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My last semester of library school, I opted to do a Professional Field Experience, which is just a ridiculous way to make an internship sound better and less juvenile than it actually is.  The professor who was supervising these PFEs, told us that our grade would be determined by the journal that we kept throughout the course of the semester, and by a poster session at the very end.

This was the first time, in my life, that I heard the term poster session.  I was baffled by why we, grad students, would have to do something so sophomoric and lame.  Plus, how was I supposed to portray reference services and collection development on a damn poster?  Librarianship is not a profession that lends itself to poster sessions, I decided, and then half-assed my way through it.

I asked friends if they had ever had to do a poster session, and my questions were typically met with blank stares and shrugs. One friend told me that she had done dozens of poster sessions because she had a professor who insisted that they would need to know how to do this once they got to grad school.  I still maintain that as a grad student, I should not ever be required to do something that makes me purchase card stock and glue sticks, but whatever, it’s all in the past.

I recently got an email asking for help judging student History Day projects at a fancy parochial school in Providence.  History Day is actually a really rad thing that I would have been terribly lazy about had they done this at my school.  Basically, students pick a topic in history that fits into the overall theme of the year–this year it’s Innovation, and then they do research, present what they’ve learned, and get judged and ranked.  It’s kind of like the science fair, but with history.

Since I’ve had dozens of students come into my library looking terrified and asking for primary sources (note: I also had never heard of primary sources until I was in library school, now they’re all I hear about.  I’m really sick of primary sources), I wanted to see what was made of all of my helpful research guidance. I wrangled a history-loving friend into being my judging buddy, and we set off to assess kids who are getting a much better education than I ever have.

One of the things I really like about History Day besides it forcing kids to do research, is that it gives them options as to how they want to present it.  They can do a documentary film, a live-action play, a paper, website, or exhibit.  Naturally, I was excited to see what they came up with, and what I ended up judging over the course of my two hours, was about eight poster sessions.

What absolutely killed me about the whole experience, was how well these kids did.  Not only were their posters much better designed than my own had been–and I mean designed, very few tri-fold boards here, rather elaborate configurations that spun, and spoke volumes in a single placard–but the presenters were as poised as motivational speakers and beauty pageant contestants.  Even the group who had not typed a bibliography, and clearly had slacked as much as a group can, still sold me on why their project was obviously the best using a vocabulary and slick confidence that made me feel like I would be a fool to not give them top marks.

It was a heady experience having all of these achievers kissing my ass for two hours on a Thursday morning, but I couldn’t help but feel a hint of the dread that so many librarians seemed to feel when meeting me, the eager library student full of new ideas and technical wizardry–this kid wants my job.  Frankly, I think I’m ok with letting these kids be my leaders because they seem scarily competent, and the ones that are just faking it, will probably burn out before age 25.  They’ve mastered poster sessions, that’s for sure, they have the keys to the kingdom.

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I am the type of person who requires structure in order to accomplish things.  I can be spontaneous, but as a person who only works 19 hours per week, and wants to use the rest of that time not just lolling around like a moron, I need to make a plan.  Basically, what I need to do is make my house more like school.  I need to set goals and meet them.  I need to try to actually focus while meeting these goals, and I need to not feel like I’m wasting my days.

To that end, I painted my office.  It is now a lovely shade of blue (see picture), and completely cleaned and organized since I needed to move things around to gain access to the walls.  I’ve decided that I’m going to start writing fiction again (since I haven’t really written any fiction since finishing my MFA, and I fear that if I don’t make a conscious effort, I will never do it again), work on getting better at Spanish (which is also on my list of life goals–not fluent, just better at), keep up with my out-of-work responsibilities, and generally just be more organized and focused.

Some good things that have come out of these changes. One is that I’m moving around more.  I’m leaving my laptop on my desk, where I’m not buried under cat and blanket and I can therefore get up more frequently and easily.  When I’m reading in my chair, I’m more focused, since my computer is not right next to me.  It used to be that I would be reading, then get distracted by facebook etc, and eventually place the book on my lap with the computer over it, and get no reading done at all.

