Coming to a Close

© Kylee Parks 2016
© Kylee Parks 2016

Summer sauntered. Autumn arrived. Winter wept.

So…it’s been a while. While I want to write regularly, it’s difficult to find the motivation to shout into the void (particularly when I post on Twitter instead). But as the end of the year draws near, I think perhaps I’d like to document my midnight thoughts.

I finished my fall semester with an A in each of my classes and what I hope are interesting term papers. My doctoral applications have been submitted (save one) but I still need to work on my summer research application. I’m currently fielding conference invitations to share the research that I am neglecting in order to finish the chapter manuscript due at the end of this month. I have one semester left of my program before I am officially considered a “Master.” Hopefully I know where my future leads by the time I graduate.

Sewing is at a standstill. I have numerous unfinished costumes and yet I continue to come up with new ideas and projects. Sometimes I imagine that a dedicated craft space would result in more finished work but more likely it would mean an even larger fabric stash and more half-sewn garments.

At the beginning of the year, I gave myself a fairly modest Goodreads challenge and I’m happy to report that I read more than my anticipated goal of twenty books. As of right now, my count is 37 books (though three are textbooks I did not finish but of which I read a great deal). I read fifteen collections of poetry and am especially fond of the wise words in Lang Leav’s The Universe of Us. There are seven books in-progress, two of which were nearly finished for my medieval literature class. Currently stacked on my desk are seven books I hopeto finish before my next semester begins. They are as follows (in no particular order):

  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis (in progress)
  • Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon (in progress)
  • Fixing English by Anne Curzan (in progress)
  • How to Read a Poem (And Fall in Love with Poetry) by Edward Hirsch (in progress)
  • Four Romances of England edited by Herzman, Drake, and Salisbury (only dear Bevis left to be read)
  • Insular Romance by Susan Crane (briefly skimmed)
  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (not yet started)

Of course, I’m also reading A Storm of Swords and I wholeheartedly blame my sudden interest in A Song of Ice and Fire on Game of Thrones Book Club with Practical Folks. If you haven’t yet seen any episodes, there’s a special guest on AGOT episodes eight and nine (hint: it’s me).

I travelled frequently this year, primarily to Seattle but I also explored Portland, Orlando, and more of my home: southern California. While in Florida, Kylee shot a fine art series titled “Whispering” which can be seen in full at Colfox Photography. The featured image at the top of this post is from that series and I am always blown away by Kylee’s work.

I hope to put together a chapbook of my own poetry next year, featuring what I consider my best works of recent years. I’m caught between spatial experimentation in my newer works and the emotional weight of my older ones. Hopefully working on a small collection will help me to bring that distance together. I’m slowly becoming more comfortable sharing my poems because, while sharing my poetry is hard, pretending I don’t want to is harder.

I have little else to say and I have started most of these sentences with “I” so, as it is now nearing the end of the midnight hour, good night.


On Becoming a Scholar-Fan

As my final for one of my M.A. classes, I opted to do a research project about cosplay. During my research project, I found Tanya Cochran’s dissertation “Toward a Rhetoric of Scholar-Fandom” and it spoke to me.

In her prologue, she shares her personal history and development as a fan and a scholar, which I found particularly helpful to better understand myself:

Can an academic feel “at home”? I mean, feel so at home that there is no distinction in her mind between public and private, no difference between what she does and who she is, even if what she does is write and teach in academia and who she is is a Christian, a woman, a scholar, a feminist, and a fan? (11)

I share all of Dr. Cochran’s labeled identities, though I would add medievalist and cosplayer to the mix. What does it mean to be all of these things and is there a way to synthesize these facets of myself in order to better understand myself as a whole, singular identity, rather than the sum of parts?

As I move forward as a cosplayer and an academic, I’m going to look for ways to meld the two since I am but one person with many varied interests. I want to feel at home as any of my identities in all of my interests. I hope to share my work as a scholar-fan, applying my academic skills to my fandom life.

I’m still working my way through her dissertation because, as a burgeoning scholar-fan, I want to read the whole thing. I’m still thinking about the ways that I can speak authoritatively as a negotiator between was Jacqueline Jones Royster calls “contact zones.” And, perhaps most excitingly, I’m looking forward to the ways I will participate in fandom as an academic and in academia as a fan.

Works Cited
Cochran, Tanya R., “Toward a Rhetoric of Scholar-Fandom.” Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2009.
Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. 1117-1127. Print.

