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Teach Me To Be Less Taught

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                A while back, I had written a post in defense of being schooled in creative writing. Of course, this was early in my college career and I lacked a certain level of maturity. Now, I realize that all of you who are not trained, who do not go to school for it, who just sit back and write, you are blessed.

                You do not have to be surrounded by people who tell you that you’re wrong for doing something a little differently. I write linearly. I find it easier to think and plan and know where I have come from and where I am going with a particular piece of writing (whether it’s a short story or a novel). However, at my school, they are vehement supporters of the “write whatever is pulling at your heartstrings this moment and piece it back together later.” I struggle with this and, as a result, end up writing almost three times as much as my classmates since I have to write the whole of a piece, not just segments to turn in (unless I’m letting myself be in the mindset that I call, “play time,” in which case, I can do whatever they want but what I produce doesn’t matter, it’s just practice).

                I know that, once I’m in the professional sphere, it won’t matter how I go about writing, just that I produce quality work within the given deadline. Yet, for some unknown reason, when I happen to mention the way I write, my instructors look at me, aghast, and I feel ostracized from a community in which I should feel welcome.

                You are also not surrounded by people who make petty judgments about you because you’ve identified yourself as this sort of writer or that sort of writer. True, when you enter into the publishing sphere, there’s judgment, but at that point, you can basically say, “Well, such-and-such editor thought my work was good enough to fight for its publication, so *stick tongue out* nyah.” Okay, you’ll probably be a little more mature about it than that, but you get my point.

                At school, I am very much the outsider, the unwanted, because I happen to identify my work as genre. Honestly, I don’t give a flying toot anymore what it gets classified as, I just find the shorthand term easier than trying to explain what it is that I write. Unfortunately, the vast majority of my instructors have never read a “genre” book in their lives and so think that, for example, fantasy means scantily clad barbarians killing monsters or that science fiction is laser gun battles on Mars when anyone who’s ever read any “genre” can tell you that it’s more than just that, it’s a complicated field of books that have sub-fields and sub-sub-fields, each catering to a different kind of reader and, within that, an individual book catering to the personality of the writer seeking their audience with a story they must tell.

                And while you may have fellow writers around you who are immature and rather cruel at times, you don’t get a whole frickin’ department of insecure, cruel young adults who see everyone around them as potential competition and so therefore must rip their neighbor to shreds in order to make them feel good about themselves and remove their fellow writers from the field of combat even when, for the love of all that’s holy and unholy, you’re not even in the same field! Hell, you’re not even in the same country.

                I envy you, self-trained writer working in solitude with maybe a writing group and an online forum. I want to be you again and not have to put up with all this shit anymore. I miss not feeling endless anxiety and fear, not being terrified to read my work aloud lest it get pissed on by my instructors, not constantly questioning my worth as a writer and as a human being. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of this stress. I want to love writing again.

                Oh self-taught writer, teach me how? I fear I have forgotten.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Why a Lack of Communication Rather Hurts

I know I rarely update this thing anymore and it’s fallen a bit by the wayside, but I need space to rant for a few minutes and if I continue this subject with my family, they’ll disown me. I’m kind of hoping that by venting to the internet, I’ll get my equilibrium back.

I am frankly rather frustrated and lost with this directed study I’m taking. The teacher—who will go unnamed, as they are a published and well-known author in certain circles and I have no desire to burn bridges I haven’t built yet—clearly knows what she’s talking about. Her critiques are concise, to the point, and almost always applicable (and usually, when they aren’t, it was because we were on two different pages and hadn’t communicated). I’ve had a number of major breakthroughs in tightening my story and fixing the plot in just the few weeks I’ve been taking this course. I’ve learned loads about writing effective one page synopsizes. She clearly has so much to offer, so much I can learn from.

