"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, July 30, 2012

Back to School

As I've said, I go back to school on August 1st. That's pretty early. At least it's not July, though, like it was the year before last.

I'm not talking about year-round schools or anything. Our district has decided that an extra week or two of instruction at the beginning of the year can only mean better scores when the state tests come around in March. Why don't we start school in June for maximum exposure and have our break in April and May? Or just test students in May to determine improvement over a complete year? You got me.

Luckily, that isn't my point today. Instead, I simply ask where does the summer go?

I start off with such lofty goals. I want to fix things that drip. Weed the lawn. Patch holes in the walls. Even dust the ceiling fans. No, I don't WANT to. These are just things I CAN do (with the possible exception of the plumbing), and I feel like I SHOULD. 

So I set myself up for failure, knowing good and well it's going to take a lot more than a few unattached hours a day to get me to open up that toilet tank to see why the water won't stop running.

Exactly what have I done? 

We drove to Utah for a week to visit family. Spent a couple days in Steamboat Springs. I took the boy to toddler swimming lessons every day for a couple of weeks. Those are a half-hour long, by the way. My twelve-year-old likes to cook, so she was in a cooking class for couple of weeks. That required my driving skills to get her there and back. 
I had to stare out the window on road trips when I was a kid. He gets in-flight movies.

I read some books, watched three seasons of Fringe, played Pipe Roll on my iPhone. Some of those mazes take way too long, sir. I saw the new Spider-Man. It was pretty forgettable. Took the kids to the Aquarium to see the mermaids.
My daughter took a while to admit it. But she wanted to see the mermaids more than anyone else did.

That's enough, right?

I dunno. A copy of the Denver magazine 5280 has been in my bathroom for months. It's cover boasts "The Ultimate Summer Guide" and that inside I will find 21 amazing Colorado adventures. How many times did I open that up to find something to do with my family? Zero. How lame is that?

I know all of you nonteachers are reading this going, "He's complaining about being paid to not work for ten weeks. What a goob." To that, I only have to say, "Nah nah nah nah nah."

Except now I'm not ready to go back. Students come back to school next Tuesday. That's four days to prepare. Two of those days are already used up so we can be developed professionally. That's always time well-spent. One other day will have meetings of some sort to fill the day. That gives me one day. One day to put together a classroom. Like, literally. Well, perhaps not literally. The room is already has walls and stuff. But I had to move my room to a new room at the end of last year. And I still have to arrange. Books, files, wall hangings and decor, technology.

All that and figure out what I'm going to do next Tuesday.

Can I just take a personal day?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bachelors on the Loose: Day One

Every summer the LDS church sends their young women, ages 12-18, to a week-long summer camp. It's there they learn the ways of The Force, as well as the best fixins for Dutch oven cooking. Actually, I know about as much about what goes on at Girls' Camp as I do about what goes on at Boy Scout Camp, which most Mormon teenage boys attend every year, but which I never did, despite being a Mormon teenage boy. I was busy playing soccer or something.

This started long before Title IX, by the way. In fact, 2012 is the 100th anniversary of Young Women Camp. In your face, 2014 Division I women's lacrosse at the University of Colorado. Where were you in 1914?

Anyway, today my wife and my twelve-year-old daughter drove a car full of teenage girls to their camp site near Cripple Creek, Colorado, tucked away back there on the sunset side of Pike's Peak. That leaves me alone with the boy for the rest of the week. The following is the account of how our first day as carefree bachelors devolved into a possible homeless situation.

I actually followed the ladies with a truck full of camping equipment. We'd left the boy with a friend and a promise I'd pick him up by two in the afternoon.

The first point of difficulty was that the drive to camp took a good two and a half hours, not the hour-or-so that I was promised. Or rather, that I assumed. I was never actually told the exact location of the camp until I programmed it into my phone about three minutes before we were on the road. What this meant is that I was heading back into Denver at about 4:00 p.m., more than two hours later than what I had planned.

A quick phone call settled that crisis: Xander was fine. He is not wont to be any kind of problem.

