Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Quick question--what kind of human being is exceptionally rude to sick people? Answer: Southern women with big hair and frosted lensed glasses who essentially say "fuck you," then follow it up with "Bless your little heart."
Another grumble: health insurance, smealth insurance. Why do I pay $80 a month for an insurance plan that doesn't seem to cover a damn thing? At Walgreens this morning while paying for my prescription (which my insurance was supposed to cover), I was forced to make a tough decision: Do I buy this medicine or buy groceries for next week. Yep, y'all, it was that expensive. Granted, what I term "expensive" (nearly everything over $30) is probably a misnomer for those with more gainful employment than I have. Good thing we get paid Friday. Good thing my daddy loves me enough to send me some money for the medicine.
Someone sounds spoiled, doesn't he? Give me a break. I have the Big, Bad B Flu.
Monday, January 28, 2008
But if I take it from a colleague from the poetry class last semester, it means I haven't got a shot, at least not now. Said colleague and I went out for drinks with the rest of the class after the last day last semester. After the others turned in, we stayed out for another round and he told me, "Your stuff's good, but it's not going to get published the way it is." He wasn't being a jerk. For him, this was an honest criticism of a young poet, and I appreciate his directness. He's been published, and I haven't.
Still, it was hard not to internalize that critique of my work. A simple statement--good but not publishable--with no advice for how to make it so. I've been in a tailspin since then. I sent some stuff out, whether publishable or not, but I've been more hesitant to comment in class this semester. I do too much self-censorship, don't go with my gut feelings about a person's work. Or, worse, I read an idealized poem into their work, one that was never intended to be there. They do the same to me, too, and I don't fault them for the same thing I do, but I wonder if there is a way to approach a text any differently. I'll never be there to explain my work, so I have to rely on the reader to get what I mean. But isn't the fun part of poetry that readers bring entire societies and belief systems to the text, that they read in a story that the author did not necessarily imply?
I think these are issues of a young poet (or an old one). I've always written because it's what I like to do, and I never considered publishing my work (short of The Vortex) until now, when it seems to be a directive of the course. I'll go to class. Really listen to my classmates' often disparate criticisms, take the best advice, and maybe by the end I'll have poems of publishable quality.
If not, at least I tried like hell to do it.
P.S.-- If I'm MIA for a few days, you should probably inform the authorities. I'm sick--feel as if death has come near me--and if he comes any closer, I might have to be wheeled out of my cold-as-a-morgue basement apartment on a stretcher. If I survive this winter, I'm moving from this moldy hole, by god.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Last week was tough. Apart from the very first week I was in Knoxville, it may have been the toughest yet. And my colleagues could tell something was making me unhappy. I'm no good at disguising how I really feel. It's a blessing and a curse. I think maybe tough weeks, self-doubt, and soul searching are components of the spring semester. Spring semesters are tough. They seem longer, attention spans seem shorter, the air is always tense (especially in graduates school) with thesis and job search anxiety. So much of our futures depends on what happens in the spring semester. I vote we change that; come April I won't be able to focus on much of anything besides warm weather, picnics, summer road trips. Never have been much of a student in the spring.
Last night I went to a party with a brilliant theme--Rat Pack/Brat Pack. I planned on rocking my denim ruffian, Judd Nelson-inspired look, but I couldn't find my Bon Jovi t-shirt. Yes, I have a Bon Jovi t-shirt. Instead I went out for calzones with some friends and wasn't going to go to the party. I was apprehensive, since it was hosted by a guy in the English grad program whose room mates are law students. I wasn't sure how a law-lit soiree would cohere. I went though, and I had an okay time. There was no law-lit cohesion. We English folks stuck together in the back room sipping light beers and talking about conferences, comprehensive exams, and Comp 2. The law kids were wild. Projectile vomiting occurred. And boy were they decked out in their Rat Pack finery--tuxedos, bow ties, monogrammed handkerchiefs and engraved flasks. It was fun to watch them. Some of them were really nice. But the whole time I listened to exchanges between them--their talk of case briefs and civil procedure--I thanked god I'm in lit, even if writing workshop can be soul-wrenching sometimes. I'd much rather discuss metaphors than torte reform. It makes me feel like I have a soul.
Thank god it's the weekend. Let loose, will ya?
Friday, January 25, 2008
Because I've been dealing with some tough stuff! (too much reading, too many phone calls from my newly divorced and highly unhappy mother, too much everything)
Because the past week has been a highly productive private writing time for me!
Because I'm nearly over this whole blogging experiment!
Excuse my exclamation marks. And my lack of detail. I'm okay, just struggling a bit.
