Numbers

I’m on a nifty new anti-shin-splint running plan, courtesy of a kind, lyrical friend. I run three days a week, rest in between, and take the dog for a long walk on the weekend. I call it cross-training, he calls it “Can I really? Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease!” The plan is aimed toward getting me to run a 5 K. (I don’t really want to run a race, although I enjoy reading about them, I just want to be able to run 5 km. I’m hoping it’s going to make me into a badass.) My previous plan was to run on Monday when the week was young, and then try and fail to run every day for the rest of the week. So this plan is better.

There are a set number of miles I run each time. Right now it is even lower than the plan says because of encroaching shin splints, but as they seem to have disappeared (knock wood), I’m ramping up next week. In short, I am beside myself with success. (Note: This is a much-needed salve for a rough couple days.)

They say ADDers do well with structure. Today I tried to impose structure on The Fucker. I thought that because numbers had been working out well runningwise, and had worked out well in the past for word counts, that I could try again. Today I wrote 1,000 words in places where it was suggested that I might need more information. It was filler and it sucked.

But I was reminded of my friend J, who had a really hard time writing anything after her college senior thesis. This was, in part, because her thesis was about difficult stuff. But it was also because her thesis was very well written by the time it was finished. It’s hard to go back to writing crap after such glorious highs. You forget that your gorgeous sentence on p. 45 once was a steaming piece of crap that you considered doing yourself away over. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.) (And no I’m not sure that sentence is grammatically correct. Fuck off.) (And, yes, the series of parentheses offends my copyeditorial eye.)

I turned to the interwebs to see how many words an actual memoir contains. (Between 45,000 and 100,000 said a number of sources of varying levels of credibility.) I turned to a friend who said 80,000. Because I’m not even quite at 50,000, I decided she was completely wrong, misguided, misled by the interwebs. (No, you’re probably right, my friend, but let me have my moment of willful ignorance.)

I am not sure, in my present frame of mind, that I have even 10,000 words more in me on this subject. And I don’t know if that is because I am done or because I need to expand, learn more, give it a rest.

How do you feel about numbers?

Indy Clause’s Guide to Pedagogy

When you come up with an idea for an assignment (in the shower, of course) and you think, “Oh my god, my students are going to HATE me,” then it’s probably a pretty good assignment.

One of my former student colleagues stopped by the other day. “Are you going to be one of the really hard teachers like [professor redacted] who fails everyone for one single error in their reference section?” This professor is famed for that, as well as being “99 pounds of pure rage,” as my same colleague puts it. I have defended this professor in casual conversation, although I don’t know her. If you’re going to write up references, you might as well do them right. But I can’t steal her thunder. Instead I’m going to stare the class down and say, “I don’t care which style you use, as long as it’s correct. And I once spent three months editing references, so don’t think I won’t notice.”

But my same colleagues are totally in support of my teaching. “You know it so well,” said one former colleague. “Yes, you can curse,” comforted another. I still advertise myself as per one of my former colleagues who said, “She kicks my ass, but in a good way.” I swear I’m going to put that on business cards some day.

What’s your most recent good idea?

Notes on Words

*

I’m thinking about the way the press talks about Ferguson. I’m thinking about riots vs. protest vs. mostly peaceful protest vs. civil unrest. I’m thinking about those of us who do not live in Missouri, and how we don’t know really what it looks like. Choosing these words is like choosing the picture taken of an unarmed black boy or man who was shot. Look at any of the “if they gunned me down” photos. (I know it’s a hashtag. #TooFuckingLazy)

*

One of my facebook friends posted a quote about how you shouldn’t leap into a relationship with someone new immediately after a relationship ends. Take some time and be complete with Christ, she says. I of course would have said “figure out your own shit before you fall in bed with someone new.” Or at least before you fall in bed twice with someone new. I feel as if we are saying the same thing. DP, who grew up Catholic, would probably say we were saying different things. “Whackjob Christians,” I can practically hear him muttering under his breath now.

*

The Right is trying on the language of the Left. “Help, we’re oppressed,” say old white men. Our authority is being challenged. It’s a neat rhetorical trick, but if you have learned how to think critically, you can see right through it.

*

The population of students I work with are largely complacent. They come to school and go back home to live in the towns they grew up in, and essentially become their mothers and their fathers. They are mostly white and mostly good-intentioned (although many don’t try very hard) and pretty much entirely unaware of their shelteredness and privilege. So many of them are completely unequipped to see, much less question, their place in society. I watch them read and compare articles, and they are so busy trying to understand the material that they can’t even begin to see how to analyze it. They have no context, no critical thinking tools, no experience in looking critically at words on the page.

I very much want to bring the issues around Ferguson into the classroom. I want to show them the biases in their own ideas. I want to teach them about what institutional racism means. I want to show them how to choose their words and how to examine the implications of other people’s choices of words. But I am afraid of their ignorance, and am not sure where to begin.

Where did you begin?

Writing and Professionalism

My colleague at Second Job has a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition. As part of his program, he took a class on professionalism (can’t remember its exact title). In this class he learned how to go on the job market, how to interview at a university, how to write a CV, etc. As part of my MFA I had two minor class discussions about how and when to submit your work to journals (most of it was summed up by: later). I learned many things during the course of my MFA that I use near-daily, but at the end, I did not know how to query a book, organize a poetry manuscript, or how to manage a writing career after grad school ended.

