Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's All Fun and Games Until....

It's all fun and games until something has to be graded.

I love what I do.  I love my students, I love my campuses, I love my subject.  I even (mostly) love getting up and going to work in the morning.

Most days, I can't believe I actually get paid for hanging out in the coffee shop, talking with students about their ideas, as is the format of conference weeks, which just ended Monday.  Those days, its all lattes and literature and spirited conversation.  It's fun.

But, like an unfortunate amount of this world's frivolity, there's a looming dark side; mine was in the form of a virtual ream of paper sitting in the literal blackness of the bottom on my bag--under the table, out of sight, but not quite mind. Report papers, of varying length, content, and quality: all awaiting my undivided attention.

Have I mentioned that I hate grading?  How I despise ferreting out misplaced modifiers and AWOL thesis statements? How long and exhausting and generally disappointing it all is?

I had meant to stick with my tried and true "5 a day" format which gets my 45 papers done in a painless, timely manner.  Trouble was--as it has been for the past few rounds of papers--I haven't had the time or gumption to look at even a single paper on a given day in the past two plus weeks.  As the days passed, the pile became more uncomfortable to think about, more worrisome to ponder. Like a mob boss after a hit, I wanted to toss my bag of paper skeletons into the fresh cement of one of our many campus construction sites, but I knew I had nowhere to run.  Regular class resumes tomorrow and I move operations from the campus Starbucks back to class.  And the students are expecting their papers.  As of this writing 2/3 of the papers--2 out of my three classes-- have been evaluated.

The other class is going to be silenced with donut holes and coffee and mollified with an extension on their next paper: due Friday. Because I have to do something to stop the gushing flow of ink before I drown.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Cotton ready for harvest in NC

Garden Spider who lived in my beans and squash for about a month

The Minister

U1 Library

Outside our favorite Elizabeth City coffeehouse bar near U2
back yard spider web

Switchfoot show at U2

The Minister at The Cure coffeehouse in Norfolk

Just a typical Elizabeth City scene

Saturday, November 09, 2013

An RWL Fashion Alert

Disclaimer:  Runningwithletters isn’t a fashion blog.  It’s highly suggested that readers familiarize themselves with the dingy t-shirt confessional, the feminine liner sweat guards, the episode with the New York pants and the ill-fated clothing swap before acting on any advice offered herein. 

Blah, blah, all right, with the requisite legalese out of the way, let’s get to my exciting fashion reveal. 

I have an excellent lead on a major fashion trend set to hit the U.S. around February. I’ve decided to get on the cutting edge of this one, and, in the spirit or sharing and good will, I’m passing the tip on to my readers just in time for holiday gift giving. 

Regular readers are likely looking for a punch line, but this is a case of straight-up reportage.  Around mid-winter, I predict women everywhere will be sporting arm cuffs like these:

The Baker wearing a vintage find

The reason?  Downtown Abbey’s track record of sparking interest in vintage fashion combined with the fact that on a Season 4 episode that aired in England in October, Lady Edith wore a smart, sassy gold arm band that looked like this:

(Photobombing courtesy of  The Baker) 

If this trend does take off?  Remember you heard it here first!  On the other hand, if you stock up for Christmas and it turns out to be a no-go this post will have vanished inexplicably from the interwebs and we'll all just pretend this never happened.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The View from The Bubble

“They really like you, Brad,” I informed my husband, “as a character.  They want more of you.”

“Dad did well in the focus group, huh?” The Baker chimed in.

“Do I get paid?” my husband asked, hopefully.

“Since when do you get paid for being a character in my stories?” I retorted.

I went on to explain that my fellow MFA workshoppers and our leader, Dan, made special note of how genuine and realistic Brad came across in his scenes from the essays I’d submitted for my evening in the bubble.

I was heartened that he played well, because, let’s face it, dialogue is tough and when a writer hears they nailed it, it’s always good news.  I was also glad they liked him because he is wonderful, and that means that I did my job with characterization, too.  But what meant the most was that it meant that I was able to be funny without making fun.

I also discovered that the workshop, as a whole, really seems to be warming up to my genre.  As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, they’ve not had a class clown in the entire history of the program.  In a sea of biographies, travelogues, and other meaty works, no one was expecting a comic. 

Of course, it’s never all roses and chocolate inside the bubble—although Dan provided me with a tootsie pop upon my arrival to, you know, keep me quiet.  The group discussed my controversial habit of capitalizing Important Things for emphasis, the pros and cons of my darker hypochondria jokes, and whether or not my witticisms would wear thin over the course of an entire manuscript.  The was even a section where they tried to decipher a cryptically worded scene and somehow decided that a woman was levitating over padded chairs at church—which is NOT at all what happened.  I nearly choked on my tootsie pop, offering a strong clue that they’d gotten the scene all wrong.

Most of the time, I imagined I was at a book club featuring my book, hot off the press.  It was so exciting to watch people grappling over the text, trying to derive the true meaning of my words and--levitating parishioner aside—getting it right most of the time!

