Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Pen Made Me Do It

I tend to talk about writing within a somewhat mystical framework. It's a process which isn't always what you expect it to be and somewhat known for going in directions other than the writer planned. Because of this, I'm only half joking when I talk about Voodoo. Writing longhand, especially, lends itself to a magic.

The other day I got a fountain pen. Then, thinking about my goal this month of writing two new stories, I started working on figuring out what I would write.

"We will write poetry," says the pen.

"But, my goal is to write two new stories. I don't have time to write poetry."

"We. Will. Write. Poetry," the pen insists.

"Hey now, I'm the writer here."

"Yes, but I am how you write. I am a fountain pen with a flat nib, and I have the power to change the very look of the letters you write. Notice how cool 'w's look now."

"Alright, you make a good point there. I still have that goal, though."

"You'll get over it. Besides, your most important goal is to write what comes to you, not to just write according to plan. So, aren't you really more obligated to blow off your writing goals than to meet them?"

"Okay, fine. We'll write poetry." So I pull out one of my recycled school notebooks.

"Um, excuse me."

"Now what?"

"We are not writing on that crappy paper. I'm too good for that garbage, and I don't like white paper, it's much too pedestrian."

"It's the only paper I have."

"No it isn't. You got that pack of parchment style paper two years ago and still have most of it. We are going to write on colored parchment style paper."

"Good lord. Okay, are you happy now?"

"Well, we really ought to have colored ink. This black thing isn't working for me. I'm feeling in a red mood today."

After assembling the necessary supplies, I pack up and head for the library. There's an empty table toward the back of the non-fiction shelves. I sit down and pull out my writing gear. "Right, here goes. Red ink. Tan parchment paper. Poetry."

"Great. Now we're going to write about Vikings."

"What do Vikings have to do with anything? You're kidding, right? I mean, really... Vikings?"

"Vikings," the pen insists. "And put one in a coffee shop."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

.8mm Nib

Tonight was a prime example of the whole point of this blog's title. Sometimes you've got to let go of your plan and let something else figure things out on your behalf. Every now and again, it works.

I got a fountain pen today. It's technically for calligraphy (since that was the only way I could find a cheap one). As soon as I had time to try it out, I started a new letter to Camii.

This month my challenge for everyone is to change their writing ritual. My plan was/is to do more longhand writing and to step away from my pre-planned projects.

Since Sunday I've been listening to The Church in my car.

Yesterday I had a Hungry Eye meeting and afterwards gave a ride to someone who talked about her poetry.

A handful of nights ago I had a dream.

In my letter to Camii, I hit a spot where I told her how making the decision to step away from knowing what to write next meant I wasn't really sure what I would write next. I started talking about a possible story idea. Then, I started to tell her about the dream.

On my way home from class tonight, I started to write a poem. All of the things I listed went together and led to the poem, even if I can't exactly explain how all of them fit. Once I got home I grabbed a piece of paper and my fountain pen and wrote out the first draft.

Care to dance?

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Voodoo

Can you believe January has gone by so quickly? I surely can't. Seems like I was just unpacking from Mexico a couple of days ago and here we are, about to embark on February. Well, all right, let's get into it then.

My challenge to you for the following month is to change up your writing routine. Whatever your usual writing ritual may be, it's time to set aside the gravedirt and try something new (or, at least something you're not usually doing now).

Lately, I've been very much in the habit of typing on my computer instead of writing longhand, so this month my focus is going to be using all of these nifty notebooks that I've accumulated and covered with cardstock and and recycled calendar photos. I'm also thinking about acquiring a fountain pen to add some novelty to the month's challenge.

What's your usual writing routine? What could you do to change it?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

January Post-Game

The theme for this month was prioritizing. How'd you do?

Me, I did some careful thinking about the things I do, why I do them, and who I'm doing them for. Over the past few months, certain things have been a bit wobbly for me. After all I spent three and a half years in a relationship with someone I was planning to marry. I developed habits, expectations, etc. that were a reflection of that relationship. Then, from one day to the next, that relationship dissolved, leaving me to do a lot of rethinking.

