sled on?). My youth group took this very seriously. As the reigning champions, we were expected to produce cardboard perfection in a matter of only two days. Regardless of our task, we got a little distracted sometimes.

One of these times turned into a full blown snow battle. We developed strategies and had snowball factories. There were two different sides, each with kids yelling “Crap!” as they got hit, or rolled down the hill, or got pushed into the cold ground. So what was I supposed to do, little thirteen year old Anna, when I got pushed down the hill? Why say “crap” of course! And so I did, after coming to a stop, fully covered in snow and soaked to the skin.

I know this is a weird memory that I have preserved in my head. Why this, and not memories of the spiritual growth that happened that weekend? Why not a broom hockey game? Why not the times my friends and I all went and got ice cream at 10:30 at night (Scandalous!)? I do remember all of these things, but none as clearly as the time I said crap.

I guess some things stay with you forever…

Dear Elves in Coffin 318

First, some background. My roommate and I have discovered that there are small elves that live in our room, causing problems, taking our socks, and making us regret going to stores like Target. Here I address some of my concerns to said elves.

Dear Elves,

When Hannah first told me about you, I’m thought she was just kidding around. But now that I know you’re around, I have a few things to say to you, mostly about your unacceptable behavior in regards to our room. And our socks.

To the T-Shirt Elves, I wish you would stop stretching out my clothes. I like them to fit the way they are supposed to, and your constant stretching requires me to do more laundry than I ever want to. And laundry isn’t cheap.

I also get tired of doing my eyebrows. So if you Eyebrow Elves could cut it out, that would be great. I really don’t need more eyebrow hair than I already have…

Jingle Punk Hood Elves, keep doing what you’re doing. Hannah and I need to lighten up sometimes, and bringing out our gangster roots often leads to dance parties, which are most enjoyable.

Now I have a real bone to pick with the Sock Elves. I only have about six pairs of socks. I don’t want to loose any of them, so please stop giving them to the other people on my floor while I’m doing laundry. On a different note, I don’t want Matney’s basketball socks, or Lauren’s soccer socks. So please don’t give me those either. I understand that you have House Elves to free, but I really need two of each sock.

And finally, to the Target Elves I say this: I’m a college student. I don’t have much money, and Target is one of my favorite stores. I would greatly appreciate it if you would stop convincing me to spend all my money there. I need it for more important things, like textbooks and coffee.

I know these rules sounds like a lot to manage, but I could use your help here. I don’t have the patience for your shenanigans. However, it wouldn’t be amiss if you sent your bud Legolas to come hang out.

Sincerely,

Anna Dirkse

Why I’m Glad I’m Not Mozart

There’s something about hearing professional, full-time authors talk about their writing processes that is extremely comforting to me. It is encouraging to me as a writer to know that they don’t always have it together and that they don’t always write good first drafts. I like that both of these women can sit there and say openly that they dislike their first copies of their best selling novels. I am also encouraged by their recognition that there is no one way to write. As we have been exploring and discussing the writing process in class, I have come to realize that my process doesn’t always line up with what the professionals are doing. However, hearing Kate DiCamillo and Kathrine Patterson, two of my favorite childhood authors, say that they don’t have one specific writing process was relieving, to say the least.

Kate DiCamillo says that many people are under the impression that if you are supposed to do something, it is supposed to come easy to you (3:21). She then goes on to talk about how there is only one Mozart born a century, and that he isn’t you or me. In my opinion, hearing those words allows a lot of freedom as a writer. If I can learn to let go of my expectation of perfection, and the acclaim that goes along with it, I can get to writing what I want to write.

Mozart composed a lot of amazing music, however, he didn’t compose the soundtrack to a Target commercial. But, someone did. Maybe someone who loves Target, or commercials for that matter. That person was allowed to do what she wanted to do. The same goes for writing in my mind. Once I understand that I am not Mozart, I am free to write children’s novel, or Young Adult fiction, or a dissertation on the collected works of Plato. Whatever I am called to write, I can write safe in the assumption that I don’t have to be perfect or critically acclaimed.

Famous authors like these two inspiring women have a lot of advice to offer a young, inexperienced writer like myself. And what they said about their writing processes, or lack thereof, was helpful to me because it showed that not everyone writes the same way. Their processes were different from each other, and mine is different from both of theirs. The example of Mozart was thought provoking. There IS only one Mozart born a century. And I think that is comforting because it gives the rest of the population a chance to explore what they want to do. I don’t have to be Mozart to do what I love.

How to Eat Dinner in the Bon

Dinner in the Bon is a daily occurrence, even though some evenings I wish that it weren’t. Now, depending on the time I decide to go to dinner, my process may look different. At times when the cafeteria is packed full of hungry college students, getting dinner is significantly more chaotic than it should be. However, for the sake of this blog post, let’s assume that it is not 6:30, and that it is fairly easy to move around and get what I want to eat for dinner.

The first step in acquiring dinner in the Bon is to walk in and have my card swiped, while doing this, I always check the posted menus, to start developing a game plan. I then walk into the cafeteria, and pick my line based upon what each station offers. Sometimes one line is enough, but often I like to pick and choose from different places. So, say I grabbed some chicken from the main line, but I wanted pasta to go with it. I would then make my way to the island station and get some noodles and marinara sauce. After getting some water from the soda fountain, I would head out to the salad bar and make myself a yummy salad with all the toppings available. Finally, I would start looking for a place to sit, hopefully with some friends!

My method of getting dinner is the most logical because I try to go in a circle around the Bon, avoiding walking back and forth through the masses of people that can be there. I don’t want to be one of those people constantly cutting through the line to get a soda, or taco toppings. I try to have a plan once I walk in, that way I can be efficient and effective while grabbing my food.

