The Thing About Trees

-Or Reading For The Right Times

Well, it’s been a semester in HRCS and I can, without a doubt, say that the readings this year made me think, but really did not apply to my life. Before you say something dismissive about me being a whiney college student, let me explain.

I am a big believer that there are books that will effect you more or less depending on what time you come upon them. It’s why I can say that Looking For Alaska by John Green is an influential book for me, but my not actually be my favorite – if I read it now, I might not find the story as impactful. This is because the book came to me in a time of desperate need in my 16-year-old life, and I could use it.

Trees, books on the forest, and books on nature? These things are not themes that fit into my life right now. I am at a point in my life where my plans for the future have completely changed and I have been exploring issues in my life that have never been addressed. As contemplative as my life is right now, I don’t need more contemplation. I need action.

I need a thing that I can do right now. I need to be swept up in a good, plot driven novel. I need a break.

As much as I think the Tree theme provided me with books I would not have read otherwise, and they did make me think, it felt like something that was trying too hard to influence me, and I just…couldn’t take it in properly. The Tree and The Forest Unseen were certainly good books, and I enjoyed them.

But you can’t force life to change to fit the book. You can only hope that the books come along at the right pace.

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Remediation

– Or This Book Should Be a Blog

Note: The Forest Unseen really made me think about the format we choose to write in. This is a blog post about that. 

In one of my classes, we have been talking about remediation, or representing something produced in an old medium in a new or developing medium. We can see remediation in the transfer of books and other print media into digital formats. This process of remediate media also has a tendency to nest itself in the old media – hence, eBooks have animated ‘page’ turns, or an eBookshelf will be designed to looks like an actual shelf.

In the case of The Forest Unseen, I think the opposite happened.

David Haskell runs a blog called Ramble, in which he recounts his observations about nature, biological controls, pesticides, animals, and anything else that might catch his fancy. His blog is interesting and engaging and, most importantly, includes pictures of the animals, plants, fungi, or various other things that relate to his topic. This is crucial; I feel (personally) that, in order to connect to the natural phenomena a biologist is discussing, I have to either be well aquatinted with, seen, or reference a photo of the subject.

The Forest Unseen is a brilliant book of observations but a) its short, succinct chapters read like a blog and b) it lacks pictures. It doesn’t even have an insert of slide in the center.

If you think I am veering off topic, give me a second.

I would love The Forest Unseen as a blog; a blog has the potential for multimedia. Haskell may not have videotaped or recoded any of his interactions with his mandala, but, in blog form, he could have referenced sound clips, movies, pictures, anything to enhance the reader’s knowledge of what he was writing about. I realize that and underlying point of this book is to spark interest, to get the reader to go out and discover for themselves, but sometimes the intend of print media can be lost in translation. I know for me it is easier to get inspired to go out and discover things if I can relate what I am learning to things I have experienced – first or second hand – as well as to interesting and engaging stories.

If we had been asked to read Haskell’s blog, I feel that I would have a greater understanding of what exactly it was that he studies, what he is fascinated by. Because I am inspired by other’s fascination, and sometimes a blog can convey those obsessions far better than a book can.

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The Unseen

– Or Observation and The Forest Unseen 

It is important to focus on the things around you once and a while.

In The Forest Unseen, David Haskell takes a methodical approach to observing the mini universe inside a patch of forest for approximately one year. He bases his observation space off of the Mandala – a holy circle representing the Universe in Buddhism and Hinduism – to create a small microcosm of the universe within the forest. Then, he sets out to record his observations; as such, they are a mixture of science, poetry, and spirituality.

This is particularly interesting to me because it has forced me to think about the amount I actually observe in my life. Outside, at least, that observation amounts to very little unless I am with people. When alone, I have to be surrounded by noise – this is not a bad thing. I have learned to unplug when I need to, but otherwise, I’m not big on the meditative art of ‘listening to nature.’

