Letter to the Opinionated Writer

The Great Gatsby, written by the infamous F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells the lonely tale of a wealthy man: known by everyone, yet never truly seen. Nick Carraway, a pathetic lowlife who moves to New York in hopes of gaining popularity and fame, narrates the story, which is kind of unfortunate because his character is really annoying. At the beginning of the story, Nick goes to dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, the novel’s most high-maintenanced and selfish character. She and her husband, Tom, live in a rich neighborhood. Nick obviously doesn’t belong, but he is lucky because, by the grace of God, he is introduced to Daisy’s golfer friend, Jordan Baker, who Nick quickly titles “Lady Friend of the Week Award,” yet he never actually verbally admits to it. One would think that their acquaintance would be the highest point of action at this particular dinner party because, hello, he’s Nick, and she’s supposedly gorgeous and richer than rich can get. But then, Nick finds out that Tom is having an affair with some side-chick, Myrtle Wilson, and everybody knows about it, including Daisy. Still, nobody directly addresses the issue with Tom, and instead, they all continue about their extremely awkward, I-can-literally-see-the-tension-in-this-room kind of evening. Weird, right?

Then, a couple days later, Nick goes with Tom to visit this Myrtle character, which is extremely uncomfortable for everyone, and Fitzgerald really shouldn’t have put the experience in his book at all, but then again, he’s from Minnesota, so he’s probably accustomed to weird circumstances, don’t yâ knōw? Anyways, eventually, Nick, Daisy, Tom, and Señora Baker all end up at the most extravagant party, hosted by Mister Jay Gatsby himself. Well, it says that he hosted it, but literally nobody sees the guy until he very creepily and gently whispers “well, hey there, Old Sport,” into the ears of Nick, who is spending time with his “friend,” Jordan. Then, he asks to speak with Jordan alone, which one would think would leave Nick feeling pretty jealous because, if Nick and Gatsby were to get into a fist fight, we all know Jay would sock the “k” right off of the end of Nick’s incredibly unoriginal and over-used name. However, when Jordan leaves, Nick transfers all of his emotional energy onto Daisy, who we all know he secretly, but unadmittedly, has a crush on, and it’s like Jordan doesn’t even exist until she comes back to tell Nick about a secret love that Gatsby and Daisy used to share, which blows everybody’s mind and definitely gives the readers clarity on why Daisy acts like a complete and utter psychopath. And that’s pretty much all of the most important parts of the story, or at least, the only ones worth reading.

The end.”

Well, kind of.

It’s at least the end of a terribly long, and border-line offensive, example of a highly opinionated summary of Fitzgerald’s most popular piece of art. That’s right, the information above is in no way factual, practical, or acceptable for use by any of you hooligans looking for information to include in your own book reviews (I’m talking to you, highschoolers; just READ the book). In fact, the only purpose for the nonsense written above is to prove this point: personal opinions, while valuable and worth having, seldom have a place in academic writing. Even if one might think that Nick is the bratworst*, that information is not, in anyway, relevant to the events that actually took place in the story, unless the author specifically said so. Trust me, there are times when I, too, want to rip a story to shreds and tell my professor exactly what I thought about every character and event that took place, but I can guarantee you that there isn’t a single professor on this green earth who would have accepted the work above as a book review of The Great Gatsby without handing it back with some pretty stern, probably red, opinions of his or her own written on it, too. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place when opinions are acceptable, even welcomed, in academic writing. Most professors love hearing about their students’ personal thoughts and perceptions of things; however, when those are what they’re after, they make it abundantly clear in their instructions. So, when you’re unsure if you should include personal opinions in your writing, look to your assignment sheets, syllabi, and Writing Center family to help you determine if doing so would be appropriate. In fact, consider taking an even bigger leap and ask your professor directly! Doing so will not only clarify what he or she wants, but it shows that you truly care about your work and want to succeed.

So, to the opinionated writers who have stuck with me this long, know that you are not alone. We’ve all been there, and it really is difficult to completely eliminate opinions from certain assignments, but it is possible, and the UWC is here to help.

* Brat•worst, (brätˌwurst): a play on words. Taking from the extraordinary vocabulary of The Karoline Faith Ott.

Written by Haley

P.S. I promise The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, and I respect Fitzgerald’s work with all of my being.

