Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Interviews with Recent Graduates

For anyone with graduation on your mind, whether it be this Spring or in the near future, you can probably agree that the closer it gets, the more pressure you start to feel. A lot of people choose to pursue certain degrees in college with a specific career in mind, or at least have the thoughts of an ideal job field. Why wouldn’t you? It’s all part of the process. But along the way we learn that it’s not realistic to think you’re going to land a great job right away—especially if you’re majoring in something like English. What if the ideal career stems from a job you took just because it’s available or because you are qualified? Sometimes that’s where you have to start. And for recent grads, the thought of starting somewhere, anywhere, is both terrifying and exciting.

We thought it would be a good idea to interview 2013 grads to get their thoughts on the subject—as they have been in our shoes recently and are just enough ahead that they have tested the waters outside of Eastern Oregon University.

Interviewee: Nichole Jones

1. Can you tell us where you work and the details of your job? How does this compare to the job you saw yourself doing? Or how does it help prepare you for that job?

Currently, I am working for Columbia United Providers in the Claims department. In addition to my normal duties, I am also in the process of re-writing  the claim departments procedures and policies. I find the it satisfying to be able to pay my bills and still utilize my writing degree. It is not the job that I pictured myself doing, but it will do for now.

2. How was your degree useful? Are there any direct correlations that have helped you such as classes, campus jobs, etc?

All of my experiences in college have been useful in my current position. The company values my attention to detail which I attained through my careful studying for my degree and in working for The Voice as an editor. I am also better able to interact with fellow employees as well as management, on a professional level, because of the relationships I built at EOU.

3. How did you move beyond the "panic" or "treading water" stage after graduation?

I'm not sure that I have actually moved beyond that stage. Yes, I have a job with benefits and can pay my bills, but I am still looking for the job that I really want. Who knows, it may even be within my current company!

4. What habits did you develop in college that helped you to be successful in the workforce?

As I stated before, attention to detail, social and professional interaction, and a good work ethic were all developed in college.  

5. Is there anything you wish you would have done during your undergraduate studies that would help you now?

I wish that I had gathered more references toward the end of my college education and perhaps branched out into more organizations. When you enter the workforce, it is all about networking!

Interviewee: Kilee Jochim

1. Can you tell us where you work and the details of your job? How does this compare to the job you saw yourself doing? Or how does it help prepare you for that job?

I have had my fair share of jobs since I graduated; however, the first one that I will take claims to is my most recent job. I am currently a Personal Assistant to an Investment's Manager at Metlife. I originally never saw myself in this particular line of work, but I also didn't realize how tough it can be to find the first "big kid" job when I didn't have the experience. I guess I didn't really know what I wanted to do; I just knew what I didn't want to do. In this position, I meet with cliental, schedule appointments, push paperwork, etc. This position will help me with future positions because of my boss's track record. She is very well known in not only this area, but several other places as well. As long as I continue to work hard for her, she will work hard for me. This job offers me enough of diversity that I never get bored, which as many of you know can happen very easily. 

2. How was your degree useful? Are there any direct correlations that have helped you such as classes, campus jobs, etc?

My degree helped me get this position because of the writing and communication skills that I gained throughout the process of earning it. I can read most handwriting; I'm a fast typer and reader, which comes in handy whenever I have a lot to get done in a short period of time. I also found that being a tutor has helped me with this job because I now have some of the experience needed when it comes to reading similar material over and over. I can't say that any one particular class helped prepare me for this job, but I can say that each my professors helped in their own unique way. Each professor at EOU has a different personality and being able to communicate and get along with each of them is, in a way, challenging all on its own. 

3. How did you move beyond the "panic" or "treading water" stage after graduation?

I never really hit the "panic" or "treading water" mode. I had made some wise investments and actually got to enjoy a good month of summer before I moved to Kansas to find the "big kid" job. I did interview at a few places in Denver area, but nothing that I was interested in. The best advice I can give to an upcoming grad regarding this stage is to start applying for jobs before you graduate. Also, try to figure out where you want to go. Once you figure that out, something is bound to turn up. The ideal job may not come at first, but it will with time. Figuring out what an area has to offer is a big step in making that a smooth transition. 

