Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Spring Semester Retrospective Post

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Yesterday my suitemates and I put a final period on our two semesters at Rockoff Hall by doing a final cleanup of our room and turning in our keys and access cards.

Most of us were ready to be out of there by Thursday, but, when we got our room inspected by one of the Pennrose Management people, she told us that we had done nearly enough to get it into near "move-in" condition. (She wasn't all that nice about it, either; she even said directly to me a few minutes after she had inspected my bathroom and found it a "disaster," "the thing is, you didn't even try." Frankly, I wanted to yell at her at that point; to be fair, we weren't sure exactly how strict they were about how clean it had to be, but I certainly did as much vacuuming and cleaning as we had all initially thought was necessary.) So three of us (one was at work at the time) spent about an hour scrubbing bathtubs and cleaning floors and all that in order to get it at least looking like new. Hard work, certainly, but I think there's a personal bright side to it: this kind of backbreaking cleaning-house hard work is not something I usually do at home, and now that I know exactly what goes into it, I could probably do it in the future (and maybe impress some females about how good I can keep house, hehe).

Rockoff Hall: it was, for the most part, fun. Granted, the stores we were promised on the first floor took a while to complete, but once they were done, they served its purpose handsomely, especially the new Douglass Pizza & Grill: a great, easy (though rather expensive) place to get lunch or dinner when one has no time to get to a dining hall on one of the campuses.

If only you weren't so damn expensive! This was the issue last year when I was presented the opportunity by one of my suitemates to live with them. $6,298 for nine months---yep, the most expensive housing option on-campus. Faithful readers of my LiveJournal will of course remember how torturously I agonized over whether to take it or not (once again, my mother was the so-called "voice of reason," although I guess reason didn't end up winning out). What faithful readers don't know yet is that it became the source of another argument just a couple of nights ago. More on all of that later...


For now, a retrospective on this past semester. For those who felt dismay at the fact that I basically didn't update my LiveJournal for a whole semester, consider this a welcome opportunity to catch up:

Academically, Spring 2006 will probably not stand as my best semester. I had two rather difficult courses, Media Ethics and Law---a journalism major requirement---and an Honors seminar entitled Meaning and Morality (taught by Professor Larry Temkin---a fellow East Brunswick resident, and I knew of his son from IPLE class in my senior year of high school at EBHS). The former was difficult mostly because the teacher wasn't the most adept at giving us direction and wasn't the most organized person around; the latter was mostly difficult because of the nature of the course---a very small seminar setting---and of the material, which dealt with tough issues of morality and, yes, ethics. Consider this semester the Ethics semester for me; the theme popped up in at least two other classes I took this semester.

I wish I had loved Meaning and Morality rather than merely appreciating it, because it really was a fascinating class, and I really did feel like I was expanding my knowledge and base of morality more by exploring moral philosophy not only from the standpoint of real philosophers (Kant and his "categorical imperative," Nietzsche and his "superman," among others), but in works of fiction (Shakespeare's King Lear, select short stories by Kafka, and even Part I of Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus, among others) and nonfiction (Jonathan Glover's genuinely important Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, Frederick Douglass's famous slave narrative, and Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, among others). I guess my only problem was that I always felt a little awkward in that class, because I was never the most active contributor to class discussion, and what I did contribute usually felt trivial and unimportant compared to the genuinely thoughtful contributions of others in the class. One kid in particular---an undergrad from Pakistan---seemed to have not only a grip on all the material, but seemed to have actually thought long and hard about his own personal views on the issues presented. I admired the hell out of him, but I simultaneously felt jealous. It made going to class not always as fun as it maybe should have been (and consider, it was also at 9:30 a.m.---fairly early for many college students). Oh's not like I plan to be a philosopher anyway. Nevertheless, I was grateful for all the fascinating reading we did, even though it was a lot. (Who knew King Lear had such moral depth in its depiction of the main character, a fallen king who is treated like crap by most of the people around him and is reduced to basically going crazy? As Kant might say, he was treated as means to various ends rather than an end in itself---a human being.)

As for Media Ethics and Law---well, there's not much to be said except that the midterm was a bitch, and so was preparation for a big presentation a partner and I had to do on an ethical case. The problem wasn't the material itself: obviously, having to fill up about half an hour of time talking about one case of problematic journalistic ethics is daunting enough for many people. The problem was that the professor---an old lady with that grumpy-old-lady vibe to her---barely gave us any direction in the project, or on much else in general. She lectured, she got the class involved in ethical discussions, but she basically left us at sea as far as how we should proceed with our project. We got the guidelines, but we were basically left on our own (unless, I suppose, we asked her about something). So it's no surprise that the groups that were scheduled to go first with their presentations had to scramble to put it together---interview professional journalists, do research, etc. My Spring Break was essentially spoiled because of that scrambling (although it wasn't only the ME&L project I had to deal with during the break; I also had to deal with an Advanced Reporting 1000+ word trend story assignment simultaneously).

It all worked out in the end, I'm happy to say: my partner and I ended up giving a decent presentation---we got a B for all of our trouble. The ME&L final turned out to be much easier than the midterm---although I ended up with a B on the midterm, surprisingly enough. As for the professor---well, I have to be fair (I like to always be fair): if you approached her, she could be very helpful. Early on in the semester, I asked her a question after class and she ended up asking me a whole lot of questions about what I wanted to do with a journalism major, and even giving me bits of advice about it. She seems like the kind of professor that you don't necessarily enjoy taking a class with, but you admire more in retrospect. Maybe.