P.S.S. I have nothing against Minnesotans. All good things here.

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The Caravan Outside Campus

It is the dead of winter. Normally, I would be at home with my family recovering from the holidays, but not today. I am at school—or, more accurately, at work. My on-campus job has called me in to cover a shift, just for a day or two. I am more than happy to comply, and not just because I prefer to keep my job. Since I’m only going to be at school for two days, my parents have granted me control of one of the family cars, which is a rare treat that I fully intend to enjoy.

Like a true rebel, I am going to go off-campus and pick up a nice Chipotle burrito with the hour I have off for lunch. (So edgy, I know.) I hop in my dad’s little silver Accord, adjust the hedgehog ornament hanging from the rearview mirror, and back out of the parking lot, feeling like a real grown-up. As I coast to a stop at the edge of campus, I’m singing with the radio, and all is right with the world.

I look to my left, and I see a few cars heading in my direction. Being the overly-cautious driver I am, I decide to wait for them to pass, since there’s no one behind me to scold me with a blaring horn. It isn’t until it’s too late that I realize how slowly they’re driving and how many cars there are. They’re all in the right lane, hazard lights blinking out of sync with one another.

Baffled, I look up the street to determine the source of this slow-moving party, and one car, ominously long and black, stands out from all the rest. Red, white, and blue fabric flaps from the car’s roof. Suddenly, I remember the last time I attended a DBU baseball game, when the entire stadium dropped everything and paused to quietly stand at attention as, in the near distance, a trumpet played a long, sad song. I remember the one thing I constantly forget about the Dallas Baptist University campus:

Its next-door neighbor is the Dallas/Fort Worth National Cemetery.

I freeze. Breathing too loudly no longer feels appropriate. One by one, the cars in the caravan pass by, the passengers barely giving me and my hedgehog a passing glance.

Reality crashes down on me as I realize that someone in this caravan sacrificed everything for the freedom I was relishing just a few seconds ago. Without that person, I might not have the funding to attend school. I might not have my job, which is a work-study position. Without this person, I might not be able to take off at my leisure and go as I please. Without this sacrifice, I might not be able to choose from a plethora of restaurants just a few miles down the road. I might not have a car at my disposal. I might not even have a driver’s license. Without this person’s willing and selfless sacrifice, nothing I am doing at this moment, none of these little things I rarely stop to consider, would be guaranteed.

In a daze, I realize one of the cars is coming to a stop, and I see the driver kindly wave at me. I shake my head and gesture at them to keep going, and they acknowledge me with another wave. Part of me wonders why they would risk making the drivers behind them mad for stopping, but then I remember why they’re all here. That one person is not the only one who has given up everything for my comfort. Their friends and family do that every day. Even now, as they lay their friend and family member to rest, they care for strangers more than they care for themselves.

The last of the caravan is a pair of police motorcycles, red and blue lights glaring. They wave at me as if to thank me, and I wave back as I prepare to drive away. I can see them in my rearview mirror as I turn onto the street, disappearing around the bend. My focus goes back to the road, but now I’m praying instead of singing as I go.

Thank you, Lord, for the freedom I have in you. Thank you for the freedom you give to all who ask, and for the freedom you have blessed our country with. Thank you for the men and women who defend that freedom every day. Thank you for being with them, comforting them, and loving them. Thank you for giving them the strength to keep going when everything is falling apart, when they want nothing more than to wrest control from you. Thank you for this person’s life; whoever he or she is gave everything in love, just as you did when you sent your Son. Thank you for that courage and that sacrifice. Thank you for the friends and families, and their willingness to give up something so precious to them. Continue to be with those who are grieving today; you are the only one who can truly ease that pain. Help them appreciate the freedom you have offered every one of us, and help me never to forget that again.

Based on a true story

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Carole Sampeck, used with permission in honor and memory of Adrian Sampeck

Shades of Dirt

Ever since I was a little girl, my parents have taken me on mission trips around the nation and into surrounding countries. For some, the idea of being dragged from place to place every summer for the better half of their lives seems exhausting and unappealing, but for me, nothing sounds more intriguing, more comfortable, or more like home.

