Thursday, December 31, 2009
I’ll try not to quibble in that writing for Ann Patchett IS a job, i.e. she is PAID, but those of us in the fledgling ranks must flap with due diligence. Today I finished Water for Elephants (as part of my quest to read books that non grad students read). Sara Gruen apparently sat in a closet to avoid distractions as she finished. My strategy is to live alone and not have reliable internet access.
Ann Patchett says that last year, for the first 32 days of the new year, she wrote everyday. Her claim is that setting this precedent, aligning this mental juju helped. I’m signing up, along with 30 minutes a day of Pilates or yoga to lose my MFA muffintop.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Home for Christmas is always a slap of reading reality. Hang around writerly types too much and you’d believe everyone is griping about how The New Yorker only publishes Alice Munro.
Here’s what the fam has in hand this week: Nora Roberts, Michael Creighton, The Christmas Gift (about a woman reconciles some family issue), and some 19th century Celtic adventure that has a blurb by Frank McCourt on the back.
Me? U is for Undertow.
Nobody has to ask who Sue Grafton is. This was Mom’s present from my brother and his wife. Within minutes I had ferreted it upstairs. I went through a huge woman P.I. phase about fifteen years ago and I still want to write one. To tell the truth, it’s a relief to read a story where I don’t have to stop every other sentence and marvel at its perfect construction. O, the entendre!
The other day I met with a friend of mine, who is editor of a national magazine. I picked up her recently purchased copy of Middlesex sitting on the counter. She wanted to know what I thought. That’s a tricky one. Mainstream plot twister? Or esoteric literature?
“Okay,” she looked me in the eye. (These are the real book reviews, that take place in a kitchen with two fingers of bourbon). “Is it good? I mean, will I enjoy reading this or will it be work?”
“Well,” I said. “I dug it. But I love sprawling family epics.”
“Uhhhhhhh. I couldn’t finish A Hundred Years of Solitude.”
“What I will say, is that the book isn’t sprawling just to be sprawling. Meaning Middlesex is plotted. There’s a reason that you need Part A for Parts B and C.”
“Dang, this was my beach read,” she said.
“Oh, I liked it!” said the woman to my left, the third heat. Not enrolled in a PhD program, her readability opines can be trusted.
“Yeah?” said my friend, more interested now.
Maybe my freshman are right, there are only two real reviews: 1) It was good, I liked it. 2) It was boring.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
For my brother, the last book of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, The Gathering Storm. A deep and abiding obsession with all things fantasy is one of the few traits my brother and I share, and we had both invested years in this series when Robert Jordan died in 2007 without finishing the final installment. My brother is not aware that this book even exists yet, so I’m hoping it will be a nice surprise. I’m currently catching up on the penultimate and pre-penultimate books. Don’t hate me because I love books that include maps of places that don’t exist.
My father gets David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers. This one is on a bunch of year end best-of lists.
The EBM-spawned copy of Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush goes to my aunt. She digs historical nonfiction, especially of the pioneer-lady ilk. As a side note, my camera doesn’t work so I couldn’t take a picture of the beautiful, stupendous edition that I got. I can say that it looks every bit like a real book—the color quality and design of the cover is brilliant and the book itself is indistinguishable from a mass-produced paperback. The only flaw was that a couple of the pages were out of order.
For my friends Frank and Suzan, with whom I watched Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre for the first time, I purchased Wallace Shawn’s Essays. I had to ask for help finding this one from one of Third Place Books’ friendly info desk guys. When we found it in the stacks, he took one look at the cover image of the author and said excitedly, “Vizzini!”
The fiancé has already received his Christmas tome, Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room. It takes place in a fictionalized version of Prague. We got engaged in Prague. It seemed appropriate.
Perhaps most apparent in this list is the absence of any poetry books. It’s not surprising. I am, admittedly, not a poetry proselytizer. If my people don’t typically read poetry, I don’t tend to push it on them. Besides, my poetry reading friends also read this blog, and I don’t want to ruin any surprises that may be coming their way.
On the get list: Ted Hughes’ Crow and Frances Wilson’s The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth. Also Ana Bozicevic's Stars of the Night Commute.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
a. Sorry, too drunk.
b. Sorry, my meds were off.
You wrote all day today. The following describes your process:
a. Writhing in agony, pulling of hair, torrid typing, screaming, pacing, pounding of head on keys.
b. The above, but you finish the day with a hot bath.
c. Over hibiscus tea, you penciled in a comma. After a long stroll by the stream, you came back and erased it.
Characterize your intimate relationships.
a. Cradle Robbers R Us.
b. Quite healthy, actually, unless your meds are off.
c. Random pressing of bodies in narrow, wallpapered hallways.
You’ve just finished Lolita. Describe your mood.
a. I should perform the literary world a favor and shoot myself.
b. Inspired by Nabokov’s descriptive powers, a writing exercise comes to mind OR the book triggers such disturbing memories you can’t finish.
c. That first paragraph. Delightful!
Time to make money.
a. I’m going write that YA graphic novel.
b. I’m going lie about how I joined a pack of wolves.
c. It is with great sorrow that I part with my grandmother’s brooch.
