A Better Love of Stories

By: Kristin Bertsch

I always knew I wanted to be an English major because I loved stories. I understood stories. I knew what they meant. I really felt like I had things figured out.

Picture it: freshman year, waltzing into Shakespeare Seminar, feeling pretty darn certain I already knew everything there was to know about the bard (I had read Hamlet AND Macbeth, thank you very much). I could read Shakespeare well enough, and I could tell you what the stories were about, and that seemed like the ultimate accomplishment for a Lit major. Then a blonde fireball came blazing in to change it all. It was in that class that Dr. Pam Parker started teaching me a better way to love stories:

“Don’t spend too much on what the story is ‘about;’ figure out what the story ‘does.’ That’s why we do this…”

Those words have resonated in the back of my mind for the last three years. Fast forward to my junior year, and I’m putting those words into action with my mentor, Dr. Parker. For almost two years now, I have worked with Dr. Parker as a research assistant, creating a digital archive of historical materials and, perhaps more importantly, helping create stories that “do” important things.

I work with a treasure trove of letters, photographs, books, film, and ephemera from early 20th century Christian missions in China. These materials are part of Dr. Parker’s family collection, from her grandparent’s missionary service in China starting in 1923. Perhaps you’ve seen me prancing around campus with a mysterious large, grey box. Yes, inside that box, are hundreds of 20th century documents, fragile and musty like an old library book. Yes, I am quite like a peacock when I have this box.

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The Mysterious Box and It’s Letters

My job is to create a digital archive of these materials, which will allow future scholarship and research to be conducted without needing to use the physical copies. This limits wear and tear, and it also lends to organizing the materials in a way that is conducive to a specific research project. Dr. Parker is preparing to use these materials for personal research on China Missions narratives, and part of my job is to prepare the materials for this kind of study.

My work as a research assistant is largely technical, in that most of my time is spent scanning and digitizing letters, photographs, etc, and collaborating with other students and specialists to create a digital commons for storing and displaying the materials. I have developed an unforeseen number of technical skills (which I had always hoped to avoid by pursuing English), but more than that I have practiced the lesson I began with Dr. Parker my freshman year. I’ve been studying what stories “do” and how to use them.

While I’m digitizing with the letters, I also read them. They tell stories about the world from the perspective of a Christian family a century ago on the other side of the world. Stories about food shortage, disease, and violence. Stories about Christmas parties, friendships, and welcome rainfalls. These letters are about beautiful and tragic experiences of life. But what these stories do is even more profound. These stories tell us about ourselves. They tell us about the world we live in yet never seem to fully know. They tell us about our values and beliefs, what we love and what we protect, what we fear and what we lament. Working with Dr. Parker on this project has given me an opportunity to explore the world vicariously and to expand my perspective by looking through another’s eyes. That’s what stories are meant to do, and that’s something to love.

An excerpt from one of the letters…

“The rice fields were so beautiful, like checker boards, each small section ripening at a different time. The bunches of rice stalks coming up in such regular rows and all of the same size that the seeds must have been carefully set out by hand… From Chinkiang to Nanking we were in a region of very low, flooded land, where the tillers of the soil wore shirts and gee-strings only and were up to their shins in water, following the everlastingly slow old buffalo and wooden plow in the rice field; or sitting in large tubs gathering a nutty root from a water plant, which the children buy at the stations like peanuts…”

 

Kristin Bertsch (’17) is a junior English/Writing major at Whitworth, pursuing a future in graduate school and a career in travel writing. Kristin studied abroad last year in Britain and Ireland and will study English at Oxford University during spring of 2016. In addition to her studies and contributions to the English Department blog, Kristin works as research assistant to English Professor Dr. Pam Parker and as archiving assistant to Library Director and Art Professor Dr. Amanda Clark. Kristin is an active supporter of local art and theater and a frequenter of Spokane Poetry Slam.

Oxford Commas & Siam Crispy Chicken

By: Hanna Martin

Free food – the (perhaps literal) carrot on a stick that all college students follow…

My summer internship as an editorial intern at Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine, though unpaid, was full of free food (and a bunch of other cool stuff).

Looking back, my daily schedule seemed to be: 1) Edit. 2) Write. 3) Eat!

When we met our sales goal, the entire office went to O’Doherty’s for lunch. My first article was for the “Signature Dish” page of the magazine so I got to go to The Ivory Table, the only restaurant in Spokane that serves traditional buckwheat crêpes. Over an amazing salmon crêpe and fresh lemonade, I got to chat with the owner of the restaurant about her life and her aspirations. For the next month’s article, I went to a Thai place out in Airway Heights where I was served amazing chicken and perfect white rice. In lieu of a plate, the dish was served inside half of a pineapple! One day, we went to a restaurant owner’s office for lunch, where he literally spread dressing on each individual salad leaf by hand, made mango salsa, and BBQ-d us chicken lavished with African spices. Each year the magazine puts on one or two major parties to celebrate publication. The Hot Summer Nights 20s-themed party was up at Arbor Crest, where we feasted on greasy pizza, fancy chocolate and Arbor Crest’s signature Riesling. Then, naturally, we had a huge dance party under the stars. On my last day of work, to send me off into the school year, we all had tender pulled pork BBQ sandwiches, coleslaw and baked beans for lunch.

