gradschool, the academy, workstyle, writing

“Are you getting somewhere…

or did you get lost in Amsterdam?”
– Guster

I have been mounting a lot of defenses of creative writing programs lately. It’s come up when talking to Harvard lawyers, to Hopkins grad students, even to complete strangers. May and June of 2010 seems to be defend-your-workshop season.

My favorite strategy, hitherto only used in my head, is the one where I quote song lyrics as if they mean something. “As Ray LaMontagne writes in ‘Hannah,’ ‘I lost all of my vanity when I peered into the pool,’ which I think we can use as a metaphor for the workshop process.’ ” Like that. I’ve started to view everything as a potential defense for creative writing programs, since every occasion becomes an occasion for defending them.

I’ve thought of putting one up here, or writing a kind of point-by-point rebuttal to all the questions I’ve gotten since doing a year at this program, as well as to the objections made in print. It seems like it might be of interest. What might be of more interest would be a bad satirical defense of creative writing programs, in the manner of the “Dr. Grant Swinger” character, invented by Daniel S. Greenberg*, from the mythical Institute for the Appropriation of Federal Funds. Perhaps both.

“SWINGER: …Actually, our people have an advantage. They aren’t torn between research and teaching. They’ve resolved that conflict.
SWINGER: By doing neither.”
– from a mock interview in the 2002 Science

Not right now, though. I’m going to go for a walk, as I have for the last five days running. First thing in the morning, before trying to get any work done. Blogging beforehand is cheating, a bit. But rules were made to be bent.

* Heard about Greenberg & Swinger from this NYT review of Greenberg’s new campus satire, “Tech Transfer,” in which Nicholas Wade writes:

“…“Tech Transfer” is the world of Dr. Swinger writ large, populated by scientific entrepreneurs who have learned how to absorb federal funds, suppress charges of malfeasance and live high off the hog. When Dr. Winner assumes the presidency of Kershaw University, he learns the folly of challenging the tenured faculty on any of their sacrosanct, non-negotiable issues:

“These included annual pay increases, lax to near-non-existent conflict-of-interest and conflict-of-commitment regulations, and ample pools of powerless grad students, postdocs and adjuncts to minimize professorial workloads. As a safety net, the faculty favored disciplinary procedures that virtually assured acquittal of members accused of abusing subordinates, seducing students, committing plagiarism, fabricating data, or violating the one-day-a-week limit on money-making outside dealings.”