Within the past month or so, I think most of that wobbliness has finally grown steady. Along with that growing steadiness has come a growing certainty about the need to change some things. Most of those changes are personal, so I'm not going to go into detail. (See? I haven't lost all of my mystery.)

Writing-wise, I'm moving away from having so much of an audience. A funny thing to say, given that I've got this blog and that I've already promised a few people that they get to read The Tree Story once I've finished the draft. But, I'm probably not going to submit to the group this coming month and I don't know if I'll ever show the latest story to everyone. This isn't a negative reflection on them, but right now they're not who I'm writing for.

The thesis has been knocked down one priority notch (and knowing I have until next fall to complete it helps take the pressure off) and Oracle has been officially sidelined. I don't have anything specific that I want to write instead, but I want to open myself up to having my next story be whatever strikes me vs. something specific. I need to spend some time writing simply because it's fun, and the rest of it gets to be on hold for now.

Well, enough about me. What about you? Have you made any changes and/or decisions to change this month? Any realizations?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bar Pages: Almost Done With the Nearly Titled Story

I took myself and my notebook out to the bar tonight and finished The Tree Story. I finally figured out the technical part of it and got through the end. It doesn't quite work yet, but I figure I can fix a lot as I transcribe it onto the computer. So, even though the story is complete, it's not really finished yet as a rough draft. I was aiming to submit it tomorrow, but it's going to have to wait.

Getting out of the house with my notebook has been nice. It's a good rhythm for me right now and it helps to have that designated time set aside where I just have writing to focus on without thoughts of homework from my classes, planning for Comp., or any of the dozen other distractions I have at home.

Writing at the bar also provides entertainment for bystanders. Tonight I was asked by half a dozen people how I could write in the midst of all the activity. I'm just one of those people who works well with background noise. My earliest writing habits were developed while I was in middle school and working on a story in the midst of a lecture, so I'm used to it.

I also had a request from a couple of regulars/friends of mine to read the story once I get it typed up. Having "civilians" read my work actually makes me more nervous than having other writerly folk read it. All I can figure is that, with other writers, I know approximately what to expect. Their comments may be critical, but I know what direction they're coming from.

Now I've just got to type it all up, fix it, and decide whether or not the title is going to have "Madeline" in it. Piece of cake.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Coffee Shop Pages

Yesterday, over an hour and a half or so, I got a little over three handwritten pages and pushed through the middle of The Tree Story. I wrote until I hit the point where the ending started, then called it a day. I've got a part in the middle that I might have to research a bit to get a fix on, but on the whole it's workable.

I don't know if I'll get it finished in time for the group on Sunday, but I'm nearly there. If nothing else, I'll just e-mail it to Jenny The Taskmaster. Now, if only I could get a clear bead on the title, I'd really be in good shape. Maybe, if I name it after the song...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Problem With Computers

I've been making progress on The Tree Story, but once I got past the first bit, my progress slowed right down. I've got the beginning, I've got the ending, I just need to get the middle. Today is one of my "weekend" days, and thus, a day I planned on being productive. I've got my To Do list, and one of the items on it is to forge on through the middle part of the story.

I turned on my computer, pulled up the file, and checked my e-mail, did a round of the blogs, fiddled with Pandora, checked my campus e-mail in case a student wanted to get a hold of me, etc. etc. Time I've been on the computer: 2 hours. Words I've added to the story: 0.

Yes, I'm working on a hard part, but I also know that the way to tackle the problem is just that, to tackle it. I have to write through it, I have to start getting momentum. Or, I could check my e-mail again and see if my friend has replied yet. I've reached the conclusion that it's time for me to print out what I've got so far of The Tree Story, turn off my computer, and go do some coffee shop pages.

Whatever else can be said in the typing vs. handwriting debate, there is one undeniable fact: You can't waste time checking your e-mail (or updating your blog) if all you've got is a paper notebook and pen.

Heath Ledger as Fiction

"Is that it? Am I done?"
-Doyle, Angel season one

The big news this week is Heath Ledger's death. Along with that big news is a lot of conversation about our various reactions to the news.

One one hand, we have the camp that says, "Yes, it's sad, but many people die all the time and very few of them ever get the same kind of press coverage."

