Lack of Focus

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I have a nasty habit of being all over the place – well, I guess you’d call it more of a personality trait than a habit, but my point still stands. If you need better evidence, just take a look at the majority of papers and drafts I’ve gotten back from my professors. Somewhere there is a “lack of clear focus” or “these ideas aren’t tied together” scribbled in the margin. To be honest, the only situation I’m really good at fixating in is anxiety attacks, and I certainly don’t want to make a life out of that.

Journalism school terrifies me sometimes because I feel like everybody has a trademark: there are the fashion-obsessed, the foodies, the music junkies, the editors-in chief, and the technologically savvy mass media people, and they all have outlets in which they represent themselves accurately and wholly. And then there’s me, the one who blogs almost anything from recycled homework to rants about stupid people and ideas she really doesn’t agree with. And I don’t know why, but I feel like trademark people just have everything together and are taken way more seriously because of it. Just thinking about it frightens me (go anxiety theme). My fingers are even trembling right now.

But I have to stop thinking about things like this, because I don’t think I can ever be one of those one-track people. I can’t even pick a single favorite color or food. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a trademark. It’s a quality I envy and don’t think I can ever have, just because of my history, genealogy, and influences.
Everything about me is a multiple. I consider myself multiracial to a degree, or at least multicultural – if I can’t qualify as multiracial because I look white and middle eastern is technically white on every standardized test I have ever taken (even though I check both “white” and “other”), then I’ll just settle with spicy. My home life is split in two. Ever since I was six and my parents split up, I’ve had to live under a joint custody. My shrink says I’m a dichotomy between an old soul and a child. I’m a double major because I couldn’t decide whether I liked literature or writing stories more – I like words! Why can’t I just like everything about words?

One hundred percent of me agrees that I’m not cut out to be one of those one-track people, and at least now I am entirely agreeing on something. I like too many things. I like words. I like eating. I like humor. I like sleeping. I like clothes. I like music. I like traveling. I like playing psychologist. I like taking pictures and recording things. I like people (well, sometimes). I think most of all I like liking things. It’s way easier to narrow down a list of the things I hate: bees, brussels sprouts, not being warm enough, being the tallest person under the umbrella, and numbers. See how much easier that was for me?

I don’t know if dualities are the way to get noticed in the real world and the future, but I guess I’m going to have to deal with it, because even though not having a clear focus makes me look really juvenile, I kind of like not having a trademark.
So from now on, I’ll just sell myself as someone who likes everything excluding that list above, because god forbid I will ever write a story about something like beekeeping.
I’ll work this.
Or, I guess I should say these.

This isn't in focus either. Get it?

This isn’t in focus either. Get it?

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The Freeman’s Journal

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This is for all the Ulysses nerds out there.

  1. I made this. I wrote all the stories, compiled all the images, and conducted the layout all by myself without breaking a computer or anything.
  2. This was my final.
  3. I am proud of it.

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Freeman 44 (1)

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My Top 10 Literary Influences

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I promised I’d make things up to you, and I think this list might just do the trick. Also I have a terrible habit of coming up with great things to write about right before something (or in this case, lots of things) is (or in this case, are) due.
But I am a huge literature nerd, so I think this is appropriate. I rave about books all the time anyway, so I think I should share the pieces of literature that influenced me the most.


10. The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri

I skimmed through The Inferno in high school (I was a senior. Can you blame me?), but put in a much greater effort when it was assigned in my super-hard-and-intimidating-mythology-class-that-a-valedictorian-from-my-high-school-was-in. It paid off. If I hadn’t thoroughly read The Inferno, I might have not decided to emphasize my English major in radical religious literature.

This book also influenced me because Dante had nerve. Even though his majorly unrequited crush on Beatrice was unrequited and kind of creepy, Dante was gutsy as hell (ha!), and I really admire that. It takes a lot to criticize your own religion.

9. The Natural Order of Things, by Antonio Lobo Antunes

If you know me in real life and have ever heard me rave about Portugal, this book is why (this book is Portuguese). I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with Portugal, and I’m really hoping to go there in the near future.

