Posts Tagged ‘creative writing’

I’m an adjunct and it’s killing me

September 6, 2011

I’m not good at it. I think it’s fair to put that right out there. But, under fair circumstances, I do alright. This fall has been hellish so far. I’ve been teaching comp pretty much non-stop for the past year and ahalf. Maybe two years. Which really isn’t all that long. I know this, too. Except I teach online.

You don’t get to see the faces of your students. They don’t get to see you. The entire reward of working with people is fairly obliterated by the computer screen. Having two discussion threads and 25 papers littered with basic spelling and grammatical errors per class , per week, week after week, can be fairly dehumanizing. After awhile, all that you know is that this massive pile of incredibly tedious work descends on you every sunday night and you just wish it would stop. While your employer pushes for greater retention, you just want them to disappear, one by one, until you’re left with something a bit more manageable, or at least a bit less soul  crushing with its omnipresent weight of tedious repetition.

And that’s under the best circumstances, teaching online, at least for me, anyway. This fall has already fallen into the “worst circumstances” category.  The institution (business?) I’m working for decided they needed to revamp their email system for this fall. So, in August, I got instructions for setting up my new email account to use in the fall. Assuming I had a job, which hadn’t been confirmed when all of these emails were going out, but I assumed it was a promising sign. So I set up the account and then pretty much set it aside, believing it was for the fall.

Except for one of my bosses, and I mean “one of,” as in, I have several. And all of are able to simply nip into my class and observe me quietly from afar and all of my students have ready access to complain to them over any real or perceived slight. With a little imagination, you are probably beginning to grasp how nerve wracking this existence could be, with this idea that Big Brother could be omnipresent and that anyone can turn anyone else in and have it given weight, after all, because retention is key.

This one boss was using exclusively this new email address while the summer semester was still going on, while there was still three weeks left in the summer session. So I missed out on his email saying that the class I’m teaching was being revamped. I missed out on the email offering a workshop in all of the new stuff they’ve crammed into this thing. And I missed out on the email reminding me to get the new books for the new course, just in case I didn’t notice that the entire course has been altered for the fall.

Frankly, I was too burned out to care too much by Aug. 8, and I still 17 days in the summer semester. And when that Summer semester ended, I had to simply bottom out for a few days. So, I was pretty much fucked when I opened up my new classes the day or two before they were to begin and saw the whole damn thing changed. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. My students are miserable and bitchy because the campus bookstore can’t manage to send them any of their books on time, so they can’t access half the work. I’m in a horrible mood because I still haven’t gotten all of the books myself and my students are freaking out because of something I essentially have zero control over. But that hasn’t stopped them from bitching to me about it.

And the worst thing is that I sort of like the new class layout so far. It actually seems easier if Ihad my book or if mystudents had theirs or if any of these emails that I missed had been sent to the email account my other bosses and department secretaries were using.

And what does all of this have to do with writing or literature? I don’t have time for it right now. I’m trying to make time but it’s just not there and when I do find free time, I’m so stressed and angry and tired and just thoroughly unhappy with what I’m doing for a living that I can’t concentrate on anything I really care about. Instead, I continue to just need to crash. To bottom out. To push everything aside for a bit and engage in some mental.emotional candy like obsessively scouring ebay and craigslist for specific toys for the kid or trying to figure out what that song by the cranberries is that I have stuck in my head from 15 years ago (it was Zombie) or watching Ghost Hunters International on Hulu while also bitching about the regular Ghost Hunters no longer being on Hulu.

The thought of picking up pen and paper or opening an office document file and diving into serious editing and revisions is damn near impossible at this point.

Alright. Piss and moan over. Back to the world.

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What’s the point? There isn’t one.

January 6, 2011

Over at Fictionbitch, there are the beginnings of a discussion about writing; the why, the how, the teaching of it, etc.  Instead of throwing my thoughts messily around their comment section, partially because I’m somewhat of a negative ninny about this but also because my thoughts are all over the place on this, I figured I’d just throw it up here.

I don’t think there is a point to writing, or a reason for it, or anything else. It seems that with anything artistic, there is a bizarre need to justify its being done. Why do you paint? Why do you sculpt? Why do you write Elizabethan sonnets on postcards of the Virgin Mary? Well, why do you go in and do your accounting work? Why do you play basketball? Why do you habitually watch every incarnation of Law and Order, even the odd foreign versions that have to be subtitled?