Describe your perfect meal:
a. Cheeseburger and a fifth of Jack.
b. French cheese, Indonesian curry, and Mexican goat tamales, accompanied by a story of how you nearly died learning to prepare each.
c. Lavender crumpets and rainbow mist. One perfectly butchered lamb chop seasoned by the waft of a rosemary sprig.
You have no doubt by now figured which letter corresponds to which genre. If you had significant answers in a second category, congrats! You’ve discovered your second genre. You are going to be rich.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Essentially, it's a print-on-demand machine that bookstores can purchase in order to gain access to over 800,000 titles that can be searched for and printed in-store while the customer waits. It's a nice alternative to online ordering in that it gives you the option of supporting your local bookstore and you get instant gratification. That is, if the title is available for printing.
There are still some kinks surrounding copyright and digital availability, of course. For example, when I tried to order two sci-fi books by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, this is the answer I got:
After doing some research here's what I have:The Strugatsky books are nebulous-- There are versions available as pdf downloads or txt files, but I can't seem to figure out wha the exact copyright status is on them. I'm not really trusting any .ru sites since they are notorious for book piracy. I'll see if I can get an answer on these in the next week or two. IF they are available, then we'd offer a service where we'd take the pdf or txt file and work it into an actual book-- these would cost more since they are essentially a special order; nothing prohibitive, but probably in the order of 15 - 20 dollars for the process (including the book, of course).
So much for instant gratification. Still, I've been searching for these titles for months at local used bookstores to no avail. The University where I work even offered a class on Russian sci fi that included the books on its syllabus; however, when I visited the U Bookstore to try and pilfer student copies, there were none available. Copies available from bookstores online run anywhere from $13.90 (before shipping) to $59. It can't hurt to wait and see.
On the bright side, Vladimir the EBM guru was able to find and print Susannah Strickland Moodie's delightfully named Roughing it in the Bush: Or Life in Canada for the relatively low price of $15.95. It's waiting for me at customer service as I write this.
I'm not saying that the EBM will revolutionize publishing or save the industry or anything. Some might say that the EBM is just a glorified copy machine. Having worked with some pretty phat copy machines in my day as well as in a press room, I'm still impressed by the notion of a self contained machine that is this small and can MAKE A BOOK from start to finish in under 30 minutes. I want one of these in my living room.
And no, I can't really explain why I'm so enamored with the EBM while Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader leave me cold. I'm not opposed to either of the latter, per se. I'm not afraid of shiny things. I quite like shiny things, especially when they give me almost unlimited access to all the texts I could ever want to read. Maybe I'm just disappointed at the limitations of these digital readers when I know they could do so much more. If I'm going to go digital, I want the full hypertext experience. I want to be able to look things up on the Internet as I read and come across information that needs to be explored further. I want digital books that are hyperlinked to their references and that have notes linking to other books or websites or images or whatever. Otherwise, print will do just fine.
The true test, of course, will be the object itself. I'll be picking it up tonight after work. Pictures will be posted. Further analysis to come.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I attended a single meeting of a local writer’s group. And had a great time and met some people and learned their names. And then I chickened out and didn’t go.
I pass the Mess Hall almost daily and see a sign for the Next Objectivists Poetry Meeting. And I am joyous and excitement abounds. And then I’m too nervous to go into a room with people I don’t know and just imagine walking in and sitting down and desperately wanting—as I always do in new spaces—ask the Captain Obvious question “Is this the [insert name of event going on] meeting?” Well of course it is! But that is the only ice breaker I can conjure. I wish I had better ice breakers. (How much does a polar bear weigh?)
Yes, indeed, I am only hurting myself. Yes, indeed, I’d like to retreat into anonymity. But abandon the perks onymity has to offer?
If you search the internet, scour it enough, I bet you’ll find the traces of places where I’ve been but never went.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I’ve been using the winter break to finish my nonfiction book, and after working all day every day on this project for two straight weeks (and beginning four years ago), can I just say that I am so sick of me? I’m sick of my thoughts, what I see, how I describe it, the people I meet and what I say to them. I’m sick of my observations, my musings, my jokes, my interactions and my interpretations.
Now I know why I write fiction. I want to be somebody else. Because I am freaking tired of me.
People tend to think of fiction writers as the egotists, but consider the ego it takes to write first person nonfiction. The writer has to assume that the world can’t wait to read her thoughts on whatever she feels like writing about.
This is my first book-length experience inhabiting the same narrator. Before I’ve written essays or stories from different POVs. Well, right now I don’t know that I will ever, ever want to spend over 300 pages with no one but myself again.
I’m going to Columbus tomorrow for a little road trip, Thai food and gourmet ice cream. It’s for the best.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I might be giddy from our first date, but I think this is for real.
Sorry, Microsoft. We're done. And wasn't this relationship always a compromise? You were what everyone expected, but I was never happy. And your features? I am sure they will make someone very happy but they just never did it for me. Thanks and see ya.
Hello, Scrivener. Designed by a writer for a writer. Not by a robot for other robots.
I have been working on a book and reached the point of wondering just how many windows I could have open before my desktop collapsed. It's been unwieldy. Unattractive. Irritating!
Now I can have a tidy little binder to my right. And I write in any format/font I choose, and then when I export, I can create settings. I can even export as a Word document.