This book isn’t exactly famous (at least not here), so I guess I should explain it a little. From what I remember, the story spans over several decades and has about eight narrators. It’s also one of the only postmodern books I actually like.

You should read this book – I’m not very fond of the ending, but this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Top five, definitely. It’s brilliant. Look at it, at least.

8. Ulysses, by James Joyce

This book was… an experience. I hate it and love it at the same time – it’s brilliant, but it’s just not fun to read. If you know me, then you’ve probably suffered at least 10 doses of my complaining about it. I once had a teacher who said Ulysses is a book that nobody should have to read for the first time. Now I can say that I agree with him on the whole concept of losing my Ulysses virginity. But it would be wrong of me to say it isn’t incredible. I’ll read it again later in life. I don’t think I was developed enough this go around. Joyce put an incredible amount of thought into Ulysses – nearly every word is an allusion. I hope I can have a pinch’s worth of that talent one day.

7. Cathedral, by Raymond Carver
This isn’t my absolute favorite Carver story – “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” has that spot – it was a close race, though), but it is the very first one I read. There are some works that just strike you and have so much power. For me, Cathedral is one of those pieces. Carver’s realism is just so good – if I didn’t enjoy it so much, I wouldn’t have purchased a complete anthology of his work which happens to be over 1,000 pages. Yeah… I kind of have a long way to go with that one. But I love his work! I actually tried to be Carveresque with the last short story I wrote, and it actually happens to be my best. Thanks for inspiring me, Ray.

6. The Oven Bird, by Robert Frost

I have a huge fascination with the Fall. *See numbers 5, 2, and 1 for further explanation* But this poem actually influenced me in another way too. On the day I toured UGA, I sat in on an English class that happened to be taught by my current poetry teacher (I did this on purpose). Want to take a stab at the poem we learned about that day? Yes, that’s right, The Oven Bird. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but that poem is part of the reason why I took the Milton class and most of the reason I am in the poetry class I’m taking. Robert and Susan shaped my life, guys.

And that is why I am going to be my poetry teacher when I grow up.

5. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

When I was 16, I went to Iran to the first, and as of now, only time. I found this book on my mother’s shelf and brought it to read on the plane. I had read and loved Steinbeck before (The Grapes of Wrath actually almost made this list), so I thought it would be a good choice. I was actually thrilled to find this, even though it’s a giant book. I ended up depending on this book while I was on vacation because I was parched for contact with the English language. I read it feverishly.
And oh, how I loved this book. It got me into the Fall before I even realized it!

It’s kind of funny how my taste in literature has worked out.

4. Howl, by Allen Ginsberg

I can’t think of a writer more irate and pissed than Ginsberg was, and I love him for it. Now obviously, I love this poem. I’ve seen the movie, and I’m a little obsessed with it. I listen to Ginsberg on Spotify. I have a book of essays on the poem, for god’s sake. I would have written a huge essay on Howl, but we didn’t even cover it this semester. I’m actually really upset about it. I hope that one day when I’m really pissed, I’ll remember to think like Ginsberg and just spin a beautiful web of poetry out of my anger.

3. It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini

I was in a pretty dark place when I stumbled upon this book – and the cover art is what caught my attention, so that’s why I hate the phrase “never judge a book by it’s cover.” Covers are meant to attract readers! That’s how it works!
You probably think I’m lame since there’s a movie of this book, and it’s pretty cheesy. Well I read this book years before news of a movie reached me (I’m so goddamn indie, I know).
The reason I like It’s Kind of a Funny Story so much is because I relate to Craig so much – not just because of depression, but also because of the crazy expectations he puts on himself and his masochistic thought process. And once I realized that Craig could become better, I decided that I could overcome my mental instability too.

