Category Archives: Smart Consumer

Kindle, iPad, tablet: not the same, with good reason

I just ran across an article claiming that iPads are superior to Kindles because iPads are more than just e-readers.

I love my Mac, but I love my Kindle, too. I love them for different reasons. I love that I can play with Calibre, Stanza, iMovie, and all Teh Internetz on my Mac. I love that I’m seriously unable to get distracted by web-surfing and e-mailing on my Kindle, and that I don’t need Calibre or Stanza to create readable personal files (thank you, .doc files, e-mail, and free.kindle.com).

I use my Kindle for reading, annotating what I read, and occasionally hitting the wi-fi to download the daily paper, classics from Project Gutenberg, some feverishly-typed-up study notes, or copies of my favorite magazines. For people who read tons of text, have five too few bookcases, and need to avoid distractions, the paperback-book-sized Kindle is far superior to the iPad. One could send an e-mail in a crisis, assuming wi-fi or 3G capability was up, yet the Kindle’s deliberately too-small keyboard is an effective deterrent for those of us on a social-media diet.

I think of tablets as slightly too-small PDF-reading and e-mail-checking machines with limited typing capabilities–and I mean that as a compliment. Tablets are almost there, as far as research tools, but I’d like to see a true 8.5 x 11 screen size and the ability to highlight and annotate PDFs before I commit to an iPad (or to whomever meets the requirements first). I would love to take a tablet into the stacks with me to take notes (or scan/photograph images) and to fill it with tons of academic database articles and newspapers. (Hey, I’m a writer. I’m a grad student. I have been a reporter and likely will be one again.) However, the tablet/iPad would have to have native PDF annotating and highlighting capabilities to win my eye. And with the AARP about to stalk me, the eyes get priority.

I broke up with my iPod Touch because the mice-type was making me blind and I didn’t enjoy the “alternative” of reading novels half a paragraph at a time. On the Kindle, I can resize text for whatever my need is at a given moment. Resizing PDFs on the small Kindle is a non-starter. (Imagine covering half of a page vertically and then trying to read it.) I thought the big Kindle’s sumptuous 9.7-inch screen would solve both text size and readable-PDF-page problems, but the DX was too awkward and heavy for casual reading or one-handed key-poking, especially for someone with bird-bone wrists and tiny hands. I swapped my big Kindle for a small one and have been watching the iPad/tablet developers duke it out ever since.

I got a great deal on an Acer Iconia A500 for my partner, who was disappointed at not having won an iPad in a drawing at work. Of course the A500 isn’t an iPad, but because she has an Android phone and the A500 runs on Android, it seemed like a good fit. It also seems more practical, in that it has “gigs and gags” the iPad doesn’t, like a mini-SD card reader. She’s warming up to it, in her usual technophobic way. The A500 can talk to her Mac, which treats it as a USB device, and she has many free software options (no online purchasing needed). It talks to her e-mail and she can tap the address on a work order and pull up a Google map. She can take endless cat-worship videos with “The Eye”–“Oh! It has The Eye in the front AND in the back!” And, if you have The Eye, you can use Es-Skippy, just like on the regular computer. A technophobe who develops a secret passion for Google Sky on her phone should have no trouble adapting to the A500.

Why do manufacturers always load stupid games onto your new toy without asking? Why not let us choose the games we want? We’re not all 12-year-old boys trying to sublimate our testosterone rushes via combat sims. I like the occasional game of Asteroids or Pac-Man, and I admit to letting the iPod whip my butt at level-one chess a few times, but I really don’t play games on my e-toys. (Okay, I have played Scrabble online. My idea of portable-device diversion is WriteRoom. Or a fresh download from Project Gutenberg.)

I’d much rather have the option to choose, say, five or six basic productivity programs: a mind-mapper, a PDF annotator, a fully-functional suite like Pages or Office, a web browser, and maybe a Leitner-box flashcard set and a decent gradebook). Call it the iStudy package.

Another marketing tip: Don’t fake-load the program in demo mode, only for users to find out that they have to pay $14.99 to get a fully-functional version (ahem, DataViz…). If the Documents to Go icon shows up, I don’t expect to unwrap a hollow box–and I definitely don’t expect my partner to have to pay for what seems to be a gift. The first thing she asked to see was the word processing program. She didn’t want me to pay for Docs to Go. I thought we could download OpenOffice, but the open-source gods haven’t cobbled the Android tablet version together yet.