Various traffic jams and one hitch-hiker later (actually, I just had to drive a friend back from the camp site), it was nearly 5:00 when I traded back my father-in-law's truck for my old Plymouth Breeze. Prudently, I had left the Plymouth car keys with my in-laws since, as I transferred my few belongings to my own car, I noticed I no longer had my house keys. A quick scouring of the truck's cab, and I recalled that I had used my own set of keys at the campsite to turn on my wife's car in order to use the lighter to power the electric blower to fill up the small air mattress May, my wife, would sleep on, all of which only happened because May had already become preoccupied dealing with a teenage girl fracas involving who would sleep where. I can only assume that lessons of this sort are why girls come to camp in the first place.

To recap: three hours late, still hadn't picked up the boy, no house keys. But I knew at some time in the past we had given my in-laws a copy of our house keys so they could collect the mail or make sure the kitchen hadn't exploded or something while we were away for a few days. They would surely still have said keys and I would be in no worse circumstances. My mother-in-law, in fact, had a single key on a ring, a paper tag marked "May" attached.

I drove my non-air-conditioned automobile through 95 degree heat and worsening traffic. Windows down, hot wind blowing, Guns N' Roses blaring, and I began to wonder what I would do if this key wasn't what it purported to be. At least I had my wallet, car keys, and a case of CDs. It could be worse. I called my wife to make sure I hadn't lost my keys elsewhere. She found the keys in her car, exactly where I thought they were, and I told her I might have to drive back out to get them. A stalwart pragmatist, she suggested I call a locksmith. But how do you prove you live someplace when all the proof is inside that place and you can't get in? (I still have an old address on my driver's licence, which I did have, but would not be any good in that situation.) My brain began to formulate a plan wherein I would leave Xander with Grandma and Grandpa to finally get some sleep and I would be able to go home around midnight after another five hour drive. Through mountain valleys. In the dark.

The first thing our friend said when I arrived to pick up Xander was that she probably just made a big mistake. She had let him fall asleep. Just now. She insisted he was no trouble, that he played all day, such an amiable child and all that, but that he hadn't napped earlier and had just nearly fallen asleep on the floor. She held him for a few minutes and he conked out. He was currently sprawled out on her bed, dreaming lazily, waiting for morning. He woke up as I strapped him in to his car seat, and he gave me perhaps the meanest look he's ever given anyone or anything. This look said, "Dad, I had a great day, but you were late, so I took it upon myself to rest my weary body, and this is what I get?" Then he frowned and tears welled and mean turned to sad. He only sobbed for a moment, though, probably because Axl Rose was crooning about some sweet child of his, and that rightly stops most people in their tracks.

The boy was asleep again by the time we got home, so I left him in the car while I checked the key. Didn't work. Crud. I tried all the doors for good measure. For some reason our house has about fourteen possible points of ingress. I put the key in everything I could, but there were no takers.

Before I got back into the mobile sweat lodge, I noticed a kink in the otherwise velvet-smooth field of the last hour's events. An outdoor spigot I can't seem to stop from leaking had chosen this day to just outright crack open and spray a steady stream of water into a basement window well. This wasn't the first sign of petulance from this particular water valve. And what I knew from experience was that if the flow of water wasn't plugged, and soon, we would end up with a flooded basement, which meant wet carpet, ruined food storage, and destroyed boxes of old writing. I needed to get into the house TONIGHT.

Now close to 6:00, I drove the freeway again back to my in-law's. Traffic. Heat. Wind. You know the drill. Xander slept still, but his little legs were exposed to the sun, his hair dripping with perspiration.

I tried my sister-in-law first. She lives just a few blocks from her parents. On the phone she said she had a couple of house keys she didn't recognize, but when I got there, I knew they weren't mine. Wrong shape. My father-in-law, however, said he had found another couple of keys with a red tag on the ring. I held out hope that they were what I so desperately sought.

Xander was awake again when I pulled up to the same place I had nearly two hours earlier, where my predicament began. His face was flushed and he sucked down most of his sippy-cup of water. I left him there and procured the red set of keys. Heavy sigh of relief. That red tag was certainly ours. I was sure one of those keys would open my house.

I returned to the car and started the engine. I told Xander to wave to Grampa as I pulled away, then looked down and saw the "Check Engine" light blink on. It didn't blink off. For the first time today, in spite of everything, I yelled into the wind, much as Gob Bluth might, "Come on!"

Postscript. We got into the house. All is well. Fortunately, no water came down the basement wall. But I have no swamp cooling available tonight without the outdoor faucet I still need to fix, and I can only hope the "Check Engine" will magically disappear when I next need the car.