2. Paradise Lost, by John Milton

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that Milton is my homeboy. A semester ago, all I blogged about was this poem. I have a fish named Lycidas. I’m referencing Paradise Lost in a paper that’s due next Tuesday.
But I really do love Paradise Lost. Once you read it, everything changes. I can see a Miltonian interpretation of almost everything I read because of it. Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist, the huge amount of poems I’ve had to read this semester, you name it. Oh, and Paradise Lost solidified my decision to emphasize in religious literature, so there’s that too. And it’s beautiful. Don’t forget that.

My nerd is coming out. Sorry, guys.


1. His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman

These books, guys. Yes, my top choice is a trilogy. I can explain.
Three years ago, when I was taking adolescent literature at Harvard nerd camp, I had no idea how much these books were going to shape me. I came to these books much later than I should have – by this I mean “I saw the Golden Compass movie months before I ever read the book.” And I didn’t think the film was that great, because I don’t think anybody did, but I really loved the story. I’d still watch the movie today even though it’s disappointing, out of order, and inaccurate just because I’m such a huge Philip Pullman nerd.
These books have shaped me tremendously. They have made me laugh, fawn, smile, throw The Subtle Knife at a wall, and shed some of my hardest tears. Although I didn’t know it until a few years later, they sparked my interest that turned into my major concentration. In the years since I read them, I’ve made efforts to get other people to read them in the hopes that they would be as struck as I was. I got The Golden Compass on a class curriculum in my very Catholic high school. I lent copies of the trilogy to friends – and sadly, lost a book or two in the process. I took that Milton class just so I could understand the books better. I even read these books and Paradise Lost at the same time. I think it’s safe to say that these books influenced me more than any other pieces of literature.

18

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I never think any big events in my life are going to happen. I didn’t ever see myself graduating from high school or moving to Athens or accomplishing some huge task. I did it last week with Bonnaroo.
I’m currently doing this with Austria, and I’m becoming scared because I just realized that I’m leaving in 18 days. 18 breakfasts. 18 nights where I’ll wake up at odd intervals. 18 (well, probably fewer) showers.

I’m trying to pull together a list of things I need for this trip. Ideas. Plans. A level head. A plug converter. My big bottle of Ibuprofen. It’s hard to find Ibuprofen in Europe, so I’m going to bring a huge bottle and deal it. Just kidding. I’m going to share it, and that’s how I’ll win peoples’ hearts and friendship over there. 

I’m getting nervous because it’s hard for me to imagine what my life is going to be like over there because, well, I’ve never been to Austria. I hardly know any German – I’ve been slacking on studying it. It might get really cold there. I’m going to miss people and there won’t be anything I can do about it. I’ll be a whole ocean and several countries away. Mostly I’m afraid of ending up alone. What if nobody likes me there? I’ve got some bad qualities. 

The one thing I have complete confidence in is the literature class I’ll be taking. I’m great at English and I’m very passionate about words if you can’t tell. I know I can say something impressive and be able to bond with people who get starry-eyed over the same writers, books, and punctuation marks that I do. I think I will make a friend in my literature class. I need to, actually. I can’t be reserved like I normally am since all of this is going to happen over a span of six weeks instead of a semester. I’m got to give myself a crash course in branching out to other people, and that happens to be one of the things I’m worst at.

I just end up fantasizing every time I try to construct a controlled thought about Austria. Instead of thinking about how to make friends, I think about things like how often I’ll be able to eat gelato and how I want to rent a bike and ride it around Innsbruck every day I’m there. It’s funny that I’m thinking this way, because usually I’m very rational. Actually I’m never rational when it comes to thinking, because that’s how anxiety manages to take over me so easily. 

What is good advice for studying abroad? What is a good way to make people like me? Does anybody have any recommendations for where I should go and what I should see in Europe, particularly Vienna and Germany? Or anywhere that’s close to where I’ll be? What kind of food should I try? 
Any advice – or any statement that will calm me down, really – would be much appreciated.  