4. What habits did you develop in college that helped you to be successful in the workforce? 

I do have the ability to work hard and consistently. My last two years in college, I especially had to use my time wisely because I would have struggled immensely. I am the type of person who, somewhat, has to be on a schedule. My life needs to have order, or I will forget what I need to do. When I get into the routine of something, it usually sticks pretty well, which has really helped me with my current position at Metlife. I don't necessarily do the same things everyday, but I have set hours in which everything has to get done. Setting short term goals has also been an asset that I learned in college. I try to set reachable goals, with a large goal in sight. For example, I eventually want to end up in Europe, preferably Italy, working for a company. What the company is, I don't know yet. My Metlife position is just the first step of reaching that goal. 

5. Is there anything you wish you would have done during your undergraduate studies that would help you now?

I wish I would have taken school more seriously in the beginning. When I first started in Wyoming, I was on a rodeo scholarship and in a way, that took precedence over my studies. I now regret that it wasn't the other way around. When I transferred to EOU, I definitely had to play catch up because of how big of a slacker I was. I had poor study habits and always just got by. Also, adjusting from semesters to terms was a bit of a rude awakening. I didn't realize how much work had to be done in such a short period of time. I would say that the shorter terms helped me the most because I had to be efficient with my time because there was very little room for error. I am just thankful that I gained some of those skills before I graduated. 

Thoughts on Revision

Molly Alexander 

My capstone class recently had the opportunity to participate in a discussion with authors Robert Wrigley and Kim Barnes. As all of the students present were, and still are, currently in the middle of writing our senior capstones, the topic of revision was addressed. For me, it was a much-needed pep talk. I have been, in a way, hiding from revision on my capstone. I put the workshop comments away in my notebook, and they were starting to collect dust.

I still remember the moment I solidified wanting to pursue the English/Writing route in my undergraduate career. As cliché as it is, I even wrote it in a Facebook status in August 2009: “So I think I want to be a writer.” It felt good to know what path I wanted to take for the next four years. But after that, I think I just envisioned myself being a writer and didn’t fully think through what steps I would need to take to become a sufficient one.

When I took my first workshop-based creative writing class, it took revision to a whole new level. At first I resisted it—sometimes I would walk into class not even wanting to know what the students had to say because I was so passionate about my content that I let people’s comments hurt my feelings. I started to understand that it is important to take comments both individually, but also as a whole. If there are certain threads being weaved throughout the piece, I need to know how they are working or what the class thinks about them. If there is a section that needs to be explored further or go deeper, I need other’s feedback and direction. I learned that the workshop wasn’t about what my writing was doing “right” or “wrong,” but rather it was giving me an overall idea of how it was working for an audience, which is ultimately important if a writer wants to be published.

When the exciting feeling of being a new writer in college wore off, I started to revert back to not wanting to know what people thought about my work. My attitude was reflecting my lack of passion for creating good stories and drive for being a good student. That’s why meeting Robert Wrigley and Kim Barnes was so important for me: they helped me remember why I wanted to start in the first place, and they helped me to see that not only does revision come in many different ways, but that it is absolutely essential in writing. Kim Barnes passionately spoke of revision and even said it is her favorite part of writing. How could that be? I thought at the time. I quickly realized that it's because writing would be nothing without revision. Truly shaping and creating the piece you set out to write is the ultimate goal, and with each type of revision comes a new reward that brings you closer to the final product. In our capstone class a few weeks later, Dr. Axelrod talked about how revision comes in many different ways—whether it’s reading a piece aloud to see how the words sound together, or whether it’s rearranging entire sections for better organization, or simply going through and finding particular verbs that you want to change for better affect. It’s possible to find joy in writing—in every aspect—and now I know that I just have to allow myself to feel it instead of resisting it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Literacy is Power: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