At some point, we just need to say we do it because we do it. Some of us get paid to do it, and I think it would be a damn dirty lie to not admit a paycheck is also a wonderful motivator for continuing something. Hell, Stephen King wouldn’t have become Stephen King if he hadn’t sold Carrie and his wife had to tell him to get back to work so they could pay the bills and keep the kids fed. A paycheck is a powerful motivator and enabler. As a quick aside, it also leads into one of my favorite Harlan Ellison rants, “Pay the writer!” (the youtube clip is here, or you can watch the entire documentary it’s from, Dreams with Sharp Teeth).  At some point, though, after talking about how it’s a part of your life, how you love sharing the experience with others, etc. etc. etc, it has to be said that there would be a lot fewer writers if they didn’t get paid to do it in some capacity.

Which comes to teaching. It has to. That’s how a lot of us writers find a way to get a paycheck – we teach, somewhere, at some level, some subject. Creative writing courses themselves, I’m not too thrilled about. I know other people have found them very helpful, very informative, very constructive. Frankly, I haven’t.  But that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed. There is at least one response over at Fictionbitch that I agree with, though: there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a closer tie between creative writing and composition. A lot of the same rules apply to each: you need good grammar/spelling, you need good structure, you need to have some idea what you’re writing about and why AND you need to communicate this to your readers. The skills you hone while learning one can go a long way toward honing your skills at the other. My g/f teaches her composition classes this way, mixing in heavy doses of creative writing, and she has large, enthusiastic responses to it. Since I don’t want to incur her wrath and interrupt what she’s working on right now, I’ll try to pluck the right name from memory and say that, I think, it’s a professor named Dinty More (yes, like the stew) who pushes this method but I might be wrong. Also, by making the creative writing process more closely tied with the composition courses, maybe it could increase their importance in university English departments, something that is never a bad thing as people look to federally fund universities less and less every year.

Now do I feel that good writing, at least good beyond basic grammar and spelling good, can be taught? Not really, no. But I do think the process of going through the workshops, getting peer reviewed, getting feed back, etc. can be a good thing. But I also thing there is a justified worry about a bit of group think setting in and pieces getting overworked.  In other words, it’s a mixed bag and depends just as much on the individual taking part as the courses and university.

And why do I write? Because I do. Now go back to Law and Order.

What is a short story?

January 19, 2010

I recently started work on something temporarily titled “The 40,000th Day Event.” It’s going to be a short story centering around a visit and old man gets in his nursing home. The idea is just one of those cute little things I occasionally have and decide to run with. Unfortunately, I’m running into a problem that I think I have ran into in the past, and that’s  the boundary between a “short story” and a “prose” piece. This is something that came up in the last writing work shop that I had, where a little piece about an interaction between a man and a woman in a bedroom after sex was well liked by everyone but the professor asked the question: is it a short story or is it a prose?

And I didn’t know. I didn’t really care. And, in all honesty, I’m not sure I care much now beyond the fact that I’d like to submit this stuff and get it published. And I wonder if other readers will have a similar problem with it. Is it a short story or is it prose?

Does it matter?

low res MFA programs

January 15, 2010

Alright, this is the place I’ve started my search for a low res MFA program. It’s an excellent blog with a listing of Low Res MFA Creative Writing programs in the US, their requirements, their financial aid packages, links to their site, etc.  I don’t know how exhaustive the list is but it seems like a great place to start any hunt for your low res program. As you go through the list, you’re bound to notice something that I noticed during my earlier jaunts through the low res universe – aid packages suck.

Low Residency MFA: Writing Programs

January 8, 2010

I don’t have a big post on this (yet) as I’ve just started looking into it myself but something that has stood out: VERY few assistantships are offered in low residency programs.

Yet tuition is still quite high.

The universities seem to be standing behind this guise that, because it is a low residency program, an assistantship isn’t deserved. Despite the fact that the costs are no lower. Or that the work for the program could actually be more trying than that of a conventional program as they appear to be somewhat shorter but more intensive on the writing front.

I don’t see any reason why universities can’t find a way to offer assistantships to low residency programs. From my experience in various English departments there is always a ton of work that could easily be farmed out through email that would lift a lot of burden from the professors and support staff (secretaries). Even work on a literary journal could be farmed out to different places all across the globe and be successfully completed.

The low residency program seems like something that has popped up for people with lives too busy or too entrenched to allow for a move to a new place for 2-3 years of classes. but I think they are also at the edge of a growing digital age where the conventional classroom is going to gradually shrink and become less of a feature of the modern university. Give how most universities have chosen to not support low residency programs, instead just asking for cash on the barrel head, I wonder if we’re going to see a similar resistance to the growth of online/digital classes where more schools begin to offer them but also refuse to help finance the students who desire/need to take them.

