Tuesday, March 31, 2009

P is for PhD!: An Update

Here’s the PhD app count.


Ohio University

Silent As The Grave

In But No Word on Funding

Through MFA Blog and P & W Speakeasy prowling, I have determined that “no word,” translated from Admin-Speak to Applicant, probably means waitlisted. I’m not sure if that means waitlisted for funding or just waitlisted. Technically, I have heard nothing. Some people have posted in these forums FSU acceptances and others FSU rejections. Maybe there’s an unofficial waitlist and an official waitlist. Or maybe a baby alligator hatched in the hard drive. Or maybe…where are Gogol or Kafka when you need them?

I should probably contact the English departments but don’t want to be the one person who cracks the fragile eggshell mind. I feel badly for admin workers not paid enough to put a face on the unwieldy, disorganized, underfunded clusterfuck that is the American public university. You know they keep sawed off shotguns under that growing pile of manila folders. What if it’s my call that activates the inner sniper? Jo Ann Beard wrote the defining essay on the collegiate spree killer, so there’s not even a Best American in it for me.

I have noticed a general trend this year, in that lack of funded spots are now (at least partially) blamed on “the economy,” although I am suspect. After all, it was my understanding that PhD progs admitted hardly anyone to begin with. Does that mean Tenn cut back from one to zero spots this year? FSU (according to anonymous internet sources) apparently cut back “one or two” spots due to budget constraints. UNL has “two or three” funded positions.

These “this or that” numbers, however, appear to be the best investigators can do. I know times are hard for educators, because I’m guessing schools don’t want to accept people only be stripped of funding later.

I would nonetheless like to make a plea for answers that are direct as possible. I suspect the caginess stems from the fact that writers and educators are in charge, and no one wants to be the meany. Confront liberals with hard questions and they bury their heads in the organic, fair trade sand. Still, it’s wrong (wrong, I say!) for PhD progs to be even less forthcoming with funding info than MFAs. It’s one thing to decide you are willing to wing it and risk loans for 2 years. But five?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wallacize Your Sentence

Found this exercise on how write to sentences like David Foster Wallace. I lean towards minimalism so this was a challenge. Here's my attempt. For specific instructions go here.

0. Lora didn’t like children. She thought she was pregnant.

1. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood, but her period was late and the condom had slipped.

2. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood, but her period was late and the condom, an afterthought, had slipped.

3. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood, but her period — her rocksteady cycle — was late and the condom, an afterthought, had slipped.

4. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood, but her period — her rocksteady cycle — was late and the condom, an afterthought, had slipped, flown away, escaped.

5. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood and domestic life, but her period — her rocksteady cycle — was late and the condom, an afterthought, had slipped and slid, flown away, escaped.

6. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood and domestic life, but her period — her rocksteady, Swiss-clock cycle — was late and the little purple-studded condom, an ill-conceived afterthought, had slipped and slid, flown away, escaped.

7. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood and domestic life, but her period — her rocksteady, Swiss-clock cycle — was behindhand and the little purple-studded condom, an ill-conceived afterthought, had slipped and slid, flown verily away, escaped.

8. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood and domestic life, but her menses — her rocksteady, Swiss-clock cycle — was behindhand and the little purple-studded prophylactic, an ill-conceived afterthought, had slipped and slid, flown verily away, escaped.

9. Lora knew she wasn’t cut out for motherhood and the Babies-R-Us life, but her menses — her rocksteady, Lötscher Swiss-clock cycle — was behindhand and the little purple-studded Ramses lambskin prophylactic, an ill-conceived afterthought, had slipped and slid, flown verily away, escaped.

P.S. My advice in retrospect is make sure you include more nouns, less verbs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Gateway Poet

I went to see Billy Collins read at Tulane. I am not a poet, and my poetry knowledge comes purely through MFA contacts and fellow bloggers Trina and LEW. Before the MFA my poetry world consisted of a few Brit Lit survey courses. (Although hey, I hear Keats is back in style).

Somehow, through literary osmosis, I know that Collins is one of two poets in America who can draw a crowd. (The other being Maya Angelou, who read at Tulane last year). I have somehow also gathered that Collins isn’t the most revered of poets among poets.