I don't want to be that annoying person who can't stop talking my wonderful new relationship, but if you write, and especially if you write novels or research-based projects. Check it out.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
My vote for most helpful article is not mine (because you’ll figure out everything you need to know about being an MFA TA as you do it) but Steve Almond’s Confessions of an MFA Applicant Reader. I read this article when I was applying. It talked me out of the tree and helped me focus on the important stuff, like remember we are all human beings. During the application process, in all the lists and transcript requests and spreadsheets and the GREs you’d think our ultimate goal in life is Vice President of Linux Operations. We forget that a person will read our story.
Consider this reader. Visualize. She sits at a desk or a kitchen table, or more probably at home, on a sofa. To her right is a box of envelopes. She worries that her own work is suffering. She is slightly depressed at this daunting task and knows that she should be grateful for her tenure track job but right now, she’d rather be watching the latest Joss Whedon release. It’s exhausting to read stacks of apprentice level work.
This writer, after refilling the wine glass (Malbec), flips past the paperwork, straight to the writing sample. The writer sighs, hoping but not expecting. If she’s hell yes on first read it goes in that pile. No goes in that pile. Some go in the maybe pile. At the end of this first sorting, then she re-evaluates. In this second wave she reads letters of rec and the statement, not expecting inspiration so much as scanning for red flags.
When we write letters and polish our stories and mail out to schools and agents and editors, we need to remember to connect, and not get all frazzled in these feelings of “out there.” I believe this intimacy is difficult for us as writers, because intimacy is awkward and terrifying. It’s one thing to say Syracuse didn’t like your story, and much worse to think George Saunders didn’t.
Ouch. Hurts. It hurts. That's why I didn't apply to Syracuse.
Think of the MFA application process as the first test, because if you can’t ward off the doublespeak now, you will drown in school. Academentia has this way of pulling you away from the reason you wanted to get an MFA in the first place. The meetings. The Rhet/Comp Portfolios. The 50 emails on campus parking updates. The time suck has the potential for infinity, but unlike a job, you have the option of saying no. The MFA years may or may not yield publishable work, but you have the opportunity to make writing a habit, something that has to get done or the day feels wrong.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I arrived at Montana in fighting shape. I was practicing Ashtanga Yoga and my skinny pants slung low and confident on my hips. On moving day I hauled box after box to my second floor apartment, my arms lean and strong, the bye-bye muscle flexing like a cat. I was ready to take on the west and get this writing thing on.
I met a guy.
I met Doublefront chicken.
The guy took me out for Doublefront chicken.
Spring I started taking two workshops.
Two workshops did me in. The basement of Doublefront became the post-workshop decompression chamber. There was a bar, a friendly bartender, a dumbwaiter that delivered piping hot fried chicken, French fries and pickles. And deep fried mac n’ cheese wedges. And pitchers of beer. At the mention of Doublefront any Montana MFA’s eyes will glaze over as she stares off, imagining that virgin tear of the crispy, crunchy skin after a long day of soul crushing. You don’t mean to eat all the fries but there they are beckoning one at a time. You don’t mean to drink another pitcher, but then one of the regulars wins on Keno and buys the room another round.
The skinny pants began to ride little higher. Then, a little lower. They were traded for stretchy pants. Traded for the stretchy skirt. Thesis reading pics revealed a poofier me. One photo in profile captured a undeniable, earlier pregnancy-type pooch. It projected horizontally against the backdrop of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Dumbo ears budded at my sides. That’s okay, I consoled myself. I can get rid of this.
I moved to New Orleans.
There were benefits. My skinny pants were also tight across the butt. This was new, a butt. I graduated from a B to a C cup. This was new, boobs! I wasn’t gaining weight, I told myself, I was filling out.
I moved to Ohio. And as I bet over to pick up a box, I split my skinny pants.
Clearly, I had a tumor. I’d heard about people having ten pound growths pulled out, forgotten twins, growths like giant pearls around teeth. Once the tumor was removed, I consoled myself, I could have my pre-MFA stomach back.
I was looking forward to this.
I went to the doctor and had to get weighed. I stood while she slid the little weight further and further over to the right.
She slid over the big weight.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
We love: You’re bad. Jam on it.
We are pleased: Yay!
We are interested: You are in, but only after a grueling revision.
We found. You might be in after a grueling revision.
We enjoyed. Your piece didn’t cut it, but please don’t shoot yourself.
Thanks for this. We’re concerned. Are you OK?
I did receive a rejection from a lit mag recently that informed me that while they ultimately had to decline, they did “read until the end.” I could be irritated, but having read for a lit mag before, understand that this is actually, high praise.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
So the 08 pub count continues!
BK's essay "Songs (Largely) in the Key of Life" is forthcoming in The Colorado Review.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I just found out my Montana prof Kevin Canty is reading Tuesday in Winston Salem. I live 5 hours away in Athens, Ohio. Compared to Missoula, this is close, but it's not really that close. And it's the last week of the quarter. Freshmen are piling up outside my doorstep. Body count is high.
And I'm pretty sure the house I own in Durham is crumbling at the brick level, about to teeter right off these stumbly piers it was built upon in 1928. But I can't seem to make it there to deal with it. That distance, an extra hour, feels way too far to drive. Probably forever.
Somehow, that I lived in North Carolina for fifteen years seems to matter.
