Saturday, January 31, 2009

In Which Creativity Is Instigated by the Academic...

So to catch you up, this semester I'm taking the following 3 grad classes:
  1. "Culture and Society," which is an anthropology class.
  2. "The Rhetoric of Everyday Life," a communication class.
  3. "Modern European Thinkers on Rhetoric, Poetics, and Narrative," a course taught by a French lit. prof and cross-listed with the English department.
Considering these classes are all in different departments, I'm finding interesting interrelations between their subject matter. I'm also finding unexpected creative ideas from them.

For instance, reading Roland Barthes' structuralist analysis of literature from the authorial perspective (for class #3) helped me to break out of my usual ways of thinking about creative stories--much more helpful for my creative writing than many of the creative writing manuals I've read. It gave me a brainstorm for re-structuring my dormant novel manuscript--don't know if it will work, but it's worth a try when I get more time this summer. It will also be potentially useful in my dissertation work.

And I'm pretty sure that my fieldwork project for class #1 will be able to do triple duty:
  1. Give me a co-written paper that might work as a conference paper or article publication.
  2. Serve as a base for another communication article I've been wanting to write.
  3. Work as background research for another novel I've been thinking about for awhile (I've written 2 chapters, then got stuck because I realized I needed to do interviews and such with one of the populations, which is the one we might be looking at for the project).
And then of course, course #2 will feed my dissertation, which is helping me with another series of academic studies and creative projects.

Ah, I love it when the academic feeds the creative...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Memoir and the Art of Remembering Oneself

Okay, so I've been feeling this more and more over the last six months or so, and I think I'm going to put a concerted effort toward it in my spare time: life writing. As in, writing in which I remember different parts of my life. I think I'm going to try it out as one of my writing goals for the year.

Why am I feeling this just now? Several reasons, really:
  • The historical/archival classes I took last fall got me in the mood to remember things for future generations.
  • My life has been filled with interesting stories and experiences, and I need to remember that. Hard to remember somedays that I'm an interesting person when I sit in front of the computer and/or deep theoretical tome for most of the day.
  • Because of the nature of said deep theoretical reading, I find myself a dull conversational companion sometimes. Remembering those various facets of myself discovered through aforesaid interesting stories and experiences will keep me more interesting.
  • Thanks to Facebook, people from various stages of my past are reviving memories of my life then and making me aware of what has happened in-between. Might as well take advantage of the memory-jogging to jot some of it down.
  • I did come up with a memoir idea, title and all, last fall. Might as well lay some groundwork for it from time to time.
  • It's something I can easily shift to from academic tasks (and back).
  • I don't have much time or money to observe many real-world activities in a vacation-esque "see interesting things in other parts of the world" sense just now. This would give me regular vacations to parts of my past for no charge.
  • It would likely help me dig through some of the questions of identity I deal with on a daily basis, making me a more integrated person.
  • It would serve as a good introduction for my significant other to some of the portions of my life I don't always think to talk about on a daily basis.
Anyway, I think I'm going to take a stab at it sometimes this semester betwixt and between the homework and lesson plans. Not necessarily trying to do it by chapters, as such (though I might). I'm thinking about starting with more sketching out some scenes and themes and writing some material that might be useful to drop into whatever chapters I'm thinking through later on. More experimentation than anything at this point. Play, really. I think it will be fun.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stanley Fish on the Humanities...and a Response

One of my classmates posted this doomsday article about the humanities by literary critic Stanley Fish on Facebook earlier this week. Later, Fish wrote this one to follow it up.

As someone with a couple of English degrees, which I have found eminently useful on a variety of levels, I found both articles pretty appalling, perspective-wise.

So I was glad to read this response from Alex Reid over at digital digs.

I'm not sure whether I agree with him point by point (haven't thought it out that thoroughly), but I agree with Reid that there are indeed strong uses for the humanities, even if many people (including, it seems, Fish) don't see it that way.

I also agree with Reid that it's good for people in the humanities to intervene in society. For instance, I think it's a shame that general audience books and publications by professors are looked down upon, tenure-wise. I think they should be encouraged.

However, I also think there's use in academics doing their research--however "elite" it may seem--and speaking in specialized language. The research of the humanities often helps us to learn about, well, humanity. Reading and studying literature, theology, or philosophy, for instance, helps us think about the big questions of why we're alive, which is as important as anything else. And car mechanics don't get remonstrated for having a specialized language.

Though I agree that universities are becoming more corporatized and that there's a danger that the humanities' role will be lessened, I think this would be a big mistake. It's not that we can't learn critical thinking about the big questions--or about how to read and write well--outside of these disciplines. But having them in our universities serves as a concrete, visible reminder that these things are important to us as a society. And that's a darn good thing in and of itself, even if those professors were not--both directly and indirectly--helping to teach valuable skills to others (which they are).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Inauguration Poem

Only the 4th time a poet has been part of a US inauguration ceremony. Yeah for writers and poets!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Upon Emerging from One's Cave (1)

Okay, sorry about the title, but I just finished re-reading Plato's cave story for my Rhetoric, Poetics, and Narrative class. I have many issues with the analogy, but I'll spare you the details and move straight on to my main point.

Which is that I'm noticing in retrospect that it was a much rougher semester last semester than I thought it was. I won't get into why that was, but it seems to me that, indeed, the Old Me is back.

I can tell this how? Well, for one, my energy levels are back. I think my many beach walks over the break helped this, as did a spate of eating better. Plus a few weeks of doing very little (other than the daily walk) has made me excited to turn off the TV and get to work. And I'm excited to keep up the exercise routine and the better eating as well, now that I've got a significant start on it. I even want to get up in the morning, most mornings, which is odd for me.

