Monday, November 30, 2009

They'll miss me when I'm gone

The classes I teach at my alma mater are remedial writing classes. Part of that package entails extensive conferencing and multiple drafts for most paragraphs and essays assigned. It's work-intensive, and they tend to hate me when they turn in one draft, get it all bloodied up in red (or blue or purple or magenta...) ink, resubmit it, get it back with more bloody marks (enough of them in the same exact places, remarkably), and then turn in a final draft, which I usually manage to maul as well.

They hate me, I tell you, hate me. I practically felt the daggers from one student during her conference today.

But then in class, as I explained that the last in-class assignment would have less direction from me and less intensive editing unless they had specific questions about specific sentences or words, etc., I told them that once they got to the composition classes, they'd get a lot less one-on-one direction on their papers.

"So can we come bring them to you to look over for us?" one student asked.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Road... finally.

I believe I have professed my love for all things Cormac McCarthy before. And I'm pretty sure I've raved about the amazingness of his novel, The Road. And I'm also pretty sure I've mentioned my ambivalence about A. Is the movie ever going to be released? and B. Will it be faithful?

My fears have been laid to rest. I saw The Road tonight, and it was good. The acting is spectacular, and the atmosphere captures the harshness of the world Cormac McCarthy has presented. The occasional voice-over narration even captures some of McCarthy's prose... not necessarily the best examples, but enough to make rabid McCarthy fangirls (i.e. people like me--nerds) sit up and squeal with delight.

The movie is not, as many reviews love to point out, a happy one. And that's a good thing--the novel is so achingly bleak that a happy movie would do it a disservice. But it is also beautiful--the relationship between father and son that likely landed the novel its place on Oprah's book club list is present and well-developed in the movie.

I could rave all night about it. Was it a 100% faithful adaptation? No. It played with sequencing and filled in a few gaps from the novel, but it was true to the tone and themes. Go. See it. Take some tissues.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unsent letters

Dear You,

What you have is one of three likely things: a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection. It is not the end of the world, and many people get through them just fine without moaning about it every five minutes. Geez.


Hey You!

You're right, it has been a while. I miss you--and I don't. Sorta. Maybe. I'm still not sure how I feel about what's been going on with our friendship. I miss the old easiness we had, and I'm not sure we can go back. You're trying to, though, and I will try to let my pettiness go a bit. Bear with me because lord knows I'm trying too, but I'm an obstinate bitch sometimes, especially when I feel hurt.


You! Yes, You!

Would you just make up your freakin' mind already? Do it, or don't. It's that simple. The odds are 50% for either failure or success, but you won't know until you try. All I can say is... what you've got right now, well, it ain't workin' so well.

Hey You,

Not so sure what to say here. I think there's water under this bridge, but I don't know how deep it is, and you know I can't swim. I'm probably too stubborn to break the silence from my end, but... I hope life's looking up for you. And that shot at a fresh start? Go for it.


And last, You,

Know those plans we've been batting around? Let's do it. It'll be badass.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SS: Oracle

Theme this week at Sunday Scribblings is "Oracle."

I gave myself an hour and 1000 words to run with it; I got it--1000 on the nose, after a smidge of editing.


“...and the thing is,” he said, eyes wide behind bottle-glass-lensed glasses, “is that you just can't know the future until it's just, just right there, and you're experiencing it.”

She tapped a manicured fingernail against the door jamb impatiently, waiting for the rambling philosophical treatise to end. “Mm hmm. And so far, you've told me absolutely nothing I couldn't figure out on my own.” She glanced behind her into her apartment, where her laptop and approximately fifty creative writing portfolios sat, waiting to be graded. Time was ticking away; didn't take an oracle to see that much. “What are you trying to sell? Pot or salvation?”

He looked indignant. “Ma'am, I'm not trying to sell you anything but comfort,” sounding for all the world like a bad pick-up artist.

That's it.” She started to push the door shut, but he put his foot in the way, a ragged Converse sneaker with the laces untied. She had seen the same fashion sensibility in the freshmen she taught and quickly learned to typecast. Were he in college, he would be a philosophy major, a rambling would-be poet, or some other specialization that prepared him for a lucrative career in food service or retail. Or door-to-door sales. She'd never considered that possibility.

Ma'am, listen to me. Just listen. I've got no sales. I've got no bad intentions. I've got nothing for you but answers—if you want them. Here.” He backed up, hands in the air in the universal language that said, “See? No harm.” In his left hand was a business card, looking for all the world like a home injet-and-cardstock production. It probably was.

Suspiciously, she took it. “What's this, a psychic service?”

No, ma'am. Look Forward to the Future Enterprises is a service, free of charge for your first visit—”

You are trying to sell me something.”

Not technically, ma'am.”

She snorted but was by this time curious about the spiel.

As I was saying, Look Forward to the Future--”

You come up with that name?”

No, ma'am, my friend did.”

Ah. Continue.” She studied him over her own glasses, a stare that she knew to be effective in the classroom setting, a look that said, “get to your point, and stop holding up class with your inane chatter.”

Ahem. As I was saying, we at, well, our business, will ask you a detailed survey of questions regarding important life decisions, restaurant-ordering habits, daily routine details, and such--”

So I give over all this important information for what?” She could just see the details being turned over to a kindly Nigerian gentleman, the same one who had offered to deposit $1000 dollars in her bank account just the other day.

