Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mark Doty wins.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Plugging Our Friends: Brandon Shimoda's The Alps

Fellow UM MFA grad Brandon Shimoda's book The Alps is out. Check it.

Security blankets

As Obama continues to announce more filled vacancies in his administration-to-be, and the "plum" book is published claiming wide readership for just the chance to see "dream list" of career opportunities, I am contemplating the next j-o-b. This, due to the fact I am surrounded by and have only office supplies to commiserate with, which feels a little out of touch with reality.

I believe, now, my tasks at work can be replicated by a robot-- if this robot could wield Papermate Intro-brand highlighters, binder clips, "sign here" arrow post-its & navigate the intricacies of a wire inbox and outbox set.

I recently had a conversation with one of my supervisors about "my career path". I went ahead and boldy went where no 40-hour/week employee would go: "I have decided to teach" I said. That is, I went on to clarify, teach college. By that, I guess I (realistically) meant adjuncting. "But', she countered, "--ah... don't you want to pay rent?" And with that, hopes were dashed and I will quietly harbor these dreams of low pay and sharing a huge desk somewhere with the fluorescent lights of the local library glaring. Regardless, I will lobby hard for robot hiring in the next few weeks.

As Jan. looms, local community and suburban colleges have posted deadlines for full-time English faculty &, of course, composition adjunct positions. What can it hurt to have two or three part-time jobs without the benefits of vacation days, overtime or-- wouldntchaknowit-- health insurance instead of the 40-hours/wk without vacation, overtime or insurance now? I am in the very least pretty sure I'll feel a little more like a writer if I'm around some English department bookshelves. Right? Right? Does that make me weak and dependent on external circumstances for self-worth?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Notes from MFA-land

For my friends who miss being in a graduate program, the highlights of a week at school:

Monday: final "project" due (as project-y as a short story can be), comp student comes to office hours to announce that she's apathetic about writing and will no longer be putting effort into her papers, final project handed in on time, moping/depression about frustrated student ensues.

Tuesday: since project is in, time to catch up on reading. Distracted from others' workshop submissions by the excellence of a published story collection, still hung up on frustrated comp student.

Wednesday: Help frustrated student research, feel better, more reading, fall asleep over classmates' stories again.

Thursday: Finish reading workshop submissions, finish pleasure-reading story collection, take new book out of library, attend reading in Berkeley, workshop, cocktails with classmates.

Friday: no classes, lay around, clean apartment, hopefully post on blog for LEW's birthday.

The MFA life, almost a life of luxury (except on a budget and that budget on loan). Earlier today, I was ready to whine: that student depressed me; I could have done something more with my final project; I have a headache, which must be the result of a rough week (except written out it doesn't look bad at all). I got to spend hours and hours in the library (my favorite place). I saw friends, who share my interests and commiserate with me, every day. What's so bad about the MFA life? Nothing, I suppose. However, with commencement a semester away and the economy needing jump-start after jump-start, current satisfaction seems impossible (perhaps the underlying cause of my orneriness). If I can't help this one student, how can I hope to teach for a living? If I can't get this story right now, how will I ever write a successful story in the future? If I don't have Fridays off, will my living quarters ever be clean again? MFA-land is a happy enough place when experienced in the moment, but I worry about my departure from it. Next project: MFA weaning. (Although worry about the future prepares me for all the worrying that I'll have outside of school, so I may be on the right track already.)

The PhD Statement of Purpose I Wish I Could Send


I know you are bunch of creative writers. Probably last night you were out snorting cocaine off someone’s butt. Maybe you felt up a co-ed, or maybe you were at home, quietly bathing in angst. Either way, I know you don’t really care about this statement of purpose. We all know this is a ruse to keep that cranky lit faculty at bay and appease the cloak and dagger bastards at The Graduate School.

I know you are skimming this so you can get back to your own work. I’ll try and keep this short.

I am not crazy or an asshole. I promise.

The problem here is that I can’t say this. It’s like the creepy guy in the elevator who grabs your arm and says I’m not going to hurt you. But really, I am this totally great person you will dig.

And I might make it as a writer. I’m not necessarily the greatest writer ever to hit the universe, which is not to say I don’t have something to contribute. I just need a break. Can I have a break?

Please, I can’t wait tables anymore or there will be a DEATH soon. Whose death, it’s difficult to say.

Sorry, that was a little bit melodramatic. And I know murder goes against my claim I’m not a psycho. That was hyperbole. (I like to think correct application of the term "hyperbole" proves I’m ready for the lit coursework). Sometimes kind, ordinary people get pushed too far. Let me back off a bit.

Just forget it. Forget everything! Read the sample and you either like me or you don’t. Let’s get on with it. What you want to do, fine.

Monday, November 10, 2008

End Times

On Oct. 30, a man set himself on fire at the university that employs me. A couple of people from the other side of my office witnessed it. He was a former custodial worker for the U.


