#WYOA: week five

To be or not to be … that is the adventure!

Monday was devoted to an in-class read-through of Ryan North’s To Be Or Not To Be. A read-through and a half, actually: after successfully killing Claudius as the ghost of Hamlet Sr., we played a bit as Ophelia (stopping somewhere around Hamlet’s fouling of his stockings). It was fun, and interesting to see what choices the students made—and their choices were often nearly unanimous, which surprised me.

Also on Monday, I gave them a post-paper cool-down assignment, due Friday: find a picture, and describe it in a thousand five hundred words. I haven’t read these yet, but most of them said on Friday that it was fairly difficult—perhaps because they didn’t choose images based on how easy it would be to write about them.

Wednesday was a bad day. I was being observed by one of the writing program’s senior faculty, who’s tasked with overseeing the grad students teaching writing. (She’s very nice, and this is the fifth semester we’ve worked together in this capacity. She’s a bit unsure about the CYOA approach I’m taking, but still very supportive.) The students came unprepared—all but one or two forgot the book I’d asked them to bring, which we needed for the paragraph-coherence exercise I had planned. I improvised, using Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” instead of student writing, and it did not work. They were completely disengaged—several students were reading for other classes, one was surfing the internet, several were about to fall asleep… it was a bad day, and I’m done talking about it.

…except to say that the students played a few rounds of Five Card Flickr, except with cards from the first Cards Against Humanity set.

Friday went pretty well, I guess. I assigned their second paper—an analysis of a contemporary cultural phenomenon, written as an outline (to emphasize structure and organization)—and we talked about it, briefly. We talked about the “worth a thousand words” assignment, and I had them describe a few of the images in far fewer words (15; 10; 5).

Then we returned to To Be Or Not To Be, and I had them spend fifteen or twenty minutes, in groups, mapping part of the book. I started them, as Ophelia, at the moment when she and Hamlet are trying to decide how to kill Claudius: stabbing, drowning, blasting into space (they settle for a hot air balloon, and he first suffocates and then plummets to earth), and a CYOA-book-within-a-CYOA-book. Each of the four groups had a different branch—Hamlet and Ophelia have different, diverging plans for drowning, so nobody got “blast him into space.”

I’m planning to map, as a class, a different section of the book on Monday—Ophelia and Gertrude’s “to the death” chess match, probably—and that will probably be the end of that. My hope is that these exercises are helping them think about structure and organization in a slightly different way, and that this will result in better outline-papers. We’ll see.

Now, I have to finish grading their first papers, so that I can hand back at least part of the growing pile of student work on my desk.


A post about my recent lack of posting.

You may have noticed — or not, as the case may be — that I haven’t been posting regularly in a month or so. The week I spent in Taos seriously disrupted my schedule, which had already gotten a bit shaky with the end of the semester and the coming of the summer. I was trying to get back into my routine, and then the fence happened. I managed to blog and work on the fence at the same time — well, on the same days — for a week or so, but then I ran out of energy to work on anything but the fence.

The fall semester starts next Monday, and so now most of my energy is going to last-minute panic preparations, but I hope to get a least a few real posts written this week. Once the semester starts, I should be able to get back into the groove. It doesn’t seem right: I’ll have less time, but my time will also be structured and divided and allocated and whatever. During the summer, I let myself go to seed.

Anyway. Excuses, excuses. Stay tuned.


Day 215: Welcome a new life.

I’ve linked to the Census Bureau’s population clock before: you have to reload the page to get new numbers, but this one updates as you watch, which is cool, but also a bit disturbing.

If I wanted to go into it, this would be the time to discuss the unsustainability of our current population growth curve, and the ever-increasing likelihood of some sort of catastrophic collapse in which most of the population dies, and what this has to do with late-20th and early-21st century apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fictions … I don’t really want to, though, because it’s depressing to think about. Also it’s late, and I’ve had a few bourbons, and I have to get up early and dig post-holes and put posts in them and put concrete around the posts in the morning.


I’m going to take the easy way out, and offer someone else’s advice: “wear sunscreen,” &c.

I’ll make a few additions, also borrowed, but from other sources:

Life is hard, and then you die. It is the fate of all living organisms to become food for other living organisms. Death and destruction. Smoke if you’ve got ’em. Alcohol doesn’t make life worth living, but it helps sometimes. All you need is love. Shit flows downhill, and payday’s on Friday. The Dude abides.

When the zombies happen, stay the fuck out of the cities.

Rock over London; rock on, Chicago.

Some thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part two.

I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two on Sunday evening. I came out feeling … underwhelmed.

I almost said “disappointed,” but I wasn’t, exactly. Just underwhelmed.

I would like to say that this underwhelm-ment has nothing to do with the fact that the movie was different than the book — and I think I mostly can say that, because the myriad changes to Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows, Part One didn’t bother me that much. Films are different than books: each can do things the other can’t, and there isn’t much (or maybe any) real overlap.

