Gilman Girl

The Life & Rhymes of Molly Y., English Major

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A Site-Specific Education

While I’d like to think that every college experience is tightly bound to a school’s location & regional culture in some way, my time abroad thus far has been both a lesson in the rich newness of my London surroundings and a distinct reminder of the ways I’ve been shaped by my Hopkins education. The level of rigor at UCL, although distributed differently — rather than several assignments throughout the semester and participation grades, I’ve got two huge essays per class and weekly small seminar groups — matches that of JHU, which made for a strange sense of familiarity after day one of class. The main library here shares the natural luminosity and wood-paneling of the Hutzler Reading Room back home, and the six different bus lines that stop by my apartment can take me just about anywhere I need to go in central London, much like the JHMI or Circulator. When my European poetry teacher began lecturing to us about the importance of critical engagement with the works and original analysis, it immediately brought me back to the extensive amount of time I’d spent doing just that during spring semester, and I gratefully realized how well-equipped my two years at Hopkins made me feel.

Still, almost every other aspect of being here is extremely rooted in my here-ness, from the very coin-dependent currency to the bitterness with which my English classmates discuss Brexit to the first wave of extreme self-awareness I felt after realizing I was one of the only Americans in a department with 160 affiliate students from all over Europe. On one of my first days in London, my dad and I went down to Westminster, and, in a characteristic early September, “Indian Summer” fashion, it rained the entire day.

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Amidst all of the logistical changes that were far beyond the scope of a Hopkins education, I wanted to ensure that even my courses here were equally attached to the special sense of place studying abroad provides. Luckily, I snagged a spot in an art history course on 19th and 20th century art that meets in a different museum or gallery in the city each week to discuss both the art objects in the exhibitions and their presentation in such institutions. In another course about visual culture, I’ll be learning about the way Berlin’s architecture and city space has evolved as a form of visual representation of its history, keeping in mind that I’m only a short flight away from visiting the city myself at the end of the month.

Small reminders of home seep into my time here in unexpected ways — like yearning to hear an American accent narrate an advertisement or wishing I could just drive to Target and get absolutely everything I need in the super mecca that it is. Outside of these, however, I try to be as present and site-specific as possible, even as I fight the fleeting temptation to wander into a McDonald’s or think about all the happenings my friends are enjoying back in Baltimore. Every part of my being here is an education in itself (minutiae-induced bouts of homesickness included), and with classes just having started this week — RIDICULOUS, I know — I’ve only just begun.

Duranya & I at peak American Tourist

Duranya & I at peak American Tourist

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Notes on Summer

I fully expected several things out of my stay in Baltimore this summer: the ability to sleep in past 8 on a weekday without feeling pressed for time and/or guilty about it, the end of my meal plan days (and the curly fries in Levering Hall), and finally getting around to some pleasure reading (i.e. starting June by reading this horribly depressing but ultimately very good book about WWI). I’d be starting an internship at The Contemporary and hopefully getting the hang of cooking my mom’s lentils correctly, even on our small electric stove in Bradford and with less than half of her knack for eyeing measurements out. But the in-betweens of these things have truly brought my summer here into full color — the moments of pure breathing space that generally speaking, during the school year, I’m unable to relish in lieu of upcoming deadlines and lots (LOTS) of pragmatic powerwalking

Baltimore in summer is a constant flux of traffic noises and striking tableaus of old architecture against a blue sky and not too many, but just enough people walking around Charles Village each day. Simple walks to the grocery store down St. Paul Street are accented by the relief of a cool breeze and at least three Dog Sightings, or the repeated realization that no, there aren’t any readings to annotate or intro paragraphs to write for tomorrow. So it’s totally fine if one of your bosses at your internship invites you to take a 2 hour long drive to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab at Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, and you say, “¡Yes!”

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The Park & Museum happen to be located on a beautiful farm that is proximal to an equally beautiful body of water and is basically heaven on earth.

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It’s also a place that makes fast, affordable (but still very exciting) travel within reach, especially when you want to plan a semi-spontaneous trip to NYC to see pals and also, you know, see NYC because you’ve only ever been there once in your entire life. And so you (I) go, and you (I) visit the MoMA for the first time and float on a boat in the Hudson River at nighttime thanks to JHU_Ian. Somehow, you’re back to Balti in 3.5 hours with just enough time to catch the tail end of HonFest and eat a home-cooked meal, no post-trip powerwalks to Gilman required. Thank you, Bolt Bus!