Traveling has always been one of my deepest passions. I love to see new places for the first time: the way the air smells, the color of the ground, and the mixture of noises that roll down the streets are the very first things I notice and document (because one should always document the brown-ness of the dirt when traveling).  I am a sucker for aesthetics, and there really is something beautiful about observing the physical characteristics that make a town, country, or village unique. However, in the midst of God’s extravagantly stunning terrain, there is something about each new place I visit that never fails to captivate me the most: the people.

I have never journeyed to a place where the people weren’t completely and whole-heartedly hospitable to me. Yes, this might sound ridiculously naïve of me to say because, hello, we’re living in a world where people tend to thrive off of nothing but hating, shaming, and ridiculing others. However, I’m here to tell you that, for the most part, people are generally good at their core, at least to those who are sincerely interested in knowing them.

Don’t read me wrong.

I know that there are rotten people in the world. I know that violence, hate, discrimination, and terrorism are real and prevalent today. I know that the world isn’t full of rainbows and unicorns, and trust me when I say that I know that not everyone is nice, accepting, or honest. I know that the media reports more on arbitrary acts of brutality than random acts of kindness. I know all of these things and understand them to be true, but I also know that warmth and sincerity are appreciated. I know that compassion and generosity do not go unnoticed by their recipients. I know that, by taking the time to truly get to know someone, strangers can be made family.

I could tell you a hundred stories about the mission trips I have gone on, the places I have seen, or the shades of dirt that I have written about in my travel journals, but the thing that I feel most passionately about today is hospitality. Being hospitable is most commonly associated with the idea that one should welcome others into their homes, feed them, and care for them when they are in need, and while that association is appropriate, it isn’t exactly the only way of showing hospitality to others. Hospitality can be as simple as welcoming a stranger into a conversation, showing kindness to the driver who can’t pick a lane, or accepting the fact that someone else can hold an opposing opinion on politics. Showing hospitality isn’t difficult. It isn’t costly or even that time consuming. It’s important, it’s cherished, and it has the power to change someone’s world.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2

Written by Haley

Image credit: Haley Briggs

The Pen Dripped Red

To celebrate our recent 100th blog post, the UWC decided we’d look at the most popular blogs from each of our authors.

Mine… was from a year and a half ago.

My boss, who was just asking out of curiosity, inquired what the thesis of my blog post was. With some trepidation, I looked at the document and tried to remind myself what the heck I’d said. My memory was (and is) terrible. And, apparently, my grammar back then was just as equally despicable. I projected my despair to the general populace. How could I possibly reintroduce such a rough blog to the web? I wanted to either fix or re-write the entire thing. My wonderful supervisor thought showing the process of revision was a wonderful idea, and this was born. Behold, the markup of an author revising his own work! Enjoy its glorious, red-filled pages and the extent to which I tear my own words apart as they flee in terror.

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Presented by Isaac

Image credits: Header image, Evil Laughter Cat

Letter to the Overconfident Writer

Dear Over-Confident Writer,

I applaud your self-assurance concerning your writing abilities. It is important for anyone to be proud of what they have produced. Your paper certainly has many great qualities that reflect the work of a mature writer. However, I sense a little pride resonating from the gait in your walk. While signing in with our receptionist, I overheard you mention a tid-bit about how you just came here because your professor required you to for a few extra points. “There’s nothing wrong with my paper,” you said. “I just came here for the extra credit.”

I mean, there is nothing wrong with wanting some extra points on a paper that will be turned in. Hopefully, a short visit to the University Writing Center (UWC) does not put you out enough to make the 5 points worthless. But there is a little secret I want to let you in on: every paper can be improved. There are definitely great points and parts of your paper, like how your voice is clearly communicated, and there are smooth transitions between paragraphs and ideas. But from looking over it, I can tell that some work needs to be done.

You’ve read your first paragraph aloud, and there is no thesis. Without a thesis, there is no direction for a paper. Even if the body sections are written with such pizzazz that one cannot help but believe what you’ve said, theses provide points of reference for readers. If, anywhere along the way, the reader becomes confused, s/he should have something to refer back to for clarity. Theses also keep your writing in line with what is necessary for understanding what you’re trying to prove.

