Papa was a rodeo, mama was a rock-and-roll band (eye_of_a_cat) wrote,

And then I was eaten by a grue.

Postgraduate Office
A lonely, narrow room, with desks arranged in rows that remind you of battery farming. Yellowing printouts of Piled Higher and Deeper peel from the walls, and in the distance you can hear the faint sound of undergraduate feet tramping into an exam room.

There is an endless stack of essays in front of you.

>pick up stack
You really don't want to do that.

>make coffee
You move towards the other end of the office, view the Thing growing out of the kettle, and scuttle back to the safety of your desk.

>look at stack
It's not getting any smaller.

>pick up essay
You lift one essay off the pile.

>read essay
With trepidation, you lift aside the cover sheet. Suddenly, the world around you seems to melt away...

Hell
You are in a maze of twisty little paragraphs, all alike. The path ahead of you is littered with sentence fragments, left broken and twitching at your feet as their pathetic spaniel eyes implore you to put them out of their misery. Dangling modifiers loop happily through the branches overhead. In the distance, that sound of undergraduate feet has turned into a heavy, erratic thwump - swoop - THWUMP you recognise immediately - it's a badly-indented long quotation, and it's coming closer.

>run
You wish.

A flock of commas scampers past, squeaking in a high-pitched, giggly way.

>inventory
You are carrying:
a purple pen
your grading criteria
a copy of Villette
5 crumbled dog biscuits
your TA contract
18 monographs you promised your supervisor you'd already read
a large amount of what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life angst
half a potato

>get commas
Tricksy little things, commas. These ones have embedded themselves in the comforting thicket of a nearby sentence.

>search for commas
Where do you want to search for the commas?

>search for commas around subordinate clauses
Surely you jest.

>search for commas prefacing speech
You spy a clutch of young semi-colons here, looking slightly confused.

>get semi-colons
You have the clutch of young semi-colons.

>throw semi-colons in direction of my own writing
I don't think you need any more of those, young lady.

>but I'm a Victorianist!
That's no excuse.

>search for commas at randomly-chosen intervals in middle of sentence in places where NO COMMAS SHOULD BE because despite correcting this THREE TIMES NOW and doing writing workshops in class and handing out links to resources like confetti it was all in vain
Ah, there they are! You gather up the commas, making sure you don't get bitten in the process.

>n
You head north.

Introduction
A strange place, this. The decoration tends towards the chintzy, and pattered wallpaper on a vague-generalisations theme is everywhere you look. At the centre of the room, a Clumsy Restatement of the Essay Question holds pride of place.

>look for thesis statement
Okay, I'll humour you on this one. Where do you want to look for this 'thesis statement' of yours, in a first-year essay, in the dreaded Batch #3, written by a student whose previous two essays just scraped a pass?

>read TA contract
TA Contract, paragraph 5.2(b): "Any grumbling, weeping or tearing out of hair that is not actively homicidal in nature is considered par for the course, sucker."

>sigh
Indeed.

>look under lampshade
Which lampshade, the fake-satin lampshade of irrelevant biographical detail or the frilly velvet lampshade of waffle?

>look under frilly lampshade
You find a thesis statement clinging to the underside of the lampshade. It is very small and appears to be ashamed of itself.

>underline thesis statement
It looks a little bolder.

>write supportive comments in re: thesis statement in margin of essay
It begins to stand on its own two feet.

>n
You head north.

Body of argument
You find yourself on a loud, chaotic dance floor. Ideas bounce around crazily, treading on each other's toes and elbowing you in the ribs. Occasionally, a quotation congas past you.

>find metaphorical DJ
You push your way to the front of the dance floor, where the DJ looks at you in a helpless, overwhelmed way.

>request metaphorical 'The Locomotion' from metaphorical DJ so that metaphorical ideas will fall into some bloody form of order, metaphorical or otherwise
Ah, 'The Locomotion'! Sniggering, the DJ reminds you that the kids whose essays you're marking probably weren't even born when -

>slap DJ
That's better.

>request 'The Locomotion'
The DJ nods at you. A few seconds later, the familiar strains of Kylie Minogue float over the loudspeakers, and the dancing ideas fall into lockstep formation (right hand, left hand, right hip, left hip!). You bask in glory as an organised structure appears before you.

>n
You head north.

Mid-Essay
The crashing sounds beside you draw to a crescendo as a badly-indented long quotation lumbers on to the path ahead. Its beady eyes gleam with animalistic malice, and you draw back in terror at its hideous, misshapen form. Its tail begins to twitch...

>run
TA Contract, paragraph 17.5(a): "Insanity due to undergraduate formatting will not be accepted as an excuse for not meeting your own chapter deadlines."

>indent quotation
You'll have to catch it first.

The badly-indented long quotation is lumbering towards you now, its teeth grinding together hungrily.

>lasso quotation
You don't have a lasso.