4 friends 1 boat, oh and there's New York

4 friends 1 boat, oh and there’s New York!

The moral of this blog is that a summer in Baltimore is far from a strange, parallel-universe-like continuation of the Hopkins school year, despite some initial worries on my part that I’d be unable to unscrew my headpiece and give myself some space from the full-time student side of my brain. I’m just getting started with it all — my internship, my grocery list, my ability to process having weekends off (the tip of the iceberg) — but if the first few weeks in any indication of the next few months, I think I’ll survive.

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35 Pages Later

35 pages. That was my quota for completing all four final papers I had in lieu of exams — and one final project. In the span of about a week and a half, I managed to pump out each of these double-spaced works of analytical word vomit on time, a task that seemed insurmountable as I gazed at my finals due dates in late April. I wrote my first 10 and 13 page college papers, which, I’m aware, isn’t a ton in the grand scheme of humanities life, but for me, it’s a new benchmark. And that’s just the start.

Spring semester was a ton of work, no doubt. A crazy amount of reading, writing, applying, and Gilman-ing may or may not have been involved. This is nothing new to the everyday ebb and flow of the storied Hopkins workload, save for one component: everything I’ve done this semester was fueled by a very pure strain of interest that kept me going through page 30 (and beyond) of whatever longwinded intellectual essay I had to read for homework. While I’ve had my fair share of interesting courses at Hopkins, nothing compared to taking four classes that I truly loved and seeing the hard work actually pay off. Still, the only way to plow through the heft and breadth of a full semester and finals period in one piece is to have a few essential people, places and things to keep you going. Such as:

A Study Space In Which You Can Eat, Work, and Breathe (physically and metaphorically)

HI JHU_Quan!

In case you couldn’t glean this from my blog name and myriad entries, Gilman is my place, my niche, the place I lay my overstuffed backpack and do it to it. This finals period, however, it was also my saving grace over any other study space on campus for a slew of reasons, including but not limited to: You can actually eat in the quiet reading room and not risk the awkward punishment of having a security guard whisper for you to take your egg and cheese sandwich into the cafe (@BRODY!). There’s a calming fluidity between the silent, stained glass-lit workspace of the Hutzler Reading Room and the airy slice of heaven that is the atrium, for when you need a coffee/socializing break. It’s open all night during finals — one of the many reasons I was able to get my mammoth of an essay on Mona Hatoum’s Variations on Discord and Divisions done in time. Gilman was my rock, the place I knew I could sit and simply be in the presence of many a pal, bound by focus and very different but equally strenuous finals loads (as well as friendship). In the photo above, JHU_Quan and my friend Hana take advantage of the first Gilman delight I mentioned by indulging in chicken tenders and curly fries in the broad daylight of one of the quietest spaces on campus — no scoldings over here!

A Quick Outing That Gets You Off Campus And Reminds You Of The Vibrancy Of Life — Preferably Cheap

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We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: JHU_Emily and I strongly endorse Baltimore’s art scene as an easy, fun, free and visually stimulating way to release some of the finals blues for a bit before returning to the tasks at hand: studying, writing, etc. A few weeks ago, the two of us, along with HI celeb JHU_Joseph and co, went to The Contemporary’s latest show, a welcome study break in the days leading up to finals period. The entire trip took about an hour and a half, and I was back on campus researching for the aforementioned essay before I knew it. Baltimore is the city of easily accessible and highly entertaining excursions, among other attributes, and I wouldn’t want to escape from finals stress anywhere else. IMG_0558

Of course, getting off campus and fulfilling academic responsibilities aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. Case in point: my good friend and computer music genius Francesca D’Uva enjoying the spoils a few dollars and some free public transport can bring: coffee, pastry, a rustic ambiance, and finals productivity, all within a 15 minute radius of campus. This is the stuff of dreams and of finals survival.

