writing and teaching notes

quick review–the third policeman by flann o’brien

ThirdPolicemanSuch an odd and strange little book from O’Brien. What I liked: Definitely not a book you can easily categorize. The plot was meandering–more so than At Swim Two Birds–and completely unpredictable. A place wholly away from reality was the setting, and late in the novel we learn the “place” of the novel was a type of hell. Again, a novel reminding me of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks–an exploration of a created place parallel to reality trapping guilty souls. As multi-dimensional as a book can become–an exploration of time, place and dimension. I very much like the spirit behind the line, “A journey is an hallucination.” 

 

quick review: at swim-two-birds

FlannO'BrianAtSwimTwoBirds.jpgSpending more and more time before getting to sleep at night reading and trying to re-develop my focus. And I decided to work on Barthelme’s syllabus and suggested readings. And O’Brien’s book At Swim Two Birds was a challenge–rather a maze of a book. A labyrinth, to steal from Borges. Have to admit I put the book away again and again.

What I enjoyed: I liked the meta-fiction and idea of a book about writing a book about writing a book. And I most enjoyed the idea of characters being developed by a writer–or I guess more specifically an un-skilled writer. And I enjoyed the idea of those characters turning on the author. It is telling I guess that I completely related to the idea of the lazy writer and student. I also like the idea of Gaelic mythology mixing with the author’s reality of writing a book. What I didn’t like: overly clever and overly cute opening.

When finally finished I was feeling a James Joyce vibe and thinking of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A parody of Irish styles of storytelling. A post modern version of Joyce’s modernist Irish style.

when a writer loses the way

Over the last year or so I am finding I have more and more unread or half finished books on my desk and shelf. I think that has to do with an issue of focus and depression. And I have revision tasks I’ve put off and off for far too long as well. My Monte Stories manuscript I am now calling simply Carlos Montoya I’ve yet to get back to in a more meaningful way. And this is distressing because I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic. Maybe in the past I have had a way of focusing on work and distracting myself from family, personal and work issues.

So what are my excuses? The year has been stressful and  I chalk it up to grieving personal losses. I blame my lack of discipline and my own loss of a literary way. I don’t stick to schedules of reading and writing I make for myself. I devote most of my time to teaching and grading–prepping for classroom lectures. So balancing family issues and work have gotten the best of me. I have blogged quite a bit on this site about the need for the writer to balance writing and teaching and obviously I have put teaching first and the writing has fallen by the wayside unfortunately.

barthelme_1a

So what to do about it? Well I did happen to get my stuff together in terms of applying for a sabbatical from my school. So I do have the time in the near future to focus on my writing and my revision. And now I want to get on track by focusing on a lists of books and a goal of reading. My thought this last weekend was to to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while–reading more of Donald Barthelme’s suggested books from his syllabus. There are 82 books listed on here and hopefully I can get back on track by devoting more time to read these 82 selections or as many of these 82 as I can.

Can I stick to it?

 

 

documentary recommendation: gabo–the creation of gabriel garcia marquez

maxresdefaultI’ve been listening to One Hundred Years of Solitude as an audiobook and watching this documentary on Marquez’ life and work. I’m still taken by the idea of a large story following several generations–seven generations I think and I’m taken by the idea he was influenced by his Grandparent’s stories where local stories, fantastic details and family legends mix together. I also love how the doc is unapolegetically in Spanish.

documentary recommendation–joan didion: the center will not hold

Quite a few students asked me about watching this 2017 Netflix documentary on Joan Didion. One of my favorite writers and I enjoyed the film. Fascinating to see personal interviews as well as to hear excerpts of some of her iconic essays.

documentary recommendation: trudell

One of my favorite writers, activists and speakers.

