Today is Monday and the beginning of my fourth week of teaching. It’s my first time teaching–I’ve led workshops and covered other people’s classes before, but it’s my first time actually running a class for a semester. It’s… different than I thought it would be. It’s harder to figure out how to make opportunities to build rapport. It’s easier to talk in front of a class. It’s harder to remember names and which class has said what. It’s easier to make assignments and rubrics and such.
The biggest thing is the attendance and reading assignments. I’m going to be giving my first quiz over reading next week because students weren’t doing the reading, and that makes me feel like an asshole (based on my old perspective as a student). The thing is, though, as the teacher of a class everyone has to take, especially one with primarily students in their first semester, there’s just not really an alternative. If I just grade them on the handful of essays and not on the day-to-day stuff, I’m not really teaching anything. It’s extremely frustrating to prepare ideas for a discussion and then literally 80% of the class not doing the reading and us be unable to have a conversation about it.
Of course, I’m not saying anything that teachers don’t already know. I’m not saying anything that teachers haven’t already said to me.
I just never believed them. And yes, maybe it’s true that if my bits of lecturing or classroom presence was a little bit more amazing that the students would be inspired to do the reading without coercion, but apparently I’m not at that level, so what’s the alternative?
I’m sure there’s a lot of motivational quotes out there for this situation, but I’ll close with TC Boyle reading Barthelme’s “The School.”
I’ve been in enough workshops to not worry too hard about how my writing represents me… for the most part. This Saturday I’m taking part in a different kind of workshop as part of the Rhetoric Society of America‘s conference’s Research Network. Three of us graduate students have been in contact with a rhetoric scholar for the past couple of months, and we’ve already been through one round of critiques. Last week, I submitted an updated draft based on some of their comments and we will be discussing those drafts in person at the conference.
And I can’t help feeling like I’m going to disappoint my group with my changes, mostly because I didn’t follow many of their suggestions. Their comments were primarily urging me towards further entrenching the theoretical portions of the essay, and when I sit down to write more on it, that’s just not the part I’m interested in. Which, ultimately, is a problem, given there’s not a whole lot of nonacademic venues for a piece that focuses on using Kenneth Burke for analysis. FORTUNATELY, rhetoric has some really awesome publications that are not quite as worried about the theoretics as traditional journals – Harlot is primarily what I’m thinking of, although both the KB Journal and Kairos are also significantly different in tone and expectations than somewhere like Rhetoric Society Quarterly. I love Harlot – the articles are so fun to read, but are also connected to the field in a meaningful way and illuminate something new with each piece. I plan on working hard and trying to make my piece work for Harlot, but I’m not sure if I can get the tone right. We’ll see.
Anyway, it’s hard not to feel bad about the whole thing. On a small note, I want to impress these people. The other students are PhD candidates, the professor is well-published and works for RSQ. More importantly, though, the comments I got from the first round of drafts were super excited about the possibilities of my paper and all the directions it could go in, and they offered examples of things for me to read and such. I did read them, but just wasn’t seeing it, and I know that’s okay. I’m also fairly sure that they’ll see I’ve done some work on it and still be excited for what I’m doing with it and respect my decisions and all that jazz, but … guilt.
No small part of the guilt is me feeling like I should already have read most of the stuff they were suggesting for me to connect my piece to, and the fact that the pieces I did read lead to me feeling like I needed to read even more, and so on, and so forth.
Also, being on the internet makes me more interested in how a master recording is translated to vibrations on a needle which carve grooves into lacquer. Bad for business.
If We Talked about Architecture like Writing… (My favorite – “This particular building really surprised me. I mean, I designed it, and I approved it, and I oversaw the construction of it, but it still really surprised me. My buildings are always surprising me.”)
And, finally, a note to graduate programs about job training (that could also easily carry over to undergrad programs that train primarily for grad school instead of jobs).
Things are moving, plodding along surely and steadily.
Thesis officially accepted by the grad college, meaning I’m guaranteed to be allowed to wear a robe and shake someone’s hand awkwardly in a few weeks. Also means I don’t want to think about that project again for quite a while.
Another book review published, this time Shane Jones’s Crystal Eaters. Good, weird book. Cool publisher. One of the most entertaining author Twitter accounts around (hey, we can’t all be Elizabeth McCracken).
I’ve found gainful part-time employment for the summer (continuing work in the writing center) and for the fall (teaching two sections of first-year composition). The latter is vaguely terrifying. Not the actual teaching; I’m comfortable and confident with that. However, the fact that someone would entrust me with a room full of people expecting me to be able to impart some kind of knowledge to them is fairly disconcerting. I’m kind of pumped up about it. After all, the primary reason I went into graduate school was because I knew I wanted to teach writing as I tried to make it as a writer. It’s exciting to see a plan come together/fruition.