On the other, we have the camp that says, "Holy crap, I'm gonna miss him."

Neither camp has ever met him, talked to him, or known him in the context that you know the people you work with, see on the streets, or are related to. Yet, a lot of people care that he's gone. What gives?

In all reality, Heath Ledger's death is, for most people, the same as the death of a fictional character in a well-liked novel, TV series, etc. Ledger fans have been watching him for years now, following the news about his personal life, going to the theater to catch his latest movie, hoping that his career will continue going strong... then, suddenly he's dead. All that investment is suddenly not going to pay off.

Now, take a show like Angel. *Warning, spoilers*
In the first episode we meet Doyle. He's instantly likeable, but with plenty of personal obstacles to work out. It takes about five minutes to get invested in this character and start hoping that things will work out for him. Then, mid-way through the first season, suddenly and without warning, he dies. If you were at all invested, you probably got mad. And yet, you never knew him as a real person. He doesn't even exist as a real person. So, why should you care if he's dead?

In short, those who are affected by Heath Ledger's death have a lot in common with those who were affected by Doyle's death. It's all about investing in a character.

By saying this, I don't mean to make light of the fact that Ledger was a real person who had real friends and real family who are just beginning to grieve. I am saying that I never met him. I can't treat his death the same way I would treat the death of someone I know, simply because the actual impact he's had on my life is identical to the impact a fictional character has. For all practical purposes, he's fiction to me. Still, I'm sad to see him go, just as I was pissed as hell that Joss killed Doyle.

To sum up, I'm bummed about his death because I feel cheated not to get more of that character.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Camera Angles

1st person, 3rd person omniscient, 3rd person limited... This is how we talk about P.O.V.

Yet, it's not exactly a thorough description of how we write a story. Say we tell a story in 3rd person limited. There's still a lot of different ways to write that perspective, even if we're limiting ourselves to one person's point of view. I think of it in terms of camera angles. Have you listened to any good DVD commentary lately? A director can film the exact same scene a number of ways and through the use of camera angles and the closeness of the shot, emphasize a dozen different things.

In the story I'm working on right now, the P.O.V. is third person limited and I'm envisioning it almost all in close shots. Perspectives where you close right in on the character and the background is just that, the setting is less important than what his hands are doing. There's not much extra space in this story.

Now I'm curious, what other kinds of non-writing analogies do you have for describing the perspective and/or atmosphere/mood of a piece of writing?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Listen While You Work

I'm on a music theme lately, and thought I'd share a website I just discovered: AccuRadio I'm still testing it out, but already it has certain advantages over Playlist - namely, the Celtic Rock station offers more of the obscure stuff, like Seven Nations. Right now I'm listening to a live version of "All You People." Nifty.

Had trouble with AccuRadio repeating songs that had just played, so I did a quick Google search and found Pandora. I think it promises to be cooler, and there's science behind it, too. You start with a band or a song and the site analyzes it. Then they pick more songs to play which share traits with the one you started with. It's called the music genome. Pretty nifty so far.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Story Kung Fu

When we talk about writing, we talk a lot about technique and certain rules, like avoiding adverbs. Less often, we talk about instinct. Maybe we talk about it less because it's more along the lines of talent - you can't really teach it.

Today I'm working some more on the story I don't have a name for yet. This time the lack of title isn't bothering me, I think because I'm substituting title with that painting. This story, like An Ocean Kind of Blue makes sense in my mind through images just as much as through words, so I'm still grounded, even without the title.

As I'm typing, I'm going slow, which means spending time focusing on details: the sound of sharpening a razor, a song being hummed, skinning an eel. I finished a paragraph and paused. These details are coming out as much on their own as through conscious thought from me. The question is, why these details? It's the unconscious part of me slipping them in, working to build a certain kind of tone. How effective it is waits to be seen, but that's not the part I'm interested in right now. The interesting part is the instinctive part that says, "Describe sharpening the razor as a whisper." When I add the details together, I can see exactly what my intentions are with them, but it's not until I can add them together that I get the picture of what I'm working toward. It just kind of happened that I started describing things a certain way.