Last, but not least, a solid village of humans to accompany you in and out of the trenches

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At last, we’ve come to the cheesy bit! The amount of times I’ve counted on these people (along with several unnamed but equally important others!) to accompany me in Gilman burning the midnight oil and eating the midnight junk food over the course of the last few weeks — let alone the semester — is probably somewhere around 40. From Throat Culture to SAAB to strange classes about tasting food purely through smell, I’ve found a group of wonderful specimens here who are as down to sing Toni Braxton karaoke at a local club as they are to sit in The Hut for the entire day afterwards. I’m endlessly thankful to said people for being down for just about anything and everything it takes to survive the demands of both work and play that college entails. 35 pages later and just a few months before I start my junior year in London, I’m happy to say that I’ll have everything I need to get through countless more pages, finals periods and general tomfoolery right here at Hopkins. And that’s a great thing to feel.

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Cheerio & The Like

After months of planning, applying, and waiting, I finally found out last week that I’ll be going abroad in the fall. No matter how many times I tell people, it has yet to fully sink in: as someone who’s never been outside of the country and has made only a few excursions outside of the northeast, I’m having a hard time envisioning my corporeal existence on an entirely different continent for four months, let alone at a school that isn’t Hopkins.

The British are so warm and welcoming with their acceptance letters!

The British are so warm and welcoming with their acceptance letters!

I was accepted into the School of European Languages, Culture and Society at University College London, in the heart of the city. The SELCS program is an interdisciplinary humanities department that covers literature, art history, film and art history in Europe across various time periods and cultural revolutions. Basically, it’s everything I could ever want to study in my time abroad, all packed into one major. I had to submit a preliminary course selection with my application, but because of the way the system works and various other factors I don’t understand, I won’t actually know what courses I can enroll in until I get there. Still, something about this makes it all the more exciting.

As I think about my future time in London, I can’t help but think about how odd it will feel not coming straight back to Baltimore after summer’s end. It only took almost two years and a change in major to hit my stride at Hopkins, but now that it’s happened, I’m starting to realize how much I’ll miss when I’m abroad. It starts with the little things: walking to Gilman early in the morning to finish up work and get a coffee from Alkimia, meeting JHU_Emily in the atrium for mid-day chats and maybe another caffeinated drink, and the ease of taking the JHMI to Alloverstreet each month. Inevitably, I’ll miss the more technical aspects of my Hopkins life: the wealth of cool class offerings for the fall — Gender and Sexuality in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe, I’m looking at you! — as well as the groups I’m in (Throat Culture, I will miss you so). Still, I have to keep in mind that all of this will be waiting for me when I get back, and that the experiences I’ll have in London will only add to my years as a Hopkins student.

Whether I’m in Baltimore or at UCL, I can only be thankful for the opportunities that Hopkins has given me thus far, and the ones I have yet to come across. While I’ll miss the ease of being at Homewood this fall, I’m beyond grateful for the chance to study abroad in London, and to be frank, I couldn’t be more excited.

Things I'll Miss: Ebo scowling at Alloverstreet

Things I’ll Miss: Ebo scowling at Alloverstreet

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Why Hopkins: A Spring Snapshots Blog

Somehow, I only have a little over a month left of sophomore year. While certain parts of me want to rejoice at this — after all, three months of no essays, exams, and/or 40 page readings are just around the corner — I can’t help but feel that spring semester went all too quickly, especially considering how much I’ve enjoyed myself both in and out of class. As I’ve said before, my classes this term are at their peak interest level for me. Never before have I had such a wide breadth of reading assignments, from Arundhati Roy’s novel (and my new favorite book) The God of Small Things to Michael Fried’s canonical treatise against Minimalism in art to, just recently, Eve Sedgwick’s essay on gender and sexuality. My brain is being stimulated from all directions, and I can feel myself evolving as a student in ways I couldn’t have imagined before coming here. Inevitably, it hasn’t always been a joyride — especially when I had two huge essays due on the Friday before spring break — but even that experience taught me more about my time management capabilities and capacity for critical thinking than I knew before.

In lieu of my class time enjoyment, though, has also come a sense of balance that manifests itself in smaller moments of repose, on and off campus, alone and with the homies. This, I’ve found, is what I truly love about my experience here. Despite however trying our academic times get, there is usually some outlet available to put things back into perspective and take a break from the seemingly constant stresses of our work. With as picturesque of a campus as Homewood and an accessible set of communities in and around Baltimore city,  a breath of fresh air and reminder of how grateful I am to be here, however brief, is close at hand.

