books, gradschool, the academy

the very nature of an answer

During my grad school years, I took a seminar on Derrida to which Derrida himself paid a surprise visit, modestly answering our questions with none of the drama I had imagined reading his written words on the page. He seemed, amazingly, to be saying something, rather than just saying something about the impossibility of saying anything. In one cringe-inducing moment, a peer of mine asked a rambling, self-referential question that began by putting “under erasure” the very nature of an answer. I remember breaking into a broad smile when Derrida responded, after a long pause, “I am sorry, but I do not understand the question.” It seemed like the end of an era: Derrida himself was asking for more clarity.

– Stephen Johnson, “I Was An Under-Age Semiotician,” NYT

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gradschool, travel

we live by the river

Well. I have graduated; I have left Baltimore; I have made it to Pittsburgh, for intensive Polish language school. I will be here for the next 6 weeks.

I took the train from Baltimore on Thursday. I have been here about 24 hours (of which most have been spent asleep) and am now going to Target for everything I forgot. I am going to take a bus over a river.

I am working on a longer blog/journal post for tomorrow or Monday, in a new format I want to use in Poland, of about a week’s worth of journal entries per post. For the moment, here’s some Dumas (up next), and I hope you are all having an excellent weekend.

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gradschool, travel

It’s been a long time

since I posted here, or since I was sitting in Portland’s Union Station, waiting for a train to Seattle.

I’ve spent spring break in the Northwest–Ashland, Klamath Falls, Portland, and now further north. I’ve seen a lot of friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in three or four years. If they would install that portal between Baltimore and Portland, it would make matters much more convenient.

I’ll spend the next few days with family in Seattle and then return to Baltimore, and to Hopkins, for the last months of the poetry MFA. I graduate in May.

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gradschool, musicals, workstyle

In token of the quality of the last two weeks since posting,

I would like to quote some lyrics from my second-grade musical (by Mrs. Plaisance and Mr. Firestein, I believe–they wrote an original musical for the class!)

Monday, soccer practice after school,
I play tennis Tuesday cause I’m cool,
Wednesday jazz and Thursday bowling team,
So by Friday, I just want to scream.

Busy, busy, busy,
Through the hectic week–
I’d rather watch the monkeys
Playing hide-and-seek.
Here’s a solution, I know what to do–
I’ll make my very own backyard zoo!

Time to myself is merely minimal;
I just want to talk to the animals!

Busy, busy, busy,
Through the hectic week–
I’d rather watch the monkeys
Playing hide-and-seek.
Here’s a solution, I know what to do–
I’ll make my very own backyard zoo!

A backyard zoo, or something like it, is certainly indicated. Busy does not begin to describe it.

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gradschool, workstyle

I had a scare

when I thought, last week, that I had submitted a critical writing sample essay to an online application with an incorrectly formatted Works Cited page. I couldn’t find, anywhere on either laptop, the correctly formatted version. Then I thought of downloading the document from the online application, where, to my great relief, it still lived in its correct form. I was not only able to confirm that I had submitted the right version, but also re-download and save this version for future submissions. This is a case of technology helping.

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gradschool, poetry, writing

this week

I turned in a draft of my MFA thesis. It’s a compilation of the poems I’ve been writing over the course of this program.

There have been many times in the MFA where I’ve felt that what I’m writing wouldn’t quite hold together, somehow, as a cohesive manuscript. Seeing it all together, though, makes me happy. I have even allowed myself the indulgence of rereading it just to read it. They do read well together. It’s going to work out, I think.

I didn’t need any help with the whole generating-material thing when I came here. I’ve always been what Dan Chumley called a “fast typer.” First draft a minute. But the time it takes to revise, and the confidence in yourself to believe that revision is something your work deserves, is something I definitely needed support from others to get better at. No one has ever showed me how to revise. It’s only that, here, it is expected. So I’ve done it. More revision than ever before.

My first drafts were good enough for me. Here, I have had to make things that are good enough for others.

If all the MFA does is give you the expectation that you will take your own writing more seriously, then that’s a lot. For me. It has been.

I think of the poems as revised as kinds of performances. I half had a thought the other day of laying them out as if they were in a script, which is how I think of them. But I think there might be something to be said for conforming to the typographical conventions of this genre.

At any rate, I am happier and more relaxed about the thesis now than I expected to be. I am going to revise much more, and generate new material, and probably find a way to get stressed out about it. But I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, and I like looking at it. The feeling I have reminds me of the feeling I used to have in rehearsal when the scenes would get to the point that I could just enjoy watching them. I’m not quite there yet, but I can feel it.

This will be such a good thing to have done. I’m so happy I’ve done it. Am doing it.

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