Saturday, October 15, 2011

GRE Fever (and the perils of being a kangaroo)

This might get ever so slightly ranty/preachy/wallowy, so be warned.

My forays into standardized testing have never been what one might characterize as especially "successful."  In fact, more often than not, they are utterly disastrous.  I spend far too long being far too analytical about questions that should really be simple and straight forward.

Case in point,

Bob is Tommy's Dad; therefore, Bob is:

a. male

b. female

c. a tooth brush

Chances are, if confronted by such a question on a standardize test, instead of judiciously selecting (duh), a. male, I will begin by contemplating the meaning of gender and the nature of language as an arbitrary system of signs and symbols.  I'm not kidding.  I will actually start thinking about these insipid multiple choice answers philosophically.  As a result, I will in all likelihood end up selecting, c. tooth brush, with a whole beautiful mind-esque collage of notes and scraps of underlined passages from Heidegger explicating my reasoning.  It's a problem.

Initially, I thought my largest issue with standardized testing was boredom.  When taking my PSATs and SATs in high school, I, being an intrinsically irresponsible waltzing-to-my-own tune-free-spirit, found myself circling random answers in an effort to stave off the ennui and inevitable hunger pains (who takes a test before lunch, honesty!).  It was all so dumb and tedious and I just wanted it to be over with--I just wanted to curl up with my tattered copy of Jane Eyre and a hot dog and forget the whole thing ever happened.  It wasn't until years later when I actually tried to do well on the GRE's, and found that I couldn't, that I realized this type of timed thinking/reading/inquiry really wasn't a talent of mine.

And I'm okay with that.  Emily Dickinson once described herself in a letter as "the only Kangaroo among the beauty" and that's me.  I'm the kangaroo--a peculiar, random, at times imprudent, and often unconventional creature.  I will always be an odd choice as the subject for a poem.  But it is precisely my strange kangaroo nature, with my unusual kangaroo way of thinking, that makes me such a good literary critic.  I rarely, if ever, read the same text and come to the same exact conclusion about it as everyone else.  And I really value that about myself.

Well, most of the time, anyway.

I must confess, it's sometimes hard not feel defeated when I study my little tail off for one of these exams and still earn poor to mediocre scores. 

My most recent adventure in standardized testing was taking the GRE subject test in English literature, which I was convinced that after passing the comprehensive exam for my graduate program (with flying colors), would be a cinch.  I was wrong.

I took one practice test and did abysmally.

So I reviewed more and studied harder and took another.  Still, no change.

Before we proceed any further, dear reader, it's vital that you understand the sheer broadness/difficulty of this test; otherwise, what I am about to relate will be totally lost on you.  This particular subject test requires you to know EVERYTHINGEVER about literature and expects you to not only retain absurd amounts of literary trivia but also to read complex passages and answer questions in response to them all in less than a minute a piece; that is, if you want to finish all 230 questions in 175 minutes.  Don't go too fast or you'll mess up.  But don't go too slow or you will run out of time.

In short, it's an impossible feat for me: the slow (very unkangaroo-like in this respect), obsessive, methodical scholar that I am.

To appreciate how much effort I put into preparing and studying for this exam in order to do well, I have provided some visual aids.

Exhibit A:

My stack of literary terms

Exhibit B:

My stack of authors and author's works.  Arranged in chronological order.

Exhibit C:

More notes of more authors with more information about their works and contributions (this is double sided)

And it did absolutely no good.  I would have been equally prepared to take the test, had I gone into it cold.  There was positively nothing, for example, on the Victorian essayists even though they dominated the practice tests that I took which in turn led me to spend so much expletive time learning how to differentiate between them.

I'm hoping that I did better than I think I did.  I'm hoping that my scores won't cause me to be filtered out of programs that I want to potentially get into.  I'm even (secretly) hoping that God will intervene and change all my incorrect answers into correct ones (the same hope my father had after he turned in tests during college).  I am hoping and hoping and hoping.  For lots of things.

And Moses, in his infinite wisdom says, "Wendy, you can't be amazing at everything."

And he's right (as usual) but I want to be.  And I want to not feel stupid and alienated after finishing these tests.  And I would prefer not to have to spend $160 to be reminded of just how particularly inept I am at solving these simple riddles that I myself embroider with complexity.  Bad kangaroo.  Bad.

Well, in happier news, it's fall.  Not that that means very much in California.  But I find my thoughts tenderly turned eastward to the brilliant hues of home that this season brings.

So I leave you with one of my favorite fall pictures (of our pond and the beavers' dam) taken by one of my favorite people (my brother Scott):

Happy Autumn.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Everyone should have a Moses.

Today has been an absurdly long day of conferencing with students and lecturing on semiotics--relying on little else than coffee for sustenance.  It was preceded by an even longer and more arduous day of pacing around my apartment and muttering to myself for no fewer than twelve hours to compose two measly paragraphs of my peculiar uni-bomber-esque manifesto (referred to affectionately by academics as a statement of purpose).  Which, I might add, eventually needs to be three single spaced pages.

It already feels like it's been a long week and it's only Monday.


And here's the best part.

I returned home to find that Moses had cleaned AND vacuumed AND rearranged the furniture (like we had been planning).

It was glorious.  I almost cried.

He's the absolute greatest.

Yes, you are.