The bad things that have come out of this new scheme are some that I hadn’t anticipated:

  • Watson (kitty) is seriously mad at me since he cannot sit on my lap while I’m sitting at my desk.  Typical day’s routine usually consisted of me sitting in my chair with laptop and books nearby, and Wee Watson sleeping adorably on my legs.  Now, in his rage at being denied this, he nips at my ankles and squawks loudly and plaintively.  It does not create an environment conducive to concentration.
  • My back is killing me.  I sit in a desk chair at work, but never for very long at one go.  I bought this desk chair that I have at IKEA and have never found it to be uncomfortable before, but apparently I’ve gotten soft.  My back is in agony from keeping myself seated, and my core muscles (apparently you use different ones for sitting as opposed to running or pilates??) are exhausted.  I did not anticipate that sitting would be so difficult for me.

Aside from these rather ridiculous setbacks, things are going pretty well.  I woke up early yesterday, got all my tax information together and sent that off to my accountant (hilarious that I have an accountant since I have no money, but it is what it is).  I ran seven miles, had a lovely lunch, discovered that the online Spanish learning program that I’m using has a section for slang and swear words and spent some time with that, then read two books and started a third.

It’s a solid start.

Before I even graduated High School, I decided that I was going to do the six-year plan for college.  This wasn’t six year track, like a pre-med program or anything like that; I just decided that college was where I wanted to be and I was digging my heels in and staying forever.  Unfortunately, in my fifth year, they lowered the number of credits required to graduate, and even though I had reduced the number of credits I took each semester to just part-time, I still had enough to graduate.  I had completed everything required for my major, and my general electives, so my last semester where I planned to take some silly but interesting classes to fulfill the general electives category of my graduate application, were dashed against the rocks.

When my advisor told me this, he acted as if he was giving me a tremendous gift, but I felt more like I was being punched slowly and repeatedly in the stomach.  I was not ready to be a grown-up and get a real job.  If I wasn’t a student, then working at Barnes & Noble would be the only thing I did.  I would no longer get to tell myself that I was just working there to pay the bills while I worked on loftier (as yet undiscovered goals).  I would be a girl, with an English degree, working at Barnes & Noble, which is the saddest girl one can be.

“What do I do?”  I asked my advisor in a gulpy, terrified panic.  “Can’t I just take one more semester to figure things out?”

“You could get an MFA.” he suggested.

MFA, grad school, that actually is something that people do forever.  I hemmed and hawed for a while before deciding to take the plunge, and eventually convinced myself (actually, it was more like coming up with a story to please my parents) that I wanted to work in publishing after finishing this MFA, so the certificate in publishing that came with it was certainly something I needed; I wasn’t a very good editor, and this would allow me to hone my skills; and I would be forced to get more writing done because I could see any momentum I’d built up over the years fizzling away immediately after graduation.

So I did it, I graduated in December and began grad school three weeks later, still not 100% certain what I had gotten myself into.  I’d been a bit cocky as an undergrad, gotten a lot of praise from both professors and fellow students, so I expected the MFA to be a bit more of the same.  Instead, the program was full of people who were both more talented and more prolific than me, which made me work harder and stop being such a dumbass.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but left me with a high sense of accomplishment, and, after graduation, a crushing sense that I was even less prepared for real life than I had been before.

Added to that, was the fact that no one seemed to understand what this degree was.  Every time I said MFA, people assumed I was a painter, or sculpter.  Eventually I just started cramming it all together “I have an MFA in fiction and screenwriting with a certificate in publishing.”  Usually, that stopped any confusion, except in the case of a former co-worker who seemed not to hear it and then kept mentioning art, artists, and other things of that ilk.  I just smiled and nodded.