But in my past life I was badass enough to get through anything. I like to think shades of that person are still alive and well with me.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Today is my birthday, and for those who know me well, one of my favorite days of the year. I like being fawned over, damn it, and I'm not going to lie about it. You do too. So I assume my birth-given right to be the center of attention just one day a year. I've earned it, right?
I'm another year older. Definitely another year wiser. And another step closer to being what I want to be. I think I've go it together pretty well to be only 23-years-old: I'm a college graduate, I'm pursuing an advanced degree and meaningful career, I'm an important person in many people's lives (but not as important as they are in mine), and, you know, I'm not a drug-addict, nor do I have a police record. In twenty-three years I've grown up, moved away from home, and kept my senses and my checking account from dipping in the red during the process. I've read some good books, written some bad poems, made sense of the bad for something good. I've loved another person deeply and had him love me back, but more frequently I've loved and not been loved back. I wouldn't trade either experience, though I prefer the former, because they've made me learn more about myself than I sometimes care to know. I've made great friends and seen great places: New York, San Francisco, both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I lived outside the country for a summer (okay, so it was just Canada. Still.), and I've made peace with the fact that the South is where I'd rather be. Ask me tomorrow and my answer might change, but as of today, I am happy. I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing, happy with who I am. I'm confident and comfortable with all those pesky identity issues that plagued me in younger years: sexuality, religion, class. None of that stuff does anything to detract from me being a good person. And I am a good person. It's taken me 23 years to really believe that.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Now it's styrofoam pellets
that blow across the yard.
They settle in the new grass
like the eggs of Japanese toys.
It's a kind of modern snowing.
The boy next door opened a box,
took out the precious present
and shook these white spun plastic
droplets into the wind.
It's how his family thinks.
Hundred of them. Shaped like
unlucky fetuses or the brains
of TV stars.
Now they burrow in the lawn,
defy the rake, wriggle like the toes
of the shallow buried.
They'll all be there when we're gone.
Bright tumors, rooted in the dark.
Crowding the dirt. Nothing makes them
grow. But nothing kills them either.
-Jim Hall from The Made Thing: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern Poetry
Anyway, seems like one reporter found a whole heap of reasons to confirm what I've been screaming for months now, Huckabee is not like you, nor does he care very much about your kind. So it's yellow journalism. Still interesting to read.
In another, completely unrelated note, I am turning 23 (I think I'm turning 23, I think I'm turning 23, I really think so!) on Friday. Brace yourselves for a completely self-indulgent post about all the great things I've done in 23 years, perhaps supplemented by photos of the previous night's outings (Thursday night the birthday celebration is going down because it's .75 cent PBR night at the Mellow Mushroom). I warned you.
Monday, January 14, 2008
In his article “Public Opinion and Professional Belief,” Carl Klaus calls for an interdisciplinary approach to the teaching of writing. Back in 1976, Klaus saw an inscrutable problem with the way composition was taught in the university classroom. Left to literature professors, writing pedagogy focused less on the process involved in effectively communicating ideas and more on the successful analysis of a literary text with regard to unquestioned rules about what constitutes good writing: grammar, mechanics, and usage. That's what happens when people who were taught that good writing is literature teach writing.
But there is a flaw in this model, and Klaus points to the teachers of writing to remedy the problem. Writing is not about literary analysis and an arbitrary system of grammatical rules. Such a system “isolates the use of language from the mental processes that give rise to it,” and what students are left with are professors with rulebooks and red pens who lack the pedagogical wherewithal to treat writing for what it is, a process (337).
An interdisciplinary approach to the teaching of writing removes the dated rulebook and replaces a write-or-wrong composition pedagogy with the understand that formulating and communicating ideas and experiences involves cognitive and developmental processes. A writing teacher should understand the social, psychic, and linguistic factors that a writer encounters when using language to relay experience. In other words, a 5-7 page argumentative essay assignment isn't what a student needs to learn how to write. The student of writing needs a professor who understands that even picking up a pen to write is a step in the process of the communication of ideas and experiences, that a lot more goes into writing that what our high school and college English teachers have led us to believe.
Ultimately, Klaus calls for the creation of the academic discipline of writing. In this arena, composition theories can be studied alongside pyscho-and sociolinguistics, rhetorical theory, and linguistic anthropology. Until this happens, Klaus argues that we teachers of writing are “at best dedicated amateurs, who for all our dedication may well be doing our students more harm than good” (338).
Klaus wrote this article over 30 yeas ago, and I wonder what has changed in the teaching of writing since. The first place I look to for a recognizable paradigm shift in writing pedagogy is my own undergraduate education and the ways in which I was taught to be a writer. By the time I hit the college scene in the fall of 2003, writing was on the map as an academic discipline, and unknown to me at the time I accepted the scholarship and moved off to the University of Central Arkansas, I was about to enter a setting in which writing was taught separately from literature within its own department housed in an entirely different college from English.
