I haven’t blogged anything (here) in over a month. I’m still alive. Deep cover, cramming for fiction comps, writing teaching and tutoring portfolios, teaching intro poetry workshop with almost 20 students, almost all of whom have never written much or any poetry, picking up my own honor-society slack, worrying about the semesterly parental medical crisis, letting in the handyman, and flushing time down the rathole called commuting-by-car. At least I get the BBC and other news outlets while I drive. I am overweight, under pressure, sleepy, cranky, and falling apart. And missing deadlines for things like conferences and journals, even though I wrote them down in my calendar.
But if I can just hang in there a few more weeks and get all these academic obligations nailed down, I will reward myself with all the gardening and exercise I can stand. If I pass my comps, I’ll be ABD and in dissertation-land.
Then the real fun begins.
I have been working on this idea the whole time I’ve been working on the Ph.D., and it’s grown and morphed in weird ways, as dissertations do. Over the next few months, I’ll be making a series of road trips to various locations around the country: wildlife areas, historic sites, archives, and quirky curiosities. I’m nailing down two or three likely grant/fellowship sources, and I’ve got a line on a fairly unusual internship for a poet. I’ve been accepted to study abroad this spring, and hope to hear good news about additional (necessary) funding next week. I’m also working on a couple of fellowship applications for the scholarly aspects of the project: culling archives, plunging into libraries. None of this is the same thing as writing the poems themselves, but for a project of this scope, I’m at the point where I need to do more serious research to generate the individual pieces and the arc of the collection as a whole. It touches on science, history, geography. It’s most assuredly an adventure.
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Did I mention that I’m writing a creative dissertation? Yes. Poets do indeed do scholarly work. Poets in the university are like women in the workforce: we have to do everything ten times as well to be considered one-tenth as… acceptable. We do creative work and literary criticism and academic papers and pedagogy and theory and and and. (Well, to varying degrees. But it never ceases to astound me when I hear people in other specialties claiming that they “don’t understand how creative writers think” or “don’t pretend t0 know what creative writers do.” Hey, it’s not that difficult to figure out. We write. Don’t you write? We also read. You do read, don’t you? We do not have three arms and two heads.
Some favorite creative-writer-in-the-academy tropes:
- Specimen (Look! An actual dead author!)
- Idiot savant (They wrote it, but they don’t understand it.)
- Slacker (It’s not like they publish real articles.)
- Freak (S/he seems… unhappy. Unbalanced.)
- Non-Teacher (Please write up a rubric converting each poem to a percentage.)
Of course, all this internecine silliness is part of older internecine battles, most of whose actors are long departed and whose once-groundbreaking theories have been reduced to anonymous conventional “wisdom.” Part of it is human nature. Humans get crazy when they’re trapped inside of institutions. Some become zombies, cogs in the machine, without realizing it. Others fight like hell, but never kick over the traces. Some of the wisest I’ve observed fly below radar. They have hobbies. They do not hang around campus unless absolutely necessary.
As I surf the professional journals and the unprofessional gossip, I can’t help but find the zeitgeist sticking to me. No matter the institution, no matter the discipline, proffies and grad students seem to be on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown. Perhaps if we all were required to take part in an actual group writing exercise once a month–actually led by actual creative writers–rather than meetings on the policy on the policy, we might all be a little saner. Imagine putting off all that other writing to do your own writing.
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In a post-Katrina, crude-and-Corexit-soaked world, signs and wonders: the comp folks are taking a new creative approach to portfolio-writing this semester. A sizable yoga contingent is taking over the department.
I’ve given up about 90% of my Tasmanian devil persona. I try to be patient with people who don’t realize I’ve been there, done that. I try to pass along what I’ve learned to the new crop of Tasmanian devils.
To preserve my severely-taxed physical, mental, and creative energy, I run from black holes of endless suck. If nominated as Mayor of Crazy Town, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.
I am into doing my own thing, which seems to me the point of being an independent (read: graduate) student.
It is the precondition and the raison d’etre of any artist, writer, thinker.
I do not tie my writer-ness to being in or out of the academy. I do not fret about having to wait tables instead of winning post-docs. I will write no matter where I am or what I do for a living. The current liminality feels oddly comfortable. I make no plans beyond next year.
My colleagues are all around me, all over the world, across space and time, inscribed in history, scratched in the dust of the future.
See you on the road. I promise I’ll write.