Park Block Encounters

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

One of my favorite things about Portland State is its location, right smack dab in the middle of the Park Blocks. These blocks have the vibe of a traditional college campus, but they also have the energy of downtown Portland. I’ve had a variety of interesting encounters in the Park Blocks. 

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Photo credit: PSU Facebook

Just last term I was reading a book in the grass when a group of students came up to me with a clipboard. “Do you have a moment to rate your experience with the squirrels in this park?” This was such an unexpected question that of course I said yes. Turns out they were doing research on the aggression levels of squirrels in various Portland parks…and the PSU squirrels are overly friendly. (If those students find this post, good luck on your survey!)

I once stumbled upon a group of people doing yoga. They looked so peaceful and serene that I felt calmer just walking past them. On another occasion, I encountered a monk who was handing out books, and we had a pleasant conversation before I continued on my way (a few books heavier).

There are often events and music in the Park Blocks, which is a nice surprise. Because the Park Blocks are a public space, sometimes there are protests and demonstrations for various things. It’s all part of the PSU and Portland experience. I enjoy walking through these blocks on my way to class because I never know what I’m going to find. Who knows, you might even spot Cow Pigeon!

Calming the College Nerves

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

This post is for all the incoming freshmen out there who are nervous for the first day of college. I felt exactly the same as you do. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that it would all be OK…It’s not nearly as scary as I thought it would be! This is what I would tell Freshman Claire if I could.

Starting something new is always nerve-wracking, and that’s my first piece of advice: remember that everybody else is nervous, too. No matter how calm and collected your classmate seems, chances are they’re anxious on the inside. It’s OK to admit that you’re nervous. People will probably find it relatable.

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Something that helped me a lot was finding my classrooms before the first day of class. Nobody wants to be running across campus five minutes before class, frantically trying to find their building. I write down my classrooms and go on a quest to locate them all the weekend before term starts…even now, in my fourth year of college.

It’s a good idea to get to class early on the first day. It gives you a buffer in case you can’t find the classroom, plus you get the pick of the seats. But don’t panic if you get there late – professors understand that the first day is hard! 

My biggest piece of advice is to take a deep breath and get through it because it only gets easier after the first day. You can do it!

Surviving Shakespeare

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

As an English major, I knew I wouldn’t make it out of college without studying Shakespeare. I managed to make it to my junior year before having to register for the dreaded class. I bought the four required plays and showed up to the first day of class, resigned to my fate. 

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But as we started reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I discovered, to my shock and amazement, that it was a pretty entertaining read. It helped that my professor was enthusiastic about the material and had some fun ways of teaching. For the midterm and final papers, we had the option to write a creative retelling of the plays, and my imagination took off. I had a hard time sticking to the 10-page limit. 

It turns out that Shakespeare is amazingly fun to adapt. I never would have guessed that my Shakespeare class would provide so much inspiration for the Creative Writing part of my English major. But by the end of the term, I had an outline and three chapters written of a novel inspired by Twelfth Night, which I’m still working on six months later. 

What I learned from my Shakespeare class is that keeping an open mind is the best way to enjoy a class. You never know what new interests you’ll discover. Not only did I finish this required class, but I had a lot of fun doing it.

What classes did you unexpectedly enjoy?

Read What Makes You Happy

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

As someone studying French and English, books are pretty much my life. I’ve loved reading since I was a little kid. I remember toting around the seventh Harry Potter book when it seemed almost as big as I was. Although I have less time these days, I still read for fun, and Powell’s City of Books is my favorite place in Portland. But for a long time, I felt self-conscious about my reading choices.

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I always thought that English students were supposed to read Literature with a capital “L” in their spare time…the kind of books that are assigned in class. I felt insecure because most of the books I read are young adult (YA) fiction. I read to escape from the real world, and books like The Hunger Games and Throne of Glass are exactly what I need after a long day of analyzing literary fiction.