My first semester at UCA met me with the usual line up of general education requirements: theatre appreciation, a survey of world religions, and of course, freshman composition. I quickly learned that Comp II would be my easiest course because I was able to nail down the composition concept for each paper assignment: the personal essay, the argumentative essay, and the persuasive essay. I understood the components of a good paper, a clear thesis, topic sentences, and meaningful transitions, and I diplomatically argued in favor of repealing the recently-born P.A.T.R.I.O.T. ACT and convincingly persuaded my audience of the moral lessons taught in Harry Potter novels. All in all, I had a successful first semester college writing experience.
And then there was English. I declared English as a major early on, not because I necessarily loved literature, but because from my high school experience, I realized it was basically the only discipline I was pretty good at. In the English classroom I learned all of those age-old writing rules: avoid passive voice, don't begin a sentence with a conjunction, always place the thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph. I found success in such a strict writing environment, because as a young writer, I was more interested in writing for an A instead of writing for the sake of working out my ideas. Needless to say, I learned little about thinking for myself in the literature classroom.
Where reflection and self-discovery were encouraged, however, were in classes for my minor, which was Interdisciplinary Studies. Writing instruction in my IS classes was much different from the workshop model I learned in the creative writing classroom and the write-for-summary model I was taught in literature. Interdisciplinary Studies classes challenged me to look at specific issues in broader context, to question why culture accepted the paradigms it did. In the first survey course I took in the minor, Honors Core II: The Search for the Community, I was presented with lots of classic philosophical texts, from Heidegger to Hobbes, Plato to Kant, and I had to not only make heads or tails of the philosophy contained within their ideas, but also I had to come to my own conclusions about the way the world should work. I did a lot of growing, both emotionally and intellectually, in interdisciplinary studies courses, trying my hand at everything from religious studies, theories of gender, political philosophies, and scientific research.
The problem with the interdisciplinary model I was a part of, however, is that little emphasis was placed on the teaching of writing. Sure, I wrote papers, and sure, my professors gave me the best comments they could on them. The problem was I was being taught to write by professors who weren't writing teachers. They were philosophers, theologians, and historians. They were scientists and literature scholars who had different approaches to writing pedagogy, and none of them were consistent. Thank God for English, the department of one of my majors, because there I learned the down and dirty rules of good writing—the grammar, the structure, the mechanics—but I was rarely encouraged, or in some cases even allowed—to apply the critical thinking skills I learned in the interdisciplinary studies classroom to my literary analysis. No, I was taught, predominantly, that there is one way to look at a text, usually the way my professor looked at it, and any other approach was incorrect. Any hope of my own unique voice shining through in an English essay was squashed early.
And in stepped Writing, my second major. I love the creative writing classroom. I love the freedom to express my own ideas and the comfortable atmosphere of the workshop model. In poetry and fiction workshops, I learned that I have an important and unique voice, and it is important that I share it with the world. I would leave classes empowered as a writer thinking I could go out and change the world. The problem with feeling so great about my own writing is that I feel I was rarely exposed to what good writing is. In literature classes, I got that exposure. I read lots of good literary texts, and I learned how to analyze a poem for literary quality. However, I failed to make the connection that I could mimic technique in my own work, and sadly, in the creative writing classes I loved so much, I was rarely exposed to the world of contemporary poetry or criticism. So when I got to graduate school and took my first poetry workshop, I was under prepared for the type of reading and critical responses I was asked to do. Essentially, I had to re-learn how to be a valuable workshop member.
I do not wish to knock my writing education too hard. I learned very important aspects of the writing process in the classes of each of my majors and minors. What I wish I would have had the direction to do (or the smarts to see for myself) is how I could take everything I learned about critical thinking, technical precision, and voice and incorporate them into my writing process for all classes. I was stifled by departmental divides and learned to write a certain way for each class, which got me a summa cum laude BA, but set me up for a rude awakening once I began writing at the graduate level.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Robert Hass, Time and Materials
Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife (Put The Golden Compass on your reading list, btw. Stunning)
Oxford American 2007 Music Issue
theatre reviews in The New Yorker
On my mind:
Grad Students In English Karaoke night
SAT preparation guides
Modern American drama
how to write the world's greatest poem
the subtle intricacies of UT's Blackboard system
A name for myself in the world of letters, hopefully. (I sent out a slough of my poems...for the first time ever)
Memories to last a lifetime
Looking forward to:
The Golden Compass movie with Laura
Karaoke with grad students
sleeping in tomorrow morning
some down time after a busy week
iced tea, sweetened
my over-stuffed blue sofa
Freshman essays on social revolution
back-sliding vegetarians and vegans (and I know plenty)
silly tattoos (My friend Lena has a dino maze on her side!)
