Friday, October 31, 2008

A Bit Unfair, Methinks?

From the new post at the Good Letters blog:
It’s hard to find people making bigger fools of themselves than those who blather about how they fill a piece of paper with something that came out their heads.
Yeah, of course there's a type of writer who's like this, but I'm getting tired of all those out there in the writing world who seem to me to spend an awful lot of time--shall we say blathering on (usually in written form)--about the kinds of writers they don't like, and lump all the others in with them.

Yes, as Harmon states accurately, idolization of one's writing output is not a good thing to do, and I do think it's a danger for anyone who writes, particularly those who write full-time. But, as Mark Terry pointed out recently on his blog, being a full-time writer is like auditioning for jobs all the time, and is about as stable as the stock market. That sort of constant evaluation is bound to make some people a wee little bit insecure from time to time (as someone who's had to adjust in the last few years from once-a-year employee evaluation to constant grading of what I write, I can certainly relate to the pressure of evaluation). Can't we have a bit of compassion and understanding here, as Lindsey Crittenden recently suggested?

And really, must those (such as Harmon) complaining about the types of writers they don't like work so hard to encourage negative stereotypes of full-time writers and lump all writing groups and writing communities in with them? Being a full-time writer and writing out of delight are not necessarily exclusive of one another, anymore than having a full-time job is likely to give one a good sense of perspective on life (as Harmon implies). (Furthermore, I wonder why we as a society see teachers, who are constantly sharing their opinions and creative output orally, as a self-effacing group, whereas writers are automatically seen as narcissistic for doing the same thing in a written form.)

I don't know, maybe I'm just blathering on. :) What do you guys think?

BTW, I found my writing mojo--it was under a pile of transcripts on my desk at school, of all places. Here's hoping it doesn't slither off again before my pile o' writing gets done this weekend...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lost: One Mojo

I've been looking for it everywhere. I'm really hoping it didn't get left on the train or in a hotel room in California. Anyone seen it (my mojo, that is)? I definitely need it for the weekend--I have about fifteen pages of term and conference papers to cohere, one twenty-page paper to revise, and one creative non-fiction essay-like article to write between Friday night and the wee hours after the end of Saturday Night Live (which I better not be watching this week).

We'll call it, not the three-day novel or NaNoWriMo, but the day-and-a-half pile o' non-fiction, academic and otherwise, I've got to write. (Titles are everything, no?) Anyway, once this is done, I'm hoping to plow into some novel manuscript re-writes during the rest of November. But I have have have to get this done first.

So it's important that I find this mojo by tomorrow noon. Please let me know if you happen upon it somewhere (and feel free to heckle me throughout the next couple of days if I'm not getting the writing done)...

Oh, and for someone who's been reading archival theory (i.e., reflections on the preservation and loss of our pasts) all semester, this book reviewed by Gregory Wolfe over at Good Letters intrigues me. Alright, to school, to school...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

There and Back Again: A Grad Student's Tale

I'm back in Indiana, back at school this morning, and my mood has changed (upwards) about 104% since I left. The thing is, somewhere on the grounds of that beautiful library, perhaps as I was discovering fascinating things in the manuscript I was looking at (working on a project I enjoy, of my own choosing), I remembered why I wanted to keep on with this grad school thing when my MA was over. I remembered what I love about it.

And so I'm back to work now, and much more enthusiastic about my semester. Actually excited to write papers and articles and to read them... Woohoo! Yup, seems a little time away doing something you love from time to time can be an immeasurable help in reminding you why you're taking on this crazy writing life in the first place.

Especially if it's somewhere warm.

Oh, and before I go, I wanted to share this from Friday's Good Letters post (which I missed because I was gone:
The spiritual life and the creative life both depend on conjuring something out of nothing. Or perhaps I should say “nothing,” because the void only presents the unimaginable until we’re in it. There’s nothing “fun” about it, though the results can be enjoyable.
The thing is, I think there is something "fun" about it sometimes--just not all the time. Sometimes one must be reminded of the joy in it, though, to get through those rough patches. This weekend I had a glimpse of the joy of conjuring again, and for that I'm grateful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zen and the Art of (Public) Transportation

Okay, so I don't believe in the whole Zen thing, but the title still gets at what I'd like to talk about, and a good part of I like to travel so much.

And I do like it. Despite the feeling that your skin is layered in some sort of film by the end of the day, despite unidentified foot-long smudges your jeans pick up somehow, somewhere, along the the way, despite the delays and the frustrations and the missteps, and the tired back and feet and the required watchfulness over one's ambulatory possessions, I appreciate travel, particularly that by public transportation (though as my friends know, I also wouldn't slam the door in the face of a good road trip that came calling--Alaska, anyone?).

