There was madness on the campus. Flood waters raged, a deep computerized voice commanded “Seek higher ground!” and women everywhere were frantically entering futile log-in information. The Great Agnes Scott College Email Wipe Out of 2009 had officially begun. Despite the valiant efforts of our IT heroes and heroines, much was lost in the onslaught of the mysterious corruption, which crept, like flooding, into all our saved essays, treasured notes from professors and friends, payroll calendars, and the endless “The Week at Agnes Scott!” emails. Alas, it was a hard time for all.

However, from the hard times, a bitter lesson was won, which this enterprising blogger feels must be brought to light. Get ready folks—The Importance of Backing Up Your Work. Besides the obvious flash drive, disk, and sundry other storage media, there are a few options you may not be aware of, which could stave off the effects of another disastrous Wipe Out. On all the computers in the library (including those in the Center for Writing and Speaking) exists a drive called “Thawspace.” While it is cleared every Tuesday night, it can be a perfect short-term solution to having left your flash drive in Hopkins, with nine pages of brilliance sitting on a library computer. You can save your document to Thawspace and retrieve it in the morning, flash drive in hand, and a smile on your face.

Another nifty feature, for all you Gmail lovers out there, you can import all of your Agnes Scott emails to your Gmail account where they will remain, nicely labeled, should you need them. No more deleting emails to free up storage space. Gmail is free and offers more storage than you can shake a stick at. Once you have an account there, just go to “Settings,”  “Accounts and Import” and “Add a POP3 email account.” It will change your life. You can even reply to ASC emails as if you were still on Outlook Web Access, so no one will know that you have beaten the system.

An additional benefit of having a Google Account is Google Documents. Google Documents allows you to upload your writing, presentations, and spreadsheets to a reliable, online host. You can access your files from any computer, and you can even make them accessible to other people. This option is invaluable for that dreaded group paper. Simply "share" the file with other people (it doesn't matter if they don't have Gmail), and they'll be able to view edit the file without the endless back-and-forth emails. Google Documents is also handy for dealing with different kinds of files. When someone sends a file to your Gmail account, it asks if you want to open it in Google Documents. Even if it's a .docx file, Google Documents will convert it so that you can read it instantly.

Whether you back up your emails and documents on Gmail, your personal computer, a flash drive, Thawspace, an external hard drive, or by inscribing them neatly into hundreds of spiral notebooks, please, learn from the Great Email Wipe Out. This is our chance to begin anew, literally. Take it.

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Molly Saunders is a sophomore at Agnes Scott College and an English Literature major and a Classics minor. She's a tutor at the Writing Center.
 
Every semester, the Writing Center, Speaking Center, and the Office of Career Planning collaborate on an event that prepares you for the wailing and gnashing of teeth of applying for jobs and graduate schools.  This semester we focused on five parts of preparing for the application process:  cover letters and resumes, interviews, E-Portfolios and blogs, reference letters, and personal statements.

Dr. Cozzens began by exploring the pieces of good personal statements.  She implored us to not start with a story from childhood, but to begin our statement and focus it on our accomplishments as adults.  She noted that effective personal statements explore an experience unique to the writer that makes them a good candidate for the program to which she is applying, including presenting at a conference, working at a job or internship, or another learning experience that led you to apply for graduate school in that particular field.


Next, Speaking Center tutors Mehwish Shaukat and Dru Clark discussed how to handle interviews.  They gave great tips on phone interviews, like using a landline phone or making sure your cell phone is charged up, making sure to be just as prepared for the interview, and speaking very clearly as it is harder to hear over the phone.  Mehwish recommended the STAR approach for handling interview questions, particularly ones about a moment of adversity that helped you grow.  Star consists of considering your Situation, thinking about the Task you performed, noting the Action you took that was successful, and finishing with the Result of the action you took.  Mehwish and Dru also mentioned that Speaking Center can help you by doing a mock interview during a tutoring session.

