About lmcginnis

I'm a senior here at UPS . I'm working towards an English major and a Spanish minor. I love any kind of creative writing; I'm president of the Writers Guild. I'm working on completing my thesis, a novella titled "Like Butterflies." It's about a witch-figure who can take away people's memories. In my free time, I like to practice karate and read Agatha Christie.


Today I woke up at five thirty to drive up to Seattle and take the GRE. I had to wake up this early because I tend to get lost and because there is a lot of traffic in going through Seattle. There was stop and go traffic on the freeway at six thirty. It was still dark out so all I could really see were streams of red and gold headlights. I pity the poor commuters who have to take that route every morning. It reminded me of what a modern take on Dante’s “neutral” level in hell might be like, bummer to bummer traffic going nowhere.

Luckily, I got to the test center in plenty of time and almost without incident. This was my first time driving in Seattle and I was borrowing my suitemate’s car, which was so big it felt more like driving a boat. Normally, I drive a Prius so I found this quite daunting. I had brought both a GPS and printed directions. It was a good thing I did because the GPS gave out on me about a quarter of the way through and I didn’t have the dexterity to get it going again while driving. So what I tried to do instead was hold the directions up so I could read them. This caused me to swerve dramatically in my lane and then overcorrect. It was at this point on the journey where I reflected that when I had thought to myself “I’ll be there to take the GRE if it kills me” that I hadn’t really meant this literally. A two hundred dollar test isn’t worth dying over. Aside from that, everything went fine and I actually arrived early.

The GRE itself was, in some ways, a lot less stressful than the drive up. It had helped that I had studied before and I knew what to expect. There was a GRE course at the writing center that I had been taking. It gave me a refresher on some of the math concepts, which were basically what I had done in middle school and early high school, only now I had forgotten them all. But because I took the course I was able to remember enough to get a passable score. I wasn’t applying for a math related program so it only had to be just that, passable. My verbal score turned out quite well. I did a few practice sets before so I knew what the questions looked like. In some ways, the GRE is an endurance test. You can’t bring food into the testing room and you only get one ten minute break during the four hours you are there. By the time I got back I was ready to start gnawing on whatever I could find.

But in the end, I did well. My GRE score, if not an asset, at least shouldn’t be an impediment to getting into graduate school. More importantly, however, I’ll never have to take the test again. No more multiple choice questions with more than one answer, no more trying to figure out which quantity is greater, and best of all, no waking up at five thirty to sit in traffic for two hours.

Confessions of a Fraidy Cat

There was a time when I was younger, before October of my sophomore year, when I didn’t know I was a fraidy cat. Then I went to the Phi Delt haunted house and I discovered that it scared me out of my wits. There were times when my friend had to hold my arm and drag me through. I am not the person you can use as a human shield when it looks like the skeleton is about to jump out at you. I am the person who uses you as a human shield. If necessary, I am willing to pick you up and move you so that I can do this. This year I decided to try the haunted house again to see if it was less scary with more people. I went with two of my suitemates and I had planned to walk in the middle with one of them in front of me and one of them behind me. The only problem was that one of them also wanted to be in the middle. So I grabbed her and put her behind me. In my defense, my legs started shaking before we even went in whereas she was cool and collected the entire time.

Afterwards, she said that we probably made a bigger spectacle than the actual haunted house. Part of this was because, as I said, I was willing to physically make her change positions with me. The other part was because when I get scared I like to punch things. As I was moving through the haunted house, I was throwing punches and kicks at the frat brothers jumping at out at us. Or at least I was throwing them in their general direction. I hope I didn’t actually hit anyone. I probably looked like someone in a very surreal kickboxing video. This made me feel calmer and more comfortable. I’m not sure how the frat guys felt about it.

In the end, it turned out to be a great stress reliever (once you got out) and I highly recommend it. I even learned a few new things about haunted houses. 1) The people doing it pick on the person in the middle because they know they are the most scared (so maybe my strategy wasn’t so good after all). 2) My friend who I remorselessly moved to the back was right; it’s best to just keep moving. And 3) If you’re going in a haunted house with me, you may want to stand out of punching distance, just in case.


Literary Trivia Night

I won a tube of Macbeth lip balm today. I was going to spend the afternoon doing homework but then my professor announced that the English department was having a “Literary Trivia Night” and I decided to goof off there instead. It was a blast. We had pizza from the cellar and literature related prizes like an Edgar Allen Poe lunchbox and Shakespearean insult gum. We also had something called “Head Game” where you throw balls at each other’s heads—just because. They really should have gone ahead and called it “gathering of the English nerds” instead.

