hating writing

In the article “10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing” from The Huffington Post, Bill Cotter discusses his “dark feelings” regarding what he labels as “the commission of the act of writing.” He lists quotes from famous authors revealing their angst on the very act of writing and he also discusses the problem of his own inarticulateness. And I must agree when Cotter jokes he would rather go to the emergency room rather than have a writing commitment.

And the more I teach the more I empathize with my first year students and concerns over writing and composing essays. I often say their concerns as writers are very similar to my own. Even in creative writing, my chosen field of study, I feel students have a point when they complain over drafting basic components of a short story assignment. I am just as susceptible to internet distractions and slothful tendencies. And I often dread approaching the work of revision.

Currently, I have a novel I’ve been wrestling with. I also have a novel I’ve been chipping away at for years. And perhaps the more you know about writing the more you are jammed up. The more I teach and learn the more I am self-critical and also I over-think the simplest of revision exercises. And maybe I am just reaching the age of worry over my talent if I have any and the limitations of talent. Perhaps subconsciously I worry about not fully developing as a writer. More and more I have broad stories with broad notes–more free writing really. And I struggle just to get my broadest thoughts down on the page regarding scenes or characters. Sometimes I just type where I want a character to go or what I want them to do and I have no way to get them there. I often say that writers suffer more from inarticulateness than most others. Lately I’ve been joking I would rather work with dogs or own a bed and breakfast than sit and work. I’d rather sit and watch MST3K.

This all reminds me of a George Orwell quote:

“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”–George Orwell

Perhaps the difficulty of writing–the illness in composing and revising–is what makes it great. PS: It took me hours to write this.

 

amy hempel reading

41CsdbeUzCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The power of the Internet brought me this mp3 of Amy Hempel reading “The Harvest” and suddenly I know what we’re listening to in class tomorrow.

Amy Hempel — “I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence.”

film recommendation: world’s greatest dad

WorldsgreatestdadThis film is from 2009 and from director Bobcat Goldthwait. I missed it because of a limited release. I most admired Robin Williams playing a frustrated writer and teacher in this dark comedy. Love the scenes in poetry class.

“I used to think the worst thing in life was ending up alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.”

documentary recommendation: shepard and dark

untitledFascinating documentary about Sam Shepard’s forty year letter writing correspondence with friend Johnny Dark. Shepard stands as one my favorite authors and I enjoyed the inside look into how Shepard works and operates as a playwright–travelling around with his dog and his typewriter.

writerly gear: hybrid mechanical keyboard

7bf2a57baa94686ddfd3aac9e7920a34_largeI have had so many conversations with students about how great old school mechanical typewriters are for the feel and cadence in the act of writing. Yet we love the ease of the word processor. In fact once I had a dream I plugged an old typewriter into my MacBook Pro.

I rarely post writerly gear on this blog but when I saw the Qwerkywriter prototype on Kickstarter I couldn’t resist.

Via Gear Hungry :

 

documentary recommendation: thank you mr watterson

275px-Calvin_and_Hobbes_OriginalGreat 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. 

new year’s writing resolution

McCutcheonNY1905A 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.

grading the college essay

IMAG0053Reading 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.

quick review of big sur feature film

Big_Sur_2013

Big Sur may be my least favorite Jack Kerouac novel. While On the Road and The Subterraneans captured youth and restlessness, Big Sur relates the aged, alcoholic Kerouac. And perhaps that is why I don’t enjoy the book. Kerouac’s persona is one of such a broken down writer unable to cope with fame and personal relationships. Kerouac’s obsession with death and the chaos of meeting up with Neal Cassady once again drive the energy of the book.

Michael Polish’s new adaptation is an independent film and therefore nowhere near my Midwest town and so I had to stream from Amazon to my television. Perhaps this is the future of watching smaller budgeted films. The film is so well shot though and gives so many beautiful views of the locale in recreating Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s cabin near the beach where Kerouac would’ve stayed. The photography is so gorgeous I regret not being able to watch on the big screen.

I most admired the director’s decision to narrate the film with an abundance of Kerouac’s words. The words give the film an energy that matches the book–perhaps more so than Walter Salles’ recent On the Road adaptation.

thankful for graphic novels

V_for_vendettaxThe other day a student came in to the office while I was reading a graphic novel and asked me what I was doing slacking off at school. He seemed to think I was getting away from my responsibilities.

Well, this holiday I’m thankful I will have a bit of  time off soon to prep for next term’s Lit 111 course. I’m excited to be teaching graphic novels V for VendettaFahrenheit 451 and 1984. Recently read this Guardian article on comics:

At a neural level…the pictures of comic strips are processed as another form of language, with their own vocabulary, grammar and syntax.

In many ways comics are why I am in the profession of teaching lit classes.

quick review of junot díaz’ this is how you lose her

books

I’ve long read and admired Junot Diaz‘ style of prose. I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I’ve modeled my own work after his. This latest collection of work contains all the themes of trouble and failure at its heart. And also the redemption. I continue to admire how the work follows a consistent universe and also how his work stays composite. Overlapping. The voice here feels just as dynamic and strong as his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown.

last tuesday at the movies

Went to the movies last week. I should’ve been grading or obsessing over the part time instructor evaluations I was supposed to be writing up. But I went to the movies instead. Don’t always spend time during the week taking time to watch movies but I did. And I don’t regret it. I wish I could go to the movies every Tuesday. Anyway D and I saw Enough Said directed by Nicole Holofcener.

Enough_Said_(film)

Long story short, the plot is driven by a coincidence. And this idea was seen as a failure from D’s point of view. I saw it as a strength because I heard an episode of This American Life called No Coincidence, No Story! Now that is not the only thing that drives the film’s narrative. I think the movie is driven by the intricacies of relationships and protocol around new relationships–the human truths of relationships and also the ending of relationships. The idea that relationships are about finding and understanding mundane eccentricities in newfound partners.

Apparently “No coincidence, no story” is a Chinese expression. From This American Life: “Sometimes the best way to appreciate a coincidence is to look past all the rational reasons it might have happened.”

This is an interesting thought or principle regarding narratology. Shit happens in life and in stories. I think this is a pretty good lesson for my creative writing students who are always struggling to find that thing or “it” that will drive the story.

stuart dybek’s the coast of chicago

9780312424251We’re discussing a few stories tomorrow from Stuart Dybek‘s collection The Coast of Chicago. I admire “The Woman Who Fainted” and “Pet Milk” (4:27) and I was happy to find this reading for my Lit 50 students. So important to hear the author’s voice.

I was lucky enough to hear him read years back at Oregon State. I remember he mentioned the stories began as failed poems. And a few years back a former student gifted me a nice hard bound version that was also signed.