Of course, public transportation is time-consuming and I'd be annoyed with it if I had to do it everyday (witness my driving to school), but on vacation, my writerly self quite enjoys it for three reasons:
  1. Serendipity. Although I've been traveling "alone" this weekend, I've never lacked for companionship. Airports, airplanes, and trains are fabulous breeding grounds (liminal spaces, some academics would say) for fabulous conversations. I've certainly experienced that this weekend. Beyond giving me good material, this stretches me and reminds a girl who spends a ton of time beyond a computer screen that there are other people out there. Sure, there was one ride where the person was a bit too much of a chatterbox, but forbearing is part of being part of community, and I like that public spaces are spaces where I get to exercise my community muscles.

  2. Eavesdropping. This wouldn't work for academic research, but for my creative writing self, public transportation is a great place to overhear conversations of people, keeping my ear open for interesting types of dialects and bits of characterization through dialogue. Besides, sometimes overhearing on public transport is inescapable, so one might as well keep its useful purposes in mind. :)

  3. A Step toward Peace. Sure, if I did this on a regular basis, I would feel the need to be fully productive during my public transport time, but this same liminality, disjointedness from what's come before and the place you're going to, is a great space to relax and allow one's brain to calm down, to either give oneself space to dig into a book deeply without so many distractions or just to be still, to stare. As Eliot put it so well, that point when "an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations / And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence" (Four Quartets, "East Coker") can be a jumping-off point into that stillness, that listening mode, that in my everyday life I can be so bad at. That point from which both prayer and writing can grow so well.
And that, I think, is at the heart of why, despite the hours and hours spent moving around this weekend, I can go home retaining a level of stillness and a measure of refreshment, ready to plunge back into the page and the screen. (Of course, remind my jetlagged self of that Wednesday morning when I have to get up early and go to school after a final day of buses and airports and airplanes tomorrow.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lions, Tigers, and Huntington Library Squirrels, Oh My...

So since I've been out here in California, I've been noticing that the squirrels out here act differently than the creepy ones at Purdue--at least the ones on the grounds of the Huntington Library, Museum, and Botanical Gardens, where I've been given the privilege of reading a select number of rare manuscripts for a few days. Seriously, I've never seen squirrels acting with this much confidence before. These squirrels are awesome.

The thing is, I'm convinced it's their environment. See, the grounds of the Huntington mix together a whole range of different kinds of these amazing environments for these squirrels to play in. They can go hang out in the desert for awhile, then go play in the jungle garden before hopping over to the Australian outback...

I'm pretty sure that, surrounded by all these big, fancy plants with very few other animals around, they've convinced themselves they're really lions, tigers, monkeys, and/or kangaroos in squirrel bodies.

Yup, that's right, folks. I'm feeling a Wizard-of-Oz-like story coming on... ("If the squirrels were king of the forest...")

(I may possibly be a little giddy from spending a day outside in the beautiful weather in gorgeous gardens. Tomorrow, back to the Huntington reading room, which is quite nice, too--all the nicer that the research is going well. Then, way too soon, back to Indiana fall weather and the-semester-as-usual. But I'll go back refreshed by this change of venue and by how much I've learned here. And when I need a spurt of courage, I'll remember the Huntington squirrels.)

Writing life tip of the day: Go to new places from time to time. And watch the squirrels.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Thrill of the (Paper) Chase: A Documentary Romance

Take One: Bodleian Library, Oxford, England, 1997. Deborah, on a jaunt during her Semester in England, stands chafing at the polite barricades keeping her from the stacks of the Bodleian library in Oxford. Later, when I heard that there were 16th century books stacked up in corners within the library's depths, I felt my heart beat a bit more quickly, and I was jealous of those who had permissions to go in.

Take Two:
Morgan library, New York, 2006. Deborah, on a pre-thesis-on-Thoreau-and-Eliot jaunt to New York with slightly-impatient friends, stands and copies down the information she can glean from the behind-glass pages of one of Thoreau's journals while steaming up the glass in front of them with her breath. Earlier, having had the usual visitor's look-but-don't-touch access to the amazing three-story library room, she wondered whether any of those enticing books were getting read, but by no means felt qualified to figure out whether she could do so.

