Monday, November 29, 2004

Novel Idea

I've finished about half of Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. I think I'll do it. Even better: December has 31 days.

Baty suggests writing a Magna Carta of sorts to keep you focused on the things that interest you as a reader while you write. My list includes novels that are
  • realistic
  • heady
  • poetic
  • in motion (on a journey)
  • mythic

or contain

  • forbidden desire
  • lies
  • adult characters with maturity
  • strangers
  • undertow
  • puzzles & Rosetta stones
  • strange settings
  • barren landscapes
  • hallucinations & visions
  • tension
  • complex characters

Some of my favorite novels are listed here to give you a sense of what I enjoy as well as what I tend to write about when I write fiction and how:

  • Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin
  • The Stranger, Albert Camus
  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • Frisk, Dennis Cooper
  • Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
  • Querelle of Brest, Jean Genet
  • The Immoralist, André Gide
  • Damage, Josephine Hart
  • The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
  • The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham
  • Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev

I've written several short stories and poems since I was ten years old, but I've always wanted to write novels. I'm several thousand words into a handful of novels I've begun but haven't yet completed. Baty's "system" of pure exposition under deadline appeals to me; I've spent the majority of college and graduate school doing just that, delivering some of my best prose hot from the printer to under-appreciative professors. So, I'll try this method with something I'm not very emotionally attached to and see what comes of it. One month. 50,000 words. Wish me luck.


Saturday, November 27, 2004

Ukrainian Lesson

It’s exciting to see democratic optimism in the world these days, particularly within a country whose citizens are willing to fight for liberty and equality themselves. Since Ukraine has been in the news for the past several days, I decided to hold a mini-lesson here at Crash Course.

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It is slightly smaller than Texas, which is quite large for European countries. The population is about 48 million; per capita income is about $5,300. Huge chunks of western Ukraine were once part of Poland. Poles still talk about L’viv like a soldier talks about a missing limb. Ukraine was considered the breadbasket of the Soviet Union despite two famines that were ordered by Stalin. Millions starved to death while crop yields were shipped east. On August 24, 1991, Ukraine became an independent country.

The capital of Ukraine is Kyiv, transliterated from the Ukrainian (Київ) instead of the Russian. When speaking of Ukraine, never never never use the determinate article! “The Ukraine” no longer exists linguistically or geographically. (In Ukrainian, this shift was taken care of by replacing на (na) with в (v) in the locative case. By using “the,” Ukraine was seen as but part of a larger country (Poland, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, Soviet Union).)

I lived in Ukraine during the summer of 2000, studying Ukrainian language and history as well as politics and economics at the Ivan Franko State University of L’viv. My colleagues and I traveled quite a bit too, visiting the Trans-Carpathian Mountains, Odesa on the Black Sea, Kyiv, and several other places in between.

According to their history, it was a Ukrainian who “discovered” coffee grounds in a Turk’s bag on the battlegrounds after some battle involving Turks and Ukrainians (as you can see, I probably wasn’t listening very closely to the lecture that day); hence, thanks to Ukraine, coffee made its way to Europe. Ukraine is also where Easter eggs originated.

To keep abreast of the current situation in Ukraine, please check out Neeka’s Backlog. When I have more time, I’ll post some other interesting links regarding Ukraine.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

What Not To Be Thankful For

The American collegiate semester system, particularly the autumn term, sucks. Labor day and Thanksgiving are like two great parentheses around the entire semester, with no real break at all in between. At least the spring term has MLK Day, Easter, and spring break--an entire week off from class (and, at least in theory, assignments). But since I was in third grade, I've spent my Thanksgiving holiday playing catch-up with assignments. Today I'm completing a 12-page research proposal, due Monday. It's not like I've been procrastinating either: I've been working on and off this paper for the past several months, honing and perfecting it with every new strain of information. And I'm very close to being done now, at 12:41, after working on it for only the past two hours. But the fact that it's due directly after one of the most important American holidays is criminal.

I'm becoming a more vocal advocate for fall break. Several years ago, I read about a handful of universities and colleges that began scheduling a week's vacation from school during the fall term in order to cut down on the suicide rates of students at that time. It seemed to work. Duh! I always try to cancel a couple of classes for my own students in the fall just to give them more time to rest from the constant struggle of school, work, and their social lives. But I always run the risk of being reprimanded by departmental deans and directors for giving my students unsanctioned breaks.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, but because of this assignment, I've already turned down three invitations to dinner today. Since I don't eat turkey, it's always just easier to schedule another work day when most people are too busy being gluttons to interrupt. But I do have lots of things to be thankful for. I won't bore you with a list. But the sunny and blue sky today (after several days of severe storms and rain) makes me doubly thankful.

Monday, November 22, 2004

What Happens If It Actually Works?

Watched Primer Sunday afternoon at the Dallas Angelika. It is a science fiction film about time travel, but instead of relying on digital effects, it has an edgy realism about it that keeps you interested and intrigued.