I can only dream about a better day alone with the boy tomorrow.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tragedy in My Hometown

I don't have much to say about shootings at the Century 16 theaterYou can follow the news yourself. I've had 9News on all day.

For me, it's too shocking and horrific. I don't feel especially eloquent right now.

Still, I thought I'd let everyone know that my family and I are safe. And especially to those reading this who I don't know personally, you might know I'm from Aurora, Colorado. It says so right over there to the right. But Aurora is a big place, east of Denver proper, spreading out into the plains of Colorado. We're urban and suburban, even rural. So the chances of a tragedy of this magnitude happening in Aurora and still hitting close to home are pretty low.

The apartment where the shooter lived is only a mile from my house. Right now the police still haven't entered the place. It's booby-trapped. Authorities have evacuated a radius of a couple of blocks. That doesn't reach my place, but it's literally close to home.

These events also hit home more figuratively. This movie theater is located at the Aurora Town Center, which was simply the Aurora Mall when I was younger. This particular theater wasn't built then; it's a relatively new construct, maybe ten or twelve years old. But I know what it's like to be young and hang out and see movies at that mall. Today, it's the location most of my students go to see their movies. I haven't been there in years. The last time I was there was to see The Incredibles when it came out, before a newer theater was built nearer where I live. I left my wallet in my seat after the movie and didn't notice until later that night. I went back the next day, and they had it waiting for me in the manager's office. Nothing was missing.

I don't know exactly why, but that incident keeps running through my thoughts today.

We don't know much at this point about the names of the victims, but as far as I know none of my own students were at this theater last night. But some of their friends were.

What's the closest to home is that two young women in my ward at church were there. One of them was injured but is okay and has already returned home. These girls are my oldest daughter's age. Had our lives been slightly different, my daughter might have been with these girls last night. I have a hard time trying to imagine what the injured girl's parents have gone through today. As a father, it scares me.

UPDATE: The young woman I speak of was interviewed by MSNBC. She is quite more articulate than I would be. Kinda surreal really.

I love this town. I wasn't born here, but I grew up here, came of age here, have made my home here. It's economically, racially, and socially diverse. I can't say how different Aurora is from other metropolitan cities. But it's Colorado. Varied geography, best climate on earth. It gets cold, but not too cold. It gets hot, but not too hot (despite this summer's constant hover near 100 degrees).

And my son will grow up here.

My wife says that for the rest of our lives, when we tell people we live in Aurora, people will ask us about the shootings at the Century 16. Forever a sad reflection on such a great place.

One more UPDATE: If you're interested in Aurora, this article describes our town in a way I wish I could have the other day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

100 Followers, Tag, and Random Versatility

It's time once again to get meta.

Much like Chandler Bing's reasons for spending Thanksgiving in a box, my discussion today will be threefold. A kind of long bit of nonsense follows. But when has that ever stopped you?

Point One: Following
First of all, last week my little blog gained it's one-hundredth follower. It's been a long time coming, really, but still I rejoice. Now, if one-tenth of those people actually read my writing, I could die contented. So, congratulations to Heather M. Gardner from The Waiting is the Hardest Part. She wins nothing, but continuing to read this blog will enhance her knowledge, health, and appreciation of good music. In a way, then, she wins everything.

Point Two: Blog Awards
A couple-few weeks ago I was kindly awarded a blog award for nothing less than being a recently new follower of Miss Farawayeyes at the Far Away Series blog. I've been dubbed versatile before. I'm not sure if it's due to my ability to do dishes with a small child in my arms or the fact that I can read Shakespeare in English, Portuguese, and Klingon.

The Versatile Blogger has certainly made it's rounds. It's already passed my way once (read how I dealt with that one here), so I will forego passing it on. You can all thank me in the comments below.

I am, however, not above pointing out seven random things about myself, like I'm supposed to do. And since I've already told you two, I shall add five more.

3. I ditched church yesterday because I didn't make some phone calls I have a responsibility to make and was embarrassed. I felt pretty lame, but I did it anyway. Don't judge.

4. I watched three foreign, low-budget, and totally cool monster movies last week. The Host is from South Korea. Troll Hunter is from Norway. Monsters is British, but it's set in Mexico and has a lot of Spanish and one of the most beautiful endings I've seen in some time.
A mutant creature emerges from the Han River.
Giant trolls secretly inhabit Norway.
Aliens invade Mexico.
Outerspace aliens.
Not illegal ones.

