Taking Notes Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Taking notes is one of the best ways to retain information. We’ve all heard it before…writing things down helps them stick in your mind. That doesn’t change the fact that taking notes can get a little boring. But I’m a huge nerd who loves taking notes, and there are a few ways you can spice up your everyday notes to make it fun. Here’s a picture of my notes from class last year. Keep in mind that not everybody is as obsessive as I am, so your mileage may vary. Do whatever works for you!

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First, get a notebook that you love. You don’t have to get any particular kind. Just find one that makes you smile and inspires you to fill it up. My notebook for this term was $4 from Muji, a store by Pioneer Square just a few blocks from campus that’s a great source for inexpensive school supplies. If you’re tired of lined paper, try graph paper or dot grid to change things up.

To go with your notebook, of course you need a writing utensil. Whether that’s a mechanical pencil or quill pen, just make sure it’s easy to write with. My latest obsession is fountain pens. Some students enjoy multicolored highlighters to color-code their notes. And many students prefer taking notes electronically, whether on their computer or tablet. The idea is simply to try changing things up if you’re bored with your notes.

When it comes time to actually take notes, be creative! You don’t have to write in a linear fashion. Try putting important facts in boxes or other shapes. It’s easy to experiment with different headings and bullet points to keep the process interesting. A few doodles never hurt, either. With a few little changes, taking notes can be both an educational and a creative process…and a lot more fun!

Writing an Essay Without Tears

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

We’ve all been there: the deadline for that five-page essay is looming, and you don’t know where to start. I’ve written a lot of essays in my three years as a writing student, and this is the process I use to reduce stress.

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  • Leave yourself plenty of time. Although a Red Bull-fueled typing frenzy at 3 a.m. is certainly an effective motivational tactic, it usually results in mistakes and a subpar essay.
  • Find your thesis. This is simply the main idea of your paper – the more specific, the better.

  • Make a haphazard outline. An easy method is to write the general topic of each paragraph, followed by a few bullet points of things you want to include.
  • Find your quotes. When you’re on a roll with a paragraph, the last thing you want to do is stop to scour the text for quotes. The nice thing about finding quotes before you start is that you can tailor the paper around them rather than trying to fit them in at the end.

  • Write! There’s no need to write in a linear order if you don’t want to. Just use your outline at the end to make sure everything’s in the right spot.
  • Read it out loud. This helps to catch grammar and syntax problems you might otherwise miss. Don’t forget to run it through SpellCheck, too. 

By the way, the Writing Center is a fantastic resource to visit anytime during this process. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this essay under control.


Five Beautiful Things a Day

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

It feels like just last week it was summer, and now fall is upon us. It’s easy to lament the loss of long, sunny days. As somebody who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated as SAD), the transition into fall and winter is difficult. Lots of people have SAD. If you’ve ever felt more gloomy in the winter than you do in the summer, you may be one of them. 

There isn’t much you can do for SAD, because whatever you do, the seasons will keep on changing. Your doctor can advise things like Vitamin D supplements or spending time under a sun lamp, both of which are extremely helpful for me. However, I’ve found that the biggest difference comes from actively trying to change my mindset. 

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One way I do this is by making an effort to see the beautiful in the everyday. On my walk to the bus stop, I look for five beautiful things. It can be anything from a neat-looking rock to a cute corgi waddling along the street. The point is to engage with your surroundings and get out of your own head. 

I’ve been doing this for over a year, and it’s second nature now. The picture in this post was taken on my way to class when I got distracted by this cute little dandelion. It’s amazing how much beauty there is in the world once you start looking. 

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?