Take Three: Huntington Library, San Marino, 2008. (This coming Saturday, to be exact.) Armed with the knowledge I've learned in my Archival Theory and Practice class, I know much more, and therefore, having filled out all the necessary paperwork and been granted limited access, I will walk in, show my ID, receive my reader's permit and the three documents I've been given access to, and be able to actually page through them for hours. Sweet victory!

Still, if this is a romance, it will be more like a conjugal visit in prison than anything else--I'm not allowed to take any bags or pens into the reading room, only paper, pencils, and a laptop. I had to tell them exact days that I would be there so I could get access to these materials. If I want photocopies I will need to fill out a form at the end of the visit. All of these specifications...

From the midst of my archival theory and practice class, I understand the need for such precautions--after all, it's important to keep these things in good condition for their preservation. All the same, I find it fascinating that the metaphor I keep coming up against is visiting these documents in prison. I suppose, though, another metaphor would be that of going through all the checks to become a day-long visitor to the White House, to see some of the parts people rarely see on tour. That's probably a more apt metaphor, really, because it is quite a privilege.

And I am looking forward to looking at these documents, making friends with them and seeing whether this pen pal relationship of ours will blossom into something more, maybe even a dissertation chapter. No matter whether this particular documentary flame sparks or fizzles, I'm thankful that takes 4, 5, and 6 are likely to be even happier scenarios. That's important, as I'll likely need to do this down the road again, in both my academic and non-academic writing (historical fiction or non-fiction alike).

As GI Joe used to say in the cartoon of my youth, "knowing is half the battle."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What to Read, What to Read

So yesterday both Mark Terry and Terry Whalin posted about reading the kinds of books you gravitate to, and then writing those kinds of books. I find this a fascinating concept that's probably true, to a certain degree. But I'd like to point out that reading entirely different kinds of books than the ones you gravitate to, and trying to write different kinds of genres than what you're reading, can be pretty amazing.

That, of course, is said from a girl who's been reading a lot of theoretical tomes lately. I have to admit that theoretical tomes haven't necessarily always been the first book I'd pick up when strolling through Borders, and yet, I'm finding that material incredibly enriching. Yes, I've been writing papers that respond to that theory, but I've also been finding it's been raising desires in me to write creative non-fiction, to try new fiction genres, to add deeper layers to my thought and to my characters in my fiction.

See, the theory I've been reading has touched on some pretty basic questions about who we are as humans. About meaning and communication. On the nature of story. On how we conceive history and why we like to keep and throw things away. About how we influence one another, and questions of agency and free will. This semester, I've been busy theorizing and writing academic papers in response, but I can feel my confidence toward other writings improving as I feel my ponderings on these topics gathering me lots and lots of writing material.

So yeah, I'd like to encourage you writers out there to, sure, read what you want to write and write what you want to read, but here's my two cents: don't limit your reading to that. Don't shun the hard stuff. Stretching your comfort zone is good, and can stretch your imagination along with your understanding.

Oh, and one more thing--don't forget to "read" the "texts" around you in your quest for figuring out what to write. Pay attention to what stories you like to listen to from other people and watch on TV, what locations you like to visit, what your interests are. Observe how people communicate with each other and how the cultures around you work and how they interact with each other. These things, beyond what you like to read, could open up whole new universes of kinds of things to read and to write, and add new depth to what you do write.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Which Her Internal Nerd Begins to Salivate...

For those of you keeping track, I handed in my rhetoric of conspiracy paper yesterday on time. In fact, I dropped it in the box a whole 5 minutes early, I think.


So before I forget, Terry Whalin pointed out a great article about blogging at The Atlantic . Many great lines and insights (though I disagree with a few of the statements--for instance, the first blogs were primarily used as a navigational tool to supplement search directories, so I've been told, rather than as a personal diary-ish log).

But it's a good article. The best line, for my purposes as a media scholar and as a writer, is this, from near the bottom of the last page: "The message dictates the medium. And each medium has its place—as long as one is not mistaken for the other."

He's talking about writing for different media--for the magazine, for the book reader, and for the screen--and I think it's just fabulously well-put. Delightfully non-media-determinist.


In other news, I got word yesterday that, while I will not get a general reader's pass for the Huntington Library in California for my visit this weekend, they have kindly granted me access to view the three documents that will help me, hopefully, write a paper leading toward my dissertation work. I'm very excited about this, as I was a bit worried, seeing as how I could probably work from photocopies, but who knows, what with the potential smudging and such.

