Friday, January 23, 2009

go forth and write. and read. and grade a lot of essays while you're at it.

I started the semester with a terrible attitude. I didn’t feel ready for it to begin. I didn’t write one bit over the break. I was afraid that when school began, I’d suffer from a solid and debilitating case of writer’s block. I had angst over my assistantship, as I’ve been put with a professor who works her assistants to the bone. And the two classes I am taking in addition to my fiction workshop are going to be a whole lot of reading. Have I ever told you that I am a particularly SLOW reader? (Like I am with everything.) All the reading for classes (including keeping up with readings for my assistantship, was adding to my anxiety. For a solid week before school began, I had nightmares every night except one. Negative, negative, negative.

Yesterday, I realized I better turn my frown upside down if I’m going to get through this semester and be a bearable human being. Here is where I am today (and I reserve the right to change my mind).

I actually like the woman for whom I’m working (I’m also working ever so slightly on my grammar habits this semester – notice “for whom” rather than my lazy “who I’m working for”). I bitched and moaned about her all night on Tuesday. But something switched on Thursday. I went to her office before class, and I got the warmest feeling about her. Then I felt I’d misjudged her actions on Tuesday and when we met in December. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that she told me I looked, “chic as usual.” Did she realize that I was a fly who needed some honey?

During class (American Lit from 1865 to the present), I perked up more. My instructor began talking about realism and regionalism, the unifying theme of this course. She covered place as a central theme in American fiction, with the West/California representing the future, the South representing “lost causes” (and I would add, misfits) and the East representing “tradition” and “culture.” I liked that assessment, and it seems true even to this day, across fields. For instance, I still think of the West when I think of anything new and experimental in architecture. My instructor also touched on the importance of dialect in literature when regionalism first emerged. Did she know that dialect is one of my favorite issues to contemplate? I think we are fairly lazy readers today; I also think that we are generally committed to homogenizing the English language in a particularly elitist manner. So when I see dialect, I get excited that people are TRYING to represent a thing as ever changing and organic and, honestly, fun, as spoken language. Isn’t language a constant mutation? Besides, when I'm reading a story, hard as it may be for me to grasp, I still WANT to know what the story sounds like set in Minnesota or Idaho or Amish-country in Ohio. Surely people don't SOUND as they sound to me in Louisiana. Or Texas. I also got excited when it clicked for me (as she lectured) that as regionalism evolved in literature, so did the American landscape architecture profession. The profession began attempting to address issues of urban versus rural, regional design (think Thomas Church and the Prairie style of the Midwest, etc.) parallel to when these issues arose in American literature. These kinds of connections inspire me to listen.

Later, I made a suggestion about her lecture, and to my surprise, she seemed pleased instead of insulted.

I'm not thrilled about the massive amount of grading (20 essays per week), and the essay writing workshops I'll conduct each week. But I'm not heinously frightened of them anymore. It could change.

There is still a lot. But, for my assistantship, I’m forcing myself to read all of the materials that will be covered on the first exam. I have 3 readings left.

For my own classes, I read a novel over the break that I needed to read. And as for the rest of the novels and short stories, I will manage. There is no choice except to manage.

I made a commitment to myself – write new material, and push myself to write more quickly. It doesn’t need to take a full month writing every day to finish a short story draft. This week I picked up a story I’d begun last semester, and I pushed through to give it a middle. Now I’m working my way to the end. It’ll be a sloppy, slobbery first draft, a real mess. But I plan to complete it this weekend. The fear of writer’s block is gone now. Amazing how it came back when I just sat down and began.

This will be a challenging semester on the whole. But I’ll be rewarded with a summer. A whole entire summer. And I’m keeping sane by training for a triathlon. Maybe that in itself is not sane, but it sure helps me FEEL saner.

SONG: Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys

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