To put this in perspective, I did not go see BC at the Superdome. The crowd consisted not of panty-tossing coeds, but the usual universitypes out for a rip-chortling, rabbinical chin-scratching good time. I did spot some rather glossy, 5 by 7 foot, full color vinyl posters around campus. And McAlister Auditorium was mostly full, although the balcony was empty. Me, I was there out of snark-based curiousity. Is Billy Collins pooh-poohed because he is popular? Or because he isn’t a poet of true substance?

Collins is very glib, very dry and very funny. I chortled more than once. He plays the straight man without fail. I heard that Collins was once introduced by Bill Murray. That seems about right. They share a similar deadpan approach. His style (not politics) also reminded me of William F. Buckley, who I saw speak once in Amherst, Massachusetts. Buckley, all rapier witted, slashed earnest hippie liberals with one hand, while penning Republican manifestos with the other. I’m a hemophiliac liberal but Buckley impressed me.

Collins is accessible. I have to admit, having sat through (okay, let’s say it, endured) more than one incomprehensible poetry reading, there is something to be said for this. He told stories in between poems by way of introduction, a technique I personally like. For better or for worse, he was willing say “this poem is about…”

Whoops, snark moment: He wore out the transition, “this poem is about.”

As to whether the poems are “deceptively” easy or just easy I don’t know. The Tulane professor who introduced Collins claimed to have spent an hour with his class picking apart the assonance. O, assonance! The introduction struck me as a mite defensive. Nobody ever would ever introduce Yeats, “You know we spent a really, really long time on this! And it was really deep! Really!”

Afterward, my writing group and I noticed that more than one poem included a stone bird bath, a bowl of pears, blue-and-white striped wall paper, and picture of a cow on the wall. We hoped that Collins wasn’t repeating himself, but rather, engaging what we term in literary circles a motif. But we weren’t entirely convinced. We laughed over this vision of Collins sitting at his kitchen table simply writing about what was in front of him. Ha! Ha! smirks Collins as he pens another poem between espressos. And that’s the checkered dishtowel that won me poet laureate! Twice.

That night, via discussions with people on the marble steps and what I heard of the Q & A, I gathered another commonly expressed Collins viewpoint: “at least people are coming out to see poetry.”

"At least" doesn't seem very flattering. Although I admit this was my first poetry reading in a while. Maybe we do need gateway poetry. Can Collins help us on the way to harder stuff?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

P is for PhD!

I just received a call from Ohio University. I'm in their PhD program for nonfiction.

OU offers $15,000 — untold riches for a grad student.

Monday, March 16, 2009

P is for (Re) Publication!

Three years ago I wrote a profile for mental_floss magazine, "A Walk on the Far Side: The Story of Gary Larson.” The article is posted online here. I just discovered it has been reprinted in The Pop Culture Zone: Writing Critically About Popular Culture, a college textbook. Class, please turn to pages 527-531. I am thick with pedagogy! The book even has discussion questions!

For this reprint I received the mighty check of fifty bones.

This shot was taken by fellow blogger Trina Burke in Rattlesnake Park in Missoula. I'm not sure why it posted sidewise. In case you can’t tell, I’m the Far Side Lady. You know, the one without eyes in the flowered dress. Mental_floss is the coolest mag ever because they published me in this costume as my author pic.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Writer + math. And you thought it couldn't be done.

Sure, maybe it turned out to be a bad year from MFA graduates, but it turned out to be RIP for those making, oh, at least $999,985,000 a year more than us. How many comp. essays would I have to grade to reach this superstar figure? Well, here's the math:

Pay for teaching advanced 5-week comp course for online class from a small Iowa 2-year degree school: $1,000

Number of composition students in said course who turn in their research essay (and therefore will receive further attention from me, the essay grader): 50

Number of major writing assignments each of those students must complete the course: 4

Total essays I'll have to download, comment on, grade and re-upload electronically to my electronic-persona-only students: 200

And...the grand total is...$5.00 per essay. Hey-- I can make $10/hr. for 30-min. each essay. I'm not complaining. Still...this brings us to the magic number:

200,000,000. 200 million comp. essays graded and I can be a billionaire. Why, that's only 547,945 essays to grade per day, every day, for the year! Yay. At least the toilet/economy can't take my crumpled $20 sitting on the floor. That's for laundry tomorrow.

