A Lesson in the Ambiguous

A short story by: Devon Clements

The sun had set long ago and the city now stirred as a dark and bleary shadow of its former self. The roads were empty, save for the occasional passing car, on some journey of their own and the two men glided through the intersections, guided by the green lights and a mixture equal parts fear and adrenaline. Inside the cab of the 98’ Ford F-150 the tinkling sounds of broken glass rattling against a metallic baseball bat emanated from the floorboard, filling the air with the auditory notion of violence. The driver was focused but looked shaken, his eyes pointed straight ahead never once leaving the road, but perspiration stood out on his forehead magnifying each passing street light. His hands gripped the steering wheel causing his knuckles to stand out, white as marble in the dark space of the truck. Between him and the passenger sat a faded and worn green Jansport backpack, its irregular bumps and angles suggesting its contents had been haphazardly shoved inside. The two didn’t talk, nothing could be heard except the steady and repeated rhythm of tire on wet pavement, the gentle whish whish creating a soundtrack to each of their racing thoughts.

A light ahead caused the driver to start and he motioned to the passenger with a quick nod as he flicked on the turn signal and began to decrease in speed. The gas station and liquor mart parking lot was empty except for a single beat-up Dodge Neon and this satisfied the anxiety of the men as they slid into a parking spot and cut the engine. The break in constant movement gave them a reassuring and removed sensation which neither could pinpoint. The passenger opened the truck door and nimbly hopped out, turning around to make eye contact with the driver before firmly closing it behind him. The driver saw him disappear into the sickeningly illuminated store and then lost sight of him amidst racks of cheap packaged food and oil cans.

He now sat alone in the cab, his hands still unconsciously on the wheel and absently staring at the reflection of bottles caught in the large plexi-glass windows in front of him. After a few minutes the passenger reemerged from inside and jumped back in the cab, a single plastic bag clutched in his left hand. He pulled out a bottle and handed it to the driver as he took one for himself. The iconic gold and maroon lettering sent a wave of nostalgic energy through them both, as they twisted the lids off the triangular glass cylinders of Olde English. The driver took a large swig, the tang of malt liquor coating his mouth, as he started the engine and pulled back onto the street. He glanced to the passenger and breaking their long held silence asked, “Are we gonna make it?” The passenger’s lips curled into a sardonic smile as he turned, a glint of some forgotten youth in his eye, and he answered, “Does anyone?” The road stretched out wide and free before them and the night promised shelter, at least for a few more hours.

Devon Clements. Class of 2018. English Philosophy major. Missouri. Soccer. Coffee. Historical Fiction. Edward Sharpe. Of Human Bondage. Travel. Moleskine. Pens. Vans. United Kingdom. Trees. Gym. Literature. Sour. Northwest. Theatre. Explore. Skateboard. Run. Cats. Blue. Finished.

Pursuing Interest: A Conversation with Dr. Solveig Robinson

By Kristin Bertsch

I hoped that the large cup of coffee in front of me on the lounge table would be a casual excuse for my jitters. I waited for Dr. Robinson to come from her hotel to our little interview room, and every minute past 10:45 was a reassurance that maybe I wouldn’t embarrass myself in this interview. Maybe a department professor had detained her, or maybe she was caught up in preparing for one of her presentations on campus. After two minutes, Dr. Robinson came in, and after introductions shuffled her backpack onto the floor across from mine, and sat tall on the couch opposite me. She cupped her hands in her lap and leaned forward, and we both shifted a little in our seats. Then she gave me earnest eyes and said:

“I’m really glad there aren’t lights and cameras in here. I was so scared. This was the most intimidating thing on my schedule today.”

I was both relieved and amused to know that I was not alone in my anxious anticipation of our conversation. Dr. Robinson had come to Whitworth to give a lecture on her work in publishing and Victorian women’s literature, which culminated most recently in her project on “Victorian Women’s (Publishing) House work: Gender and Cultural Authority in Nineteenth Century Britain.” She had been visiting classes and giving presentation about her areas of expertise. She is an expert in her field, and a highlight of her department at PLU. But sitting across from me talking about the process of research and writing, she was speaking as a student immersed in the thrills and anxieties of a new intellectual pursuit.

“Research is always overwhelming, until something clicks. I try to show my students by example how to channel their own curiosity and interest into materials and topics. It may not be apparent that things connect or even really matter until you approach a topic as a matter of your own interest.”

And Dr. Robinson knows how to explore and make things connect. Her two areas of expertise, the history of the book and Victorian literature, seem to be placed along parallel but separate tracks of English. But during her 36 years in academia, she found a way to intertwine and give direction to both of her academic interests.

“I’m interested in the way books work as a way of giving voices, and how the publishing and print culture works as a way of mediating and curating those voices.”