Quite a few iPad-armed colleagues would appreciate an essay-grading app. If we could edit the rubric criteria, this would be a must-have. However, if we can’t open and view the essay alongside the app, and iPad can only run one app at a time (really?), we’d still need to pick up paper submissions from students.

How would this make grading any easier for instructors and less confusing for students? It wouldn’t:

“I don’t understand why you didn’t mark up my paper! If you e-mail me comments, why can’t I e-mail you my paper? Why should I have to pay to print out my paper?…”

Really, Apple and other developers have overlooked this research/academic/writerly market niche for too long. Let us decide whether to download Angry Birds or Chess or whatever, but first give us the tools we actually might use with an iPad or other tablet. Include a few good market-targeted programs instead of junk apps priced into the deal yet destined for the recycle bin. That, and a slightly bigger screen, would convince me to part with a few hundred bucks, possibly for the October-surprise version of iPad.

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The Old College Try(ing)

The fiction reading list expands to fill the time allotted, then overflows: literary Great Stuff oozing through the cracks of the intellectual shack I’ve cobbled together. Great Stuff expands, fossilizes, resists whittling down. Okay. I’ll say it. I’d be an idiot not to postpone comps until fall. I’ve got ten weeks before the exam and my particular reading list is a string of electrons pinging between servers. Even an English major with dyscalculia can do that math.

Here’s what studying great literature at a public university involves nowadays. See how well this squares with the ideal Oxbridge tutorial, that Ivy League privilege-anxiety foremost in current anti-intellectual discourse, that “Dead Poets Society” cave scene before youth, freedom, and discovery expanded into a synthetic blob of backstabbing, suicide, and kangaroo committees.

First, I’m lucky because I’m fully funded through Year Six. This is the middle of Year Five. Twelve years was, until recently, not unheard of for doctorates in the humanities, although that’s the outer limit of one’s scholarly welcome. Now, we are being prodded to finish in half that time or less, as opposed to the seven-year norm. For grad students in the humanities, being fully funded entails teaching. In the current academic climate (everywhere, not just at my alma mater), that means we are responsible for planning, running, and grading multiple introductory sections. We also have to attend this meeting, that meeting, the other meeting, in a kind of dry run for tenure-track Valhalla. One thing you’ll get at my institution is professionalization in excelsis. I admit that’s a good thing. All that extracurricular training gives us a sliver of an advantage in the academic job market, which itself is pretty thin.

Teaching assistants’ take-home pay may be about 1/3 that of a convenience store manager, but tuition is on the house. To make ends meet, I gamble on the future: I take out student loans to cover the rest of my (well, actually, our) very modest living expenses and to pay for conference travel once, possibly twice, a year. The People’s Universities no longer pay for their graduate students to present at regional or national conferences, which is where grad students go for the elusive academic job interview. That’s because The People’s Universities everywhere function at the pleasure of elected state officials, many of whom think “the gubmint” (reminder: that’s you and me, folks, not them) shouldn’t pay for anything (but sweetheart-deal private contractors). What little money comes the grad students’ way trickles down through layers of administrators and warrens of managers, many of whom (but not all) manage the university as a private corporation, not as a public trust. When the annual budget cut or the mid-year budget cut strikes, as it always does, our non-degree-program workload increases. Academic trench warfare means holding the line for graduate funding while finding more ways to justify graduate students’ presence at The People’s Universities everywhere.

It’s been this way for over a decade. It reminds me far too much of the oil bust that interrupted my undergraduate studies in (hello) the early ’80s. I know what it means to work three crappy jobs and go to school full-time, or to work one real job all night and then go to school 2/3 time on the quarter system. I hardly lack motivation. I just want to finish my reading and get on with whatever’s next. High on the list: paying off my student loans and trying to mitigate all those years of lost income/retirement savings. I’m not 25. I’m not single. I have grown folks’ bills. I will never sell my soul, but I will sell my time to the highest bidder.