Then something strange happened, the MFA in writing started be the thing.  Everyone wanted one and programs were cropping up all over the place.  When I started working for Distance Learning at URI, I explained to my boss what my degree was, and he interrupted me in the middle of my long explanation to show me a higher education magazine that had ads for at least five MFA programs.  “We’re actually trying to start one here at URI,” he told me, “Because they’re such a low-overhead moneymaker.  You can consult on it.”

This did not make me feel very good, though the thought of being a consultant has always appealed to me.

On one hand, I’m glad that people now understand my degree, but on the other hand it feels quite demeaning.  If there are tons of programs seeking out people willing to pay tuition, then there will tons of people out there who probably did not work nearly as hard as me or my fellow students did.  I’m not special anymore.  The romantic notion of it is appealing– taking time to write and find your voice, etc., but it’s actually incredibly grueling, and I never sat in “a room of my own” trying to find the perfect words, instead I holed up on the fourth floor of the library in the most uncomfortable chairs known to man ending up with a bruised spine, or plunked myself down on the couch listening to the Gilmore Girls and trying to figure out how to end my stories (I’m still terrible at that).  My fellow students and I also drank–a lot.

Added to the demands of writing different creative works for different classes–Fiction, screenwriting or playwriting, sometimes YA fiction, sometimes creative non-fiction; you’d also have to read your fellow classmates work and offer insightful critique.  That was usually 100 pages a week of first drafts where even the author wasn’t sure where the thing was going, or chapters of novels that you hadn’t read in a month and couldn’t keep the characters straight.  In addition to that, I had three jobs.

So whenever I say that I have an MFA and people get a  jealous, far-away look in their eyes, I want to grab them by the ears and scream “It was a lot of work, damnit!”  I can easily say that finishing that degree was the hardest thing I’ve done to date, but was also completely worth it because even though it may never actually help me get a job, it forced me to grow up, actually let other people read stuff I’ve written, and take criticism.

In tribute to my master’s thesis, I have no idea how to end this blog.  So there you go.

novelty diploma_bannerI graduated in May.  I actually graduated–no holds, no more things to complete, no “graduation pending…” I am officially done with the URI GSLIS program.  Except I have no way to prove it.

I did not attend the graduation ceremony, I was actually in Fargo running a half marathon that morning, so I didn’t get my diploma.  So I waited for them to mail it to me.  I’m still waiting.

Since it usually took 4 months or more to get my diplomas from MSUM, I wasn’t really too concerned about the delay.  That is, until Jewish Friend told me that she got hers at the beginning of July.

Somehow, the delivery of my diploma directly coincided with my move, and I still don’t have the damn thing.  Upon inspecting Jewish Friend’s, I realize that it’s actually far too big to fit in the mail slot of my old house, so that means that either the mailman left it outside and it was stolen, or the post office sent it back to URI.  I called former landlady and left a very polite message asking if it was delivered, and got no response.  She hasn’t changed.

I called URI and explained my problem to them–they told me to call the post office. “It’s so big, they’re bound to notice it.” the woman assured me.  Because the post office never sees 8 1/2 x 11″ envelopes come through its doors.  So that phone call was unhelpful, and when I tried to ask over and over if there was any way to check and see if it was sent back to URI, she kept interrupting me with more details of how the post office works.

According to a friend who used to have a quasi-lucrative business selling books over the internet: URI is responsible for getting me my diploma- that falls on the sender, that’s why there’s delivery confirmation insurance; if my landlady is withholding my diploma through her own laziness–that’s mail fraud; if my old neighbors stole it, they can display it right next to my business cards and whatever else they’ve hoarded over the years since they don’t care about committing felonies.

I just wonder how much yelling I’m going to have to do to acquire something that I paid a lot of money for, that I already worked very hard for, and that is useless to anyone but me.  At least it’s not like it used to be where librarians actually have to carry their diplomas to job interviews to prove qualifications–that would but a serious delay on this whole “getting my life started plan.”