Also this fall, I begin the MFA program at Texas State. I’ll be taking Ben Fountain‘s workshop, which I’m amazingly pumped about. It’s crazy that the guy got called a late blooming genius by Malcolm Gladwell and ended up living up to that reputation with his book (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). I went ahead and read his novel and will go through his short stories soon. I don’t think reading someone you’re going to be taking a class from is really that important (I definitely don’t think it made a difference when I took a workshop from David Lipsky [who is about to be played by Jesse Eisenberg, what the hell?]), but to me it’s the equivalent of Googling
everyone you interact with people on your panel at a conference or something. A combination of curiosity and wanting to know what to expect. I’ll also be taking a lit class about James Joyce and a Form and Theory class from the fantastic Debra Monroe, who is pretty much the reason Texas State made it onto my radar in the first place. I’ve read every book she’s published; you should too (especially her memoir).
New tangent. It’s kind of funny: I feel pretty guilty about this blog entry being so unfocused, but the guilt of not having updated in a month has outweighed the crime of not having much to say. When I started this blog, I told myself that in order to be successful and garner readers I needed to focus on things outside of myself. Doesn’t quite seem like I’m ready for that. Sometimes there’s a lot of external stimuli that give me things to ramble on about, sometimes there’s not. Most weeks I write a little bit, read a little bit, submit a little bit, get rejected a little bit. Figuring out the balance of what interesting things to keep in the work I hope to get published versus this blog is not easy.
Current projects: A recurring column pitch about writing mixtapes for literary characters. An essay about the unbelievable integration of advertising into NASCAR. A journalistic look at “get paid to” sites like Swagbucks and using it as a launching point to talk about our relationship with free stuff in the digital world. I’m not sure about anything.
I was really disappointed in the Latin Times for throwing up two prewritten clickbait articles with Gabo’s writings within a half hour of the announcement of his death. I don’t have a link to go with that besides the link to the clickbait, and that would kind of defeat the point of whining about it.
Real life often steals good plot ideas from fiction. See rival college A&M planting maroon flowers in Austin and a professor getting suspended over his daughter’s Game of Thrones t-shirt,
To go on about Shane Jones and workshops for a minute, I loved his essay about taking a workshop with Lydia Davis.
Four days into March and things are a little crazy in my slice of reality.
Yesterday I accepted an offer of admission into Texas State University’s MFA program for fiction. Kind of. The application allowed me to send a short story and a nonfiction piece, and people have written nonfiction for their thesis, but my curriculum and such will primarily be aimed at fiction. Not that there’s a huge difference in how I write the two genres, other than the fact that my nonfiction actually gets published every now and then. I’m still figuring out the whole working thing while in school (lecturer vs. TA / convenience vs. experience and pay), and I’m still having moments of existential crisis about graduating again at age 32, but overall I’m super excited.
On Friday, I had a piece published in Full Stop about Kentucky Route Zero – a beautiful video game featuring my home state (which I’ve discussed in this blog before). I’m very happy about the essay because the pictures from the game are so pretty and work well with the writing, and it’s the first thing I’ve gotten to publish either about Kentucky or about video games.
On Thursday, I sent my complete thesis to my committee. At this point, my advisor has approved it. The committee has three weeks to read and respond to it, then I make changes, then I defend the thesis in April 2nd. Let me tell you how much I love the language of “defending a thesis.” It’s so valiant. A much better use of violent metaphors than the whole cancer thing.
On the topic of my thesis – it turned out different than I expected. I’m pretty proud of it. It’s longer than I expected. I put more real work into than I expected. I purposefully chose a topic that I was only moderately excited by, because I figured a small level of detachment would help me stay sane and help me be objective during the revision process, and I’m happy with that decision. There were days when making myself work on it was painful, of course, but overall my individual thesis is something I’m happy with, much to my surprise. I still have doubts about the thesis process overall. In my case, I’m going to present some of my research at the International Society for the Study of Narrative‘s 2014 conference in Boston in a couple of weeks, and then after that, I’m not sure anything will ever happen with my thesis again. My sample size was tiny and I wasn’t in direct conversation with contemporary scholars. There’s just not a lot to really work with, despite it being a 90 page document. That said, I have no intention of giving up on academic writing as I transition into a creative degree program. I still have several shorter pieces that I continue to think about and work on, including one that’s going to be workshopped at the Rhetoric Society of America‘s Research Network program in May.
I am breathing a lot easier since finishing my thesis. I have no more deadlines (besides the one for Guernica I missed yesterday). I want to read Ulysses and make big progress on writing a book and drink a lot of coffee. Like, enough to kill a small animal.
Just a few good articles this time.
When May I Shoot a Student?