We input all of this into a computer program that I've written.”

Interesting, she thought. Not a philosopher but a programmer, or perhaps a new hybrid—the philosophical programmer.

Once the data is in the computer, you can ask questions about future concerns—job security, relationship prospects, even financial security. This gets factored in with other data, computing your general demographic statistics and relevant details like overall regional and job market trends to predict, with approximately 90% accuracy, the probable results.”



That's a very confident assessment.”

Humans are creatures of habit, ma'am. Even when they seem to fly off the cuff, it's usually part of an overall pattern of thought and behavior.” He straightened up, and without the slight slouch and downward stare, he passed for a confident young man. An eccentric one, but no longer likely a pothead. “A man doesn't just wake up one morning and stab his wife for no apparent reason; he's probably a passive-aggressive person, prone to letting the small things like a nagging wife, a soul-sucking job with tenuous security, a receding hairline—all those little stresses—just build and build until it has to go somewhere. He wakes up one morning, she says it's about time he rolled out of bed, and WHAM, he snaps. It wasn't random; it was inevitable.”

So it was his fate, then, to become a murderer? Could your computer tell you all that?” Fate or free will—that timeless question so many of her students tried to grapple with to varying degrees of sophistication in their writing.

Not precisely as such, no,” he admitted. “However, we could have calculated a high likelihood of violent behavior based on a series of small incidents, marital habits, job market fluctuations that lead to more intensive demands of employees, and even factored in health issues like his rising blood pressure.”

That's... intriguing.” And frankly, a little disturbing, and even a little, dare she say, futuristic—no doubt, given the remotest possibility of accuracy with such technology, law enforcement agencies would love to have access to the findings, all, of course, in the name of the public good. “Interesting,” she said, more to herself than to the persistent salesman.

He returned to the original pitch. “Yes, many people find it so. And many of them don't like our findings. But we don't intend to sugarcoat the future. In fact, you'll find that a major feature separating us from the so-called psychics and fortune-tellers is the very way we don't shy away from unpleasantries. Should someone decide to proceed with the full services, we consider it our highest duty not to mislead. What we predict isn't a fate that is wholly inevitable—in fact, by making people aware of the possibility of their future actions, we sometimes found that we could avert the more... violent possibilities. A recent client recently sought treatment for bipolar disorder after having been off meds for six months, based on our findings.”

Fascinating. I will consider it.”

Thank you, ma'am. That's all we ask.”

With a nod, he turned and left.

She returned to the empty apartment, discarding the flimsy “business card.”

A minute later, she uncrumpled it, tucking it in her purse. Maybe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nanowrimo--one-third month update

By this point of Nablopomo, I started flagging (if it hadn't already begun by day 3). By this point in Nanowrimo, I'm... still at it. I honestly expected to have abandoned it by now.

Rather than have to come up with something new each night, I can build on what I've already written, tucking in a bit more description in this scene and playing with the tension in that one and finding my characters settle into more of a routine and even do new things I hadn't expected them to. Last night, they got into a squabble that I wasn't planning for them to have, but that has turned out to be something that they needed to do in order to, well, grow. And Nanowrimo truly is teaching me the wisdom of drafting--this draft sucks, and I'm OK with that because I can edit later.

It still feels pretentious as hell to call this glorified bit of scribbling (all 35 pages of it so far) a "novel," but I'm feeling a bit more comfortable with the idea that I may have a bit of writer in me yet. You see, this thing about making myself write every single night even if I'm 1000 words short of the 1666-words-per-day goal is... well, it's having unexpected effects. It's becoming as much a habit as my afternoon cup of tea.

My little head is starting to spontaneously generate new story ideas, ideas that I would love to run with and see what comes of them. And I intend to, yes, but it's not happening until the end of November--I have a bad track record of beginning a bazillion new things and abandoning the original one for six months or even indefinitely. If you want proof of it, I can show you my list of started crochet projects...

Anyway, I just wanted my audience of three to know that I've not fallen off the face of the earth--just a bit busy with other projects :).

Now playing: M. Craft - Dragonfly
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Another landmark

A former student of mine posted a Facebook status update today, saying that she had applied for graduation in May.

That means the kiddos who were new freshmen when I taught in my first semester of teaching are getting ready to graduate and head out into the world. It's kind of a funny feeling. And a daunting one.

Monday, November 2, 2009

National what month?

For the last two years, I have participated in National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo. It was largely an exercise in self-flagellation as the month wore on. Oh, I think I had the right idea, trying to make myself write, but my heart didn't ever quite follow all the way.

Which begs the question--why did I do it in the first place? Because I never felt I had the time or inclination to do National Novel Writing Month. November is never a good time of year, especially in academia as I struggle to finish everything that needs finishing in the last quarter of a semester--the papers get longer, the grading gets more intense, and the accumulated stresses have, well, accumulated. November is probably, honestly, never going to be a good time to decide to write a novel...

...which is exactly why this year is as good a time as any. I've had ideas for a post-apocalyptic tale knocking about my head for a few years now. Might as well run with it a bit. If it absolutely blows, or if I lose interest, so be it. At least I tried, and hopefully, I'll get at least a few thousand words more on it than I did when I started.

So, here's to writing, and more specifically, embracing the idea of what Anne Lamott gleefully calls the "shitty first draft."