So the job is going fine, I guess. It's hard to really know what fine is, right now, what with the cognitive dissonance of the recent election. I'm re-learning how to mail merge, mostly. And making copies. Lots of copies.


I wish I could say that I'm writing. I guess I am, in that I write ideas or lines down at least once a day. Nothing is really striking me, though. I may be a little too overwhelmed with the immediacy of the day-to-day world to be reflective or generative at the moment.


I reserved plane tickets to go to Chicago for the weekend of AWP, though I will not be attending the conference. Rather, it will be an opportunity to have a reunion of sorts with the MFA diaspora and my college roommate. And perhaps attend some off-site readings around town. On an unrelated note, I also registered for my 15-year high school reunion over the Thanksgiving break. I haven't begun the requisite stock-taking review and evaluation of my entire life yet since June 10, 1993, but it's coming. Oh, it's coming in a big way.


Am considering applying for fellowships. I think this is one of the stages of denial that follows the MFA. It's the No-this-can't-possibly-be-all-there-is stage. Or the I-must-cling-to-academia-for-validation stage. Or both. I've actually set some wheels in motion regarding recommendation letters. It is very possible that someone may need to slap me until I come to my senses.

Choices A) -- C)

I am struggling with a) trying to recognize feelings of entitlement, b) deciding how big the spectrum of selfishness-to-dream-seeking is (and where I am on its sliding scale), and c) gettin' some perspective for myself.

I'm now on a one-day-a-week writing schedule, weekends mostly. This is frustrating, mainly because I'm choosing to make it so. I don't seem to be the type that is able to muster the mental energy to keep plugging away at a poem draft after I get home in the evening. My fault, yes.

When can we be entitled to carve out a little writerly life for ourselves? Am I supposed to even use that word? Was this time back in MFA times? Oops, did I hope it could magically last a little longer? Why is rent so expensive? Why did I pay for renter's insurance? Why do I only do my grocery shopping at Aldi every other week? Is "entitlement" just a word people who are naturally predisposed to feel like they are entitled use? Am I one of those people?

I can't help but decide that I should be selfish. This feeling is most pronounced when I'm at work using the letter and envelope printing functions in Word to address and send 25 letters of recommendation at a time for student(s) applying to Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Cornell et al. Same for those times when I've got someone banging down the door of the office, a stack of invoices, and someone on the phone.

Wait-- I'm in this temp position only through December. Where's the perspective? Really--I'm bummed about 6 stinking, measly, tiny weeks? Is that the entitlement creeping in? Dammit. I've been in school since I was four. Now I'm out of school. This is its own entitlement, I see. How fortunate I have been to work since I was 16--in retail, for federal work study, in business offices-- when each and every opportunity was for extra cash & the promise it'd be over when the summer/winter/semester was over.


But more importantly,

Anne Carson is dynamite in person. A performance artist. For this, I am content.

As part of the Chicago Humanities Festival two weekends past I attended Anne Carson's performance of her new stellar prosey-verse project Casandra Floatcan. Her reading was complimented by the projection of slides of the work of architect Gordon Matta-Clark (who made some holes, split some staircases), speechless volunteers walking stage left-right and back again with prints of same slides, and even a house constructed there on stage out of dowel rods. The verse dealt with the difficulty to prophecy (see Casandra of Greek mythology) and, well, prophecy (see architect who cut holes in buildings, for goodness sake). Also, a meditation on what it means to "float"; the fluidity of time/space/barrier.

Anne spoke quietly during her Q&A, a change from her confident tone during the reading. She asked for input from her collaborators around the stage, too, when she felt she might not be able to adequately answer a question alone. She commented on the shift in academia: how she feels that what was once a pronounced divide between genders (or, inequality) is no longer evident (or very reduced).

All in all, a fantastic performance.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I Got Standardized

Sorry if that last post was a bit dark. I would say it’s all about to get better, except I took the GRE Literature subject test yesterday. I won’t be insulted if you would rather cruise a few You Tube kitten videos.

I signed an oath on a grid sheet swearing I would not talk about this test. I look out the window for unmarked vans, wondering if I'll write my book from a New Jersey gulag. I’m so Atwood Handmaid’s Tale right now. Maybe I'll go lubricate my cracked skin with a stolen pat of butter. But I’ll divulge information for the resistance as long as I can. Okay: Milton is on it. And so is George Herbert. Blessed be.

There’s a certain familiarity to the GRE process, the kind of comfort that comes from picking a scab. This is my fourth shot (My first round of subject and lit test results expired so I had to take them again); I know what to expect:

The night before you carefully lay out your admissions ticket/directions, go to bed early, set your alarm. Then you spend too much time drinking coffee, fly out the door, discover the test center is not as easy to find as you thought, take wrong turns, accost some toothless waterworks employee for directions, freak like a wooly booly as you search for the right hideous square building located on some remote campus. Which one is it? They all look equally soul-crushing. After a few wrong doors you find a golem-faced man behind a fold out table. His look says: you are unworthy to change the toilet paper roll in my bathroom. Oh God! You are there on the wrong day. But as you hand your ticket and id he nods. He nods! You’re okay! You’re in! Relieved, you file in to a sterile, fluorescent room where you see a row of glum twenty-somethings with greasy hair and wire-rimmed glasses. That’s the Literature Subject people. You wonder: Is that what I look like? Then you twist your hair and sigh for the next four hours as you fight the desire to crawl up some watchtower with an automatic weapon.