For those of you who fail to find your internal reading nerd salivating big-time at the prospect of going to cool libraries and burying yourselves in the marginalia of nearly-forgotten Kingsley Amis mystery novel manuscripts written in the 1970s, the grounds of the library are supposed to be amazing. If you've seen the chick flick The Wedding Planner with Matthew McConneaghey (awful movie but that's not his fault), there's a garden scene with nude statues that's I'm told was filmed on the grounds of this library. So I'm hoping to also hang out on the grounds a bit if I can (though I have no need of meeting a guy there--got one already, thanks).

I also have a couple other activities planned while I'm out there. There should be writing material gathering a-plenty, for creative stuff as well as the academic.

And I'm excited about getting a change of scene. The mid-semester doldrums within me have been crying out, and I haven't been to California since I was 9. Woohoo, I say! Woohoo!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oh, So That's Why...

This is one reason I'm not a full-time (freelance-ish, that is) writer at this stage. One reason, at least. I admire those who are.

Back to that paper due at 5.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cage Match (Part 5): The Finale

Announcer (whispering): Aaaaaaand we're back in Cage Match Arena, at the fight between the married Depth and Accessibility. Their son Harry Potter has just raised his wand, so let's see what happens next. This is exciting, folks!

Harry Potter: Silencio. [the arena quiets instantly] Yeah, yeah, I know some of you were looking for me to stride in here and take part in some of those action-packed scenes we've all read me perform, but quite frankly, after all that work in the seven books, I'm tired. And I'm worried about you folks, as well as about my parents.

I know, I see you folks over there with Accessibility painted on your chests in successive letters--it's spelled wrong, by the way. I see you rolling your eyes. Don't think I won't use my wand if I don't have to. I also see you group of Depth-ites over there who obviously think I'm a lightweight. Same goes for both sides. My wand is ready, so no funny business.

The thing is, what we need isn't a cage match. What we need is to work together here, understanding the way the world is evolving. Depth and Accessibility have produced some fabulous kids, and we heap scorn on them from both sides. How could a married couple keep a healthy marriage when both them and their children are ostracized from so many different sectors of society?

Accessibility supporters, yes, you could use a bit better attention span and learning a bit more nuance. Try reading some of Literary Mystery's work from time to time, or Book Club Fiction. Or at least the History Channel.

And Depth supporters, please don't roll your eyes quite so much at such activity. It's rude, and it just makes you look bad. Your work could use a bit of narrative spice to it. The fact that something has drawn popular attention doesn't necessarily mean it's bad.

And you, Mom and Dad, stop turning each other into pounded-up tomatoes. You love each other, and it's time to show it. Marriage is all about compromise, remember? How can you love your children properly when you can't appreciate each other's quirks?

[Depth flings open the cage door and rappels down to where he is. Accessibility reluctantly follows.]

Depth: Well, son, you know how much I hate to be maudlin or sentimental in any way, much less as conforming to anything ryanstates or others may have predicted as the outcome for this event days ago, but you're so right. I'm not going to fling my arms around your father and beg his pardon or anything, particularly with these bruises, but if he's contrite, I may go home and let him sleep on the couch instead of the roof for the next few days.

Accessibility: Same goes for me, son. I'd really like to sucker-punch your mom right now to get ratings, but I'm going to hold back and go home with her. I do love her.

Announcer: Well, that's it, folks. Perhaps a bit pat, the Depth folks might say, and with not enough fireworks for the Accessibility folks' tastes, but that's the life of the Hybrid production, which this, it turns out, happened to be. This is Chuck for Cage Matches 'R' Us, bidding you farewell and returning you to your regularly scheduled blog, which is sure to be just as stirring. Thanks for sticking around for these dramatic events, and feel free to throw tomatoes or other fruits at each other or at Deborah in the comments...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cage Match (Part 4): The Commentary and Commercials

Announcer: As I promised, Harry Potter is about to speak to the crowd here in Cage Match Arena, in this epic showdown between the married couple Depth and Accessibility. But first, I want to cut to a discussion I just had with our match commentators.

Commentator 1: Thank you, Chuck. Well, clearly this is an epic battle here between Depth and Accessibility. They're breaking all the rules.

Commentator 2: Ah, but in many ways they're also following all the rules, Chuck. And that's a problem for supporters of Depth--they'd like to see her fight Accessibility in a less violent venue. Less punches, more discussion.

Commentator 1: Well, at least this doesn't bore us to tears. Look at all that interest! Harry Potter could do anything, though, what with his magic powers and his willingness to act. I'm eager to see what happens next.

Announcer: As you can see, our commentators have sympathies. Thanks, Commentators, for your input. And now, for a word from our sponsors.