This computation keeps me from dwelling on the issues in the poetry corner (not to be confused with The Poetry Corner, that small yet fragrant little glassed-in room in the library with a fake plant and someone asleep in the armchair with their sneakers off and spittle forming in the corner of their mouth). First, Donald Hall called the MFA workshop producer of nothing but the McPoem. You know, stale, bland, ubiquitous and forgettable. Then, David Orr does the same in his NYTimes article about the loss of (non-existence of) Greatness in poetry. Debate ensues: What is capital G "great"? Who decides the definition? Can Elizabeth Bishop be "great" if all she did was write about some fish?

And, oh, finally, as if I didn't have enough neurosis like having to leave the venetian blinds always 5 inches from the bottom of the window frame to avoid cat-caused damage to the slats (which would, as I am sure you can gather, render the entire set of blinds useless and a target for the landlord's merciless apartment checkout litany of charges again my security deposit) now I have to worry about the state of niceness in poetry critique. Jason Guriel writes, in "Going Negative" from the Poetry Foundation website, that

negativity, I’m starting to think, needs to be the poetry reviewer’s natural posture, the default position she assumes before scanning a single line. Because really, approaching every new book with an open mind is as well-meaning but ultimately exhausting as approaching every stranger on the street with open arms; you’ll meet some nice people, sure, but your charming generosity won’t be reciprocated most of the time. What’s worse, a tack-sharp taste, dinged by so much sheer dullness, will in time become blunted (into blurb-writing, no doubt).

This got me to thinking about how I went back on my belief and did just this. I refused to be publicly negative about work for a while. (And then I stopped being public anything, which I need to work on.) If a poetry collection was published I was going to find the merit or see the craft behind it. Really, though, I think negative is still the wrong choice of words here. How about just "critical"? Why be cranky toward poets? Geeze, we still have 547, 897 research essays to grade by midnight tonight.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

P is for Publication!

Email just never feels real, but now that I’ve received letterhead I’m willing to post.

My first short story has been accepted for publication: “The Law of Meat” in The Gettysburg Review.

Yay! I’m not just a bad news bear. I had moments this winter, doubting this blog. I didn’t know what to write about. I doubted anyone really wanted to view my running tally of italicized versus nonitalicized rejection slips. I decided to skip my post about The Analysis of Rejection Fonts: What Says “No” The Best. Should editors keep it classic with TNR? Or step it up with Book Antigua? Maybe sanserif is best. No nonsense. Move on. And please, don’t cry.

I hate to be a phony who just pipes in with the successes. It’s like those MFA-thread Speakeasy people who lurk all season but once they get in Iowa post all about it. Still. You can’t just keep writing about rejection because it sounds whiny and depressing. This dilemma earned us a post back when we first started this blog in Media Bistro. Some said whiny. Others said honest. The difference is hard to say.

It is a relief to know that at least sometimes, there will be good news.

To keep it real here’s the rest of my mailbag: two PhD nonacceptances (UGA and Tennessee), Michigan Quarterly Review rejection, notarized letter concerning late taxes (10 years. Whoops!) from Durham County. My car tags have expired. The New Orleans Sewage and Water Board, State Farm and the Student Assistance Foundation are all inquiring as to my health.

I’ve shoved all that mess behind the only mail that matters. So when will my milestone become available? To quote my letterhead: “Sometime in the next year.”

In the meantime here’s some pubs out now by other Montana MFAers:

(Lauren Hamlin '09)

(Pete Jones '07)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Natural

I learned how to write from my six-year-old self today. While rifling through paperwork, I found my first story, presented here in all its typographical glory.

Feed the pup.
Dabby go Feed the pup.
No Son. I am to Bisy.
Mom Will you Go Feed the gup.
No Soh. Iam to Bisy.
Sis. Wlli you GoFeed The gut
No I’m TO Bissy
Butoh Will You Go Geed gup
No Son I’m Bisy.
Why Dot’ You!

I have attempted to recreate the Crayola palate (sky blue, blue-violet, burnt orange, forest green, salmon). What you can’t see are the wobbly letters/psychosis/dyslexia or the lined paper whose parameters I ignored. I don’t know why I made myself a boy. I believe I wanted to make sure my work would be seen as fiction. (Yes, dog feeding was a great topic of family debate).