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This is me, post-two-essay-completion (as mentioned before), arms raised in praise to the heavens and release of my worries. JHU_Ebo and I sat on the quad in front of Gilman for about an hour in the spring sunshine and simply basked: it was the Friday everyone was leaving for spring break, and our jobs were done (for the moment). At Hopkins, we’re blessed with an insanely beautiful campus almost year-round (aside from the gross slush-filled times in February), and this is a moment I’ll likely never forget — a moment of pure elation as I surveyed my surroundings and, even after a two-paper deadline had me nearly slain, felt truly, genuinely happy to be here. For more proof of just how gorgeous it was outside that day, here’s a rare JHU_Ebo selfie featuring Gilman and her forehead:

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And now, for something entirely different:

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For my Introduction to the Museum class, we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art to examine the architecture in each gallery and compare. I snapped this photo in the contemporary wing, and I can remember thinking two things: A, I love that these kids are making this ‘highbrow and impossible to understand contemporary art’ their personal playground and B, I love that I’m here for a class right now. It was definitely another ‘Why Hopkins’ moment: at least in my humanities courses, I’ve been able to do a considerable amount of off-campus traversing in the name of homework and class supplement. Baltimore is a place with so much to see, and with an art museum basically on campus and an abundance of free public transport coming in and out of campus, my courses and my love for this place have sometimes gone hand-in-hand, which I consider myself lucky to experience.

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This photo has more of an abstract Why Hopkins spin, but bear with me. About a month ago, Throat Culture (the sketch comedy group I’m in on campus) had a show, and I got to play the one and only Hillary Clinton. My friend, fellow gummy candy connoisseur and former SAAB star JHU_Joseph left work in D.C. early to come and see the show and promptly sent this extremely flattering Snapchat to me and an anonymous mass of other friends. I’m telling you this for several reasons: for one thing, though they aren’t the largest constituent on campus, the theater community and the arts in general are here, and they’re a joy to be in. In terms of theater, I’m only involved in TC, but even our group and the people who come to the shows have become such an integral part of my experience here, even if we don’t perform in the huge concert hall on campus. It’s a group of people you could only find at a place like Hopkins, and it continues to remind me why there are more reasons to come here than just the academics.

This is a cheesy blog, but a necessary one. Maybe it’s because of the gorgeous weather we’re having (typical to Baltimore in springtime) or the uncanny amount of enjoyment I’m getting out of almost all of my classes this semester. But Hopkins is truly a place like no other, and it’s even small moments like these that keep me grounded in how great of a privilege it is to go here.

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Calm Before the Storm

The next few weeks are going to be busy. “Hustle” doesn’t even begin to cover the kind of thing I’ll be doing in between now and spring break, a time I’ve been preparing for since yesterday. The second half of the year starts with a bang, and I love my classes this semester. Still, it takes about a hot second for the pace to pick up, and before you know it, you have 2 papers, an exam and a presentation due in the same week (or, in some cases, the same day). In the first chunk of the semester, I’ve had my fair share of work, but as I glance at the impending last weeks before break, filled with deadlines and reminders and due dates, I’m realizing that January and February have totally been Molly’s Time to Frolic: The Calm Before the Storm. In lieu of this, I’ll use this blog to present you with a few favorite carefree moments I’ve had, maybe to counteract the extreme nerdiness that was last week’s blog. I promise, I’m not always in Gilman writing down quotes old smart people have said! Not always!!

Recruitment was the first weekend of the semester, and while it was just a tad tiring, I got to see some of my favorite ladies for four days straight and, after a long day of events, kick back at a diner wearing the same huge sweatshirt and scarfing down chicken tikka masala. I’d say this is probably as accurate of a personality pic as you could possibly get.

pie me to the moon

pie me to the moon

Not long after Recruitment, JHU_Emily may or may not have gone on an extremely romantic date to Dangerously Delicious Pies, a small but mighty pie place about fifteen minutes from campus. Yes, it was a weeknight, and yes, we deserved it. They have a Date Night Special — $20 for a duo, I believe — and we took full advantage of it with smiles on our faces, which isn’t really our style for photos, so here we are scowling per usual. Just focus on the pies.