A funny thing happens when we write. It's got a bit of dissociative personality about it. You write with one mind thinking things through logically: to get from point A to point D, we're going to hit point B, then point C is going to be this... Then, we have our second mind sneaking things in while we're not looking. That second mind is the instinct part, the part that's been paying attention while we read our favorite novels, stories, poems and taking notes.

Remember the Kung Fu movies where the Sensei tells the student that a good fighter doesn't watch for where the next strike is coming from, they sense it. Then the Sensei blindfolds the student and we get a montage that starts out funny because the student keeps getting hit, then they slowly get the hang of it and we get a bit of slow motion and end on the blindfolded student expertly blocking a blow.

The moral of the story: Watch out for those unplanned bits that creep into your writing, sometimes you're smarter than you think you are.

Now, with that said, I'm assuming you've got an example or two of your own. So, tell me, what's your favorite example of your inner blindfolded Kung Fu master? When's the last time you looked over something you'd written and had that moment of "Wow, that was a brilliant accident! I didn't know I was that smart"?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Like Rick Said

"Week one's over and we're still alive."

So, I've gone a week as a TA and I'm starting to relax a bit. Each day I write up notes about what I want to cover in class and how (now that there are groups, there's another layer to the how). I type them up all pretty-like and print them out, then I re-read and add handwritten notes. After class I go back over and add more notes to reflect what actually happened in class, and so goes my running record of each day. Turns out these will be handy for Katherine's class (Teaching College Composition, the supplementary TA class) because she wants weekly teaching logs. It's nice when things work out like that.

Today, as everyone trickled in, I told them to find their group. Yup, I'm doing groups. Here's the quick version of how I'm doing them:
Groups are home-base for students, they're the four/five people each student is going to be spending the most time with in class. Whenever we do small group discussions, peer review, etc., these are the groups students will be working in. My plan is to have the same groups for the whole semester, though that's not a hard and fast plan. There's also a grade component that goes into groups, though not in the way most group work works. Basically, it only factors in on the big papers. If everybody in the group gets a base grade of X, then each person in the group gets X points added to their grade. If the group doesn't meet that base grade, then each person just gets their own grade on that paper. In short, the grade component can only help students, never hurt them.

The class spent a lot of time in their groups today, and a little bit of time as a class. The beautiful thing is since I made them talk in groups first (and everybody has to talk while they're doing groups) they were much more comfortable talking while in the class group. I only had to pick on someone once, it was great.

End of week one. I know everyone's names. I have a plan. My first couple of experiments have gone all right or well. It's been a good week.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

When I Wasn't Looking

Now that I've accidentally spent so much time on a fiction hiatus, Jenny has mandated that I write something this month. Thus, tonight, I'm working on transcribing a story I started writing in a notebook some months ago.

Usually, when I transfer something from notebook to computer, I'm pretty literal about it. I prop up my notebook and type up what I wrote in it (save whatever editorial changes I make while I'm going). Well, this is one of those stories that's stayed pretty clear in my mind. I have an image of the setting and of the first scene that's clear enough to be a photograph on my wall. So, when I sat down tonight to start transcribing, I didn't look so closely at my notebook. I just started from that painting in my mind and how I remember the story starting.

I typed the first two paragraphs without looking at my notebook, then I paused to see where I was compared to what I had written in pen. I had to look twice, because what I had typed was so different from what I had written. The jist was the same - a guy digging a hole at the roots of a tree with red leaves - but everything else had changed, the description, a couple of details about exactly what was happening, even who was in the scene had changed.

Some time, when I wasn't looking, the story had moved. When I first started writing it, I hit a point I couldn't get past, which is why I set it aside for a while. Now, two typed paragraphs in, and the landscape has changed, potentially already resolving some of the trouble I had the first time.

Blind rewrites are beautiful. While this one isn't going to be strictly blind, I'm already off to a good blind-folded start.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Letter 1 Responses

Today I collected the first writings from the class and I started reading them during my office hours. I was a bit anxious to see how they'd turn out, and I'm so pleased to see that they're exactly what I was hoping for.