[camera cuts to commercial 1, with a scene of a young man sitting on a sofa.]

Commercial 1: Tired of feeling run down? Watching too many Cage Matches? Buy your own cage and spice up your workout life! Fight your enemies or your closest friends and family! Either way, you'll watch the pounds melt away. Buy now for only 12 installments of $59.99.*

[fine print:*Does not include a surcharge of $5000. Cage is not a toy. Manufacturer intends this as an exercise tool, and takes no responsibility for any deaths or injuries that occur during its use.]

[camera cuts to commercial 2, with a couple arguing over the cage match on a sofa]

Commercial 2: Tired of taking sides in these sorts of battles? Like something in-between? Jump over to Hybrid TV, where we have somewhat-nuanced, never dull, discussions of all the children of the combatants.

[camera cuts back to Cage Match Arena, and zooms in on Harry Potter's raised wand...]

[To be continued...]

Come back tomorrow for the startling conclusion to our cage match adventure... (Oh, and feel free to let me know in the comments if you're interested in the product mentioned in Commercial 1.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cage Match (Part 3): The Crisis

Announcer: And welcome back, once again, to Cage Match Arena, where we're hosting a cage match between a couple married for a hundred years--champion Accessibility and challenger Depth. Their children standing on the sidelines have gotten into the fight a bit as well--Journalism is right now down there, it looks like, fighting to defend the honor of his sister Book Club Fiction, who was just slammed with a tomato by an Accessibility supporter.

Up in the cage, things have taken a bit of a turn. Depth was ahead early, then Accessibility, but right now it looks like both of them are exhausted, leaning back on the opposite sides of the cage and glaring at each other.

In order to understand this glare, let's bring you to the crisis that led this couple from wedded bliss to this point. It seems that it happened when one of their youngest children, Reality TV, was five years old. There was a note home from his kindergarten from his teacher saying that he had tried to have one of his classmates voted out of school.

When Accessibility came home from work, he and Depth got into it. Accessibility thought that the behavior was delightfully amusing, and praised his son for his creativity. Depth, however, thought the child needed a stern punishment. She's reported to have yelled, "He's just like his father! Shallow and ignorant!"

Tragic, folks, when marriages go bad, but then, I wouldn't have missed this fight for the world.

Look, the challengers are going at it again! Accessibility just got in the first blow, a particularly good one...

Cameraman: But look! Down in the audience! It looks like one of their younger but widely respected children, Harry Potter, is breaking through the crowd, ready to make a speech. Is he trying to stop the event?

Announcer: Shut up, Jake. You're not supposed to talk. Yes, it does look like Potter is getting ready to say a word. We will bring you all of it, we promise, but first, we must bring you a word from our sponsor (and break for tonight's final presidential debates)....

[To be continued...]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cage Match (Part 2): The Progeny

Announcer: So welcome back to Cage Match Arena, where challenger Depth is taking on champion Accessibility for the title. They've been, so far, going punch for punch, which doesn't surprise us here at all. See something we didn't tell you yesterday is that these two combatants know each other extremely well, as they've been married for the last hundred years or so.

[cut to wedding shot of Accessibility and Depth stuffing cake into each other's mouths, then another of them standing on a beach, with Depth on Accessibility's back]

Yes, that's right, these two fell in love sometime during the Romantic period in England, and they've been together ever since. Sometimes, like tonight, their relationship has approximated the War of the Roses, but over the years they've also had many many children, some of which resemble their dad, some their mom, but many of which look like both. Some have migrated to other countries, but they're all here tonight.

[pans to faces on the sideline]

In case you've forgetten who they are, a sampling of names should be enough:
  • Journalism
  • Creative non-fiction
  • Book club fiction
  • Literary mysteries
  • Complex hour-long TV dramas
  • Biographies
  • The History Channel
These children, many of whom are quite successful, are standing on the sideline, eagerly watching and wondering what the outcome will be for their much-loved parents. It's quite brave of them to stand there, as the crowd is getting near riotous with their support of either Depth or Accessibility, meaning that these hybrids are getting occasional boxes of popcorn dropped on them.

It looks like Journalism is particularly taking a beating down there, though he's throwing that piece of fruit right back at them... Oh! Up above, it looks like Accessibility just took quite the blow from Depth. She knows just where to hit him, it seems!

Ah, tensions are high here: no telling what's going to happen next. Unfortunately, we need to break now for a word from our sponsors. Don't go away--we'll be back soon to continue this saga.

[To be continued...]