I do, however, think there is value in the ability to calm down and really observe your environment and the people around you. Problem is, this is not easy.

I have a million things right now that I could should be thinking about and doing. I should be packing for my drive home from Fall Break. I should be finishing Henry IV, Part I  and revising an essay. I could be writing a personal blog post about the Nine Inch Nails concert I went to last night. Or that Meta Piece I promised El. Or That Vignette I want to write about an old character.

And hundreds of other things I can whip off the top of my head because I cannot shut my mind off. I cannot, or, at least, don’t think I can sit down and center myself enough to focus on the tiny things.

But, the M. Night Shamalan Twist is that I can. I just never focus on anything good.

If David Haskill can find Taoism in the trees, then I should be able to find poetry in the campus and it’s squirrels. Or something. (I am clearly not a poet.) But I find that, when asked to be still and just observe, I find some little thing that I said or did to panic about, or start planning out a flight path through my week. I think this mostly comes down to focus, but I also think it comes down to our idea of observation. I am incredibly observant concerning myself, my mental health, and others, and their mental health. I can empathize really well; as me to describe a tree, and I don’t think I could tell you as much after days of observation as David Haskill does.

Observation is not just knowing and listing off details. It’s not just finding grace and spirituality in the little things (though that certainly has it’s merit, and I do appreciate that ability). Observation is what attunes us to our friends and family, to our personal needs, and to the world around us. Observation is seeing the big picture in the little details, and the microscopic in great tragedy. It’s all important, it’s what connects us to each other and to the natural world.

Perhaps it’s as simple as sitting down with a notebook and recording whatever comes to mind.

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Residential Colleges

– Or Yale Got Me Thinking 

But as Yale has come to embrace a fuller idea of service, the residential colleges have become the central site for individual student support, with the college deans—a position only half as old as the college system—giving aid and comfort on every front, academic, social, psychological, and even spiritual.

Mark Ryan, A Collegiate Way of Living

Note: I am not in the business of placing blame. Everything I have stated in this blog post is factual only (or based on observational opinion) and is not meant to be malicious to anyone. Names have been removed for this reason.

There was something vital missing from our lives in year one of the HRC, and that was a complete understanding of the residential college system. It was not made clear, for example, what the vision was for the role of the Principal and the Student Life Coordinator (SLC).

Yes, well, why does this matter? Let me tell you a story.

In April, 2011, I was sent an email that said that there was room for me in Honors housing at Virginia Tech. This was excellent news, and I excitedly selected the HRC as my place of residence. Probably about a few weeks later, I realized that I had no idea what a residential college was.

And, unfortunately, it remained that way, but we coped by creating our own definitions. I thought I had an idea about what it was – The faculty principals lived with us, and were supposed to be the social centers of the dorm. We had an SCL who helped out with social endeavors and administrative work. Communities formed on every hall, but not really over the entire dorm.

Then, year two happened. Our principal stepped back from the social aspects of the dorm (because, though we didn’t know it then, his job was to handle the Administration of the the dorm and nothing else) and tried to get the counsel running. There were tensions between the residents and the RAs, the residents and the counsel, and the RAs and the counsel. Everything we had built in Year One seemed to have collapsed and, at least on my part, I spent a lot of that year angry at Honors and the HRC.

At the beginning of the semester, when I began reading A Collegiate Way of Living, I had a conversation with our new SLC about it. He told me that there was not a very good understanding among the student body of what a residential college was. He said that he, in equating it to the Yale model, was the dean – the faculty member who was to live with the students and monitor the social levels of the dorm – and our principal was the master – the person who was in charge of the administration and outward appearance of the HRC.

What happened in year to, was our previous SLC excelled at administration. And he was a great person. But he was not suited to fill our principal’s space in the social realm of the dorm, and so tensions rose. Residents, because they had no idea who was filling what role, were caught in a nasty crossfire.

