Tag Archives: english

last semester tirades, part 39,297

This is my senior year. Normally, this calls for celebration, mixed with a little anxiety, and a pinch of nostalgia. Yesterday, I registered for classes for the last time. Ever. It’s a bittersweet feeling, really, for many reasons. Sweet because I’m only taking four classes next semester, for the first time ever. Compared to this hellish, mind-numbing semester lacking any time to breathe, sleep, eat, or work on my writing, this 12-credit course unload is like the North star in my chaotic life. Also, for the first time since freshman year – ever since New Paltz decided to reformat the entire class schedule making it impossible for anyone to have off on Fridays – I will have a day off. Granted, it’s Wednesdays, but still. Glorious.

Bitter is an altogether different story.

Now, you’d think with my senior status and therefore early registration time in tow, that this normally excruciating process would be somewhat simple. Hell, last semester I registered for classes on another continent – at my aunt and uncle’s house, in Ireland, while being stuck there during the Icelandic volcano – and it took me all but 5 minutes. If that. This year, in New Paltz, I spent the two hours before registration scrambling around like the madwoman I am because one of my classes was already closed out. On the morning of the first day of registration. Please, someone tell me, who the hell is registering for an intro art class on the first day before 10:00am? I’m baffled. Not to mention, totally caught off-guard. Wasn’t this supposed to be easy? Weren’t last minute replacements meant for freshmen? Sophomores? Even juniors?

When I first started here, registration week started on Monday (mostly seniors/those with the most credits) and ended on Friday (freshmen). So of course, as a junior I was shocked to find that I was registering on a Thursday afternoon, as were most people upon discovering their later-than-usual registration slot. New Paltz told us they shifted everything and spaced out the registration times so that there will be less students registering at one time, thus decreasing the anxiety in the case of someone encountering a problem. Oh, I see. So how is it that I am being shut out of an intro art class on the first day of registration? Are there that many grad students/honors students/athletes in need of such a class? No. The answer is simple:

My school is out to get me.

I’m only half-kidding here. So far, I have dealt with being told I need to take Freshman Comp I as a senior English major (getting a 3.7 in her major) because the school lost my high school transcript; that I “didn’t hand in a thank-you letter for my scholarship” that I actually handed in at the end of July; that not only will I not receive my $500 refund check because of said thank-you letter, but I now owe the school $1600; being denied a measly $29 paycheck because my boss didn’t notice I didn’t sign a paycheck and then preceded to ignore e-mails from payroll; being ignored via e-mail by the chair of the English department and professors; and finally, being jerked around by the designated driver for a fund raising walk, resulting in me missing the walk. And this is just in this semester alone. Almost all of these things were resolved, but of course not without a fight. So what would my final semester be without one last tug at my nerves? Oh what’s that, Liz? You need this class to graduate? As the lady in payroll ever so condescendingly droned at you, making sure to nasally pronounce each syllable, “We apo-lo-gize for the in-con-ve-nience.”

Perhaps this is what my high school teachers were referring to when they relentlessly told us “College prepares you for the real world.” They weren’t actually talking about a lack of familiarity with your professors (Most of my professors prefer to be called by their first names) or the amount of independence in a classroom (My professors all remind us about papers and exams). No, they were all talking about the thickening of my skin and the strengthening of my backbone. Well that’s all fine and dandy, but as of right now (pending a response from this art professor) I’m signed up for a time-less, instructor-less Tuesday/Friday art class. Thanks New Paltz for being reliable in your unreliability. Much appreciated.

This rant was brought to you by the letters F and U.

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An Interior Design

So, I just finished my draft for my Fiction class. Not too excited about it, hoping to get some feedback in class tomorrow. Maybe y’all here can give me some suggestions as well. Otherwise, enjoy!