John Trudell: It has been, literally, the most blood thirsty, brutalizing system ever imposed on this planet. That is not civilization. That’s the great lie – is that it represents civilization. That’s the great lie. Or if it does represent civilization, and that’s truly what civilization is, then the great lie is that civilization is good for us.

little mocos a novel in stories–book soundtrack–parts 1 and 2

Put together a quick listing of song titles I think work with each chapter of my book. Saw a few other writers I admire do this and so I thought I would try. More and more I like the idea of a movie-style book soundtrack. And I am finding this a fascinating exercise. Many of these titles are songs I listened to while drafting and revising and many I found recently as many of the characters and chapters refer to films and or songs in dialogue.

Ch 1 Animales has a very strong Los Lobos influence because I admire them so much. This is a bluegrass tribute I find beautiful:

Ch 2 Relles’ Boy and Ch 3 Little Mocos were both heavily influenced by Good Morning Azlan. I listened to this album nearly consistently for weeks as I drafted and re-drafted these early chapters.

Ch 4 Cornbread is all about the notorious criminal though I chose a upbeat track–maybe because I have so much sympathy or empathy with his character. Also the narrator has so much joy and love in learning about the man. Also the track is very quick and the chapter was meant to be this way–quick and elliptical–bopping from sad and funny story to sad and funny story.

Ch 5 Birthdays introduces the old folks or the grandparent characters back in their day–someone mentions Wheel of Fortune at the birthday–las dias–and the band I imagine would play this during the festivities. Also the family at the party sing together as I remember the old folks doing and I imagine them singing “de colores”:

Ch 6 Bear and Peaches is about a husband and wife feuding so the Hank Williams track is something the old folks might’ve listened to on the radio. I was actually amazed how popular Hank Williams was with the old folks:

Ch 8 Dogtrack is about the uncle who is a bad influence on his crew of boys and so I like that Emeterio might be listening to Al Hurricane on the truckito radio traveling out to the dog track:

Ch 7 and and Ch 9 are war stories essentially and the boys ask if the experience were similar to The Longest Day. This is a film I remember watching as a kid and thinking this was what military service was though the stories in the book contrast the film.

Ch 10 belongs to the crew of boys and so the child version of Las Mananitas seemed appropriate:

Ch 11 follows Emeterio’s downfall and he mentions drinking and partying as the fruits of his labor:

Ch 12 This feud between brothers ends with Emeterio going to jail and the other Santiago left alone to deal with family and bills. It also ends with a street fight and so this War track seemed appropriate.

father fragments

Relles on horseA quick nonfiction excerpt from a project I’m working on:

The dark haired boy, bare footed and tired takes the reins of the mare and throws his leg over with a kick. He’s been waiting for hours to ride. His lips widen and then he nearly lets himself giggle as the mount kicks and strides away from the Jefe and the fieldwork. The Jefe told the boy the horse needed rest and grain and so the boy bit at his lip and clipped onions until twilight. And after a day’s work the boy’s energy rivals the horse’s and the boy lurches with each powerful jump nearly uncontrollably for hundreds of yards. After weeks of side jobs it is the first time the boy has ventured out. When the boy finally thinks to check back, the old man wipes at his forehead and at the back of his neck. The old man’s face is small and worrisome. And the boy’s face glows for the horse and the yards paced ahead.

little mocos kirkus review

Little Mocos–a novel in stories: “Jaramillo’s (The House of Order, 2011) second novel in stories builds on his debut collection, and fans of that work will likely find much to enjoy here. His writing is crisp, concise, and realistic, with a gimlet eye for the details of his characters’ grim existences.” –Kirkus Reviews

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/…/john-paul-jar…/little-mocos/

coffee recommendation–comet coffee company st. louis

C6cR57BWgAAPmqrSpring Break and we found ourselves in St. Louis for a quick day trip. We stopped off at Comet Coffee Company St. Louis. D had a cappuccino and I had a pour over. I’m new to pour overs but the coffee was very sweet tasting and light. Specifically the menu reads: Francy Torres, Colombia, chocolate, marzipan, fruit punch, roasted by Kuma Coffee, Seattle, WA.

