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Ready, set…go?

In 48 hours, I will (hopefully) be on a plane somewhere above the Atlantic on my way to Paris. I’ll be in Paris for six weeks as part of a study abroad program, and will be taking two classes while I’m there.

As excited as I am, right now my nerves are outweighing the positives — but I know that once I’m on that plane on my way there I’ll have no choice but to accept the challenges and amazing opportunities in my near future. Many daunting thoughts run through my mind as I realize this trip will include many personal firsts. My first international solo flight, first time in a foreign country without my parents, first time using French in two and a half years, first time living with a host family, etc. And on top of that, there are still small, yet very important, tasks I have yet to complete before my trip…like packing.

In my final day and a half in the US for a couple months I’m sure I’ll be running around like crazy trying to get everything ready, but I’m looking forward to the many adventures I’m sure to have during my time abroad. I’ll try to update my blog as often as I can, so hopefully friends and family at home can keep up with my experiences. A bientot!

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“Booty” no more: Changes to the Bible

As I was looking through Yahoo! news, one particular headline caught my eye: “Bible ditches tricky words.” Intrigued, I clicked on the article, and was informed that a new edition of one of the most popular Bibles written in English will have updated word choice, aimed at helping us 21st century folk understand the meaning behind certain words.

In theory, this might sound great–change confusing words so that more people can understand the meaning on the first read-through. While I understand the appeal, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Religious views aside, I don’t think we have the right to change words that were written countless years ago just to make things more convenient in modern times.

A large part of reading anything–books, plays, articles, etc.–is to understand the context in which it was written. Sure, changing “booty” to “spoils of war” might make sense to more people these days, but that’s not the way it was written. We should be able to do research or look words up if we don’t understand them; it’s not necessary to modernize everything just for the sake of convenience.

Along those lines, I also feel it is wrong to change words of a classic novel to make it less “offensive” in today’s world. A new edition of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” replaces the word “nigger” with “slave.” While I in no means advocate the use of the former, I think that our society should be able to understand the way the book was written. It was written over 100 years ago, in times much different than what we live in today. Twain chose the words he did for a reason, and whether or not we agree with his reasoning (or today’s connotations of the words), we should be able to respect his decision to use them.

Sure, changing words can make text more understandable or considered to be more appropriate, but just because we can do something does not mean we should.

Summing me up in a sentence

What one single sentence defines me?

This question has been harder to answer than I expected. And I knew it would be challenging.

I hate talking about myself. I think most people do, but it has become especially apparent to me as I have worked on various projects throughout my college career, such as the “about me” section on a website I made, or even on this blog. As much as I love writing, pretty much everything I write about myself ends up sounding about as cookie-cutter and bland as can be.

With that in mind, I sat down to write the one single sentence that sums me up. A video by Daniel Pink poses the question: What is your sentence? My answer was as follows: I have no clue. And to be honest, after reflecting on this question for some time, I still don’t really know for sure.

I know that I’m interested in writing, editing and public relations, hence my major, but I like to hope that I’m not completely defined by my major. I think there is so much more to me (and to all college students) than our chosen fields of study.

Since I’ve been in college, I’ve grown a lot, and learned a lot about myself. I’m not just saying that to be clichĂ©; I truly believe it. I also realize, though, that I still have a lot of growing up to do. And I like that. Yes Motion City Soundtrack, the future does freak me out. But if I’ve learned anything in college, it’s how much I love to learn–and many experiences in my life have shaped out to be pretty good learning opportunities so far.

So after rambling on (as I tend to do), I’ve finally settled on a sentence that I think accurately describes me at this moment. Who knows if it’ll hold true in a couple months or a couple years…but it’s all part of the experience, right?

I am a curious, young-at-heart college student with a passion for learning, truth and growth which drives me, and hopefully is translated in my words and actions.

In the end

As I look back on this semester in Feature Writing, I realize how much I’ve learned. Being in this class taught me more about how to conduct interviews (which is something I now feel much more confident doing), how to use blogs in different ways and–most importantly–about penguin Silly Bandz. Although I should take a moment to say how much I hate the way “Bandz” is spelled.

Over the semester, I have enjoyed growing as a writer. I feel as though my writing has improved and has become more effortless than before. I now better understand what kinds of questions to ask during an interview and how to form additional questions based on the interviewee’s answers. And I feel much more comfortable picking out the important quotes from those interviews to use in the articles I write.

Aside from improved writing in general, I think my blogging skills have improved. At the beginning of the semester it would take me much longer to get started writing than it does now. Additionally, I see how useful blogs can be: people use blogs as a sort of online diary, as informational sites, for comic relief and as travel blogs.

The readings that prompted some of our blog posts not only provoked me to write, but also helped my writing. The variety of stories gave perspective and opened my eyes to the many different types of feature writing. And on top of that, I gained insight to other aspects of life aside from reading and writing: “The Final Salute”, one of my favorite readings for our blogs, taught me about the gruesome reality of the lives of casualty assistance officers.

Yet even though I can see the strides my writing has taken, I realize there are many areas in which I still need to grow as a writer. First and foremost: leads. I continue to struggle consistently in coming up with leads–and furthermore, coming up with leads that aren’t absolutely tragic. Although I usually have no trouble writing after I come up with a lead, the leads themselves do not seem to come naturally to me.