You Should Write About Storms

September 21, 2009

it’s funny what can jog your memory. I was sitting on the front steps of our building with my g/f and the neighbor’s kid, waiting for the school bus, when he asks me if I write books. I joke back that I write books badly and chuckle when the conversation quickly shifts to the ever worsening weather. I mention in passing that I like thunderstorms, the darker, louder, windier the better. Then the kid says I should write about storms.

I’m not sure if the kid was joking or not. It was flat in tone and, with the right inflection, I could easily see it being a weird little jab at my “being a writer.” But it got me thinking about maybe writing about storms. What they could symbolize, how they could be worked into a story, etc. etc. etc. when I realized that I had already written about storms!

It was just a short story, with kids and an apocalyptic storm that fell disaster upon them – a real Stephen King Special – but it was something that I had really enjoyed when I had finished with it but which had been lost in the shuffle since I wrote it. It also made me think of the another little horror story I wrote for a fiction course I took a couple of years ago when I was pursuing my PhD. It was a little vampire tale with all sorts of sexual allusions and innuendo but it, too, had been lost to time and to the refuse of my harddrive.

While I enjoy both stories, it makes me think of the fight between being a REAL Writer and being a Genre Writer.  As a young child, I had been a big reader and writer. An only child, living in the middle of nowhere, it was really the only option before the proliferation of the internet and cable/satallite television. Unfortunately, it was a habit that elementary school fairly drummed out of me. What really drew me back into the fold was genre writers; it was Stephen King and Michael Cricton. Enjoying reading again was something they jointly gave back to me.

But, despite my debt to them and the great amount of joy I got and get from their work, why don’t I take my genre works more seriously? The two little horror stories I wrote I enjoy immensely but they haven’t been something I have given the sort of importance I give other works – despite the fact that they may be two of my better crafted works.

So what does this mean that I have sort of, maybe, kinda turned my back on a type of fiction I enjoy? I may have slipped into snobbish elitism, the inevitable result of too many lit courses and too many encounters with other would be Serious Writers. Or maybe my tastes since my re-introduction to the writing world have gradually widened to the point where I simply write what I want now and try to ignore having my work split into categories while also being aware that to be published within a genre has a definite risk of pigion holing me in that genre for eternity. After all, I still find copies of Motherless Brooklyn tucked away next to Amnesia Moon in the sci/fi section.

And I’m still thinking about writing about a storm.

back to school? MFA dreams and scheduling conflicts

August 10, 2009

lately, with the difficulties and horrors of the move to Cleveland falling upon me like starving mongrels upon the barest scrap of flesh upon discarded bone, I’ve been considering something that I swore I didn’t want to go back to. After accompanying my g’f to the university a couple of times to fill out paperwork and talking to a couple mutual friends, I’m considering going back to school.

Sitting in the hall while my g/f talked to one of the profs about teaching comp, I have to admit, I began to miss it. I enjoy being around university english departments. There’s a feel there that is comforting and known. But school has also been the one constant in my life. It’s known for a reason. I’ve always been doing it for nearly as long as I can remember and the only reason that it’s a “nearly” is because I do still have a few remnants of memory from when I was around four years old.  I have been going to class for a very long time.

But it’s also something I question the use of. At least for what I would be going back for (MFA in creative writing). I don’t care to workshop and I have read more in my life outside of a classroom than inside of one. I enjoy it and do it a lot. I trust my abilities to read and re-write my own work.

But a stipend would be really nice and it’s work that I know I can do. And maybe this is where people would have a problem with me going back. I would be doing it for the money. And the fact that I view someday working for auniversity, teaching creative writing, as a pretty cushy way of life. There’s work involved but coming from a family where my uncle worked 12+ hour days in a hot kitchen as the kitchen manager/chef, my grandfather worked as a construction laborer, my mom works in the (basically) un-airconditioned laundry of a nursing home and a dad who works in a prison – grading papers and talking about writing is pretty damn cushy. So maybe a fair share of it is just perspective.

The bad news is that I don’t know if it would work with my g/f’s schedule and watching the kid. We might be able to bend it to work but it’d be a bitch. So I’m looking into that. And we wouldn’t have the money to hire a babysitter and we still don’t know anyone in cleveland with whome we would trust the kid.

Whatever I do, I need to make my decision quick as I want to get in for the spring enrollments for the local MFA program. I need to decide if pursuing an academic career is something I really want to do. Or whether I want to look for another job that will help get us by while, hopefully, giving me time to write on the side.  The idea that I could have a career getting paid to write without really being successful (as I have viewed the majority of the writing instructors I have had) is fairly interesting to me. But, in the end, I just don’t know. It is something I have to sort out in the near future.