5. I purchase way too much music at once. I sometimes don't have time to listen to an album more than once. Darn you, Amazon and your amazing MP3 sales.

6. I have a daughter about to be a senior in high school. How I got this old, I'll never know.

7. I have read Goodnight Moon to my son so many times in the past couple of weeks, I don't like it any more.
The mouse moves around the room throughout the book.
My boy can point out the mouse on every page.
Can you find the mouse on this one?

Point Three: I'm it.
Last week, I was also tagged by Dave at Dave Wrote This. This doesn't have a pretty picture to go with it. It's just an elaborate game of tag. I'm supposed to tell eleven things about myself this time, but as I've already done seven, I will simply add four.

Robert Kirkman also writes
The Walking Dead. You
might have heard of it.
8. I read comic books only once every couple of years. I wait a couple of years, then check out the thick collections from the library. I'm currently catching up on one of the better non-Marvel/DC superheroes, Invincible. I've now read volumes 4-6, encompassing about 45 individual issues or something. (Volume 7 is still on library hold.) In a couple more years I'll read 45 more issues. It'll be sweet.

9. I've been playing indoor soccer on Thursday nights. Last game, I had to play goalie, and for days afterward my insides felt like jelly. I like standing up to kick the ball better than throwing myself on the floor to block it. And we didn't even win or anything.

10. I'm thinking about growing out my hair again. Relive the heyday of the nineties. Don't tell my wife.

11. School starts in fifteen days. I am not amused.

And there you have it. But wait there's more. Now I'm supposed to answer eleven questions that Dave asks. Then I have to come up with eleven questions and tag eleven other bloggers. Then they're it. Are we having fun yet?

The following are Dave's questions and my oh-so-correct answers. I'm just glad I didn't have to answer the questions Dave was asked when he got the tag. Every one of them was Star Trek trivia.

1. Who would win in a fight between Cavemen and Astronauts?
Astronauts. Unless the Cavemen figured out how to poke holes in their spacesuits.

2. If you could have one super power, what would it be?
To make music that unites the world in peace, a la Wyld Stallyns.

3. What is your favourite Band?
Cocteau Twins. No contest.

4. What is your favourite Bend?
Bender from Futurama or comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis.

5. What is your favourite Bond?
For Your Eyes Only. First Bond I ever saw. Rocked my world.

6. How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?
42, right?

7. What's the funniest joke you know?
Way too long to tell here. Maybe a future blog post? Maybe not.

8. Can dogs look up?
I don't like dogs. So I don't care.

9. If you drove a Mini, would you want a red one, a white one or a blue one?
Not sure if this signifies anything, but red. I'd want a red of any kind of car.

10. What are you afraid of?
Heights. And broken hearts.

11. Why is this 11 facts/questions/answers?
To make my life difficult.

This post is way too long. I thought combining all this into one would be a good idea. It's not. 

Tag. You're it.
I can't count to eleven any more. My questions will be few, then. And only the following bloggers are tagged. They are officially IT. But everyone should go check out these blogs.

Brian M. White at Strangers Call Me Sunny. This is his third or fourth blog. I think he changes things up just to cull the nonbelievers. But he's funny and smart, which is all that's important in a blog, no matter the incarnation.

Mina Lobo at Some Dark Romantic. When you go to her blog, you might get a notice that her blog is for "grownups" only. Don't let that deter you; her blog isn't like that. She's a child of the 80's who hasn't given up on taste.

Rusty Webb at The Blutonian Death Egg. He is currently fascinated with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, which is pretty cool. If you don't know what that is or why it's important, you should go find out. As a bonus, Rusty's a pretty good artist, too.

Huntress, one of the contributors over at Unicorn Bell. She is currently obsessed about why Fifty Shades of Grey is a thing. Go see what she has to say.

Michael Offut at what I'm just realizing isn't officially "SLC Kismet" anymore. He's got a rad sci-fi adventure book out called Slipstream, and he's got good taste pop culturally.

And here are some probing questions to answer.

1. What kind of thing do you prefer to read?

2. When you were 13, what did you want to do with your life?

3. Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip? Discuss.