The website says the place specializes in hand-brewed and single origin. Also they brought  the drinks out to the table instead of calling our names. A nice break from Starbucks crowd. Soon we will back to tumblers of french press coffee and Keurig nightmare creations.

film recommendation: moonlight

I’ve not watched Boyhood and in fact I’ve not watched many films concerning youth and masculinity lately–mostly because of my teaching schedule and work. Moonlight though came up on some podcasts I listen to and admire. And I have to say the film is rather amazing–subtle and subdued. I was taken with the music and also with the visual metaphors–the use of water and beach scenes. So much to say about this film. One particular performance I admire comes from Mahershala Ali as the father figure in the film. The swimming scene is particularly visceral and emotional.

a raisin in the sun

D and I escaped from the election and Trump fallout and enjoyed the Hoagland Center for the Arts’ presentation of A Raisin in the Sun. I’ve always enjoyed Lorraine Hansberry‘s family drama and the production had some strong performances. I found the play to be a very timely message on standing up and facing injustice as well as personal failings.

inside llewyn davis and the mobius strip narrative

inside_llewyn_davis_posterTeaching 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.

podcast recommendation: code switch–race and identity, remixed

Highway driving this summer and enjoying the fairly new Code Switch podcast. I also enjoy the written articles posted on NPR Code Switch site. Primarily enjoying the article on digital divides between Latino and Anglos.

quick note–twin peaks, juan rulfo and spirit world voices

41kI1Ika+jL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_After a long semester of teaching I found some time to indulge in studying the novella Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. I’ve been an admirer of Rulfo’s career and this book reads as a tremendous progression from his short stories I was introduced to in his book The Burning Plain. What I found in this work is a complex, surreal story of a long abandoned town, Comala, and the stories from the ghosts of the townspeople. The book masterfully shifts from third person omniscient narration to first person narration. The book is filled with ghosts and spirit guides revealing their traumatic stories to the visiting narrator, Juan Preciado. We learn all about the dead city’s heritage from the ghosts of the past. In fact the sometimes narrator and his life aren’t very important to the story and this narrator only acts as a relayer–intermediary really–of spirits and voices from Comala. It’s been a few days and after much thinking and re-thinking on some of the motifs I think the book is simply about voices associated with place and a town dealing with generations of tragedy and grief–how objects and buildings can stand as totems for past traumatic events. How pain and suffering from the most horrible of moral offenses–murder, rape and incest–can stand at the center of entire town’s spiritual demise. The ghosts I found to be eccentric and odd yet always memorable. In fact, the book reminded me of Twin Peaks–David Lynch and Mark Frost’s masterpiece from the 1990’s. The narrator travels to Comala the way Agent Cooper travels to Twin Peaks to find answers about loss and death. From passage to passage I am wondering if the voices are real or  from a spirit world.

twin_peaks_fire_walk_with_me_ver1Recently I rewatched David Lynch’s Fire Walk with Me and I am finding so many similarities between Rulfo and Lynch. We have a small town holding onto psychic pain and suffering as well as intense secrets associated with the death of several young women. The film is filled with flawed and inept investigators who though despite being clever and observant cannot seem to crack the code to the murders as well as the spirit voices guiding them. The “lodge” mythology from the film and the television show are very different but the film has a cosmic and supernatural context I find so similar in the so-called magical realism work of Rulfo.

PS: Excited to see Twin Peaks return next year.

podcast recommendation: this american life episode 562–the problem we all live with

300px-The-problem-we-all-live-with-norman-rockwell

Episode 562 This American Life–The Problem We All Live With

I’ve lived and taught in the Midwest for ten years now and have yet to fully understand the place and the people. After the Michael Brown shooting and the Ferguson riots, I found this incredible episode of This American Life on Michael Brown’s school district–the worst district in the state of Missouri according to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. Makes me think more powerfully on the intersection of poverty, diversity and classrooms here in the Midwest.