One Month Left

There are only four weeks left in the semester and I’m starting to feel the crunch. I’ve yet to begin the final project for my Linguistics course. There’s a rather large pile of articles and books for me to read, which will support the yet-to-be-started final project for my Rhetoric and Composition course. Next week, I’ll receive the prompts for the final essays in my Critical Theory course. Meanwhile, I haven’t worked on my AEME assignments since January and I’ve done very little sewing aside from a half-finished corset and 15 hours of hand beading trim for a dress.

My midterm essays for my critical theory class were returned this week. I wrote about reader-response theory for one and Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych for the other. They received an A and A-, respectively. While I’m more than content with my grades, I do wonder about the purpose of an A-. What does that minus sign signify?

Over the past two weeks, I also presented at two academic conferences. I took a shortened version of my analysis of the Pardoner from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to CSU Long Beach. The next week, I cut down my paper on Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room for presentation at CSU Northridge, my home school. Both conferences were vastly enjoyable for me and I look forward to future conference presentations.

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I’ll be presenting an original research project (the aforementioned rhet/comp final project) this summer at Anime Expo‘s Anime and Manga Studies Symposium. I have my primary argument and a stockpile of articles, books, and dissertations to read. I just need to find the time to read them, write my analysis, and prepare the web portion before it’s due in May. Oh, and prepare the AX presentation component (but I’m going to worry about that part after the semester ends).

There are four weeks left in the semester. Wish me luck.

No Apologies Tonight

Taken by KNP Photography, February 2016.

I know it’s been quiet here. I don’t have much to say right now. I have a lot of ideas and partially written posts but I just don’t feel the energy to do anything. I haven’t worked on my midterm papers for my classes. I haven’t contributed to the research project I’m working on with my professor. I haven’t prepped either of the conference presentations coming up in a few weeks.

This week was my spring break – a much needed pause from the hectic whirlwind of my graduate life. I should have used that time to complete my rather long list of course-related projects as well as a variety of personal projects. But I didn’t. I just didn’t.

And I don’t feel bad about it. Well, I don’t feel bad about it today. I probably will tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that too. I imagine that my own procrastination will loom over me until the end of the semester.

But today, I don’t feel bad. I needed the rest. I needed to be able to mentally check out and let myself be carried through the week without worrying about due dates.

I’m worn out. I’m exhausted and beaten down and worn out. For once, I don’t want to apologize for it. Tomorrow I probably will but not tonight.

Currently listening to Devin Sinha’s album, Our Past and Present Futures.

Getting Grammatical

If I haven’t already mentioned it, I’m taking a class on Rhetoric and Composition Theory for my Masters. We’re looking at the conversation between historical rhetorical studies and composition studies, which are both entirely out of my comfort zone. My emphasis is literature (specifically, medieval) so forging my way through rhetoric and composition isn’t exactly easy. To be honest, reading composition theory can sometimes more challenging than reading literary theory (but only sometimes).

This week, my professor paired Patrick Hartwell’s 1985 “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar” with our readings on Renaissance rhetoric. While I haven’t yet drawn the connection between the two, I was intrigued by Hartwell’s article (and way more than Peter Ramus and Francis Bacon combined).

Since I’m also taking a course on linguistics right now, this article spoke to the ideas of that course, not only in the “Grammar 1” and “Grammar 2” sections, but also in the general idea that formal grammar education is less helpful than we think it. I loved Hartwell’s point about “redefining error,” since I think that’s indicative of most grammatical issues. Most of the time, I can’t recite specific grammar rules because I never really learned them explicitly. I learned through acquisition and internalization. Besides, my linguistics professor says that prescriptive rules aren’t really worth their weight and I’m inclined to agree.

While I’m sure that I did receive formal training, I never did sentence diagramming or the likes. Sure, maybe my writing is weaker because of it but I don’t feel that I’m a poorer writer as a result of never diagramming. Maybe I can’t toss out the terminology but I can pretty much work out how a sentence works without having that terminology. And is that a bad thing, really?

Ideally, I would hope that my students can likewise internalize grammar rather than recite by rote. As my I prepare lesson plans for a beginning composition class full of non-native English speakers, I’m hesitant to use rigid rules or complex worksheets. If I can’t explain it in my own terminology and have to rely entirely on unfamiliar words, I can’t help them learn. And I want to help them learn. I don’t really have a good idea for how to do just that, so I’m definitely welcoming suggestions.