4. If you could join any group or club, what would it be?

5. What is the last song you listened to?

6. When you have nothing else to do, what do you do? 

7. If you could make a difference by boycotting one thing, what would it be?

That's plenty. Now have at it. And please let us know if and when you've gotten around to posting your answers so we can make sure to see them. Thanks. Goodnight everybody!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Detritus on the Floor

Detritus is an interesting word. First, I just found out that it's spelled "detritus" with a second T, not "detrius" without a second T. And second, some people claim to pronounce it with a long "e" as in "dee" and a long "i" as in "try." Others leave the vowels short and even leave out the second T in the pronunciation. Plus, it seems to be mostly used in biology or medical jargon, as in "the detritus of the dead bird in the garden is fertilizing the plants."

And because I'm a nerd, I looked it up some more and found out Detritus is also a video game much like Asteroids, a troll in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and some kind of electro-aggro-industrial band. Now you know.

But for my purposes here, I'm referring to the physical debris that erodes away from our lives consistently, all day long. More specifically, the crumbs of food and bits of trash that end up on the floor of my house is driving me batty.
This is what it feels like. In my house.

We have hardwood floors in our house. Before we moved in, we had the floor completely refinished, and it's held up beautifully. We've since refurbished the kitchen and bathrooms and included new tile floors in each room. I love the look of my floors. But hardwood and tile flooring can cause a unique set of problems in a home. Small things too easily roll under the couch. You can't comfortably take a Sunday afternoon nap on the floor. And the floors can get cold. Even in the middle of summer, I sometimes find myself needing slippers. Worst of all, clean-up is a never-ending story.

( I couldn't resist. Enjoy the cheesy goodness of Limahl. Plus, notice how the drummer figured out you don't need drumsticks to play those hexagonal toy synthesizer drums years before Rock Band was ever a thing.)

It's kind of revolting to think about the particles of dirt and dust and skin and food and insects and mites that live long, full lives within carpeted flooring. Every once in a while, a vacuum collects the bigger pieces, but that's all okay because, really, you hardly notice the detritus. On a hardwood floor, as I'm learning, all you notice is the detritus. Dust bunnies float around with the currents created by the ceiling fans. Crusts of bread are kicked around until they're either reduced to minuscule crumbs or just scooted under the furniture. Drops of milk from a sippy cup accumulate dirt until they become black, sticky masses.
Did you know there are no pictures of messy or dusty
hardwood floors on the entire internet?

I've lived in this house for the better part of a decade, and I've lived with hardwood floors before that. So why now? What about the grit on the floor is getting to me now when it didn't bother me before? The answer is simple. It begins with an X and ends with The Boy.

It's summer, so I spend most of my time at home. And it's summer, so I spend most of my time barefoot. It's summer and the boy is nearly 20-months-old and he doesn't care if his pants are full of detritus, so what does he care what's on the floor?

The worst of it naturally builds up around the high chair. Xander's eating habits go something like this: Yum-yum, nibble-nibble, squish-squish, chew, swallow, throw. He knows how to say "Done." He knows how to say "Down." They're pretty much the same word to him. But does he tell us he's finished eating and would like to get out of his high chair now, please and thank you? No. He drops his sippy cup, upends his plate, throws to the floor any food he can grasp, and brushes the crumbs off of his tray with a quick sweep of his hands. This inevitably leaves more food on the floor than ended up in his tummy, thus creating the detritus that I must step through to get to the kitchen from the dining room.

And, somehow, the rest of the house is affected. The living room rug gets Cheerios ground into it. The bathroom hallway has sticky spots. Various corners of our home boast fruit snacks to feed the spiders. This is all in addition to the variety of cars and crayons and balls and bits of toilet paper we all must make a path through.
The boy has taken to unrolling the TP from the bathroom and galavanting around
like he's doing a rythmic gymnastics routine through the house. Cute, right?
Yep, that's him eating the toilet paper.

Really, the worst is what I feel on the soles of my feet. If we had carpet, I wouldn't notice when a piece of hardened cheese or even a mushed apple stuck to my heel. I would just swipe my foot along the rug if I noticed anything at all and, poof, the detritus would be gone, hidden at least until the next pass of the vacuum.