At age six I already knew everything taught at my top MFA creative writing program:

1) Start with a person and a problem (protagonist has a hungry pup)
2) Have a second character against whom the main character will enact his change (pup)
3) The internal conflict mirrors the external conflict (pup is hungry/protagonist must move from ambivalence to action or pup will starve.)
4) The protagonist has agency (narrator goes in search of pup feeder)
5) Rule of Threes. (Actually I broke this rule by having the character ask a fourth time, but great fiction can do that.)
6) At the end the character should have changed forever. (protagonist forced to consider that instead of getting other people to do his work he should take responsibility).

What the protagonist doesn’t do: Bog down in description, tell a story to get to the story, watch others act instead doing things, or the myriad other problems I face in revision today.

Go find your earliest work. Marvel at your natural sense of story.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

On Being Insured and Employed and Telling Us About It

As a member of the behemoth XSport Fitness workout location/ juice bar/ hair parlor, I'll often find myself on a cardio machine, slack jawed, watching one of the cable news stations on the television consoles. It's not about working out. It's about not being away from a media source for more than 12 seconds. Much like Wall-E's muscle-atrophied obese future humans rushing about in their reclined, t.v.-equipped & slurpee dispensing world, I race to finish a news segment. Two or more alarming things happen to me in this scenario:

1. I sheepishly check out the surrounding machines for like-minded folks watching CNN highlights. If I see this, I can't switch channels. If everyone is on ESPN, I move the clicker to Fox News. Yes, this goes against everything I learned about independent thinking. No, NPR is not on the television at the gym. I wish. I find that Fox News is a) equal to or b) exceeds the "quality/quantity" of information to behold on daytime CNN. I'm not as bothered by FN's ticker. CNN recently changed theirs, but still it withholds pertinent information for each story, creating confusing news bites with no follow up just so it can fit a story into 5 words or less, as follows:

Fox News will continue information in a second or even third "line" on their ticker. Wow. Journalism continues to prove me awed.

2. CNN cannot stop its anchors from introducing their segments with the following variations of the "thank-god-we're-one-of-the-lucky-ones!" clause:
a. "Amy, welcome to the program. I'd just like to say how fortunate we are to have health insurance, when so many people do not. Let's put some numbers up for insurance plans just like you and I have for our families."
b. "John, job cuts were up to new time highs last month. Let's take a moment to be thankful that you and I both still have our jobs in this economic climate."

CNN also had to remind me that the "work from home" emails are....scams.

Just hand me a Slurpee already. And find me a good book to read.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

P as in Ph.D: An Update

I haven’t posted about my creative writing PhD apps for awhile (not since whining about the GRE subject test and the personal statement). I made a conscious decision to not over-fret this round. Amazingly, this decision worked. I must be a seasoned pro. I know the final decisions are made based bizarre, unpredictable matters of personal preference. I’ve had cocktails with these literary decision-makers after hours. Believe me on this.

Right now I’m waiting to hear from:

Florida State University
Ohio University
University of Tennessee
University of Georgia

I’m in Nebraska from last year but didn’t receive funding, so I deferred and tossed my lottery ticket back in. I should have all my answers in the next few weeks. Okay, I'm getting a little bit nervous.

I realize now how freaking fortunate I was to get in Nebraska. These PhD creative writing progs are crazy competitive. The MFA was bad enough, but even still, most applicants are weeded out quickly. My Montana MFA profs said that while they generally receive about 250 apps (fiction), only about a fifth make the first cut, which is made with relative ease. Most creative writing PhD applicants already have their MFAs. They most definitely at this point have a polished sample that gleams when held up to bright light. MFA only judges for potential, PhD judges for publication.

Each year Tennessee accepts one or maybe two per genre, and Ohio accepts one. ONE! Although I have to say I respect this, for I have noticed OU places a tenure track position about every year. One for one.

Because apparently, after the PhD is even worse that after the MFA. Which means Brother's fried chicken for lunch. AND Blue Bell ice cream (either praline or banana split).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Silliman's blog told me.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Word Play

Here's a link to help everyone kill time in a semi-literary way.


From the site:

"Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends."

Wordle I: A selection of cut and paste comments I use for teaching Business Communication online.


Wordle II: My resume.


Wordle III: From this blog. This Wordle became a bit "colored" by a Mardi Gras drunken person I quoted.