Tag Archives: writing

The Annotated Nightstand

When I moved out of Wesleyan, I salvaged my old $12 particle board nightstand from Walmart and bought a pack of 30 sharpies.

Now, on this nightstand, between the short stack of books I flip through at night, is the careful calligraphy of a girl who grew up in the digital age (read: well-intentioned, scribbly cursive).  Sprawled across its white surface are colorful quotations from my favorite books, graphical renditions of my prayers and dreams, and what is pretty much the only surviving record of any attempt at poetry that I’ve ever made.

While my personal library rivals that of my two roommates combined, the stack of books on my nightstand occupy a coveted and elect space.  They’re the only ones within arms reach of my bed and thereby serve as the books I’m most likely to actually read on a quiet night.

One’s on entrepreneurship, another on deception and morality.  The others include a short how-to on leadership training from the perspective of a former Russian communist and a healthy collection of thinking theological texts.

Sometimes I go to the grocery store, and I become overwhelmed by capitalism.  The possibilities are practically endless, and yet, I just ate crackers and cheese for dinner.  Worse yet, it was the third time I’ve done that this week.

Something similar happens when I read.  Overwhelmed by how much I don’t know and understand, I read five chapters of everything and change books.  It’s like saying I’ve put munster, gouda, and cheddar cheese on my crackers this week, but still haven’t figured out that if you add deli meat, two slices of bread, and a pan you get a panini.  It’s also why my nightstand collection includes communist commentary, pop non-fiction, and Oswald Chambers.

This can be really bad.

I almost always did almost all of the reading for class.  One particular week in a post-imperial history tutorial, I got a paper back, one in which I had called a certain unnamed political transition “peaceable” in the introduction.  The professor circled the word and wrote, “Millions of people died.”

Yep, I’d missed an entire genocide.

That’s really terrible.

I say all this to say–I really miss my thesis research.  It provided focus, scope, and perspective on everything I read.  It also provided an insanely small nano-universe in which I was the so-called “expert” and served as the primary argument-maker.

My annotated nightstand speaks nothing about my research, but it says everything about a will to articulate, understand, and a life that meters progress by months and years instead of semesters.


A few words

Fixed a widget to my desktop as a constant reminder to go back to writing.

Somewhere between (still) staring at the first two pages of chapter three and trying to force myself to focus, I made a declaration to that little crevasse of my heart that had somehow not given up on the possibility of one day working in academia.  Research after graduate school and the unspoken dream of book writing were simply never going to happen.  Ever.

Funny that my writing had never been so relevant to anyone as it was yesterday.

Late last night, sheltered away from Nemo’s wrath and tucked underneath every single blanket I own, a friend came in and sat on the edge of my bed.  I had just gotten warm, so I didn’t even sit up.  She proceeded to talk to me about her summer plans, applications, and all the other questions that don’t leave your mind when you’re in college and don’t know where you are going next. Eventually, she asked me a very serious and direct question about decision-making.

Sadly, I don’t actually remember the exact question, which might speak to poor listening skills, but I’m pretty sure I can’t remember it just because I was so overwhelmed with the answer.


Nemo from the inside of Exley

I had recently spent many hours untangling books, blogs, histories, videos, lectures, conversations, and ideas on the topic of her inquiry.  The only thing I had to show for it were those two pathetic pages in front of me.  But last night, instead of being a lamentably short introduction, those two pages were the clearest, most concise answer to my friend’s question.

Instead of adding to a muddled mess of thoughts, they helped.

Now, it is not lost on me that the realization that my words could matter for something came after I had an opportunity to share them with someone.  Discussing ideas always makes the good ones better and the bad ones obvious, but it was because I had driven myself mad writing them all down that I could offer a thoughtful, coherent answer to my friend.

All to say, as far as motivation to keep writing and belief that I can actually finish this in 61 days goes, last night was good.

In the present

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWithin a four day window, I started a new job, start my final undergraduate semester, will “finish” a chapter of my thesis, and will travel to North Carolina to attend a seminar having nothing to do with any of three previous activities.

I said I’d go to the conference because I was invited in October.  I remember the distinct thought, “It’s the first weekend of the semester.  What could I possibly be missing out on?”  I now have no less than three places I need to be this Saturday afternoon.

Knowing that this week would be uncharacteristically busy, I remember thinking that the drive back to campus in the evenings would be long.  Instead, I find myself wanting the road to be longer and wishing I could script the thoughts that come when I drive.  They’re always the most eloquent.

When I drive home, ideas come out in organized phrases that get strung together and rearranged like they would on paper, and in them is the reason otherwise absent in the momentous chaos and excitement that characterize this last week.  Slipping into mechanized motion (not zoning out, I promise), it’s so much easier to shut off the processor and just be.  And rest.  And pray.

Funny thing is, I don’t even know what that road is called or which way it goes.  It’s just the way home.  This is a slightly embarrassing fact, and I probably ought to look it up in case I need to give somebody directions sometime.  But it all sortof speaks to the point.

To that end, I will cope with the new phone that wouldn’t activate, the possibility of not being able to port my number, and the fact that the library closed at 5pm with all my books in it.  In doing so, I’ll funnel this week’s emotion and stress away from tense joints and toward my fingertips, step away from WordPress and back to Word, and finish draft one of chapter two, tonight. 

Permanent Residency

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe circulation doesn’t really carry to Olin’s attic very well.  My carrel smells a bit like stale corn chips and feet.

