Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A word on online education

A little over a year ago, when I was first looking into MFA programs, I sort of had my heart set on enrolling at either BYU or the University of Utah (yes, you read that right). But because I hadn't taken the GRE yet and had missed the application deadlines by about five months, the earliest I would have been able to start school was September 2013, assuming I got in. One adviser at the U said I could take a few classes before being officially accepted, but even then it would be January 2013 before I could start anything.

I didn't want to wait that long. My decision to go to grad school literally happened overnight (on Memorial Day, to be exact), and once I had decided, I couldn't stand the thought of delaying. I wanted to seize the opportunity before I had a chance to talk myself out of it.

So I started looking into online programs. After some obsessive researching, I applied to Southern New Hampshire University, and by mid-June I had been accepted.

I had my doubts about doing my masters 100 percent online. I didn't think that an online degree held as much weight as a brick-and-mortar degree, and I worried that I was taking the easy way out.

From where I'm sitting now, though, it's obvious by the way everything fell into place so quickly that SNHU was where I needed to be.

So here's how my program works. Each term is 11 weeks long, and each week has readings, discussion boards, workshops, writing assignments, etc. (this is not a go-at-your-own-pace program). Instead of recorded lectures, we are given a module overview (usually a couple of pages) to read, and the teacher does the rest of his/her teaching by responding to our discussion board posts and asking deeper questions when relevant.

It's a fantastic system. I don't feel like I am being short-changed at all. With the exception of one professor my teachers have been awesome, the classes are very interactive despite the fact that we're spread across several continents, and I have grown immensely as both a writer and a person.

In fact, this learning environment is better for me in a lot of ways than traditional schools. I thought I would miss having live classroom discussions, but I actually get more out of the online discussions. I've always been a backseat observer and I've never been good at coming up with brilliant responses on the spot, but now I have time to "listen" to what others are saying, process it, and form my own opinion before responding when I'm ready. This is the first time I've really been an active part of the discussion, which has made my learning experience so much richer.

I think it goes without saying that I also love not having to find time to meet with an assigned study group, participate in stupid group projects, and sit through days of boring presentations. Schools put way too much emphasis on group interaction these days. Learning to work in teams is important is a skill everyone should develop, but it is not the best setting for people like me to learn in. My teachers thought they were doing us all a favor by planning "fun" group learning activities, but this usually left me exhausted and a little traumatized. I never thrived in that environment, but I'm thriving at SNHU in ways it wasn't possible at Payson High or BYU, simply because I'm left alone.

Because my program is all about writing and reading, it works perfectly online. It would be really, um, difficult, to learn how to be, say, a doctor, online, but we writers are in a much more flexible field.

I still don't think online education should replace brick-and-mortar schools (especially in grades K-8), but I also don't buy the long-held assumption that live classroom instruction is always better, either. There's room for both in this world. I, for one, am glad I got to experience both.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pride goeth before the fall

I tried not to get caught up in the rivalry week fervor this year. BYU's last three losses (the last two in particular) were heartbreaking, heightened by the fact that I allowed myself to dream about going to work victorious the following Monday.

Instead I had to face gloating Ute fans. 

I do not want to go through that again. I have pride, people, and I don't like having it rubbed in my face. 

By way of protection, I decided that this year I would have a zen, come-what-may attitude about the whole thing. I would keep my silence and think about the Texas game instead.

But how do you keep your cool when someone asks you--all in good fun--where you're going to watch BYU lose? How do you remain silent when people keep stopping by your desk to deliver another BYU-specific doom's-day prophecy?

You can't, that's what. You have to fight back.

D(arn) the consequences.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hello, Skechers

This morning I did something I haven't done since May: I donned socks and shoes before leaving for work. I've been trying to transition out of open-toed shoes all week, but I just wasn't ready to reprise my role as Heartless Jailer of Feet.

But this morning it was below 50 degrees. For the first time in many months, my toes were cold.