PS: I would also recommend the documentary Spanish Lake I recently watched on Netflix on the topic of neighborhood integration in Missouri.

end of year note

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 8.41.31 PM.pngJust a quick note at the end of a long year. I guess it is important to remind myself about some writing news as well as teaching thoughts. The last few weeks have given me some good news. My story “Little Mocos” has appeared in Duende Literary Magazine. I am very grateful and thankful to the editors for working with me on revising the piece.

12274707_1164799070214327_8032396525517735155_n.jpgI was also excited to hear my stories “Farmhouse in the Lanes” and “Penance” appeared in translation in Word Mosaic Journal of Literature and Art. Turns out penance in German is buße.

I’ve also begun reworking the Monte Stories manuscript, and though revision goes a bit slow, I’m happy to find the stories heading in a sci-fi direction. Perhaps this break from teaching will give me some time to re-read some Kurt Vonnegut, a writer I return to again and again in some of my note-taking. Excited to see the writing style developing.

I’ve also heard word this last week on new computers at work–26 Chromebooks to change the way I teach comp, lit and creative writing. Should make for an interesting year in developing my teaching skills as well as writing.

series recommendation: master of none


Some time away from writing projects for the past few weeks so I’ve been enjoying Aziz Ansari’s series. The series is part Seinfeld and part Louie. The writing and situations are so well crafted. So much understanding and empathy in this series regarding race, diversity and representation in film and television. Can’t wait for a season 2.

summer reading

Summer is for reading. And I have quite a few books stacked next to my bed. I used to worry about having too many books hanging around and felt bad if I couldn’t finish them all. I’ve since changed that thought. The more books the better.

Here are a few of the books I am working through:

book-review-the-martian

Starting listening to this book on tape at the gym after watching the film trailer on Youtube. I like Ridley Scott and love science fiction. The book reads almost like science writing or nonfiction. Reminds me of Arthur C Clark’s 2001 series. Each section/chapter is a new problem for the protagonist to science his way out of. Also the story of Weir self-publishing the book and then becoming published by a major press is almost as interesting as the book.

255440511.0.mThis one is by Charles L. Adams who taught a course for years on the work of Frank Waters. I loved seeing very early short stories and passages from Waters’ more obscure books. Waters is a writer I’ve admired for years because his work is primarily set in New Mexico and Colorado and I admire the themes of the individual struggling for harmony within surroundings. PS: Found it at Myopic Books in Chicago.

23365123Chameleo is the second book I’ve read from Robert Guffey. I read his book on conspiracy theory as art and found the work to be fascinating. I like conspiracies. This one feels Phillip K. Dick inspired. PS: Ordered this one from Guffey’s Cryptoscatology blog.

cover_into_the_beautiful_north

The year before last I read quite a few of Luis Alberto Urrea’s nonfiction and last year I finished the the Saint of Cabora and then the Queen of America. This summer I am enjoying Urrea’s border world similar to those of his historical fiction and his creative nonfiction. Also found this one at Myopic books.

1035x1590-FIGHTCLUB1Finalcover

I’ve been anticipating this graphic novel sequel to the popular novel. The artwork by Cameron Stewart is gritty and beautiful and the writing actually has surprised me. Set seven years following events of Fight Club Tyler Durden is very much alive and continues to create chaos. Actually he’s more of a villain than the alter-ego. I was also surprised to find Palahniuk himself within the pages of the first issue. And I am enjoying the book though I’ve read a few negative reviews–here for example. Found this one at Escape Velocity Comic Books in Colorado Springs.

eraserhead

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.

film recommendation: book of life

Had some time this SpringBreak to watch some films and this one by Jorge Gutierrez is beautifully animated. I liked the mix of modern music and the Mexican folklore. I was also struck by the theme of death and grieving families.

quick review: cesar chavez

MV5BMTM5NTkyOTMxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODA1MDYwMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_I’ve been waiting to watch Diego Luna’s film and finally had some time this weekend. The reviews were poor on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes and Marshall Ganz–a man who knew and worked with Cesar Chavez–criticized the film for the one dimensional version of Chavez’s life. I have to admit though I found Michael Peña’s portrayal of Cesar Chavez to be subtle and very powerful.

