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Grad School: Week 1, or Through the Looking Glass & What Bill Learned There

Today is the end of my first week as a grad student. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. Because I don’t have time to drive and attend an actual brick-and-mortar class, I’m doing my Master’s program online. I decided to do English Lit because that’s what I did for undergrad and because I think my life isn’t painful enough. Also, I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer by anyone what online school’s education programs would be accepted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

So it goes like this: the professor (they use instructor) gives you reading and an assignment. You have to post one assignment by 11:59 PM on Thursday, and a second by 11:59 PM on Sunday, and that’s your module. So I did a fuckload of reading last weekend including Freud and Marx and others, and Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery,” which really was the sugar that helped the medicine go down, and then wrote my response, commented on at least two, and then took a quiz for today. The academic writing was…well…you know how I’m writing this right now? You know how it reads? Yeah, well, it’s the opposite of this. It’s like Alice through the looking glass. I’m writing, something I know how to do (and some say I know how to do well), but I don’t feel like I’m writing. I feel like I’m…I don’t know. Farting in the wind?

Anyway, I posted my writing Tuesday night and wasn’t able to sign in again until yesterday. It seems fairly well received, except I threw out all MLA citations and stuff because fuck you, that’s why. Apparently, mostly everyone else did, too, so the instructoprofessor will be nice to all us grad students who should know better.

Then, yesterday, I signed on to take a quiz about two future major projects. The two questions were so mind-numbingly…devoid of anything I read, that I was shocked.

Still, when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy. I should be reading right now, but I know you missed me.

I also decided the role I would play was frightened and super-stressed new grad student with an extremely busy home life. It’s an easy role to play since it’s 99.9% true. That .1% is just an asshole part of me that refuses to tell the truth. When I look at the syllabus, I’m like, “Wait! Isn’t this online schooling supposed to be easier?”

But the school’s all like, “No way, man. We need to prove that we’re a legitimate institution and not something that has Sally Struthers in the commercials.”

I let the school know I diggit, and I’m proud of it, and then we go out for coffee at the student café, which is very comfortable and always has a good acoustic performer. It’s a good time.

All right, so now I have to read about this, that, and the other thing, and start rereading Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, which I last read a decade ago. I can’t remember much about it so this should be fun.

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Sandy, the Aurora Is Rising Behind Us

There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

Bruce Springsteen, “The Promised Land”

So it’s Sunday afternoon, 4:55 as I write these words. There’s a hurricane heading toward New Jersey. Its name is Sandy, like in the old Springsteen song “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”. Al Roker was in Asbury Park this morning. Apparently, the storm’s hitting there.

I’m further north, on the Southcoast of Massachusetts. I’m not on the water, more inland. The school I teach at has already called it. No school tomorrow. I was originally going to write about fall and how it seems like the perfect time of year for writers and artists. Maybe I will before fall disappears. Right now, though, the storm is on my mind.

I’m not worried about the storm. That’s the problem living where I do. We’re often told a big storm is coming but by the time it reaches us it’s usually wimpy. The reports say that’s not happening with Sandy. She’s supposed to come and kick some ass. I guess time will tell. I am worried that this is when my wife will go into labor. I mean, it’s a clichéd happening, isn’t it? Of all possible times to give birth, in the middle of a hurricane is when the water breaks. There’ll be a mad dash to the hospital. Maybe the car will be swerving around branches and felled trees. But I don’t think that’ll happen.

I’ll be plugging in my e-reading devices so I can continue what with what I’m reading (The Twelve by Justin Cronin) but even that’s not a big concern, I have plenty of books that don’t need to be charged or updated. I can write, at least for a little while, even if we lose power, with the computer or iPad. I can go old school with paper and pen, too. Shit, I can grab one of my manual typewriters.

And, of course, there’s just spending time with my wife, which is always great.

So we’ll be hunkering down. If you’re on the East Coast, be safe. Find a good book and enjoy it. One of my favorite memories is reading Stephen King’s The Stand by candlelight during Hurricane Bob in 1990. Enjoy yourself and be safe.

 

Up the Hill to Lovecraft

All right, sorry for the bad pun in the title of this little post. I just wanted to quickly let you know that I just finished reading Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I know I’m late to the game on this one, but you might be, too. Or maybe you haven’t read it because it’s a comic book/graphic novel. It took me a bit to actually read it, I’d had it sitting on my iPad for most of this year (and I’d meant to buy the damn collection for several years). Everything I’d read about Locke & Key has made me want to read it. Rave reviews. As time passed, I almost became fearful that the hype would hurt the book once I got to it.

It didn’t. Locke & Key reads like an HBO show. It’s multilayered, intelligent, filled with emotion, and scary. This book actually scared me. Joe Hill mesmerizes me with his prose work. His scripting for Locke & Key is every bit as careful as his prose, his characters every bit as fleshed-out. The story never feels forced and the characters are believable. Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is great. At first glance the characters seemed to cartoony for my tastes but that feeling didn’t last. It’s the details in every panel that helps with that, not to mention the subtle characterization in his drawings. His art won me over within the first page and I can happily say I’m a fan now.

So that’s my ten cents on Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. It’s rare that I get so excited about something, but in this case I can’t not be excited. It’s not as good as I’d heard it was, it’s better.

Reading, Reading, Reading

I’m not fond of being a slow reader. I discovered I read slowly fairly early on. There are people who read two books (or more) a week and that just befuddles me. There are occasional books that will take me a week to read, but often a book–a novel, that is–will take me a month, which is one reason I attempt to read more than one book at a time.

My mother used to read nearly a book a day, and at first that kind of upset me. Sure, I was 13 and she was 27 years my senior, but still. As I got a little older, in high school, I discounted her total by saying, “They’re mostly Harlequin novels.” This wasn’t an entirely fair assessment. Yes, they were formulaic. Yes, they were often the size of the covers for my Stephen King novels, but still, they were books. My mother, who bought a Kindle a few years back and hasn’t read Harlequin novels for probably 15 years, still manages to read several books a week. I’m still stuck with one or two a month.

I had a professor last summer who said I wasn’t a slow reader so much as a careful reader. I have professed to enjoy letting the language of the novels I’m reading to melt on my tongue like good chocolate, but is that a good thing? I know it’s not a race, but come on.

The book-a-month isn’t set in concrete. There are novels that I speed through. Nonfiction also tends to move faster. But it still stings. On Twitter, I feel stupid posting my #Fridayreads because many times it’s the same goddamn book! Here’s a for instance for ya:

I just finished rereading Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, including the new one, The Wind Through the Keyhole. Eight books in this series. I began reading them in January. I finished The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (I read them chronologically, placing The Wind Through the Keyhole between books IV and V) last week. I even put down the other novel I was reading, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, to focus my attention on Unca Steve’s books. Of course, within days of finishing The Dark Tower, I finally finished Goon Squad (I loved it).

Because of my slowness, there are many books I haven’t read that I desperately want to. I have had books in my To-Be-Read pile for nearly a decade. Of course, there are always new ones added. It doesn’t help that classes I’ve taken throughout those 10 years have forced me off my own track and onto their tracks for a bit.

So I do my best. Right now I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which I’ve never read and was at the top of my stack o’ books even before his recent death. It’s length makes me believe I should be done with it by the end of this week, maybe even sooner. I’m also reading Joe Hill’s Locke and Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. I may also begin one of the nonfiction books I have about the television industry, one by Bill Carter and the other by Warren Littlefield. There are still some writing friends whose books I have to read, not to mention the classics….

Yeah. Well, I have my work cut out for me. Enjoy your reading, while I might be behind, I know I’ll enjoy mine.

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