The only problem is, she’s utterly unapproachable. See, with directed studies, usually, the student and teacher meet in person for the first class or have met before in a prior class. There are goals and ground rules and a relationship that’s built before the class really starts rolling. In my case, this didn’t happen and probably never will. I’ve never taken any of this particular instructor’s classes before. I’ve never met her at school functions. I’ve only talked to one other student who had taken her class before and said student had an awful experience, probably because she was a Freshman at the time and the course she took was more advanced. The teacher and I have never had a one-on-one conversation until the third week of the course and that was after I crawled, whining, to the administrator who set up the directed study for me.

I was confused. I still am confused.

I had thought this class was going to be an in-person thing. When I found out it was going to be completely online, I’d already been registered for it and it went through all hunky-dory (though really late. I’m in week 4 of the directed study. The school semester is almost in week 6). The last online course I took, I had to go into the hospital for an MS relapse due to the frickin’ stress it caused me. I do not work well online, mostly because I can’t read the other person’s expression. Words lie. Words without a face lie even more so than words in-person.

So I have no idea how I’m supposed to take what she says most of the time. I ask for clarification, I get terse replies. Or at least, they seem terse. I ask for help, I either get instructed to look at Google or a very brief answer that tends to leave me with more questions than answers. It also doesn’t help that all her critiques are written in all-caps. I know, she’s of the Baby Boomer generation and, to them, all caps is a way of delineating her replies from my work. However, to my generation, all-caps means you’re screaming. Loudly. And angrily. It takes a few reads through and constantly reminding myself that this is supposed to be neutral feedback to properly process what she’s written. It also doesn’t help that she appears to be one of these people who only points out the mistakes; if it’s not highlighted, it’s good. Assume no comments means good feedback. At least, I think that’s what she’s doing.

She doesn’t strike me as someone I can converse with in order to learn more. There are so many questions that are only tangentially related to the subject matter but still, I’d love some answers to them, but I fear I can’t ask such things because the questions I do ask, I either get no-nonsense, do-not-reply replies or these vague messages that leave me feeling adrift. Our brief phone conversation didn’t leave much answered either, as she mostly just turned my fears and  concerns back on me and made it sound like, by the end, that this was my failing and had nothing to do with her. Which, honestly, felt more accusatory than the short emails.

I suppose the big issue is that I feel like I’m inconveniencing her with my existence. That I’m a waste of her time and space. And, yeah, maybe I am but, damn it, I’m paying out the ass for this shit! Or, at least, my mother is. I want to be able to say at the end of this course that I honestly learned something, and I keep feeling like there’s all this unattainable value to it but I can’t quite grab it because we aren’t talking. Not really talking. I know it’s a business relationship to her but I’d really like to be taught here, thank you.

Frankly, I don’t think I’d be struggling half as much with this if she were my editor and had accepted me through the typical system of query/sample/full MS request. If it were a relationship like that, I’d know I’d been chosen because I had value and that the critique, though harsh, is meant to make my book a great book not just a decent book. However, because I petitioned her, fought for the class, and am currently paying for it, I have no reassurance whatsoever that my project is worth the words that go into it. If anything, the more I work on it, the more often I doubt it and fear it’s a dud project that ought to be scrapped. And, fuck me if it doesn’t fill me with such an euphoric experience of joy to work on it that it’s something akin to a drug. If I didn’t feel so good when I wrote it, I would’ve trashed it ages ago.

It’s just, I kinda wish I could talk to her, you know? Maybe if I could talk—actually, really talk—I wouldn’t feel like shit whenever I read her emails. Currently, I’ve got a relationship with a faceless, voiceless stream of words on a screen that could be telling me I’m good, could be telling me to give up and go home, I have no idea.

I also don’t think she knows emoticons. This would be so much easier with a goddamn emoticon here and there. 

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

When, In A Way, You Talk To Yourself

Across time.

Earlier this month, I was doing body work on my car and decided to tackle the massive rust spot along the bottom of my left fender. Long story short, while sanding down the worst part of the rust, my sander plunged through, putting a large hole in my fender (the only thing holding it together was the paint). Now, I could buy a new fender, but I’ve been struggling with feeling good about my writing, so decided to challenge myself: no new fender until I can pay for it with money from a story sale.