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I mean, it wasn't terrible, just nerve-racking. It was one of those days where you fail to answer to your given name when it's called on the roll because Timothy sounds so foreign to you, when, try as you might, you can't make yourself write "08" instead of "07" when you date the top of the page. Even a simple reading assignment (and I'm talking simple--maybe 10 pages) is so daunting, so utterly discombobulating, the words on the page just jumble together in a mess. And I'm not under the influence of any mind-altering drugs. I'm just coming out of a lethargic period. Let's hope I bounce back soon. I'm taking four grad classes this semester and starting a new job as a private English and history tutor for a high school junior. I'm wondering if that's too much....but then I remember those wonderful undergraduate years when I had no problem balancing a 22-hour semester, editing The Vortex, working at Subway and the Writing Center and still going out every weekend. I fear those days may be behind me now.
What I need is some motivation, a good day in class, a good start on a poem. Instead I have a knot of nerves below my stomach about how poorly I'm afraid I'll do this semester, and the poem I tried to write last night was ended mid-line to save the world from another surly teenagerish whine fest. But I'll keep on hacking, I guess. That's what a writer's gotta do, right?
Back to the grindstone.
Monday, January 7, 2008
Saturday, January 5, 2008
1. Cardigan sweaters
2. Juno and its soundtrack
3. Spring Awakening
4. Tracy Letts
5. white trash studies
6. dark chocolate (since everyone else is listing it)
8. My father
9. New York Public Library
10. National Writing Project
11. The Tomato Head
12. having my own apartment
15. space heaters
16. McKay Used Books
17. Something Brewing in Conway
18. Conway, Arkansas
19. Shakespearean tragedy
20. graduate school, for the most part
I'll add more things as I think of them. Show me your Archies!
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
That nebulous period between the start of Christmas break and the end of January, between the death of one year and the beginning of another, is always such an interesting time for me. I go from being exhausted with school and dying for a break to weeks of sleeping til noon and ingesting all sorts of substances that are bad for me to swearing to God I won't go back to school, I just can't handle it (happens EVERY year), to going back to school and then turning another year older. I inevitably beat myself up around my birthday for not feeling like an adult yet when my age dictates that I should be. I'm almost 23-years-old and lots of times I still feel like an emo kid at heart. I think I'm getting better at the adulthood thing, though. I'll go ahead and say 2007 was the year I starting becoming a grown up.
2007 was a good year for me. Lots of exciting things happened: graduated from college, moved farther from home than I've ever lived before, started grad school, went to NYC. I've got so many great memories with my friends, from our wacky Spring Break camping trip to the numerous (perhaps 3?) goodbye parties that were held in my honor this summer before I left Conway. And I can't forget about my work with the Writing Project. It was a wonderful way to spend a month, meet great people, and learn so much about teaching writing. In 2007, I learned I can live by myself, manage my finances quite nicely, hold my own in front of a classroom, and that just maybe I'm an alright guy. I think I can chalk 07 up to the best year of my life so far. Here's hoping 2008 tops it. Sounds kind of like a resolution...
Now, I'm a New Year's resolution maker. Though I've yet to see one through an entire year (I start over again at Lent, and I'm not even Christian...eyeyeye), I enjoy making pronouncements for my life. Last year I vowed to be more attitudinal and independent like R&B singer Beyonce, mainly because a.) her empowering song "Irreplaceable" had just come out and I liked it and b.) my one-time live-in hated the song, and I was getting to the point where I hated him. So I needed a justified excuse to blast "to the left to the left/ everything you own in a box to the left" each morning as he slept and I got ready for school.
My resolutions for this year may not be as catty or silly. I'm going for the health factor in 08. I see my aunts and uncles and parents who aren't that old dealing with health problems brought on by their lifestyle choices, many of which I share since, duh, they raised me. I don't want to struggle with heart disease and emphysema. I don't want type 2 diabetes when I'm 44. Therefore, my NYR is to lay off the carcinogenic/trans-fatty/high-calorie/habit forming substances I'm so fond of. I started eating better when I moved to Knoxville. No fast food, very little meat. But that was a budget decision more than a health one. I'm gonna keep it up, though, this year with my health in mind. And damnit, I'm going to drink more water.
I'm sure there are other things I should resolve to do, but I'll just leave it at that. You know what they say about too much of a good thing.
Happy New Year, y'all.