This is why I think a firm understanding of the model we are based on is paramount to living in this dorm. We need to understand the roles of the faculty who live with us. We also need to understand that this dorm is not a residential college. Not really. The community of people might fit the bill – we most definitely follow the ‘student led’ model, and we project the image – but the building is all wrong. We are a residential college wedged into a standard dorm, and therefore we don’t have the sort of community one can expect from Yale’s colleges.

And that’s okay. We are based off of Yale, but we are kind of free to define ourselves. But in order to create that new definition, we need to understand where we came from – and I wish we had read this coming into this crazy place we call the Honors Residential College. Because then, maybe, we could have avoided the extra painful growing pains.

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Incoherent Babbling

– Or HOLY LONG POST, BATMAN 

I’m going to be incoherently babbling about Night Vale and Desert Bluffs, as described in The Sandstorm (19A and 19B). If you haven’t gotten to this part in the podcast yet, not to worry! THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS AND COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF BULLSH*T. IT PROBABLY MAKES NO SENSE. IT HAS NOT BEEN EDITED. You have been warned.

Hello, and welcome to the first ever edition of Incoherent Babbling About Welcome to Night Vale. Please, have a seat. Or stand, that’s cool, too.

Onwards.

So, I’ve seen it referenced that Night Vale and Desert Bluffs are parallels of each other, or, rather, are the alternate universes of each other. This seems to make sense, re: the Intern Vanessa/Dana bit in both parts, so that is the theory I am going to be rolling with.

Now, let me begin with Night Vale. Night Vale is a town in the middle of the desert (plot wise), and a mode of satire for America and American politics (meta wise). Sure, it’s a town where strange things happen on the regular and the citizenry are pretty blase about said strange things, but, on the whole, Night Vale is very recognizable as Small Town, USA.

They have everything you would expect in a small town – Town Council (albeit a ancient, and sort of creepy Council) which dictates the ‘laws’ of the town, a Mayor, a sheriff and a (secret) police force, small town celebrities (I’m looking at you, Carlos), and a radio show just this side of creepy. Sure, everything is blown out of proportion (it is satirical, after all), but, aside from the Eldritch Horrors, Angels, and Hooded Figures, it’s sort of….Normal.

Well, as normal as Night Vale can possibly be. Which makes Desert Bluffs a perfect foil for Night Vale.

What we know about both towns is what we are told – we know a lot about Night Vale because we are listening to Cecil tell us about the events, hazards, and even things that we are not supposed to talk or even know about. He also tells us things about Desert Bluffs because they are, apparently, Night Vale’s sports rivals. [“Desert Bluffs is always trying to show us up through fancier uniforms, better pre-game snacks, and possibly, by transporting a commercial jet into our gymnasium, delaying practice for several minutes, at least. For shame, Desert Bluffs. For shame.”]

But, other than a few mentions of Desert Bluffs in regards to sports, we don’t know much about Night Vale’s relationship to Desert Bluffs.

Let’s talk about Desert Bluffs, for a moment, though. Desert Bluffs, on the surface, seems much more like the real world than expected. If you were like me, listening to Desert Bluffs Public Radio was a bit surreal. Thing is, it tells us a lot about the town. Kevin doesn’t seemed bothered by the events in The Sandstorm – everything seems like a perfectly normal parallel to Cecil’s broadcast.  Except for one thing; the doubles. Now, it was certainly easy enough to believe that a desert town that was not Night Vale would not really be concerned with a sandstorm out side of work delays and such (though the way they talk about work, it seem like that’s all anyone does ever); however, the initial encounter with the doubles, out on route 800 near exit 66, Kevin reports it exactly as Cecil reports it: “I am getting one report that there are several stalled cars on the north bound lanes…police are on the scene dealing with fist fights in the middle of the road! Now, I can’t imagine why, in a beautiful town with so many kinds of yogurt stores and pony petting stations anyone would want to fight his neighbor!”