Currently, I have one story out but won’t get an answer for it for another three months so I went spelunking in my “to be revised” pile of stories. One called “Shadow Talk” turned out to be the closest to publishable, so I did a read-through for last minute editing before printing it out.

Turns out, I wrote therapy for myself half a year in advance. See, I’ve been struggling namely with my book, feeling that it’s lifeless, the plot is stupid, the characters suck, my ideas are crap, the voice has changed irreparably and I’m not sure I like it–you know, the usual novel anxieties. In this story, a writer who is struggling with her lifeless book and procrastination ends up having to come to terms with what’s giving her stress (namely, her book).

Sound familiar?

Anyway, it was funny to read through this and find I’d written all my fears and anxieties down as fiction BEFORE I had any fears and anxieties, and then I got to have myself tell me to shut up, sit down, and fall in love with writing again, you lazy-assed excuse for a writer.

Okay, I wasn’t that mean to myself, but still, it was good to reread this. It also reminded me that, yes, I actually CAN write and not every word I put down on paper is inherently shit because it came from my hands (which is what I’ve been feeling for about two months now). It just needs a bit of polishing and cover letter.

So what’s the moral of this story? Don’t wait to do body work on your car “when you have the time.” Rust does a number on fenders if you let it go for a few years.

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Photo: http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/23546686.jpg
 
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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Life In General, Writing

 

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Tickets, Tickets, Tickets, Get Your Tickets Here

Chicago-parking-tickets

In my whole driving career (of maybe three years), I’ve probably gotten 20 tickets by now. Speeding tickets, you ask? Blowing through a red light? Parking in a driveway or something?

Nope. With the exception of accidently pissing off a state police officer by driving at the speed limit on an expressway, this plethora of tickets comes because of street cleaning.

For some unknown reason, those who dictate Chicago ordinance, law, and regulations have decided that street cleaning must occur on every street in the city at least once a month, and sometimes twice. If you are so much as two minutes late moving your car–hell, even if you are in the goddamn car!–you are ticketed $50-$60. The ticketing people actually park their cars down the block and wait. Once it goes past 9AM, they ticket your car and, supposedly, the moment they type anything in (even if the ticket isn’t printed), it can’t be taken back. In addition, they don’t always post enough signs nor post signs in easy to see places (you’d still get a ticket if they only posted signs on one half of the block and you couldn’t physically see a sign because of tree cover or whatever).

Let’s just say you got a ticket but you have photographed proof that the sign had been tampered with. Let’s say you send these photos in with a statement that you couldn’t have seen the sign in the first place. Would you get out of the ticket?

No. I’m of the opinion no one ever reads these things. Or if they do, they just skim them to stamp them with “Ticket stands” or whatever. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone in the past year who has had a ticket forgiven.

It’s just getting ridiculous. I’m a safe driver. The two accidents I’ve been in were caused by someone else being stupid and hitting me (neither of which, I note, ended in tickets or arrests or otherwise, no matter the damage to my car because of law-loopholes involving parking lots). But I’m human. This morning, I moved my car at 9:04 because I was home sick with that damn headcold everyone is getting and got up late. I’d have moved the car a few minutes earlier if I could just find my damn shoes (and put them on the right way around). Even at nine-fucking-four in the morning, they’d already ticketed me and left (excuse the language, but I’m a bit angry).

I have my suspicions about who’s doing this. The city supposedly has no money, right? But has anyone higher up in the bureaucracy chain taken a pay-cut? You bet your ass, they haven’t. So how to get more money to pay for the city expenses? Oh, I know! Set the street cleaning to overtime and ticket everyone who parks there! And never mind about being remotely human and forgiving people when they’ve got a damn good reason, all we’re after is their money! As if they don’t pay enough already to drive on the city streets ($100), renew their license plates ($175), pay for toll roads ($1), and pay for parking ($4-$24 an hour) on a yearly and daily basis!

This summer, my mother had gotten ticketed for leaving her car parked outside in front of our house on a street cleaning day while we struggling to get our ailing, arthritic dog inside the house (and yes, that dog died less than a week later, and yes, he had to be carried into the house from the car). $60.

Last year, I got ticketed for the first time and took photographs showing how the sign had been tampered with. $60.

Last November, my mother’s car broke down and she took it to our (old) mechanic, who parked it on a side-road rather than in his garage. It got ticketed TWICE for being in a no-park zone. $120. A piece. (the mechanic paid nothing and said it was our responsibility).

So yeah, there’s a little part of me who’s wishing really damn hard our government shuts down today, if only to sit back and laugh as the country crumbles because, dammit, I really don’t want it saved right now.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Life In General

 

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Sleepy Hollow

Was awesome! Yeah, I know, it’s completely silly, and there’s a few moments I didn’t quite buy but that doesn’t matter. It made me laugh and filled me with feelings of “This is epic,” so I’m sold.

Favorite line is by far, “That building used to be a livery stable.” “Now it’s a Starbucks.” “That building is also a Starbucks. [...] How many are there?” “Per block?” [...] “Is there a law?”

Favorite line, I’m sure, for next week is, “A ten percent tax on bake goods!” “So?” “The revolution was started over a two percent tax!”

Yes, it’s true. I’m easily sold. And no, I don’t just watch TV. Okay, yes, I mostly watch TV. And do homework. 

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Remodeling Wonders (Or Maybe Woes?)

I now have official proof that I wasn’t just a strange and…well, the nice way to put it is “head strong” child, but I appear to have had some deep-seated hatred toward my bedroom walls.

I’m gutting the space that was once my bedroom and turning it into a workspace/library/walk-in closet (basically, everything that went in my bedroom without a bed). I removed those old posters that I’d been collecting since 7th grade when I was obsessed with dragons, keen on putting up some artwork I bought while on vacation this summer.

‘Lo and behold, beneath those posters, not only are there scribblings in both pencil and pen (and charcoal, in some cases) but there’s holes in the plaster from god knows how many times I decided to put up shelves but didn’t know how to use a level. Rows of holes, stacks of holes, holes sitting by their lonesome and I have no idea why I put them in my walls. In addition to holes, there’s a space in the corner where it looks like I took wood glue and glued shelves to my walls. Glued. I have absolutely no idea how to get that gunk off! I’ve got weird symbols drawn in chalk running along my door frame. I removed a picture of a bunch of wolves and found some kind of glyph underneath drawn in what might have been charcoal, might’ve been a graphite stick. The chalk came off easy, but the charcoal seems fused with the paint and no amount of scrubbing will remove it.

While, yes, the sentimental part of me goes, “Oh, look! I wrote/drew/inscribed my life on my walls!” and is reveling in nostaligia, the more practical part of me says, “That’s great, but it looks like I decided to have shooting practice in here with a BB gun and piss-poor aim. Also, am I supposed to chip the wood glue off or get some kind of glue remover?”

True, if I hadn’t done all that as a kid, I wouldn’t now know how to put up shelves or do the small-time handiwork I can, and I am grateful I know these skills since now I can just go and buy the supplies I need to fix this crap myself and I don’t need to hire someone, but godwhy? Why did I do this damage to my walls? And why, why, why did my parents let me be stupid head strong enough to do it? I’m still trying to figure out how to get those plastic screw-mounts out that I seem to have driven in with a hammer and possibly used the wood glue on to secure!

Now I’m off to go buy some spackle and find out how to get pen off light-colored walls…

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Summer Just Appeared

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Yep, as of 3:17PM, my car’s thermostat registered the outside temperature as 100*F exactly. Summer has just manifested out of nowhere. Actually, I think summer appeared over this weekend. On Saturday, I heard my first cicada of the season (which bodes ill, as it’s the 17-year uprising of cicadas).

Boom. Summer.

Image Credit: http://voices.mydesert.com/2013/06/16/cool-things-for-kids-to-do-during-the-hot-summer-months/
 
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Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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