Tag Archives: Creative Writing

The syllabus I can’t give you.

Inspired by Sonya Huber’s (2014) Shadow Syllabus, written as a free-writing exercise for myself, with an eye to adapting it for use in my writing courses.

  • This is your map for getting an A. You’re the driver, and I call shotgun, making me your navigator. I’ll tell you exactly how to get to where you’re going, but over the lulling hum of your engine, you might have difficulty hearing me.
  • You are guaranteed to get lost.
  • When I was in college, I was always lost. When I reached grad school, I realized being lost is a luxury you will one day lose.
  • There’s this ancient Greek myth, maybe you’ve heard of it, of a hound destined to always catch its prey and a fox destined to never be caught. The paradox of their mutually excluding abilities annoyed Zeus into turning them both into stone, and then into stars, where they continue this fruitless pursuit.
  • I’m sure I bookmarked this reference, so now of course it’s gone, which is a lesson in saving your sources with a citation manager, now.
  • Those who strive for As usually don’t get them, and those who abandon the hunt, in favor of seeking knowledge, of seeing how deep an empty foxhole goes, usually do.
  • You will think it’s easy for me to say this. I don’t have scholarships riding on this. I don’t have families, histories, homes to extend or transcend. But I did, once.
  • “You never had control,” shouts Dr. Ellie Sattler. “That’s the illusion!”
  • Also, that’s the syllabus genre, which is why I’m always, resentfully, retooling mine.

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Consider this a warning.

I want you to know you’re killing me.

You always were. It isn’t news. But assume your postures of defense if you think I’m wrong. Tell me you’re protecting the economically disadvantaged in dire straits, stripped of health care because they can’t afford it, and what could I possibly know about that; and I promise, I promise, I won’t tell you in return how I teach a 4:4 load, tutor four hours a week, do freelance editing, and still have to ration out my doctor visits with a careful hand and weigh the costs of medication against the costs of my next meal. I won’t tell you how before ACA I had to ration physical therapy visits because of lifetime caps per body part and condition, or that I suffered pain like slow implosion for years before accepting a prescription that made life livable, because I couldn’t afford it. I won’t breathe a word about how all the proposed cuts, if I choose to live with them, will leave me with the kind of debt you can’t breathe through, like what ought to take your breath away, but won’t, the knowledge that millions like me or worse are imperiled by you.

Today you’re everywhere with your circle-jerk applause and sound-bite rhetoric you can easily repeat. Some kind of Yes, calm down, you’ll be fine, there are protections in place you know but really, you should know better, you should have taken better care of yourselves, eaten better, exercised more, stayed away from treatments your insurance wouldn’t cover, stopped getting sick, stopped aging, stopped having babies, having sex, moving, breathing, stopped your beating heart, if you knew you couldn’t pay the price.

What’s left that we can afford, but suicide, or murder.

You make it our civic duty to go off our meds and buy guns we’ll gleefully wave at anyone who is or isn’t there. Drown our unwanted in the bathtub like feral kittens. Put our dependents on the streets when they become too expensive. Die at our desks of chronic illness, cancer, heart disease, dementia, stroke, pneumonia, the flu. Decay into our landscapes. Hang ourselves high, where the warlord can see us and count us part of his triumph.

This is what we’re calling the new normal, or at last, a victory. That death is less ruinous than what you propose.

You know who you are. You are the ones who will denounce the above with apoplectic rage, but just tell me how it’s anything else. You know. You aren’t stupid. You exist to be unaccountable. You are the waterproof bandages with which we seal our outcry. You fashion greasy casual nooses and jeer as we walk by, all righteous fury because the world isn’t deepening the divisions you need. White/black. Able/disabled. Rich/poor. Living/not worth keeping alive.

You like it this way.

But we aren’t stupid, either, and we are not resigned. You’ve always been here, knives out and aimed at our guts, but it’s not for nothing that we’ve survived this long. We have learned how to outlast, with all our wits about us, we know that the kingdom you are building to map the heavens is habitable by monsters alone, that the closer you come to this 1:1 reflection the more you reveal that the gods as you spell them are ugly and false. Try to stamp us like cockroaches to primordial ooze, but we’ve always been oarfish, swimming vertically and forever, the messenger you are always killing before we expel even a breath to recount the error of your ways.

There is no heroism in murder.