Okay, so it’s not exactly the same a Cecil, but there is something all too nice and flowery about this report. Kevin is trying really hard to make everything seem fine. He seems to be trying to earn our trust, or, at least, he is written so that we, the listener, will immediately trust him. Sure, Desert Bluffs sounds a bit off, and Strex Corp’s ad – “Look inside you. Strex. Go to sleep. Strex. Believe in a Smiling God. Strex Corp is everything” – is a bit more menacing than things we have heard in Night Vale, but Kevin seems normal! Surely we can trust him, right?

It seems that way, but here’s the thing – we’ve been with Cecil for 19 episodes, and he generally tells the truth. Yes, he is an unreliable narrator, so ‘truth’ is relative, but he tries. He never hides things from citizens unless the report is, you know, about something we’re not supposed to know about (like the Shape in Grove Park). Corrections are given frequently, and Cecil generally acknowledges the oddities of his “little human town,” and seems concerned for those who live in Night Vale, with the exception of Steve Carlsberg and the Apache Tracker. In fact, with how terrifying the Council and the Secret Police are, they are at least acknowledged (“That’s the Sherriff’s Secret Police. They’ll keep a good eye on your kids, and hardly ever take one.”).

But I am willing to bet you wouldn’t hear anything like that about the Strex Corp black helicopters; reason being is the huge disparity between what Cecil reports and acknowledges, and what Kevin reports. Let’s return to The Sandstorm, shall we? After the initial report of fist fights, the fighting of doppelgängers continues in Night Vale, and the Council has declared that, should you meet your double, you should “kill your double.” Cecil, of course, says that he does not think that violence is the answer, and will not kill his double if he meets him.

Then, he is interrupted by a rustling noise. Intern Dana is fighting with her double (“Dana, who are you fighting in there?”) Cecil leaves to break it up. In Desert Bluffs, Kevin, too, is interrupted from discussing the productive joys of having a double, by rustling. Intern Vanessa is, apparently, conversing with her double. (“Vanessa, who are you talking too?”).  Kevin then says that Vanessa and her double are building a shelving unit; minutes later, he find Vanessa standing over Vanessa with a ‘cold compress’ and a staple gun. (Dana, or Dana’s Double, is also standing over her double, holding an email and a broken stapler.)

This is where I lost faith in Desert Bluffs. Initially, I simply thought they saw things differently in Desert Bluffs, like, the sandstorm had a different effect on this town, but I believe something far more sinister is going on. I read somewhere that violence could be Desert Bluff’s official language, and so they just can’t ‘see’ the violence between themselves and their Night Vale doubles (which is what I, and TV Tropes, believes is going on; Desert Bluffs is the AU of Night Vale), and so don’t understand that they are killing the Night Valians. And that could be true, but I think it’s more than that.

I think this because Kevin’s station terrifies Cecil, and, at most, Cecil’s station just kind of confuses Kevin a bit. Let me explain. The only thing we have heard on Welcome to Night Vale that has caused Cecil’s voice to become strained, weak, and terrified, was Station Management. I mean, granted, the way he describes the DBPR station – “There is blood on the walls. Instead of buttons on the sound board there is just…animal viscera. There is so much blood it is seeping through my shoes” – is fucking terrifying. But this is the Voice of Night Vale we’re talking about, a person who has gown up with the strange and vaguely terrifying, and this scares him.

Mean while, Kevin, is just like “The equipment is much older, certainly much dryer than it should be.” He says that the walls are “darker” and that the desk doesn’t have blood on it. At first, in episode 19A, this sounds kind of innocuous; but after Cecil’s description, I think Kevin is literally just ignoring the fact that there is blood and viscera in his studio. Ignorance is Bliss. “Go To Sleep.”