One of Hanna's delicious meals on the job

One of Hanna’s delicious meals on the job

Who knew the publishing world could be so filling?

Of course, there were also the realities of my life as an editorial intern. I did immense amounts of research on the topics we featured in the magazine each month, on everything from prohibition and Silverwood attendance to heart health facts and the hours of local restaurants. My favorite part of the job consisted of copyediting the entire magazine the day before publication each month. I’d sit at my desk poring over page after page, trying to make the issue perfect by catching every single spelling error, every Oxford comma (which Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living doesn’t use), every instance where sentences had two spaces instead of one between them.

Obviously I was thrilled when I was given my first feature-length article, a 20-page spread on a historic home in Spokane. I got to tour the home and interview the owner, meet their dog and then write about it all! The home is in the Rockwood district and was designed by Spokane’s first city planners and architects. The oldest ginkgo tree in Spokane is on the property, which also includes a mini putting green, a swimming pool, tennis court, and 11-car garage! It was a home worth writing about.

For all the good parts of the job, there was one sad truth:

Working anywhere in the modern world, you will spend half your life waiting for other people to email you back. Nearly all the communication, coordinating, and even some of the interviewing that I did was via email. It is 2015, and email should accessible in literally 2.5 seconds on your phone…It should never take you more than a day to reply to someone’s email. I assume that people who operate successfully in the professional world will respond to emails as soon as possible.

For you seniors, I have to tell you that I did in fact get this job because of a connection. I didn’t even know I had the connection when I went into the interview, but it turns out that the editor-in-chief is friends with my dad’s colleague’s wife. Crazy. But no matter how distant the connection, try and find one! They’re valuable.

In all seriousness, my time at Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living was immensely rewarding. Seeing my name in print on a glossy, colorful page sent my self-esteem through the roof. I got to wear fancy dresses, heels and lipstick every day and tell people at the grocery store that I had just recently become a published author!

More meaningfully, I was able to build community in the city that I love. Being the youngest in the office, (and with the magazine demographic geared towards 30-40-year-olds), I brought a fresh, new perspective to the summer issues of the magazine. I interviewed people in the city that otherwise might never have received the recognition they deserved. In a personal article, I was even able to share my belief in God and my wonder at His creation with readers.

This internship unearthed the deep desires that push me towards a career in editing and publication. I’ve always loved reading and I’ve always loved words. Now I understand more fully that words hold incredible power. I’ll make sure that the questions and issues raised in literature and media are important and valuable to our readers. I encourage you, English majors, to make your words meaningful, too.

Hanna pictured with her dad on the summit of Mt. Adams holding the magazine

Hanna pictured with her dad on the summit of Mt. Adams holding the magazine

Click the link to read another one of Hanna’s online articles about mountaineering.

Hanna Martin is a senior at Whitworth. She is double majoring in English Literature and French, and she is studying abroad next semester. Hanna got addicted to adventure last May-Term, and has since devoted her time to traveling, reading, and doing as many outdoor activities as possible.

 

This post is part of the Looksharp Internship Blog Competition. To read more about the competition and view other posts go here.

Annie Stillar: Superwoman

By: Olivia Shaffer

For a little over a year now, I have had the privilege of working for Annie Stillar at the English Department front desk. She has become a mentor and a friend, and her commitment to our department is ceaseless. (I am often reminded that I am not Annie by faculty in the department, as they frantically look for her to solve their crises while I’m working and she takes lunch).

Ask anybody in the English Department about Annie Stillar and you will hear words like “ebullient” and “magical” to describe her. Annie is the Academic Program Assistant for our, as she puts it, lively department. Aside from assuring that the building does not burn down, she relieves all of the administrative tasks from the faculty in the department so they are less overwhelmed. In all honesty, the title of Academic Program Assistant is much too narrow to describe everything Annie does for our cozy little department. Assisting the English Department, the Honors Program, the College of Arts and Sciences, and Women’s and Gender Studies, as well as working as managing editor for Rock & Sling is incredible. And she does it all with a smile on her face and a witty attitude that keeps the department alive.

Annie works toward creating communicative and trusting relationships among the students and staff to ensure she can best support and assist us academically and, maybe more so, emotionally. Professors and students alike would agree that Annie is often the rock in our department, keeping us from going completely insane. As she says, “it’s for the greater good that [she] be intuitive, attentive and not burn out” – which makes her job equally rewarding and challenging, having to be our collective backbone even when she may not have it all together all the time.

