Category Archives: school

Practically Twitching…

Right around now people are beginning to hear back about graduate admissions. I have not heard anything yet from any of my schools, and my immediate friends have not either. As soon as applications were submitted I knew it was just a matter of waiting, and pushed it all out of my mind, being reminded of it only when technical problems arose. In fact, just a few days ago one of my schools lost my letters of recommendation and I had to contact all three of my letter writers asking them to resubmit. At least it is not just me, and the same things have been happening to numerous other friends, meaning I am not a complete idiot who can’t get applications right.

However, as the days pass it is getting harder and harder to not think about it, and the anticipation is making me rather jittery. As I compulsively check my email every five minutes I am practically twitching. I know sitting here and staring at my email, refreshing the page every little while won’t make it come any faster, but when it does, I will know immediately. I know all of my emails go directly to my phone, so I will hear it buzz as soon as something comes through, but just in case I don’t hear my phone I have set my email up on every single device available to me.

I told myself I wouldn’t do this. Two months ago as I was talking to people about it, I was so nonchalant. “Well, I sent them everything. It is out of my hands now. I will hear when I hear.” *Shrug* Everyone was impressed with my calm and collected demeanor. Some were even jealous at my mellowness. Oh, if only they could see me now! Oh wait, they do see me now. And they are doing the same thing.

In fact most conversation I have with friends nowadays start with “so, have you heard yet?” and others completely revolve around listing schools at each other. We go out to dinner just so we can talk about applications we have not heard back on, and torment ourselves by going online and visiting websites that list which schools have announced their decisions already.

Any day now.

Not the Same Thing

Today I had a student come into my office very upset because our placement process was inaccurate. Apparently she attended a different institution before, took a freshman English class, and was now trying to take a different class for some sort of program where I work, but she has now tried taking this class several times and continues to fail it. Somehow this is my fault, even though I had nothing to do with her taking this class, nor was I her instructor.

She was not explaining her situation very well, so I had to do some digging to figure out what happened. She went to the same institution from which I got my MA, but I am thoroughly unfamiliar with how their undergrad courses work. She gave me numbers and I gave her a blank stare because none of that meant anything to me. Something about a cohort freshman comp course that she could not pass the second part of, and thus changed schools to take the equivalent, and unfortunately couldn’t pass it then either. I was forced to figure out course sequencing at the other school so I could establish equivalency.

So, I figured out that their 115 course is freshman comp. Okay. Then they have a 114 course, which I took to mean “right below freshman comp.” Okay. The course this girl could not pass anywhere is their 113, which I then placed below their 114, which is below 115 . This is how you count, right? This makes sense to someone other than me, no?

However, we have all these fancy state websites to consult in order to make sure I do my equivalencies properly. I looked, and as it turns out their English department wasn’t counting when creating the courses, because all three of these are the same thing. So I got on the phone with their articulations officer to ask “why do you have three different numbers for the same class? Why?” She told me that they are in fact the same. Yes, well I figured that out myself. But why??

Then I texted a friend who teaches there and asked her the same question. She explained that students in 115 got the highest placement scores. The 114 students got lower scores and the 113 course is below that.

Okay, so apparently we are back to 115 is the highest, 114 is below that, and 113 is even lower. Which would mean that if you test into 113, you have to work your way up to 115. If some students test into 115 and other students test into 113, it would make sense that the 113 students be worked harder until they reach 115 level and everyone goes from there, no? I have spoken to four different people today, and this concept makes sense only to me.

I then texted a different friend and asked her if the 113 class works them harder while the 115 students get to take a break because they did better on their tests (I was trying very hard to rationalize all of this).

No, the 113 class is easier than the 115 class, because they are both worked to their abilities.

So, that means they are not the same class! I return to the first friend and ask for more clarification. She explained the reasoning behind all of this was to destigmatize remedial coursework, so everyone takes the same class but the different numbers cater to their levels. So…. that means they are not the same class!!

I know freshman comp is an abstract concept, so let’s look at this in a different, perhaps more concrete way. It would be the equivalent of needing college math to graduate, but you only know basic arithmetic, so you take a pre-algebra course and get credit for college math. How is this possible? I know I must be missing some very important piece of information because this cannot just be a thing that exists. There has to be some sort of caveat or fine print or something.

I am not sure why I am so bothered by this, but I am. And I will figure it out.

Object Fetish

I am writing my statement of purpose for a second school, realizing that it must be altered each time more than I had originally thought. What is my purpose? Depends where I am applying. They want to know who I want to work with at their institution and what I want to work on. So I look through the faculty pages, find what everyone specializes in, and research the ones closest to my own interests. At the school I am writing my current statement for there is only one professor even moderately close to what I am considering.

My interests in medieval manuscripts may have been relevant sixty years ago. Such studies were huge in the 40’s and 50’s, with entire five, eight and ten volume sets being written and poured over in all corners of academia. The professor who had originally gotten me into this had himself written his dissertation on the topic in the late 50’s at the height of manuscript frenzy. I was at an institution that was still at the residual end of these studies. It still is, but less so. When applying to them again I didn’t have to alter much. My interests are the same now as they were then, simply with more finesse and better honed, and this school still has the faculty and resources to properly help me develop it further.
The other schools however require a little more finagling on my part. So at School B, after having read some of this professor’s works and skimming others I realize that the closest I will get to a medieval manuscript while working with him is by looking at the object itself.
My fascination with manuscripts is odd in that it relies on a very narrow take of manuscript studies. I am more concerned with the building aspect, the logistics of manuscript creation, than anything else. So why not extrapolate it further? This professor works with literature as a commodity fetish. The physical book, as a personal possession for private use becomes an object of interest in and of itself, independent of the actual text it contains. Isn’t that what my whole obsession with manuscripts is? A niche fetish concerned with the object itself? Sort of.
I had always thought it was a rather bizarre fascination, especially since so few others share it, and looking at it this way made the most sense. I had never thought of manuscripts or books as commodities, but if you consider their origin and the purposes for which they were written, and later pressed, and sold and disseminated, it goes far beyond the sharing of ideas via text. The work’s relevance becomes interwoven and oscillates between the actual text contained and the fetishism of the physical object with enjoyment derived from its personal possession and use.

About eight months ago I wrote this post. I didn’t know it then, but I essentially outlined this very theory in my own relationship with literature.

Maybe I am more tactile than others, but when I love a book, I don’t just love what it says, but the way it feels, and smells, how it becomes worn, my marginalia sometimes faded and reapplied, the way I highlight sections, and the cover. For me reading is a physical experience. Even after I got my Kindle I rarely if ever use it, and when I do it has more to do with not wanting to carry a book around, but I probably still have a copy of it at home. So if I have this kind of experience with mass produced paperbacks, how can it not be argued that a similar fetishism didn’t exist with medieval manuscripts that were far more elaborate and meticulously crafted? The process of creating the manuscripts as taken on by different scribes (most manuscripts were created by a series of scribes, each with their own specialty, such as letter writing, head letter writing, illuminating, coloring, etc.) was a process in which each one took pride, and the ownership of such works harbored a similar pride. However, despite the length it took to create these pieces, manuscripts then were not treated as they are now. For us they are rare and must be kept in certain conditions, but then they were simply a part of the household, written in, played with, and (some might argue) defaced in a similar fashion as what I do to my own books when scrawling notes across pages or otherwise altering them. I don’t do these things because I don’t believe my books have value, but simply because that is how I enjoy them most. Just like others six and seven hundred years ago interacted with their manuscripts, writing across gold-leaf illuminations, and scribbling on the edges of nearly perfectly penned text. In fact you can trace ownership of some manuscripts simply by tracing who had written in them over the years (e.g. Lansdowne MS of the Canterbury Tales).
And since I apparently really like working my way into a corner, I will narrow the argument down even further to solely look at the ways in which this fetishism moved from manuscript to novel. Not that other texts weren’t being similarly commodified, but I think the relationship between owner and manuscript is most closely paralleled between owner and novel (taking into account that most manuscripts were not in fact stories, or thought to be fictitious in the least). This latter part relies on the amount of enjoyment derived from the work in consuming it, and also possessing it. The novel is a form of entertainment, and sometimes, depending on the point in time you are looking into, it was a secret pleasure to be delighted in behind closed doors. The mere possession of a book, much less a novel, contains a rich history, and as private libraries became public, acquired by historians and museums, the commodification of books becomes of central importance.So I guess I am not really altering my interests as much as repositioning them to be looked at from a different angle. Interesting.