Thursday, February 28, 2008

No Man's Land - Displacement

We read "Niemandsland" ("no man's land"), a chapter of Lueth's No Such Country, for one of my classes this week. It was an interesting read; I think I might check out the book. I know German because I lived in Germany as a child, a mere year before the wall came down – I knew how to translate the title. But the moment I read the first line of the chapter (“The first time I hear about the Wall coming down…”) I had an idea where he would be going with this. At least, to an extent.

Maybe not at all. I could delete that entire first paragraph but I’m not going to, because I’m trying to verbalize my reaction to what Lueth is saying. What I think I’m trying to say, and I’m saying it badly, is that I can envision two sets of people: The people who lived in the now-former West Berlin and West Germany, and the now former East Berlin and East Germany. The people in the west were people I was by then used to culturally, but on the bus, stopped at Checkpoint Charlie, and then driving through, I don’t actually remember any people; I remember bare streets; I remember the lack of people and the overwhelming gray and orange of the buildings (stereotypes of American 1970s décor). Mostly I just remember the lack of humanness.

I write this as a reaction because I also remember my mother talking to our German friends – the German couple who rented us an apartment had become family friends, almost a second set of parents to me – and listening while she discussed their reactions to my father, who didn’t speak German. I remember hearing how much happiness there was that the country was once again unified, but as time went on, that reaction, while still an undercurrent, shifted slowly to worry of the economic affects. But I never really considered any initial non-reaction to the unification. If the wall being erected was such a mainstay that the people who were born after its existence, how could they accept being part of a country? This line of thinking is interesting to me because I wonder about countries that have been divided for decades or centuries, and are seen as both the same country, yet different countries at the same time (East Germany / West Germany; Ireland / Northern Ireland / the United Kingdom). It’s a relationship I think I want to explore, perhaps to write about for the paper on “place.”

My only concern is that I’m not sure how successfully I can write about this because, for example, I don’t live in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has the Irish culture, of course, but it “belongs” to the U.K. The accent is distinct, neither Irish nor British (in the same sense that the Welsh and Scottish accents are unique). There is no physical wall but there is a common language, a common culture, and common food. There’s a different government, though, and different money (in Northern Ireland, the pound Sterling is used, as it is in England, but many shops also accept the Euro). I like the blurring of the lines, although less so politically; I like the blurring of the lines, although less so politically; blurred lines as a concept is one I think I want to play with a bit. The more I think of it the more I'm intrigued with the concepts behind displacement, and I want to explore that, but I'm not quite sure how.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Title Forthcoming

I had a good birthday this past weekend. Mom and Dad came to visit; we went to Rachel's Waterside Grill (I had the chili-rubbed ahi tuna - so good!); Mom helped me make marzipan for the many fruitcakes I'd baked a few weeks ago. Mom made a strawberry cake and some dark chocolate icing, and then made the mistake of leaving all of it with us, so I've been rationing it out, trying to make it last for as long as I can.

Next week I'm going to Louisville for a conference. Financially I'm nervous because I still haven't gotten paid, and I'm not sure if I'll get paid for the work I'm due from one job (which will have to last me a month - as well as cover all my travel expenses for this conference), or if I'll get another paycheck on top of it for the research I'm doing, which would be ideal - at least that way I can eat, pay car insurance, train tickets, and have a tiny amount leftover for getting around Louisville.

I'm only now starting to realize just how far behind I'm getting with school. I've let it slide, and I need to catch up; I have to do a lot of reading. I have a few upcoming papers that I need to work on, one of which requires research I haven't even begun yet. There's so much to write about in respect to school, but I'm doing a lot of writing for my other classes and I can't motivate myself to write more for my blog, which I miss writing and maintaining. But I'm also feeling very much in my head right now, and truth be told, once I get caught up with all my work and reading, I think I'll have a lot more to write about, and a lot more to process. It's a vicious cycle, being behind in one's work: You get further and further behind, which leads to procrastination, which makes it worse. No more, though.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sweet Dreams

I realized that I never mentioned that last week, though, Chris and I managed to make it to Rangmahal for Valentine's Day. I was really excited and had to deal with disappointment when we almost didn't make it, but things worked out and we had a lovely dinner and a really good evening. This has become one of our first real traditions as a couple, and I really like that it's ours.