And along with the energy levels, my reader's block is gone gone gone. Sure, Barthes is a little slow reading, but my time management and motivational parts of myself, who seem to have been on vacation in some distant planet for awhile now, found me on the beach and seem to have come back with me. I'm even motivated to do non-school-related errands and housework and such.

This is good, because this is laying the groundwork for some good writin' time. I can feel it. (That's good as there are some conference deadlines speeding my way in less than a month.)

Woohoo! The semester is fresh and the energy is, too.

Friday, January 16, 2009

ICA Kumquats Aplenty: 2 Out of 3 Ain't Bad...

So I heard back on the International Communication Association (ICA) submissions today that I worked so hard on back at the beginning of my NaWriMo experiment. I had submitted 2 full papers for the conference itself and an abstract for one of the pre-conferences, and had already heard good news on the pre-conference abstract.

So today I heard on the 2 full-length papers to be given during the conference itself. One accepted, one declined. Which is a good track record, especially since we had already submitted something marginally similar to the one that was declined as a book chapter proposal (and the proposal was accepted, which means that our writing of the paper was not at all in vain).

Even better, the full-length paper that was accepted for ICA was actually an early one laying the ground for my dissertation, which is very encouraging to me. Someone outside of my mom and my advisor thinks what I'm studying and writing about is timely and at least somewhat worthwhile. Woohoo!

Now just to figure out how to get these kinds of percentages on my creative writing submissions...but that's likely a job for the summer.

In other news, a full week of classes are done. I think it's going to be a good semester, though busy, what with teaching and research and coursework. Especially since just one of my courses has 150 pages' worth of reading for next week. Hm, I should buy that book tomorrow and dig right in...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dormant with the Bears...

So in case you were wondering, these past few weeks weren't only time off for me from school and from blogging, but they were also time off from creative writing as well. Actually, they were pretty much time off from all types of writing.

And most of the time, I wasn't even in that mode where I felt like I was collecting writing material. When I did think about my creative writing projects, I felt rather "eh" about them, like all my creative energy and confidence had leaked out my little toe or something, and I wasn't even sure where it had leaked to. I mean, you'd 'a thought there'd have been a puddle of creativity somewhere on the floor, but not so much.

It wasn't pretty. But I think it was necessary. I've been dealing with a lot of stresses of various kinds lately, and I think I needed time off, even from creativity. I'm pretty sure what I was going through was what Virginia Hampton Wright calls a "period of dormancy":
In just about every cycle there's a period of dormancy, when it seems that nothing much is happening. Sometimes this is when you think your well has dried up. You can't imagine ever having another good idea ever again. You're not interested in your work. Creativity doesn't mean as much, or if it means anything, you can't really connect with it. (The Soul Tells a Story p. 206)
Ironically, during my time of dormancy I was in a warm place, and now that I'm back in the cold, I'm feeling energized again. Naturally, now that I'm feeling better, it's back into the swing of a busy semester, which means less time to spend on the creative writing parts. But c'est la vie, eh?

Anyone want to swap dormancy stories?

Monday, January 12, 2009

(Re)Creating Writer's Block?

So I'm back, but in a rush, what with school starting today and getting ready to teach my first class in almost 2 years tomorrow, but I wanted to share this link to a fabulously funny article at the Atlantic. It's a faux ad for a "writer's re-blocking" seminar, to cure people who can't stop writing their blogs, Twitter updates, Facebook statuses, etc. Anyone who's read or attended any sort of motivational writing seminar will appreciate this one.

One of my favorite parts of the "schedule" for the workshop from the article:
“Re-embrace Your Inner Critic.” Using advanced transference techniques, you will pretend to read your work to the most discouraging person you know: the relative who says “Who do you think you are? You’re not funny”; the friend who never got around to reading your short story; the scary professor who always gave your essays a D. You will learn to love them all as they do their best to keep you from typing out another word.

Perhaps that little voice that keeps murmuring in your ear that you have nothing of worth to say is really onto something!
Anyway, I'm off to school. Enjoy the article!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Help! Help! I'm Feeling Repressed!

So I don't officially return to winter and life-as-usual until Friday, with school starting up again next week, but I wanted to emerge from my bloggery silence at least momentarily to say Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a blessed Epiphany to all of you.

I also wanted to talk about something that's been gelling in my mind gradually over the last few weeks--the connection between social structures and the act of writing. I'm not talking largely about material structures here (those that produce money and food, etc.), but those social expectations which are bound up with the act of writing within different contexts.

The thing is, I think so many of the stresses we face as writers of all kinds are closely related to different kinds of social expectations we and others have for the act of writing within varied contexts. Writing a note for one's cat sitter is hardly seen to be "writing" at all, whereas writing a full-length novel, dissertation, publishable journal article, or memoir is seen to be often admirable, nearly unachievable, perhaps egotistical, and yet, by some, to be not all that different from writing that note to the cat sitter.

And things get more complicated when one talks oneself into actually writing the thing and bullying oneself into getting the words down on the page. Because another part of the social system is gauging whether those words are good enough to be published. And actually following through and sending them to an agent to see what they say. Usually doing all these things while you have other social expectations around you for you to be doing other things at the same time that there are expectations that you will follow through with this project, since you were silly enough to tell people that you were working on it.

These expectations both support you and undercut your endeavor. People around you see you as a writer and/or scholar of some sort, and that helps and hinders at the same time, both keeping you accountable and blocking you with the expectation of greatness. You have bullied yourself into thinking that you're a writer of some sort, and that also helps and hinders at the same time in many of the same ways as the external pressures.

Anyway, I have more to say on this subject, but I'll save it for another day. Anyone have any thoughts about internal and external social pressures they face in their writing tasks?