Interior Design by Liz Van Buren

Morning peeked its head through the yellow cotton curtains. The reflection it created enhanced the sun’s rays against the stark white walls of my bedroom. But what woke me is the low drone of the television, left on from the previous night, now playing a rerun of I Love Lucy. In bed, I tumbled over myself, curling into an inhuman ball of limbs. At seven a.m., I was not yet ready to face the day.

A soft breeze filtered through the propped window and underneath the golden cloth, so that the yellow illumination danced across the wall with each small gust. My deep shadow seemed abrasive against the egg yolk wallpaper, cracking and peeling from years of unattended water damage. With a prolonged stretch of stiff muscles and tired bones, I finally rose to greet the morning. An impression of Pete’s slumber lay next to me on my right. He never cared to sleep on the other side. In the beginning, Pete would rather I be awake when he wakes up, but now he would leave me sleeping as he crept out to go to work.

I worked from home, so I had a lot of alone time, most of which was consumed by weekly chores. When I was recovering from my injury three years ago, I was unable to go to work. Pete wouldn’t allow for it anyway. It’s not like I was handicapped or anything, but he worried about me going out in my condition. He really cared. Now, even though I was fully recovered and cleared to get any job I could, I still worked from home as Pete’s secretary of his furniture company. At this point, I was just used to it. At first, I would stay home and answer the phones all day, but these days Pete and I did a lot of shopping in town for lumber and fabrics.

I changed out of my pajamas – one of Pete’s once-white T-shirts, now discolored by time and sweat – and began excavating our neglected house in search of empty beer cans and overflowing ashtrays. I then washed the sun-dust off the windows with the tired cotton rags. Mopping the tiled kitchen floor involved several attempts, for our footprints were conserved with dirt; you could trace our journeys over the week through the house. The last task was always to vacuum the combination of a week’s worth of food crumbs, wood chips from the bottom of Pete’s boots, and the dust that collected on our raspberry carpets during my cleaning.

The tedium of cleaning often seemed to be of no use, because our deserted flat was five miles outside the nearest town. There was nothing to see, and nobody with whom to bask in this nothingness, except for Pete of course. But even still, he was never happy if the house was messy, and since I owed him my life, a little cleaning was insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

After wiping the remaining streak marks from the high windows, my gaze fell upon the outside world. I almost forgot what it looked like out there. In spring, the irises swallowed our home, opening themselves to the world and consequently closing us in from it. But now, in the winter, the naked branches stood like corpses, mummified by the snow.

Pete and I had been together for about four years, but I moved in with him right after my accident. When I met him I knew that there would be nothing to separate us, except for a five-year age difference. Though the accident and my consequential shock left me with only vague flashes of unpolished memories, I did know that a negligent driver hit me during one of the town’s heaviest hurricanes. Authorities told Pete that my car must have swerved sharply off the road, driving through the guardrail and down the steep shoulder, wrapping itself around a thick redwood trunk, an unfortunately common occurrence for teenagers. When I saw Pete in the waiting room the morning I was discharged, I knew I just had to stay with him.

 

Just like clockwork, he returned home every Friday at six p.m. Weekends were our time to spend together, free of his labors of running a business. For the first few years we were together, his need for relaxation resulted in us staying inside most weekends. I didn’t have many friends, and Pete was always happier to have me around the house when he came home. But just recently, we started driving into town every Friday for a walk around the block and lunch in his favorite café. I had to admit, it was nice to be outside.

It was the first weekend of January, so the streets were still sprinkled with the remnants of the New Year festivities – crumpled noisemakers under sidewalk benches, streamers imprinted with the bottom of snow boots, broken novelty sunglasses and crowns. As we walked, Pete’s hand gripping my hip towards his, I remembered hearing faint cheering from behind the full forest of empty trees at that stroke of midnight. When Pete shook me out of my memory, I couldn’t help but see a teenage boy – only a few years younger than I was – staring at me from across the street, like my eyes were drawn to him. He was sitting on a bench, legs and arms akimbo. He looked purposeful, like a watchman. Though his stare was not menacing, it was obvious he was thinking about something, which was still unnerving. As Pete and I continued on the slushy path, he followed us with his eyes, still thinking. He watched and watched until we turned the corner and he was out of sight. In my last moments in his line of vision, I looked back. I realized at that moment that he was looking at me like he knew me. Only he didn’t know how, so he was trying to figure it out. I never mentioned it to Pete. He was always a little territorial of me because he cared so much. I squished my body tighter against Pete’s for protection.