Outside of work – because yes, she does enjoy doing things that do not involve alleviating us of our own demands – she feels she’s her best self when she does what scares her the most. She spends her time outside: hiking, being adventurous, and jumping from really high places and living to tell about it. Only once did an experience like this completely terrify her: when she scaled a 400-foot mountain without a harness, but made it to the top without turning around or calling in the helicopters (pictured below). In addition to an insanely adventurous life, she’s made an unofficial career out of singing – and is good enough to make her own album, in my opinion.

Annie Stillar

I asked Annie to outline details of her work, and got an answer with an overwhelming list, which I’ll add here because there’s no other way to fully understand her dedication to us:

“On a wider scale, my job entails pulling off an academic year’s worth of events like endowed readings, socials, graduation fun, retreats and informational meetups (and where applicable, playing travel agent to guests, getting them paid, keeping them fed and hydrated and feeling like Whitworth is a delightful place to be), fostering a healthy and communicative relationship with the Business Office, becoming BFF’s with the department chairs and directors housed here (current count: 4), assisting in the execution of course schedules, contracts and office space (or as I like to call it—musical chairs), the acquisition of class/department resources from far and wide, the management and oversight of six program budgets, and the general endearing of myself to all persons regardless of how much they can do for me and how quickly. I’m an equal opportunity provider of fun and snark alike, if anyone asks”.

She is our own personal superwoman. She has worked here for 6 years, and I’m not sure how the department got through every day without her before. She is witty, and joyful, and full of an energetic spirit that executes the ideal of mind and heart. And she (almost) always has chocolate. No matter what happens, no matter what crisis we are in, she’ll tell you that the show must go on. And because of her, it does. Annie Stillar, we thank you.

 

Olivia Shaffer (’16) is an English Literature major and History minor at Whitworth University. Aside from academics she dedicates a large part of her time to the Jubilation Dance program at the university; an extra curricular that allows her to continue to pursue her passion for dance. She has no idea what post-graduation life will look like, but hopes for the best.

“Respiratory Sinus Arrythmia” by Molly Rupp (’16): A Preview for This Whitworth Life

Please mark your calendar for the 2015 This Whitworth Life: Whitworth’s Untold Stories. The cast includes nine readers who’ll share their stories at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 2, in the HUB MPR.

For a taste of what you’ll hear on Dec. 2, check out “Respiratory Sinus Arrythmia” by Molly Rupp (’16).

It’s said that when a choir sings together, their heart rates begin to collectively synchronize, beat lining up with beat, a steady tha-thump, tha-thump resonating within each member, as they inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, at the same pace.

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Each Wednesday night at 7:10, our director pulls us to the edge of the pews, pushes our spines straight and our chins up. Keep it loose, support from down here, don’t close your throat. If you’re doing it correctly, your nose should tickle and your lips vibrate a little when you hum.

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I am the youngest permanent member of the choir by at least two decades, although this season a new girl joined, older than me by just a few years. I’m front row soprano, in the pew that comfortably holds two people. Annie sits next to me, a sassy old lady with swollen ankles, who reluctantly uses a walker and will quietly make snarky asides to me and then cover her mouth with her hand and giggle “oh! I’m so bad.” I teach her how to use her iPhone (which she uses to show me pictures of the creatures, dolls, and hats she knits), and she lets me use her pencil and calls me her “sweet molls.”

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As a choir, we don’t always sound, well, good. Our director taught middle school band for many years, so he’s learned to hide grimaces and frustration with an impressive talent I have yet to master. The altos are always off key, the basses are always behind. None of the sopranos can successfully sing past a g above the staff, although unfortunately several try. Counting, it seems, is entirely too difficult a task, so a lot of improvised rhythms and false starts litter our practices. Only half of us watch the director, turning ritardandos into a herky-jerky struggle to the last note. Sometimes when I glance over to my mother during service as we perform the anthem, I can see her very visibly cringing.

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And yet, every Sunday morning we zip the unbecoming black choir robes over our clothes, pull the white stoles over our heads, adjusting them on others if the long end hanging down the back gets bunched or twisted. We gather in the Celtic Hall for coffee before making what the congregation jokingly calls the “March of the Penguins” into the sanctuary.

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When Joann Snyder, choir and church member for more than 50 years, passed away, we draped her robe and stole over her spot every Sunday for a month.

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At the end of each practice, we form a circle around the communion table for a group prayer, a long list of illnesses, deaths, and grievances, an inevitable side effect of an aging church. And then, before we gather our books and water bottles and purses, a song we’ve sung every Wednesday for the past three years, a song we now all know by heart. No longer segregated by section, we mingle, soprano lilting upwards next to a bass stair-stepping down, as we sing of going in peace, faith, and love, never being afraid and our hearts go tha-thump. tha-thump.

Molly Rupp is a senior English major, with an art minor. She has an alarming affinity for parenthetical asides, strongly advocates for the Oxford Comma, and hopes to one day live in a cabin on the Oregon Coast, surrounded by cats. Notable skills include, but are not limited to: binge watching Netflix, quoting Harry Potter in everyday conversation, embracing awkward social situations, and making killer mac and cheese.