One hungers for the idealized graduate life of yesteryear. Did it ever exist? Whither the corduroy-elbowed denizens of library carrels? Whither library carrels, for that matter? I’m not sitting around smoking a pipe and debating the merits of Hemingway’s vs. Faulkner’s prose in the campus pub with my three closest pals. (Whither the campus pub?) I don’t smoke a pipe–I don’t smoke anything–but I remember, by proxy, how grad school was in the 1970s and 1980s. My mother was one of those housewives who went “back to school” and is now happily doctored, published, and tenured. I watched her study; I studied alongside her; sometimes I even helped her study by reading manuscripts aloud while she transcribed them. My father, who never finished college but has read more than anyone I know, was a muckraking journalist. My family, it seems, was not the norm. They let me play with typewriters. I watched the Vietnam War three times a day. They did not censor my reading. By the time I was ten, I had read Wordsworth’s poetry, The Tempest, and The Godfather (wedding party and horsehead and all), all of my own free will, and my mother had vouched for me with the librarian because I’d read just about every book in the kids’ section. I was also writing poems and stories from first grade on, producing and peddling my own magazines in elementary school, and binding books by junior high.

I never had a chance. I was doomed to be a writer, a reader, a thinker.

Where I do this is immaterial; that I do it is vital.

I say this using my fancy college words. But I also know about smoke-filled rooms and lying politicians and putting my bus money in my shoe and acting crazy on the street when a shifty-looking guy is about to mug me. I sought my first craft training in newsrooms, not workshops. Like my dad, I can and do read on my own time because reading is its own reward–just you and the (in)glorious mind on the page. Seems to me, though, that a university oughta be the best place to read a lot in a short time.

So here I am, mixed diction an’ all, dawl.

My street sense tells me The People’s Universities are getting mugged, conned, jumped, jacked, and hustled by the folks with the purse-strings. And they never, ever will say, “Okay, I’ve got enough money now. Here’s your temporary fee increase back. And let’s expand the arts programs. Those guys in the Sports Palace have enough. It’s time for Our Fair State to develop world-class writers.”

This is why I have taken a 1.5 graduate courseload while teaching a .5 FTE load (plus professionalization, teaching portfolios, tutoring portfolios, editing publications, serving on committees, presenting at conferences, publishing, and all that professory jazz). For folks keeping score at home, that’s the equivalent of two full-time jobs, not one. When I started, I looked at how many years of funding I was guaranteed. Then I counted backwards from there and took the required core as quickly as possible. I had planned to take a year to study for each comp exam and a year for the dissertation (only because I’ve written a master’s thesis and a book already, have had the concept in mind since before I applied, and have been picking at the research and planning in odd moments). Sure, I “lost” a year or so with “unnecessary” forays which are, in fact, completely necessary supplements of or complements to my research interests. I flog my “advanced” Spanish whenever I can. I took a doctoral-level ed psych. I took a master’s-level screenwriting class. I took Old English, because I believe no self-respecting English Ph.D. should escape at least the rudiments of Old English. I took various lit courses which I never got around to during the previous two degrees, nearly all of which count as requirements. Other than that, I’ve gone straight through with no break. I teach every summer. I do the “voluntary” work required, in light of budget cuts, to maintain my preexisting level of funding.

And Lord have mercy, I have to reread every freaking novel and craft treatise I’ve read in grad school and a handful more that I’ve heard of but never read, much less studied.

This is not going to happen between now and ten weeks from now.

Part of me says, “Oh, hell, you’ve read most of this stuff more than once or twice, even if it was in 1992. Or at least once in the past five years. Maybe you can go get a trot like everyone else (surely not everyone relies on trots–do they? Grad students?!. . .).”

My real self says, “No way. This is not a capsule plot recitation. You gotta deal with some bad mofos struttin’ around with all their kaleidoscopic plots hanging out. You have points of comparison to consider. Swann’s Way. Moby-Dick. Your boy García Márquez. And you’ve never gotten around to Midnight’s Children. Or Housekeeping. And you want to read Tres Tristes Tigres in translation. And the incremental perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a complexified equilibrium. And you need to make fresh notes on all of it. Girl, you might have enough time between now and October. Maybe.”