Our society has a tendency to dismiss things that teenagers like – especially teenage girls. (Take boy bands, for instance.) Because teenage girls are the main connoisseurs of YA fiction, it gets a bad rap. But there are amazing YA books that people are missing out on because of this mindset. And, honestly, so what if a book is “shallow”? If reading mass-market romance gets you through the day, then it’s time well spent.

I’m proud to say that I’m a literature student…and I read YA. Nobody should be ashamed about reading what makes them happy. Can you relate to this? What do you enjoy reading?

Homeschooling, Hens, and Happiness

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

When people find out that I was homeschooled, they tend to have a lot of questions. Once a classmate asked me, “Was it hard to go from homeschooling to college?” Good question! The answer is both yes and no.

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The stereotype is that homeschoolers are weird, and it’s true that I’m a little strange sometimes. I have a pet chicken, after all (who likes to perch on my feet and help me with homework). But homeschoolers are just normal kids. We talk, laugh, argue, and exchange memes just like kids at traditional school. I took classes at a homeschool co-op called Village Home, so I wasn’t a stranger to the classroom setting. And academics are never really the concern – people want to know about my social life.

Here’s the thing: Making friends is hard for anyone, not just homeschoolers. College is an adjustment regardless of where you went to school. I started classes at PCC during my last year of high school to make the transition easier, which helped a lot. By the time I transferred to PSU, I felt right at home.

What was the hard part? Sitting still in class for two hours! Truthfully, though, it was the little things that were the strangest – learning how to take the bus, figuring out how a cafeteria works, and taking midterms for the first time. In the end, homeschooling isn’t all that different from college. In fact, my two worlds collided when Pathos published these photos of my chicken, and I couldn’t be happier.

The Pixelated Page

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Sometimes I have a hard time concentrating on physical books. My eyes wander off the page or I find myself reading the same sentence over and over again. For whatever reason, I don’t have this problem with ebooks. 

Nothing will replace the smell of a new book, but ebooks have perks of their own. You can search by keyword, easily highlight, and bookmark without dog-earing the page. It’s easy to enlarge the text. Plus, ebooks don’t take up valuable dorm room space or terrify you by falling off the shelf in the middle of the night (the dangers of being an English major).

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Not all professors allow digital texts in class, but many of them are amenable if you talk to them about it. As long as you’re not slacking off on Reddit during class, electronic devices are an excellent tool. The great news is that most public domain texts (that is, books that were published before 1920) are available for free online on gutenberg.org. Most libraries allow you to check out ebooks. You can also email PDFs to your ereader rather than printing them out.

So while nothing will replace my love for paper books, I’ve come to appreciate my Kindle. These days you can buy an ereader for as low as $30, like I did, which is less expensive than some textbooks! It’s easy to bring with me and have hundreds of books wherever I go… And I’ve gotten a lot less papercuts.

Puppies for Pronouns

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

I was strolling through downtown Portland last week when I saw a cute dog. Naturally, I squealed and darted over to say hello. “She’s adorable!” I told the owner. “May I please pet her?” She nodded, and as I crouched down to lavish attention on the dog, said, “His name is Chewy.” Realizing the dog was not female like I had initially thought, I corrected myself and said, “He’s the cutest thing ever!” Although I could have cuddled with Chewy all day, all good things must end, and he and I parted ways.

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This encounter reminded me of a Tumblr post I once saw about how people are quick to correct themselves when they mistake an animal’s gender, but not so much when it’s a person. My brain decided that “fluffy dog” meant “girl.” When I discovered I was wrong, I quickly switched to calling the dog “he” instead. 

This happens all the time with people’s pets and babies, and nobody makes a big deal out of it. But when it comes to people’s pronouns, suddenly it becomes a big deal to society. That’s a lot of fuss for a little word like he, she, or they

Dogs don’t care about pronouns, but people do. So why do we apologize when we misgender someone’s dog, but not when we misgender a person? My intention is not to compare people with pets. My encounter with Chewy simply made me think about how important gender identity is for people, and how important it is to respect people’s pronouns.