#WYOA: “xkcd: Questions” assignment

This happened on Monday:

why, why, why, why, why

As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to come up with a writing assignment based on it. So, over their long Labor Day weekend, my students are going to pick a question and answer it. Incorrectly:

Your answer should do two things simultaneously: it should be patently and outrageously false, and it should be as plausible and convincing as possible. Your audience—in this case, your classmates—should know that your answer is totally wrong, but still believe it when they’re done reading.

The full assignment is here; I’ll let you know how it goes.


“The Force is strong with this one.”

I grew up with Star Wars. That’s not saying much: a whole lot of white American dudes who are my age, ±10 years, also grew up with Star Wars. It’s a cultural touchstone.

There are degrees of “growing up with Star Wars,” though. For me, Star Wars was just the original trilogy. I was aware of the novelizations of the films—but I’ve never seen the point of reading a book based on a movie—and of the Expanded Universe. I played Shadows of the Empire on the N64—but I think we’d rented it, and it didn’t really make sense to me as Star Wars. I never read any of the novels or comic books, though—which is a bit odd, because I read at least a few Star Trek novels (Dark MirrorImzadiFederation, some others the titles of which escape me). Maybe it’s not that odd: Star Trek was episodic (even the original crew’s films are episodic), and so the standalone stories of the novels were just other ‘episodes’ in the narrative of the EnterpriseStar Wars—the original trilogy—was a self-contained narrative arc: it didn’t need extra stuff. More than that: the extra stuff detracted from the unity of the trilogy. (I’m writing in the past tense because I’m trying to recreate the reasoning of my 13-year-old self—I don’t know if it’s working.)

Jack is also growing up with Star Wars, but his experience is entirely different. The EU wasn’t really a thing until the late 1980s or early 1990s, when the original trilogy was already cemented in my mind as the totality of Star Wars. Jack’s first exposure to Star Wars—at not quite three years old—was a Youtube clip of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi fighting Darth Maul at the end of The Phantom Menace. He wanted to watch sword fights, and the duel at the beginning of The Princess Bride didn’t hold his attention long (the banter was over his head, I guess). We moved from there to other lightsaber duels, in clip form, removed from context—and pretty soon, all he wanted to watch was the battle sequence from the end of Attack of the Clones. We finally let him watch the movies—and we started with the prequel trilogy, and if that’s a problem, fuck you—when he was sick with a stomach bug after Christmas 2010, when he was three years and a few months old (it’s possible I have this wrong—it might have been 2009). Then there were Star Wars LEGOs. For his fourth birthday, he got the first season of the Clone Wars series, and seasons two and three for Christmas, and that’s where we are.

I have a point, I think. Several points, maybe. The first is that, for Jack, the EU is a given, and the original trilogy is not a self-contained narratively-unified entity. He’s got a decent collection of Star Wars LEGOs (which I’ve written about before), and his play with them is pretty fluid: characters and events from the entirety of the Star Wars universe (or the parts of it he knows) are fair game, and he has no respect for canon or continuity (hell, sometimes Gandalf shows up). He’s writing fan-fiction, basically, and I hope he continues to do so as he gets older. That’s the first point.

The second point: I think a lot of dudes (of both sexes) of roughly my age try to recreate their own experience of Star Wars for their children, and—an much as I enjoyed reading this account of such a re-creation—maybe such a project is misguided. Our kids are not us, and they should have their own experience. We can guide, but that guidance should be minimal and unobtrusive: and not just with Star Wars, but with life in general. Let kids explore, experiment, &c. I’m sure there’s a name (or several names) for this parenting philosophy. Montessori parenting: that’s a thing, right? Close enough.

Day 217: VIP day.

This is a day on which I can do nothing.

The page contains a list of “Very Important Persons” that the authors of the Book would like an endorsement from. Everyone else can fuck off.

So, well, I don’t know?

I’m not an important person—not in the sense the Book means, anyway, and probably not in any other sense—I’m fine being unimportant, really, stop asking——anyway: not important, but I am going to endorse the Book. I’m going to make my students in the fall buy a copy, and use it the way I’ve used it: writing prompts. I’m going to make them “blog the Book,” although I’m not going to require them to go in chronological order, or blog every day: four days a week, I think.

This is on my mind, because I have to come up with my fall booklist to turn in to the bookstore—yes, already—and, yes, I could turn it in in July, but only if I want the bookstore staff to hate me. I don’t care if they hate me, actually, but I’m working on my syllabus anyway—productive procrastination! I should be grading papers or reading Middlemarch, but instead I’m working on my syllabus, which also has to get done.