Readers, please inscribe chants you think are going on in the audience, from either or both sides, within the comment area.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Cage Match: Depth vs. Accessibility

As the lights go up on the arena, the audience roars...

Announcer: Yes, folks, today, on this beautiful Columbus Day (Canadian Thanksgiving for you Canucks), we have for you a rare event. Previously this would have been handled by way of a Socratic dialogue, but we must roll with the times, so here it is, the showdown between our reigning champion, Accessibility, and his challenger, Depth. Now, if you've been around, you know that this format favors Accessibility over Depth, but it looks like Depth has been training up by lifting heavy tomes of French philosophers. She looks remarkably buff. I'm anxious to see what happens.

Depth and Accessibility face each other in the cage.

Depth: You ready to throw down, punk? Those long nuanced sentences may not be concise, but they've built up my strength.

Accessibility: Your long sentences are worth crap. A short punch is the most powerful.

Depth: We'll see about that: you err in thinking that my deep thinking has stopped me from Karate Kid-esque training while teaching deeper substance at the same time (and using many colons and semicolons). Furthermore, I have an attention span that can grind yours into the ground.

Accessibility: You going to stand there and argue, or fight? That's what people came here to see. Let's rumble!

Depth: Don't think I can't be passionate, nuanced, and right at the same time. Bring it on, dude. Bring it on.

They pitch into each other.

[To be continued...]

Any takers for the chances of either side?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wist; or, Giving One's Inner Nerd a Hug

So as I look around at blogs written by people in the world of general-audience writers (such as here, here, here, and here) at this time of year, I sometimes feel wistful. I see people preparing for NaNoWriMo and so forth. I see encouragement to finish creative projects and get one's stuff out there for publication.

I stare outside at the colorful leaves doused in golden sun, and I think of all the writing projects stacking up in my brain behind the (mostly academic) ones I'm working on, and I feel wist. Great wist. I look outside, and it seems that far away, just beyond what I can see, there's this shimmering vista of greener-than-green grass with springtime crocuses popping out of it. My stack of academic tomes on historiography, archival theory, and even the fascinating rhetoric of conspiracy look pale and anemic beside this green vista, as does the stack of term papers and conference papers that is my October's goal.

These papers are important for me to do. They're intellectually stimulating. They are helping me prepare for other future writing tasks I must do, both inside and outside of the academy. But it's hard to remember that some days when the just-out-of reach crocuses seem to pulse with their purple brilliance.

I think there are good reasons for me to feel that these current tasks are marginalized ones from the perspective of the general-audience writing world--after all, they will not be concise, beautifully sounding writings for public consumption, which is the most acceptable thing in the world of writers that write to sell. Nor are they going to be the kind of aesthetic production that's seen to be acceptable to those in the writing world that aren't so concerned about sales.

(If one were to represent the whole writing world as a social landscape not unlike high school, then, I'm clearly a nerd on that landscape, even if within the academic world, I'm the artsy one in the corner. No wonder I feel a bit fractured in my identity.)

But I think my sense of wist is also, at least in part, a crocus-is-prettier focus on what I want to do that isn't so possible right now, rather than being content with what I have, and recognizing that the journey takes time. This stage, my doctoral work, is a process of learning--a time in which I don't have to focus on broad audiences all the time, and a time to collect material for all sorts of writing projects of all genres. A time for germination. And while I may occasionally chafe at having to perform certain writing tasks when there are others that look prettier in my head, this stack of books beside me has some fascinating stuff in it.

And the leaves are pretty.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Audience and Online Interaction Spaces

Lately I've been realizing how much participating as an author in online interaction spaces (like Facebook and this blog) is helping to deepen my thoughts about audience from the writer's perspective.

Take Facebook for instance. On my profile, friends and acquaintances from various stages of my life collide. I'm used to thinking about them differently, and now they're here, in one space. This gives new perspective to what "writing for a wide audience" means.

Or take the fact that I import this blog into Facebook as well as posting the items here. It makes me aware that others may also be reading this in a different context--e.g., feed readers--and that makes me try to keep those contexts in mind when I write things, knowing that, for instance, people might be seeing two different sets of comments on my posts, or none at all, depending on where they might be reading it.

These sorts of things make me aware of how much I modulate my communication on a daily basis depending on who I'm speaking to and how they're receiving that communication. And as a writer, these thoughts further sensitize me to the nuances of the idea about audience, which is such an important aspect of what we consider as authors.