Maybe insecure grad students grow up to be insecure writers. Maybe these professors had no idea how they got to where they were, and didn’t want to remind anyone of that. But one of my professors lived two hours ago on [very scenic location]. How did he swing that? How did he get his book of vignettes published? Another professor is the poetry editor at [major magazine]. How did he get to that place?

This article addresses some of these issues. Sure, professors want to focus mainly on craft and let the rest take care of itself. But a little idea of what lies ahead would be useful. I was a little distrustful at first. I hate the idea that college needs to be all directly applicable to the job market. And of course I hate it. Who would study poetry other than print ad designers in that case? But this is not the article’s slant.

How can you expect to earn money as an MFA? Or, how do you find a job that gives you the time to write? MFAs are under tremendous pressure by everyone they know to justify themselves and their choices. The program can be a place where real writers can tell these fearful graduate students that they can in fact write a novel while holding down a full-time job.

What do you wish someone had told you about the work of getting your writing out under reader’s noses?

Writer Fail

When you’ve been a geeky, book-loving, word-slinging poet type since you were a wee little clause, people expect certain things from you. (Let’s just say Third Sister used to call me English Professor when I was in my teens. It was not entirely a compliment.) One of the most common, yet unexpected, things about being a word-slinger is that my friends consult me about baby names. I scan names for them and give my opinions about long vs. short, and then I tell them that their baby names are trochaic or anapests or whatever so my friends feel as if they get their money’s worth. (Note: I do not actually charge for this service.)

The Kid (aka Third Sister’s daughter) texted me yesterday looking for a word. She is applying for college and sent me a sentence about accomplishments with a blank where she needed an adjective. She thought I would just magically have the perfect adjective to fill in. But of course I need a little bit more than that. I needed to know the kind of adjective she was thinking of before we got to specifics. “I just need a sassy adjective,” Kid texted back. She likes using the word “sassy.” I was completely unable to come up with a good adjective for her, but I distracted her by asking her about her new job and telling her about my new teaching gig. “Teenagers can be stupid at times,” she said. “I know (present company excepted). Fortunately my kids are going to be juniors.”

Besides the inherent brilliance and sassiness of The Kid, what impressed me about this exchange is that she thinks I can just come up with the perfect word as if it were mad libs. But good writing is about context and I couldn’t just read her mind. It was a writer fail. What’s good about having a dorky writing auntie if she can’t even pick out a good word for you?

If people know you write, what do they expect from you?

Adjunct Clause, round II

It’s a go, captain. I will be teaching this semester in front of real live undergraduates. Previously, my teaching experience was limited to online. And, yes, I am terrified.

But it’s basically an advanced composition class, and if I can do anything in this world, it is to talk about writing. I’ve spent the early part of my morning looking for essays to corrupt young minds with for students to read. And, lord, but I’m tempted to make them read this. I got into a conversation with some student colleagues last year and they literally did not know what adjuncts were. And, yet, they are taught by 75% adjuncts.

Adjuncts are supposed to be people like me, people with other jobs who teach a class periodically to keep their hands in. Universities should not be staffed mostly by adjuncts. It is not fair to the students or to the adjuncts. It is only fair to the HR department, because then they don’t have to pay health insurance or a living wage. And employees who are scared to lose their tenuous employment are more biddable than your average academic.

OK, rant over. I’ve enjoyed reading essays that make me think. I’ve enjoyed thinking about essays that will make them think. I will try not to overwhelm them with my liberal agenda. I will try to not make them hate me. I will try not to stutter. I bought some fabulous shoes this summer; that will help, right? (And, yes, the second thing I thought on hearing that the class will run is, “holy fuck, what will I wear??”)

What essays have changed the way you look at the world?

Gratitude List

1. I’m fucking grateful that I’ve been offered a class to teach, oh except we’re not sure it’s going to run yet, so don’t research too much into what you might read or teach. I can get complacent. Uncertainty and gnawing anxiety definitely combats that. Also, checking my Second Job email obsessively to see whether I need to go to training sessions or to see whether I could find out more about this potential class gives a manic rhythm to my day. And planning a class in a week when I’ve never really taught before is good for my sense of creativity. Too bad I can’t put it on my resume.

2. I’m fucking grateful that my sister is awesome, because otherwise I would spend a good portion of this post complaining that she wants me to send her a pound of tea halfway around the world. She’s lucky I don’t dump it in the harbor. I mean, if she weren’t awesome, I would spend a lot more time complaining about how much of a pain in the ass it is for me to go to the post office and figure out international shipping rates, and that would definitely break up my maniacal email-checking schedule. And it would make me look like an ungrateful wretch. We couldn’t have that.

3. I’m fucking grateful that my ADD doc is clearly too ADD to call me back. Who needs meds, or work? Not me. I have email to maniacally check. No time to focus on work.

4. I’m fucking grateful that I have shin splints. Running is exhausting, and it helps me focus. No time to focus; must obsessively check email!

What are you grateful for?