This is where I need my MFA friend Anne Marie, who would say, "We are going. We are DEFINITELY going."
I probably won't go.
But it sure would be awesome to go.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Why am I here again? I wrote very expressly on my Statement of Purpose that I wanted time to write.
PhD life STILL beats working. And last week was taken over by such worthwhile activities as hanging out with visiting writer Brenda Miller, a time period during which I received not one but two (!) free lunches. Supposedly other people "missed" the email but you can't afford to make those amateur, MFA mistakes! Not when it comes to food.
I ordered a cheese plate, salad AND shrimp pasta bathed in saffron cream sauce.
I discovered on the ride home from the airport that Miller is a Montana MFA from the Kittredge era. Even better, she is totally down with the Golden Girls longhouse in Anaconda. (This is the post-man retirement plan in which we get a huge, warm house, write by day, drink wine and cook at night. Mornings we hold our coffee mug, stand on the deck overlooking the snowy-capped vista and exclaim "Ahhhh!")
After Brenda Miller left there was Halloween.
All I can say there is fun, but ooof.
Okay, off to grade PowerPoint presentations for my second job that I'm not supposed to have.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Writer’s Chronicles are piling up on my office desk. I mean to read, but before I get a chance another one appears in my box.
I know I should study the articles and learn, because writing is my scene, but I don’t know how to absorb all this writing about writing. Writing about writing is like teaching writing or learning writing — too many ings. I need to write. Write. Such a clean, simple verb, devoid of passive voice. I feel guilty if I don’t read Writer’s Chronicle but then I feel worse if I’m reading the Writer’s Chronicle and not writing.
I did make it through two articles this afternoon. One interview with Lee Gutkind, because he’s a nonficion honcho, and another interview with poet Sheryl St. Germain because a friend of mine graduated from Chatham and she’s the director there. And I saw that she’s from New Orleans so that caught my eye. More specifically the word "gumbo" caught my eye. Gumbo. I like gumbo.
Then I skim the ads, looking for anyone I know. I notice that more I stay in gradschooland, the more I recognize. But I am even more amazed by all the names I don’t know. How is it all these people are professors and visiting writers and I’ve never heard of them? Although clearly these writers are more published and accomplished than me or they wouldn't be featured in an ad.
Which leads to the next anxiety.
Why isn’t my name featured in an ad? Will I ever be one of these names other aspiring readers skim over wondering who I was and why I matter? Will I have a little black and white photo with my chin tilted at a saucy angle? Ack! I need a career. Which means I need pubs.
Which leads to the next anxiety.
All the contests. And calls for lit mag submissions. I try to circle with my pen but at this point I’m hyperventilating a little. Cookie. I need a cookie.
So I read the MFA ads. The MFA ads are safe because I already have an MFA. I wonder if ads work. I wonder if applicants look and think, wow that’s the coolest brick building I’ve ever seen. I am SO going there.
One trend I noticed in these ads was the slogan. I saw an ad for Ohio U and it was thankfully sloganless. Another advertising tactic is the writer’s quote. It seems to have more weight if the famous writer has an association with the program (Hugo for Montana, or O Connor for Georgia College and State). The quote is less of a sin than the slogan.
I don't know who is writing these slogans but I suspect writers aren't writing them.
Top Ten Worst MFA Slogans:
10. Be a Writer in a City of Readers (Portland State U)
9. Finally…an MFA that trains you for a career not just a genre (Western Connecticut State)
8. Immerse Yourself in the Writing Life (Old Dominion)
7. The World’s Focus is on our Faculty. Our Faculty’s Focus is on You (Drew)
6. My words... My time... My MFA. (U of Nebraska at Omaha)
5. Creative. Exploring. Worldly. Aware. Inventive. Challenging. Poetic. Engaging. (Chatham)
4. Write from the Heartland (Ashland)
3. Get Carried Away by the City of Big Shoulders (Roosevelt U)
2. Scribbling on the Ether: The Changing Nature of Writing and Publication (Western Michigan U)
And… the winner:
1. Write from the Heart of Writing (Lesley U)
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Evidently, they do. With a whole lot of coaching and a whole lot of (necessary, for dolts like me) bureaucracy, I submit grants through the university channels and they make their way into the hands of the government. And they are reviewed by study sections. And funded. Or not. And people are paid. And accounting is complete. And, maybe at the end of the day, I can remember I did something sort of correct once.
What is more anxiety producing is the sheer volume of acronyms and procedure surrounding the process of fuzzy and real math and draft and final budgets and draft and final proposals. I work in chemistry, so that's the easy part. I watch as a narrative slowly, carefully, emerges like those swatches of blah in the color comics on Sunday that revealed an outline of something in 3D. Only upon sneaking a look at the answer key printed upside down did I say "ooooh" and know what the 3D lump really was. It is that way when I look at the science, written up in agreeable Arial pt 11 with 0.5 margins. I can see a 3D-ish lump, but I need someone to say something layman-y and then I can go "oooh." Then I get what's going on. Or, it stays a lump with no answer key. That happens too. Not a chemist, I.
Not a natural administrator, I. We learn a facilities and administration rate, we learn modified indirect cost bases, we learn consortium costs, we learn OMB circulars, we learn effort reporting, we learn voluntary cost sharing. I'm nomenclatured out and it still feels strange to walk into a room to talk about cost transfers and institutional endorsements and go out into the sun and drink coffee like nothing crazy just happened in there.