And yet: it’s hard not to compare the two, especially because the final battle as Rowling wrote it is so cinematic. It’s full of exposition, but not in a boring, didactic way: it’s exciting exposition. But in the movie, there’s not anyone there to exposit to as Harry and Voldemort square off for the last time. That bothered me, a bit; it felt anti-climactic. Also, Voldemort’s death made no sense in the movie: he loses the wand, and then disintegrates? No. Bullshit. He’s not Sauron; he didn’t forge carve the Elder Wand; his power is not bound up with it. Even if we assume that, in the movie, Voldemort has cast a Killing Curse and Harry has cast Expelliarmus — as happens in the book — what happens in the movie is not a rebounding of Voldemort’s Killing Curse onto himself. I’m not sure if that made sense, but it certainly doesn’t make sense in the movie.

That’s a relatively minor quibble, but it’s also a moment in which the movie misses a chance to be really spectacular, and settles instead for … mediocrity is the wrong word; smallness? Yes, that’s closer: this final film feels like the first few — and they’re fine, in their own way, but they have a certain small-screen quality to them that the “epic conclusion” ought not to have. An epic conclusion should have exactly the opposite quality: there ought to have been so much going on — so many curses and countercurses and rubble and swearing and howling flying through the air — that one would have to watch the movie twice or thrice before one felt even close to comfortable with what was going on.

There are other moments like that: Fred’s death (and Remus’s and Tonks’s, also); Molly Weasley’s duel with Bellatrix; Neville’s decapitation of Nagini; basically all of the dueling that doesn’t involve Harry or Voldemort. The break-in at Gringotts and the destruction of the Room of Requirement are, I think, the only moments that really feel big enough, and they could have been better.

I’m sure I will see this movie many, many more times — I have children, after all — and it will probably grow on me, but I think I will always prefer the novel. Unlike Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films — which are not better than the novels, but which can stand on their own — Deathly Hallows Part Two will always remind me of how good it could have been, and wasn’t.

Not that I could have done a better job, of course.

Day 198: Have a good cry.

Originally scheduled for Sunday, July 17.

There are people that enjoy “having a good cry” on occasion: I am not one of those people. Never have been.

I don’t cry at movies. I don’t cry at weddings. I don’t even cry at funerals.

I cried when my children were born. Each time, it was a spontaneous losing of my shit. I though I was prepared the second time around, but no, I wasn’t — I cried more than either of the kids did, and they were the ones transitioning from the comforts of the womb (I guess wombs are comfortable?) to the harsh reality of being alive.

Other than that, I don’t cry. I mean, I’m sure I’ve cried in moments of extreme stress a few times in my adult life, but those were brief moments, and I have no desire to repeat them. I don’t find crying cathartic. Maybe that’s a sign that I should do it more often? How would that work? Have a few drinks, watch a sad movie — but which one? Steel Magnolias? — and maybe drop a hammer on my foot for good measure: that might do it, but only the “have a few drinks” part sounds remotely appealing.

Also, there was that one time that I cried in the shower — but if you haven’t heard that story, you’re out of luck, because it’s not getting told here.

Day 191: Bury a treasure.

Just west of Amarillo on Interstate 40, there’s a place called Cadillac Ranch.

It’s not, as I half-convinced one of my colleagues, the place where they grow the baby Cadillacs. It’s an art installation, consisting of Cadillacs half-buried in a field in the middle of the Texas panhandle.

It’s also a great place to bury deposit treasure.

…except I didn’t actually deposit the treasure. There are several reasons for this failure on my part, none of which are acceptable. First of all, the Ranch was crawling with people, and hiding a treasure in front of a crowd of strangers isn’t the best idea. Then, the place we stopped for lunch wasn’t where the map said it was — and the map said it was right down the road from the Ranch, which would have been quite convenient — it was, instead, five miles back the way we’d come, so we had to turn around. Also, we were in — not a hurry, exactly, but we weren’t making unnecessary stops on the trip out, and are planning on stopping when we drive back through next Sunday.

…I’m not sure that all made sense, but I don’t care. Why should I bother making unacceptable excuses when they’re prima facie unacceptable?

Next Sunday, crowds or no crowds, I will deposit the treasure. I won’t reveal what it is until then, but I will say that it’s something small and plastic and from my childhood, and it’s not — I hope, anyway — going to track me down and kill me.

Day 190: Follow these directions.

The directions in question are walking directions: walk so many minutes in one direction, take the next two lefts, walk so many more minutes, cross the nearest bridge, etc.

This is a task I very much want to do, but the day it fell on — the day before I left for a weeklong, school-sponsored workshop in Taos, NM — was not a good day for me to spend a few hours out walking. I had to pick up the rental car (I and three of my fellow graduate students drove), I had to finish packing, I had to finish some reading — and I had to not entirely ignore my wife and children, who won’t see me for the next eight days, though I ignored them more than I should have.

Also, it’s hot.

So I’m officially postponing Day 190 — officially, to distinguish it from those three or four days I let slip past unblest, unburied, and unsung (days which I promise I’ll come back to, though I may cram them all into one super day).

I’ll probably get around to Day 190 sometime in August. It will be, if anything, even hotter then, but if I wait for pleasant weather, it won’t get done until after Thanksgiving, and I’ll have completely forgotten about it by then.