Right after this, we knocked over all of the boxes~

This past weekend, I took a spontaneous evening trip to D.C. to see SAAB (and Hopkins) alumnus JHU_Joseph at his Real Person Job at Hamiltonian Gallery. That night was the opening for their latest show with artists Nara Park and Dane Winkler, and after a day spent working on school stuff with JHU_Emily, I decided to take advantage of my free evening/minimal(ish) leftover homework to see the final product of the install he’d been working on all week. One of the attendees brought in a small beagle puppy named Sherman, and Joseph let me share his Potbelly sandwich on the train back: not a bad night, to say the least.

Alas, it’s comin’ on crunch time, and despite the past few weekends’ festivities, I have a two-part Spanish exam this Friday and Monday and a Throat Culture show sandwiched in between, among other academic shenanigans to prepare for (so many essays!!!!!). It’s time, as Shang from Mulan would say, to get down to business.

 

Clockwise rom bottom left: Introduction to The Museum, Performance Art in America, and Intro to Literary Studies

Fragments of a Serial Note Taker

If you know me in a class-setting or have ever seen me doing homework, then you know I’m kind of an adamant note taker. The ‘kind of’ is to make that last part sound more casual and moderate than it actually is: essentially, to lead you to think that I’m not as much of a note taking fiend as the title of this blog suggests. Hyperbole always hooks people in, but as the following pictorial evidence will show, I’m not hyperbolizing in the slightest.

Clockwise rom bottom left: Introduction to The Museum, Performance Art in America, and Intro to Literary Studies

Clockwise from bottom left: Introduction to The Museum, Performance Art in America, and Intro to Literary Studies. The hand cramps have made me a stronger person, inside and out.

I’ve mentioned in several previous blogs how much I love note-taking, and I think I once attributed it to a weird enjoyment from the feel of a smooth-writing pen to paper. This is totally still the case, but I also have the continuous need to quote any well-worded fragment of a professor’s lecture, an assigned 40 page article on JSTOR, or pretty much anywhere language is involved. Something about taking the time to write a complexly-worded phrase or series of sentences demystifies whatever jargon is at play, and it keeps me focused in times when I could just as easily open an iMessage tab to text JHU_Ebo about some ridiculous internet find.

Case in point

Case in point

Nothing about this whole “waxing poetic about note taking” thing is new, and for the sake of time management and not getting premature arthritis, I’ve been trying to do it in a bit more moderation. Still, it can be especially difficult when you’re an English major taking five humanities classes, all of which require reading and writing about various texts in a way that breaks down the upper echelons of literary and artistic works to a solid level of understanding. Hence, the barrage of notes and the rare removal of pen from paper. Now that I’ve given you the proper introduction to my note taking philosophy, here are a few hallmarks of my notes from spring semester thus far.

“The school brings the written text into contact with the spoken                language, and this contact produces friction.”

 -John Guillory, “Canon”

This quote comes from an anthology of essays about literary criticism that we use for my Intro to Literary Studies class. Guillory’s essay, “Canon”, analyzes the various hypotheses about how the literary canon was formed, as well as the multitude of socioeconomic and historical factors that went into its creation. The aforementioned quote caught me off guard, as I had never considered the way texts and spoken language engage in this malleable point of contention in school. I love his choice of the word ‘friction’ to epitomize this phenomenon. It reminded me of the distaste with which so many of us first confronted the language in Shakespearean plays in high school, as two very distinct forms of speaking — 17th and 21st century lexicons — clashed. Ultimately, my example is an extreme simplification of what he’s trying to say in this section — that schools teach you not only how to read and write, but also how to speak — but regardless, this quote made the cut for notes.

“Museums are a significant antidote to the globalized homogenization that is the byproduct of hyper-capitalism.”

-Robert Janes, “Museums and the End of Materialism”

While Janes’s verbiage may not roll off the tongue in the traditional sense (and take two or three more read-throughs to fully comprehend), this equal parts optimistic and defiant sentence is one of the best I’ve read in my Intro to The Museum course thus far. Janes spends his essay talking about the myriad of ways a museum has the potential to impact society on political, global and environmental levels, not simply within the context of its walls as a ‘cultural institution’. He calls for all museums to recognize this potential and wield it accordingly, to take advantaged of the multitude of forms in which a museum can exist and combat said “globalized homogenization” for the greater good of localities and international relations alike. His piece, while providing few concrete avenues of achieving this realized potential, was an inspiring one, but after some intense deliberation over myriad articulate one-liners, this one took the cake.