Then I saw C.D. Wright read at the Art Institute Thursday night. And all was well with the week.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Stuart Dybek, The Palatski Man. His stories always seem to be about the glory of childhood. Oh, those good old days. Catholic imagery (the apple, too much? Yes. No.) but potentially justified because of the authenticity of his background. I saw him read once and I heard he draws salary from Western Michigan University and Northwestern but doesn’t really teach at either. Is that true? Interplay between the real world and the alternative world. We go down the rabbit hole into Wonderland to learn about the real world. Then we come back from it and what? We get our period?
[[[Call Regions Bank. Re: bounced check!!!]]]
[[[[And Sexual Harassment Seminar 111 Ellis at 10 a.m].]]]
POV. The “We” narrator is always an “I” really, so who is the “I” in this story? What else has been written in we? There’s that story by Aimee Bender whatsitcalled. Then We Came to the End works because “we” is this corporate, office “we” that everyone knows. Story about the mail order bride by Judy Budnitz. Any others. Hmmm.
Play with POV. You’re Ugly, Too by Lorrie Moore begins with “you” but it’s the rhetorical you, not you, then moves in into 3rd and then close third where we inhabit the interior world of the narrator.
[[[Cat food. Rhet Comp presentation Mon.]]]]
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
In Heteronormativity is Hot Right Now from the October 7th edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, James S. Lambert, provides a valuable guide on how to properly introduce yourself to the discourse community.
A few choice highlights:
Never deviate from introducing your interests with the phrase "I am interested in," because this is what you are interested in. Really. You are interested in these things because they are interesting. Especially interesting is whatever your last long paper was about.
Here is a crib sheet of recent theoretical terms: liminal, heteronormativity, empire, postempire, trauma, narratography, post-new formalism, posthuman, specism, fecism, culturality, hybridity, hybridism, Lacanimal, bestiality, bestialism, bestialology, postbestiality, and so on.
Take two totally unrelated concepts, like bookbinding and waterboarding, and add "the intersections of" before them. This works really well for sexualities: "the intersections between monuments and masculinity" or "the intersections between transgender and Trans Ams."
Based his guide, here is my declaration of interests:
“I’m Kelly Kathleen Ferguson, I’m a first year in the Ph.D. program, and I am interested in the intersections between a structuralist model of frontier specism and the rhetoric of sexually-assigned chores, particularly as it relates the butter churn, the bovine, and the postbestiality construct of the American consumptive pattern. Before I came here I was working on a project with Judy Blunt at the University of Montana in which we explored means of survivalism in Western women’s memoir and where we pinpointed areas of domestic hybridity, and I hope to continue studying these junctions within the context of a posthuman anthropomorphic construct, and shame.”
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.
Here is an account of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
“Where’s Pa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice, vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.
Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong muscled and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.
Six months before Polly Cain drowned in the canal, my sister, Nona, ran off with a cowboy.
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of the voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of ________.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Today my students turned in their first batch of essays. I call this: the stack of doom.
They'll hurt you, and desert you
And take your soul if you let them
Oh, but don't you let them
Consider me steeled against essays that begin, “In all of today’s society…” I won’t even let my mandatory class about the pedagogy of the dialectic of the rhetoric get to me. A pox on the discourse community!
Here is another difference between MFA and PhD. I watch the first years scramble around, saying silly things like they “can’t make lunch” because they have to “prepare.” O, first years. If higher education has taught me anything, it’s that lunch is the best part.
Today, after three years of musing on the problem with Comp, my answer today is this: by trying to appeal to everyone and teach everything it appeals to no one and teaches nothing. Fresh Comp should be eliminated and other profs forced to assign some writing instead of grading via Scantron. Writing should be part of coursework — so students have something to write about.
Wait, isn't that how a little school called Cambridge operates?
I took a Monday morning appointment for the Gyn at student health to get out of my Rhet/Comp graduate class this morning. And here I sit next to a vat of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer. I might try some grading. Or not.
I need The Clapper As Seen on TV for my inside.
Soul off. Soul on.
Soul off. Soul on.Comp is difficult to distance because the subject is near my heart, yet killing it. I have no illusion that in nine weeks I can prepare young minds for the rest of their college coursework. What? NO. And furthermore, it’s wrong of the university to put this guilt trip on me. I’m Catholic and that’s not playing fair. I see the guilt on the faces of my fellow TAs as we are lectured on our grave responsibility. The Facebook updates about how they stayed up all night doing homework. It’s so easy to make the good girls and boys feel bad. Know what? If the U really cared it would pay real teachers to teach, not throw twenty somethings in front of a classroom and hope for the best. They wouldn't prepare us by assigning articles published in 1980 about the History of the Sentence.
Strangely enough, I see that comp instructors are often the best a student gets. We’re not tenured, rifling through the same lecture notes. We love lunch and therefore we can still love. But for how long?
I don’t want you anymore
Cause you took my joy
I don’t want you anymore
You took my joy
You took my joy
I want it back
You took my joy
I want it back
The jumping through academic hoops wears a soul down. Don’t you let them.