Ms. Neiner from Career Planning then offered helpful tips for writing resumes.  She explained that resumes that are easily scannable, with plain fonts like Times New Roman or Arial, are easier for employers to read. She also reminded us to change our email addresses like hotphoenixbabe2010@yahoo.com to our more respectable Agnes Scott email address.  Finally, she reminded us that visiting Career Planning or a Writing Center tutor can be incredibly helpful for getting all the ins and outs of resumes and cover letters just right.

Shannon Yarbrough, the Digital Design Fellow and Writing Center co-coordinator, discussed how useful E-Portfolios and blogs can be.  Encouraging us to reflect on our learning and academic careers, Shannon noted that blogging sites like Wordpress.com are free and can be elegantly designed.  Shannon is available for E-Portfolio appointments if you email her at her Agnes Scott email--sryarbrough.

Finally, Dr. Gail Bell reminded us of common courtesies that make for a good cover letter.  She recommends that you ask whomever you wish to write your recommendation letters well in advance, and also reminded us that writing a follow-up thank you letter is always well appreciated (elegant stationary is available in Career Planning just for this purpose).  Dr. Bell also encouraged us to provide our recommenders a small portfolio of work that will help your recommender jog his or her memory about what you have accomplished.

Handouts that are particularly useful for these topics include the following:  Writing the Graduate School Application Essay , Writing the Academic Statement of Purpose, Letters of Recommendation , Interviewing Tips, and Common Interviewing Questions.
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Caro Simpkins is currently a senior at Agnes Scott College. She works as a tutor in the Center for Writing and Speaking, and hails from Nashville, Tennessee
 
It may seem factual, but the following account of my experience in the writing workshop “Rewriting your Life” is actually fiction.

According to Robin Hemley, the author teaching the workshop, all memoir is. As writers, we are constantly engaging our imaginations, so that the things we have imagined intertwine with events as they really happened. This means that our memories, a rather important resource when writing a memoir, are not entirely accurate. They are, in fact, quite fallible.


To prove it, Robin led us through an exercise. He first instructed us to close our eyes. We were to picture the room, a classroom in pleasant disarray on the second floor of Buttrick Hall, and to describe it as accurately we could. When he tapped a desk, that person was to share a detail about the room.

It sounded fairly easy, but I was alarmed at how unsafe I felt without the comfortable assurance of my eyes. The fear of the unknown was something I had experienced before. How was it that closing my eyes evoked the same strange emotions I felt as I prepared to spend a semester as a Page in the House of Representatives? As I returned to a high school in South Carolina, where no one else had experienced the singular experience that now ruled my perspective, where my friends had grown cool toward me? As I contemplated how to go about sharing such an experience, to write it, to open it up to the judgment of the world?

I frantically scanned my memory for some detail worthy of sharing. The sunlight streaming through the windows in the left wall, igniting the leaves of the oak tree outside and turning the dark wood of the window frame a honey gold. The pale, gray-green color of the carpet, perhaps the “industrial green” one professor had mentioned, a color once thought to have a soothing effect. Before I knew it, what must have been my unfailing good karma led Robin to tap my desk first.

Maps,” I said, “There are a lot of maps on the wall over the blackboard.”

This tidbit, which was surely paired with a blind, erratic movement of my arms toward the wall in front of me, fostered a discussion of the maps. What were they maps of? What brand were they? How many were there? The group decided that there were three or four maps. When we opened our eyes, we discovered that this was one of the many details we got wrong. There were four sets of rolled, pull-down classroom maps above the blackboard, many of them disheveled, each with a least ten maps in the roll. I’d gotten one thing right though: there really were
a lot of maps.

Robin wanted us to understand the fallibility of memory not so that we would doubt our recollections of events, but in order to realize that details, like the number of maps on the wall, are often not the most memorable or most important elements of the story.

What is more crucial is something that Robin called “emotional truth.” Even if you remember the details wrong, or have to make something up, you can express the truth of your experience through its emotional meaning to you.

