Monday, June 9, 2008

On English Composition, I

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't strugglin' with the balancing act of work/life/school/family right now. Honestly, this is much harder than I was anticipating. In fact, until last night, I was wondering if I was doing the right thing...if it was even necessary, at my age, to do this school thing. I realize it has been a mere three weeks since my decision to go back to school, but in those three weeks I've seen the house become neglected; the yard become overgrown and inhabited by fleas and mosquitoes due to the neglect; the children forgetting who I am and becoming more indignant towards my presence and sassy towards Jed; and I even am beginning to feel a little isolated and disconnected from my boo kat, and hell, I'll say it, "lonely".

When I signed up for classes, I had fully intended to register for the short 5.5 week semester of Algebra. I'm smart enough to know my weaknesses, which is why I thought it would be best for me to actually sit in a math class 4 consecutive nights a week to re-learn a skill that I hadn't utilized for some 20+ years. People laugh when I say this, however it's completely true. My friend, Heather, would say, "You balance your damn checkbook, don't you?" And I would reply, "No. Microsoft Money balances my checkbook." She would say, "You have to use math to figure out how long it's going to get some place on vacation, don't you?" And I would reply, "No. My Tom Tom does that for me in about 13 seconds." She would finally give in and say, "You're right, you don't use math...ever."

I also signed up for a "long semester", or 11-week, English Comp I "distance learning" class. I figured since I write every day for my job and seemingly do it well that it would be something that I could focus a little less time on during the first five-and-a-half weeks and then use the remaining five-and-a-half weeks to focus on the EC1. The day classes started I got an email from the EC1 distance learning professor detailing how the class would work, the importance "frequent communication", and the extreme importance of not lagging behind, or procrastinating, as to not fail his course. He also gave the first of 6 essays that needed to be completed by that Friday. It wasn't until this email that I realized I had accidentally "clicked" on the wrong class and had actually signed up for the short semester for this particular class as well.

The essay was an easy one for me. I was to write a 500 word essay on a significant event in my life and it had to be "emotive". I quite literally cut n' pasted my blog about the adoption of my first son into a new document, removed all the "Freddyisms", edited out some other portions and emailed it in. It was returned to me with a note that said A) It was HELLA way too long and B) it was a great story, but didn't really show how I felt! I guess I felt the inferences and comparisons of a gay man trying to adopt a child with his gay partner and the difficulties they had to go through that STRAIGHT people don't was enough feeling, but I respect that he clearly disagreed. So I re-wrote it and sent it back in.

The way the EC1 class works is this: We are assigned 6 essays over a variety of pre-chosen topics and a writing style they must be written in. We can send in one essay at a time. As one essay is accepted, we can then submit the next essay. You cannot submit another essay until the previous one is accepted. If 4 essays are accepted, you get a "C". If 5 essays and a test are completed, you get a "B". If the 6th, and final, essay is accepted, you get an "A".

So my first essay was kicked back to me, edited and sent back in. It was accepted on the rewrite. I sent my second essay in last Tuesday. Now, I realize I'm not the ONLY student this professor has. I realize the class I'm in is not the ONLY distance learning class that he's teaching the semester. However, given the context of his very first email regarding the need for "frequent communication"...yadda, yadda, yadda, I found myself getting frustrated and irritated the whole of last week. As I said, I sent in my second essay on Tuesday. And then...I heard...NOTHING. I began to wonder if the essay sucked so bad that he couldn't even force himself to comment on it. I wondered if maybe the email I sent didn't have the essay attached to it at all. I wondered if I had even SENT the email (a quick check of my "sent" items revealed that I had). I even wondered if he had died, or had admitted himself to a short stay in an alcohol rehab program due to the stress of having to grade so many poorly written papers.

And then, finally, last night, I got a return email from him that said, "This is an excellent example of paper #2. The description is vivid and specific. It is organized according to space and not the passage of time. The style is also very informative. Excellent work. Accepted."

And for some stupid reason my eyes began to leak a little. I felt like a hormonal woman who had just been presented a large chocolate browning with vanilla ice cream on top. The house, yard, kids, and boo kat are all still neglected, but at least now I'm feeling like there is a reason and a purpose for the neglect. I even feel like I may be able to do this...finally.

Now, I realize this little bloggy bloggy journal entry has gotten a little long winded...but if you're interested in the essay written in referential and descriptive style...

