Gilman Girl

The Life & Rhymes of Molly Y., English Major

Tag: Perspectives

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A Nest of Sorts

As a senior, I’m supposed to be 9am-class-free. But alas: I changed my major sophomore year, and am thus left with a few lower-level degree requirements to fulfill (i.e. a 9am lecture every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). The morning person in me embraces it, even with its violation of the “easy senior year courseload” expectation. The senior in me, though prevented from having class-free mornings this semester, has also come to embrace it, because (among other intellectually stimulated reasons) my section happens in the clock tower room. What is the clock tower room? It’s a room in the clock tower of Gilman Hall overlooking the quad and the library, easily accessed by the swipe of a J-Card. Until my 9am feminist fiction class, I had no idea it existed — let alone that I, an undergraduate simpleton, could enter it free of charge / sans special gilded key, etc.

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Because I’m an emotional cheesewhiz, I have, of course, taken this recent discovery and made it into a metaphor for how I’d like my last year at Hopkins to go (and, in all honesty, how it has already been going just one month in). For all my time here, there continue to be things about this place that pleasantly take me by surprise — from a new study room with a glorious view in my favorite building on campus, to  a quality reading series, to a newfound appreciation for the literary goldmine that is D-Level of the library (as I mentioned over the summer). As I’ve grown here, the landscape has changed — expanded, really — to provide the kind of variation senior me craves, after three years of supposedly having gotten to know everything there is to know about this place. Unsurprisingly, things haven’t plateaued; I’m reminded of this each time I make the hike up to the fourth floor for my 9am section in a skylit room, the Gilman bell clanging every fifteen minutes right above us.

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Linguistically Yours

Despite the humanities-centric nature of my schedule this semester, I still had to fill a portion of my overall science/math requirements, in the hopes of, you know, graduating.While we don’t have core requirements in the way of specific classes here at Hopkins, we do have them in terms of overall distribution. The science/math related ones fall under the big umbrella of NQE, which stand for Natural Science, Quantitative Science, and Engineering, respectively. Do these titles make me a little nervous? In keeping with the brutal honesty of this blog, I have to say: yes. I took one look at them as a pre-frosh and maybe turned on some pre-Viva La Vida Coldplay and breathed in and out a few times. Now, approximately halfway through my first semester of sophomore year and through my NQE credits, I can safely say that, as a Writing Seminars major with science class stage fright,  tackling the distribution requirements here is a more manageable — and dare I say, interesting — task than I first envisioned, partially thanks to the unexpectedly cool (and very difficult, but again, cool) linguistics class I’m taking right now.

Language and Mind is technically a beginner level linguistics class, cross-listed under both the Cognitive Science and Psychology departments. To save myself from ever having to walk into a lab and mix things in a beaker ever again (too many high school lab catastrophes to mention here), I tend to veer towards these types of NQE’s. In addition to this, and if I’m keeping with the brutally honest theme here, they tend to have some degree of overlap with what I’m learning in my other classes. For example, learning to write well and analyzing good writing both inevitably veer into conversations about human psychology and nuances — nuances in the people being written about, in the ways your own narrative tends to form, and ultimately, in reconciling the two in a well-developed piece of prose, fiction, journalism, etc. Finding this point of intersection (if it exists) and making the most of it often helps to keep me focused on work that, again, while very interesting, also has its moments of intellectual swampiness that I don’t feel like dealing with, but ultimately have to.

But back to Language and Mind. I signed up for the class because of its intriguing yet tame description: “Introductory course dealing with theory, methods, and current research topics in the study of language as a component of the mind. What it is to “know” a language: components of linguistic knowledge (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics) and the course of language acquisition. How linguistic knowledge is put to use: language and the brain and linguistic processing in various domains. This course is restricted to freshmen and sophomores.” Key phrases: introductory course, what it is to ‘know’ a language, restricted to freshmen and sophomores.

The first few classes required mostly reading-based homework and discussion, which was great. A very odd, very obscure part of me really loves to have a gargantuan text in front of me and take lengthy notes (maybe because I love the feeling of pen to paper? will investigate this and update you in future blog posts), and doing so in this class was and still is an integral way for me to fully process the complex range of information we’re learning. However, within approximately two weeks of the first lecture, the professor said the compound word “problem sets” for the first time, and my stomach may or may not have done a poorly-executed somersault. I could easily have keeled over and remained in fetal position (maybe physically, maybe metaphorically, maybe both) at this point, but with hopes of maintaining a strong GPA this semester for study abroad application in the spring and a little bit of “gumption”, I decided to stay in the class and see what was good.

While there have been trying times, I’m glad to say that the decision was a good one. I’ve learned to transcribe English words phonetically, the phonemic knowledge behind the phonetics (aka the psychology behind the way we speak — you guys, there is more than one way that we actually pronounce the letter ‘t’…just gonna leave that there), the morphological structure of words, and, by far the most complex section which we’ve just completed, syntax. Some of my favorite portions of the class have been about linguistic theory, a lot of which is devoted to the fact that newborn babies and young children have this inexplicable aptitude for language acquisition and phoneme distinguishing across languages that older humans just don’t.

The great linguistic minds of the world still haven’t figured out how this phenomenon works or why it exists, but they affectionately refer to it as innate knowledge and The Paradox of Language Acquisition. Children don’t fully learn a language by being taught; rather, they have this subconscious way of figuring certain things out, a “mental grammar” that they can create for themselves based on whatever language(s) they’re learning. That grammar stays with them into adulthood and continuously shapes, but it is in its most malleable and powerful form when they’re in the ‘universal listener’ stage, which ends after the first year of life.