documentary recommendation: the untold history of the united states

oliverstoneuntoldhistorPeter 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.

the house of order now available on kindle and smashwords

available now on kindlesmashwords

Jaramillo - Cover - Final.inddThe House of Order–stories, the first collection of composite stories by John Paul Jaramillo, presents a stark vision of American childhood and family, set in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

2013 International Latino Book Award Finalist–The Mariposa Award–Best First Book–Fiction

Latino Stories.com 2013 Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read)

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.

film recommendation: under the skin


11178828_800Based on the surrealist novel by Michel Faber, the film adaptation was much different than the book. I admired director Jonathon Glazer’s experimental style and how images drove the story instead of plot or dialogue.

quick note on new semester and dead poets

Dead_poets_societyA new semester will soon begin as I write this and my thoughts obsess over inspiring and motivating my students. It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been teaching since about 1999. I should be seasoned and secure in my teaching philosophy. Yet nothing concerns me more than motivating and caring for my students. The coursework comes easy but the technique in the classroom is something I’ve always struggled with. And I’ve aspired for years to act more aggressively as an advocate for my students.

I remember years and years back in an intro to education course watching a film with my fellow group members–a group of young and idealistic teacher-wannabes assigned to write on teaching styles. We watched Dead Poets Society over pizza and sodas in a dorm meeting room. And because I was young and capricious and uncertain what I wanted to do with my life–I mean one semester prior to this I was an engineering major thinking I would take all math and science courses–I found myself dismissing the film as sentimental and over-cooked. I was angry and young and stubborn at the time. And then I tutored for a few humbling years and found my way to the composition classroom. I returned to the film recently because of Robin Williams’ death and found myself captivated in the representation of the instructor-student relationship. I found the film to be a very strong representation of how a teacher can struggle with administration and also struggle with students. How a teacher has to face challenges from within and from outside the classroom. Williams’ character is kind and patient as well as firm.

The scenes I remember most fondly are the scenes where Williams’ character pushes his students to feel empowered and to think independently. These are the moments early on in a term when I am reminded of teachers who have inspired me–gone above and beyond to help me. Will Hochman from the University of Southern Colorado, Lisa Ede and Tracy Daugherty at Oregon State and most recently Sergio Troncoso from the Yale Writer’s Conference.

 

film recommendation: enemy

Enemy-dvd-release-dateThe film Enemy based on Jose Saramago’s novel The Double was a nicely surreal and non-linear film I admired quite a bit. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film with sex and political power themes that stayed with me far past the viewing. The ending here is nicely cryptic and creepy.

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 :

 

film recommendation: a scanner darkly

AScannerDarkly(1stEd)Lately for many reasons I feel I’ve been living inside of a Philip K. Dick novel, so I’ve been rereading a couple of my favorite–Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly.

What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.

And Richard Linklater’s film adaptation visualizes Dick’s themes of shifting realities–internal and external–and also shifting identities so perfectly in its animation. It’s funny how today we are reading post-modern novels with shifting narration, and Dick’s work was seen as genre and a lesser form of novel writing back in the sixties and seventies. I’m looking forward to tracking down his so-called “straight” novels.

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. 

thug notes

The first time I heard Thug Notes I found it very funny and engaging. I played it for my Lit 111 students. We liked the break down in a less elite language. And I love to see books and ideas from books featured in so called new media. I wonder though if this quick summary of books perhaps might be what Bradbury was warning us about? Will quick summaries like this or another quick summary like SparkNotes take the place of reading?

Now I’m thinking I’d rather see videos like this on from The Pen Pixie:

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.

new césar chávez film trailer

I’ve been waiting for this trailer for a while. I always give out some of chávez’ writings in my comp class and admire his words and his work. Can’t wait to see Diego Luna’s film.

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.