I approached my dresser and stared at it, trying to remember why I was there when I was already fully clothed. After opening the wrong small drawer, I opened the one on the right and dug through my white socks that I grudgingly put on for each of my softball games and found a pair of forlorn-looking black socks. As I was putting them on, my eyes searched for my black Skechers beneath the pile of flip flops and sandals. Since I don't have X-ray vision this was a pointless exercise, so I got on my hands and knees and shoved several shoes aside until my hands found the shoes that had been overlooked for months.

It took me over two minutes to tie them. (I'm a little out of practice at achieving the perfect balance of snug but not too tight, okay?)

And so it begins: shoes, jackets, hot chocolate, pumpkins, chimney smoke, colorful leaves, the itch to play Christmas songs on the piano, and football. Autumn, I am so glad you're here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

My unlucky birthday

I've been looking forward to this day for quite some time. I haven't had a Friday-the-13th birthday since 2002, when I turned the wee age of 15. That was the year that started my I-don't-want-people-to-know-it's-my-birthday complex. (Let's just say that I got a little too much attention, which is kind of traumatizing for a teenager who hates being in the spotlight.)

This year I relented a little on my birthday secretiveness because this particular birthday is more awesome than all the others. Not only is it Friday the 13th, but it's also the year 2013 and I'm turning 13 x 2.

So here are 13 highlights of my unlucky birthday.

1. Unsurprisingly, it all begins with Harry Potter. Technically, the announcement that J.K. Rowling will be writing the screenplay for a movie series based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released yesterday, but I consider it an early birthday present because today, the world revolves around me. The series will begin in 1920s New York and will star Newt Scamander, author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Just think about all that that might entail: American wizarding culture, cameos from an auburn-haired, 40-year-old Dumbledore, concrete representations of magical creatures we haven't seen yet. While I would still rather get an 800-page book set in the Harry Potter world, a movie series written by JKR herself is the next best thing. I always knew in my heart that she wasn't done with Potter. Judging by how much Harry Potter Withdrawals suck for avid fans like me, I can't even imagine what they must be like for her, the person who knows that world and its people better than anyone else. Mark my words, this won't be the last Harry Potter project she's involved in, either.

2. It was rainy and gloomy most of the day. My favorite kind of day.

3. The sales/marketing team at my office has a tradition that we go to lunch for everyone's birthdays, no questions asked. It's great.

4. I was serenaded to four times today. It was embarrassing all four times.

5. One of the miracles of life is that no matter how full you are, there is always room for a few bites of cake / pie / ice cream / brownie. With extra chocolate on top.

6. Two of my co-workers argued over who got to pay for my meal.

7. I left work early and took a nap. I dreamed that I was taking a drama class and we were split into four groups to rehearse. Kimberly's group was awesome because James Moyer was in it. But I was stuck with Crosby (from Parenthood)—who wouldn't cooperate because he was playing with Jabbar the whole time—and a murderer who kept riding his scooter up and down the stairs.

8. This text from Tyrel: "Happy birthday ducky's sisster."

9. Listening to my Top 10 Favorites playlist in my car.

10. Austenland was both hilarious and satisfyingly swoon worthy. I kind of want to go see it again.

11. Going to a restaurant just because it looks interesting from the outside is risky, but we scored big time. Now I know of a sit-down restaurant 10 minutes from my apartment that has good Mexican food. And I've decided that I might have a salsa bar at my wedding. Along with the already planned root beer floats and fudge.

12. Mom's after-9:00 personality. "Captain Underpants!"

13. Nerdy gifts. I am now a proud owner of the Elder Wand. When I pulled it out of its velvet encasement I became drunk with power and Avada Kedavra'd Shannan on the spot. I also got an awesome Harry Potter pillow, a new piano book, piano earrings, another Piano Guys CD, an earring holder, and chapstick (green apple Jolly Rancher and chocolate syrup—it actually comes in a container shaped like a chocolate syrup bottle and it tastes like chocolate).