So after several e-mail exchanges with my fiction advisor, I think I’ll need to apply a little TV news horse-sense to the situation: Restack the show. Dedicate this semester to reading and note-taking, and to generating the working draft of the diss, which is the working draft of what I prematurely describe to all as “my real book”–meaning my over-48-page-minimum-for-full-poetry-collection-status-in-the-world book–and take the fiction exam this fall. It makes more sense. I have all kinds of strike-force research trips planned this spring and summer, and there’s no law against working on the diss before finishing both exams. Plus, I’m itchy-antsy to stay in poetry mode while I teach poetry this semester.

Because no one (well, almost no one) is going to say, “Here, O Poet-scholar–take $30K and a year off to travel and work on your beautiful dissertation-real-book-manuscript,” I squeeze in tiny side trips on the way to and from other places. I become a poet-field reporter in full crash mode. I use my reporter brain and my poet brain, my emergency brain and my scholar brain.  (I also keep a backup light-up brain in my office, but that’s for real emergencies.)

Now I just have to keep all the Great Stuff from oozing out between now and October. And keep my dollar in my shoe.

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A year without Facebook

A herd of sheep as metaphor for Facebook users

Baaaaaaah humbug! I'm tired of Sheepbook's data-fleecing!

I’ve given my thousand-plus friends and “friends” fair warning: If they want to find me online in 2011, I won’t be on Facebook.

The combination of creepy face-recognition and geotagging was the final straw in Facebook’s series of ever-more-invasive presumptions. I grew sick and tired of hearing after the fact about new settings to turn off, new terms to opt out of, and new layouts to navigate. No longer do I feel conflicted about leaving the marketing orgy disguised as a virtual non-stop cocktail party. At first, I worried about losing track of what various far-flung friends were doing. Now, I have nothing to lose but acquaintances. I let folks know that I’m out as of 1/1/11. For one solid year, I vow not to update my status or to check into Sheepbook in any way whatsoever. At the end of the year, I promise to write about the experience. If I were not in grad school, where I’m obligated to respond to student e-mails and to tutor online, I’d swear off the entire digiverse and retreat to Walden, but this will have to do for now.

John Allemang’s “Technocurmudgeon: Confessions of a Facebook Heretic” in the Globe and Mail, here also tweaking Twitter, frames the effect nicely:

I don’t need to accumulate friends in quantity, but I want to know what drives my fellow beings. And what I discover in Twitter is the curious disconnect of all this connectedness: People I know as morally obtuse find the meaning of life in a cottage sunset, people I admire as artists can’t stop nattering about their frappuccinos, newbie political organizers I hoped would succeed get so caught up in Twitter self-congratulation that they forget to fight the real election on the streets.

What are we missing in life that makes us settle for these faux-social gatherings? You tell me. Except for the enforced sense of alienation in the workplace that comes from opting out – but boss, I thought you prized non-conformity – a life freed from the social networks’ demands should be a better way to pass the time.

And BBC Radio’s Rory Cellan-Jones did a great series, in which he interviewed EFF founder and WELL denizen John Perry Barlow about the virtues of meatspace versus the online mutton-pen:

Throughout our interview, the man who founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation kept harking back to his life in a small town in Wyoming, where he spent years as a cattle rancher.

Ever since, he told us, he’d been trying to find the same sense of small-town community in cyberspace. The Well, whose members met in “meatspace” as well as online, had been a great experience. He told how, at Well parties, the members of the community emerged blinking into the real world, and discovered the faces behind the words.

John Perry Barlow seemed disappointed by today’s social networks, and in particular the one that has really taken the online experience to the masses. “Facebook is like television, the opposite of what I was looking for,” he grumbled. “It’s the suburbs, not the global village.”

Way back when, say, in the early 1990s, when very few people had Internet access, launching an “app” meant typing ~vi, and the Web was text-only, I dipped briefly into the WELL. Eventually, I found cyberhomes at CREWRT-L and WOM-PO, and those friendships continue today–both in real life and online, if not necessarily via listserv. Today, I also listmom FORMALISTA, which is a closed list precisely because we wish to stay on topic, because we wish to avoid unproductive distractions, because we share a common interest in formal poetry by women and all considerations which the phrase implies.

By contrast, CREWRT-L has always been a heavy-traffic list, our discussions punctuated by news of spouse’s health, grandkid’s arrivals, and birdfeeder’s traffic, and we like it that way. The difference between CREWRT-L and Facebook is that a sense of community actually inheres. We see each other not only at AWP, for example, but also because we’re passing through town. We make allowances for our differences and we genuinely care for one another. We may “toot” a small success, but we don’t continually harp on our magnificence every time we finish a draft.