Sharing experiences through memoir exposes a part of your soul, in such a form that readers expect it to be true. What if someone judges you? Worse, what if they don’t care about your story at all? The workshop reminded me of the challenge of writing my stories in a relevant way that would reach out to people and move them.

It also showed me that with my eyes closed in a room full of strangers, I have the power to speak my memories aloud.

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Caitlin White is a first-year student at Agnes Scott College. She hails from Union, South Carolina, and plans on graduating in 2013.

 

I was, quite literally, surrounded by stories. That sounds trite, but in a workshop called “Structuring the Memoir,” in which every member is looking for the right way to recount what has happened in his or her life, such a description becomes rather apropos.

By some stroke of luck, not only was my first writing workshop centered on my favorite genre, but it was also led by Kaylie Smith, keynote speaker of the day and author of the newly released memoir Lies My Mother Never Told Me.

Though only two hours were allotted for our group in this workshop sponsored by the Decatur Book Festival, Smith still managed to convey profundities and solid pieces of advice alike. For me, the up and coming English major suffering from a combination of writer’s block and harsh bouts of self-criticism, the time led by Smith, who possessed refreshing frankness about writing and the publishing business, was just what the doctor ordered.

We started with the usual ice breaker: going around the room introducing ourselves and our occupations. Surrounded by a variety of people, from a psychoanalyst to an attorney to a freelance editor to me, a college freshman, we were quite a patchwork quilt of ideas and backgrounds, providing nothing less than a basis for fascinating discussion.

Smith dove right in to the heart of the workshop’s goal: how does one structure a sound memoir? We focused first on what was most logical: the beginning. Smith emphasized how crucial the beginning of one’s story is. “Make it fascinating,” she said, else one left him or herself open to the problem of losing the reader before the second chapter ever saw its sunrise. Discussion then meandered through plot and pacing and of not “dropping the ball”—the key, Smith said, was to use “forward momentum” to propel the story along, creating something irresistibly engaging.

In the corner of the room I sat, furiously scribbling in my spiral notebook, trying to absorb not only the author’s words, but those of the people around me. Amidst hearing stories of death, attack, disconnect, abuse, deceit, and even exorcism, I came to understand the root of my attraction to the memoir and its pervasive effects as a literary genre. It was all in the universality. As an eighteen year old, life has shown me a fair hand of conflicts and upheavals, but such was the same for the person sitting to my left, to my right, across from me, three desks down—it was everywhere.

More than the savvy advice of a published and experienced writer, Smith provided us with the means by which to uncap the pen, to differentiate between our past and present selves, to “quiet the censors” in our heads, and to simply begin. I cannot speak for the other members of the workshop, but there was something therapeutic, almost cathartic, about being in that Buttrick classroom.

Two hours came and went quicker than any of us would have liked, but before walking out the door, Smith shared her favorite meditative technique to quiet the voices in our heads that ever so often ebb the flow of words and ideas.

Essentially, it was our task to shut out all of the voices telling us what we couldn’t or shouldn’t do with our stories. The only voice that mattered was our own. “Now you’re ready to write,” she finished.

I wish I could say that I raced back to my dorm and began to pen the story of my adolescence, full of irony and beauty and poignancy. I have instead let myself become caught up in the whirlwind of homework, class, sleep, trips to Decatur, and other college ventures. There are moments, though, when my mind meanders and snags on a memory. Maybe it’s the moment that changed my life, the one that caused my “story” to begin. Maybe—or maybe I’m just still looking.


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Paige Sullivan is a first-year English major at Agnes Scott College. She hails from Monroe, Georgia, and plans on graduating in 2013.
 
The “Celebrating Eudora” Concert featuring Mary Chapin Carpenter, Claire Holley, Kate Campbell, and Caroline Herring at the Decatur Book Festival did just that: Celebrate. With only one song directly about Eudora Welty, the concert still managed to capture the essence of Welty’s work and existence through musical storytelling based on Southern and feminine experience.