 

Required Reading

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I just looked up the textbook list for my study abroad classes. It was probably the best idea ever.
I love the expatriates, so I’m really glad I found out about this course. And I’m being serious. I was hyperventilating in the theater when I saw Midnight in Paris. Taking the expatriate literature course makes up for not being able to take the travel writing course. I mean, I think it’s a class at UGA too, but I’d much rather take it in Austria. I’m going to pretend to be an expatriate there. Maybe I’ll look into what the expatriates did and ate and mimic them. I’m sure they had good taste in food. I wonder which writers decided to get fat in Europe. I’d like to know who I share that fantasy with.
But! The list! I have to share it because I’m really excited about it.

  • Another Country by James Baldwin
  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • Daisy Miller by Henry James
  • Three Lives by Gertrude Stein

This list looks damn good. Like every other English major out there, I’m obsessed with the Realist and Modernist movements. In case you didn’t know, the writers on this list are associated with those movements. (I think James is the only author here who is really associated with Realism, though. The others are typically associated with Modernism.) I don’t think I’ve ever read any Baldwin, but at least I’ll be introduced to his work this summer. I’m very excited about all the books on here. I mean, I knew the list would have these writers on it, but I’m still just happy to actually read it. Hemingway! Stein! Fitzgerald! And Henry James? I read Daisy Miller in one of my English classes last year (hopefully this book is a collection of short stories rather than just one – I’m sure it is – it has to be!) and I really liked it. I think I read one of his essays. I don’t remember which one it was, though, and I had to read four essays that week, so I get them all messed up.
I really wish this class would have a field trip. I’ve already looked over the calendar, so I know it won’t, but it would still be so awesome. The class should just go to Paris and do a literary tour of the city. Beautiful. Hm, Paris is a little far from Austria. Did any of these writers ever touch base in Munich or Vienna? I do know my anthropology class is going on two field trips. One is to Dachau and the other is to Bolzano, Italy to see some frozen guy. I’m kind of nervous about visiting a concentration camp.All I know about the Italy trip is that I’m going to eat really good food that day and nobody is going to stop me.
My mind is really starting to wander now so I should probably knock some things out for my trip. I still have to submit this form (and I might have to fill out a few more, yikes) and buy a Eurail pass so I can go on the trains and actually go on trips. I also have to get my textbooks, which is why I ended up looking at – and fantasizing about – that list in the first place.
Also I have to start packing what I imagine is going to be a bulky suitcase and get a Typhoid vaccine tomorrow because on Saturday I’m going to South Africa, and boy, am I terrified. Oh, and I have to go to the doctor early tomorrow morning (it’s at 9:30, but anything before noon is early to me), so I need to get my face away from this computer screen so I can actually start trying to sleep since it takes me forever. I think I might actually write about going to the doctor tomorrow because this particular experience will be a first for me, ha.
Do you think I could just buy these books at Barnes & Noble or something since they’re not actually textbooks? I do have to get that anthropology textbook anyway, though, so I’m not totally convincing myself to just run to the mall and buy these books tomorrow.
My summer reading experience is gonna be so good.