Facebook was originally conceived as a marketing platform, a tool for manufacturing popularity, and popularity is the fetish of the insecure. It allows one to post commercials about oneself in real time to an adoring circle of dozens. In short, it makes one feel special. Temporarily. Until one needs another hit. The first step, say anonymous addicts everywhere, is to admit one’s powerlessness.

If you want to surrender control, you’d better know to whom you’re capitulating. Some people say, “Privacy is dead.” Let’s assume such is the case (which I don’t actually believe to be true.) Discretion, however, survives.

So what’s your story? Are you sick of trying to keep up with Facebook’s periodic flux in terms? How much online data is too much? Would you like to punch Mark Zuckerberg in his smug little face? Are you ramping down, swearing off, or otherwise reorganizing your “online presence” in 2011? If you could have only e-mail and ONE other online means of communication, what would that be? Have you considered unplugging entirely? Confess your techno-conflicts below.

And if you’re reading this via Facebook, please consider responding on Every Poet Needs a Patio instead.

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I can haz e-books I paid for, Amazon?

I left this note–well, essay–on amazon.com’s Kindle Customer Service board:

My dad bought me a nice new Kindle DX as a gift. Meanwhile, he loaned me his while I crammed for Ph.D. exams. I purchased a few books, downloaded many classics, and uploaded study notes, lists, individual docs, etc. All well and good. I decided I much prefer the smaller Kindle and so he’s taking the DX. However, it’s my understanding that, because I bought my obscure literary criticism on his machine, that I cannot transfer those titles to my Kindle.

This is a major, major DRM issue. I in fact purchased the book on his Kindle, and we in fact are swapping possession of our respective Kindles, both of which he purchased.

If you look at our accounts, you will see that we have spent TENS of thousands of dollars at amazon.com over the years. I think that, as a goodwill gesture, you should do whatever is necessary to tweak the code on these individual downloads OR to issue an immediate credit back so that I might repurchase said books on my own machine.

If not, I would be extremely wary of continuing to use the Kindle at all, and would go directly to a more user-friendly version. I understand the issues with DRM and piracy, and (as an author) I strongly support protecting *author’s* rights. However, in cases such as this, clearly the customer who has paid for the use of this particular e-book should certainly be accommodated, as the book is not being pirated or even read/shared by two people.

You might counter that you have no way of knowing this. Given that each download has its own identification, I doubt that. It’s easy enough to see later whether I’d cracked this individual copy of Spiller’s _The Development of the Sonnet_ and sold thousands of copies on the international black market (think of all the sonnet specialists drooling for such contraband!– all 12 of us!).

Yet, cynically, retread versions of public-domain classics (often poorly formatted) are shamelessly sold on amazon.com. Sold? Someone downloads a work from Project Gutenberg, “designs” a “cover,” sells it on amazon.com, and repeats the process?… And I can’t get a book that I paid for on my dad’s account into my account when it already exists physically on the Kindle I put it into? And he just paid for the new, expensive Kindle?…

In this case, I suggest that sound judgment should override mindless policy. I cannot afford to repurchase titles which I’ve already bought and being forced to do so is not in any way fair. I’m certain a judge would agree.

Surely this can be done on the back end via the users’ web interfaces. Create a particular link: “Transfer ownership”–make the person read and agree to swear to whatever legalese that covers the situation I’ve described–and then allow User Account A to e-mail the book(s) in question to User Account B ONE TIME ONLY via wireless. Your tech people could set up a database to track such transfers. And you most certainly should NOT charge any fee for doing so. If User B subsequently upgrades, he or she should be able to put all existing purchases into the new device.

Philosophically speaking, I think the current situation overreaches reasonable transfers. Again, I stress: I am NOT advocating that amazon.com create a Napster– or LimeWire-sized venue for mass file abuse. I do think it obvious that situations like this offer amazon.com an opportunity to demonstrate respect for its loyal customers.

Finally, I think it’s only a matter of time before some kind of system for transferring between users comes up. Whatever that might be, I hope that the author benefits from each use, just as recording artists and actors earn residuals when their works are played. I wonder whether ASCAP/BMI offer useful models for this.