When Elite Parents Dominate Volunteers, Children Lose
How Neil Gaiman Took the Road to En-Dor
The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist
Notes from Freedom County
and, finally, a blog entry that features my own hometown of Paducah, Kentucky: Jesus Guns
On a road trip this past weekend, I was catching up on my podcasts, when I happened to catch The New Yorker Out Loud‘s discussion about depictions of sex within film and television. If you listen to it, you might be tempted to cut it off about 10 minutes in as the panelists start trying to talk over each other (unusual for The New Yorker‘s podcasts) as I was, but push through. It’s worth it. It’s especially worth it to me, because although the primary topic of the podcast was Blue is the Warmest Color (which I have not seen yet), they ended up spending a decent amount of time discussing one of my all-time favorite movies, The Big Chill.
My ears perked up even more than usual, though, because in a few short weeks I’ll be presenting a paper about The Big Chill at the Southwest Popular Culture Association conference in Albuquerque. The topic of my paper is that although The Big Chill has a lot of progressive ideals ingrained in its narrative (and is one of my favorite movies), the ultimate conclusion of the story is one that reinforces traditional gender roles. PS, I have a habit of doing this, of writing about negative stuff in my favorite works of art – a previous essay involved examining the misogyny in Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.
I’m not sure if the panelists in the podcast would disagree with the premise of my paper or not, but they gushed over two sex scenes in the movie – one explicit (Kevin Kline and Mary Kay Place) and one implied (William Hurt and Meg Tilly). I really liked their commentary – one of their criticisms of typical sex scenes in movies is that they are just signifying the fact that the characters are having a sexual relationship, that the sex scenes themselves don’t have any drama in them to add to the overall narrative arc. The Big Chill‘s scenes, they argue, are different because the Kline/Place one is unusually realistic, and their facial expressions/displayed emotions toward each other are important to the plot of the story, and the Hurt/Tilly one implies that two people can go to bed with one another even if they can’t have intercourse and that’s okay (another unusual narrative). I liked that analysis, and I especially like Richard Brody‘s observation that one of the things most important to seeing the full, dynamic picture of The Big Chill is, even more than the interactions between the people of the same generation, the interactions between that group and the younger (Meg Tilly’s character Chloe) and older (Don Galloway’s character Richard) generations.
(The basic premise of my piece is that the women in the film are all portrayed as strong and nuanced and independent, but by the end of the movie are slotted into more submissive roles. Meg has to put on a robe that sexualizes her for Harold to move into motherhood. Sarah allows her husband to sleep with another woman in part to make up for her infidelity. Chloe is only presented as a deep character after she sheds her sexually permissive aura. Also, the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, in my opinion.)
God, I love this movie. I’ll admit, at a time when it’s an admission incompatible with the current zeitgeist iteration, that I don’t watch a lot of film or television, but that’s one that I watch at least 2-3 times every year. I worry often that doing the kind of analysis that’s required for an academic paper will make me no longer like the object that I’m analyzing, but so far (having now analyzed, at least in part, The Big Chill and Blood on Tracks for academic work and Kentucky Route Zero and a few novels for more nonacademic pieces) that hasn’t been the case. I know it has come up in some of my video game playing – the “artwork” of League of Legends, for example, bothers me every time I load that game. I still play it though.
Outside content: What, the New Yorker podcast above isn’t good enough for you? Writing this reminded me of writing this post for a class, which reminded me of this site – Fallen Princesses, which plays with the whole Disney Princess thing.
In Spanish the word for “to hunt” is almost the same as the word for “to marry” (cazar/casar). While this has its own set of interesting implications for relationships, it always comes to mind when I think of the phrase “job hunting.”
I’m supposed to graduate in four months, which means that I’m not too far from needing to be gainfully employed myself. I would say it’s hard not to be discouraged by the prospect, but that would be lying. Yes, it’s true, I am inundated with negative statistics on every side: The ever-increasing percentage of academic teaching positions held by adjunct professors, the bottom rung of the academic ladder I hold by chasing an MA in the humanities, the apparent duty I have as someone who may or may not be part of the so-called millennial generation (Pew Research says I am) to complain about not being able to find a job, and finally, the geographic factor of “158 people moving to Austin every day” (a fact that’s cited in a few dozen articles but I can’t find a source for other than the name Mark Sprague).
Add onto this the fact that I don’t have the option of moving for a job and I hit pretty much every common sad story. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with the dreaded “two-body problem.”
But I’m making myself stay optimistic. After all, most of my friends are doing what they want to do, even if they are having to do it or had to do it on a much smaller scale/payscale than they had hoped. Hell, even my friend in journalism got a promotion recently (insert journalism dying joke here)! Also, I’m getting started early, and feel a lot better prepared/confident than I did the last few times I needed to do serious job searches.
