Finishing up a particularly rough semester. Spending the last few days finishing up student publication editing as well as grading portfolios. Still have a few more hours of math and grade finalizing. Always amazed at just how much work we complete at my community college in writing and lit courses. Ready for a trip to NYC and the Latino Book Awards as well as more time as a student in Sergio Troncoso’s workshop at the Yale Writers Conference.
Prepping to discuss Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale tomorrow in my Lit 111 course. We’ll discuss more dystopian elements, feminism and watch some scenes from the film adaptation.
Prepping a lecture on Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States, post-strucuralist analysis and Christopher Columbus. But I’m lazy and probably going to rely on Robert Wuhl’s Assume the Position.
On Tuesday I had the fortune of attending a private screening of the inspirational documentary film I am a Visitor in Your World . The film was about Rebecca Babcock, a young writer and blogger diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 25. The film was a poignant account of her life and struggles and Rebecca’s story was so affecting. I liked the idea that her poetry from her blog was used as voiceover.
After the film there was a Q and A regarding the editing, cinematography and the music used in the film as well as commentary from Rebecca’s mother, Mary. The DVD is currently available at the filmmaker’s website.
Working my way through Sergio Troncoso’s list of suggested Latino authors. I began with Troncoso’s novel From This Wicked Patch of Dust and moved on to Daniel Chacón’s collection of short stories Unending Rooms. This has been a long week of grading final composition and literature portfolios so finding the time to read has been difficult. I’ve been reading late at night and early in the mornings. In many ways I’ve been willing it. The professor I share office space with asked me just today, “How do you find the time?”
And I found the answer in the book itself. Chacón writes:
What if the way we read a book is the way we live our lives? If we can’t stand the reading and are always looking at the bottom of the page, toward the end of the chapter, counting how many pages until the end of the book, surely we must live life the same way, impatient with a walk in the city or with sitting in a garden, waiting only to arrive, never to be. (81)
And this week I wanted to be the person who focuses and reads to escape to explore other possibilities but also to enjoy and understand–to complete. And in many ways I wanted to escape my students’ term papers and my own grading rubrics for some fictive spaces. It’s been a long-term.
And Chacón’s book came at the right time as many of his stories in this fine collection involve fictive spaces—alternate realities of the mind and place we are awoken to and also spaces we find ourselves trapped. But also spaces we can escape.
Chacón also writes: “Reading should be like entering different rooms of a house, creating walls that rise up around you and then dissolve into a mountain range or a tree on a hill” (230). These stories are well crafted and Borges-esque. I particularly enjoyed the Epilogue: Borges and The Xican@. I felt this story or essay or whatever one wants to call it is where I felt closest to the author and empathized with the experience. I also enjoyed the Meta aspect of the story and was fascinated as the author, the character/persona of Danny and Borges himself wrangled over the aesthetic at play in the book.
More for high school teachers but Facebook and Twitter have become necessities for professional writers.
The second essay from the book Bringing the Devil to His Knees is Jim Shepard’s “I Know Myself Real Well. That is the Problem.” And I haven’t read Robert Stone’s short story Helping in years but I can perhaps see beginning the intro to creative writing fiction course with this one–also I can see assigning Helping along with the essay.
I enjoyed rereading and looking at what my younger self underlined. Back at Oregon State I seemed to be taken with the lines: “It’s not our task, though, to save our characters, however adorable we secretly find them. We should not, in other words, be afraid to withhold consolation.”
I couldn’t help think of the latest version of my story Juanita’s Boys–a story about Lolo’s Tio shunned from his mother’s funeral and how the story ends with him losing at the dog track and crying at the mexican drive in movies after realizing something about the day. A real downer. And I worry that my stories end with character’s failing or revealing delusions and maybe it was from reading Shepard’s essay and so many of Stone’s short stories. Or maybe I just know my family real well. And I’m reminded of the idea that wisdom just never seems to stick to me because I seem to make similar mistakes and Shepard reminds that this is a sign of humanity so important to fiction and believable characters. He goes on to write that what our characters want and need and what they are waiting for is not always the best thing for them. Characters, as in Stone’s Helping, are constantly undermining themselves and revealing their delusions–reaching epiphany and then forgetting which Shepard states is a truer display of humanity than learning a lesson. Shepard writes of Stone’s characters: “We get an unfolding of the mystery of self destructiveness…but not its resolution.” Great stuff.
Perhaps if I begin here with Stone and Shepard I won’t end up with such nice, neat and on-the-noise stories in workshop–and maybe fewer vampire stories–and replace them with messier and more human conflicts.
Here are some of the ideas we discussed in Amy Hempel’s Fiction 2 Workshop. First, we discussed concerns we have as writers: gaps in stories/transitions, plot (I brought this one up along with a few others), over explaining, implying, use of third person narration, openings and closings and also subtlety of language.
And I am pretty cynical about workshops and “direction” from other writers but the campus is quiet and green and I guess I am lightening up a bit because I actually took some notes and wrote down many of the authors she suggested to read.
She also gave us a ‘to do’ list:
1. Watch this Youtube video: PJ Harvey–”You Said Something”
The lesson here is that sometimes central mystery is key to a piece of writing.
2. Read this essay by Gary Lutz–”The Sentence is a Lonely Place”
The lesson here is to appreciate language and the sound of language.
3. Read this Sharon Olds poem–After 37 Years My Mother Apologizes for My Childhood
4. Read this story by Mark Richard–”Strays”
Amy Hempel explained how central elements of story converge but three important elements dog, home and boy are all introduced in first sentence.
4.5. Try to write this week. Two pages to one of these prompts: 1. Moment of giving forgiveness or not giving forgiveness; or a moment when you were not given forgiveness. 2. A moment of being blindsided. 3. A moment of collision between illusion and reality.
I also put some of her quotes down in my notebook:
Story=event of what someone wants
Careful of writing situation but not yet story. Also it is more important who is in situation rather than situation.
Try to figure a story where characters whose ideas beliefs desires stand as opposed but both right…
Story can be event versus effect. Read “Miriam” by Truman Copote as example of story creating effect rather than giving event.
Some random quotes:
“You are trying to be listened to.”
“Get yourself on the paper quickly.”
“Do something right in the small and the large will take care of itself.”
“Who is in the situation is more important than the situation.”
Place: “What happens here and nowhere else.” “Details too good to fact check.”
After meeting with Amy Hempel I have many more new books to read and study. She gave me this quote I put in my notebook on whether or not to worry about writing about family or real persons: “Show it to them when it is published.”
Also here is one of my favorite quotes from on of her lectures. Quote from Amy Hempel lecture: “If you think of fiction as just another made up thing, then you might as well put a gun in your mouth.”