Monday, November 28, 2011

Amateur reflections on the German language

I'm taking beginning German this semester. The only other language study I've had was French, from 6th-10th grade. I stopped taking it after 10th grade because I was somehow a year accelerated so the requirement was fulfilled, and I wanted to take AP music theory. So this is my first time learning a gendered language and actually being aware of the implications of language being explicitly gendered. In French, my only criticism of gendered nouns was that I could never remember which was which. Now, I'm hyper-aware of the prejudices. I blame critical theory.

So, today, we learned that the ending -chen means a little version of the noun. If the original noun is a 'der' word (masculine), adding -chen makes it a 'das' word (neutral). I'd give an example but I don't actually have one and the internet isn't being nice to me. But basically, a masculine word becomes neutral when it becomes smaller. From where I'm standing, that means that masculinity is associated with being big and strong, because a smaler version of something is no longer masculine. I could elaborate on this for a very long time, but I'll spare both myself and you the trouble.

I'm annoyed by German because it's difficult. But I'm also annoyed because the language has these sexist characteristics that nobody wants to acknowledge, at least in my class. To be fair, though, it's an intro-level language class; if we debated linguistic implications, we'd never learn how to conjugate verbs.

Something else about German: I came up with a way to remember endings for the dative case. We have this little rhyme we used for remembering endings for nominative and accusative cases, respectively--RESE NESE (deR diE daS diE/deN diE daS diE for masc., fem., neut., and pl.). Make another row for dative and it's MRMN (deM deR deM deN). It's MRMN like Ethel Merman, who's challenging and kind of the dative case.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

OMG, college.

As of about 11:30 this morning, I'm done applying to graduate school. I still have six months until graduation, but I'm in a decent place to reflect upon four years of an undergraduate experience.

Our culture places an unmanageable importance on going to college.

First, the practical side of the coin: go to college, major in something practical, get a 9-5 job, join the middle class. If you went to my high school, you were told that you had to go to a top-notch college, or risk shaming your secondary education, family, friends, and hometown. Serious business. Ever year, the folks in the guidance office asked seniors to write their name and their chosen college/university on giant poster papers, which eventually lined the walls of the guidance suite. There were lots of Ivies, lots of SUNYs, some liberal arts colleges, some out of state universities, and a couple community colleges. Early decision was a big deal; those of us who didn't "ED" a school were thought of as inferior, indecisive, and just plain misunderstood. We also experienced lots of anxiety beginning in December when our more vocal peers knew exactly where they were heading the next fall. Choosing the right school was secondary to choosing the best sounding school, which was evidenced by how many students from my high school transfer colleges after their freshman year. When it came to choosing a major, the acceptable choices were either science or business. If we chose something other than science or business, we were seen as lazy or unproductive. Justifying a music education major was difficult enough; I doubt I could have justified majoring in music history at the time. Arts and humanities were both seen as inferior, but the combination of the two? Toxic. But the narrative shoved down our throats, whether directly or indirectly, was to go to a brand name school, get a practical major, get a job, be a Westchesterite forever. I'm not even going to talk about alternatives to college, because we were made to believe there were none.

Second, the social. Like almost everybody I know, I didn't like high school. It was better than middle school, but definitely not the party seen on TV, and it definitely didn't live up to the experience I saw my sister and brother have before me. But that was ok, because everyone kept telling me that college would be the best four years of my life. My family, my teachers, the media: everyone with perspective (so I thought). I would have these magical social experiences, and life would start happening in a very real way. The days of the expected MRS degree are long gone, but its remnants are still very much a part of life. At least in my circles, hardly anyone gets engaged in college. Some do, and it always shocks everyone who knows them, coming as sort of a reality check. But with or without lasting commitment, serious relationships are expected, to say the least. Dating websites claim to recreate the college dating scene, putting everyone in the same place at the same time, looking for the same thing. It's funny, though, because those sites never address people like me who walk through college alone (except for the grilled cheese sandwich in my pocket. 500 points if you get the reference. Points redeemable for extensive bragging rights).