Wanna talk metafiction? Or, metawriting, anyhow? I ask them to say, in writing, how they write. One student in particular grabbed right onto that by saying, I like to write in X format, which I've written this letter in. It's very curious to have people say, in writing, what their writing is like.

These letters are particularly helpful since I'm splitting the class into groups on Friday. The groups are going to be assigned, and I'd already made a couple of notes about potential groups, and now I get to add to that knowledge of who has which strengths so I can put them together with others who don't necessarily have that strength to increase the possibility of different students rubbing off on each other. It's great fun.

Monday, January 14, 2008

MWF, 10:00-11:50

Today was the day. I was anxious about taking care of everything I needed to on campus before class started, so I got here at eight thirty. By nine I had all my copies made and I was ready. That just left me with a good forty five minutes of waiting.

Now I'm doing my first office hours, which I've scheduled for right after class. Yup, I've gone, I've met my students, and I'm about half way toward knowing everyone's names. As I expected, the first class was tough, but now I'm through it and have a better idea of how the second class ought to go.

Here's an interesting part - During class I had everybody go around and answer some questions. While most people said things along the lines of what we've talked about in Katherine's class, it was fascinating to hear it from real live people.

Q: What's the point of Comp. 101?
A: To make us write better (I should have asked "what does 'better' mean?" Most looked like they weren't sure).

Q: What are your reading and writing habits?
A: I read the newspaper and online articles (with a couple of novels and one autobiography thrown in). I write when I have to for school (with a couple of MySpace bulletins, or poetry).
-So, a lot of people who read while doing other things and who read only short pieces. Also a lot of people who aren't invested in writing (no surprise there).

Q: What's been your past experience with writing instruction?
A: [Canned writing program]
Q: And how did you like it?
A: It was useless/I like knowing exactly what to do.

The best part was, as each person commented, I could relate to what they were saying. One student talked about the standard five paragraph format and how it's forced, sometimes two supports work better than three. In tenth grade I wrote my big research paper with two supports instead of three and my teacher made me redo it. I did, but I was never convinced that it made sense to the paper.

The questions were my favorite part of the class. My whole aim is this idea of having a dialogue about writing, and the questions helped get that started. The student who wasn't impressed by the five paragraph essay gave an excellent segue to me saying that I'm not concerned with whether or not a paper is in five paragraphs, but rather that the format fits what they're saying.

Well, the class has my first letter and I have a general feel for the students. Let's see how Wednesday goes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Letter #1

Whew. That was tough.

Looking at my plan for the semester, I can trace a number of instructors I've had who I'm borrowing from. To start off the semester, I'm borrowing from David and getting things going with a letter. The idea is pretty simple: I write a letter to the students and they reply to it. I'm handing out letter one tomorrow, which means it needs to be written and copied out before I even meet the students it's addressed to. A bit strange, I've got to say. Strange, and tough. I've been trying to write the letter all day, wrestling with what to say and how to say it. In two pages, I'm setting a tone for the whole semester. No pressure, now.

All right, now that the letter's done, it's time to get everything else in order. On a side note, one of my favorite things about the beginning of the semester is the obligation to play with office supplies whilst getting all my essential papers and such organized. I harbor a suspicion that one of the reasons people become English majors and/or writers is because we have a great fondness for binders. Now I've just got to find an excuse for using some of those plastic page protectors and I'm set.

Minimalism At Its Best

I just read, though maybe "read" isn't quite the right word, a fantastic book. Its construction is infinitely simple - there's almost no text at all, but a ton of photographs.

Taken from around the world, the photos are divided into sections with neutral titles like "Footwear" and loaded titles like "Modesty." Brilliant.

The photos themselves are incredible because they show such a broad spectrum of clothing and insinuate a lot about cultural values. Take, for instance, a photograph of five or so women standing on a patch of dirt with half a dozen sheep nearby. They're all dressed in black burkas that cover everything... except their white stiletto heels.

If you can find it, find it. It's well worth your time.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tall, Dark and Handsome

Today's post comes from having recently read Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff, which I enthusiastically recommend to anyone because it's great.