Other classes. Media Criticism was an interesting, informative class that has taught me how to be even more critical of the media than I was before. (Critical as opposed to cynical.) So why the heck did I end up with a B+ in the class---especially in a class in which I actually was a reasonably frequent participator? The professor must have been a tough grader on the class projects---we had three to do out of five proposed projects. (I get a B+ in Media Criticism and an A in Meaning and Morality---go figure, since the latter seemed to me to be the more difficult class. Didn't Professor Temkin say he didn't give out A's all too often? I must have really blown him away with my final paper or something!)

And Advanced Reporting---what's there to say? I wasn't even planning to take the class this semester; I had to throw it onto my schedule when another class cancelled on me and I had to fill up my schedule with something. Yet it turns out to be one of the most challenging yet productive classes I've ever had! Much of the semester in that class emphasized feature writing---something which I had not done much of even in Writing & Editing for Print Media, which I took the previous semester---and it really forced me to hone my reporting skills in trying to craft big stories. Guess what? Two of the stories I wrote for the class eventually ended up being published in the Daily Targum!

Which leads me to my experience this semester, continuing as a staff writer for the Inside Beat section of the Targum. It was a big semester, mostly because I made deliberate---and mostly successful----at breaking out of my film-review comfort zone and tried my hand at other types of writing: a few TV features (here's one on 24 written after the first four hours of the season aired), an opinion piece (doesn't seem to have been archived on the Daily Targum site; it was a serious piece about my feelings on the roadside bomb incident in Iraq that left ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff a casualty of the Iraq War), and an interview piece (a one-on-on with film and TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz).

My two big stories of the semester, though, came in April. On April 13, ib published my two-page cover story about the decline in movie theater attendance, a story that basically I expanded from the aforementioned trend story assignment for Advanced Reporting class. But the biggest, by far, was a 3,000+ word epic that was actually published as an In Focus feature in the regular Targum which delved into the people involved in a particularly enterprising on-campus production of Patrick Marber's play Closer (which was made into that rather nauseatingly cynical all-star Mike Nichols movie a couple of years ago).

That latter assignment was a monster: I sat in on about two-and-a-half rehearsals and asked everybody involved a lot of questions about their past and the futures. I could have easily written a short little feature for ib about the play---but I guess I got ambitious (greedy?) on that one. I was so nervous that I had perhaps let my ego get the better of me in this case, I tried to cut it down to more manageable lengths of about 2,000 and then 1,500 words (on the recommendation of the Targum Features Editor)---so imagine my surprise when the paper agreed to print almost every word of my story on a two-page spread.

The cast certainly seemed to like it, though: when I went to see their production---the result of all their hard work and "guerrilla" rehearsing---my story was on the door of the Cabaret Theatre leading into the stage for all to see. (Of course, they were probably grateful that my story gave them free publicity.) In fact, my story seems to have made me a minor star among the theater people at Rutgers; a few days later, I was already listening to someone else who was telling me about something he and others were doing for schoolkids in New Brunswick.

I probably won't do anything with that story, though, to be honest. This summer I want to focus more on honing my critical writing skills.

Summer, summer, summer---what am I going to do with you? Right now, I only have rough plans for my summer. Write more, get published somewhere else, watch more films (maybe try to make a film???), read more. I plan to take a summer class starting May 30 (Major Filmmakers). I'm still working at the State Theatre as an usher, but the State Theatre goes pretty dead in July and August, so I guess I should probably be pressing harder to look for a paying summer job.

But is that really want I want to do? I'm not sure if the heart is quite willing this summer as it was, say, last summer (when I ended up with that disaster of a job with that fat woman accountant in East Brunswick). But here we go again: my parents---this time, both Mom and Dad---are pressuring me to "get out there and work." Apparently, my staying home and watching movies all the time drives Mom "nuts."

My mother will probably never understand. She thinks movies are just disposable entertainments that divert her or put her to sleep; she doesn't take them seriously as I do, so of course she would think I was wasting my time if I watched them all the time. How else do I expand my knowledge of cinema as an art form, I asked her. Tellingly, she never really answered the question, instead bringing up once again a part-time job opportunity with some lawyer as some kind of legal assistant that I had kinda decided not to pursue days ago. And to think that Mom sincerely believes that she's not putting any pressure on me whatsoever!

Oh, and of course she still thinks that living at Rockoff Hall in the bad city of New Brunswick is a terribly wrongheaded, costly decision; in fact, she even dared to lecture my roommate on this as she drove him back to his house! (Mom, believe me, I admire the fact you speak your mind and all, but that seems to be pushing it to personally embarrassing extremes, don't you think?) Technically, my father agrees with her on that topic---and frankly, I have no answers for either of them. What else can I say? I feel too overwhelmed by work to make a conscious effort to look for my own place during the semester, and maybe I just don't feel like taking on the responsibility of paying for my own utilities and all that right now. Sound lazy? Well, maybe it is. But I certainly am not living at home during the school year; I think my sanity would probably suffer if I did!

Damn you both for making me think anguished thoughts now whenever I think of the word "Rockoff"! Your reservations are duly noted and not totally without merit, but I don't think I need more of this internal conflict now. I already had enough of that last year, when I struggled terribly over whether to drop my accounting major and focus on journalism.

But I shouldn't end this lengthy post on too down a note. This was overall a good, productive semester in which I honed my reporting and writing skills and learned some other stuff in the process. I should brace embrace for challenges ahead, though: my fourth year is coming up, and I'm going to have to start thinking seriously about what I'm going to do when I get out of college. Not to mention fulfill my duty as new Film Editor for the Inside Beat, work on my senior thesis, and look for a journalism internship to get good experience. I guess I'm going to have to, as my mother has often accused me of not doing---think far ahead.

No comments: