Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

Eliot was wrong.

August 21, 2013

It’s actually September that’s the cruelest month*.

Why, do you ask? Well, that should be obvious. Note how it says “teacher” on the about/FAQ. Yes, the summer is drawing to a close, and while I won’t see students till next week, tomorrow is the first day since early June that I have to haul myself out of bed at an unreasonable time in the morning and and face the commute and everything that comes after it.

Let’s not get anything wrong here; I’m happy to be employed. I genuinely enjoy a lot of my interactions with students, and there are several I like to think I can count as friends since they’ve moved on. I have the benefit of mostly teaching them at the very end of their primary schooling, when they are seniors and have had the time and the education to develop into interesting people.

And yet (of course there’s a but, haha, see what I did there), I am not a man who would, if left to his own devices, choose early rising, a long commute, and the bulk of my day spent away from home. I’d rather be at home, writing, annoying my cats, watching baseball, day drinking, and so forth. Who wouldn’t? Madmen, that’s who.

At any rate, I thought I’d use this to reflect a little on the summer and how much I wrote, what I read, and so forth.

I made my first contact with some authors I should’ve started reading a long time ago, Jack Vance and Elmore Leonard. The former is quite simply required reading if you want to write fantasy fiction (which I do) and the latter the same for crime/noir fiction (which I love, but don’t write). Unfortunately both authors passed away almost immediately after I began reading them. Now I’m a little gun shy when it comes to diving into any other established author for the first time. The rule of three and all that. I read Neil Gaiman’s newest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and thought for the first twenty pages I wasn’t going to like it. I was incorrect in the end, of course, but it was touch and go for a while there. I read and loved Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon and Paul Cornell’s London Falling, though the latter did some harsh things to my beloved West Ham United. The best novel I read this summer was almost certainly Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars, but that’s generally true of any season when a Guy Gavriel Kay novel is published; it’s going to be the best thing I read in that time frame.

I didn’t read very much poetry this summer, which I alternate between feeling bad about and not missing much. I paged through some of my favorites, Stevens and Ivor Gurney mostly, but I tend to do that with Stevens and any one other particular poet fairly often anyway. I certainly didn’t really write any poetry, maybe one or two poems that I sort of began and wandered away from. I’m beginning to wonder, truly wonder, if I have just passed beyond the point where writing poetry is something I care enough about to devote significant time to any longer. This is a pretty significant possible turning point for me, given that I spent 10 years in higher education trying to become a poet, culminating in an M.F.A. I wouldn’t necessarily trade that degree or the experience I had in George Mason’s program, but something in me has just worn away as the years have rolled on from graduating in 2008. Somewhere in the past few years, 2011 seems like a good bet, I decided to choose writing SF/F over writing poetry.

I read quite a lot of great comics this summer, like Fred van Lente’s/Clayton Henry’s always clever, never for-a-panel boring reboot of Archer and Armstrong, Jim Zub’s/Edwin Huang’s glorious Skullkickers, the incredible Brian K Vaughn/Fiona Staples Saga, but probably most of all Matt Fraction’s/David Aja’s Hawkeye. That’s just the surface, of course, with plenty more on the pile every month.

That’s right; I read more comic books than I did poetry this summer. I find myself totally at peace with this choice, and in a future post I might try explaining why.

And how much fiction did I write? Before I began writing today, over eighty thousand words of it. Eighty-three thousand, three hundred and thirty one, to be precise. I often wonder if, given the amount of time available to me in the summer, the number shouldn’t be a great deal higher. Maybe I should’ve spent more time editing/revising the previous novels, but I’d been doing nothing but that from early February, when I finished the second book, to June 14, when I started the third. In that time both of those books certainly got a good deal better, the first especially. But man cannot live on revision alone, especially when another book (and frankly, another set in the same world, though with different characters and ideas in play) is battering to get out of your head, eventually you have to start writing it down or it’ll disappear. I still feel as though eighty thousand words is good progress for a little over two months of work.

Are my books any closer to getting published? Who knows? I sure don’t. At the very beginning of the summer I received an extremely positive agent rejection, which praised the world-building, characters, action, pacing, and exposition, but a rejection is still a rejection. Most of the others have been a good deal less responsive, which is basically to be expected. I’ve gotten more stock replies than I have tailored rejections. Not that I’m going to be deterred by rejection, but it is a little hard to measure whether I’m making progress in the salability of the work, or in how I am presenting it. The entire manuscript of the first novel is with a publisher I queried directly in February, who responded in May asking to read the book. Not a word since, but publishers are busy folk and I will wait as patiently as I am able.

I feel confident that the start of school won’t interrupt my progress on book three, and the subsequent revision of the entire project. I didn’t crash to a halt in the 2011-2012 or 2012-2013 school years. While I’m not likely to be putting up forty thousand words a month while also teaching World Literature and Composition and Creative Writing and whatever else it is I’ll wind up doing this year, but I will keep working at it, keep searching for the figure in the block of stone. What I need to remind myself is that any time spent writing is a net positive, that I need to focus on the part I can control, that being the quality of the work and how I pitch it. I’m not particularly good at focusing only on things I can control (thus, sports fandom). But I think I am pretty good at this writing stuff. Sort of ok, anyway. Passable. Plenty of room to improve. Going to keep at it, anyway.

*Eliot was wrong about myriad things, that’s for sure. Pretty much any time Eliot and Stevens clash, I’m going to be on the side of Stevens. You can keep your “Wasteland,” I’ll be over here reading superior poems like “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” and especially “Esthétique du Mal.”

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Dearth of Posts

January 24, 2011

I make no silly New Year’s Resolutions, but some stuff is happening.

First and foremost, and since both of you who check this blog probably already saw this on Facebook, I have a couple of poems in the debut issue of Floorboard Review.

Beyond that, well I’m working like a dog but some time is making itself apparent, here and there, and I’m going to try and steal it for writing. So watch this space.

Teaching and Poetry

September 28, 2010

Today I told a friend of mine that I really think in order to write effectively, often, and well, I needed to do one of two things:

A: Get out of teaching

B: Stop giving a shit about teaching

He told me that’s not true; that I’m not drawing from the same battery, that I’m just fatigued at the end of the day. I don’t think I agree with that, honestly. To me, teaching English (or writing, comp, rhetoric, lit, whatever you feel like calling it) absolutely draws on the same energy as writing poetry if you’re doing it well. I suppose if you’re teaching in exactly the right situation, that energy becomes a feedback loop of a kind; the teaching actually helps feed the poetry. In my case, though, that clearly isn’t happening, as I’ve written very little of consequence in the past two years and four months, since finishing my MFA. Could it just be fatigue? I suppose it could; I definitely get more active in the summer.

But what I mean is I feel that my teaching, the only way I know how to do it, involves giving not only a great deal of time but a great deal of my creative energy. My teaching is very performative; I am in front of the class, on my feet any time that they aren’t directly working on a test, quiz, or prompt. I am clawing and scratching and tearing and pulling (figuratively speaking) to get them to think. I am talking and joking and projecting not only my voice, but a character that isn’t me so much as it is some guy who will say almost anything to provoke a thoughtful response. I sometimes deliberately make them angry; I say outrageous things to keep them paying attention (I think most of them realize that these are jokes but I am sometimes not sure). I rarely if ever use notes; I let the text we’re working with dictate the discussion we have and sometimes it goes places I am not prepared for, but I’ll go with it. I’ll have notes in the text, sure, but I don’t stand in front of the class and deliver a lecture more than a handful of times in a semester. I don’t think any of this is out of the ordinary for some English teachers, though I definitely had some in the past who just stood up there and spouted the things they wanted us to repeat later.

Hell, come to think of it, I even have props; a yardstick or stick I use to pound my podium or the odd empty desk if I need to grab attention. I throw things (mostly candy, but I always throw new books to the students – carefully. It helps them bond with the new text, I think, when they have to catch it). I even have a ‘costume,’ of a sort; I wear a sportcoat every day no matter how hot it gets in the building; it started as a way to help cover the fact that I was surely sweating through my shirt (my school has no AC and is a brick oven the first two weeks and the last two weeks of any year). Now I can’t teach without it; doing so is unthinkable, because it’s become a noted part of the ‘character’ I ‘play’, and there’s a certain intimidation factor in those first two weeks, as kids are complaining nonstop about the heat and a little awed at the one person in the building wearing a sport coat and a tie.

But the point of this is not to pat myself on the back or explain my teaching style (there are plenty of things I could do better, believe me). The point is, I’m not sure I can keep doing that and write anything worth reading. I get home and my brain is done, my creative centers are fried, my psychic energy is drained. I’ve got nothing left. I can work out; in fact, I crave doing that because I need a physical release. But I want to do anything except write, and of course, there are always papers to grade, as I’m teaching two lit courses and four comp courses at the high school, one college comp course, and I tutor on the weekends online for the same college. This could be part of the problem.

This isn’t just meant to be whiny; plenty of teachers come home and write. Plenty of people with other jobs come home and write good, readable books. I’m genuinely concerned that I can’t keep teaching this way, and hope to have enough of myself left at the end of a day  to write anything worthwhile.

What do you think? Same energy? Same battery? Am I just a whiny punk who needs to shut up and put up (or alternately, give up?) Some way to balance these two? Should I take up pig farming or get a job on a loading dock somewhere?