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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.

the house of order and southern colorado reader series

CSU-Pueblo-seal-flat-bw--Converted-I will be reading from my book The House of Order at Colorado State University-Pueblo on Feb 4, 2014 as a part of the Southern Colorado Reader Series. I will also be speaking to several fiction classes on the subject of literary minimalism and composite short stories.

the house of order indie reader review

cropped-jaramillo-front-cover.jpgGrateful 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

teacher’s lounge

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excerpt from The State–“Teachers’ Lounge”

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.

quick review of daniel chacon’s hotel juarez

51NRyxFCCNL__SY346_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.

southern colorado reading series at CSU-P

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Poet and professor Juan Morales invited me to be a featured reader next year in the Southern Colorado Reader Series at Colorado State University–Pueblo–tentatively scheduled next April. Couldn’t be more grateful.  

will hochman on salinger documentary

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My friend and mentor Will Hochman answers some questions and gives his opinion on the new Salinger documentary.58106_10151841559606038_493203266_n

back in the classroom

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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.

quick thought on the man with the golden arm

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Finished reading through Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm and I’ve enjoyed the story of self-destruction. I can see why this book is such a classic. Does feel a bit overwritten at times but Algren’s Chicago is a gritty and dirty place–very naturalistic. I most enjoyed the sweeping third person narration.

a book and a labyrinth

ElJardínDeSenderosQueSeBifurcanRereading Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths this morning. And the idea of a chaotic novel or a novel with confounding paths of time consoles me as I’ve been thinking Semi-Orphaned is a mess of vignettes and scene/organization that spirals. Hopeful that I have found a plan for the chaos.

“No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.”

semi-orphaned aug 15 deadline

Day of Dead Felicia OlinSat down today–all day today–working towards an August 15 contest deadline for my Semi-Orphaned manuscript. Here is a quick excerpt:

Animales

Neto was over on the bed shirtless and crudo, shaking his head at the reality of missing his father’s funeral service, when he raised both arms to smell his pits. He started digging in his jeans for a comb and pushed at his dark hair.

This was all in 1983, before the winter ended. I remember Neto often visited from New Mexico to the Abuelito’s home on Spruce Street in Huerfano, Colorado and slept off his drunks.

“There’s a lot of folks upstairs waiting on you, I said.

When he saw it was only me, he kicked off his sneakers and dropped his soiled pants and bent over in the posture of a small child. His nicotine stained fingers shoveled down the plate of rice and beans I had for him. He coughed and spat to the basement’s concrete floor.

“You the only Ortiz worth a damn left alive in this neighborhood,” he complained.

His clothes were in two great big garbage bags and he stood still a minute as I dragged his only collared shirt out from under his stash of nudie magazines and fungus-looking weed.

I put his clothes down deep in the washing machine and asked out loud if he was my father.

“Listen to what I say, Manito. I can tell you this. Born into this world alone and die alone,” Neto went on half-drunkenly. “Family will leave you. Women will leave you. All you have is your own damned self.”

the house of order in sacramento book review

CoverHappy to see The House of Order featured on the cover of the August Sacramento Book Review!

storymatic in the classroom

Ran across this game at Marbles the Brain Store in Chicago and wondering if this might work in my Lit 150 intro to creative writing class.

the house of order: cielo august book club selection

Jaramillo - Cover - Final.inddThe good folks at CIELO: Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization here in Springfield, Illinois will be discussing my book at their August book club meeting. And they’ve invited me to come and discuss the book on Aug 6. I’m getting excited.

the house of order writeup in the san francisco book review

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Here’s a quick excerpt from the writeup in the August San Francisco Book Review:

Star Rating: 5 out of 5

“Raw and highly emotional at times, Jaramillo’s stories give a realistic look in to the lives of his characters as he presents short vignettes that hint at a deeper family saga. His style is easy to read and his concise wording retains a surprising amount of detail. All in all, The House of Order is a compelling set of stories and should Jaramillo continue to present such fantastic storytelling, there is no doubt he will gain many new readers.”

half-page writeup in pueblo chieftain

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I’m grateful for the nearly half-page writeup in the hometown newspaper:

“Jaramillo is writing about working in Southern Colorado farm fields, driving and drinking beer and smoking pot; visiting family members in the state penitentiary; about tattooed pregnant girls, dirty kids in laundromats and their desperate mothers–and the pain-filled list goes on, back through several decades. What saves these stories is the grace in which they are written.”–Mary Jean Porter, Chieftain.com

more yale writers’ conference notes

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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.