This summer, since I have a lot of time on my hands, I decided to do something charitable.  It’s really no different than how I would ever spend a summer of underemployment, but it’s a warm and fuzzie way to legitimize all this reading for pleasure that I plan to do.

What it is is the Not About the Buildings summer read-a-thon.  Not About the Buildings is a non-profit/run by volunteers organization dedicated to promoting literacy in Providence.  It was founded in 2006 as a response to the completely lousy way Providence Public Library has been running its organization.  This is a problem that has been ongoing, and has received national attention (at least in library land).

Basically, PPL voted to close 2/3 of its branches claiming that it couldn’t afford to run them anymore though Library Director Dale Thompson makes an annual salary higher than those of Mayor David Cicilline or Governor Don Carcieri. These were branches in the poorest neighborhoods, very relied upon by the people who lived there. Thankfully, the branches still haven’t been closed (except one), and are now being taken over by a different non-profit group that actually wants to act like a library.

I live within 700 feet of one of the branches on the chopping block, and can say firsthand, that the building is heavily used.  After school and in the summer, it is teeming with kids who have nowhere else to go (sometimes they hang out in my landlady’s potting shed until the police come).  It still doesn’t have air-conditioning, so on days when it’s too hot, it has to shut down.

When I first moved to Providence, I was in there every day using the internet because my laptop cord was fried, my replacement had been stolen, and the library is the only place in Providence where you can go and use a computer with internet.  The nearest library branch to this one is over a mile away through a less-than-delightful neighborhood, or all the way downtown where walking is hazardous to even the most mindful pedestrian.

Since the branches are being taken care of, this summer read-a-thon benefits The Providence chapter of Books through Bars, which is a program that provides reading material to prisoners.  More than 2/3 of the more than 2 million state and federal prisoners in the U.S. are sub-literate, and more than half lack a high school education.  This means that upon re-entering society, these people will remain unemployable, and more likely to re-offend.

Anyway, this is something that is very important to me, and if you are interested, you can sponsor my reading here.  Or if you’d rather sponsor someone else– please do!  It makes me really uncomfortable to ask anyone for money, and I know times are tough (believe me), so I’m only going to ask once, and get back to my reading.

This is the week where I can truly take my slacking to a new level.  I have done the absolute bare minimum of homework up to this point, and have also started freaking out about my sloth while re-watching old episisodes of Friends and planning home improvement projects.  My apartment hasn’t been this clean in a long time, and I’m doing laundry regularly— All in an effort to avoid homework.

So now that it’s officially Spring Break and I can officially slack (or, as some think, get ahead on homework), I’m taking this full on.  I have a stack of books and DVDs that I’m going to read/watch for pure pleasure rather than to learn anything; I’m going to run for as long as I want every single day and not feel guilty because I can’t read or research while I’m doing it; and I’m going to paint my front room a lovely shade of light blue.

All of this, coupled with the extra light in the evening, will jump-start my ambition clock, and make me actually do homework for once, not just agonize about that fact that I’m not to the point of giving myself blinding headaches.

Yesterday, I read, ran, did some laundry, and then made home-made macaroni and cheese while listening to This American Life“Stuff White People Like” living at it’s best, I’d say.  Then Gentleman Caller and I had a lovely meal of the aforementioned mac and cheese, salad, vinho verde, and went to pub quiz where we failed miserably due to our atheism and lack of knowledge about Catholic Saints.  I say whatever.

Point is, I need this.  Regardless of my dim job prospects, for this week only, I’m going to pretend that I’m a grownup.

I think it will be lovely.

Some in the blogosphere tend to do a Year in Review type of thing this time of year.  To them I say– I have an entire years worth of blogs that people should spend time re-reading, I will compose no list of the noteworthy events, there are just too many!  Actually, I feel like that’s something I should have done yesterday, and I didn’t, cause I am lazy and on vacation from school.