“Just as a spectator mimics the actions of the performer, the latter initiates its spectators, reflecting contemporaneous conceptions of what it means to be human.”

-Juliet Koss, “Bauhaus Theater of Human Dolls”

As a performance art history novice and lover of broad conceptual statements, I can safely say that I wrote this in my notebook before I realized what I was doing. This week in my Performance Art in America and Europe course, we’ve been learning about the Bauhaus in Germany during the 1920’s. Essentially, it was a movement that prioritized a unity of artists and craftsmen, of both technical and artistic training in one school of production. Part of this movement was the Bauhaus Theater, a main component of which was the creation of these massive (sometimes bulbous, sometimes more angular, sometimes very difficult to describe) doll costumes that performers wore in various shows and ballets. This quote is, perhaps, a more broad statement about performance art, but in relation to the Bauhaus, it applies tenfold. Also, the word ‘contemporaneous’ is worth noting.

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Schedule Swatch

My brain did a strange thing a few moments ago: amidst its usual ponderings of “What will I have for breakfast?” and “I should be wearing warmer socks right now,” it meandered to a contemplation of where I was and how I was feeling last year at this same time. I don’t have an exact date on my mind, but more of a season of quiet change that started with Intersession and continued through my spring semester. Memories of equal parts carefree frolicking and stressful indecision came rushing back as I settled on a breakfast of peanut butter toast and tea and realized exactly how much had changed.

A year ago today, I was having quite a lovely time being back in Baltimore early. I used the open days to hang out with people whose schedules and mine never matched up during the school year, who I only saw once or twice a week at a club meeting or in class. My spring schedule looked like it was going to be an interesting mixture of creative writing, history and marketing classes that would keep me on my toes. But I was still dealing with a lot of self-doubt: I didn’t mind my major, but I also didn’t love it. It just seemed like the most obvious choice for so many people with my kind of skillset (on paper, at least), and the department’s prestige added a degree of clout that seemed foolish to turn down until I’d given it a thorough try. After two semesters of doing just that — and of doing a great deal of exploration in other areas of interest — I can safely say I’ve finally arrived at what is potentially my favorite schedule yet.

Best Schedule, Worst Color Scheme

Best Schedule, Worst Color Scheme//click-to-enlarge

I hardcore frontloaded my Mondays, but frankly, I’m pretty okay with it. I get to start off the morning with my first ever Official History of Art class here, called Performance Art in America and Europe: 1909 to Present. I can still remember seeing the title in the course catalogue and clicking “Add to Cart” before I even realized what my fickle hand was doing. I’m going to include the full description here, because the wording is fabulous (it includes one of my favorite words, “ephemeral”) and explains it far more concisely than my overexcited brain ever could. Ahem: “This course surveys the development of performance art in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. We will explore the evolution of performance as a medium; the ways performance artists have engaged questions of race, gender, and sexuality; shifting relationships between performance and work in other media; and theories of performance. We will also examine the special challenges that attend the study of ephemeral and time-based art.” I’m coming into this class with little to no background on the subject matter but a scary amount of enthusiasm that I’ll try to keep in check. Sounds about right.

Me, when I literally WAS Performance Art *brushes small speck of dirt off of shoulder*

Me, when I literally WAS Performance Art *brushes small speck of dirt off of shoulder*

After 50 minutes of Spanish and a hot second to grab some lunchtime nourishment, I’ll be spending the rest of the afternoon in this upper-level English class that I’m admittedly a tad bit intimidated by. In Forms of Moral Community: The Contemporary World Novel, we’ll be discussing literary and philosophical imaginations of moral community in the post-WWII period (1950-2001). We’re reading everything from Ian McEwan’s Atonement to Toni Morrison’s Beloved to essays by Simone de Beauvoir and factoring questions like “What does it mean to acknowledge another person’s humanity?” and “How fundamental are moral emotions?” into the mix. There are only about ten of us in the class, so I’m excited to have ample opportunity to sort through these ideas in discussion and to read such a diverse array of classic contemporary literature for homework.