We didn't used to have to, but we sweep every day now. Usually more than once. And the mopping, which is more of a wet-wipe spot-cleaning than anything else. Yet the detritus is unconstrained. We try to control Xander's movements during meals, but the banana still ends up under the table, the Cheerios still end up everywhere. Only to be carried to the far reaches of the domicile, all adding up to become the detritus of our lives.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A PhD Can Still Be an Idiot (Guest Post)

(Apparently my wife has a lot on her mind lately. This is the second guest post from her in less than a month. I'm happy to let her speak her mind here, of course, but you all should let her know in the comments if you'd follow her sage wisdom to a blog of her own.)

It's about rebirth and second chances,
I got my Master’s Degree from the University of Phoenix. To those of you out of touch with the world of for-profit academia, the University of Phoenix is not located in Phoenix. Or more precisely, it’s not only located in Phoenix. They have “branches” all over the place. (At this point they’re more ubiquitous than Starbucks.) But I digress.

I freely confess that I enrolled in the University of Phoenix for the meanest of reasons. First, they didn’t require that I pass any annoying graduate entrance exams, obtain letters of recommendation, or write an essay extolling the virtues of their program and my fitness for it. Second, I was aware that they would make it tremendously easy for me to earn my next academic credential. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that by paying them a lot of money and showing up to class, I was designated a Master of Curriculum and Instruction.

When I tell people that I got my Master’s from the University of Phoenix, I’m very careful to do so in an ironic, snark-edged fashion. It’s important to me that others know that I know the University of Phoenix is something of a joke to real academics. When I think about my MEd, it’s not with pride in my accomplishment. Instead, I reassure myself that someday I’ll get a real degree from a real university.

Now I’m reconsidering. Here’s why. I just read the most inane, insane take on The Great Gatsby ever written. (Consider that I have ten years' experience grading 11th and 12th grade essays about Fitzgerald’s novel, and you’ll truly appreciate the superlative nature of this statement.)

How much more dreamy could this be?
Supposedly in anticipation of the Baz Luhrman film in a few months, Julia Keller, the “Cultural Critic” for The Chicago Tribune wrote a gob-smackingly bizarre take on The Great Gatsby for her paper. They published it, too.

The gist of Keller’s review is this: We’ve been reading The Great Gatsby wrong. Collectively, none of us understand that Gatsby is actually a novel that praises the American Work Ethic. F. Scott Fitzgerald's real point: If you work hard, persist, dream big enough, you can have it all.

Are you shaking your head, yet? Are you remembering that Gatsby doesn’t get it all? Are you remembering that when Gatsby tries the American Work Ethic as a way of achieving the American Dream, he fails? Are you remembering that Gatsby makes his fortune by falling in with criminals who show him how to game the system? Are you remembering that Gatsby gets rich but that it’s all a sham, complete with the symbolism of the literally hollow books within his library?

Keller states, “Fitzgerald rose from humble origins to become rich and celebrated on the strength of his labor and his imagination, on the beauty of his dreams and the sacrifices he was willing to make on behalf of them.” Even Wikipedia knows that Fitzgerald grew up in an upper-middle class household. He spent his youth attending prep schools and matriculated at Princeton. From everything I’ve heard about Fitzgerald, his major failing was that, while brilliant, he was notoriously hedonistic. As far as I remember, the only sacrifices that Fitzgerald made were in the name of commerce, not art.

One of my favorite touches in Keller's article happens to be her care in concealing the fact that Gatsby dies at the end of the novel. She writes that she is “treading delicately here, to avoid the dreaded spoiler.” How out of touch with the universe does she have to be to believe that anyone reading an article about Gatsby in a freaking daily periodical hasn’t read this book or at least knows the ending?

I could go on, but I don’t need to. The best part about reading the essay, was getting to read the outraged responses that followed.

Ben Gulley of Guilford: “This should have been bourne back ceaselessly to the editor’s desk."
Melissa Wiley: “It’s like describing The Scarlet Letter as a book about fashion.”
Ken Lowery: “This is a prank, right?”
Scott Peterson: “Apparently in another piece, the writer explains that Catcher in the Rye is about agriculture and the importance of a good prep school education.”

Are you wondering if Keller even read the book before she wrote her piece? Are you mystified as to why some fact checker at The Chicago Tribune didn’t at least point out to Keller that she was misrepresenting Fitzgerald’s origins?

I am.