We all spend time describing what our characters look like. Their height, their build, their eye and hair color, the length of their fingers, the presence of a scar and so on. Chances are the more important a character is, the more defined their physical appearance is to you as a writer.

The characters most vivid in my mind are those from Oracle. They're also the characters I know the best and have spent the most time with. After envisioning them for so long, I can't imagine they could ever have looked differently than they do. I've been thinking about their appearances and what kinds of things I'm saying, both intentionally and not, about the character because of how they look.

So far, the one that strikes me the most is one who gets killed. In my mind she's always been a really slender gal with white-blonde hair and incredibly fair skin. Using Etcoff, the character's slim build and fairness are both indicators of youth (and therefore innocence) since a mature woman's figure is typically more filled in, and a woman's skin actually darkens when she has children. This character is also one of the few who remains a relative innocent.

For a quick run-down of some of the information from the book, check out this link.

While there's a lot more to a character's physical appearance than just how masculine or feminine they are, feminine or masculine traits have a lot of sway over how we perceive a character (just as they have a lot to do with how we perceive the people we see in real life). Have you ever stopped to think how a novel or movie would change if the main character had stronger feminine facial features? Stronger masculine features? Take a minute to picture a character you've created, pick your favorite. Got a clear mental image? Now, wherever your character lands on the masculine/feminine scale, imagine their features changed to more strongly reflect the other end of the scale. Hold that image and put the made-over character back in the story from which they came. Awkward fit?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Assignment 1: Artifacts and Culture

"My main difference is that while Jason puts language and material objects (artifacts) in two separate groups, I've put them together in the larger category of artifact, because language is just as man-made as anything else, and as such, it is an artifact just as much as a ancient scroll is. In class I plan to discuss the definition of artifact and why I consider language to be an artifact. However, I'm a little worried that it might be confusing to students. What are your thoughts?"
-Me, to Katherine and Rick

I just sent off my first formal assignment write-up to Katherine and Rick. It's neat to have it written out, and although much of it is borrowed from someone else, it's an assignment which pulls from my undergrad. anthropology background, so I feel confident about doing it with my class.

My question, as stated above, mostly is the question of how big a role that anthropology background should have in my Composition class. The Comp. program at the university is based in Social Constructivist theory, i.e. nobody writes in a vacuum and everybody is influenced by culture, so there's some room for anthropology. It's just a matter of finding the right balance. Thank goodness for being able to ask Katherine. She's hard core Comp. and an excellent guide for what'll work and what'll flop in class.

Meanwhile, what do you guys think?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Shoulda Been a Cowboy/girl

I've been craving country music lately, and I just found Playlist. I've spent far too much time already, searching for more and more songs to add to an ever-growing number of playlists. Thus far, my country playlist is the only one that's "complete," so I thought I'd share it with y'all on my sidebar. It's been great to dig up some bands/singers from a few years ago who're fantastic, but not so popular any more - Blackhawk, anyone?

Once again, I noticed that my tastes run decidedly along masculine lines. All of the songs I compiled are sung by guys, and only part of that was intentional (after I had most of them and realized what was going on, I figured I might as well see it through).

More importantly, playing with music reminded me of something. I used to have arguments with my dad when I was in middle school because I turned the radio on while I did my homework. He believed I needed quiet to concentrate, and in reality, silence was what distracted me.

When you're writing, or doing anything else where you're concentrating, do you need quiet? Or, do you find that you work best with background noise? If you need background noise, what works best for you?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Calling it "Totem"

"An animal, plant, or natural object serving among certain tribal or traditional peoples as the emblem of a clan or family and sometimes revered as its founder, ancestor, or guardian."
-American Heritage Dictionary

Right now, Jenny's thinking about the title for her novel and titles in general. Okay, I can springboard off of that.

"But wait, didn't you just write a post about discovering the title for your thesis?"

You got me there. Still, I feel prompted to write more about it. Sue me.

One of Jenny's questions about FJR is negotiating the balance between having a title that she likes and having one that everybody else likes. It raises another question - what's the purpose of a title? On one hand, you have a title so that people can call it something more specific than "the story about the guy who..." On the other, titles work as a key to the piece. They help readers unlock it.