There is another thing (and this lends credibility to the ‘lack of a common language’ theory) that Kevin finds odd – Cecil’s smile. He says: “Maybe it is the smile. Is that a smile? I can’t say.” I brushed this off initially, but then there is the proverb at the end of 19B – “Step 1: Separate your lips. Step 2: Use facial muscles to pull back corners of mouth. Step 3: Widen your eyes. This is how to be happy.” This is Desert Bluffs, where one cannot tell the smile on another if it is not some sort of weird, forced facsimile of a smile. (Yes, Cecil could, in fact, not be smiling. But that would break the parallelism of these twin episodes.) Cecil, in the Desert Bluffs station, also comments on Kevin’s (or, we assume it is Kevin’s) smile: “His smile…noooooo, it is not a smile. He must be wicked, this man.”

Perhaps all of Desert Bluffs is forced into happiness, or must pretend at all times to be happy, and is not allowed to talk of anything that might be considered ‘abnormal’ for the sake of appearances. I am unsure; what I am sure of is that Kevin is either a liar, or profoundly naïve. One would think that the lack of “so much blood [it seeps] into [your] shoes,” would be something to mention when you get stuck in someone else’s studio. But no, aside for the odd likeness between Kevin and Cecil, and the dry equipment/desk, Kevin does not really acknowledge the differences between the two studios, where as Cecil launches into great, and terrifying, detail. Kevin blithely transitions into the weather; Cecil only puts it on because he is a professional.

On the journey back, Cecil and Kevin reportedly meet. According to Kevin, he hugs Cecil and all is well. According to Cecil, he was attacked, and Cecil tried to “choke the life” out of Kevin, before remembering that he promised not to kill his double. Cecil let Kevin live, and walks away, though he is sure Kevin “has his bruises.” Kevin and Cecil then both remark that they are “glad [their] other is alive” in some fashion, and I think that scares me the most. They are clearly parallels of each other – one is dark and sinister in tone, but is generally nice, and the other is simply dark and sinister, but has a cheery voice – but they are glad the other is alive.

That could mean anything.

And then, in episode 26, Cecil says: “As my mother used to tell me, ‘Someone’s going to kill you one day, Cecil, and it will involve a mirror…’” This, of course, may be a coincidence, but when is anything a coincidence in Night Vale? Someone will kill Cecil, and it will involve a mirror. Perhaps this is literal, or perhaps it refers to Kevin, being someone and a literal mirror of Cecil (sort of; apparently the eyes are up for debate). Who knows; this is the conjecture part of this crazy essay.

Desert Bluffs and Night Vale reflect each other – Night Vale is an outlandish town where the police will kidnap your children and No One Is Allowed In The Dog Park. Desert Bluffs tries, so very hard, to be normal and becomes a macabre terror in the desert. Things in Night Vale are weird, outlandish, and terrifying, but Cecil talks about those things (even, sometimes, talking about things which should not be talked about) and, though everyone is used to the weird, it is looked at as reality. The weird is not talked about in Desert Bluffs, though the radio station floor bleeds and has teeth, though the Voice of Desert Bluffs has obsidian eyes and a not-smile, none of it will ever be talked about because that sort of talk could probably kill you.

Go to sleep.

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Anxiety

– Or Just Hear Me Out

This is mostly a self exploritory post. It’s bound to get messy, and either will not be posted or will be deleted after a few days. Bare with me, please.

Photo on 2012-12-10 at 00.02
Attractive, right?

On the right is a picture I took of myself in a moment of stress. This is not what my anxiety looks like. This is just me blowing off some steam and sending stupid pictures of myself to my mother.

I goof off when I’m stressed out; I hide and run away when I am anxious. The fact that I am making a distinction here is critical, because I feel like I hide more often than people realize. (Or, like so many other things, I am completely transparent and this entire post is moot.)

557947_10151678287062345_1626467154_n
Sometimes I’m not completely unphotogenic

This picture (on the left there….no your other left) is closer to what I look like when I am about ready to claw my own eyes out. (It is important to note that, in this picture, I was actually a little annoyed.) I put on a show; I smile and laugh a little too loud, or I stay completely silent, hoping no one will pay attention to me. It’s not like when I’m angry or upset – I express those – but this state is a monster in and of itself.