Wield your signing pen against us like the Reign of Terror’s guillotine, and I promise, I promise, you will breed a nation of dissidents, a pantheon of deities rising from below, where we hail from in all our diversity, too far down the ladder for you to ever grasp.

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“Artistic integrity is a problem for you.”

Dream Log: 8/21/16

If this project were called “creative writing,” I wouldn’t question my instincts. Because it’s called “research,” I constantly feel the oppressive shadow of the Ivory Tower: Western, masculine, rational and orderly, demanding I leave my body and its (feminine, chaotic, threatening) intuition behind if I intend to progress further (Detienne & Vernant, 1974; Wilkinson, 1997; Metta, 2015). But the novelistic attitude and narrative inquiry exist on the same plane as ethnography. The use of fictional tactics like narrative plot, composite characters, and theoretical fiction are less alien to social science than (I think) I’ve been conditioned to think (Ellis, 2004; Gibbs, 2005; Spry, 2011; Smith, 2013). Footnotes and other radical citation forms abound in the writing of authors like Carolyn Ellis, Art Bochner, Anna Gibbs, Phil Smith, Aliza Kolker, etc., all of whom seem to recognize that parentheticals interrupt the narrative experience. The line that keeps recurring in my head is, Artistic integrity is a problem for you, but why does “research” mean I have to resist, or edit, or denigrate the forms that emerge as most effective for any project in question? Like Tanya Wilkinson (1997), who recovers her gut epistemology through dream analysis, I find myself asking all the time, Why can’t I bring my sick woman’s body and its particular brand of metis back?

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“My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.”

Razor Poem

Angela Carter’s words, but I hope my work does the same.

Yesterday I struck my magnet while opening my fridge door and felt it shift like an intruder in my flesh. I’ve only had it for a couple of months, after all. There was no noticeable change in my finger, but my nerves were sounding an alarm so loudly my other arm began sparking too, never mind its dead nerves. It kept me up all night but seems to have resettled, even if it feels a little more magnetically sensitive. I’m not sure I could pick up razor blades before, and paper clips are jumping to my finger across greater distances. All of which has renewed my thinking about the relationships between pain and enhancement/capability. I’m sure it means something that a slight tissue injury on my left arm has reminded the dead tissue in my right arm that it can still speak.

I’ve been playing around with Scrivener, which may be the most beautiful powerhouse of a writing tool I’ve ever come across. Thank you to all the Computers & Writing attendees who recommended it to me! The above image displays some of its organizational functions, along with a poem from the MS I’ve imported into it. Once I get around to Ph.D. work, I imagine it’ll be an incredibly useful tool for writing the proposal and dissertation as well.

In other news, my overly ambitious summer plans include streamlining the MS under submission, drafting my proposal, and teaching two courses, one a hybrid and the other F2F. I’ve also seriously fallen off the self-care boat, as tends to happen when I begin writing creatively, so striking a balance between the two may be a lifelong project starting imminently.

And finally, Computers & Writing, as always, was a fantastic conference. I always attend and present expecting to leave revitalized, and this year my faith was rewarded tenfold. More thoughts about the conference forthcoming, once I’ve digested the experience enough. In the meantime, if you’re curious, you can read all about it via the hashtag #cwcon.

Back to the MS. Hopefully when I’m finished it will ring true to Angela Carter’s words.

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Let’s see you grit those teeth (version Simon)

I realize now I’ve titled these posts by puncher, not by target, when maybe it should have been the other way around. Am I subconsciously thinking of myself as the one capable of administering the blow that brings the other to his senses? I think I always feel more like the target, the one desperately in need of that punch to remind me that things are possible, I am capable, and TMJ notwithstanding I can still grit my teeth. And maybe it’s related to the purpose of this post, that I rely so heavily on narratives as sense-making making devices, as new ways of understanding not only my subject position but also those of others. That I am interested in the semiotics involved in manipulating the cognitive processes that transpire in the space between eye and text object, whether they pertain to our methods of reading and looking or our understandings of visual-verbal combinations: what W. J. T. Mitchell called”image-text” relations–that is, relations between the image and the word: namely, the “imagetext,” or syntheses of visual and verbal elements that accord and/or amplify meaning; the “image/text,” in which the synthesis is dissonant and visual and verbal meanings undermine, contradict, or elide each other (p. 89). This was, after all, my method of analysis in my paper on the simulation of PTSD in the visual-verbal juxtapositions in Gurren Lagann, which in retrospect might have made for a more controlled case study. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Everything else buried with the grout and the blood.