I forgot all about that incident until our next walk the following week.

Pete had to buy more cigarettes, so we stopped in the gas station two stores down from the café. He didn’t want me standing alone outside, though I never liked the awkward looks I got from the clerks. My eyes were focused on a pile of crumbling snow outside while he searched for his favorite brand. So I didn’t notice her approaching from across the street, and I wasn’t aware of the nervous look in her eye.

“Abby?” Her head was cocked to the right and her brows were pinching the top of her nose as though forced together with a needle. She stood there like a tree stump, frozen, beneath layers of winter garb. Her eyes bulged with delirium. She was standing in the doorjamb.

“Abby!” She called to me again. I had no choice but to respond, as she was now right in front of me.

“No ma’am I think you have the wrong per– ”

“But…oh but it has to be you, Abbs. It just has to be!” She was processing my body with her eyes – down to my toes, up to my hair, and back down again. It was as if she were trying to make sense of me. She went to touch my hand but Pete made sure that didn’t happen.

“No seriously, lady! You’ve got the wrong girl. ‘Scuse me.” He ignored the insistent expression on her face and pulled me out of the store, pushing across the strange woman’s body angrily.

But she didn’t stop. She followed us outside and though I wasn’t looking at her, I could hear that her voice was several steps behind us. She must have stopped.

“I would recognize her face anywhere,” she called out. This piqued my interest, so in spite of Pete, I turned around. “Don’t you remember? You’re my daughter!”

 

The bright spotlights shining through the translucent curtains gave the illusion of midday at midnight. I nudged my face against the front door window but all I remember is a white orb of light stinging my eyes all the way into my brain. I was blind to everything in front of me. I heard the cocking of weapons so I imagined the SWAT team raised their arms to their faces when they saw mine through the filthy window. I hadn’t cleaned the house at all that week.

In an instant, even through the light of emergency vehicles and blinding spotlights, I started to see everything clearly. I knew I recognized the boy on the bench. He had my eyes, and it was like I was staring at myself. It was Michael. But most importantly, I saw my mother. Not as she was that night, standing outside my once-home anxious to have me on the other side of the door; nor as she was that day outside the gas station, jittery, disoriented. No, I saw her as she was on my sixteenth birthday, calm, performing spatula arts in the kitchen as she prepared my favorite meal. She greeted me with a smile that morning, and a gift – a hand-decorated journal. Of course, it was the day I disappeared.

Yes, I saw it now. There was no accident. Flashing, cryptic images were slowly fitting themselves together. I walked to school that morning. I turned the corner. It was the path leading to the back entrance of the building. My friends, they stood at that entrance just before homeroom everyday, sharing a pack of Newports stolen from Kim’s mother’s carton. Before I arrived, before I could smell the familiar hint of nicotine, I was pulled by my hair, my face forced into a napkin of a toxic liquid. The last thing I can recall – faintly, however – was my leg being broken in what I think was the backseat of a van.

Now though, Pete was behind me, tugging at the tattered flannel shirt he had me wear and muttering some helpless plea, crazed just as my mother was that afternoon last week. From his eyes, I gathered he was begging me to stay, but I couldn’t hear him over the booming sounds of a man’s voice projected into a megaphone, carefully instructing me to come outside.