Instead I will look to the future rather than dwelling on the past.  This is how I try to live my life (insert grandiose tone here), and as the past is past and unchangeable, the future is the thing!  Resolutions tend to be trite, predictable, and annoying, and rarely pan out, so instead I’m going to call these goals.

1. Graduate from grad school and not reapply for more grad school.

I’m not going to plan to get a real job because I’m aware of the economic climate, but I’m not going to bury my head in the sand of academia anymore unless that academia is paying me for a change.

2. Run 700 miles.

My father spent the last year running 1000 miles, and last time I spoke to him on the phone he referred to his little goal as “just trying to get this thing done”.  I think 700 is much more manageable, especially since after I graduate, I probably won’t be able to get a job– lots of free time.

3. Read 150 books.

Last time I challenged myself to read a certain number of books, that number was a mere 100.  That’s because I didn’t start til May.  Starting in January means I only have to read 2.88 books per week– I scoff at that number.

That’s all, those are my only read concrete goals. Although I do plan on getting a lot of other stuff done, it would be boring to write down and read about.

Among the resolutions I’m not making are most of the list of the top 10 New Years Resolutions obtained by doing a quick google search.

1. Spend more time with friends and family.

I moved 1800 miles away from my family, and we’ve never gotten along better.  I already spend plenty of time with my friends, and will continue to maintain that.

2. Fit in fitness.

Well, that kind of is one of my goals, but it’s not a new thing.  I will not be among the thousands of Americans visiting the gym for the first time in years, I will be among the Americans that were there all along and find these people annoying.

3. Tame the bulge.

I don’t own a scale, and I’m certainly not going to spend money on one.  The bulges I already have are probably there for good, and too much work to get rid of.  I say they give me character.

4. Quit smoking.

I’ve quit smoking 1/2 dozen times– it’s no longer an issue.

5. Enjoy life more.

My life is already the envy of many, and I like it too.

6. Quit drinking.

No.

7. Get out of debt.

Not possible in one year’s time, especially since I’ll be borrowing more money for school.

8. Learn something new.

I try to do that every day already.

9. Help others.

Meh. That really doesn’t sound like me, although I am going into a rather altruistic profession.

10. Get organized.

I accomplished this one by moving across country with only what fit in my car, and then remaining in poverty thus unable to buy things. Done.

  • Far too much reading is expected of me
  • I am not getting the reverence and respect I deserve from the 1st years
  • I should be doing the reading with this downtime that I have, but just cannot be bothered– that will most likely catch up with me very soon
  • I have three of my four classes (maybe it’s all four–she’s very plain)  with a girl who’s name I cannot remember, but who seems to regard me as some kind of kindred spirit.  I worry about this because she seems very, very angry
  • Mostly, I just want to read Nancy Drew books and other juvenile lit, then solve mysteries and have adventures
  • Unlike previous semesters, I don’t have any obvious weirdos in any of my classes.  This worries me and makes me feel like I must be getting weirder and therefore less able to discern.  I mean, a lot of the people are odd, but with the exception of angry girl, who is easy to ignore, no one really stands out.
  • I really have no idea how to write an annotated bibliography, which seems to be all one does in library school.

This summer has done nothing to regurgitate my enthusiasm for school. I realized, yesterday, that the air had that first “hint of fall” smell to it, and I needed more than just a sheet to keep warm at night. Naturally, my first response was to shut off all fans (also, I just got my electric bill), turn down the temperature on the fridge, and cuddle up under my fleece blanket with a Gothic novel and a cup of tea. I have extreme reactions to fall, and very specific needs to be met.

The problem is, fall is my favorite time of year, and it’s when school starts. Sure, there’s a part of me that can’t wait to put on something “collegiate” and powerwalk downtown to throw in my two cents in Information Ethics, but the other part of me is incredibly lazy and rather dreading the amount of work I have in store for me this semester.

I’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, that I will be my professor’s “shining star” in two of my four classes. While I appreciate the sentiment, and confidence in my abilities, I know how academically lazy I can be and how sometimes professors figure that out.