I'm not really much interested in dream interpretation. I actually don't put much thought into it, because I already spend a lot of my time looking for symbolism elsewhere (namely, the literature I read as part of my course work). One thing I do wonder about, though, is if a lot of people remember their dreams. I tend to go in cycles, in which I'll go for a while and not remember any dreams, or I'll remember several nights' worth. I've also noticed I usually tend to remember my dreams when I'm either really tired or worried about something, so I don't know if the past few nights I've been really tired or stressed out. In any case, I've been remembering my dreams a lot lately, which tells me I need to get a bit more regularly scheduled sleep, or take care of any business that's worrying me so I won't be so stressed out.

I feel like I've been doing nothing but writing this weekend, and indeed all semester, which is partly why I've been neglecting my little blog. Well, truthfully, it's the entire reason. I haven't been able to muster enough interest to blog. And really I haven't been doing much except going to school and work, so I can't say I've done too much of interest. I'm so tired of thinking about school and work all the time; please don't anyone ask me about it because I need a mental break from thinking too much.

Last night in bed I got caught up in thinking about writing and how this weekend I was doing so much of it that I was tired of sitting in front of my laptop. I'm both a bit tired of writing yet glad I'm being forced to write so much because I'm being forced to create a lot. I've begun to appreciate work the MFA students have, what with their page length requirements. The only time I have to do homework is on the weekends, so I'm having to produce a tremendous amount of writing, and exert quite a bit of mental effort in drafting and revising whatever it is I'm working on. I'm both glad for this and...not. (I don't quite know what word I'm looking for.) I wish I could convince the people who don't see how much work writing is that there's a lot to it. It's not just the initial writing; it's also the parts that come after it.

This weekend, I wrote:
1.) Two one-page journals;
2.) A 4 1/2-page rough draft;
3.) 1 1/2 pages of another paper;

I also did some research for a presentation due next week, and wrote out the outline and questions (and printed up copies) for that. I need to write about 5 more journal entries; write another 2-2 1/2 pages of a paper due this week; write another 1-1 1/2 pages for the rough draft (also due this week); and do some research for my research fellowship (meeting tomorrow). That's a lot to do today.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Displacement & Love

This weekend I worked on my draft for the first class essay of my writing class, trying to have figured out that “place” that’s seemingly so important to my development (because really, that’s what “place” signifies, doesn’t it). I wrote just over five pages and got into the mindset in which I felt I could write for another 10 pages, or my little essay might end at five pages; I’m really not sure where I’ll be going with this essay anymore, and I wish, in retrospect, I had used this essay to workshop with the class, but I hadn’t had a good idea of what to write until this past week. (All right – not entirely true: I had an idea a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t sure I was going to use it, because it’s so tied to my mind and a weird sort of love that I've never had for any a type of work previously. In a very weird way, it's almost like an exposé that I’m shy to discuss. How accepted is it to be in love with a place and the people who work there, to the extent that you wish you could just never leave? I feel it’s slightly inappropriate once you are no longer 16, to have that degree of admiration, almost.)

In any case, I did this writing before reading James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village.” I’ve read Baldwin before; I don’t remember what, but I remember not liking him that much. However, I needed more examples of this “place” I think I’m becoming obsessed with and I actually enjoyed his little piece. What struck me, though, was that I think I might be putting too much of myself into my essay; I should try to step back a bit more and be more descriptive, but I’m not sure how well I’m going to be able to manage that because it was my being changed so much that the place became my place. Baldwin put himself in this small Swiss village, and while reading, I just found myself wondering how much of yourself is appropriate to add. It’s a singular place that has had an affect on each of us; it strikes me as mostly negative, but intertwined with the hopeful or positive. Baldwin knew logically that these people were not trying to be unkind in focusing on his being Black; yet their linguistic label was clearly, at least occasionally, reminiscent of some more vulgar, unfortunate labels.

I have begun to wonder why each of my classmates has chosen what they have. Why that particular instance and not another? How did they choose? I want to ask the same of Baldwin, ask him why he chose to write about that tiny Swiss village; why, aside from its size and quietness, why he went back. Why was it important to him, that village? Did he actually like the people? (I couldn’t quite tell.) Is it important to like the people?

I wonder if it's possible to be too cerebral.