Tuesdays and Thursday are stiff competition to the glory of Mondays and Wednesdays, as well as the open-endedness of Fridays. Introduction to Literary Study is a pre-requisite for the English major, a beginner level class on the basics of critical study of literature. Maybe feeling hyped about that sort of description has me at my peak nerdiness, but frankly, I’ve missed writing analytically about literature for so long. Writing Seminars was an often times fun and interesting foray into the world of fiction and poetry writing, but my AP English Lit loving self is very, very happy to be back in the land of structured essays and critical approaches to literary study. We’re reading Jane Eyre — one of my favorite novels ever — and various other pillars of English literature, and you could say I’m sufficiently geeked about it.

English Lit: Almost as good as having three tacos all to myself on my birthday. This picture has no actual relevance to anything

English Lit: Almost as good as having three tacos all to myself on my birthday. This picture has no actual relevance to anything in this blog, I just needed a photo synonymous with joyfulness

At the well-timed denouement of my alpha schedule is Introduction to Museums: Issues and Ideas, another necessary pre-req, but this time for the Museums & Society minor I plan to pursue after the surreal classroom experience I had during GhostFood last semester. The course focuses on the plethora of external factors affecting the way museums exist today, taking into account not only the ownership of the institution’s contents itself, but also the political and socioeconomic factors surrounding it. Yes, it’s another “beginner level” introductory course, which made me feel like I was late to the game when I first registered for it and ILS. But I’m planning to make this semester my tabula rasa, the term when I’m finally doing what feels as close to what I genuinely love learning as a swatch of classes can get. I’m willing to start from square one and work my way up from there. A year ago today, I wasn’t feeling nearly this sure of myself, of what I wanted out of my education here or of what my actual interests were, despite my attempts to convince myself and others of something different. The anxiety I felt back then has definitely left its mark — hence the weird breakfast time flashback I described at the start of this blog — but as of now, I feel that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing for the first time in quite a while. This feels right.

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Me, giving my past one last look and journeying into my future / my future estate

S/o to Throat Culture Sketch Comedy Group for meme-ing me to perfection

A Major Change

When I first got to Hopkins, I had little to no idea what I really wanted to do. My interests were obviously centered in the humanities, and I loved to write. Beyond this, however, I didn’t have a clear path in mind, and so I chose the major that had my primary focus right in the title: Writing Seminars. I’d wanted to explore creative writing for a while, and the introductory classes that constituted my requirements for the year, along with the diverse distribution requirements (History, Philosophy and English) made it seem like this was the major that would fit perfectly with my main skills and interdisciplinary interests.

As most people will tell you, the jump from freshman to sophomore year is more overwhelming than expected. Major requirements become more specialized (at least for Writing Seminars), living arrangements change completely, and among a plethora of other social and academic factors, there’s a preconceived notion that you should feel totally comfortable slipping back into the Hopkins sphere. Inevitably, the bubble bursts, and for some reason you tend to reevaluate just about every aspect of your “path” here. For me, this came to fruition with my Intro to Fiction class: an entire semester devoted to in-class fiction writing exercises and the presentation of an original 10-15 page short story at the end of the semester. The task seemed daunting at the beginning of the semester, and so it proved to be as the weeks progressed. We were required to read several short stories and analyze them for each class (which was easily my favorite component), but this ultimately constituted a small portion of the classtime. I found myself begrudgingly confronting each new writing exercise, with the presence of my final short story looming over me the entire semester.

I got to go home for Christmas break enviably early, before the official finals cycle even began. I used the time to decompress, but also to address what exactly left me feeling slightly unfulfilled by the term’s end. Most of my other classes fell directly within my true interests: a journalistic writing class and a museum studies class, for example, were easily the highlights of my academic experience at Hopkins thus far. But neither were required for or relevant to the essence of my major. I felt pretty embarrassed about how long it took for me to realize the futility of my current track in relation to what I naturally gravitate towards. After several long conversations with my parents and more than a few long dog walks (my personal favorite mode of contemplation), I came to the conclusion that I simply wasn’t happy being a Writing Seminars major at Hopkins, even with its impressive array of faculty and alumni. I missed analytical writing and the flexibility to take more diverse humanities classes, and unfortunately, it took being semi-miserable in a fiction writing class and an exorbitantly long holiday break for me to reevaluate my direction.