 

Returning home after being kidnapped has been difficult. It’s been challenging putting the pieces altogether, readjusting to my family, and my bedroom. When Pete took me, we stayed relatively close by; he thought it would throw everyone off. But he kept me inside for so long that everything seemed unrecognizable. If my brother hadn’t seen me in the park that day I’d still be with Pete. To be honest, there are days when I miss him. He never allowed us to have pictures in the house, but I have a distinct memory of his face: the harsh curl of his eyebrows, his jowls like a bloodhound. It’s the only memory that’s truly been mine in the last five years.

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Filed under Fiction, Short stories, Written Life

musings on a feather

Another hidden gem: circa 2008, Creative Writing 1.

Musings on a Feather by Liz Van Buren

I stare. I observe its fragile beauty and the careful way it rests on the table, almost levitating. I note its elegance as the wind carelessly carries it across the counter, hairs aflutter. But beyond its mannerisms – beyond the way these hairs dance like tiny hands when my breath escapes me – I see something else, something more. I find peace in the way something so fragile can stand on its own – in the way it can be detached from everything native,
drift

to

the

ground,
and yet survive, independent, after suffering a lifetime of hiding behind others. Once alive, it is now battered with the harshness of time, yet still floats on. I am actually inspired by this resilience.

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harriet the spy + why i write

So here I am, sitting in a cold, damp, deserted-dorm-room-turned-night-host-office and, instead of doing my homework, I am sifting through my Craft of Nonfiction portfolio compiled last Fall and came across this. I forgot I wrote this and it made me smile. Enjoy, and have sweet dreams as I sit here freezing my ears off.

Harriet the Spy and Other Reasons I Write by Liz Van Buren

It all started with Harriet the Spy. I was about seven when the movie came out, and the thought of there being an eleven year old spy exhilarated me. This was still around that time when I thought “anything was possible” and didn’t see anything wrong with that scenario. She traveled the dangerous streets of the city in her oversized yellow trench coat with all her “gear” tucked gently into coat pockets and the waistband of her pants. She also carried a composition notebook, personally decorated, which kept all of her observations and personal thoughts and speculations about all of the people she encountered in her travels. Harriet M. Welsch was the coolest girl alive to me, and I wanted to be a spy just like her.

Since the closest thing I had to a trench coat was a plastic Barbie raincoat, and my parents didn’t let me any farther than the front lobby, I settled on spying on people from my bedroom window, up on the sixth floor of an apartment complex mostly inhabited by Jewish seniors. This and my faulty binoculars did not stop me from believing I was going to achieve greatness as a seven-year old spy on my block. On my first day, I sat and scouted the building across the street, window by window, until I finally spotted someone moving on the third floor. I scrambled for my notebook – spiral not composition, and only decorated with the word “PRIVATE” in bubble letters – and began taking notes.

This lasted a total of fifteen minutes, until I realized that nothing interesting will come of a stay-at-home mom vacuuming and cleaning windows. Disappointed day after day with such poor results, I began to contrive my own observations – as a product of an overheated imagination. One night, I saw an adult male walk through his bedroom, look around for something, and then leave. He returned, looked out the window, and then shut the curtains. Though he probably saw the seven-year old Peeping Tom across the street and wanted some privacy, I imagined that he had some poor, innocent victim tied to a chair, ready to be sliced apart. He seemed like that kind of person. Because surely, a professional spy such as myself could read his facial expression accurately enough to make such a deduction from a hundred feet away.

But I suppose I am getting a little off-track.

Why do you write? I was once asked this very same question at a week-long writer’s workshop about four years ago. Many of the other impressionable young writers in my group spoke of family members, of being the first generation in their family to strive for education and success. Others said they hope to be published someday, and one kid even included that he often writes to calm himself from the paranoid feelings he gets while high on marijuana. We were a very eclectic bunch, I’d say. But the only problem is I don’t actually remember what I said. I remember it being some grandiose statement about something like “the awakening of my soul,” or a “cathartic release of emotion,” and perhaps “inspiration.” Ah, yes, I remember there being lots of inspiration.