All I want in life is to be that awesome visiting writer . The problem is my students could throw me a freaking parade at the end of this quarter and cite that parade in the correct MLA format and I would be no closer to my dream job. It’s all in my pubs. And that’s the weird part, how a creative writing professor in the eyes of the U isn’t any different from any other discipline.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Or, just read this quote by George Saunders,"As far as I'm concerned bad writing is always about a falseness. It's about the writer's real view of the world and her tendency to articulate it being out of sync in some way. So it's basically a dishonesty that comes from an under-confidence in the idea that what you actually are is good enough."
And yes, George Saunders is the visiting writer this spring at the Ohio University Spring Literary Festival.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Dear K, our records indicate you have yet to view your bill from the bursar. If you have viewed your bill please disregard this email.
Dear K, in addition to your regular course hours, please add ghost hours, and 590.
Dear K, don't forget to add 591 in addition to 590.
Dear K, 591 is incorrect you need to add 591 B.
Dear K, Please drop 591, which is now called 591 A because of 591 B.
Dear K, Again, a reminder to drop 591 A and add 591 B.
Dear K, Go back to 591 A.
The two meanings of rhetoric:
- The art of persuasion.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
We're not moving that far, but we're moving again. Make this my 7th move in as many years. We gain a view of the lake, a used bookstore, a free shuttle to work. I'll save time in the existential wasteland of commuting. At the same time, I'll loose the carpool time with my excellent carpool buddy. Or, I'll miss the absence of human sound on the nearly full 8am train car, watching the newspaper readers and head-drooping nappers as they default into quiet and calm.
We're leaving the back door that was kicked in, despite the deadbolt's mighty hold, on move-in day. Tony, blessed building manager Tony, had no choice but to do this, when faced with the prospect of trying each key on the telephone-pole-thick loop of unlabeled keys that went to locks that were locks no more. This is the apartment that came with a 2 x 4 to fortify the same back door. This is the apartment whose walls crumbled down to brick after a particularly relentless rainstorm one year ago this October. This was the glorious apartment T & I drove straight for, delirious from days on the road from Montana. Where the UHaul would stop, nobody knew. This is the apartment where staying immobile under a blanket in the midday cold of winter meant survival of the extremities at the expense of a productive writing day. The building's heat timer knew nobody would be home, because, why, this was the workday hour! Here, we pounded out cover letters off and on for eight months. Here I tended to write desperately voiced poetry about consumerism and then forced myself to stop deferring to tropes, even if the cold and the din of city brought these ideas by the fistful. The Carl Sandburg city "under the terrible burden of destiny, laughing as a young man laughs," bringing these images.
What we wished to consume was the tiny offering this city could afford us. Thanks for the free pesticide spray under our sinks once a month, landlord. Thanks for the sheet of ice out back, you, building manager, would break up with a sledge hammer every few days rather than fix the leaky roof drain. Thank you neighbor children enamored with our two cats, meeting us at the fence line to pet them through the links.
So I do it all again for one more year, marking time with the lease. This time, we have stairs with a bum step on the second story landing. We have a mantle. How very stately, this bathroom window painted shut. I can only hope we'll have the threat of rats and soggy walls just like last time. We'll have the breeze and light like last time.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
And I miss my friends. I miss stumbling around Higgins, the intrepid forays into remote Montana bars, the nervous sweat of that first workshop table as we wondered if this MFA meant we could really be writers. I have talked to other MFAs and Post Traumatic MFA Disorder is a candidate for the DSM IV. It's taken me a year to level out.
This time around the giddy factor is way lower. When I got my call from Judy I was floating for about six months. The call from Ohio was more of a relief. I had somewhere to go before seeking employment from Lucky Dogs.
And stranger, somewhere along the way, I suspect with all the moving, I lost my social phobia and became reasonably well-adjusted at meeting new people. Say whaaa??? Or maybe the last year just completely broke me. I have given up so utterly, so completely that now life can begin.
People always said I seemed happy and confident but it was a painted shell, I swear. Maybe the smile on my face finally froze that way. I'm still absorbing the shock of this transition. The problem now is that most writers and academics are all socially malformed. This occurred to me at the last get together, as we stood eyes shifting, gripping plastic cups of Yellowtail Chardonnay. But at least I know now if someone acts snarky, or self-absorbed, or incapable of looking me in the eye, that this has nothing to do with me and more to do with did somebody forget their Lexipro today?
Socially adjusted or no, don't worry. I'm not about to chant the Kappa Gamma pledge. I'm still in search of the pariah smokers, and the person (yes, you there, hiding in the study) scraping the inside of her arm with a pin. These people shall always be my true loves.
It IS nice coming into a program with some success. If anyone tries to get snooty I can wave the Fall Gettysburg Review in their pinched little sorry face. For my MFA, I felt much more like I had to prove that I belonged. In quiet moments, alone, I feared my acceptance was a total fluke. I shook for weeks in fear my first workshop submission and couldn't look at my typewritten responses for weeks after.
I feel pretty seasoned now. Leathery, even. As I watch first years scurry to recreate the Fresh Comp wheel, I know I will simply churn through the syllabus so I can get home to write. The irony being, now that I'm relaxed in front of my students instead of hyperventilating in a paper bag, that I'm more popular teaching rhetoric than I ever was showing movies.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I'm in the basement of the Ellis building in the computer lab. As a PhDer, I have an office with a computer that I only share with two other people, but apparently a past MAer downloaded so much porn the anti-virusware exploded.
