Author: Jessica Palmeri

Changing of the Seasons (or not…)

When reading Walden, I personally find myself intrigued by the structure and format of the text itself. From a writing perspective, Walden boasts a number of grammatical and organizational feats. Harding almost doesn’t do Walden justice in “Five Ways of Looking at Walden” when he claims that the text is “tightly constructed” (157). From the content of each chapter to the page-filling sentences that are carefully pieced together, it’s apparent that Thoreau was very considerate of the way in which he constructed his time at Walden. One of Thoreau’s organizational feats that intrigues me is the compression of two years, two months, and two days spent at Walden Pond into the cycle of one whole year. Walden opens in the spring with Thoreau building his cabin. By the summer, he has moved in. In the fall, Thoreau begins building a chimney for the imminent winter months approaching. In the winter, Thoreau writes. By the spring, Walden wraps up.

With this in mind, I was curious to see exactly how many times the four seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter) come up within the text. More importantly, however, I wanted to see if the frequency trends for each seasonal word would coincide with the cycle of the year in Walden. As an example one would expect the frequency of the word “spring” to be higher in the beginning and conclusion of Walden, as that is the respective season in those parts of the text.

Using Voyant Tools to analyze the text, a few interesting facts arose. In regards to the frequency of the seasonal terms, winter was utilized the most, appearing 102 times throughout the text. This was followed by spring utilized 81 times, summer 70 times, and fall only 29 times. Personally, I find it weird that fall only came up 29 times as fall is way better than winter, but that’s beside the point.

Now here’s where it gets more interesting. The output from Voyant tools in regards to seasonal term frequencies did not represent the results that I was expecting to see. Instead of seeing the term frequency coinciding with the change in seasons over the course of Walden, I saw terms overlapping with each other. In fact, when looking at each document segment of Walden (represented on the graph’s x axis), winter had the highest or same frequency as the highest term in 5 out of 10 segments of Walden (segments 1,3,4,8, and 9). Spring had the highest term frequency or the same frequency as the highest term in document segments 2,3,6,7, and 10. Summer had the highest frequency in document segment 5. Fall never had the highest frequency in any of the 10 document segments. The seasons don’t seem to change when just examining word frequencies.

This points out a discrepancy between interpretations that may be reached between close and distant reading techniques. Through distant reading, the seasonal progression that is present in Walden is truly difficult to pick up on. Word frequencies do not coincide with the seasonal changes that occur throughout the course of the text. While I see distant reading as an important facet of critical reading, these results seem to point out the fact that distant reading can sometimes fail to pick up on trends that a close analysis of the text can uncover.

Nothing is Perfect

For me, revision is an extremely important process in my writing. I am almost always dissatisfied with initial drafts of mine. If I’m being completely honest, I am a bit of a perfectionist.  I typically revise everything that I write from text messages to emails to analytical essays. The extent to which this process occurs is accordingly very different for an essay as compared to a text message. I typically read over a text message once or twice before sending it. The more acquainted I am with an individual, the less time I spend on the revision process. Embarrassingly enough, I can distinctly remember my friends and I working together to edit our text messages to petty crushes. Should I say this or this? Is it weird to say this? Should I use this emoji or that one? It was all largely trivial but revision nonetheless.

With essays, my revision process is much more in depth, spanning a few days’ time, and beginning before my fingers even start to tap away at the keyboard. I consider my brainstorming process to be a form of revision. I find it critical to map out my ideas before writing anything substantial. I typically narrow my focus and do test runs of different structures and setups. I go through all potential evidence for my argument and narrow it down to the quotes that I coin to be important. Even before I wrote this very blog post, I determined which questions would be the most pertinent to discuss based on my initial responses to them.

Revision does not end after my brainstorming session. Revision simultaneously occurs as I put down words on paper. After the development of each sentence, my brain won’t allow me to move on till I have read it over, checked it for appropriate diction, grammatical correctness, and its contribution to the flow of the piece.

The truth of being a perfectionist is that you have a complete inability to let things go. The act of revising is almost like a vice, enabling the perfectionist to see the work as they would like it to be: incomplete. However, there is one thing in this world that the perfectionist is constantly battling: time. With the clock ticking and deadlines approaching, there is only one thing left to do. Let it go (or maybe check it over just one more time…)


Chicken Scratch

My methodology in terms of annotation is largely due to my seventh grade English teacher. I remember her lesson vividly. Circle and define the words you don’t know. Underline key phrases and concepts. Finally, write any opinions you may have to the side of the text. While I follow the majority of these steps, it is the last step, the inscription of my own opinions, that is jarringly lacking from my own marginalia.

I suppose I should first explain that I am anything but a traditionalist when it comes to annotation. I refuse to blemish the appearance of newly printed or well-loved library books. I write all of my annotations in a notebook kept neatly next to me as I read. I can accredit this to my generally atrocious handwriting. I would hate to rent a book and see my marginalia all over it. Arrows strewn across the page linking words to their definitions. Sloppy underlines threading below (and sometimes through) the words that they are supposed to be highlighting. I just can’t do that to books.

There is, however, an exception to this rule. I have no problem whatsoever defacing handouts. I write all over them without a care in the world. Why is there such a discrepancy between books and a Xeroxed-copy of the same material? This may be due to a feeling of ownership that I feel I have with Xeroxed-copies. More than likely though, it stems from my feeling that handouts don’t have the same kind of permanence as books. A handout is likely to remain in two places: in my hands or in the recycling bin. A book, however, is more likely to remain in circulation. I would never throw a book away, but rather would donate it or gift the text to a friend.

This falls perfectly in line with one of the most striking things about my own annotations: I rarely take the time to write down my own opinions. The idea of marginalia being a type of delayed conversation between the author, the reader, and readers to come is particularly interesting when it comes to my case, as I never involve myself in this conversation in the first place. I don’t write down my thoughts on the page but rather exclaim them in my head or even out loud sometimes (I promise I’m generally normal). I never really pondered my reasoning for this until now. I think that it generally arises from an irrational fear of others judging my marginalia.  It’s one thing for others to see words that you defined and phrases that you found to be important. It is an entirely different thing, however, to truly write down your opinions on the page. This form of self-identification scares me a little bit. I certainly have lots of opinions but am not as willing to key others in on them.

If I do ever succeed in making my mark in the world, I guess it won’t be found haphazardly scribbled in the margins of a book.