The contradiction between an outsider's perception of Southern history and an insider's Southern experience and feeling reveals itself in Welty’s work and the songs that the women sang. In Kate Campbell’s song “Look Away,” she describes the burning of a mansion in Alabama, and how a non-Southerner would view the mansion as a symbol of hatred, but all she remembers is chasing lightening bugs, non “angry mob[s]” or “cross[es] on fire.” Welty captures the story of the people that as a culture were seen as bigots and racists in her time, but individually the subjects were just people with stories that needed to be told.

Mary Chapin Carpenter sang her song “John Doe No. 24” and noted that what she loves about songwriting is storytelling, and she felt if she could be moved by an obituary for a man with no name and no identity, than his story was worth telling the world. 

Eudora Welty’s stories were of the common people, as was her language, and even though these four musicians did not sing or quote Welty directly, they found stories to tell and that was more powerful than a discussion of why Welty’s work was acclaimed. The music spoke volumes about the identity of Southern women and with each woman coming from a slightly different Southern background, including Mary Chapin Carpenter “the adopted Southerner” of the night, their music linked the stories together and provided moving and enjoyable experience for all of the attendees.  Somehow, the packed event remained intimate and homey, quite the spirit of Miss Eudora herself.

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Emma Kearney is a student aide at the Agnes Scott Writing Center. She's a member of the class of 2013 from Peachtree City, GA.

 
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I spend a lot of time on the internet, and I'm not the only one.

We all know that the internet is a great resource. Where else can you pirate great literature, troll as a way of conducting psychological research, and practice international relations through chat rooms? The internet has really changed how students "engage with the intellectual and social challenges of our times."

Honestly, though, in an electronic universe, Generation Y is much more interested in talking to be heard, and in a space where we cannot easily convey tone or expression, we resort to less... professional means.

You know what I'm talking about. ;)  

For the most part, it's easy to separate the internet from professional writing. I'd rather hand write a paper with a quill and ink than turn in an academic assignment with a conglomeration of colons and capital letters. But what happens when we create something that's supposed to be professional on the internet?

Paper Chase is an all-too-guilty example of what I'm talking about. Those who first logged on after I created our "About" page and the "Welcome" post know exactly what I'm talking about - they were the ones who pointed it out to me. I used exclamation points to the point where the blog became unreadable. I was so eager to convey enthusiasm that I forgot to keep the bigger picture in mind. On the internet, we're used to short one-liners that often end in exclamation points: "That's so cute!" "Did you watch The Office last night?! It was amazing!!" "Happy Birthday!" The exclamation point has emerged from his cave of grammatical banishment, and he's plotting his revenge.

"Oh, no!" you cry. "What can we do to stop his global takeover?"

Stop screaming at the internet.

We can hear you on the other end, we promise.


Don't let exclamation points become second nature.

There are definitely social web sites where you're expected to use exclamation points. You should either "dare to be different" and use exclamation points with the scarcity that your English teachers have always encouraged, or make a very clear mental distinction about that web site being one of the few domains where exclamation points are welcome.


Let people know when they're going overboard.

When I first got feedback about the exclamation points on the blog, I only wished that I'd heard sooner. The only way to know that something needs to be fixed is to know that there's a problem in the first place.

As our parents, professors, and employers create their own Facebook accounts, students need to double check themselves. Many people escape into the internet to abandon public expectations (4chan, anyone?), but you'll do greater favors for yourself by standing up and being one of the few white knights in an increasingly casual universe. A typo-free email earns greater praise than a cat macro in the real world - which we're all a part of, whether we like it or not.

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Savannah Sharp is a senior at Agnes Scott College. She is majoring in English Literature and is a tutor at the Writing Center. She plans to complete her degree in December and attend graduate school for English Literature in the fall of 2010.