There are more than 900 stone rings, or “henges”, not only in Britain, but outside of the commonwealth as well. Undoubtedly the most popular and most visited of the henges is Stonehenge.

Getting to Stonehenge beings outside Britain’s Bath Spa with a drive along the rolling green pastures of the A303. There is a benefit to hiring a driver, someone familiar with the country-side and the lore surrounding the mystery of the henge. It’s not until turning off the A303 onto the A344 that one begins to get a feeling deep inside that something magnificent is on the horizon. Five-minutes away from the final destination, it’s difficult not to revert to a long forgotten inner-child about to meet “Santa Claus” for the very first time. It is hard to prepare for what to expect, because the fund of knowledge many have about Stonehenge is limited to what has been learned in history lessons, or pictures seen in various travel magazines.

A qualified tour guide will use that last five minutes of the drive to fill his passengers in on the history and the folklore behind the henge. He may opine that Stonehenge was once used by astronomers; or that it was used in “cultish-type sacrifices”; he may relate that the grounds were used for other types of religious activities; or possibly, that it was “built by aliens”. He may even mention that Stonehenge, based on the definition of a henge, is not even a true henge at all.

There are certain internal and external characteristics each henge shares. For example, each henge has timber or stone circles inside the henge and a ditch along the inner-circumference. There is also a built up mound, or bank around the outer circumference of the henge. This is why it is felt Stonehenge isn’t truly a henge, because while there is a small bank built up within its perimeter, it also includes a ditch which runs along the outer perimeter of this bank.

A classic first impression of Stonehenge is the prehistoric site appears to be something the people behind the “magic” of Disney have created, rather than something that was erected nearly 5000 years ago. Pulling into the parking lot the monument can be found by looking across the motorway to the north. From this vantage point the stones appear nowhere near as impressive as they do in any of the photos seen on film and television. The circle, which looks enormous from an aerial view, looks no bigger in diameter than a standard sized spare tire.

Access to the monument is through the modern building on site. Walking through the commercialized showroom, there is more a feeling of enter a plastic play-scape rather than a feeling of antiquity. It doesn’t help matters, when paying the admission fees, that the showroom is filled with kitchen hot pads with the infamous monument embroidered on them. Nor does it help to see “Monopoly: Stonehenge” games sitting on the shelves next to the Stonehenge coffee cups. It feels as if the only thing missing is the familiar yellow arches with the word, “McStonehenge” on the menu of tour choices giving patrons the opportunity to “super-size” their Stonehenge experience.

From the payment kiosk, there is a tunnel which runs under the A344. Each of the landmarks estimated 869,000 annual visitors must walk through this tunnel to tour the sacred grounds of Stonehenge. Inside the tunnel there are concrete castings of artifacts and fossils that were found when excavating around Stonehenge. The cast reproductions soon give way to sunlight across the worn, huge stones. Stepping out onto the Salisbury plains with Stonehenge stretched out across the horizon, the modernization of everything south, across the motorway, somehow magically disappears. Visitors become completely oblivious to the building they have just walked through; completely unaware of the motorway driven in on behind the concrete wall. There is a strange feeling of calm brought on by the magnificent structures displayed, some 5000 years of wonder and amazement.

Stonehenge is comprised of a series of 5 rings. There is an outer ditch that encloses each of the four inner rings which has an entrance at its northern most point, and southern most point. The next circumference is made up of a mound of silt. Inside this ring are the tall, familiar, vertical stones, known as “bluestones”. There are 43 of these bluestones making up this third ring. Each of the stones are approximately 6.6 feet in height; 4.9 feet wide; and 3 feet thick. Several of these erect stones have large flat stones set horizontally atop them, known as “sarsen stones”, giving a “roof-like” appearance to this third ring. The next inner circumference is comprised of another 53 vertical bluestones the same size as the previous ring. Finally, the center ring is made up of a series of smaller stones, known as “trilithons” which are positioned in a horse-shoe shape. There are many other stones within each of the diameters of all rings, each having served a specific purpose throughout the estimated 1000 years it took to construct Stonehenge.

There is a realization Stonehenge is the more popular henge for a reason. A lazy stroll through the monuments, can take 3 or more hours. With an estimated 869,000 annual visitors, at the end of the tour there is a sense of community and commonality that brings people together with everyone who has walked the same path in the decades and centuries before them.