The questions were quite hard. Most teams only got about thirteen out of twenty-four correct. I never thought I’d get asked what bird Lewis Carroll drew himself into in the illustrations of Alice and Wonderland, but I did. For the record, the answer is a dodo bird. We were also asked what famous work besides The Waste Land was published in 1922. The answer was Ulysses. I knew this because I slogged my way through parts of it in freshman year. It said things like:

“Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy.”

If I was going to have to read a book that said things like that then it was about time I got something practical out of it. Even if that something was a tube of Macbeth lip balm and some Shakespearean insult gum. I never liked Joyce. When I was first reading Ulysses, I used to wish that Bloom (the protagonist) had gotten run over by the tram car in one of the early chapters so the book would be over faster. Obfuscation for the sake obfuscation doesn’t appeal to me. It’s funny; the one criterion we’re not supposed to use in defining literature is how much someone would actually enjoy reading the book.

The best thing about the trivia night though was the vibe. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. When I said I didn’t know who my team was going to be the group next to me immediately invited me to join theirs. It was fun for me to be around people who also thought that a good time was sitting around eating pizza and trying to figure out what the five canons of rhetoric were. It was definitely worth skipping the homework.

How to Clean Your Suite

This year is my first year living in a suite, before this I lived in an on campus house (Langlow). One of the main differences is that my suitemates and I have to clean the inside of our suite ourselves. In Langlow, we had maintenance come once a week. This was nice. It meant that we didn’t have to clear all the toothpaste out of the sink ourselves. However, since moving into Trimble, I have been learning to take care of household chores on my own. Or, failing that, to at least thank my suitemates for taking care of them. Some chores you can get away with not doing for a while. For example, I haven’t swept or vacuumed my room since I moved in. Others you need to do regularly. Anything involving the bathroom needs to be done regularly. Below, I have written out a tip list for cleaning a suite. It’s fairly simple but I hope it will help.

1) Create a chore schedule. Otherwise everyone assumes someone else will take care of it and no one does anything. Either that, or the person with the least tolerance for filth does everything, becomes resentful, and begins plotting ways to kill their suitemates.

2) Get all your hair out of the shower when you leave. This applies even if you are not living in a suite. No one wants to see someone else’s hair in the shower.

3) Don’t let the trash pile get too high. If you see that it is higher than the actual trash can, remove it. You don’t want it to turn into a trash mountain.

4) Don’t feel bad about reminding your suitemates to do their assigned chores if it has been awhile. If it’s a choice between silence and a clean shower, go with the clean shower. A hot shower is one of the best parts of the day. You don’t want to feel like you should be wearing a hazmat suit.

5) When you ask a suitemate to clean up, ask nicely first. A casual reminder is usually all that’s needed.

6) If there is something malfunctioning in your suite, ask your RA for a work order sooner rather than later. Our drain malfunctioned and we let it get to the point where it didn’t matter if it was in or out. We removed the drain and the water still wouldn’t go down the pipe. It wasn’t pretty.

Cleaning is like any other part of suitemate leaving, as long as everyone is reasonably courteous it will go fine. If not, there is likely to be the kind of drama that makes you wonder if you are in college or middle school. But that is a story for another blog.

Thesis Mutation

In the process of writing my thesis, I got a ten page literary analysis, a one-hundred and thirty page novella, and a ton of cookies. My thesis presentation was today and I had a small group so there were a lot of cookies left over. They were good cookies too, dark chocolate with white chocolate chips. More importantly, however, my thesis helped me become a better writer.

I started searching for a director for it almost exactly one year ago. I had just found out that my adviser wasn’t willing to do it. (Tip, before you choose an adviser ask if they are willing to help you with your thesis, if you need to do one). I had to keep telling myself take deep breaths and not panic. Eventually though, I found two great professors, Denise Despres and Laura Krugoff, who were willing to shepherd me through the process. Together we tackled issues like: “Is Mara (one of my antagonists) evil enough to murder William (the protagonist’s husband)? It was a pretty dark novella.

While I was writing it, my novella changed in all sorts of ways that I didn’t anticipate. Mara’s murdering William had been a catalyst for the rest of the plot and now I was learning that Mara wouldn’t do that. As an author my thought on that was “um, now what?” I thought I was in control; I wasn’t. My characters dictated the story, not me. If a character decided that she didn’t want do the action that starts the plot, I was just going to have to live with it.

The novella started out as a diabology based project and mutated into a police procedural, killing twenty pages of my research in the process. The original page count for it was supposed to be sixty to ninety pages but after I finished the first draft I realized that the story actually wanted to be 130 pages. So 130 pages it was.