I’m reassured by the fact that plenty of students at Hopkins and all over the country change their majors at least once in their college careers, and luckily for me, English isn’t too far of a jump from Writing Seminars. When I spoke to a friend about making what at first seemed like a badly timed cataclysmic shift, she mentioned that I was fortunate enough to have the epiphany this early on and not first semester senior year: she wasn’t wrong. At this point, I’m glad to be back for Intersession, taking a class on the philosophy of aesthetics (which sounds more pretentious than it is in our discussions, in which a bunch of non-philosophy majors try to strip Plato’s writing down to the very basic building blocks), and trying to reconfigure my courseload for next semester. I feel a newfound sense of control over my life, like I finally took a stand for what truly mattered to me in some climactic faceoff. But I’m just going to embrace it for now, and wait for the sentence “I’m an English major,” to sound more casual than the way it sounds now: weirdly strained and overexcited. We’ll see if that day ever comes.

S/o to Throat Culture Sketch Comedy Group for meme-ing me to perfection

S/o to Throat Culture Sketch Comedy Group for meme-ing me to perfection

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Term-ination

My last post was written from the comforts of my home in Pittsburgh, and due to the blessed/cursed finals schedule I had after Thanksgiving break, I’m now writing this post from — you guessed it — home. Finals week ended much more quickly for me than for almost everyone else I know at Hopkins — JHU_Emily just finished up her last final yesterday, for example — and I got to come home last week. In the end I think it was a blessing, but it’s definitely taken a great deal of processing to feel “done” with fall semester. Rather than emerge from a three hour final triumphantly, tossing my notes into the wind and snapping pencils in half (because this is what people normally do), I calmly emailed a final assignment on a Tuesday morning and went home less than 24 hours later. Not exactly the cathartic mic drop moment I had in mind.

Fall semester was, in a word, weird. As we all know, this word has myriad interpretations and is probably overused to the point of having no real meaning at all, but let’s deconstruct. Coming back for the second go round was something I hyped up in my head — a lot. Freshman fall is an exciting time by nature, but sophomore fall is something entirely different, more of a peaceful reacquaintance than anything else. I quickly grew accustomed to walking across campus again, to seeing friends, to JHMI-ing around when I could and spending long days and nights in Gilman Hall. Still, I came back to school refreshed and ready to settle into my Extremely Cool Room that was All Mine because “apartment living” is available to us regal sophomores at Hopkins. I finally entered Gilman for the first time in three months, and lo and behold, it got its own geotag in my absence, a geotag that makes little to no sense in the general context of Gilman but that I’m fine with nonetheless:

Technology is amazing

Technology is amazing

I had high expectations for this past semester, and on several levels, they were fulfilled. I took some really interesting classes, which you can read about here and here. I pushed myself even further as a writer by taking a journalistic writing class taught by a former New York Magazine editor and didn’t let a Hopkins science class get the best of me after all. I re-engaged with my favorite “extracurricular activities” and my favorite people, and I spent a spooky amount of time eating food in study spaces with JHU_Emily.

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Brody Black Bean Burger, a Diet Coke and a Printed Sweater: A JHU_Emily Midterms Survival Pack

Despite the anticlimactic nature of this semester’s end, I can safely say I’m glad with the way it turned out. The lack of entrance/exit fanfare was, at first, kind of disconcerting, but given the little time I had to really reflect on the term’s trajectory at school, I’m grateful to be back in a place where I can unwind and trace the productivity of the past three months. The Hopkins state of mind, while extremely important in my development as a Real Human Person, often leaves little room for release and reflection, especially in the onset of finals. Mental topics shift from this class to the next to planning a working dinner to trying to calculate potential hours of sleep for the night, and the Pittsburgh bubble, while not being a tropical vacation spot or European metropolis, will do just fine for me to unwind a bit before the next academic season. I’ll be back in about three weeks or so for Intersession Adventures 2k16, but in the meantime, you can find me over here in Pittsburgh, filling out internship and study abroad applications, sending JHU_Girija snapchats of my dog, and making lists like there’s no tomorrow — see you next year!

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