Transitions are also not my strong point. I tend to either skip awkwardly between subjects without offering the reader much of a transition at all, or I get far too wordy, which I will argue is equally as annoying.

I’ll soon leave this semester behind, taking both my writing progress and continued troubles with me. But I won’t forget how much I learned in these past four months.

Fallen but not forgotten: the Final Salute

While many people are oblivious to the sacrifices (and volumes of sacrifices) men and women in the armed forces make on a daily basis, even more people neglect to think of the impacts on their families. Jim Sheeler’s “Final Salute” opened my eyes to the lives of those in the military and their families. Sheeler included interesting insights into the lives of military families, as well as those who have the unfortunate task of bearing the worst message that any family member could hear: that a son/daughter/husband/wife has passed away.

Sheeler’s article chronicles the tragic duties of Major Steve Beck, a casualty assistance calls officer in the Marines. His job is to inform families of military casualties–but contrary to what I had previously assumed, the job doesn’t end there. “Final Salute” follows Beck from the initial dreaded knock on the front door through the burial of one of his fallen comrades. Instead of merely delivering the news and disappearing, Beck oversaw funeral arrangements and coordinated watch over the remains of one Marine’s body, while simultaneously offering his support to the parents and pregnant widow of the fallen soldier.

The attention to detail Sheeler uses in the article has a chilling effect, and allows readers to become fully enveloped in the melancholy state in which Beck spends much of his life. Yet through Sheeler’s flowing and effective word choice, it is clear that Beck might not love his job per se, he respects the importance of it and wouldn’t write off its significance.

After reading such a well-written heartbreaking and touching story, there is no question why Sheeler won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. “Final Salute” is an incredible read, albeit a bit depressing. But it opens eyes to different realities of war in a way that no other article I’ve read has done before.

Harry Potter: the wizard, the wand, the wonder

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the midnight premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” with friends. Not naive enough to think we could get tickets the night of the show, we purchased our tickets a few weeks in advance. One of my friends had been counting down the days until the premiere pretty much since the date of the premiere was announced.

We got to the theater a couple hours early, and it’s a good thing we did: the movie theater we went to was bustling with hundreds of excited young people. The auditorium we were assigned to was already packed with people decked in red and gold scarves or full-on character costumes, carrying wands of different varieties.

As I sat in theater, anxious and excited to see the first part of the final installment in the series that is beloved by so many, one of my friends said something along the lines of, “I forgot how big of a deal this is.” And she’s so right–Harry Potter IS a big deal.

And while people of all ages enjoy the series about the wizard and his adventures (my mom included), my generation has truly grown up with Harry Potter. I was seven when the first book was published in 1997, and I’ll admit, I thought the whole concept sounded pretty strange. It wasn’t until more books were released and my friends urged/forced me to start reading the series that I began to realize just how wonderful the books are. I was not alone in this realization: I can count on one hand the few friends around my age group who honestly don’t like Harry Potter. And most of them haven’t really read the books.

I can’t think of anything else that has been as much of a cultural phenomenon for my generation than the Harry Potter series. For that, I think J.K. Rowling is absolutely amazing. Funny and lighthearted at times, dark and thrilling in others, this series appeals to girls and boys, men and women. I can honestly say that when I look back on my childhood, Harry Potter will be a large part of it. So thank you, J.K. Rowling, for delighting readers for years past and, in all likelihood, many years to come.

Stop to smell the roses

Coming from Lawrence, Kan., I have been around plenty of street musicians. Downtown Lawrence is a popular place for people of all ages to hang out, so musicians will often stand on street corners or in alleyways downtown to play their music. Sometimes the musicians are genuinely talented, causing passersby to linger while enjoying sweet melodies. Other times–let’s not sugar coat this–they’re just bad. But hey, you have to give them credit for trying. Regardless of talent, I always notice these musicians. But that does not necessarily mean that I take a moment to stop and enjoy their music.

Gene Weingarten’s “Pearls Before Breakfast” proves an interesting point about typical busy, rushed Americans: we don’t always take time to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes we miss out on incredible beauty when it is literally right in our faces–or ears. People (myself included) often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of their tiring days that they don’t take a little time to listen to the talents of street musicians.

Weingarten’s article follows the story of Joshua Bell, a famous violinist, performing in a crowded area of Washington, D.C. during a busy time of day. A man who is used to performing in front of large audiences who paid large amounts of money to see him, Bell was shocked at the remarkably small number of people who put money in his case, or even stopped to listen to him play.

When I first started reading the article, I thought to myself that people must be crazy to not stop and listen to such a talented musician play for free. But as I read on, I realized that I am one of those people at times. Even if I enjoy what I’m hearing, sometimes I just feel to rushed to listen to a street performer.

People who walk by street performers without taking a second listen often miss out not only on hearing talented musicians, but also getting to know interesting people. So whether I’m walking around the Old Market on a Saturday night or wandering around downtown Lawrence on a lazy Sunday, I will be more conscious of the street musicians around me. This time I will stop to smell the roses.