On Writing Some More

The feeling of writing as responsibility – this is what I’m starting to feel may be the basis of a lot of nonfiction writing. Obviously in the case of testimony, especially because it’s so tied to place and history, writing is meant as a voice to proclaim injustices or to proclaim greatness. (I’ve only ever heard of “testimony” defined within the realms of religious testimony or of social injustices being dealt with, or rectified.) I’m struggling with whether there can be testimony without being oppressed, since that seems to be the focus of our class. I’d like to read some other types of testimony, but even within the realm of religious testimony, there’s the feeling of having been lost, oppressed, being in some dark, unsafe, hurtful place, the freedom of which causes any type of relief.

In “The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative,” Gornick writes of personal narrative being written in relation to the “subject at hand” (56), to write as a response to the political, tying one’s responses to the political with one’s personal story. I think what’s making me pause is that I don’t feel I’ve ever had that type of personal tie to any sort of political past, save the ethnic tie I have to Ireland and its (to me) long ago oppression of the British that doesn’t quite affect me in the same way it affects those who are actively and more presently in that situation. So what happens when you don’t have your own testimony? Am I supposed to be finding it? I feel strongly about several things – religion, public education – but I don’t know if that’s the right type of testimony, or if that even matters, or even if there isn’t really more than one type of testimony. I think I’m still figuring out how to define “testimony” as it relates to me, and considering how involved I want to me in the matters that are most interesting.

I’m thinking about the sense of place that I think a lot of people have but that I can’t quite carve out for myself, especially for this first essay. Even Gornick does what I think I might easily do, even now, in her anecdote of writing about the Cairenes – merely transplanting herself and assuming things would work out because of course the situations would be the same. Instead, “the place” is much more definitively fluid; there’s not a single definition that can entirely work in each case, since I’m having trouble defining “personal narrative” with “the place” that’s supposed to mean so much to me, yet I can’t find because there simply aren’t that many places that have meant that much to me. For Gornick, Cairo was supposed to have the same meaning for her as New York (I think), and it didn’t quite translate the same way. But at least she had a foundation of a pace that meant something that she could testify to. Gornick wrote that it took her years before she had “sufficient command of the distinction [between personal journalism and personal narrative] to control the narrative” (59). In a sense, with al the blogging I do, I do nothing but personal narrative. So how can I tie this to testimony? Does testimony have to be a painful experience, tied to politics or abuse? Can one happily testify about nothing? I feel I have nothing to testify about; does that mean I haven't embraced any sort of social responsibility?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On Writing

One of the classes I'm taking this semester is an advanced writing workshop. It's one of those classes in which the topic changes each semester that someone new teaches it, and in this case, the director of the LIU Writing Program is teaching the class, with an emphasis on testimony as it relates to place and history, written in the genre of creative non-fiction. A draft of our first essay is due next week, and I have a couple pages written so far, but I'm having a bit of trouble with it; we're supposed to have picked a place that has a lot of meaning for us as writers; the problem is I don't really have such a place. I really struggled with choosing a place of any kind - physical or psychological - even though the professor had advised us to brainstorm, make a list of maybe five places, and write about one. I couldn't even think of one initially, let alone five. I don't know if I really have a "place" that means that much to me, but then I realized - and this sounds really dorky and I'm a bit embarrassed about it - but the Stony Brook University Writing Center was my place for such a long time that in a sense, it still is; my working there really affected me.

But I also struggle with identifying the genre of creative non-fiction. I don’t do much creative writing of any flavor; I used to, a lot (or what I perceived as a lot), as a kid; but since my teenage years I never really much of anything that could be defined as creative. But in beginning the course readings, in investigating what “creative non-fiction” is, I see that there’s no definition for it; it seems to be whatever the author who partakes in it wants it to be. I find the varied definitions both helpful and not so much; it’s journalism (because you have to write the truth, apparently), but you have to include your own past (because if you don’t, it’s just journalism, then). Apparently, also, one should include “the truth” about one’s family if one wants one’s writing to be authentic or “actual,” but maybe one shouldn’t include everything, or one should only include certain aspects, because one doesn’t want to be hurtful. Creative non-fiction apparently means at least part memoir or autobiography, but I guess it can’t be called strictly autobiography or memoir, because other information might be included. But at least in the case of Bloom, she exposes her family (I’m not sure how; I’m not sure if “gently” is appropriate, but it doesn’t seem to me that she’s trying to be intentionally hurtful, either) and writes about them in such a way that she explains her motivation for including as much or as little as she does, incorporating her childhood and adulthood almost as an exposition – or as an explanation, explaining why certain aspects of her family are not included at least in this particular essay – “[t]o concentration on the story at hand I have pruned the underbrush of other stories; to maintain an appropriate tone I have resisted the jokes and satire that pepper our family dialogue” (18). It seems to me that creative writing is a however you want to define it; however you want to write it is acceptable.