Though I mock the sixteen-year old me, I’m almost ashamed to admit that those statements aren’t too far from the truth, as it stands now. I am now twenty years old, and essentially, I write to blow off steam. I write down my thoughts when, for whatever reason, I cannot verbalize them. I write when my friends piss me off, or when some asshole breaks my heart, or when my family hovers and overprotects me and treats me like an irresponsible, incapable invalid who can’t take care of herself. I write when I’m stressed about school, or afraid of the future. I write to escape the pain and distress of all of this. And sure, I suppose I write when I’m feeling rather jaded, hoping that maybe a word, or a phrase, or even the feeling of pen to paper will spark something exciting in my soul.

But I suppose that isn’t all there is to it. Lately, I also write because I am obsessed with the English language, and have been since the eleventh grade when Mr. Vicari introduced me to its many complexities and quirks. In eleventh grade English, he taught us to analyze a work until you could no longer read its original text, only the hundreds of notes you’ve taken in the margins and between the lines; not only did he heighten my awareness to intricate metaphors and imagery, but he also taught us to take note of every punctuation mark, when an author capitalizes words, and other seemingly minute details. These methods of reading also taught me to enhance my writing; I remember wanting to someday be so talented as to write something that could be so carefully scrutinized by the students of Mr. Vicari’s eleventh grade English classes.

Now, far beyond the eleventh grade, I use this almost-newfound love of words as something didactic. I challenge myself every time I write something, and I push my words to be something far better than they’ve ever been. Writing is almost like a puzzle for me – like a challenge or – ha! – a word problem. I’m like a “soccer mom” to my thoughts, obsessed with their performance.

If I were to concisely recapitulate what I’ve just said (which I often find a grueling task) I could say that the reasons behind why I write are ever-changing; it really depends on the day.

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battling the buts

Confidence. That dirty bastard seems to be poking his giant, mangy head into my life these days. In fact, a lack thereof has always been an issue for me for so many reasons, really. But more specifically, I remember that being a theme in my teachers’ comments on my performance: “you’d do so much better if you had more confidence,” “your biggest issue is confidence,” “have more confidence in your work!” You get the picture. As if my lack of confidence in my body, my social skills, and myself were hard enough to handle back then; now we were throwing my strong suit into the mix.

So, in high school, confidence in everything from my formulas in math class to my paint strokes or color choices in art class was an uphill battle. I thought once I graduated high school, moved away to school, and began living (loosely) on my own, that I would shake most of that off like wreckage from a construction site.

Well, as it happens, I noticed this annoying little habit I’ve developed recently: when I meet someone for the first time, I talk to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, or basically whenever I’m in any slightly uncomfortable social situation, and the topic of my post-grad plans comes up (thus taking any level discomfort and maximizing it by, oh, 1000), I always seem to respond with some vague description of my not-so-vague goals, followed by, “but yeah, I have no idea!” As you can see, I have an issue with my buts (and my butt, for the record).

Or say someone asks what I’m studying at New Paltz. I always respond in a confident voice, “I’m majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in Visual Arts,” then wait a few seconds and sheepishly add, “but we’ll see where that takes me I guess,” as though my major/minor combination is so bizarre, or as if majoring in creative writing can be likened to majoring in friendship bracelet making.

In reality, neither one of these circumstances reflect how I really feel; I know exactly what I want to do, and therefore I have a legitimate reason as to why my major/minor combo makes sense. I hoard a lot of solid goals for the future up in my noggin. They change every day, sometimes every hour. But for right now, I’m working towards becoming an interior decorator (with my own business) and/or (eventually) a published young adult author. I figure both careers could be done from home, and neither are full time in regards to being cooped up in a stuffy cubicle with Casual Fridays. When I graduate college, I’d like to work in publishing for a few years (haven’t decided what area of publishing yet) and save up a lot of moolah and eventually get my own apartment. I’ve also started researching decorating and potential online classes I could take. While you don’t need a degree for decorating, I imagine it would probably help to have some kind of experience in decorating-related color theory.