To list, here are Keller’s qualifications to write a completely revisionist take on a century of Gatsby study. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English from Marshall University. She earned a Ph.D. from Ohio State University, writing her dissertation on the biographies of Virginia Woolf. She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and taught writing at Princeton. She won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for a feature piece on deadly tornados in Iowa.

There’s nothing in this C.V. that makes her particularly qualified to reinterpret Gatsby, other than that she should have a clear understanding of the principles of literary analysis. What I’ve always taught my 11th and 12th grade English students is that you can interpret a text in any way that can be supported by the text. If you leave out a significant detail because it doesn’t support your idea, then you’ve probably stumbled in your understanding.

But I guess this is just another example of the star system at play. (See my previous post if you'd like to see more examples of how this works.) In print journalism, it doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong. If you have fancy degrees and have won a writing prize, editors will print your ideas as if they’re gospel.

In my mind, all of this just reaffirms Fitzgerald’s actual point. It’s the surface that other’s see, and it’s the appearance that we value. So what if I got my Master’s from a second-rate diploma factory. I’m reaping the rewards of having that MEd after my name. And even if I’d gone to Harvard, I could still say dumb stuff.

I may only have a degree from the University of Phoenix, but I know that much. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Green, Murakami, and a Focus on Fforde

My summer's more than half over (back to school August 1), and I've only read three books. That's a little sad, except that one of them is nearly 1000 pages and I read it pretty much exclusively because it was way overdue at the library.

First, I read the John Green book, An Abundance of Katherines. John Green writes stories about real teenagers with real problems, not problems like which griffin or manticore or schweinhund they might fall in love with. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but John Green is the perfect example of why my own YA book Trendy Poseurs Go Home would actually sell. I like John Green. I kind of wish I were John Green. Where's the manual for becoming John Green? He should write one. I'd follow it.

That 1000 page book I read is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. He's an amazing writer from Japan who writes in the magical realism tradition that Gabriel Garcia Marquez kind of made up by himself. (Literature scholars feel free to disagree. I was at a teacher conference last year and the instructor gave a fifteen minute digression about how magical realism means nothing. I wonder what he would say about my bold statement about Marquez.) His stories are more about the means than the end. The language it takes to make the journey is what matters to Murakami. 

I realize I'm not including much--well, anything--about the plots of these two books, and I'm probably not going to say much about the actual plot of the Jasper Fforde book I'm including here, either. I'm sure you can look elsewhere for that. I'm usually more attracted to a writing style than a plot, anyway. Suffice it to say, you should read these books. Each has a different style, but each is crazy brilliant in its own way.

Okay, if you've never read Jasper Fforde and you like to read at all, you are missing out. Fforde writes for bibliophiles. His Thursday Next series is set in a world where some people are able to jump into the BookWorld to interact with the fictional characters, and fictional characters can come out of their books to visit the real world. This "real world" is a contemporary alternate-history setting where time travel is common, they fly by blimp instead of airplane, and neanderthals, vampires, and ghosts coexist with the humans. Thursday Next herself is a Book Detective and her assignment in the first book, The Eyre Affair, is to find Jane Eyre, who has been kidnapped from her own story. Fforde has a thoroughly wild imagination.

There are now six Thursday Next books, and Fforde has also written two books in a Nursery Crime series, set in a world similar to the Thursday Next world but with small differences like space aliens live on Earth instead of neanderthals and nursery rhyme characters also exist in the real world. The Big Over Easy is about the murder of Humpty Dumpty, and in The Fourth Bear, Goldilocks goes missing and the Gingerbread Man is a deranged killer. 

I could talk about these books all day, but just writing down the premises makes me a little giddy. These are clever, smart, intellectual books (I know what I just wrote), with references to literature throughout. And the wordplay and attention to the English language can be hilarious. In one of the Nursery Crime novels, Fforde makes inconsequential jokes for three quarters of the book just to set up one throw away line that made me laugh for days. It still makes me giggle a little just to think of it. 

I just finished the latest Thursday Next book, One of Our Thursdays is Missing. It's set almost entirely in the BookWorld and involves the written Thursday's investigation into the possible murder of the real Thursday. The underlying commentary on the nature of reading and state of publishing in today's REAL real world is perfect.

Below is a look at the BookWorld's Fiction Island. Click on it to get a better view. Or see it here.