That sort of intersectionality of interests in something Whitworth English majors recognize and aspire to. Choosing a track and curating a class schedule inevitably means that certain classes are left out, certain projects left undone, certain interests negotiated out of the plan to make room for others. Saying yes to one direction often means saying no to valuable others. And this is something Dr. Robinson sees as a problem for young scholars.

“Among my students, I see this paralyzing fear of specialization. They worry that by choosing to pursue one interest or project, they are forced to give up their curiosity and interest in other things. And that is really counterintuitive to what a liberal arts education is meant to be.”

I asked Dr. Robinson what she saw as being the most valuable asset of a liberal arts education from a university like Whitworth or PLU.

“I knew I wanted to work at a small liberal arts institution because that would be a place where I could explore. The faculty and the students embrace intersecting interests and interaction among projects, and I knew I wanted that freedom.”

Dr. Robinson’s advice for students is to feed as many interests as they can, and to let their interests feed each other.

 

Kristin Bertsch (’17) is a Senior English major at Whitworth. Kristin has studied English abroad in Britain and Ireland, most recently for a semester at Oxford University in spring of 2016. In addition to her studies and contributions to the English Department blog, Kristin works as research assistant to English faculty, as a conference assistant to Communications faculty, 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.

How to Survive Being an English Major: Some Unsolicited Advice

By: Jordin Connall

Step 1: Accept that tears are part of the gig for any college student and buy stock in Kleenex while you can. Similarly, accept that at some point(s) in your English career you will need to sit by and pretend to study while your table-mate quietly sobs, it is imperative that you stay cool and for the love of all that is holy never mention this occurrence upon seeing them again.

Step 2: Switch arms please, the Norton is heavy. No one wants to see a hundred pound waif-like sophomore with one arm like a toothpick and the other the width of a goal post. I also suggest something more suitable than a book-bag for day-to-day readings, perhaps a children’s wagon, or maybe even a miniature plow horse? Think about it.

Step 3: Realize that the Norton can be used for a number of different things, some of which include: a step stool, a paper weight, backpack theft-deterrent [see suggestion 2], a pillow if you don’t mind being uncomfortable, substitute for a Kevlar vest, and if you’re absolutely desperate. . .reading material.

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 Step 4: Go to the book sales, BBQs, and whiffle ball games, to name a few. I know it’s a lot to ask when season five of Sherlock has just aired (Speaking to you Class of 2020), and the most sentient beings you intended to speak to were your laptop and that latte you’ve been stroking lovingly like a newborn baby, but trust me the outside can be fun sometimes. I personally didn’t go to any of these events until my Junior year, and I missed out on meeting an entirely new group of nerd friends (Nriends? Ferds? I’m working on it). Professors will be at these gatherings too, giving you a chance to meet them outside of class and see them change from scary scholarly folks into people that will help you grow and transform in your academic career. Plus you can find out if it’s true that Doug drains the blood of a randomly selected freshman in a Viking ritual sacrifice (don’t worry I won’t ruin the surprise, you’ll have to go to find out for yourself).

Step 5: Never stop reading, even in the summer. Despite how appealing sleep may sound, and trust me it’s not all that your non-collegiate housemates try and claim it is, read all the time. Read, read, read, read. “It will make you a better writer and a better person,” (A Really Credible Source, Wikipedia) reading has the sole ability to transform your grammar and communication skills all without seeming heavy-handed. Read for the rest of your life, and then after that read to other ghosts (pro tip: ghosts seem to really love Poe).

Step 6: This is going to be a doozie, but bare with me. Relax. I know it sounds irritatingly simple and prosaic, but really, take a chill pill. Every time you are about to panic about that really long paper that is due in exactly seven hours, take a deep breath and relax. You will not remember this paper in five years, five hours, minutes, whatever. Don’t slack off and forget your responsibilities in some made-for-TV-movie depiction of college, but realize that your life is defined by so many other things than that one paper or that one class.

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Step 6: Look over everything before you turn it in. It’s astounding the dumb mistakes people make and don’t correct before turning them in, even for really important papers that everyone will get to see. Some people, I tell ya.

Step 7: Come up with snappy responses as to your chosen career for well-intentioned family members ahead of time. These will come in handy around any major holiday. Examples include: homelessness, a professional clown, beat boxing, correcting grammatical errors in the YouTube comments section, or becoming a teacher.

Step 8: But most of all, give yourself a pat on the back for choosing the area of study superior to all others (like anyone uses math anymore right?). English is the area of study that connects us to one another and the world. We are the group of people that can read something and glean meaning from it. This power is fundamental to what makes us human, our ability to communicate with one another in complex and constantly evolving ways. John 1:1 tells us that in the beginning there was the word. Take your words and change the world.

Jordin Connall is a Senior English Major. Her hobbies include: long walks on the beach, making baked goods, taking long walks on the beach with baked goods, and interpretive macaroni art.