As a feminist, I enjoy literature about women; I find the ways in which women are depicted through language to be fascinating. For my Gender in Literature and Film class, I was assigned to read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Upon my first reading of the book, I was outraged. The main character was passive, ignorant, and in no way working to change or remove herself from her oppressive situation. It wasn’t until I discussed the writing with my professor and classmates that I realized I had made a terrible mistake.
In her dystopian novel, Margaret Atwood paints a picture of life for women that might not be completely impossible. Atwood uses extreme religion to create a world where women are seen solely as reproductive machines. The women in the Republic of Gilead are stay-at-home wives and mothers, servants, surrogates, prostitutes, or unwomen—women who are unable to conceive, and as they are of no use, are sent off to clean up nuclear waste.
            In Gilead, women are entirely stripped of their personal identities. They are prohibited from using their own names, and instead take on the names of their Commanders (the older men assigned to impregnate them). The main character’s name in the novel is Offred, that is, Of Fred. In the attempt to rid women of their own thoughts and beliefs, they are banned from reading and using language in any way that does not confirm their traditional religion. When the handmaids do the shopping for their respective houses, they are guided solely by images rather than words. Reading and writing are illegal behaviors, punishable by death. Literacy is suddenly frowned upon; it becomes something that will become extinct overtime.
            In the novel, which is delivered through Offred’s first person narrative, we learn that Offred only appears to be a submissive and apathetic character. Yes, she bites her tongue and goes about her various handmaid duties without resistance, but Offred is also doing something else: observing. She has memorized everything around her. Finding a short Latin phrase carved into the floor of her closet is thrilling—even if she doesn’t understand the meaning. Offred traces the lettering and repeats the phrase over and over again; she knows that it is a message for her and only her. A small stool with FAITH stitched into the cushion is also overlooked by room inspectors and Offred thrives on the oversight. The protagonist slowly begins to understand that literacy is powerful.
            While it might not be obvious during a leisurely reading of the book, it can, and should be argued that Offred is empowered by language. Towards the middle of the book, Offred’s Commander privately summons her to his room. Expecting some kind of sexual request, Offred is shocked to find that the Commander only wants the handmaid to play Scrabble with him—an invitation even more dangerous than Offred’s prediction. The Commander is giving her the opportunity to familiarize herself with words again. She is suddenly allowed, if not encouraged, to play with letters and bring new understandings to made-up words—a kind of creativity that Offred knows could cost her her life. Offred takes advantage of her time playing Scrabble with the Commander, as she sees it as an opportunity to further push the limits of her environment. This practice becomes a sort of game for her—a game that she feeds off of. She is not only driven by the words, she is now playing with them simply to see just how far she can go without getting caught.
            Through these slightly rebellious actions, Offred is able to overcome her environment. Her quiet study and observation proves to be more valuable than an outward attack on Gilead. The book ends with Offred getting into an unknown black van and leaving her house, but Atwood leaves the audience guessing if the van is driven by an ally or a villain, arguably because it ends up being less than detrimental to the meaning of the overall story.

            This book, if nothing else, stresses the importance and undeniable value of literacy. It argues that in an oppressive world, women still have the ability to use their words to make a difference. To me, a female writer, this message is invaluable, if not precious. In a twisted and scary way, Atwood’s novel serves as a letter of encouragement to women. She is telling females to continue the fight in a male-dominated society through literacy and intelligence, which is truly inspiring. 

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books, 1998. Print.

My Life: The Research Paper

Mackenzie Trotter

It’s the strangest thing—this process of growing up. I am twenty-one, and I have been in school for about seventeen years. I have grown comfortable with authority figures constantly directing me and spelling out the specifics of what I need to do, how I need to do it, and when I need to have it done. Pre-School, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college—it was all guaranteed. These were all just necessary steps for me to move forward in my life; they were not decisions, questions, or potential moves that were up for negotiation. But now what? I’m graduating from Eastern Oregon University in less than five months and I haven’t the slightest idea of what to do next.

I knew that I wanted to study English and writing from the time that I was in Mrs. Knight’s seventh grade English class, or perhaps even before. I always excelled in these subjects; asking for books for Christmas and spending my evenings dreaming of a day when I would write my own. But now, for the first time, I’m feeling incredibly lost and uncertain. The thought of going on to graduate school directly following graduation is painful, but the idea that I am currently as formally educated as I will ever be is equally hurtful. Besides, I need an additional degree to even begin to be taken seriously in my field—whatever field that is.

I applied for and accepted the job as the Assistant Editor of Oregon East in the hopes that perhaps it would open my eyes to a different career path that led into the sophisticated and intimidating world of publishing. This desperate grasp for something new stemmed from the alarming realization that I in fact did not want to teach English and writing to high school students (which was, for about six years, my go-to goal when anyone asked what I would do with a degree in English). My plan was to study English and writing, earn my master’s degree in teaching, and then get a job at a high school somewhere. My mother is a teacher, as is my older sister. I have grown up around teaching, and just assumed that I too would turn into an educator at some point. But then, one night while my relatives were swapping lesson plans, it occurred to me—I don’t want to teach. I am painfully introverted and I am easily pushed over. To be frank, high school students would eat me alive.