Yup, my fifth Friday-the-13th birthday was pretty freakin' awesome.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Harry Potter Withdrawals. Again.

I think I need to join a Harry Potter support group. It would do me some good to be around people who fully understand the grief I feel every time I finish the series, to talk me out of the crushing guilt that descends upon me when I crack open another book when Harry Potter is still reeling in my mind.

It's comforting, in a way, to know that after 6–10 re-reads, the Harry Potter series still has the power to  stimulate such powerful emotions in me. The Quidditch Final in Prisoner of Azkaban still sends me soaring to Cloud 9, Sirius's death in Order of the Phoenix still breaks my heart, and Deathly Hallows still leaves a gaping hole in my soul when I finish reading it.

It always boggles my mind when I hear of people who gave up in the middle of the series because they were bored, or who haven't gotten around to reading the books yet. Don't they know that every sacrifice—whether it be sleep, money, time spent with family and friends, or PTO time—is worth it to feed your soul with this world that J.K. Rowling so exquisitely describes?

But I've come to the understanding that Harry Potter is my perfect series. That's not to say it doesn't affect thousands of devoted fans the way it affects me, but rather that its perfect blend of humor, lovable characters, and wonder is the exact right formula to touch me the way it does, to continue to entertain me after reading the books more than any sane person should. Harry Potter isn't this wonderful elixir to everyone, but it is for me, and for a lot of other people as well.

So I've checked off phase one of my Harry Potter Withdrawals recovery process: write about my feelings. Now it's time for the most painful step: pack the books away and read something else. I think I'll go easy on myself and start with The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Summer reflections

Labor Day has come and gone: BYU lost its first football game and Payson Community Theater's production of Shrek: The Musical has already drifted into memory lane. I'm not sure how that happened.

Several weeks ago I was at an after-church social and I asked this girl how her summer was going. Her reply was, "I'm not gonna lie--it's been really boring."

I could definitely relate. I was that girl last summer (and the summer before that, and before that, and before that . . . ). Not counting the week I spent romping through California, I spent most of last summer bored. It's no coincidence that it was just over a year ago that I made the decision to go back to school.

But this summer was different. Even though I never crossed any Utah state lines, rode any roller coasters, or actually slept in a tent outside; even though my job was, shall we say, less than thrilling; even though I was stressed about a lot of things, it was a good, full summer, one that I can look back on without any regrets.

And I think I know why: school. School was the salt of my summer, the ingredient that enriched everything else. With about 20 hours a week dedicated to studying British literature, experimenting with creative nonfiction writing, and trying to digest the mess that is modern publishing, my mind got the nourishment it needed to keep the rest of me happy and productive. Not too long ago, four months of homework-less bliss was the highlight of my summer, but my have the tides changed.

*That's not to say I enjoyed every moment of school. I still hate research papers. And there were days I really struggled summoning the willpower to get even just a half hour of work done.*

It's highly likely that my fondness for summer school is due to the fact that I don't have school for the next three weeks, so I'm feeling a lot more forgiving of the thing that monopolized so many of my evenings and Saturdays.

So, it's been a pretty good summer. In addition to my literary life, I also found golden nuggets in many other simple things, such as:
  • Softball. As much fun as I had playing, I consider it a small miracle that my social ineptitudes never managed to talk me out of going to a game.
  • Rainstorms. I played softball and kickball in the rain, and I went on the most glorious walk of my life in the warm evening rain.
  • Summer evening walks. One of my favorite things about summer. It's going to be really hard to give those up when temperatures plummet to the 40s.
  • Drives with all four windows rolled down. Another one of my favorite things about summer.
  • Harry Potter. Harry Potter has brought so much happiness into my life, and it's been wonderful to visit the Wizarding world again. I'm finishing book 7 tonight and I'm already feeling the painful compression in my chest that means I won't escape withdrawal pains this time either.
  • Time with friends and family.
  • Rewatching my favorite TV shows. Man, it's nice to have the occasional 43-minute escape from life, especially since it's easier on the eyes than reading.