Then, too, there are writers who use the title as a guide for what they're writing. For me, titles are less about creating and more about discovering. My main question for myself when I title something is, "What's the single most important part of this piece?" Once I have that question answered, I not only know where my title will come from, I also have a clearer picture of what the story needs to do. This means I know how I should write it, or how I should revise it, in order to make it do what I want it to. Put metaphorically, with the way I write, titles are like the totems for my pieces. The symbollic guide.

For now, the working title for my thesis is Totem, not so much because I'm set on that being the final title, but because it clarifies my goal for me. The idea of a totem is one thing that anchors the pieces I'm most sure will be in my thesis. It starts with Albatross and ends up some place I haven't figured out yet, but my line of sight is getting clearer. Finding the right title is like adjusting the focus on a set of binoculars, it takes some fiddling, but it helps make what you're seeing clearer.

Now, this isn't to say that once I have the title down, the rest of the story is suddenly fixed. If that were the case, this whole writing gig would be much too easy. However, I find that if I don't have a title for the piece, I have a terrible time pegging it down. Without a title that clicks, I have no guide.

Monday, January 7, 2008

So Much For Being a Slacker

Katherine read my syllabus and Assignment 1 course calendar (i.e. 1st four weeks) made notes, and sent them back. Now I've got revisions to make on those documents, and I've got to make them pretty quick since classes start next week.

Also in preparation, I'm taking a brief class on Wednesday about how to do things on Blackboard as an instructor. Blackboard is the university's online platform (or whatever the right word for it is) that lets instructors put up things like assignment guides, notes, reference materials, and discussion forums for use in class. It's pretty cool, in all honesty, and now I'll be able to structure it for my class. I just have to learn how, first.

I also have books to buy for the class I'll be taking. Scottish literature. I'm not incredibly excited. Though, I noticed that one of the books will be Trainspotting, so that could be cool. Now if only the bookstore would have the books, we'd really be in business.

Then, to top it all off, Jenny just told me I have to write something this month.

*Sigh* I guess that about does it for wearing PJs all day and doing little beside watch TV, read, and play with glass. Ah well, all good things must come to an end.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

January Doldrums? Bar Book?

I just got off from the bar about an hour ago and I'm not quite unwound enough to try to sleep. My hope was to make the rounds and catch up on everybody's blog. Imagine my disappointment in finding out that nobody's updated lately. What slackers!

It seems the only way I can catch up on the latest blog updates is by updating my own. So unfair.

A month or so ago, one of the bar regulars told me I ought to write a book about the bar. I must admit, the thought intrigues me. Thanks to my new habit of jotting down notes and quotes during my shifts, I've accumulated over a dozen pages of material already and I can't help but think that there must be some way to assemble it all into something. I wonder... is it a non-fiction book? I could compile all the quotes and divide them into sections titled things like, "Unclear on the Concept" and "Gender Politics."

Maybe I ought to sit down with Juan and tell him I've decided to throw out my original thesis plan and replace it with the bar book. It'd be rather more humorous and significantly less bloody.

Joking aside, I'm beginning to think more seriously about the bar book, if simply because it would be gratifying to put it all together in writing. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Naming the Thesis

My thesis is providing entertainment for many people I know, with frequent questions regarding what it's about, how it's going, etc. A few people have read some of the stories which will be included in the thesis. They've commented on the bird theme. Heck, one of the stories is titled Albatross after all. Jenny's even proposed titles like Pieces of Birds for the thesis.

All this time looking for a unifying element, and could it really be just that easy? Granted, there are some stories I've originally planned to include in the thesis which have no avians in them at all, but that'll work itself out one way or another.

I was just cruising some of my favorite bead-related blogs, and read this post by Luann Udell. In it, she mentions finding inspiration in different images of horses. She's got a horse theme going for her, guiding her even? As we know, I've got a bird theme going for me.

I once had a conversation with a woman named Tempest about how my creative totem/guide is an American Kestrel, a falcon which has long been one of my favorites - I admit one of my reasons for liking them is their small size which, at 5' 2", I identify with.