At last count, there were 83 books sitting on my little desk, illuminated by the meager light beneath the shelf.  It’s the kind of light that goes off if I sit and read without moving for too long.  The over-priced amazon white board sits to my left, its reflective surface making the light go just a little bit further and flashing my latest chapter diagram back at me.

I’ve discovered that if I angle myself exactly corner-to-corner, it is possible to fully extend my legs and take a nap on the floor, which is something of a discovery in a room so small that you can’t really open the door without hitting the chair.  On the plus side, at least the chair is comfortable.  Duly sun-faded and possibly as old as the CSS itself, but comfortable nonetheless.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe completion of chapter one marks a significant accomplish and one that I fully intend to revel in until I get Prof. Elphick’s comments back.  The research for chapter two is scheduled, the readings for chapter three started, and the logic for chapter four partially solved, meaning that despite long hours (pushing 8 hours in this chair today), I remain on track.

It’s a good thing I like what I do, otherwise this tiny, little office space might be just enough to drive me crazy.

A Reverberating Thought

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“This is hard,” which is undoubtedly the point.

My chapter one thesis document is 17 pages.  Unfortunately, only 5 of those 17 pages are real text.  The rest is half sentences and scratch paragraphs that don’t fit in anywhere.  The perfect framework and outline in my head and somewhere deep in the trenches of an exponentially expanding Evernote notebook spirals out of my fingertips and onto MS Word without rhythm.  All the while, the date on my Macbook dashboard and unfilled Word pages shout back at me.  It’s like having the hiccups in the library–uncomfortable and loud.

I catch a shallow breath every time I think about the interviews I have not yet setup, the books I still have to find (let alone READ), and the emails people still haven’t responded to.  Other theses writers lock themselves away and just walk out 15 pages in hand.  Not clean, thoroughly unedited, but 15 pages nonetheless.  I can’t do that, at least not yet.

Now, to an extent, this good, at least in theory.  Instead of burying myself in the proper ordering of facts and theories and spitting them out, I’m laying-out the basics of my own argument, explaining how all those conglomerated facts will contribute to the point I’m trying to make.  Right now– I’m defining all those commonly used words that everyone uses differently (evangelicalism anybody?) and placing them in the context of my argument.

“How are you?” has become a question synonymous with “How much did you write today?”  That’s probably isn’t what my friends mean, but it’s all I hear.

All that said, the gnawing stomach-ache of stress is offset by writing-euphoria, the joy that comes with each new paragraph, and a deep passion for what I’m studying that sometimes makes me so excited, I can’t even focus.  So I know that what I’m doing is good.  It’s just going to take many long nights to get there.

I know I’ve stepped away from blogging this semester, but what can I say.  My thesis is knocking all the words right out of me.

Coffee foam stutter

I value eloquence, but there are times when the words stop arranging themselves.  Instead, they stay in syllable form, sitting like coffee foam on top of my breath, hanging out somewhere deep inside my lungs.  Naturally, you have to cough to get them out, and then it’s just not pretty.

I have tried so hard to get my thesis argument down to a bulleted outline form for months.  My efforts to whittle the ideas that wow my mind to explainable concepts that the rest of the world can understand include:

  • Word
  • Evernote
  • Drawing big pictures
  • Drawing small pictures and assembling them so they make big pictures
  • Color-coordinated notes
  • Writing on my windows*
  • writing on my mirrors*

*side note: for the official record I finally bought big white board, so I’ll probably ease up on the windows/mirrors writing.

I articulated a step-by-step argument for the first time at about 6:30am today–with pen and half sheet of paper I found in my purse (gotta write when the inspiration strikes).  It felt good, but the coffee foam stutter returned at 5pm as I sat in Prof. Elphick’s office trying to explain how much eschatology, a rejection of feminist theology, the garden of eden, secularization, and the millennial generation have in common and how I am going to be able to pull it all together in like 90 pages.

Other recent incarnations of the coffee foam stutter include:

  • use of 1,500 words to express a tweetable idea
  • loss of melodic conversational tone
  • over edit/under edit tidal waves (i.e. should have read that email one more time, could have sent that one right away)

For the record, I hope this illness passes like a head cold and gets out of me in a couple days, because, in the meantime, it’s really killing me.

Carreling Fall 2012

As I sit here in my thesis carrel, my mind bursts with the potential of the ideas that surround me (literally, I put my notes on the walls).  Narrowing in on those ideas, is a slightly different ordeal and is why I’m still here.

Despite firework-exploding epiphanies that have gotten me closer to the ever evolving question of what exactly I’m writing about, I sit here, not quite sure how to procede.

There’s something that is desperately exciting about this process.  Something inside me that recognizes that I have never read anything like what I am intending to write, something that recognizes the potential of a well thought out and convincing argument on my topic of choice, and that’s breathtaking.

The last week has delivered a variety of experiences– nearly all of which are deserving of their own blog posts.  Unfortunately, the nature of college life is that they don’t all get written down, which is indeed a shame.  As reading some of my own old posts has taught me, it is easy to forget.

So as I find myself mesmerized in jaw-dropping academic wonder and discover in more and more meaningful ways how to lead and love in with a Kingdom vision, I just have to take a note of how incredibly cool this is.

Because it is here, deep in the catacombs of Olin library, up the hidden staircase on the 4th floor, carrel 435 that all of that slowly swirls into a single line of thought, a single story, and it is one that I intend to tell.  Just give me time.  #senioryear #thesis2013