After having spent the majority of my childhood waiting for aliens to abduct me or for time travelers to return to the East Texas farm, this film felt like something from my memories or my dreams. Shane Carruth, the 31-year-old screenwriter/director/actor/composer, is an amazing fellow. I especially liked his score for the film: lots of simple piano melodies accented by sine waves and backward digital audio. Even more bizarre was seeing bits of Addison and my university used as location shots. I highly recommend this film.

The trick is to know that it actually works but, like Nietzsche's übermensch, to decide at the end of it all to declare, "Once more!" without hesitation. No regrets. No anxiety. Just a love of life so strong to have the cajones to complete it over and over again. Just the way it was.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

How Ashlee Simpson Can Redeem Herself & Her Career

  • Return to Saturday Night Live, appearing on "Weekend Update" to apologize
  • Every time she attempts to apologize for lip-syncing & disparaging her band, a recorded apology interrupts her
  • Finally, after the apology, she should sing something a cappella

The longer she waits to do something, the worse it will be for her to redeem herself and her career. Not that I really care about her or her career, but I do think it's just sad and pathetic that she's laid low since coming out on national television as a goddamned talentless idiot.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Un-American Football

Things you don't want to hear in heavily accented English from the Hispanic maintenance man carving out a hole the size of a Fiat behind your refrigerator with a drill and jackhammer: "Oooooouuuuuuuuuu! That was my hand!" Our conversation Wednesday, when the "work" began:

He: Oh, you work from home.
Me: Yes, some days.
He: Ah, you are lucky.
Me: Except when you're carving out a hole the size of a Fiat behind my refrigerator with a drill and jackhammer, preventing me from doing any sort of real work.

But at least I now have an excuse why I'm not productive on the days I work from home. Too bad there aren't more holes the size of Fiats that need to be carved out with drills and jackhammers in the apartment. I could get used to this unproductivity. Perhaps I should just go ahead and outsource myself to some poor Bangladeshi.

Well, it's almost noon, and I do need to get some things accomplished today despite the noise (from the drills and jackhammers as well as the screams in English and Spanish). Pray that I don't need to put my chores away and rush the maintenance man to the hospital any time soon.

The Fiat-Sized Hole Behind My Refrigerator (As of Lunch Friday)


Polski Fiat, c. 1978

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Back-Up Plans

Monday afternoon I was put in front of my class and asked questions regarding a research proposal I barely understood. While my peers seemed to be perfectly engaged in a conversation with the professor (and before my turn arrived), every back-up plan I’ve ever made to get out of such situations kept running through my mind: coughing fit, vomit, diarrhea, bloody nose, crying, vanishing into thin air. But when my turn came, I used the politician's trick of not answering the question put to me but answering the question I wished would’ve been asked. I suffered through the remainder of the class, surviving yet another seminar without coughing fit, vomit, diarrhea, bloody nose, crying, or vanishing into thin air. Only three more meetings to go.

Here are our Jack-O’-Lanterns for this year:

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Jesus Titty-Fucking Christ

Exhausted from staying up all night, burning the names and addresses of known Jews, homosexualists, abortionists, intellectuals, unionists, Arabs, liberals, socialists, feminists, performance artists, race-defilers, among others I call “friend.” If only the Jews had such foresight when Adolph Hitler was democratically elected! If you don’t hear from me, it’s probably because I no longer have your contact information. You’re safer this way, as your secrets will die with me.

Thankfully, we had international election monitors on hand to help out this year:
“[I]nternational monitors at a polling station in southern Florida said Tuesday that voting procedures fell short in many ways of the best global practices. The observers said they had less access to polls than in Kazakhstan, that the electronic voting had fewer fail-safes than in Venezuela, that the ballots were not so simple as in the Republic of Georgia and that no other country had such a complex national election system. ‘To be honest, monitoring elections in Serbia a few months ago was much simpler.’”
Yep, that’s about it: America is a first-rate Third World country.

The most discouraging aspect of this election was the assessment that despite the millions of dollars spent on registering and mobilizing the youth (18 – 30 year olds), there was no indication that they actually voted. Did you think those free CDs handed out by the fistful at Rock-the-Vote rallies didn’t come with strings? Reminds me of something Bart Simpson once said: “Damn Generation X-ers! We need another Viet Nam to thin out their ranks.” Send the bastards to Iraq. Hell, just throw ‘em out the plane over Falluja: you’re bound to hit some insurgents, no?

Significant that in my humanities course yesterday, a handful of students wanted to argue with Kant regarding transcendental idealism—his revolutionary notion that the human mind does not sit passively back and merely interpret empirical reality but rather is actively engaged in the creation of knowledge. I’m beginning to see their point.

Despite the polarization of the latest round of the Culture Wars, I’m oddly at ease with the election results. Perhaps it’s from teaching political science for the past 1½ years; it’s all been demystified. Or maybe it’s all the meditation and yoga: I’ve simply transcended partisanship (much like how the Chairman of the Republican Party claimed it’s because voters are tired of partisan politics that they overwhelmingly voted Republican—you just can’t argue with that kind of logic!). So, I’ll continue practicing Eastern religion, reading European philosophy, speaking foreign languages, having public, anonymous group sex, spending tax money on abortions, drinking the blood of Christian babies, using the metric system, and generally thinking deep thoughts until they force me to board the train.