But honestly, I’m not going to outline a long-term life plan – complete with presentation boards and WordArt, of course– every time someone asks me this question.

I’m just tried of being asked the same follow-up questions. Let me demonstrate:

“So you’re going to be an English teacher?”

“Oh, English? Like, English education?”

“Do you want to teach?”

“What grades would you teach?”

Et friggin’ cetera. I am in no way knocking teachers. One of my role models happens to be my eleventh grade English teacher, not to mention several members of my family are teachers and several of my friends at New Paltz are doing education. So obviously, no disrespect. I just don’t see why that has to be where everyone’s minds go when they hear I’m an English major. Sure, I guess it’s the most obvious? The more economically wise decision?  Okay, I’ll give you that. But then, I have to almost guiltily reply, “No…just English. I want to be a writer,” and feel as though I’ve just slaughtered an animal right before their eyes. It makes me feel like my choice is a giant “<” in the face of everyone’s expectations, especially when followed by a furrowed-brow response.

So, after two years of this hogwash, I’ve learned to put up yet another proverbial wall in my life. I find it easier to sound like some lost puppy of a soon-to-be-graduate than to have to explain that, no, I am not planning on becoming a teacher.

Either way, I need to minimize the “buts” in my life (and then maybe I can finally work on the butt). In fact, why don’t we go ahead and erase the preceding commas altogether? They serve no purpose. I need to learn a thing or two about assertion.

I bet we all could use a good detox in that department, whether the “but” is any general nay-saying Negative Nimrod or, if it’s a nagging feeling, a cloud of doubt holding you back from truly embracing all of our nooks and crannies.

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lists schmists

Do you have any words that just kill you? Make you want to throw up in your mouth or all over the person next to you on the bus? Or how about those words that just make your friggin’ day, and you have no idea why, whether it be the way the letters just dance on your tongue, or how exc ited you get when you can actually use that word in a sentence, or in a term paper?

I figured since I’m a writer and an English major, it’s only natural that one (or two) of my lists be about one of my favorite things ever – words. Obviously there are thousands if not MILLIONS of words in the English language, and if I went through the entire dictionary it would take forever for me to comprise these lists. So here are abridged versions of my favorite and least favorite words, based on a) the way they sound/feel to say, b) what they mean/represent, and c) just general opinion lacking any true reason. Warning: some are vulgar.

Words I hate:

The C Word – an obvious starting point

MOIST – see above.

Torn, ruptured, detached, or anything of the like in regards to body parts

Squeamish/queezy

Ointment – stopstopstopstop

Gangrene

Loin

Faggot

Curdled – is it bad that I can smell this word?

Goiter

Clitoris – this word just makes me angry, no real reason why

Maggot – it invokes awful images in my brain

Toot – Just stop.

Any slang word to describe male or female sexy parts

Titillating

Spleen

Pus – why?

Panties – MY LEAST FAVORITE WORD, EVER

Words I love:

Juxtaposition – I try to use it in every English paper I write

Blasé, Passé, Résumé, and any other word that automatically is accented in MS Word

Flabbergasted

Willy-nilly

Wishy-washy

Cerulean – love the color and the word

Scrumtrulescent – I had to

Oblivion

Synecdoche – not only is it fun/difficult to say, but it’s one of my favorite literary devices

Ejercicio – not in English, but still a very delightful word to say

Superfluous

Cornucopia

Colloquial

Xi – especially on a triple word score in Scrabble

Tempestuous

Cantankerous – though I never know when/how to use it

Antidisestablishmentarianism – I was reminded about this word by my uncle; never used it in my life

Plethora

I’d be curious to hear about the words that make you squeamish or fill you with a cornucopia of delight! :)

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