If you're me, you get lucky and someone with some perspective will tell you to stay positive because things will get better later on. But you have to be really lucky to find someone who'll tell you something like that and truly believe it.

Society puts all that social pressure on us, then tells us we're lazy if we don't spend every waking moment studying. Forget that--we're expected to forgo sleep in order to study more. Those who don't sleep take pride in their lack of rest, as if they're stronger than those who sleep. It's all justified, though, because we apparently don't work very hard. Earlier today, I stumbled upon this article about how some professors believe that college students don't study enough. It's written with a mentality that makes my blood boil. How can these anonymous professors prescribe the number of ours per week that students should study? Even better--how can they define "studying?" Is studying completing readings for class, doing homework assignments, re-reading textbooks, writing papers, or simply thinking about course material? What about arguing with friends over lunch? I'd consider that studying, but my opinion doesn't seem to matter.

So, we're faced with the expectations that we'll go to a school we and others can be proud of, earn an impressive degree in a "productive" field, all while making the best friends of our lives and leaving with "the one." No pressure.

I guess the most important lesson I've learned in college is that there's no way I can please everyone 100% of the time. The best I can do is to do my best and hope that things will even out. If you're pleasing everyone 100% of the time, you're probably doing something wrong. Right? There's this TED talk by Barry Schwartz, in which he claims that the secret to happiness is lowered expectations. He's probably right; we can't have it all, and we're better off being happy with what we have. But I'm not ready to settle yet.

Let me repeat: I'm not ready to settle yet.

Up until this point, I've pretty much had academic tunnelvision. I legitimately love the academic process, so I've had tunnelvision doing the thing I love and know I can do well. But I also know that there's quite a bit more to life than a career, even if it is an academic career. Without placing any less emphasis and importance on the school/work side of life, I'm making a resolution to care about the rest of it. Not just to care, but to do something about it. A very kind person recently told me that it's ok if life hasn't happened yet, and that it will soon. I needed to hear that. Life hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean that it won't. At this point, the ball's in my court.

All the pressure put on the college experience is both unrealistic and unfair, and it's ok if not everything happened the way it was *supposed to.*

So here's the thing. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm incredibly grateful for the experiences and connections I've had so far. I'm just taking this awkward moment, this applications-in-but-waiting-to-hear-and-six-more-months-of-undergrad moment, to take stock of where I am and resolve to try and make a positive change.

Friday, November 25, 2011


I don't do Black Friday. Aggressive shopping just really isn't my thing. I'm looking for a new external hard drive, but from the comfort of my couch, while cuddling with my sister's dog, and watching Pirates of the Caribbean with commercials.



This is the dog, by the way. Her name is Piper and she's the best dog in the world.

I'm thinking about film scores, and how Pirates gets it right every time. I'm watching the first movie, so it's scored by Hans Zimmer. The same few themes come back over and over throughout; I should be sick of them. Something about the shameless modality-as-pirate-music is actually pretty great. These movies are also so wonderful on their own that it would be easy to forgive bad scoring.

Next time, I'll post more substantially. I'm too distracted by the dog to make any sweeping arguments about Anglophilia in American media culture or questioning why the rum is gone.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I've caught the blogging bug.

I've dabbled in blogging on different platforms for a very long time. The closest I ever came to a successful blog was on Tumblr, which I maintain. However, that became more about reblogging screenshots from Arrested Development than meaningful thought. I had a limited run on Blogger with my recital website, but that was never intended to be a living blog. Just yesterday, Amusicology published my guest-post about being a newbie at AMS. That was pretty cool. I really enjoy blogging, and I'd like to keep a more-or-less professional corner of the internet for my own thoughts and ramblings. I can't promise regular updating, but I do hope to generate some discussion.

Stay tuned while I make this thing look a bit nicer...