What I enormously resent as a writer are huge publishing companies whose “pay” for, say, encyclopedia articles doesn’t even cover copy costs, yet who retain all digital rights and then resell MY work for enormous sums via library subscriptions, for example. I worry that, despite the savings on freight, paper, ink, distribution, etc. the middlemen and weasels will earn a disproportionate percentage of rights at the author’s expense.

Anyway, this is much longer than I’d planned. I hope you find this persuasive and that you will return my obscure literary analysis purchases as soon as possible.

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Letter to the Lege: On USG Budget Cuts

The following is a letter to Ga. Sen. Gail Buckner (D-44) and Ga. Rep. Joe Heckstall (D-62) about the proposed 77% tuition increase and extraordinarily severe cutbacks for all universities in the state of Georgia. Some details excerpted for space.

The Georgia Assembly still thinks the Lottery Fairy will save higher education.

. . .I am a doctoral student in creative writing at Georgia State University. Every class day, I get up, throw two heavy bags into my little jalopy with no radio and no air bags, brave the suicide run up I-75 North, fork over $5 cash to the State of Georgia for parking, and engage in the business of Chaucer’s Clerke: “And gladly would (s)he learn and gladly teach.” I also am a published poet, author, and scholar of poetry with many awards to my credit (among these, a  Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences teaching fellowship and a Pushcart Prize nomination). I am writing to voice my strong opposition to any further budget cuts for higher education in Georgia, particularly at GSU and most particularly in creative writing and literature programs systemwide.


I have been a professional writermeaning that my writing and related activities have fed, clothed, and housed me–since 1986. I left a good-paying job as a writer at CNN and took an enormous pay cut to pursue advanced study in the art of poetry and to teach college students. . . .


Like so many other graduate students at GSU, I teach introductory courses to pay my way. My job pays for most, but not all, of my doctoral studies. It also is part of a rigorous professionalization program that trains us to teach adults at the college level. . . .


Much of my work involves remediating woefully underprepared graduates of Georgia high schools. . . I frequently teach that a sentence has a subject and a predicate; that books contain useful information; and that it is not acceptable to miss a deadline. By “teach,” I mean that I repeatedly must find engaging ways for students to work on these issues during the course of a semester. At the same time, I have to get students up to speed on the basics of ethos, pathos, and logos; writing essays in a number of different modes (e.g., analysis, argument, personal, etc.); training them to use the library databases as sources instead of Wikipedia and Google; and inculcating a sense of professional ethics in terms of avoiding plagiarism and citing sources in the styles of their respective disciplines. I also must attend monthly professionalization meetings and twice-yearly in-house graduate student conferences. My job also frees tenured faculty to pursue their own research.


How ironic that Chancellor Davis estimates a 77% tuition increase just to maintain the status quo when roughly 72% of all courses at my institution in recent years are taught by graduate students, part-timers, and adjuncts, according to the American Association of University Professors. Where do you suppose all that lottery cash is going? Certainly not into hiring more full-time faculty, nor into cost-of-living increases, nor into lowering class sizes, nor into graduate research funding to lower our courseloads so that we can do our research.


I have undergraduate students who live without gas and electricity, yet attend GSU on the HOPE scholarship. I have given away desk copies of textbooks to students who are struggling with homelessness or marginal living conditions. I have bought diapers for one student’s newborn when she was unemployed. This semester, I have given free tutorials to one former student outside of my normal office hours because his skills were so deficient. Some of my students are single parents, working two jobs and struggling to pass remedial English on the third try so that they might better themselves and their families’ financial situation by earning a college degree. . . . Most of my students have the expense of commuting to GSU from all over metro Atlanta from locations underserved by public transportation. The days of running to Daddy to cover another several-hundred-dollar “temporary fee increase” are long over, especially when Daddy’s been looking for work for months or has lost the family home to foreclosure. For them, and for me, there truly is nothing else that can be cut.


After ten years of serving the University System of Georgia, as either an adjunct faculty member or a graduate teaching assistant, I still haven’t learned how not to care about my students or their writing.