On Being “Smart Enough”

I’m a graduate student and usually that just means I’m pursuing an additional degree specialization beyond a standard B.A. But some days it means that I’m reanalyzing my view of myself and adjusting my expectations of my intelligence in accordance with my peers.

I’m in my second of four semesters pursuing a Masters of English Literature at a local state university. With three grad level courses per semester, my academic muscles get the practice they’ve been sorely lacking since I finished undergrad. I’m pursuing research opportunities, teaching supplemental composition classes, and reading an endless list of CFPs.

But more than that, I’m dismantling the idea that I am “not-(       )-enough.” A few weeks ago, I submitted an abstract to a nearby academic conference. The paper I proposed is one that I wrote three years ago and, more likely than not, need to rewrite in the time preceding the conference. I received an invitation to present at this conference yesterday morning and I was floored. It’s not that I expected to be accepted, but that I expected to not be accepted. I was viewing myself as clearly not-(articulate, intelligent, accomplished, etc.)-enough to be accepted to an academic conference. Except that I am.

I’m just beginning to come to terms with what graduate school means about my identity. I’m still navigating the reality of the fact that, not only did I get into a graduate program (technically two, if you count the acceptance to Claremont Graduate University that I turned down two years ago), but I am capable of living a life of academic rigor. And not every day is an easy day. But today, with my first invitation to present at an academic conference, I feel like I am meant for this.

Some days are better than others and I know that there will be days where I feel overwhelmed, unimportant, and unworthy. On those days where I begin to think that I am not-enough, I hope that I can also remember the ways in which I am.


(re)Discovering a Penchant for Poetry

I don’t think of myself as a creative writer. Every so often, I take out my leather bound journal (a gift from my mentor) and scrawl out whatever seems to fit the occasion. My poetry is rarely shared, predominantly because I don’t feel that it’s very good. And I’m right because most of it is garbage.

In 2014, my friend Grace and I were discussing poetry (and specifically my poetic voice):

C: I’m jumbled words and half-formed thoughts that resist form and convention.
G: You have a voice and it’s yours and no one else can tell you what it is or whose rules to follow in speaking it (or writing it).

Still, two years later, I don’t often share much of what I’ve written. While I know that Grace is right to say no one but me gets to decide my own voice, I feel compelled to fit my works into the grander tradition of “good poetry.” In comparison, my words are juvenile, poorly written, and, above all else, extremely personal. I’m not comfortable unveiling the vulnerable words inspired by my emotions.

But I started writing poetry again. What I didn’t realize is how my newer poetry is far more representative of what I told Grace two years ago than my older works. This poetry absolutely resists form and convention. Experimental. Frenetic. Volatile. When I’ve shared these works, people are interested even when they don’t understand.

For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m competing with other poets, both living and dead. I don’t feel like I’m trying to make my words fit into some idea of what poetry ought to be. I’m just writing what I want to write and I like it.

Even though it’s still my words and my feelings, the experimental style feels more detached. I’m not afraid of sounding foolish or childish anymore, just in sharing something interesting. Of course, trying to explain exactly what makes these poems more interesting to me is incredibly difficult to do without actually sharing said poems, but they’re still in the editing process.

For now, I’ll share with you a favorite line from a poem I’m working on, so you can get a sense of why feels so weird to me:


My Anger Runneth Over

I’m slowly making my way through an excerpt from Aristotle’s Rhetoric for my class on Rhetorical and Composition Studies. Rhetoric looks at rhetoric and the art of persuasion but tonight the most comforting component had to do with anger.

Anger? Comforting? What the heck are you talking about, Caitlin??

I don’t know about the rest of you but I experience anger a lot. It’s a daily thing and I’m going to let you in on a secret: it happens more than once a day. My latent malice is basically a moment away at any given point in time. In the words of Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk: “That’s my secret, Cap, I’m always angry.”

In Book II of Rhetoric, Aristotle defines anger as “an impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight directed without justification towards what concerns oneself or toward what concerns one’s friends” (214).

Aristotle hit the nail on its head. Of course my anger comes as an impulse. Of course it’s a result of inner upset. Of course it demands retribution, often in spite of what is the best thing to do. And, of course, I’m meant to be aware of that nature. This reactionary attitude can be about a slight of any size. I’m often surprised by my own impetuosity when I, for example, don’t get a text back from someone in the time frame I expect. That’s a ridiculous thing to feel slighted by and yet, every time it happens, I feel the urge to come up with an incredibly nasty or aggressive response just to pick a fight. And for no apparent reason other than feeling slighted. . . and it’s hard to not give in to that urge.

