Category Archives: writing

Initial Impressions

IMG_20140429_092342773_1I’m in the greater Twin Cities area this for a few days this week to check out my new campus and try to find a place to live come fall.  The weather up here (and across the Dakotas, MN, and WI, really) is awful this week, but I brought a rain coat and waterproof shoes.

Tomorrow morning, I have a meeting set up with my faculty advisor at Hamline.  It will be nice to meet some people who I’ll be working with and take in the campus before fall.

I think this whole business of moving and starting this new program is going to work out.  I haven’t had occasion to write about every single minor epiphany that’s hit me in the last few weeks, but I have a strong feeling that I’ll enjoy living here well enough, and that I’m going to be successful in school.  It feels like the right time to be here, and I feel like I’m in the right state of mind for it as well.

Hope to have some other thoughts/commentary later in the week.  You can also keep an eye on my mobile musings via my about.me page if you need up-to-the-minute updates.

Reboot

By: Brian HoffmanCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

So, this is good news.

A couple months back I was talking about getting the first of a trio of grad school apps out, and in the intervening weeks, I’ve gotten rejected by one, accepted by another, and I’m still waiting on the last one.1

When I got the message from Hamline that I’d been accepted it was a surreal experience.  It’s been a long time since really fantastically awesome stuff happened to me, so I usually approach anything with low expectations.  I didn’t jump up and down, but I did start shaking nervously, got a little light-headed, and had to go talk a walk.  It was a good feeling.

More than anything, it gave me back the feeling that all the work I had done in previous programs was worth something — that someone other than me and the people closest to me felt like it mattered.  One of the toughest things about the almost-nine-year career that I’ve had in financial aid administration has to do with identity — I always pushed back against the reality that I was an administrator, a bureaucrat; someone who processed data for a living.  I’ve always wanted to give myself a creative title and label, but while I’ve been working here in fin aid, it seemed silly and even presumptuous to do so.  That always made me feel guilty on one hand (for not pursuing what I really wanted with more fervor), and inferior to my peers on the other (because by rejecting the labels associated with my actual career, and not having license to take the label that I wanted, I felt like I was just treading water and skimming by while others made progress and did things).

That stuff is behind me now.  I can begin to plan and look forward to a future that I truly want.  I’ve been happier in the last few weeks than I’ve been since I finished my thesis.  I have a long list of things that I need to start taking care of now (resigning from my job, finding a new place to live, moving, figuring out finances, getting my mind reconditioned for an academic living), but these are all things that I’m excited to do.

Summer will fly by like summer always does, and for the first time in a decade, I can’t wait for the fall.

  1. Sorry that most everyone who would read this blog already knows all about this crap from Bookface.  It happens. []

Great Literature

I watched the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s much renowned novel The Road last weekend.  It was OK.  I admit that I have yet to read the book, which could possibly be a very different experience.

The film did a fine job of portraying a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and the characters, such as they are, were portrayed well by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee.  I had problems with story itself.  First and foremost, in what was depicted as an utterly hopeless, slowly dying environment, what motivated the characters to do anything but die?  Viggo’s character, the father, also seemed to be all-too-aware of his ultimate fate, and by extension, that of his son.  It’s tough for me to buy into a narrative where the chief protagonists have absolutely no reason whatsoever for hope.  At the same time, this is a film with a 75% score on Rotten Tomatoes, from a book that easily makes the top five of any list compiled citing the best works of the 21st Century.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not enjoying “the classics.”  Sure, a background of study in English guarantees that I’ve studied some of the most “important” works in history, but where is the line between important and good?  These are two subjective assessments.  “Important” tends to follow behind “good” on a time line, but since they ARE subjective, couldn’t any work with ample scholarship behind it become important?
By: ChrisCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It must be true that exposure some Great Literature (i.e., “important” works) is needed in order to become a successful critical reader.  A person must be cognizant of the themes found in fiction, the character tropes, the places and settings where important stories happen, etc.  But on the other hand, doesn’t relatively “bad” fiction (or, what literature scholars might call “contemporary pop fiction”) have the same features as Great Literature?  Don’t we fashion stories across the board in roughly the same way?  Comparing the Modern Library 100 Best Novels lists as compiled by the board, versus the one voted on by readers does a fantastic job of exposing the line between important and good.

In the end, what’s the purpose of fiction?  To entertain the reader, or to be great?  Seems to me you can have wildly entertaining works of fiction that probably won’t be called “great,” and some of the most studied works in human history are not that fantastic, particularly to a contemporary audience.  Still, “greatness” often is defined by some combination of cultural penetration and time.  I don’t think anyone who read Nicholas Nickleby in 1838 would have immediately recognized it as Great Literature.  But on the other hand, it was wildly popular and well-received as a work of modern fiction.  I guess my bottom line is this: any work of fiction that you enjoy and wish to study is important enough to you.