So here I am. I’m finishing up my long-awaited degree with the understanding that it’s not enough. I am well aware of the frightening and ever-present reminder that I am not finished. It’s a new feeling for me, this not knowing what comes next thing. It’s both terrifying and refreshing.

As a soon-to-be college graduate, I am beginning to understand the panic that other students or just people in general experience when realizing that they don’t know where their lives are headed. My little sister just went through this frightening adjustment as a recent high school graduate without the desire to attend a university. My family and I had to remind her that my older sister and I are not the norm, nor are we to be some kind of standard that she, a completely unique individual, should be held to. Knowing what one wants to go to school for before she reaches high school is the exception to the rule. As a writing tutor, I encounter countless students who have undeclared majors or who have at least ten different majors on their transcripts. Before I found myself in my own mini crisis, I silently pitied these people. I couldn't fathom how anyone could have no idea about what they wanted to do with their lives. I was unable to understand—to empathize. Until recently, I thought that these people were destined for failure. But now, it’s finally occurring to me that perhaps these apparent slackers had the right idea all along. Deciding on a career for one’s entire life is frightening, and the idea that these decisions are expected to be made when a person is in his or her teens and early twenties is ludicrous.

What I've realized, in the middle of my search for self-worth—or, to risk sounding painfully cliché, self-discovery—is that my life is much like any writing project. I had a plan and an outline, finished the first draft, and realized that my ending needed work. So, I went back. I tried to add a few things, branch out a little bit, and then still found myself hung up on the conclusion. My time at Eastern resembles a solid research paper. I had a thoughtful introduction, interesting thesis statement, well-calculated body paragraphs, and then my paper completely fizzled out at the end. No matter how many times I scrap it and start the conclusion over again, it remains unfinished.

So, like any other frustrated writer, I’m going to put my work away. I’m going to forget the fact that I don’t have any concrete plans. I’m going to set my concerns aside and do a little bit more investigating, and then, eventually, I’ll come back to it. And that’s okay.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

See, Hear, and Read Remarkable Things

It’s been a while since I’ve had the gumption to write anything. Life catches up, and you rush it through rather than pause to acknowledge it. So, with respect to this regrettable idea, the book of the month (from only my own biased perspective) goes to If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor.

I finished the book only minutes ago. Maybe it’s the freshness of the story in my mind, and the way the emotions it evoked are still pushing against my abdomen, but this novel might just be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. Of course, I felt the same way after reading Les Misérables, The Thorn Birds, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But then, if I’m already clumping McGregor’s first novel into the same hierarchy as these three literary giants, just think of where the author must be headed.

The beginning of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things was fascinating, but I was hesitant about the style. The book is a diluted form of prose poetry. It reads like a creative novel, except in certain, remarkable places where new paragraphs are started within the same sentence, and you feel like the words should be sung instead of spoken. In context, these areas are powerful, striking. But the beginning seemed a bit too entrenched with poeticism to suit my prose-mindedness. Take these paragraphs from the first page:

"If you listen, you can hear it.
The city, it sings.
If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of a street, on the roof of a house.
It’s clearest at night, when the sound cuts more sharply across the surface of things, when the song reaches out to a place inside you.
It’s a wordless song, for the most part, but it’s a song all the same, and nobody hearing it could doubt what it sings. And the song sings the loudest when you pick out each note.

The low soothing hum of air-conditioners, fanning out the heat and the smells of shops and cafes and offices across the city, winding up and winding down, long breaths layered upon each other, a lullaby hum for tired streets.

The rush of traffic still cutting across flyover, even in the dark hours a constant crush of sound, tyres rolling across tarmac and engines rumbling, loose drains and manhole covers clack-clacking like cast-iron castanets."

This is, undeniably, quite wonderful poetry—the repetition, alliteration, the construction of those clear, vivid descriptions. But as a novel, I was confused and reluctant to give the rest of the book a try. Once you get past the first few introductory pages, though, the narrative of the story and the complete grace of the style will catch you with its claws. And you’ll be happy for it.