‘Panic’ is the word that comes closest to describing this feeling, and there are months were I live in a near constant state of it. To ensure understanding of this panic, I am going to do my best to describe how it feels physically:

My chest gets really tight, so tight that it feels hard to breathe, even though breathing is as easy as it was before the onset of anxiety. The feeling spreads down my torso –  sometimes causing intense stomach cramps – and into my arms and legs. My limbs feel weak and useless, my head feels light and empty, and I can think of nothing but what is bothering me. If it’s multiple things, I tend to shut down and hide; a single thing, and I go on with life, pretending nothing is wrong and searching for an opportunity to talk to someone about it. But then I inevitably don’t talk about it, because I don’t like burdening my friends with my ridiculousness. And then I get anxious about that and it all spirals out of control.

And this is all ridiculous because I know that whatever it is I’m panicing about is probably nothing. I took an idea and convinced myself that it was a world ending, friendship ending crisis, and 9 times out of 9, it’s not. To date this entry, I have been in a state of anxiety since….round abouts Wednesday evening (5/15/13). I didn’t realize that I was that anxious until Friday, when my car broke down in Salem, Va. and I spent about an hour in tears. Now, I’m panicing because a friend of mine hasn’t contacted me (they likely just forgot) and I have convinced myself that they are mad at me and no longer want to be friends.

There is no reason for me to think that this friend doesn’t want to be friends anymore because they haven’t gotten around to talking to me yet. NO. REASON. AT. ALL. And yet, here I am, writing a post about anxiety because I am so scared of losing this person (and I’m not going to unless I royally fuck up in the future) that I need to distract myself.

This is awful, and I’m not sure what to do about it. It happens rarely enough that I can’t justify therapy to myself, but, at the same time, I don’t have an outlet.

Help.

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The Tuscan Milk

– Or A Response to ‘The White Raven’ and Sophomore Retrospective –

A while back I posted a desperate, flow-of-thought post about how I was wasting the first few days of being 19. This is a response to that desperation. 

Well, kid, you made it. The end of Sophomore Year. Sitting pretty at the table in the lounge you love, with the people you love, listening to…The Sound of Music. Which you hate. It’s all good though. It’s been one hell of a year.

There’s been a lot of struggling and messes made, but hell if it weren’t worth it. You’ve strengthened your friendships, survived Proper Math, and started working towards a career in publishing. And enjoyed every single minute of it.

Well, okay, maybe not every single minute, but most of them. The good ones – hearing about El and H’s trips and travesties in Riva, re-watching The Lord of The Rings, hiking the cascades and falling in. Cook-out late nights, lunches with old friends, coffee with the mentor, and conquering Dragon’s Tooth (with only minimal terror). True, El and H were gone, you had your share of Bad Days, and American Lit drove you insane. As did Statistics.

But you wrote more than you ever did in High School. You created characters that you cared about and want to work on. You have secured a job for next semester and the summer. You won’t be working as a lifeguard, you have some of the strongest friendships you’ve ever had, and you’ve made a home here.

You have a home here.

I want to stress to you, future or past E, that nothing you do is a waste of time, if you are enjoying it. Nothing you have done with your friends, no moment of procrastination, nothing, as long as it does not harm the work you need to do, or harm those around you. There will come a point (and there always does) when you will think to yourself, “I am worthless and wasting every second of time I have.” The only true time wasted is the time spent dwelling on this idea, because, really, you just miss your friends and are being a poor sport about it.

Call them up, play a game with them, use the communication tools at your fingertips. Just don’t lose any time to your worries – most of them do not matter in the grand scheme of it.

And, worse come to worst, write about it. That always seems to help.

~E

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You Will Read “Sonny’s Blues” in Hell

– Or A Summery of American Literature II, in Poetic Verse

Author’s Note: I wrote this poem with my friend Nikki and A. It is a summary of our American Literature class this semester and it is rife with swearing and the word Cock. If you are offended by this, don’t read the poem. Sorry Not Sorry, E. 

