Happy to hear my story “Arkansas Flood 1964” will soon have a home in Pilgrimage Magazine.
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.
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.
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 Vendetta, Fahrenheit 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.
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.
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.
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.
We’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.
Discussing Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” today in Lit 150 class. I’m stealing this lesson/discussion from the Yale Writers’ Conference. Love her voice.
Grateful for the thoughtful review at Indiereader.com:
“…the book is filled with beautiful moments, like shards of broken stained-glass window lying in the dirt. This book will open your eyes to a new way of life and will leave you with haunting images not soon forgotten. A worthy read.” –IndieReader.com
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.
A few months back I wrote a quick review of Daniel Chacon’s book Unending Rooms. I admire Chacon’s aesthetic and overall writerly choices. I look forward to picking up his novel and his other work Chicano Chicanery. His work at times is surreal and also thought provoking. I find his work here playful and intelligent. And I’ve been in the habit of reading work that is more composite in terms of plot or character lately but in his work it is also refreshing to see each story linked by idea or abstraction. So does he choose idea over characters? Perhaps, at times, yes. And I’m not sure we have a collection of complete stories. Felt more like fragments but I think that too serves the chaos that is Chacon’s style.
My friend and mentor Will Hochman answers some questions and gives his opinion on the new Salinger documentary.