IMAG0301Day 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.

More notes to come…

yale writers’ conference notes

Jorge_Luis_Borges_ColorIn the next couple of days I want to post more of my notes from the Yale Writers’ Conference. Today though Sergio Troncoso sent his workshop students this great link to Jorge Luis Borges’ lectures on poetry and philosophy:

http://www.openculture.com/2012/05/jorge_luis_borges_1967-8_norton_lectures_on_poetry_and_everything_else_literary.html

the house of order: latino book award finalist

Award Winning Author logo 2013A few nights with D in New York City at Latino Literacy Now’s Latino Book Awards Ceremony. Grateful to be on hand at the Cervantes Institute to pick up my Honorable Mention. So many great writers and inspiring words.

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school’s just about out for the summer

IMAG0127Finishing 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.

the house of order stories–2013 int’l latino book award finalist

Latino Literacy Now has listed my book The House of Order Stories as a finalist for their Mariposa Award Best First Book Fiction Award: 2013 Int’l Latino Book Awards Finalists. Could not be more pleased or honored.

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what’s write for me interview

Just finished a very engaging What’s Write for Me interview on my book, writing and the process of writing. Thank you to the host Dellani Oakes.

Listen to internet radio with Red River Radio on Blog Talk Radio

recuerdos-memories: latino experience in the land of lincoln

Cinco%20de%20Mayo_flyerLincoln Presidential Library hosting discussion of immigrant experiences, followed by food and music

From Swedes in the 1840s to southern African-Americans in the 1940s, newcomers helped strengthen Illinois with fresh ideas and energy. The process continues today with Latino immigrants, who will be the focus of a Cinco de Mayo discussion and celebration April 28 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The free event, entitled “Recuerdos-Memories: Latino Experience in the Land of Lincoln,” runs from 1-5 p.m.

It begins with a round table in the library. Illinois judges,professors, educators and community activists will give brief presentations about their personal experiences with immigration or its role in their communities  They’ll also discuss the generations-long history of Latinos in Illinois. A question-and-answer period will follow.

Afterward, visitors can enjoy refreshments and music in the library atrium. The group El Nuevo Trio Acapulco will perform “corridos,” which are Mexican ballads with themes of oppression, immigration, revolution and other social conditions.

“This event brings us together to explore the diversity within Illinois, the immigrant experience and the American dream. Lincoln and his tenacious pursuit of the American dream continues to be a global inspiration to those who want to improve life for themselves and those around them,” said Eileen Mackevich, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The panelists discussing their personal experiences and the historic role of Latinos in Illinois include:

·       Claudia Zabala, a dual-language teacher in Beardstown.

·       Salvador Valadezof Bloomington, lead researcher for the McLean County Museum of History’s Latino History Project.

·       John Paul Jaramillo, associate professor of creative writing at Lincoln Land Community College and author of the short-story compilation The House of Order.

·       Manuel Barbosa of Elgin, who served 14 years as a judge on the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Illinois.

·       Ricardo Montoya Picazo of Springfield, representing the Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization.

This event builds on the presidential library’s exhibit on Benito Juarez, who is often called the Mexican Lincoln for presiding over Mexico during a period of war and social change in the 1860s.

Cinco de Mayo dates back to the 1862 Battle of Puebla, whenthe Mexican Army defeated the poorly prepared but vastly superior Frenchmilitary. After the defeat, Juarez instructed Mexican mariachi bands to playthe national anthem and lively corridos to mark Mexico’s victory. He laterdeclared Cinco de Mayo a holiday. Citizens turned out in lavish displays ofcolorful dress for a street festival filled with corridos music, dancing, andfood.

Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico today butremains popular with Mexican-Americans in the United States.

Refreshments are being provided by La Familia Mexican Bakeryin Beardstown.

Entertainment co-sponsored by Great Plains: Laborers-Employers Cooperative & Education Trust

rereading mark richard’s strays

51WF997PRCLThis afternoon I’m rereading Mark Richard‘s “Strays” for my Lit 150 class:

“Uncle trash rakes everything my brother and I owned into the pillowcases off our bed and says let that be a lesson to me. He is off through the front porch door, leaving us buck-naked at the table, his last words as he goes up the road, shoulder-slinging his loot, Don’t ya’ll burn the house down.”

margaret atwood’s the handmaid’s tale

200px-TheHandmaidsTale(1stEd)-1Prepping to discuss Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale tomorrow in my Lit 111 course. We’ll discuss more dystopian elements, feminism and watch some scenes from the film adaptation.

tom spanbauer and literary minimalism

Preparing for Lit 150 and discussion of Amy Hempel’s stories “The Cemetary Where Al Jolson is Buried” and “The Harvest”. This morning I’m reviewing Tom Spanbauer’s notes on literary minimalism:

Notes on Literary minimalism—(exemplified by Mark Richard, Amy Hempel and Chuck Palahniuk)

Literary minimalism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description. Minimalist authors eschew adverbs and prefer allowing context to dictate meaning. Readers are expected to take an active role in the creation of a story, to “choose sides” based on oblique hints and innuendo, rather than reacting to directions from the author. The characters in minimalist stories and novels tend to be unexceptional.

Instead of grand narratives we see briefer and more economical scenes and seemingly insignificant moments that “add up to more than the sum of their parts.”

benjamin alire sáenz wins 2013 pen/faulkner award for fiction

I’m looking forward to reading this award winning book by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Great interview here: “An award like this isn’t ever just for the person that won it; it’s for the community who raised that writer.”

representations of columbus

Christopher_ColumbusColumbus owes Washington Irving quite a bit.  Also his portrait/face has never been authenticated. In fact, Charles Patrick Daly calls this painting from 1592 “pure fancy.”

Not much changed in these different cartoon and feature film representations of Columbus:

 
 
 

pop culture as history and christopher columbus

406px-PeopleshistoryzinnPrepping a lecture on Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States, post-strucuralist analysis and Christopher Columbus. But I’m lazy and probably going to rely on Robert Wuhl’s Assume the Position.

afternoon with argument/research papers

IMAG0053Spending time this afternoon with a large stack of composition argument/research papers. I’ve found no way to make the process easier for me other than to organize and seperate out to about ten or twelve papers a night in prep for about ten to twelve conferences the next day. So important for me to comment and also meet individually with each student to discuss.

i am a visitor in your world documentary

On Tuesday I had the fortune of attending a private screening of the inspirational documentary film I am a Visitor in Your World . The film was about Rebecca Babcock, a young writer and blogger diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 25. The film was a poignant account of her life and struggles and Rebecca’s story was so affecting. I liked the idea that her poetry from her blog was used as voiceover.

After the film there was a Q and A regarding the editing, cinematography and the music used in the film as well as commentary from Rebecca’s mother, Mary. The DVD is currently available at the filmmaker’s website.

quick review: orwell’s down and out in paris and london

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Drafting and revising semi-orphaned novel project but had some time to finish reading Orwell’s memoir/nonfiction/autobiographical novel about a young writer’s time in the ghettos of Paris and London. He works in restaurants and sleeps in homeless hostels. Pawns his clothes for food and also closely observes the down and out people he encounters. What strikes me most in Orwell’s work has to be his readability and the chapter movements. I’m also struck at his closely drawn character studies of those he encounters–the fat man in Paris and also Bozo in England are the stand outs. One thing that seems consistent throughout his writing is the strong sense of empathy and humanity. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

“Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then what is work? A navy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out-of-doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course – but, then many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout – in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.

“Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? — for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that is shall be profitable.”