*~*

I have seen the best students of my major destroyed

by madness

Madness, caused not by stress or sadness, but I have seen

them lose their minds to short stories

Most notably the Greek epic, “Sonny’s Blues,” the true pinnacle

of the entirety of human literature

Has been drilled into the minds of unsuspecting English students,

expecting more, but receiving less.

It is the mark of human nature to repeat our mistakes;

thus we returned day after day.

We tried to make sense of an increasingly devious puzzle,

but the mind of our professor could not be cracked.

“I’m a nice guy, but fuck up on MLA and I will finish you,”

the prophecy foretold.

I saw students stew in their incompetancies and struggle

with their citations.

The types of things that enrapture us: the contemporary

corpocracy of the U.S., and why folks get high.

I swear I heard screeching in the walls; “Power-powerless

stick, you’re on the wrong end!”

With the very hearts of the powerless stick pulled from their bodies

good to eat w/ all the junk we’re shootin’ for a thousand years.

Our heads bashed in with concrete and music, It’s gonna be a world

of hurt, a world of hurt, a world of hurt.

And a sphinx. Because Egypt gave us schwarma and gyros and hot

dogs, because Design governs things so small as digestion.

Yo.

We sat through made up mechanisms, and historicisms, and so many

isms it would make the bureaucracy of our corporate

government blush.

Moloch! Depriving us of Slaughter House Five! Moloch! Capitalism taking

over my TV! Moloch! I just wanted to watch King of the Hill!

Sonny! States orbiting the Earth! Sonny! Blues and Digressions and Fire!

Sonny! I just wanted to read and analyze and learn!

Cock! I was just happy I could use Cock in an Academic paper!

Poems we haven’t gone over, Final papers, Monster of English,

The final death of God!

I’ll do minimum work for minimum wage! Skip the 3rd paper,

Take the 95, thank God! Hail Moloch!

Holy! The last four days of our Hell in Pamplin Hall, that the end

is in sight, Be free, my people, be free from that which

bores you!

I have a dream…That one day…It will be a comfortable

temperature in that room.

That, one day, this Appalachian hillbilly might teach something other

than Post-Modern half-truths

That, one day, we may leave the classroom without hearing the devil

whispering in our ear “Mooney teaches ‘Howl’ in Hell!”

You’ll read “Sonny’s Blues” in Hell! In the heart + fire of Pamplin 3001!

Think for yourselves, but trust me ‘bout the government! Or

I’ll ensure you feel a world of hurt.

Revolt, Brothers and Sisters! Change the face of Society! Of Hell!

Of Moloch! Of Sonny! Of Ginsburg, Nemerov, Frost, and Still!

And I ask you, where the fuck was Vonnegut?! And 1865 – 1945? Two

World Wars, The Great Depression, Casablanca? Amen. Amen.

That, in 45 minutes, 3 students wrote a poem and listened to their professor

rant about life, death, cancer, the bloody fuckin’ 1 percent, ANYTHING

but literature.

But, on the bright side, the silver linings playbook, Andy got to use Cock in

a paper! We’ve won a battle- Let’s win the war!

Amen!

Preach!

God bless us every 1.

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How Not To Workshop

– Or Please Stop Telling Me How To Write –

My creative writing professor, Ra., needs to stop telling me how to write my stories. Normally, Ra. is very professional and gives incredibly good revision advice for all sorts of stories, but then I chose to write a bit of speculative fiction. The last workshop we had, Ra. told me that I wasn’t ‘out there’ enough for speculative fiction and told me what my character should be doing. Except, you know, she is my character and I know what she would and would not do.

Now, before this becomes a rage post, I’m going to turn it into something productive.

Workshop is an excellent model for a class like creative writing – everyone in the class reads and makes comments on everyone else’s stories, and then gives revision suggestions. It makes revision a hell’uva lot easier on the author because they have some idea of where to start.