Under Pressure

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Something very strange happened to me today.
I had just finished my last final. It was easy. Really easy. All I had to do was translate three short paragraphs’ worth of material: two from Farsi to English, and one from English to Farsi. Straight out of the textbook. Probably the easiest final I’ve ever taken.
I walked out of the room and down the stairs. I went outside, deeply inhaled the scent of warm, wet sidewalk (which I really love for some reason) several times, and started walking towards the bookstore so I could take my textbooks back.
Everything should have felt perfect. I was done with school. Done! And halfway finished with college! Another year closer to becoming a writer. Well, at least writing professionally. Another year closer to true independence and living for myself, because I cannot wait to embrace that cheesy stage of my life. My summer had officially started. I should have felt elated, right?
Wrong.
I felt drained, and the tension in my arms and stomach increased. My shirt started feeling tighter and tighter, and my heartbeat sped up. I was about to have an anxiety attack for no reason at all, and that scared me even more.
Whatever happened to me really troubles me. I am all about reason. I’m ridiculously rational, and even before I was an English major, I was known to seriously overanalyze things. I feel like everything I do revolves around reason. I’m uptight. Sometimes I come across as spontaneous, but realistically, I don’t think I have it in me. I can’t do something without thinking it through first. The only exception to that letting something I shouldn’t say slip out.
I think the anxiety I put myself through over very justifiable worries is ridiculous, even though I can’t bring myself to stop it. This, however… this was just terrifying. All I can call it is a panic attack, because it practically came out of nowhere.
The whole time I was panicking, I kept thinking about how I can’t really comprehend or retain things that don’t relate to writing. It’s like my brain won’t let anything else in or even pay attention to it. I have to be reasonable and at least say I know it isn’t true, but I feel like writing is all I’m good at. It’s all I can really show for myself.
Like school, I’m not really good at school. If I were good at school, I wouldn’t be stressed out about it all the time, right? And people. I’m terrible with people. I can’t even talk to people. And my body. I put shit into my body. I’m clumsy and awkward and uncoordinated, and my stamina is ridiculously low. Possibly because of all the chemicals I have to put into it, because even my brain sucks at doing its job. My own brain, the center of my being, cannot keep me stable. Sometimes I just feel like a huge failure.
With writing it’s different. Words are the one thing I’m really confident about. I can write a story and push my opinion on people without ever actually stating it. I can write a mean paper. I’m really good at analyzing literature. I can recognize the roots in words that belong to different languages. My brain’s a little shot right now, so I can’t really come up with good evidence, so just trust me on this one. I’m a literary genius. I’m not a journalistic genius yet, but I’m catching on pretty damn quickly. Words are my forte.
They’re also my life. All I ever do is think. And my thoughts aren’t really pictures, they’re words. I’ve noticed that words are the only thing that calm me down when I’m really stressed out. I don’t even have to be near a piece of paper or a keyboard. If I start writing sentences in my head, I immediately feel better. I’m not joking when I say I depend on words, because I really feel that way. Words have saved me from feeling sick, pressured, and well, dense again and again.
I think words are the only way I’m going to be able to get through my anxiety. You know, my big anxiety. Not just one little attack, but the fact that I have them so frequently and can completely go off the edge in a matter of minutes. Waking up several times every night from nightmares and not being able to go back to sleep because I start worrying is the big anxiety. There is ample evidence that shows I can’t tackle the big anxiety on my own, not even with medication or anything like that; I can’t overcome this if I’m just Sarra who takes a pill to make something go away. I have to be more than that. I have to be Sarra who utilizes words and channels them into saving her from the big anxiety. I really don’t think there’s any other way.