When using this method, I am assuming that there won’t be a ton of people in the Bon while I am there. The implication is that I will emerge from the Bon victorious, with a plate of food that I find desirable. While the quality of the food doesn’t always meet my expectations, my method does! Having a plan before entering the cafeteria helps me to be efficient while getting dinner, and this makes my method the best way to get food.

The Pennington House

I love it here. No, not this exact physical location, though that’s nice too. I love being here, the atmosphere, the people. The Pennington House is beginning to feel like home to me. This place inspires me, it motivates me to work hard. There is a lot to be learned within this house, and I am excited for these upcoming years. But I am amazed by what I have already experienced here.

The paint is peeling, the glass is warped, and the floor creaks like you wouldn’t imagine. But despite its outward appearance, this place is of high integrity. In it, some of the wisest people I have yet to meet, both professors and students, come together to discuss the works of wise people I will never meet. Two years ago I never would have thought that I would be sitting around some giant table with twenty opinionated people discussing what the “darkness” was in Genesis, or whether or not the gods of Greek mythology were rational. We’ve already covered some serious topics, from why God does what he does to wondering if there’s any merit to Plato’s creation story.

These ideas above are serious, thought inducing subjects. But there have been many other, lighter conversations as well. Bible study on Monday nights, in the Pennington House, offers a chance to build fellowship and get to know the Lord better. It offers laughter and song and the chance to experience life together. I love having a place to come hang out, a place to watch movies on the weekends, and do homework in between classes. There’s a community here, and I love being a part of it.

A year ago I had no idea that this community existed. I had never heard of the William Penn Honors Program. But now here I am. It was a long road here, from applications to scholarships to finding the motivation to finish my senior year of high school. When I applied to this program, I knew what I was getting at face value, but I never could have guessed what I would truly get out of this program.

What is Success?

The American culture is focused on the idea of success. As Americans, we place a lot of value on the things that we accomplish. By the time we’re 30 we are expected to have a certain package of achievements, a college degree, maybe even a master’s degree, a career, a spouse, and maybe a kid or two. Different careers define success differently. A successful CEO is looked upon much differently than a successful small business owner. But how is success defined as an author? I think that is a tough question to answer, and it’s certainly one that changes from person to person.

In my opinion, success as an author depends on the purpose behind whatever it is being written, and whether or not the writer is satisfied with their work. The amount of effort put into the paper, as well as the response it receives could also be a measure of its success. When I am writing a paper for school, I define its success on the grade that I get. However, if I am writing a journal entry, my success is measured by how I feel about the writing. I think that both of these types of success can be satisfying in different ways.

In fact, I have kept extensive travel journals on two missions trips that I have been on, and I think that they are very successful. Now, I know that in places, the writing is rudimentary at best. But they helped to express myself on the trips, and they continue to help me remember the trips now. To me, remembering my experiences was the purpose of those pieces of writing. Regardless of their style or grammatical correctness, they serve their purpose, and that is successful to me.

Success is a funny, subjective thing. I think that different people measure success differently, and that can be good or bad. Looking at success only through the lens of a published author can lead to a lot of strife and heartbreak regarding the act of writing. However, I think that if a writer can manage to look at the act of writing itself as a success, they will be happier, and more willing to write. And happy writers make the world go round.

An Aside

“Aside” is a theatre term that describes when a character breaks the fourth wall, the one that separates the audience and the actors, and directly addresses his or her audience. They often involve revelations that the character has during the show, and oftentimes they are very humorous. I’ve seen many theatre performances, and witnessed many asides. However, the idea of an audience in writing is not one I had ever really addressed before this week.

Reading about the whether or not the audience is addressed, or invoked, or some combination of the two has really opened my eyes about one aspect of writing that I don’t know much about. The theory that an audience is imagined took me by surprise. How could it be that my favorite authors didn’t picture me reading their books? Or maybe they did. The more we read and discussed the role of the audience in class, the more I began to see that they play a large part. The more I thought about it, the more I considered my own audience. Who were they, and where did they come from?

I think I have taken for granted that my audience is always just there, almost like a shadow. It’s something that I acknowledge occasionally, but often I just forget about. I assume that my audience is always the same, unchanging, even though I knew subconsciously that they were not.  While in school, who I am writing for definitely influences my word choice and the thought I put into my writing. I know that certain teachers and professors expect certain things from me, and so I cater my writing style to fit what I know they want. Different assignments have different styles, and to me, that meant they had different audiences.

Regardless of how often I took my audience for granted, there is one time I distinctly remember thinking about who I was writing to. Every student in my Senior English class was asked to create one single character with likes and dislikes, careers, and different backstories. Many girls chose to create, or rather remodel, princesses. But I wanted something different. I wanted to write something I would read. Someone wholesome, but who also had inspiring adventures. Someone with good friends and an entirely full passport. And so, Ruth was born. She was the female equivalent of Indiana Jones, but 23 and with a degree in art history. She had two stereotypical sidekicks who secretly liked each other, and she constantly found herself stuck in dire situations with only her wits to save her.

My Ruth Stories never really developed beyond our few short assignments in my English class, but of all the other characters that were created, she was one of my favorites. This is one of my few moments of actual acknowledgement of my audience. I wrote to a girl who was tired of young adult fiction books. I wrote to a girl that wanted more than teenage romance and vampires. I wrote to a girl that would be inspired to learn new things, travel, and meet new people.

I think that I did imagine my audience while writing those short stories. But I’m alright with that, because I wrote to a girl like me.