You’ll be most happy when you reach the end--when think you have everything all figured out. Just as you know the writing and the story have run out of surprises, it will twist around again, leaving you maybe, or maybe not, sobbing (just a little) and maybe, or maybe not, dashing for that chocolate stash in your room that you’ve been keeping for emergency situations. Sorry to spoil the finale of the emotional journey, but it is quite sad. In all, though, the sadness of it serves as a reminder for just how much we fail to acknowledge every simple, remarkable thing. And that beauty will make every piece of spent chocolate so much sweeter.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What is a Blog, Anyway?

Today, all of today, is that awkward moment when school has been cancelled due to those strange, unpredictable Eastern Oregon snow flurries, and for lack of any other productive thing to do, you decide to write a blog. Or rather, I decided to write a blog; something I have never attempted before, and something that I will pretend to know at least a little about. So: Hey! I’m an English Writing major at Eastern Oregon University, and my name is Maggie (not Margaret). I’m also the current editor of Oregon East, and in this post, it's all about fiction.

As a Writing major, I find that I really like to talk about books. I thought about discussing the book I’m reading now, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin, but because I haven’t actually finished it yet, I don’t exactly have anything to say except, “really, really good, so far!” Although, as an art non-expert, I’d give the cover of the 2008 Scribner edition a solid ‘A.’ Have you ever genuinely paid attention to the cliché, “you can’t judge a book by its cover?” I’m almost certain that doing this is impossible. For example, the only reason I bought Birds Without Wings was because I thought the cover was pretty. And, luckily, it turned out to be an absolutely amazing book that suggested an entire palette of emotions, and almost made me sob a little. Almost. But if no one actually did judge a book by its cover, then such effort wouldn’t be put into their design. So it goes, as Vonnegut would say. Anyway, the cover of The Lathe of Heaven is great. Pretty colors and flying turtles: definitely eye-catching. And it implies just enough mystery to make you want to pick it up and read what its contents hold. 

But, back to the point, I decided instead to get on the bandwagon and praise Karen Russell’s New York Times Bestseller, Swamplandia! I was first introduced to Karen Russell in a fiction class, where we read, discussed, and learned from St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. This was probably the most bizarre collection of short stories I have ever read, and I’ll admit that I didn’t care for all of it. But, I did like “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” a story that sets the precedent for Swamplandia! by introducing all the main characters under the same sorts of circumstances. I’m not sure if Russell began writing the novel first, or gained inspiration for the full plot of Swamplandia! via construction of the short story, but either way, both are dark, mysterious, and impose an unrelenting aura of magic.

The basic plotline of Swamplandia! revolves around Ava Bigtree and her family, who own and run an alligator-wrestling theme park in the Florida swamplands. Ava’s sister becomes convinced she has turned into a vessel for ghosts, and she runs away to marry one of these ghosts, Louis Thanksgiving. The two sisters have been left alone on the island, and this, coupled with the kind-of-recent death of their mother, prompts Ava to go looking for her sister and her mother’s ghost in the “underworld,” where a dangerous stranger by the name of the “Bird Man” has sworn her family has vanished into. As you can probably guess from this inadequate summary, the Bird Man isn’t exactly a protagonist. But, told from Ava’s perspective, the Bird Man becomes the most fascinating character in the book, even when you begin to hate him for what he is. There’s no spoiler alert here. I’m not going to say what he is or what happens in the end. Instead I’ll say, Swamplandia! is definitely worth reading, especially if you’re into magical realism.

To be perfectly honest, though, I had a really hard time getting into this book. The first forty pages or so were stamped in ornate language and unusual phrases so much that it just felt like she was trying too hard. Take this sentence, “But my sister, Osceola, was born snowy—not a weak chamomile blond but pure frost, with eyes that vibrated somewhere between maroon and violet” (6). Looking closely at this, I can’t find anything wrong with it. The sentence itself sounds rhythmic and pretty. The problem, in my biased opinion, is that Russell uses these sentences too often. Rather than a balance of simple and descriptive phrases, she tips the scale to the right. And I like balance in writing. But once the story really gets going, it sucks you in. I stopped noticing the differences between Russell’s writing style and my own, and I let myself be taken through the swamp with Ava. The greatest success of this book, I think, is that it is an adventure. And maybe that’s the real beauty of fiction, anyway. You get to go places you’d never go in reality.

But I want to know what you think. If there are any readers here, what did you think of Swamplandia!? Or, if you haven’t read it, what kind of writing do you like to read? And what do you guys want to hear from us, here at Oregon East?