This time around I noticed a lame duck attempt at diversity. My favorite was where I was asked to interpret African American dialect in a poem. This is supposed compensate for ten questions asking me to interpret Middle and Olde English. Not that I’m not all for interpreting African American dialect. I grew up in the South. Girl, I got that answer. A few questions required I know the most famous South American writer and his most famous novel, and the most famous African American woman writer and her most famous novel. Sorry, I can’t be any more specific that that. I signed an oath. Again, these were the only questions I got. Then it was back to Merry Olde England.

I hope the Graduate Schools of Tennessee and UGA appreciate my wasted Saturday and $130, because I’m pretty sure the creative writing faculty doesn’t care.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ask Miss Lonelyhearts

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts,

Every since I was a little girl, all I’ve ever wanted is be a writer. I wrote my first story at six and kept a journal through junior high and high school. I took writing classes as an undergrad, where the instructor took an interest in me. Dreams came true when one of my workshop stories was published in a prestigious literary journal. I applied to MFA programs and got into my top choice. They gave me a partial scholarship, which felt like a sign, as though God was telling me to be a writer, you know?

After, so I could pay my loans, I worked a horrible job as an insurance agent. But I was miserable, and not writing, so I quit to work on my novel. Then I couldn’t get an agent. I wrote a second novel. Still no agent. I decided to trust my instincts and go back to the first novel. I’ve revised, attended writer’s conferences, changed the POV, and removed all superfluous adverbs. I’ve done everything everyone has ever asked me to do, but all I have is a boil on my neck.

Last week, in a fit, I took a syringe and lanced the boil. It got infected, and now my neck looks like a sixth grade science project. I can’t go to the doctor because I have no insurance. I haven’t published anything since that one story. I can’t call my friends or family anymore, they think I should get a job and quit “this writing thing.” Life is a vast desert and I walk the sands of eternal desolation. Who is this God that would create us only for such suffering? Roaches are in my cereal, but I eat it anyway.

Fruit Loopy

Dear FL:

I’m sorry, but if I went to my agent with every half-baked manuscript, we would no longer have a relationship built on trust. So let’s get to the real fix. Why do you need to feel special? Try accepting yourself as sort of special. This means you are still special (very much so), just in a more attainable way! I think you’ll notice a difference.

If I’m reading correctly, I get that you are depressed? All this is covered in my book (plus many numerous posts) but here goes again: 1) donate time to a local soup kitchen 2) eliminate white sugar 3) talk to your local counselperson and/or clergy member.

P.S. Neosporin!!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Change Happen(ed)

Chicago was elated last night. After work I went downtown to Grant Park to JumboTron the evening for Obama. A group of four of us gathered on the lawn of Hutchinson Field for the non-ticketed rally attendees with about 50,000 others by 8pm.

On our way to the park we passed an endless array of Obama-related memorabilia. One in my group purchased the endearingly boisterous "Obamapalooza" shirt. On the back, this shirt read "...I Was There When Change Happen [sic] in Grant Park Nov. 4, 2008". Poignantly, the borders of the shirt's margins had been breached with so much to proclaim that correct verb tense just wasn't in the cards. And even better? On the front of the shirt, the font of choice was none other than Mac's standard 1994-era font; you know, the one that appeared in Mac OS, oh say, 2 in the window's status bar.

I concluded the evening attending a friend's election-night party, to watch Obama's speech. The streets immediately came alive--literally--as bicyclers and pedestrians went into the medians and surrounded the subway stations yelling and honking their bicycle horns. Cars joined in with a crescendo of beeps. Sure, this is a little overly-sentimental sounding, but it's true-- everyone was celebratory in a big way.

Surprises: Pennsylvania, Ohio.

Montana. Well, not exactly a surprise, but a very close race for Obama.

Plus, recent Chicago art obsessions of note. Spires. They seem to be all over the news, in fact.

Chicago boasts a few notable spires. Sears Tower, the Hancock. Also the Chicago Spire, a height-defying building planned to enhance Chicago's skyline now postponed because of budget cuts. And, recently, artist Andrew Goldsworthy's new project working with San Francisco-area forested areas (on land once used by the military) for "natural" installation art was reported in the Times--building spires from already cut wood to eventually be "reclaimed" by the forest itself as tree growth covers once-open spaces. This was notable because of a collaboration class many some of us MFAers took with visiting poet Michele Galzer at Montana where we watched (and debated) Goldsworthy's 2001 doc "Rivers and Tides", discussing the artistic merits (or, as some saw it, folly) of his work.