Where this model falls apart is the ‘I wouldn’t write it this way’ mode people have a tendency to fall into. Sometimes, these comments can be halfway helpful, but most of the time they’re pretty worthless. They usually come in this sort of veiled, guilty tone (or, maybe not, I could be exaggerating) and sound something like: “Well, I just don’t feel like your character would do x.” If that statement is not followed by “because you haven’t explained why they would do x,” then it sort of just leaves the author with “I wouldn’t write it that way.”

That kind of commentary isn’t helpful for two reasons; 1.They don’t know your character as well as you do, and 2. they haven’t offered you anything to keep in mind when you are revising your story.

That’s the key. I can handle almost any comment on my stories if constructive comments are also given. I can deal with someone calling a draft a slush pile, as long as they tell me how to fix it. But, all too often, workshops devolve into a conversation about how bad a particular piece is, or worse, how bad the writer is for writing a bad story. Newsflash – people write bad drafts all the time. My lounge knows how much I loath going through bad drafts of other people’s work, and that’s not simply because I think the draft is bad. It’s also because I have to make sure that all of my comments are constructive and make sense, and don’t simply belittle the reader.

I try to find at least one good line in a story. I try to latch onto a description, or a character, or an idea that makes the story different and could make it fantastic. Some writers make this easy for me, others, it feels like they haven’t tried, but I will never, ever tell them that because that alone does not help them improve. I want to try to improve the writer and the writing, so I write reviews that explain how they might improve their characterization now (and in the future) or what sensory details they are missing, and how they might go about implementing them in such a way that it doesn’t hinder the flow of the story.

I also tend to write suggestions as suggestions with the understanding that the author can take or leave my advice. I don’t know what their characters would or would not do – therefore, it is only fair that I acknowledge this and stipulate that the author can totally ignore any of my advice if it is not helpful to them.

I try (and sometimes fail) to be constructive, because I know that is what helps me. So it gets my goat when anyone, including Ra., suggests that they might know how to write a character better than I do, and offers very little in the way of telling me how to accomplish their ideal for a story (or without acknowledging that it’s my story and I can take or leave the suggestions).

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The Problem with Spam

– Or Can I Get The Spam Spam Eggs and Spam Without The Spam? 

I’m not talking about listserv spam, here, I’m talking about the spam that seems to have found its way onto our blogging server. Again. The problem with this is that people who blog, and want feedback on their blogs, get emails about any and all comments on their blogs. Including spam.

I have gotten 8 comments on my blog in the last 3 months. All spam.

Now, I don’t think that the problem is that people aren’t commenting on the things that I post – frankly, I would be perfectly content with simply using this blog as a little online diary of sorts and never, ever getting feedback. My issue is that I get genuinely excited when I see those sort of emails. Then I log onto the HRC blogs and check my messages and what do I find?

Urinary Incontinence: “I intended to post you the very small observation to give many thanks once again relating to the pleasant advice you have featured at this time. This is shockingly open-handed of people like you to allow openly exactly what some people would have sold for an ebook to get some dough on their own, and in particular now that you could have done it if you ever considered necessary. These good ideas likewise worked to become a good way to be sure that many people have the same desire just as mine to see a great deal more related to this condition. I’m certain there are several more enjoyable opportunities in the future for many who read carefully your blog post.”

I’m not sure that there is anything we can do about this deluge of spam that sounds like it was written by the Nigerian Prince’s* illiterate cousin. But this server was supposed to be more secure than the last one, and, for the most part, it was, but now, it’s becoming an issue once more.

Please, internet gods, hear my prayer – let there be no more spam messages in my inbox, telling me that ‘the advise was much appreciated by all of the boys and they are currently in use of it’ and let either silence or intelligent conversation reign forever, Amen.

*I refer not to an actual Nigerian prince, but the well known email spam message from a supposed Nigerian Prince.

 

 

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