Tech support has been called and Formula 409 wipes applied.
So far, I notice in the PhD that teaching comp is easier. Not easy. But "er." I am more prepared for what I must face. Ohio U students (seem to be) more prepared for college life than Montana kids in from the tundra. Although, I could be forgetting the hopes I had before...the first essay. So far I have received three legible emails which inspires encouragement.
I am pleased to report I do not have to teach the personal essay. No papers on hiking trips, frat boy jamborees and Keystone Lite! Yes, the personal essay is hard, and I'm glad the comp director recognizes that having it as the "easy first assignment is a bad idea.
Monday, September 7, 2009
For any fellow classmates out there this is a revision of the creepy babysitter story from the fall '07 Canty workshop.
The website is down so if you are my mother or my two friends I co-write this blog with and wish to purchase the issue, TGR's number is (717) 337-6770, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Morris and Beasley make great points. However, it is the fear of what Morris articulates in his post, the TMI cloud, that has kept my blogging to a minimum over the past couple of months. Does anyone really need to know the details of my trip to Eastern Europe? Is there anything worthwhile that can be gleaned from my bitchy overanalysis of the 2-day chapbook rejection I just received?
Occasionally I have insightful things to say and occasionally I say them. Ideally, everything I write here would be considered, well-written, and a vibrant addition to the discourse surrounding contemporary poetry. Or a funny-as-hell send-up of the ridiculousness of contemporary poetry. Or something. Or not. Maybe, ideally, my most concerted writing effort would be spent on my poetry.
Beasley writes, "You’re not doing things right unless you’re getting on someone’s nerves. Unless you’re an anesthesiologist." It's a clever statement, but I have to take issue. Anyone who's ever taken in the flame sessions that pass for comments on Harriet is familiar with the effects of this approach to blogging. The definition of "right" is up for debate, of course, but the idea that a good argument = emotional disturbance is tied up in our American obsession with polemics and self-identification via ideas. That is, Love me, love my ideas. Hate my statements, hate my person. Which is dangerously close to Know the poet, know the poem and vice versa.
Anyhoo, I'm still grappling with it all. I will continue to grapple. I will continue to blog as I grapple. I will continue to write poems.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
This account reflects the experiences of one MFA Teaching Assistant. Individual results may vary.
March 2006 – The Phone Message
“…We would like to offer you full TA ship to attend our program next year...”
Price is Right theme! Tequila! Throw down! You like me! Go to bars and accept offers of free cocktails from friends. Feign modesty. “Oh, I wouldn’t say talented so much as fortunate. It’s all so subjective.”
The Bottom Line
I will teach one section of Freshman Composition, 3 hours a week, in return for a stipend of $9000 and tuition waver. I also required to enroll in a one-credit (but two hour a week) teacher training course. I must arrive a week early for a five day teacher training.
TA Camp: Day One (Getting to Know You)
Enter classroom. Here sits my future writing community. They have been instructed to answer the question, “If you were a vegetable which one would you be?”
“Asparagus,” perky mod brunette says. “Because I’m a superfood!”
Many rolled in town the night before. They are day old cabbage. One guy wrote on his placard, "Grizzly ‘Rassler.”
I arrived fairly confident. Within an hour I am terrified. I am doomed to fail. Recursive process? Dialectical thinking? Whaaa???I look around. Everyone’s face is inscrutable. We are indeed professionals, I realize. Professionals at acting like we understand, or that we might understand. At least, no one can definitively prove we don’t understand. This is how we have earned the right to higher education.
Over lunch at the hippie sandwich shop I ask. “So was anyone else, like, confused?” By confused I mean completely freaking out. I pick a sprout out of my tooth. No one responds. Pros. Every one of them.
The first three chapters of the Freshmen Comp text, The Curious Writer by Bruce Ballenger. One TA tells me she has already read it. She ordered the book earlier this summer. I make a mental note to make friends with this person. Panicked, I turn around and ask a day old cabbage if he read the book.
“Errr. Uhhh. What book?” I notice a Band Aid on his face. Fiction writer.
The Curious Writer by Bruce Ballenger
Chapter One: Writing as Inquiry. The writing process is likened to traveling between a mountain and a sea. Swimming in the sea is creative thinking, a churning activity. Then we climb on the mountain and reflect upon our creation. Then we plunge back in the water.
Chapter Two: Reading as Inquiry. Prof Ballenger is way hung up on his ex-girlfriend Jan.
Chapter Three: Ways of Inquiring. The way to inquiring is to inquire through Symphonic Inquiry. Collect. Explore. Focus. Explain. Collect. Focus. Evaluate. Draft. Reflect. Explore. Focus. Collect. Re-Explore. Re-Focus. Re-Evaluate. Re-Draft. Re-Reflect.
TA Camp – Day Five
Three days from now, I will be standing in front of a classroom, a room of eyes staring. I have NO IDEA what I will do. All I have learned is how to attend TA camp. I know to substitute “teaching method” for “pedagogy,” “paper” for “inquiry project,” and “grading sheet” for “rubric.”