Up and Over

By: College of William & MaryCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I overcame a big hurdle earlier this week when I finished up one of the three applications I’ll be sending out to grad schools for that MFA deal this month.  I had been beating myself up over it for about a month, for no good reason in particular, and as soon as I made a phone call to Rindo, I immediately felt a lot better.  I also had to put a lot of pressure on my friend and MA classmate from Oshkosh, Kevin, but hopefully he won’t hold that against me for too long.

Why do I put off doing things that are so easy, relatively speaking?  That’s one of the things I’ve always asked myself in this forum, as well on the couches of various mental health professionals over the years.  I still don’t have a good answer, but people are trying to help me with strategies for not hating myself as much for it.  Sometimes it works.  It’s consistently amazing to me that I keep sentencing myself to long stretches in that emotional purgatory when the relief I feel upon completing things is so immediate and satisfying.  It’s just as confusing (and light years more frustrating) to me, trust me.

I have to try to ride this wave of relief and positive emotion now, as best I can.  I’ve started working with some of my backpacking friends on plans for a 2014 trip, which is sure to involve higher elevations than last year.  With that in mind, I should get back to exercising with regularity.  I fell off the wagon last summer, and it’s been pretty poor going since then.  I made a bit of an effort in early fall–with Kevin’s help, actually–to start in on Insanity.  In my case, with the condition I was in, that’s exactly what it was.  I got about nine-and-a-half minutes into the first session, and felt like I was going to die.  It seriously took me another 35 minutes of laying down on the floor to catch my breath, lose the head rush, and regain the use of my legs.  That whole event has scared me away from intense physical activity ever since.

Finally, I spent about an hour today thinking about how none of the schools I’m applying to have guarantees of financial aid, which is something I’ve been saying I really need in order to go back again.  This is pretty typical behavior, too: getting wound up about things that aren’t even relevant, because I haven’t been accepted to any of them yet, anyway.  In relation to thinking about financial aid, I went through how I would pay for my car, my credit cards, an apartment, and health insurance.  It’s way too early to sweat any of that, but there it is.

Essay Question

By: Chris KompstCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Imagine that it’s possible to upload any skill you desire directly into your brain (ala The Matrix). If you need to know calculus, you can upload calculus. If you want to know how to snowboard, you upload snowboarding. Skills must be purchased, and more complicated skills cost more (learning to fly a plane costs more than learning to drive a car, for example). Even creative skills (like playing the piano, or painting) can be uploaded.

Particularly as it relates to creative skills, having the skill inserted does NOT automatically imbue you with talent. Assess the effect that such technology would have on contemporary art. Would this technology make art more meaningful, or less? Neither?

This Is the Loathing

By: ed_needs_a_bicycleCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Chatted a little with Wordy over the weekend, as I was working on my grad school apps.  I told him that as I reviewed my thesis in order to select a sample to send with said applications, I realized that it was the worst story I’d ever read in my life.

This is part of the creative process, unfortunately.  I guess if you never think that the stuff that you’re producing sucks, you’re probably a bit deluded and not cut out for it.  It doesn’t make selecting the sample any easier, though.

Any interest out there in recommending a section to use?  My judgment is not always the best.

Deficiency

My Books
by Jenn Calder

I have to admit that I am a terrible reader.  When I was a kid, I read a lot more.  These days, if I get through three or four books a year, that’s sort of a lot.  I’m pretty embarrassed to say so, and it makes me feel guilty on multiple levels.

First, as someone who claims to “write,” reading a lot of words sort of goes hand-in-hand with that activity.  When you are digesting a lot of words off the page, your brain works better when forming your own.  Someone like me, consequently, should probably be reading a lot more.

It also feels like a slight betrayal of the kid I used to be that had loads of books and nearly always carried one around in school.  I don’t think 13-year-old me would have predicted such a precipitous drop in reading.

One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself and reading, relative to others in my social circles, is that I am an EXTREMELY slow reader.  I can’t really explain it.  The way that I read, there is a performance of the material going on my head — different characters have different voices, the settings and conditions are completely fleshed out in my mind’s eye, and I pore over each word very carefully.  I’ve tried to speed myself up at times, but it doesn’t seem to work.  I don’t really know how to read faster.

Another issue that I’ve run into, particularly in the last 5-10 years, is that reading for any length of time seems to work like a sleeping pill on me.  The best chance I have to stay completely conscious while reading is to walk at the same time.  Every now and then, I do just that during lunch breaks at work.  But sit me down in a chair, even in the middle of a sunny day after I’ve had my regular compliment of coffee, and I will doze off within 20 or 30 minutes.  It’s hard to make a lot of progress in a book that way.

Is there some way that I can force myself to at least read more, if not better?  I sure do succomb to distraction easily, so I’d have to severely cut back on other available stimuli in order to make books the most appealing activity at my disposal.  Maybe audiobooks are the answer.  Some people feel like listening to books is not the same thing as reading them, but I figure if you’re absorbing the information, it’s all the same.

How long did it take you to read this?