MFA Programs

December 12, 2008

My girlfriend is applying to MFA/creative writing programs right now. She is stressed out, writing a bunch of statements about teaching adn the formative moments that defined her life as that of a writer. 

I’m not big on MFA/creative writing programs. I’m not big on creative writing being something that is taught or has an academic discipline. The process seems counter to the process of writing. It feels like something that clusters ideas and breeds conformity. It encourages writing that goes from point a to point b to point c and makes all of the right and expected stops along the way.

It’s something that would have been hard on James Joyce or Jack Kerouac or William Faulkner. Or Mark Twain. Or a host of others.

I’m also not thrilled with the negative environments it creates. Granted, having been in my share of writing/poetry courses, I know there are times you just want to say to something, “pick a different hobby.”  But it often seemed as if people were unnecessarily hard on eachother. they would bring sledge hammers and machetes into class and use them liberally.

I have a friend who just graduated from an MFA program at chatham in pittsburgh. She shares a lot of these concerns, which surprised me a bit with her going into the program. And now she’s pursuing a PhD in creative writing.

I guess if your goal is to teach, then options are a bit limited and this is what you have to do. But I think a lot of people go into these programs wanting to write. But if they really wanted to write they would just…write. 

And what’s especially odd for me is that, despite my reservations about such a program, I’m considering applying for a couple myself. Just test the waters. I don’t hate school and the idea of teaching at the university level isn’t a bad one.  But I don’t expect it to make me a better writer. I just want it to give me a career path.

say anything-writing is the most important part of being a writer

November 1, 2008

I got into an argument with a friend yesterday about writing. She says she doesn’t have time to do it, that it doesn’t bring in any money and that she feels guilty about doing it. All valid things but also things that writers pretty much just has to look past such things and write regardless. Maybe it’s just an overly romantic notion of mine that writing isn’t something done for money. Or to even be published. Or be read. It doesn’t matter if no one ever reads what you write. What matters is that you write it. If you want to try to get it published, great, go for it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Success is a good thing. People knowing your name is a good thing. People reading your stuff is a good thing. But it’s not needed. If you’re going to write, you’re going to write. It’s not going to matter what happens to the stuff fter it’s written because you’re going to write anyway.

But then we got to something that I think is the real fruit of the nut: she feels like she doesn’t have any natural gift for the work. And this is something that I have encountered a lot over the years. People like to believe that writers have some mystical power that enables them to string some words together. That if it’s not a gift from God, it’s a gift from genetics. The question of “where do you get your ideas?” is akin to asking a priest what the voice of God sounds like.   It doesn’t matter. We do our jobs regardless. You can do it, too. Writing isn’t about some natural talant so much as it is about hard work and grinding it out from day to day, putting one word after another and slowly moving forward.

And that’s the most important thing in saying you’re a writer and being a writer-writing. You have to put ones on the page. Regardless of what happens after that, this is the first, most important and most critical part. It’s really the only critical part.

Transitioning Between Projects

September 17, 2008

well, I finished a short story over the weekend, around 3550 words, and I’m having a hard time moving back into some other projects. The short story was just a little thing that was really a spinoff from a Kevin Smith Smodcast but it came really easily and just seemed to show up on the page over the course of a couple of days.

The two projects I’m trying to transition back into, though, have been more difficult. one is a long work that is in the same vein of Ironweed by William Kennedy that I have tentatively titled “Green.” The other is something that started as a short story about someone witnessing someone die and has morphed into a larger project concerning obsession and the spiritual realm which is currently untitled.

“Green” I have been crawling along with. “Untitled” hasn’t been much better. And since I finished the short story I have been having a horrible time getting back into the swing of things. I’ve attempted free writes, poetry, establishing a schedule, etc. and just nothing has worked very well. I end up staring at the screen with nothing happening.

So I’m wondering if I should just move on to other projects. Throw both of these things in a drawer and come back to them when I can. This would be easy to do wth “untitled.” It’s something that just sort of popped up in a moment of rambling and it went for a ways. I don’t really care for the main character and the material doesn’t really interest me right now-though the material is there, in my head, and it’s going to be there until I get rid of it.  In other words, it’s going to annoy me until I finish whatever it is destiend to become.

This is a bit harder with Green. It’s been a story/concept that has been in my head for awhile and is something that I have been able to personalize to a degree. I also like the depth of it where I can use one story to relate the similarities/differences in father/son relationships over the course of several generations.

So I’m just sort of stuck in the mud between firm pieces of earth. Behind me is my finished short story, ahead of me are a handful of projects, but I just can’t bridge this gap yet.