Teaching a film as lit class this term and spending some time this week closely studying Joel and Ethan Coen’s pre-Bob Dylan period film Inside Llewyn Davis. I am particularly interested in the themes of crisis and purposeleness. I also like the feel that the narrative is a mobius strip trapping the main character.
I am seeing many similarities with The Big Lebowski–another Coen brothers film I admire–in the themes of authenticity and honesty–also the theme of abiding or enduring. I also like the idea of the character who is not exactly aware of the depth of the crisis though I do feel Llewyn Davis comes to an understanding and awareness of sorts. I also love the motif in the incredible journey of the lost cat.
This week I’m grading and meeting with students individually but still found some time to watch David Lynch’s Eraserhead on Criterion Blu-ray. Lynch says the surreal is the subconscious speaking to us. And this is one of my favorite surreal films.
Great documentaries on the film here as well. After watching an early screening of the film, Lynch’s mother told him, “That’s a dream I wouldn’t want to be caught in.”
I can’t talk about Borges, Barth or Barthelme in my creative writing class without mentioning the films of David Lynch.
Peter J. Kuznick’s research translates well to this Oliver Stone directed series of hour-long documentaries. I found myself admiring the post-structuralism historical mode as well as the well constructed mix of photographs, film footage and news reels.
Great documentary now available for streaming on Netflix. I’d been waiting to watch this one for a while. I was glad to see some insight into the reclusive artist Bill Watterson. Calvin and Hobbes has always been one of my favorite strips and I remember the last strip to this day. In fact, I found the description of Watterson and his thoughts on merchandising to be very Salinger-esque. And I’ve always thought of Salinger in relation to Watterson and his themes of youth and familial relationships. I also liked the discussion of high art and commercial or comic art.
A few years back I made a joke to D about teaching and writing. I told her I was deciding to be a bad teacher and to focus on my writing. I told her I would be selfish. I would put my class work on cruise control. This was difficult to do because I feel such a responsibility to my students and I spend so much time note taking and creating lessons and lectures. It didn’t help that Sergio Troncoso inspired me with the care and attention to his students I witnessed in his workshop. Resolution: This year I will try to devote more time to the work. I always say my teaching is investigating story and writing, but I recognize I need to work harder on revising manuscripts rather than generating new material. Update: currently the Semi-Orphaned novel in stories manuscript is away at the editor and I am anticipating a mass of notes for revision. Actually I’m waiting for Jennifer C. Cornell to kick my ass. She was incredibly helpful with what became The House of Order manuscript. I’m slowly and surely starting to understand the importance of an experienced and assertive editor. And her notes are the most rigorous and detailed I’ve seen from an editor. Invaluable for the work. I’d also like to complete the Monte Stories manuscript later on this year. That is another manuscript–possibly another novel in stories–I know needs much work and development. This should be an interesting year of struggling for balance.
Reading this defeatist article on Slate.com on grading the college essay. Rings true in many ways but why would I want to give standardized exams instead of essays? So as I prepare to spend the next three or four days reading my students’ work, I just have to keep telling myself to grade, and not to edit. In many ways this article goes against an essay by David McCullough I read a while back. His point was to have students write in every class, in every situation. In his point of view, and I have to agree, that is exactly what college is about. Reading, writing and thinking.
I tell my students that Week 4 of the semester is usually where the wheels fall off–for students as well as instructors. This semester is particularly difficult as I try to write, edit and act as a student again myself. As well as teaching I am refreshing myself in an online instruction course. Something about week 4 that reveals the grind of education. Making time for work as well as reading and writing can be difficult. I’m also in the middle of a new technique and philosophy with my teaching method. I’ve decided to become less strict on classroom work and with my students. Trying to create more of a positive feel to the classroom. In the past few semesters I’m afraid I’ve lectured my students–not on writing or rhetoric but mostly professionalism and note taking. Reminding them education is about grit–energy and focus. I feel I’m still strict but I’m not so quick to change the energy of classroom because of a student on his or her phone or on a student coming in late. I guess I’m lightening up quite a bit as I’m encouraging them to use their phones for looking up words and author backgrounds. I began my courses with an exercise in criticizing previous instructors and techniques and even though I’ve been teaching for a while I’m consciously trying to become more and more effective–trying to stay flexible as well as firm. Can’t help but think back to all those instructors I felt were working against me instead of working with me and the challenges I faced.
I set up this blog to follow my writing but the past few weeks I am back in the classroom. Putting the work of editing manuscripts aside. I am also back in the writing center and tutoring for the first time in years. In fact I had my first tutoring session. A session discussing a poetry assignment and I haven’t taught poetry in years. And even though I meet individually with my composition and lit students it is difficult to work on another instructor’s assignment. The session was great but I felt that I caught a stride again. I forgot how students who are hungry and seek out additional help from the writing center or student services can inspire.
Enjoyed Sergio Troncoso’s fiction workshop the past ten days and wanted to post some of my notes on the rest of the Yale Writer’s Conference.
Day One: Keynote speech by author and medical doctor Richard Selzer asked us to combine our interests and occupations with our love for language. Loved the idea he gave us to avoid timidity in our writing. “Don’t be afraid to tell lies,” he lectured. He also gave us the idea that instincts are more important than our intellect; our impressions are more important than the facts of a story.
Day Two: Kevin Wilson’s craft lecture on his process in moving from short work to longer narrative works was so helpful. I loved the metaphor of short story as car crash versus a novel which is a road trip. Urged us to find the interiority of our characters. Also his exercises and group work with fellow writers was a great idea to push friends and fellow writers to write often. He shared some quotes from his mentor: “Your writing may fail but at least you will have the evidence.”
Day Three: Interesting thoughts from Deborah Triesman the New Yorker fiction editor. urged us to submit our strongest work to fiction @newyorker.com.
Emily Bazelon from Slate Magazine warned us about the difficulty of earning a living as a writer for hire–warned as about low pay for freelancers. Also her words on the worry from her staff that there is not much reporting and not much high quality reporting from publications.
Day Four: The master class with Zz Packer was an incredible experience. Her lecture on communication and the creation of image was helpful. Her notes and lecture she put up on the chalkboard followed these thoughts: 1. clearly communicate and create the image by unpacking sentences. 2. add action or motivational force. 3. plotting advice. She also went through a series of very helpful tips in terms of revision. I was most taken by her messy use of the chalkboard and her interaction with the class.
Day Six: An incredibly informative panel discussion with seven literary journal editors. Some of the journals included N Plus One, First Inkling, Atlas Review, and Hunger Mountain ; Fence and The Harvard Review were also there. Each editor gave great notes on what type of story to submit and how to avoid the slush pile. I was amazed how each editor suggested stories that begin immediately and also how each stressed the idea that there are many more writers who submit than folks who subscribe and read the magazines.
Finishing up a particularly rough semester. Spending the last few days finishing up student publication editing as well as grading portfolios. Still have a few more hours of math and grade finalizing. Always amazed at just how much work we complete at my community college in writing and lit courses. Ready for a trip to NYC and the Latino Book Awards as well as more time as a student in Sergio Troncoso’s workshop at the Yale Writers Conference.