In those 130 pages I learned a lot of things. I learned how to sit still and write (harder than it sounds), that every story needs a good villain (otherwise the hero is just sitting there), and how to give a story a life of its own. Stories are like children, sooner or later they start wanting to grow up and be independent. And as a parent/author, you’re bound to love them anyway.

Diner Tips

This year I came back for my third semester of working at the diner. My co-workers are nice and it’s a fairly simple job. You smile at people and hand them their food. Most of the students here are polite. The only trouble is when you get your pleasantries mixed up. For example, if a customer says, “Have a good shift” and you say “You too.” Of course, the second after you say it you realize that they don’t have a shift and you wince a little. You meant to say something nice; you just used the wrong words.

We’re getting a lot of new people at the diner this month so I thought I’d write some tips on how to work there. Like I said, it’s relatively simple. As a student worker, all you really have to do is have a positive attitude and show up passably awake. That being said, here are my tips.

  • Be yourself. I heard this at the customer service training session we did and it seems worth repeating. Customers don’t want to be served by a robot or someone who sounds like the lady on their GPS. For one thing that lady is really bossy. This may happen in the next fifty years as technology progresses, but in the meantime feel free to relax and joke around a little.
  • Don’t cut towards your fingers. If you do, you may find yourself with one less.
  • Eat before your shift. Or else you could end up trying to cram a cold tortilla into your mouth during the one o’clock rush. Trust me, it’s not good.
  • Bring comfortable shoes. This job is all standing.
  • If you’re spraying the warming pan on top of the stove and the stove is on, a jet of fire may shoot up. This looks really cool but make sure to get your hand out of the way if you don’t want it charbroiled.

I hope these were helpful and I look forward to seeing you at the diner, either as a co-worker or as a customer. If you say “have a good shift,” I’ll be the one who says “you too.”

Open Mic

It seems as though every time I take a car off campus and try to go somewhere new I manage to get lost, either that or I don’t turn the ignition switch far enough forward and the car won’t start. I don’t know why this is. I think it’s the same instincts that made me try pruning holly with a can opener one holiday season (they both had metal tops and gray bottoms). It took a long time but I eventually managed to get all the holly we needed to decorate. It was the same tonight, it took a while but I eventually got to my destination: open mic night at B-Sharp Café.

One of the literary magazines I submit to, Creative Colloquy, was kind enough to invite me to perform at their open mic night. I was nervous, and not just about whether or not I would accidentally wind up in Timbuctoo. I hadn’t spoken to anyone there yet; I was Facebook friends with a couple of the founders but that doesn’t entail actually talking. You don’t have to make eye contact on Facebook.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about. It was my first night so everyone was very encouraging. One of the hosts agreed to take a picture of me performing for my parents. Parents want pictures of things like this; it’s in their DNA. There was one awkward moment when another host thought I had been running away when I went back to my car to get my poems. I was nervous but I wasn’t that nervous. I smiled through it. In situations like this it’s best to just smile, like the Madagascar penguins: “Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave.”

In my case it was more like smile and blush but it all worked out just fine. I read my poems, remembered to look up at the audience, and sat down to a nice round of applause. One kind woman patted me on the shoulder as I left and told me I did I good job. I didn’t know her; she was just being nice. It was a random act of niceness.
The other authors had some really good stuff as well. One guy had a really funny piece about the zombie apocalypse. The first woman who went wrote a really sweet story about a mother and her elementary school son. They’re a talented bunch. It would be good to go back sometime; I just have to find it again.

How to Hustle Your Book

Today I learned that you can promote your book by advertising it on a dating website. You put the cover of your book in the spot where your face goes and people stop to look at it because they’re confused why there’s a book there instead of your face.

I have wanted to be an author since I was in sixth grade and I wrote a thirty page start to a novel during recess. What I’ve learned since then is that getting published, in any capacity, is hard. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been rejected. You get that same drop in your stomach every time.

This afternoon I attended a workshop with three self-published authors who were kind enough to share the secrets of their success: Renee Meland (class of 2005), James B Reid, and Mark Shaw. That’s where the dating site tip came from. Here are a few more:

1) Do Your Research: If you don’t, you may end up paying way more than you have to for stuff. Meland paid over $300 for cover art she could have bought somewhere else for $60. Also, not all agents are good agents. Never pay an agent upfront.

2) Learn the Computer Voodoo: To be honest I didn’t completely understand this part. My strategy with technology is to turn it off and turn it back on. Somehow I doubt this will work for selling books. On Amazon, the trick is to set your keywords to things that people search for so they find your book. You could select words to describe your book like “thriller” or “adventure.” Apparently, Amazon has a place for you to do this.