It is incredibly exhausting work, especially when I am teaching myself about the intricacies of 17th-century devotional verse, theoretical debates over various metrical substitutions in contemporary formal poetry, various approaches to narrative theory, and the effects of time shifts in the novel as preparation for comprehensive examinations in poetry and fiction. (Those who think “anyone” can write or that creative writing is an “easy” discipline should try a graduate-level workshop or course in Form and Theory sometime.) I have taken a 1.5 load nearly every semester of my doctoral studies in order to finish as quickly as possible. I did this purely for financial reasons. I can say that both my learning and my teaching suffered as a direct result of the system’s existing financial pressures. Apparently I finished just in time, given the proposed cuts in faculty and course offerings. My new concern is whether any of my dissertation committee members will have their positions cut or be forced into early retirement. Assuming that I am able to earn my doctorate under these circumstances (in six years instead of twelve), I have resolved to leave the state of Georgia shortly thereafter for a state which supports the mission of higher education as something more than glorified technical training. How I will make a living is anyone’s guess, but if I want to teach in higher education, I know that the prospects of finding a full-time tenure-track position in English, much less creative writing, in this state are next to zero.


My fellow grad students who are still taking courses must wait two years between offerings of some required courses. Writing workshops at the graduate level today are the size of undergraduate level workshops I took at GSU in the early 1990s (15-20 students); undergraduate writing workshops are the size of freshman composition courses (25+ students), which is to say that they are double-booked. Intermediate and advanced students who are writing majors cannot fully develop their talents when they get only half the contact time for which they are paying. The same is true of non-English majors who are taking freshman composition and introductory literature survey courses. Unlike other disciplines, English grading requires an enormous amount of time and written feedback; you can’t run hundreds of essays through a Scantron machine and leave that on your desk until Monday morning. My nights and weekends, when not filled with my own time-consuming research, are stuffed with reading, correcting, and responding to student papers, not to mention the difficulties of thinking up ways to engage weaker students in developing habits of reading, writing, and thinking to which they, frankly, should have been exposed well before high school.


As it is, graduate students at GSU have been forced to make do with very little for a very long time. Without supplementary income from student loans, which assume the ability to find gainful employment upon graduation, I would not be able to survive. This year, I must attend three professional conferences. Conferences are where scholars exchange ideas and interview for jobs. As I have recently finished coursework and am studying for comprehensive exams, it is imperative that I be able to attend these conferences. Even on the slimmest of budgets, any one conference costs over $1000 once you figure in airfare or gasoline, hotel accommodations, and registration. Such expenses are an enormous burden–25% of my salary. I can compete against 120 other grad students for the hope of a $200 reimbursement after the fact, but that doesn’t even cover airfare in coach.


We don’t even have dedicated research areas for graduate study in our library. In the fifth-floor silent room, which is as close to a graduate carrel as one can find at GSU, there are approximately eight electrical sockets for 50 or so desks. Think about graduate students in English, history, Spanish, and other humanities disciplines trying to find a quiet place to plug in their computers while they work on research and you begin to get some idea of how difficult conditions are for research in the arts and humanities. This is how much Georgia, the land of Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Mitchell, Henry Grady, Alice Walker, James Dickey, Conrad Aiken, Sidney Lanier, values its young writers, who work under materially different conditions than those authors did, and who look to the University System of Georgia to help them develop their craft. At what point should the state reallocate funding towards, instead of away from, its best advanced students? If you want to attract the very best minds and reap the rewards of their training, then you have to offer attractive funding at the postgraduate level and you have to make up the difference by waiving out-of-state and international student fees.


[. . .]

As my elected officials, I urge you to stand up now, when it counts, and defend higher education in Georgia. Higher education, with the detailed analysis and difficult habits of thought it entails, is this state’s only real economic hope. Otherwise, we will be condemned to begging for a lettuce-packing plant here and a convention there, forever at the mercy of those civic leaders educated in states whose university systems are properly capitalized.


Recently, GSU quit reading the names of undergraduate degree recipients at commencement. This speaks volumes for what this state really thinks about the importance of a college education beyond mere job training. Until Georgia invests in higher education, as opposed to the sports palaces and building contracts “appertaining thereunto,” we will continue to turn out underprepared high school and college “graduates” who don’t see the point of reading the newspaper, budget proposals, Flannery O’Connor, or between the lines. Unfortunately, you are counting on these great minds to stimulate our economy. There is one great advantage to pursuing the proposed USG cuts: such “graduates” will be extremely easy to govern.

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