So yes, it’s comforting to think about anger tonight. It’s comforting to think about just why I’m upset and how that spiteful side of me wants to start fights. But it’s also comforting to think about what Aristotle has to say next: “growing calm is the opposite of growing angry, and calmness the opposite of anger” (216).  Aristotle goes on to look at how anger ceases and how even time can put an end to anger. He doesn’t explicitly talk about mindfulness activities, though I think a modern-day Aristotle would.

Most comforting, however, is the thought that, if I can acknowledge the anger that lurks within me, perhaps I can transform it into calmness.

The Spy in a Box: Spyfall & Wittgenstein’s Beetle Thought Experiment

Spyfall the game

Let’s talk about Spyfall, otherwise known as my current favorite social game. It’s more interactive than Mafia, more entertaining than Cards Against Humanity, and easier to introduce to new people than any kind of RPG (I’m looking at you, DnD).

Spyfall is an interactive question-and-answer game where players get a location card (nightclub, university, ocean liner, etc.) and one player gets the Spy card instead of a location. Over the course of the next eight minutes or so, all players participate in a round robin of questions where players “in the know” try to give clues that they know the location while the Spy tries to use those clues to determine the location. I once played a round as the Spy where our location was an embassy but I was utterly convinced we were on an ocean liner.

As much as I adore playing this game, I’m even more impressed by how it presents Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Beetle in a Box thought experiment through a social game. I have a fairly basic understanding of the Beetle experiment, as explained by Dr. Steven Wexler. Wittgenstein’s experiment explores the importance of language to perception by imagining that each person had a box and each box holds a beetle. No one can look in someone else’s box, yet through the social conversation around what exists in each person’s box comes the understanding of “beetle.” It’s a fascinating exploration of how people determine reality through social experiences.

This amorphous idea of perceived reality is exactly what Spyfall is all about. Each players has their own card (or “beetle in a box”) and it’s only through conversation that the other players can determine the location (or the meaning of what constitutes a beetle). However, Spyfall adds a variable to Wittgenstein’s experiment: the Spy. The Spy in Spyfall has an empty box – no beetle necessary. How do we determine what constitutes reality when one (or more) members of reality don’t have their own beetle to perceive and can only internalize the social conversation of what a beetle is?

Spyfall currently fields 3-8 players with one Spy in each location deck. I’m really interested to see how Spyfall 2 (eta 2017) will expand the gameplay with new locations, increased player count to 12, and a second Spy! What are the implications for the Beetle in a Box if two participants have an empty box? When perceived reality relies so heavily on social interaction, the Spy’s lack of knowledge turns Wittgenstein’s experiment on its head.

This Is How King Horn Ends

KingHorn manuscript ending lines

This is how the world ends,
Not with a whimper but with an amen.

What better way to celebrate reaching the end of a project than with a wistful amen and an ascent into heaven. The screenshot above features the final lines of King Horn, followed by a slightly modified version of the final lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.”

Yes, this is how I celebrate the countless hours spent doing the textual mark-up for the King Horn section of the Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud. Misc 108 manuscript as part of the Archive of Early Middle English.

I started working on this project with two of my peers as our final project in my Digital Humanities class. During our class session, Amanda encoded lines 1-17 and 250-500, Shlomit encoded lines 501-700 and 901-1000, and I encoded lines 17-249 and 701-900. After our semester ended, I continued working on the project and encoded lines 1001-1570. For those counting, I did encode approximately 1000 lines of 13th century text.

Because I have experience reading Middle English, it was not difficult to plunge into the 13th century story or even to understand the idiosyncrasies of the spelling and grammar. More challenging was to dance with paleography and discover not only the words but also the art of the writing.

I started out hopeful, encouraged by how quickly I was able to begin reading and understanding the manuscript. I wasn’t afraid of the linguistic eccentricities until the time came to encode them. Using the AEME and TEI guidelines, I began the somewhat tedious process of comparing the digital manuscript to a transcription provided by my professor. Even when I was utterly confused by the manuscript, nothing was unreachable. Not even the extended “amen” with its seemingly superfluous red curls was out of reach.

Whenever I would finish encoding a page, I felt successful. Satisfaction washed over me and there was nothing to stop me from continuing my madcap dash to the ending line. Until, of course, I reached the ending line and sent the fully encoded and validated file to my professor.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the end. Now that I have a taste for encoding, I’m not going to let it slip from my grasps.