Walter Ong* says that writers always imagine a particular kind of audience for their writing, and then give their readers roles to step into. It's fascinating to me how these online venues challenge, stretch, and concretize those imaginary audiences, potentially making both author and audience aware how much those roles are a shifting landscape, and how much the audience also creates roles for communicators to step into.

Anyone else have any noticings about audience, whether from online or offline venues?

*In his excellent essay "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Power of Syntax...

As a girl who spent a good chunk of my summer transcribing, I noticed something reading a CNN blog article just now.

See, ever since I had the experience of transcribing speech just as it's been said, I've realized how much we, on a daily basis, smooth out what others say in our heads. If you've been transcribing for awhile, you begin to notice that the inevitable fillers in newscaster's talk gets left out of the closed-captioning, for instance.

However, in the world of public speaking, there are expectations for a more polished syntax (sans fillers). And with our current president, people started noticing exact syntax. And I find it fascinating that this CNN blog entry, in reporting Governor Palin's exact words and word order, gives us transcript form rather than reporting the gist of what was said rather than smoothing it out, as reporters have so often done in the past.

Question: are our political reporters increasingly moving to the modern fiction model of "show, don't tell"? There is certainly an emphasis lately on non-verbals as well, in the debate coverage...Are these moves natural ones, highlighting the re-ascendancy of oral and visual culture? Or does it take the oral out of context, since we so often correct for the oral internally, emphasizing syntactical moves that look wrong in print (where we're not used to transcript style, as anyone who has tried to go back and re-read their IM conversations could testify) and therefore doing injustice to the person whose words were included? A little bit of both, perhaps?

Inquiring minds want to know...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Not So Bad for an Awful Day...

Okay, so I had an awful day yesterday. No point getting into the details--in fact, I don't want to give away the details, because I'm treasuring them up, dang it.

Yes, it was a horrible, awful, terrible, really no good, bad day. And I hated every minute of certain parts of it.

But at the same time, there was this little writer's voice in the back of my head saying, "this is great material. Talk it over with those close to you, get the frustration out of your system. But learn to tell the story, and most of all, remember it. It could come in handy for some creative writing story you have to tell later on."

And then, at that point, I knew. I knew that this year is and is going to be a better year than last year. Last year that voice deserted me way too often, and with it my sense of humor and my perspective on my life.

That's right--I'm healthier when I've got voices in my head (at least that one). The thing is, really bad days are the stuff of story. Who wants to read about people that are completely happy all the time? When I can remember that, I remember to not take myself too seriously, which helps me keep spiritually aware and generally sane at the same time.

Plus, it leaves me with the odd sensation that my bad days are good in some way--at least they're good material, eh?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

5 Free Audio Resources for Writers and Readers

I've noticed my posts have been getting a bit ethereal lately (one of those grad school side-effects), so here are a few podcasts I really appreciate as a writer, reader, and general appreciator of words and creativity. It's easy to sign up for all of these through iTunes and then download them to my iPod. They're great to keep up on in the car and during walks and trips to the gym.
  1. A Way with Words: NPR's delightful language program, in which the quirks and delights of the English language are discussed on a weekly basis. 1 hour long, except during the summer, when it's shorter.

  2. Authors on Tour: A weekly recording of authors speaking at Denver's Tattered Cover bookstore. The authors they choose are excellent ones in a variety of literary and non-literary genres. Talks range from 10 minutes to an hour.

  3. Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac": I've mentioned this daily podcast before--I subscribe to this one by email too. 5 minutes per day of poetry and writer/artist/influential person biographies.

  4. New Yorker: Fiction: In this monthly podcast, a literary giant-ish-type figure reads and discusses an influential story that's been published in the New Yorker in the past. Segments last between 10 and 40 minutes.

  5. Last but certainly not least, this site is a constantly-growing volunteer-submitted library of public domain audiobooks. The quality of the audio is more or less good depending on the particular book or even chapter, but some of the recordings are pretty amazing, and hey, it's free. And you can listen online, download whole books or chapter by chapter, or subscribe to each book as a podcast. Length: anything from a few minutes to 30-some hours (that's Moby Dick and War and Peace and such). The average length book is between 5 and 12-14 hours.

Friday, October 3, 2008

On Publication, Fame, and Conversation

I wonder if for some of us, it's not just "we read to know we're not alone," but also "we write to know we are not alone," and more so now that mass-mediated forms are enabling more and more feedback.

Are some of us who grew up reading for that "a-ha" moment in which someone was able to express something about humanity we ourselves were unable to express now writing in hopes that someone will say back to us that they found the same experience in our writing?