The interesting aspects of the class are definitely counterbalanced by more technical, application based learning that has required a very specific mixture of repetition, good study music, and focus to master. Still, despite my initial fears about said learning, the challenge has been an unexpectedly good test of my work ethic and ability to prioritize, to keep the end goals in mind and not just let my aversion to science-related academics be an excuse for mediocre work. And, like I said way before, there are some genuinely fascinating theories out there about the way we learn language and some genuinely crazy facts about how many layers there are to one word, one phrase, one sentence. As a Writing Sems major who manipulates and analyzes language on a daily basis (and as a low-key logophile), knowing the science behind language gives what I do a new spin as well, a new awareness of the true power of language, as cheesy as that sounds. In sum, Language and Mind has made the distribution requirement feel like less of tedious load and more of a way to keep my education at Hopkins truly well-rounded, in a way that’s simultaneously manageable and meaningful.

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A BaltiMidterms Narration

While I’m by no means a time management expert, I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two about how to navigate midterms season at Hopkins in a way that leaves me feeling (slightly) less frazzled than my freshman fall self. I haven’t yet achieved the perfect balance between the vigorously studious moments and the Fun Times with Friends, but thus far, this year’s stretch of midterms has gone markedly better, due in part to the routine I’ve slowly but surely adopted over the past year. It’s got a little bit of everything: some Baltimore goodness, some Gilman, and maybe some mid-2000’s R&B/hip-hop.

It’s Saturday morning. I wake up at approximately 7:30 am, because I, much like my dear homie JHU_Emily, kind of like being up early in the morning. I shower,  put on some attire, and look outside. The sun is streaming through the windows of my apartment, and I realize that going to Gilman today will probably make me kind of sad; I want to frolic in the sunshine, breathe the Balti air, and surround myself with the unpredictable mass of humans who exist outside of the Hopkins bubble. It’s Saturday. However, I still have work to do. There’s no getting around that. It’s a Saturday during midterms season, and I may or may not have a behemoth of a linguistics midterm coming just round the bend.

I put the essential study materials in my backpack, put on my playlist inexplicably entitled “hop-scotch” that starts with this song, and catch the 9 o’clock JHMI. I’m going to Red Emma’s in Station North, because I can comfortably sprawl out my work and maybe my limbs across one of its square tables and also get some “grub.” Here is the cheesy snapchat my friend took of me as I contemplated my workload/stomach’s needs:

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and here is the really bad panorama I tried and failed to subtly take of my surroundings for the sake of this blog:

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Maybe getting off campus to study sounds like a time-consuming/pointless/didImentiontimeconsuming endeavor. Maybe it is in certain situations, but it’s become a necessity for me during some of the most stressful parts of a typical Hopkins semester. We obviously have myriad study spots on campus, which you can get sufficient glimpses of in the H-I blogs or in various admissions pamphlets. Still, I’ve found that staying exclusively on campus to study can be more conducive to psyching me out than it is to approaching academic rigor with a sense of capability. All of a sudden, school becomes the end-all be-all, and my mind goes like this: There is no life after Hopkins, Hopkins is the final countdown, my hopes and dreams will be unattainable if these tests don’t go well for me, is there even a world outside of this big marble sign?

For the sake of maintaining my sanity in a place where the work load often feels insurmountable and campus sometimes gets a bit all-consuming, taking a free ten-minute shuttle ride to a different type of microcosm is rarely a bad idea. Older people and younger people and in-between people I don’t know sip their coffee and do their respective “thing”, and they’ve probably taken their fair share of stressful weeks as well. I look up from my work to creepily watch them for a moment and gain some perspective. I then continue to do my “thing”, i.e. tackle the day’s academic tasks, ideally whilst nestled at a table by the window overlooking W. North Ave.

*Transition to several hours and a JHMI ride home and a quick dinner later*

With a good portion of my weekend homework out of the way, I decide to spend the evening from 9pm onwards not thinking about passive transformations and syntax in linguistics or Jacques Ranciere’s dense (but very interesting) prose. I manage to catch a few gallery openings with the artist formerly known as JHU_Joseph and dance to the sounds of the sixties at The Crown, a Baltimore favorite for almost any kind of performance just down North Charles Street. Here is what all of that looks like:

Amanda Horowitz, I <3 My Emergency

Amanda Horowitz, I <3 My Emergency

JHU_Ebo and JHU_Grace, taking a chill pill mid-dance party

JHU_Ebo and JHU_Grace, taking a chill pill mid-dance party

*Approximately 8 hours of sleeping later*

Today is not quite as nice as the day and night before, and that’s okay. I’m in Gilman, and I look something like this:

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Today is for confronting the terrifying underbelly of my linguistics homework, starting to write a 15-page short story that will be read by everyone in my fiction class, and tackling some hefty portions of Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics. It’s for some coffee and a little bit of calming piano music, which will later change to a playlist comprised entirely of my and JHU_Emily’s tried and true pump-up jams, because I still haven’t finished my linguistics homework, and I need Drake to reassure me that I’m fully capable of doing so.

a glimpse

a glimpse

Today is the flow portion of the midterms “ebb and flow.” It requires a good bit of concentration and a reliable set of playlists to fit the 5 stages of focus I go through over the course of my work day. There are many days like this at Hopkins, and not just during midterms season. Still, I manage to make it through the wilderness with some iteration of what I wrote about here. It’s a delicate balance that I’m only just starting to adopt as my own, but that I’m hoping will keep me grounded in the months to come.

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