Except, well, I’m procrastinating working on my syllabus by blogging. Which does actually have to get done: blogging is, for me, like going to the gym. The writing gym. It’s a way to keep my writing muscles in shape: the important thing is putting words together into things that resemble sentences, and sentences into things that resemble paragraphs—so that, theoretically, when I sit down to write actual things (seminar papers, conference papers, et ceteras) the writing is easier.

I guess it works. It will at least excuse how shitty this post is, at least in my own mind.

I’m not important anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Fucking Book.

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 212: Put the Book under your pillow, and record your dreams.

I have this thing: I don’t remember my dreams.

I’m sure I have dreams, and they’re probably interesting; there are plenty of times when, in that groggy state between waking and sleeping, my conscious mind watches the last pieces of some dream or other drift away, and they always seem awesome in that moment, but then they’re lost forever.

If I didn’t like sleep so much, then I could probably make myself jot down notes in the middle of the night about whatever odd dream I’d just woken up from — I’ve even kept a pen and paper on my bedside table in the past — but really, I’m lazy and lack any sort of self-discipline. So most of my dreams are lost forever: most, but not all, because every once in a while one sticks with me long enough that my conscious mind can process and reconstruct it.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those dreams that stuck with me.

In it, I was in an elevator — one that was fairly large and actually kind of nice, as elevators go — carpet that had been recently cleaned, nice wood panelling, good lighting —— and I think there were a few people in the elevator with me, but I don’t remember who. So far, pretty exciting, am I right? Nothing more exciting than being in an elevator.

Three of the elevator’s walls — minus the door, of course — were lined with urinals, maybe three or five per wall: an odd number, anyway. The first thing I remember happening is the center urinal on the back wall exploding: well, it didn’t explode in a blaze of glory and porcelain, or I don’t think it did, but the metal hardware at the top burst, and water geysered out, and it was less than pleasant for all involved. At least it was water, and not piss.

We opened the doors, and exited the elevator. I think the water must have stopped, though, because then I was sweeping the water out of the elevator and into the gap between the elevator and whatever room the elevator had stopped at. I looked down into the gap, and caught a glimpse of some sort of subterranean cavern below us — and then I saw giant lobsters scuttling back and forth in that cavern, lobsters big enough that they could have eaten me.

Then I woke up, got up to piss, and tried not to think about the giant lobsters.

Day 197: Improve your signature.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, July 16.

I did this a long time ago, sort of. I improved my signature into illegibility.


My signature used to look like my name — I mean, one’s signature is supposed to look like one’s name, I get that, but what I mean is that my signed name looked no different than my name when I was just writing it down. That was unacceptable, and so I improved my signature into an illegible scribble. It’s a forceful and manly scribble, but it looks nothing like letters. Occasionally this causes people to look askance at me — but the paperwork all gets filed and the checks all get cashed, so I don’t guess it’s that big a problem.

My signature needed improving in the first place because I can no longer write in cursive. I learned how somewhere during grade school, and then promptly forgot when I was no longer required by my teachers to use it. (Aside: when I took the GRE, I had to copy out an I promise that I didn’t cheat and that I won’t talk to ANYBODY about what was on this test statement in cursive, and it took me twenty minutes, where it would have taken five if I’d been allowed to print it.)

Cursive is an outmoded technology. When you’re writing with a quill and ink, you want to lift the quill as seldom as possible, to avoid smudges and blots and boils and all that sort of thing. That’s not the case with a ball-point pen, though, so why bother? Nostalgic affectation, that’s why.

It’s probably hypocritical of me to dismiss cursive out of hand while also judging people with bad handwriting, but I do it anyway. Cursive might be an outmoded technology, but writing isn’t, or not yet — and people with terrible handwriting are inferior in important ways to those of us with clear, legible handwriting (and those people who write in cursive are either old, hipsters, or fops). For the record: my handwriting is not so good.

Of course, I do more typing than writing, so maybe handwriting is closer to being outmoded than I’m comfortable admitting. Also, just because cursive is outmoded isn’t a good enough reason to dismiss it: listening to music that’s been etched onto big wobbly pieces of plastic is also outmoded, but I still do it occasionally. I just don’t like cursive, and I’m trying to justify my dislike.

I’m not sure I have a point. My signature used to be legible, and then I fixed it, and now it’s not.

Day 175: Go on strike.

The only thing I have to go on strike from at the moment is this blog, so — no post for you today, you oppressive capitalist pigs!

(Don’t worry, I’ll be back to work tomorrow. Please don’t replace me.)