That said, I fully anticipate not having a full-time job lined up come this fall. It would be nice, and there are several I’m planning on applying for, but I’m fine with doing some combination of teaching/writing/editing on lots of part-time bases. As far as teaching, I’d like to end up at Austin Community College as that’s the place I have the best shot of transitioning into something full-time (and the best writing class in my memory was a night class at a junior college). I’ve also applied for some interesting positions, like being the writer-in-residence at Exeter Academy. That job would be awesome – I was initially worried about my qualifications, but looking at their past candidates, my publication history is on par if not better. Main difference is that every one of them got an MFA, not an MA. So we’ll see. Finally, I’ve also reapplied to an MFA program, just to keep my options open.
A few thoughts on selecting a teaching position: Larger universities generally offer better opportunities for research and to focus, but it takes a long time to take advantage of those opportunities. There’s a married pair of professors I’m familiar with who teach a similar subject matter but one’s at Texas State and one’s at Southwestern University, and the one who is at SU (a SLAC) says his favorite thing about teaching there is most years he has a chance to teach a class on pretty much anything, thanks to the flexibility. Personally, I’m drawn to community colleges for a similar reason to why I’m drawn to writing centers – informal setting, and students who show up generally have a desire to be there. I have no intention of being heavily involved in research, which is a further positive for community colleges: they won’t emphasize the need for academic publications as much, and my nonacademic publications might have more weight.
So there it is. My hopeful, pregame show. We’ll see where I’m at come July, eh?
Outside content: BOOK REVIEWS! I reviewed Daniel Alarcón‘s At Night We Walk in Circles for the Fiction Advocate. My buddy John Savage reviewed Diane Ravitch‘s Reign of Error for The Texas Observer. Also, is the current culture of people like me doing book reviews for free everywhere too scared of writing negative book reviews? The New Yorker ponders this.
Book reviews! Last month I had one published in the fall issue of Texas Books in Review as well as in The Rumpus (the latter of which is viewable online here). Yesterday, for the first time, I received a review copy of a book in the mail directly from a publisher, and that was a good feeling. Very exciting. Brings me back to a topic I keep going on and on about in this blog – merging what you want to do with what you need to do for a career. Of course, I’m not getting paid for my reviews (except in books!) yet, but given that I read a lot and like to write brief reviews for Goodreads and friends anyway, writing a full formal review is only a tiny step beyond what I would be doing regardless. For me, this makes it an obvious choice for what to do with my extra time.
What has been a less than obvious choice is this year’s set of conferences. I’m definitely attending and presenting at the Rhetoric Society of America‘s conference. It’s a national conference and the piece I had accepted is one I really like (David Foster Wallace and Kenneth Burke comparison), and it’s one I think will be publishable down the road. The conference is in San Antonio, which means low cost to me since it’s not far away. And, I’ve been accepted to participate in their Research Network program, where they group a few of us novices with an experienced mentor (Dr. Michelle Ballif, in my case) for a paper workshopping. It’s after I graduate so it’ll be out of pocket, but it’s a no-brainer. Now, I’m also planning on attending the International Society of Narrative conference and presenting part of my thesis there. It’s in Boston, which means it’ll be a reasonably high cost, but for that one grad school will cover all of it. Then there’s two regional conferences – one in Albuquerque, one in Houston. Both will have relatively low cost, but it’s still a cost that I have to consider. I have to think about what I’m achieving by presenting (a line on the CV plus a very small chance [I am not a charismatic person with people I don’t know] at possible networking or revision ideas for paper) and how much I’m paying for that achievement. It’s hard to know when it’s not worth it. How much are each of those CV lines worth when it comes time to apply for adjunct or community college positions? Impossible to say. I’ll do at least three this year, maybe four, and review the results next year, I suppose.
Last year I made a policy that I wouldn’t submit any proposals for papers I hadn’t written yet, and that I wouldn’t be on any panels without a strong leader (professor), thinking that would limit my choices and make it easy. It did not.
In unrelated news, I’m planning on doing quite a bit of work over the break beyond reading. I have a map of the real-life equivalents to locations within the video game Kentucky Route Zero. Mostly just doing that for fun – while I have some work on the game being considered for a publication and for a conference, this exercise is more of an excuse to drive around aimlessly and take pictures. I also have a list of some graveyards to take pictures of for my genealogy work. Again, more for fun than for work.
What are you reading? What are you writing? Speaking of Kentucky Route Zero, a new piece of its incomplete puzzle was just recently released. I haven’t checked it out yet, but based on this review – “The Entertainment, a southern gothic high school play for the Oculus Rift, seriously. It’s ostensively written in 1973 by Lem Doolittle, a clearly fictitious playwright, although you can purchase the transcript by way of Lulu for $4.50.”
Finally, since my next book to review is a translation, I will share with you this funny Wikipedia article about translating Harry Potter. In French, Voldemort’s middle name is Elvis.