Monday, January 19, 2009

So much has happened, there is almost no way to say it all. So I'll just say I've moved to MN, where the temps dropped to -20 in actual degrees, -40 with windchill, and that I'm interning at a small press in Minneapolis, with hopes of a job in publishing on the horizon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Did I Miss Anything?

This poem sums up my feelings on the subject of student absences better than I could ever hope to do. So instead of listening to me ramble on about it, especially this late in the semester, read this poem instead. Oh, and while reading, be sure to do one more thing: exult in the stunning power of those last two lines.

“Did I Miss Anything,” by Tom Wayman
Originally from: The Astonishing Weight of the Dead. Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

Did I Miss Anything

Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The End

I attended a reading by Salvatore Scibona recently, who just recieved a nod from the Nat'l Book Award committee and was named a finalist this year (the winner has yet to be announced). I also managed to catch about half of a fascinating Q & A session he did for the MFA program before I had to run off to teach. Among other things, he talked about why he uses a typewriter instead of a computer (though longhand is, of course, preferable), about surfaces and their absolute necessity in fiction, and gave this pithy observation on the writing of novels:

"You can't write a novel in a panopticon."
Seriously, he said that. I might just make a massive poster and hang it on my wall as a way of encouraging myself to keep those projects I am unsure of to myself for just a while longer, to allow them to become what they will without undue outside influence. I wish I had caught the end of the session, since he was billed as answering questions about the Provincetown FAWC fellowships, of which he is in charge of coordinating this year. But hey, I'll throw logistics out the window for a phrase like the above any day.

His reading was similarly fascinating--he admitted that the first page was really just one long sentence--and I do love a long sentence, especially when the content is good, and in this case, since the novel in question, "The End," was about a tireless baker who worked seven days a week to pay off the rent on his bakery, and since I have a weakness for good bread, it was just the thing to cap off a long day at work (What, descriptions of work as an andtidote for work? Absurd, but yes, true.), and I really had to hand it to Scibona for being as smart in his fiction as he is in person. Okay, I'll get off my rhetorical hobbyhorse now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

He Said It...

The artist is the precondition of his work, the womb, sometimes the dung and manure on which it grows. Whoever is completely and wholly an artist is to all eternity separated from the real.

 -- Nietsche, On The Genealogy of Morals

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Book Stacks

Shark Journal from the Sorted Books project
C-prints, each 12.5 x 19 inches, 2001
Nina Katchadourian

I would organize my books into small stacks like this if I had time. Who does, these days? See more here.

On Student Essays

Truth 1. No matter the grade you assign, the student will complain about it.

Truth 2. No matter how simple the assignment, the student will manage to complicate it.

Truth 3. No matter the number of essays left to grade, I will find a way to take longer than I need to grade them. This makes me miserable.

Truth 4. If number three is true, then for my own sake, I should end this post.

The Book

A friend dreamed that she went to a bookstore and saw my book on the shelf. Unfortunately, in the dream the book was, well, a textbook. Let's hope only certain parts of that dream are prophetic....

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

First Day

The first day of classes has come and gone. It went well, I think. At least, I have no complaints. It's nice to be able to start a scheduled life again, now that summer is over.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So I shuffled through the first-person stories I've written in order to submit to a contest and come to the conclusion that first-person is a tough perspective to pull off. Though if I'd been sorting through my third person stories, I'd likely have thought the same thing about that point of view.

The trouble with first person is that the voice so often becomes a predominant concern in the story, preventing the story itself from achieving depth. It seems as though the character, in telling his or her own story, is unwilling to examine closely the reasons for telling the story, and would rather babble incessantly about whatever comes to mind. In short, my first-person narrators are solipsistic. They don't care a fig for what anyone else in their world thinks about their problems. In fact, they don't care what they think about things, either. As long as they can keep juggling enough witticisms to keep the projected reader interested, why would they want to examine the real conflict that brings their voice into existence in the first place? Although framing the problem like this is simply another way of saying that I can't seem to get the narrative under control and figure out how to maintain both a consistent and lively voice and at the same time lay the complexities of character open to the bone.

On a minor and completely unrelated note, I happen to be terrible a titling my stories. Either a name affixes itself to the piece for unknown reasons or I suffer with a work-in-progress title, but either way, the process of naming is a difficult one for me. Things ought to come with their names attached. For me, that is how the best of my writing has gone. As for the worst, well, I'll just say I've settled for a workable title on this submission and ignored all consideration of whether the writing is itself my best or worst. I'd be happy with passable, right now.

*Note: Add this contest to my list of rejections.