3) Pay Attention to the Cover: The cover is your first sales pitch. Make sure it looks good small. On a kindle most covers are about an inch wide, if that.

4) Self-Incorporate: If you become successful, it can be cheaper tax wise to say you are a corporation. Declare yourself the sole proprietor, otherwise it gets messy.

It was a good workshop, but regardless, publishing your stuff is still really hard. Meland compared it to running a marathon. Sometimes, you still have to face that rejection letter: “Unfortunately…” One of the other students asked how you keep going after ten or so rejections. I thought the answer they gave was brilliant: “You just have to.”

Beginning Thesis 101

Doing a senior thesis can feel a lot like walking around with an anchor, barnacles and all, tied to your back. It absorbs all your spare minutes and then some, ties your brain in a knot, and slowly compresses your social life until you realize the last time you had a girl’s night was two months ago. Of course, it can also be an intellectually and creatively rewarding experience. It is an opportunity for us to put what we’ve learned into practice and come out with a big…something at the end. Personally, I’ve been working on my first novella. I’m midway through the rough draft and it’s about fifty pages, the longest thing I’ve ever written. Keeping in mind that I’m only at the beginning of the process, here are some tips that will hopefully make it easier for you than it was for me.

1.)    Start early. It can take weeks to find a director and a reader, let alone start writing it. Your adviser doesn’t always do this so you may have to ask around. Make sure you’re working with professors you’re comfortable with.

2.)    Meet with your director often. You really don’t want to find out fifteen pages into it that they think you should be doing a completely different topic. I had to scrap twenty pages of research notes because they no longer fit with the context of my novella. It was painful.

3.)    Apply for summer research. Every year UPS offers summer research stipends, which are about $3250 a piece. If you get one of these stipends you can take the summer to focus entirely on your thesis. I received one for the summer of 2015. As a college student with a minimum of ten things on my to-do list, it is going to be a real blessing. I can take my time and make my thesis the best it can be.

4.)    Revise. Then revise again. Repeat. Good writing isn’t written it’s rewritten.

5.)    Choose a topic that you’re passionate about. There will be nights when you really don’t want to work on your thesis. That forcing yourself to write will feel like dragging yourself to an eight o’clock organic chemistry class. This makes those nights easier.

So this is what I’ve learned so far. Also, apparently I need to add more setting description. My novella currently sounds like it’s taking place in a vacuum. But that’s what second drafts are for. The first draft is just to get words on the page. Anything beyond that is a bonus. So good luck and remember; it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be there.

The Disability Closet

I have a mental illness. When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That was a very painful time for me—I spent a lot of it crying. At one point, my mother and I wondered if I would be better off in a psychiatric ward. We went to a friend’s Halloween party instead. I put on my Maximum Ride costume, carved a scary pumpkin, and resumed living my life. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I’m not alone. According to the informational posters displayed by UPS, one in six students here has an invisible disability. And mine is invisible. Most people wouldn’t notice anything different about me. I eat at the SUB, attend classes, and pursue my dream of being a writer. In short, I appear just like the rest of the student body. I may tell close friends about my disability but for the most part it remains “in the closet.” I do not want people to look at me differently. I do not want to look at myself differently.

Despite this, I was surprised when a professor said that admitting more mentally ill people made campus more “volatile” and that was why we didn’t have as many intense debates. I remember thinking that just because we are mentally ill does not mean we are jerks. This professor judged me without knowing anything about me or my situation. He didn’t even have to look at me. In that moment, I was glad my disability was “in the closet.” I did not want to be thought of as less than.

Why are remarks like these considered acceptable? It would not be acceptable to say that African American students made campus more volatile or that gay and lesbian students made campus more volatile. How are students with mental disabilities different? It is the same concept of isolating a particular group and disparaging it for its difference.

Last week, I heard the word “neurotypical” in conversation for the first time, used to describe people without mental disabilities. I don’t believe any of us are truly normal or neurotypical. We are all different, each and every one of us. I adore murder mysteries. My friend is fascinated by autobiographies. My sister loves anime. Wouldn’t it be nice if we supported our differences? Gave each other tolerance instead of judgment? Why do we feel this need to look down on one another?

None of us are less than because of the things that make us different. We all have the right to acceptance and encouragement. And most importantly, we should accept and encourage ourselves. Let’s all take that thing that makes us “weird” and let it out of the closet. Celebrate it! Because in doing so we celebrate ourselves.