The following passage from One of Our Thursdays is Missing is a taste of the wordplay you're in for when you pick up a Jasper Fforde book:

"I moved quietly to the French windows and stepped out into the garden to release the Lost Positives that the Lady of Shalott had given me. She had a soft spot for the orphaned prefixless words and thought they had more chance to thrive in Fiction than in Poetry. I let the defatigable scamps out of their box. They were kempt and sheveled but their behavior was peccable if not mildly gruntled. They started acting petulously and ran around in circles in a very toward manner."

And the following description of the Metaphoric River that runs the entirety of Fiction Island, reaching every genre, describes the necessity of figurative language in all writing:

"Most people these days agreed that the river couldn't actually have a source, since it flowed in several directions at once. Instead of starting in one place and ending in another using the traditionally mundane "downhill" plan, it would pretty much go as the mood took it. ...the Metaphoric brought with it the rhetorical nutrients necessary for good prose--the river was the lifeblood of fiction, and nothing would exist without it."

I didn't know Jasper Fforde until a couple years into my marriage. My wife's library was already extensive when we met; indeed, it was one of the reasons I fell in love with her. She owned the first two Thursday Next books, but it took a while for us to mutually realize I had never read The Eyre Affair. I'll admit now that I've never read Jane Eyre all the way through, so the ending of Fforde's take on the story confused me until my wife explained. As with any allusion, if you're not familiar with the source, the reference gets lost. Still, I am eternally grateful to my wife because I am now hooked on Fforde and suggest the same for you. Reading Jasper Fforde will do nothing less than enrich your life.

The next Thursday Next book, called The Woman Who Died a Lot, is supposed to be released this month. Here's some info. So get cracking.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Too much information. 

I'm aware that this is nothing new, but it's still a major problem.

Eighteen months ago I started actively pursuing publication of my YA novel Trendy Poseurs Go Home, building an online platform, and sifting through the glut of information about how to get it done. And I have yet to figure out how to get published.

Where's the manual? I mean, if you want to be a doctor, there's a procedure, right? Get good grades, get into med school, pass your courses, and you're a doctor. My brother-in-law is trying to become a police officer, and he's going step by step through the process the police department sets up: tests, interviews, background checks, more tests, more interviews. In order to become a teacher, I had to get a degree, take courses in education, follow the application procedures for each school district. The procedures are different for every district, of course, but at least they have procedures.

I know these analogies aren't perfect. That "writer" as a profession doesn't easily fit a mold. There's no human resources office you can visit and ask for an application. Instead, you have to rely on the experience of others in order to figure out the way to get a foothold in the business. And every one of those "others" has his or her own experience that doesn't follow any kind of manual.

As a practical person who can usually do a pretty good job at something once someone shows me how it's done, not having a definitive rule book is one of the most frustrating aspects of writing. There are too many voices out there. Too much advice. Too many ways to get published.

So what's the best way? I know there isn't one. That you have to find your own. The problem is you can't know that you've found what works for you until you've followed some advice, taken a path, and seen where it leads you. And you can't know anything, which is my frustration, for the entire time it takes for the process to run its course. And where's the finish line, anyway? Agent? Publication? Bestseller? Movie rights? And now your book is taught in Honors Literature courses in schools across the globe because of its brilliance. How long did that take?

Or none of that happens after years of work. That's depressing.

I've decided to stick to a basic few websites. See what use they can be to me. In a few years, if I'm still in the same place I am today, I'll have to take stock and reconfigure my own process.

I've joined QueryTracker.net, hoping it can keep me organized. A bazillion other sites could help me with querying, but I can't deal with more than one. I'll go with this one, and maybe I'll actually send some queries.

The site Chiseled in Rock is the official blog of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, the only "society" of writers I pay dues to belong to. I like the down-to-earth discussions they have, and since I've actually met some of these writers in person, getting published doesn't seem so outlandish when I hear them tell about it.

For writing tips, The Bookshelf Muse never fails to give practical suggestions. I use their subject thesaurus almost as much as I use a word thesaurus.

Please don't misunderstand. I love the community of writers and still read other writing blogs, engage in conversation about writing, gain and give support and encouragement. Plus, I'm still searching for that manual, that application, that silver bullet, that pot o' gold, that holy grail. 

Be sure to let me know if you've found it. 

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is the brainchild of Sci-Fi writer Alex J. Cavanaugh. Check out his site for more insecure writers.