The badly-indented long quotation is close enough now that the stink of its hot, fetid breath hits you like a wave.

>hint
You're a postgraduate student.

>make lasso out of tough fibres of pure cynicism
You quickly knot a lasso together.

>lasso quotation
The badly-indented long quotation grunts as your lasso circles its neck, pulling it over sideways into the mud.

>indent quotation
Struggling, you push the quotation into the middle of the path

>single-space quotation
You leave a stern reminder of MHRA style attached to its forehead

>add reference to quotation
You attach a shiny bow around its neck. It's starting to look a lot more pleasant to be around.

>n
You head north.

Close Analysis
This is a desolate, swampy place, in which all life appears to be in a stage of transition. Possessive nouns mewl piteously in the greenish water at your feet, while plurals sweep majestically overhead, their apostrophe-wings carrying them high above the land.

>what the hell is this "all the character's are" stuff when we went over this in class about FIFTEEN TIMES?
TA Contract, paragraph 23.1.1(c): "There is very little you can do about students not showing up to class, young padawan."

>remove apostrophes from plurals
They're too high up to reach.

A flock of rogue its/it's soar past you, their cawing sound echoing across the desolate landscape.

>shoot down wrongly-apostrophised plurals
With what?

>shoot down wrongly-apostrophised plurals with laser-eye beams of TA wrath
Sizzling slightly, they plummet to earth.

>put apostrophes in correct places
As the possessive nouns climb happily upon the thermals of correct grammar, and the plurals swim away into the warm, muddy pools of the kind of sentence construction they should have taught these students in primary school WHY DO I HAVE TO EXPLAIN THIS AT UNIVERSITY LEVEL, you bask in the satisfaction of a job well done.

>n
You head north.

Conclusion
A strange room resembling nothing more than an abandoned laboratory, circa 1818 Ingolstadt. Mysterious substances bubble away in archaic equipment, creating compounds you can neither recognise nor identify. While you're sure all this stuff is doing something, you can't for the life of you work out what...

>whistle
The thesis statement you discovered earlier comes gambolling into the room.

>show equipment to thesis statement
As the thesis statement blinks at its reflection in the glass, you begin to notice a few similarities. Why, it's almost as if the two things are related in some way!

>describe relationship in hastily-scribbled comment in margin
You list the links between the thesis statement and the conclusion patiently, trying not to write the word 'argument' in all caps with an underline that tears through the paper.

>n
You head north.

Bibliography
You have no idea what's going on here, but it's nothing resembling MHRA style. Nor does it resemble MLA style, nor even APA style. You begin to weep.

>rearrange bibliography
Using judiciously-placed arrows, you exchange the authors' first and last names, only to discover that the publication dates have slipped from your grasp.

>rearrange bibliography
You nail the publication dates to their correct locations, then realise to your dismay that novel titles are in inverted commas rather than italics.

>rearrange bibliography
You exchange inverted commas for italics (and vice versa), before noticing that there's no information on the publishers at all.

>give up
Wise choice.

>leave comment in margin, pointing student towards department stylesheet and including the words 'not optional'
Done.

>underline comment
You underline the comment.

>underline comment
You underline the comment.

>underline comment
You underline the comment.

>underline comment
You realise that your second-marker is going to be writing you a reference one of these days, and decide that three underlines is quite enough.

>n
You head north.

Final comment
At last, a blank expanse of paper!

>write positive things
"Some [excellent/insightful/interesting] ideas here!..."

>write positive things
"...you pay close attention to [language/dialogue/linguistic terminology covered in lectures/regurgitating tutorial material word-for-word]..."

>write positive things
"...and I'm pleased to see that your [structure/punctuation/ability to read] has improved since your last assignment."

>switch to Bad Cop
"However..."

>write negative things
"Your ideas here are let down by your structure, which [is rather loose/is very loose/is without form and void]..."

>write negative things
"...and your writing style, which [muddies the clarity of your argument/gave me a headache/both]. See my corrections throughout."

>add threat
"If these problems continue into Semester 2, I'm afraid your grade will suffer further as a result."

>sign off optimistically
"However, there is real potential here in regards to your content. Keep working on presenting that content as [clearly/legibly] as possible, and you'll do well."

>assign grade
You scribble a grade on your marking sheet, and close the essay.

>n
You head north.

Postgraduate Office
A lonely, narrow room, with desks arranged in rows that remind you of battery farming. Yellowing printouts of Piled Higher and Deeper peel from the walls, and in the distance you can hear the faint sound of undergraduate feet leaving their exam.

>oh bugger, are they finished already?
Yes. Welcome to Grading Time, where things are not as they are in your world.

>look at stack
It's infinitesimally smaller.

>evaluate mental state
No, no, you're fine. Really. Juuuust fine. And remember - there's only 39 more of these to go!
Tags: teaching, writing
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