Is that why we (or at least some of us) write? And with the spread of mass/interpersonal communication spaces, are we hoping for that sooner, and on everything we write? Is that part of the vulnerability factor, and part of the shift in expectations? But as things get more interpersonal, the audience size gets closer to interpersonal too, on average--are we still thirsting for mass reach in a mass/interpersonal world? Is this unreasonable, or is this part of the deal of trying to be a successful writer? Or do we just want to get people talking, not necessarily all directed toward us?

What does this desire for publication and success (whatever that is) amount to, anyway? Is it a desire to be talked about and remembered, or to be cool, or is it a desire to converse and bring people together, or what? All of those things? None? Others? How much impact is enough impact in a world that at least says it aims for democracy in communication, where the average blog has, I heard the other day, one visitor? (Talk about your "fit audience but few.")

On a lighter note, Kevin Alexander's written a delightfully tongue-in-cheek article on how to write a quick literary masterpiece, for those yearning for a wide audience and impact. And there's a more serious but delightfully opinionated (nearly cranky, but in a good way) post over at Good Letters on the importance of considering a word's etymology when considering its use.

On a related note, I wonder if the mass/interpersonal convergence thing is why reality shows and celeb gossip are at the points they've gotten to--seeing the "behind-the-scenes," more "personal" world of people on TV helps us feel like we're closer to having an interpersonal connection to them.

I wonder...what do you think?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mass Media Meets the Interpersonal

So in the Communication field, two key areas of study (which are often viewed as separate areas) are mass communication and interpersonal communication. These areas are generally considered to be separate in this way: mass media is one-way communication (such as TV, radio, and traditional journalism), whereas interpersonal communication typically covers conversations and other two-way communication forms.

The thing is, I believe that mass media always had an interpersonal dimension to it, and vice versa, but I've been realizing more and more lately that emerging technology forms are causing mass-mediated communication to take on more of the expectations of interpersonal communication, and vice versa, as new genres evolve that meld the two (blogs are one example). More and more, the creators of previously one-way communication (such as book authors) are not only expected to go on book tours to meet their fans, they're also expected to have blogs and respond to comments. And so on.

The thing is, I've been noticing that this trend has encouraged me to become more and more aware of the bizarre dynamics that are created as the expectations of these two kinds of communication collide more and more with blogs, social networking sites, and other emerging communication forms.

Looking forward to seeing how these dynamics evolve, particularly as it impacts me both as a communication researcher and as a communicator. I've certainly had to catch myself readjusting my expectations lately, to make them more reasonable both of myself and others, as these convergences (threaten to?) affect my communication patterns in both new and old forms.

I'm pretty sure my expectations are also influenced by my being a graduate student, in which role much interactive discussion is expected of me as part of my coursework and professionalization, so I'm curious whether anyone else notices this? Do you have any experiences with this you'd like to share? (Don't feel overwhelming need to post if you're busy, but hey, if you want to participate, I'd love to hear from you.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

On Journals and Journaling, Part 2: Vulnerability

So I'm diving through a bit of grad school trench warfare here, so I need to dive back down into the textual mud soon, but I wanted to complete this post, talking about the "reporting" aspect of journaling.

I became keenly aware of this aspect last week, when for my archival theory and practice class I had to treat some of my own papers as archival materials, and write an aid to guide them about it, and then write about both who might use them and reflect on the experience of having done that.

It's just interesting, viewing what is so often private as potential fodder for others in the future. I now totally empathize with T. S. Eliot's desire to have so many of his papers embargoed for so many years after his death. Makes sense when one thinks about being so vulnerable, or about hurting people in one's life through things said in one's less guarded moments when one was just venting.

All of this reminds me of the vulnerability associated with any kind of writing. I think this is because of the time-delay of response to written text (and the possibility of no response at all). It's often-discussed among writers, but seldom is discussed as the results of text in media studies/media ecology circles.

The thing is that this textual inheritance, I believe, has passed to much of our time-delayed electronic communications as well--without being able to see how our audience (intended, or unintended--as with future researchers) is responding to something like a Facebook status or blog post, we worry what they'll think of us, much like we did with pretty much everyone all the time in junior high. An age-old concern transposed to a new setting.

As electronic readers, I propose, we should keep this vulnerability in mind and respond accordingly, as much as we're able (considering the busyness of our lives, of course). As writers, I think we should chill out a bit, and keep our lives and our writings (of whatever kind) in perspective, and try to have a little faith, while still being aware that yeah, vulnerability is often scary and often has consequences, some of them good, some bad.