Baltimore, gradschool


was my last class for the undergraduate course I’ve been teaching. I have a backpack full of portfolios. Always a happy and sad moment at the same time, realizing your working time with those particular students is over. They were a great class. I’ve been very lucky in the people I’ve had to teach here.

Sitting in Gilman, afterwards, with a table of people I’ve known for a year and a half now, and realizing that this is the longest stretch of time I’ve been able to have the same friends for since 2007. Debating the usual topic: virtues and vices of creative writing as a university discipline. Resolving, as usual, to write an article on the subject. Not having done it yet.

Tomorrow, I’m getting my hair done, having brunch with the poets, and attending the department party / after-party. It will be epic.

film, gradschool, workstyle, writing


back from HP7, part 1, which was appropriately gloomy and isolated. Nice and gray. The Death Eaters’ banquet at the beginning was excellent, as was the entire sequence in the Ministry. I object only to the size of the tent that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had to hang out in. Far too tall and pretty on the inside. (I know, it’s magical, but still–if Ron had had a tent that big, he never would have run away.)

Working–the end-of-semester crunch is crunching–at a friend’s house, on a laptop, on about four things at once–portfolio/thesis draft revisions, two essays, applications–and nothing with great seriousness. (Perhaps I ought to write thank-you cards to all my professors. That seems like the most important thing to do.) Somehow, nothing seems quite as pressing as the turkey did.

gradschool, writing


I was in the library, scanning my undergraduate transcript, finishing up the last of the grant-related paperwork. It took a long time to scan, and while I waited, I wrote, in my journal, a new opening to a piece I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I had recently stolen a particularly fast-moving pen from workshop, and this pen seemed to open something up for me. The narrative voice moved along very quickly. I had only intended to write one paragraph, but I wrote several pages.

When I stood up, transcript scanned, to leave the library, feeling the speed and anger of this narration, a computer router fell down from the ceiling of A-Level (where it had been attached to an Ethernet cable) and landed at my feet.

“You almost died,” said a girl who was walking by.

“It’s just a modem,” I said. (At the time, I couldn’t remember the word for ‘router.’)

The object probably does not weigh enough to cause death upon impact. However, this whole thing has made me feel like I’m on to something–either something good or something very bad–with this narrative voice. It must be a sign of something, to almost be hit by a router. It’s not a falling bird, or a snake, but those are harder to come by in the library.

Baltimore, F&F, gradschool


Off for the second day of departmental TA training / boot camp for the introductory creative writing course we all teach. It’s fun to have more of an idea of what’s up this time around.

My freshman roommate has been in town for the past few days, too. Been getting to see more of Baltimore with her–we went to Fed Hill last night for dinner with an old friend of hers from Kauai.

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.”

Baltimore, gradschool


The quad behind the library has so many people in it it looks like a political rally. Graduates, sweating, shielding their faces with massive envelopes. People in mortarboards wandering around Charles. A younger brother, too excited to listen, bounding around the cafe, asking everyone where the vending machines are. He asked me, and then five minutes later, he asked the guards. Older relatives, with swollen feet and nowhere to sit down. I saw a man walk up a set of narrow stairs and back down the same set of narrow stairs. A petulant girl to her family: “I want to stay with the group!” Not going to happen. The point of this is that you have to leave the group. Making my way in to campus, I saw a couple of the usual-suspect graduate students, caught in the flood of families, looking like squirrels at the tops of trees with the water rising, resigned to getting no work done today.

gradschool, poetry


Summer is upon us. Baltimore rains, as if to say “Summer, yes, but on my terms.” Saying goodbye to students and to classmates. Classes are over: finals are almost over. We have all gone back to work, or have made preparations to leave town. We have had and are having more goodbye/hello/hello/goodbye parties. I am staying, and settling in. I have been exchanging a lot of emails with the incoming class of new MFAers, both poets and fiction writers. It’s exciting to think of them being here soon.

And in the midst of all these routine routines, today is a day in which something happened which had never happened to me before. (Isn’t every day?) Yes, but this one, especially.