I ask you to identify your thesis, and you are at a loss for what to say. Obviously your paper was not as perfect as you thought. When you came to the Writing Center, you expected to simply have a stamp put on your paper and to walk out the door all within a few minutes. I’m sorry that is not the outcome you received. I am trained in all the best tutoring practices and have studied the English written language in order to be confident in helping each student who walks through the door. I am not simply trying to make more work for you; however, I cannot let you leave without expressing to you, and making sure you understand, some of the things lacking in your paper.

boys-studying

The Writing Center can add immense value to a piece of written work. Our job is to help you become a better writer. We want you to love the work that you have created; however, confidence in a paper does not mean perfection. I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but we suggest you should tone down your swagger walk until you’ve had someone from the UWC go through your paper with you. We are certainly not perfect, and we don’t claim to be, but someone should at least read your paper before you turn it in. You might understand what you’re trying to say, but a reader may not.

You have just reached the 45 minute limit for a session. Congratulations, I believe you are leaving feeling even better than when you walked in. Although, now I think you have stepped down a few rungs on the perfection ladder ;).  I hope to see you in the UWC again soon but, hopefully, as a Growing Writer rather than an Over-Confident Writer.

Sincerely, The Consultant Who Helped You

Written by Maddison

Image credits: Header image, Boys Studying

Letter to the International Student Writer

To the international student writer,

I love it when you come to the UWC. Don’t tell your peers, but international students are among my favorites to work with. You are bright, eager, and hard-working. I can’t imagine what it would be like to move to a different continent, across the world for some of you, or to navigate a foreign school system. All too often, you enter our Writing Center appearing solemn, fearful, or sad. I want you to know that not only are you always welcome no matter how ardently you may be struggling with an assignment, but it is a joy to work with you. For me, few things feel more rewarding than when that understanding glimmer appears in your eyes, and you are able to apply a new writing concept to your ever-expanding set of skills. Surviving as a college student is no simple task; you, on the other hand, face more challenges than most. The barriers of language, social standards, and course-work expectations test you daily. Although most of us at the Writing Center can’t fully understand the struggles you endure, we are trained to support and equip you. Some of you don’t realize that your writing struggles are universal. We see students of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities, and all of them have writing weaknesses. In many ways, you have come farther than most traditional students. Few of us are fluent in more than one language, and writing coherently in a different tongue is a separate challenge of its own. Take pride in your progress, no matter how marginal it may seem to you.

Did you know that international students often grasp grammar concepts better than traditional students? Lots of college students were not thoroughly trained in crucial concepts of grammar, structure, and the like. You, on the other hand, had to familiarize yourself with a plethora of writing rules in order to get where you are today. This is an advantage that many of your peers would benefit from. Even when there is something you don’t understand or simply haven’t been taught, you are well equipped to learn.

At the UWC, ‘discouragement’ is not in our vocabulary. Our writing consultants are equippers, not maligners. Although writing apprehension is certainly not particular to you, it shouldn’t ever stop you, either. International students, come to the UWC. Your faces are always a welcome sight, and we are here to help you grow.

Sincerely,

Consultant Karoline

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This is Not About New Year’s Resolutions

Is anyone else sick of New Year’s resolutions? What I would like to know is why people feel compelled to wait an entire year to make positive changes in their lives. Ecclesiastes 3 says that there is “a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.” It is so easy to get caught up in day-to-day business and forget what a precious gift time really is. It’s also easy to constantly plan ahead or get stuck in the past, depending on one’s personality, but what if we spent just as much time, energy, and thought processes on today – the here and now – and how we can impact those around us? What would that look like?

What if we viewed the first day of every month the same way we view the first day of the year? This would allow for more specific, tangible, realistic goals while promoting accountability. Suddenly, there aren’t 365 days to forget about the goals of New Year’s Day because the new month’s day, if you will, arrives in roughly 30 days.  A shorter timeline promotes accountability by requiring immediate action. Then, before you know it, it’s time to refocus, plan, evaluate, and celebrate once more!

For example, some of the most common New Year’s resolutions involve diet and exercise. Which seems easier: going on a 365 day diet and exercise program or a 30 day program? How about devoting three weeks to healthy living, taking a fourth week to treat yo self, and then getting back on track for the next three weeks? Not only does that seem much more sustainable, but it involves a more tangible, realistic goal that can be reached and celebrated before being repeated. Avoid discouragement and frustration this year by frequently setting good, short-term goals. And always celebrate with fireworks.

Written by Carilee

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