I admit, I’ve been a bit bored this summer. I’ve been working a lot, and reading a lot, and socializing, and having adventures– but I always get a bit of the summer malaise if I feel I’m not accomplishing anything. I should be giddy at the chance to show off my smarts to a new batch of semi-literate colleagues. Sadly, I just can’t psyche myself up.

Instead of focusing on all the cool things I get to learn– Administration of Archives, History of Books and Printing– I’m bogged down by the thought or groupwork, and paper writing, and presentations.

I still haven’t finished A Passage to India (it’s just so boring, just like I remember), nor have I watched the movie– how can it possibly be time to go back ?!

I am a whiner, officially.

I start my new job on Monday, but still do technically have 2 weeks of freedom before classes begin. In that time I will:

  • have superfun adventure Boston birthday
  • celebrate Jewish Friend’s birthday by buying her nothing but reminding her that her keeping the book that I shipped to her house (since my neighbors steal all packages that come to my place)– she managed to get a birthday present despite my intentions
  • finish reading the Babysitter’s Club series (just three left out of, like, 50 that I read this summer– I don’t recommend it, they don’t stand the test of time)
  • read Anne of Green Gables for discussion with Sassy Redhead Friend
  • try to get into the proper headspace where I can be someone’s “shining star”
  • pick out an outfit for the first day of school
  • relax, as best I can

I haven’t spent a lot of time around home-schooled kids, because, why would I? Home-schooled kids in my hometown (and I imagine all towns) were always at home. They weren’t involved in any after-school activities, and no one in their peer group really knew they existed. The most immediate experience I have with home-schooled kids is that episode of South Park where they have the spelling bee and the homeschoolers sweep it. There are two of them in the episode, I think, a brother and sister. They’re both freakishly knowledgeable, but socially awkward and twitchy.

That is the reason that I am vehemently anti-home-schooling. As painful as public school is, the socialization element is crucial. My public school education was woefully sub-par (there was a lot of coloring and other assorted art projects), and I was tortured by the other kids, but I would never take it back or change it (well, I would like to have had a better education, but I had a lot of downtime to read, which was really all I cared about) because it made me the well-adjusted adult I am today. My thoughts are, educate your kids at home as well; don’t expect the schools to do everything, and make sure they learn how to learn and love learning while they get the invaluable and unteachable social lessons that come with formal education.

It doesn’t matter how much you know, if you can’t have a casual conversation with someone, and/or deal with life if it’s less than rosy.

At the public library, we’re in full-swing with the summer reading program. The way it works is that kids sign up, they read and report the reading to us, then we give them prizes– pretty straightforward. A couple weeks ago, I signed up a whole family of home-schooled kids.

One of the other elements of the SRP is that kids set a reading goal, somewhere between 15 and 50 hours that they commit to read before the big finale party. Many kids get terrified when I tell them that 15 hours of reading is the minimum, they start to second guess whether or not it’s all worth it, but eventually give in and sign up anyway (usually with prodding/orders from mom). A lot of kids who have done the program before realize that 15 hours over the course of 2 months is nothing and commit to 20-30. These home-schooled kids– all of whom have odd, religious names– just blinked at me and said “50 hours, I can’t read more than that?”

“Of course you can,” I replied, “We just record only up to 50 hours.”

A couple weeks later, I was at the desk when they came in to report. Each of the reading log sheets has nine hours worth of boxes for the kids to check off– oldest home-schooled kid had filled one and half sheets, in one week. Most kids do about two to three hours of reading, he had done twelve and assured me he would have done more had the family not gone on vacation.

“I’ll give you two more sheets then, for next week.” I told him, “Do you think that will be enough?”

“Maybe.” he responded with a dorky horsey-sounding laugh.

I love kids who love reading; I get excited to talk about books with them and make recommendations– but this kid, I wanted to beat up and take his lunch money, which is probably what would happen to him daily if he actually went to real school.