I don’t expect you to know this story.  This boy barely has one.  Typical angry teen, overly competitive, snide, rude, thrilled by the opportunity to flip off the camera, prouder of that than of the buildings he’s destroyed.  He’s arrogant and lazy, like all the others, except he’s surprisingly profound, realistic, and practical behind his ambitions.  The opposite of Nestor-10 and all cute-kid when he grins, almost making me want one.

What’s appealing about a creature that acts its age?  Dead, dying, spread in ceiling divination, I recognize you in all your forms.  Why must I keep looking at your blank face, inserting looks of outrage until I’m out of dimes?  You feign contempt, starved for love, begging to be held, and why is this, always, where I lose my nerve.

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This is not a signifier of race.

She confesses to lilting candyman, candyman before the mirror at dawn, darkness barely lifted from the squat Brooklyn skyline outside the bathroom window.  The window is slim; so is the windowsill.  She’s broken nearly everything she’s placed on it over the years: smoky glass vases veined with yellow, white ceramic soap dishes, magazines and notebooks that plunked into the toilet and drowned.  Now the toilet is drowned in wasps.  The window sash.  The bed.  She imagines soft pulpy patches on the walls, lifts a toothbrush in the morning and its handle is weighted with one, half-dead, or is that half-alive.  Statement, not question.  She is alive looking at it, recognizing its death throes, the power she has over this dangerous, little thing.

She said it, not like the girls in the movie whose breath quickened or who coyly toyed with their Jesus necklaces while their lovers waited in the living room.  There was no rush of wind when she said it, no hook-handed man, no flush of blood, no entrails.  Just the wasps.  She curls over her knees on the toilet, they crawl along her spine like her lover’s hand, million-fingered, legion.  It’s a small thrill, expecting the sting, the wingbeat, the snarly buzz in her ear of a thousand drones who, losing their way, find her.

Her lover is afraid but she isn’t.  She knows that the thing on her pillow, stinger thrust through the whiteness, is curled and spent.  It is Candyman, unraced.  His gory hook, unsexed and removed.  The three black spots on its head, third eyes all of them, all of them blind.  There is a new one there each morning. But it isn’t her eyes they are looking for.

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All of your mirrors shattered.

He is a thousand images to me, none of which move, or speak, or breathe.  I made him this: a shadow posed on the edge of my bed, his eyes demanding a cigarette.  I can’t imagine him whole, always truncated, like we both know his life will be.  Sometimes legless.  Sometimes armless.  Always dependent, wearing his face like a mask, his eyes asking the questions, Where are you going?  Why are you doing this to me?  Don’t you love me anymore?

Before there was blood in his teeth there were words, and I loved them.  In his sports coat and scarf he looked like everything I never wanted.  Over the years we morphed, coming closer and closer to resembling one another, until he was as gaunt-faced as disease had made me, and I was as nonchalant as his expression was, the day we caught sight of each other through the window of Lyric Diner, him outside, watching incredulously as I nursed a coffee and made faces at my own reflection, because I was alone and the coffee was so, so bad.  He tells me he wants to see me again, and I like the way his hair curls over his cheekbone, wishing mine would do that, but he doesn’t know that mine is already falling out in clumps, and maybe that’s what it is, this desire to kill him, not an expression of love but of transfiguration.  The act that will let me become him.  That will quiet my skin at last.

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Haddi-man Declares War.

You don’t know it, he says, but you’re an object to be revered.
He says, I’m going to change the world.
He has seen you at your most vulnerable,
too cold to think, tired,
head stuffed with the mucus of a thousand tears.
He is frustrated too.  He believes
that what lives behind the headaches, the runny nose,
is more precious than agate, the nurturer
of ambitions, the only stone
that clears the foggy path between you and realization.
He insists that you do the talking.  Say
to those who stand in your way, I am not
here for one side or the other; I advocate peace,
something as simple as the basic human right
to live under a roof, to not be shot
in the back of the skull, to not
be raped.  It’s on these people
that Haddi-man is declaring war.
You will cover him with your words
as he waddles into the jungle.  He is large with hope.
Dry your eyes.  He trusts
that when you go out, you transfigure the world
into something full of meaning
that ultimately makes sense.

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