I have been thinking today about one workshopper’s comment.  She was  musing over my overarching theme of being a frustrated writer.  “It’s no wonder she doesn’t get any writing done,” she said.  “She’s got all of these interests—gets all excited about something, and the next chapter it’s something else.  I think she could make a whole them out of that,” she said.

It amazed me to have someone see through me so thoroughly, based only on just a couple essays.  It’s good news, because I communicated my character—but it’s bad news, too, because she’s right.  If I stuck to my work, I’d have my book in print by now. 

But part of it is knowing what to stick to.  Writing isn’t a liner career path.  Some days I feel like my best shot is to simply live and amass experience.  A week later, I think sending queries to agents is the trick, but a couple rejections in, I think it best to work on my local news story and hope the AP takes notice. 

I think everyone’s path is different, but I think it’s time that I find one and walk it long enough to give it time to work.  After all, Brad is waiting to get his check for being a great character.  I can’t let him down. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Warning: Visible Crack. Help Needed.

At the suggestion of my pastor, i am showing some crack today.

In a memorable moment in this past Sunday’s sermon, Pastor Tom discussed the merits of people showing their cracks.  To be fair, he was actually recounting another sermon when he repeatedly used the unfortunate word choice while making a life metaphor concerning a lovely but broken piece of pottery.  Situations like these are why I love Pastor Tom.

Personally, I couldn’t be any more pleased that crack-flashing is spiritually sound, as the cracks at my house are of such a size they are becoming impossible to hide.  So much is falling through the canyon-sized fissures: a ream of student papers, ungraded, all my socks and underwear, keys, wallets, library books, even digital data like emails and picture files.

I’ve never been able to keep it all together, really.  Several months ago I posted a call for applications on facebook.  In clear, inviting language, I announced that I had openings for maids, a cook, butler, chauffeur, under butler, and footmen…especially footmen.  To my surprise, no one responded, not even the unemployed teens among my circle of friends.  Evidently no one is interested in an entry-level position as a footman. The sparse comments simply stated the terse observation that I was watching too much Downton Abbey.  As if that was the only issue.

Honestly, it would take the combined efforts of a whole full time staff of professionals to keep my show in order. I spent a good chunk of the wee hours dealing with racing thoughts springing from my evening in the bubble and worries over whether or not some particularly crisp photos of my garden spider had been mistakenly deleted.  I awoke from a fitful half sleep at pre-dawn and was vaguely concerned as to why the head of a Renaissance statue was in my bed.

You can totally see the head, right??

I was surprisingly calm at the thought of a Cellini or a Michelangelo in my bed and I began to wonder if I should replace the under butler position in favor of an in-house shrink.  I then realized I was sleeping with some creatively bungled laundry that fell through the cracks and onto my bed. Having now displayed my crack and the resulting dirty laundry, I am now in search of a spiritual cleanse and a laundry room attendant.  Interested parties may apply through Facebook.

Ok--so I've showed my crack, now you show yours...(that's the way it works, right?)  What's unseemly in your corner of the earth?

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Recent Analysis: I Write Like a mini Corey Doctorow, Oscar Wilde, or my Husky Audrey

It’s my turn to go into the bubble tonight and it could get interesting.

“The bubble” is MFA speak for everyone in the room discussing your work while you remain completely inert.

If post-class commentary is any indicator, my first bubble experience went exceedingly well.  The prevailing sentiment was that I am freaking hilarious, although with a penchant toward going “over the top" and relying on endings that “over-state their case.”

Part of me thinks it’s their loss and part of me worries.

“You’re the only one in the program who has ever attempted to do this,” prof Dan Not His Real Name explained.

Overall, that’s not really great news, because the humorous-yet-meaningful essay concept of isn’t original.  What it says to me is that no one in the program knows the genre.  We’ve already established the fact that I’ve read entirely different books than the rest of the cadre.  Which means my literary “teachers”—writers like Robert Fulgham and Lori Notaro—are complete strangers to those who will be coaching me toward what I dream could be my eventual success in the genre.

But I’m also left to wonder if, perhaps in a world where political unrest, financial crisis, and natural disaster demand the attention of our best minds, even-- perhaps especially-- our scribes, there’s not much need for observations from the back of the fridge, or other tiny little specks on the globe.

Tonight’s bubble experience will be further complicated by the fact that, due to a formatting error (I forgot to double space) I accidently sent twice as much material as requested.  Further analysis revealed the possibility probability that I sent a less-than-thoroughly edited rendition of the text, thereby increasing the likelihood for spirited discussion, and an riveting experience within the bubble.  I figure it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being a fly on the wall.

Note: an email came in from Dan, mid-post composition, asking the workshoppers to go to plug in a few sentences of our work to determine which famous author we are most like.  I sampled 4 pieces of text—two were my most recent blog posts) and discovered that I’m a mini Corey Doctorow.  Or perhaps Oscar Wilde.  Maybe Margaret Alwood.  Or, who knows, Stephanie Meyer. It’s just as likely that I emulate my Husky, Audrey, who has a strong voice—prone to all manner of prolonged ululations—but not very good at communicating her intended meaning. Take your pick.  

And this piece evidently harkens of nineteenth century horror icon:

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!


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