Now I'm wondering whether or not Totem, or something like that, would work as a thesis title. In Albatross and Strong Heart, my two solidly bird-related stories, the idea of bird as guide fits well. I also like the idea of the fairy tale tie-in, with the principle of the magical guide and the fact that those guides were often animals.

It might work.

From Jane: Blind Rewrites

"Often, the key to a good rewrite is a clean new page."
-Jane Espenson

One revision strategy I'm sometimes fond of is a blind rewrite. While I was reading Jane Espenson's blog today, I read this post from a couple of days ago.

Now, when I tell people to do a blind rewrite, I can start tellling them that Jane thinks they ought to, too. And who's going to argue with that? Ha! (Right, I know, wishful thinking - people will always argue - but, I'm trying to be optimistic here).

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It's In Writing

Of all the things I've ever written, a syllabus and the first chunk of my course calendar are among those that have left me feeling strange. Suddenly this teaching gig is much more real and concrete. I now know that on Wednesday, January 23 I'll be talking to my class about essays by James Clifford and Stephen Greenblatt, and assigning them MySpace as homework.

So, I've got the rough drafts of my syllabus and calendar (January 14-February 8th) off to Katherine who'll make notes on it and send it back. A couple of revisions later and bingo-bango, I've got the first four weeks of my class. Far out.

I think what I've got so far will be fun. I'm leaning on another professor's first formal paper to guide my first few weeks, and he titled it "My Language, My stuff, and My Culture." We're diving right into some anthropological stuff here, i.e. my undergrad. minor, so I feel pretty comfortable with it. I can even bring in some pictures of ethnic tattoos and talk about scarification. Hoorah!

I Hereby Resolve To...

Now's the time for everybody to make their lists, decide to do something new and improved with their lives, and look optimistically forward to how much better things will be once they develop that new habit of keeping up with washing the dishes. Were I resolving things, that would be near the top of my list. Oh dirty dishes, how you do accumulate.

"What's that? You're not making resolutions?"

No, dear reader, I am not. While I love Jenny's approach of making resolutions by building on your existing accomplishments and accentuating the positive, I will be offering no list of my own.

I can't imagine planning out my whole year all at once, after all I even break down my monthly goals into weeks. Also, the idea of resolutions implies a certain knowledge of what one hopes to accomplish in the new year. My priorities are still in the midst of changing and I don't know that what they are now will match next week. In short, this whole grand plan thing overwhelms me. So, instead of making myself accountable to New Years Resolutions, I'm going to substitute with January's monthly challenge.

Last month I had big plans for being incredibly productive and for revising things. Those plans fell through in a big way and I didn't hit most of my goals. Whups. However, I did spend some quality time relaxing and letting myself decompress from a demanding schedule of graduate classes and two jobs. I didn't get those revisions done, but I regained some personal balance, perspective, etc.

For this month, I'm making it my goal to do a bit more decompressing, have a bit more fun, and think hard on my priorities. I keep doing and committing to do things, and I am no longer sure why they are important to me. Going out of the country took me oh-so-many miles away from all of my usual responsibilities and gave me a few days to experience what my life would be like without them. I've got to say, it emphasized the need to cut back. I'm now more certain than ever that quitting my waitressing job this year is the right thing to do. So, check one off the list.

My challenge to you is to take some time this month and evaluate. What do you do in your daily life? Why do you do it? Where do your obligations come from? How many come from you? How many come from external forces? If you had to name the one thing in your life that is most important to you, what would it be? Why is it so imporant to you? Are you currently giving it the time it deserves? What is the one least important thing to you? Is there any way to eliminate it? What is something about your life which you are really happy with? Is there any way to expand on it? What is the most stressful part of your life? How can you eliminate it/make it less stressful? How are your personal relationships doing?

The list could go on, but I think you get the idea. Alternately, here's the short version: What's important to you? Why? Is that a good reason? Do you want/need to make changes in relation to this important thing?

Take out some paper if you want, or open a new Excel spreadsheet if that's what you're into. Get as technical as you like (you can even assign numerical values to things if that's what gets you going). Or, write nothing down and just think about it. Start now, take your time, let it all percolate over the course of the month. Come January 31 we'll see where we are.