Praise for Paradise

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To be honest, I signed up for the Milton class I’m taking on a whim. I had originally signed up for English 4000, because it was mandatory at the time, and Poetry, well, because I love it.
Then came the announcement that frustrated the university’s older English majors: English 4000 was no longer a required course for an AB English degree. I was ecstatic: my grade wasn’t going to go down the toilet this semester!
With English 4000 dropped from my class schedule, I glanced through the roster of English classes online. Then I thought, “Hey, why not Milton?” It was still a 4000-level English class, but the number wasn’t really what caught my attention. No, it was my obsession with His Dark Materials. I’m going to have to save my post concerning that said obsession for another time, because if I mention it now, it will overtake this post, which is obviously supposed to be about Milton and the Paradise poems.
On the first day of the semester, I learned that there was an available spot in a photojournalism class I really wanted to take. I’m lazy and get stressed incredibly easily (oh, and I have to limit my course hours so I don’t have to graduate early), so I didn’t want to take five classes this semester. Or any semester, for that matter. I did that my very first semester of college, and I was a little overwhelmed. I would have to drop Poetry or Milton.
I went to the bookstore, because, like the model student I am, I didn’t have my textbooks. Plus I wouldn’t have time to pick up the photojournalism textbook later that day. Obviously, I used this bookstore trip to examine my course loads for the Milton and poetry classes. The poetry class required that I buy nine books; the Milton class only required one. I was taking Milton.
I’m sure I would have adored the poetry class, but I’m really glad with the choice I made. I immediately decided to stay in the class when I walked into the room and saw one of my friends sitting in a desk. That meant I wouldn’t be the only sophomore in a 4000-level English class. We younger English majors who are a year ahead in our classes have to stick together. Will and I make great study partners. We are killing that class. Also we’re making the same scores on everything, which I think is funny. I think everything is funny, though.
There are a number of other reasons I like Milton. Firstly, we have a similar mindset. There is evidence in Milton’s earlier work, which he wrote when he was around my age, that he didn’t feel like he was doing enough with his life and work. Milton was a perfectionist and a worrywart, just like me! His environment was extremely competitive: He was surrounded by scholars and writers, and I think it terrified him a little. He must have put himself under a tremendous amount of pressure. I just liked that we have similar mentalities. It makes me feel a lot better about being in a huge creative slump (which is disappearing, by the way, if you haven’t noticed – I’m writing something every day now!).
I also have this thing for religious literature. I guess it’s because I wasn’t raised with any particular religious background. With an Iranian dad and an American mom, it’s pretty obvious that my parents didn’t have a similar religious background. I did go to Catholic school, but the only religious literature I was really exposed to was a little bit of the New Testament, books in the religion and literature class I took (and everybody in the class got to pick a book, and that’s how I got a Catholic teacher to assign The Golden Compass to his class.). Oh, and the songs I sang in mass for chorus. Aside from the New Testament class I had to take in the 10th grade, my other exposures to religious literature were optional.
I haven’t read much Puritan literature. My AP American Lit class read a few Puritan poems before we had to read The Scarlet Letter when I was in the 11th grade, but that was American Puritan literature (again, that exposure was completely optional since I chose to take the AP English class). Milton was a Puritan, and obviously he wasn’t an American Puritan. And reading an English Puritan’s literature is nice because I can read it without having to discuss the Salem Witch Trials or anything of the sort. It was a nice spin on things. I just really like reading religious literature because I’m free to make an interpretation without anybody telling me how to think or judging me. People don’t know what I’m up to because I’m just reading! Isn’t literature wonderful?

Evidence suggests that Satan was the original troll.

Okay, point number three. I love Paradise Lost. I made Paradise Lost my bitch this semester. Paradise Regain’d can be my little bitch. Or would that be my bottom bitch? I’m not sure. I can’t speak pimp. I’ve assigned myself all this supplementary reading material, like Utopia, His Dark Materials (of course), and the Old Testament, so I can research Paradise Lost and appreciate it even more. Paradise Lost actually helped inspire me to create my own concentration within my English major. Well, reading Dante’s Inferno and Pullman helped with that too.
Paradise Lost is one rich text. Sure, there are the obvious themes of knowledge, obedience, and disguises, but there is so much more. There’s history, sociability, fertility, heroism (well, atypical heroism), teaching, the power of words, and of course, blindness (these are all topics for the essay I have to write during my exam tomorrow, by the way). And there are allusions all over the place. There are geographical allusions, biblical allusions (well, obviously), mythological allusions, even allusions to Milton’s other poems. I read one in Paradise Regain’d today, for example. Milton’s texts are so rich! I’m rolling in literary dough! I just love literature so much!
I’m not so sure if writing about how much I like Paradise Lost helps me study for my exam at all, but at least it makes me eager. I have already planned out my essay, after all (I’m writing about the roles of sociability in Paradise Lost, Paradise Regain’d, and Comus). I’m actually kind of excited to write this essay, because I know I’m going to kill it. Since when do I feel this way about finals? I suppose I did feel this way yesterday.
I have a new theory! Milton’s work is slightly responsible for the route to happiness and stability that I’ve encountered. Yeah, why not? I’m sure I could argue it. At this point, I can argue anything.  And now I really need to end this post and actually do my work, so I’m going to end this as strongly as I can – so I’m going to use the end of Paradise Lost to close this up. Feast on this, lovers of literature.

            The World was all before them, where to choose
            Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
            They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
            Through Eden took thir solitarie way.