Today, returning TAs come to interact. They are a grizzled, world weary bunch.
“Oh yeah,” one guy says “Did I ever tell you what I did to that kid with the iPod?”
The minute we are alone I clutch his Popeye arm. “Tell me what to do on the first day,” I beg. “I mean, what do you do? And please, please don’t answer me with begin to engage in the Spirit of Inquiry.”
“I play Two Truths and One Lie. It’s a good icebreaker.”
“What about having the students interview one another?” asks another TA.
“Then I get confused who is who.”
“True. All I know is I hate ‘if you were a vegetable what would it be?’”the other TA says.
If I were a vegetable I would be an eggplant. All seeds and pulp with very little meat, delicious if prepared correctly, and disgusting if not.
First Day Teaching
My fate is upon me. I am “Mz. Ferguson” — middle-aged and covered in cat hair. I tried to dress up but I look like a homeless librarian, my hair worse. I didn’t make it as a rock star. The business collapsed. I’ve never fully recovered from a love affair in my twenties. I’ve waited tables for twenty years. Break glass in case of emergency: English teacher.
I am allowed 1000 copies from the English Department copier for the semester, and have already used 178 of them Xeoroxing the syllabus. After “Two Truths and One Lie,” which takes all of ten minutes, the entire class stares out the window. Can we go yet, can we go yet, can we go yet their faces chant. Papers rustle.
Two Weeks In
I can’t forge the connection between dialectical thinking, recursivity and the eighteen-year-old mind. I remember when I was a freshmen, flashing back to a morning I woke up on a fraternity bathroom floor, my fur-coated eye opening to a single black pubic hair curled on the tile.
In Class Peer Review Workshop
I have typed up a page and a half of workshop questions for my students. With italics, bold fonts and bullet points I format the guidelines, carefully wording open ended questions. I write in all caps on the board, and send a classroom email. Read each paper carefully and give careful consideration to the questions below.
Five minutes in everyone looks up. The class has come to a simultaneous conclusion about everyone’s paper in the entire room: It was good. They liked it.
Twenty-four binders are stacked before me. Each contains “Inquiry Project #1: The Personal Essay — My Literacy History.” Students were instructed to “relay a personal memory that demonstrates an experience you had with the power of language.”
I take out my first paper, trembling a little.
My student writes about drinking and driving through the Montana wilderness to Led Zeppelin. Two full pages are dedicated to a shenanigan involving a sparkler, three cases of Kokanee, Going to California and a moose skull.
“Try connecting this experience to a greater issue,” I write. “What is the greater significance of your SUV and Kashmir?”
Later, I look at the clock. I have spent almost two hours on my comment sheet. My comment page is longer than the essay.
In Class Freewrite
“What did everyone think of the reading last night?”
“When the Marxist educational theorist Friere states teachers should not lecture, and students should construct their own educational revolution, what did you think of that?”
I call a random name from my gradebook.
“Why I gotta write? I’m going to major in accounting.”
“Nicholas. What I’m hearing is that you don’t care and you just want a Hummer?”
“Without wisdom, wealth is just money.” Since I started teaching, I burp Chinese cookie fortunes. “Anyone else?”
A girl waves a sheet of paper.
“I came here on a soccer scholarship. I have to leave early today. Here’s my note.” She throws it on the desk and leaves.
I see a hand. A volunteer!
“Like, no offense, but how old are you? 50?”
A poet is screening the entire series of Twin Peaks. For the final paper each student will answer the question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Band-Aid man says he is guiding his students to their totem animal.
Movie Day! Grizzly Man. The class will discuss how the director, Werner Herzog, controls the narrative, and the ethical complications of his decisions.
I’m a technology toad, so even though I had planned certain scenes, I end up with Timothy Treadwell pointing at bear poop for a full ten minutes.
“Oh my gosh! It was just in her butt and it's still warm! This is a gift from Miss Chocolate!” gushes Timothy.
“Class, what do you make of the rhetorical choices of director Wernor Herzog here?”
The Op-Eds – Or Three Main Reasons Teaching Freshman Comp is Hurting my Writing And the World
Half the class argues for the legalization of marijuana. The other half vehemently opposes stem cell research on migrants.
Great readers make great writers, but what am I reading?
First of all, renduncy is repeating itself.
Furthermore, everyone knows that.
Its’ common sense.
In conclusion, bad writing is hurting not only me, but all of the city, the state, the nation and the world.
“I noticed that for your personal essay you did not write a literacy essay but a book report on Old Yeller.”
“Yeah. That book was really personal to me.”
“Yes, but how did Old Yeller relay a personal memory that demonstrates an experience you had with the power of language?”
“Why do you hate Old Yeller?”
“I don’t. It’s just instead of a summary of the book; I need to know the impact this book had on you and your thoughts on engaging rhetorically with the world. What do you think that was?”
He thinks. He thinks really hard.
“What do I have to do to pass?”
A hundred bucks and a bottle of single malt Scotch.
The few truly deserving A’s are easy, then I hand out more A minuses than I should. From there I move on to the “B plus/God Bless” strategy, finishing up with Cs, and a few Fs, for those I didn’t see the last three weeks of class.
I give one D. After an hour of internal debate, I pass the guy who wrote the Old Yeller book report.