Miscellaneous: What I’m seeing – what I’ve noticed before – is that people like to label things. We like to know how things fit in relation to other things. (The first guy I ever dated didn’t want us to call each other “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” because he didn’t want us to label ourselves; if we labeled ourselves we’d be restricting ourselves, and that would have been a bad thing, I guess.) Categorizing the style of writing seems to help, if for no other reason that we know where to look in the library or in the bookstore, but I think it also allows us (as readers) to know what to expect, and to know what genre requirements should be incorporated. When any type of writing blurs those lines, our heads get messed with. (At the very least, I wouldn’t know where to look to find the book, if I didn’t have access to a filing system.)

One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson, who is categorized as a travel writer, but whose works I’ve read are more in the memoir section. Yet many of his works that I’ve read could be categorized as both, since he writes about his own experiences traveling. I wonder if that’s also creative non-fiction. I’d bet that there’s a lot more that could be categorized as such. It seems, in the few essays I’ve read for this class, that at least these authors want to be classified as such. Maybe we just need a “creative non-fiction” section at all libraries and bookstores; but oh, the filing nightmare!

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I had to look up the definition of "malaise" because I wasn't sure it accurately described what I have been feeling the past week or so. It doesn't quite encapsulate my attitude; perhaps "apathy" does better, but even that doesn't describe it completely accurately. Whatever it is, I don't know; it's a general non-descript feeling of being mildly disinterested in my surroundings. The cold I've had for just over a week - the one that's settled into my bronchial tubes - hasn't helped, and I suppose it's most likely that as much as anything. (Nothing sucks out the joy in life as one not being able to taste or smell anything, or coughing so much as to disturb class. I actually skipped one class last week because of this cough; I sat through one class and coughed so much the professor began to stop in mid-sentence when I began coughing; I didn't want to have to continually disturb another class because I was busy coughing up whatever remnants of my lungs that I have.) This whatever-I-have has really been depleting my energy too; I've been going about my business and then becoming inexplicably exhausted. (This past Friday I went about tutoring a student for an hour or so, then came home and fell asleep on the cough for 2 ½ hours…after having slept for 8 ½ hours the night before.) The good news is that I’m starting to feel better, aside from this cough that I hope hasn’t progressed to bronchitis.

However, I haven’t been able to muster much enthusiasm for my classes this semester, and for no real good reason. They are all interesting, with professors I like. But I’m so (nearly continuously) stressed out about finances and my lack of money that I haven’t been able to goad myself into doing the reading that needs to be done for my classes, and that needs to change. Above all, not doing the reading isn’t going to solve anything, so I need to fix that, pronto.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Books, Books, and More Books

When you're in college, no matter what level, you wind up buying a lot of books for your classes. It doesn't matter if they're textbooks or literature books, you always wind up spending a small fortune and somehow it's always a bit shocking to see the amount that you spend, but you kinda have to, because the library doesn't always have the book(s) you want, and it's simply not practical to check them out for 3-4 months at a time. (The amount you might spend in overdue fines makes it silly to just not buy the book at some point when you can afford it, even if it's a second-hand/used copy.) If you're a science major, you wind up buying fewer books than a humanities person, generally speaking, but those two books you need for each class wind up costing about as much as the 8 that the English major needs. It generally evens out. (My math books tended to cost over $100, for example; it might be the only book I needed for that semester's math class, but I would wind up buying maybe 10 books or more for the several English classes I'd be taking.)

I realized I had a credit of a few hundred dollars on the one credit card I keep (and temporarily forgot that I even had and have not used in over a year) so I wound up buying all the books I need for this semester - with the exception of the three my parents bought me - and paid some extremely overdue bills. I won't be flush with cash this semester, but between my three jobs I'll be able to pay off the credit card pretty quickly.

I think I may have bought a few (three) extra books that I don't need for ENG 700, but I think I might keep them anyway; they look useful. And with the way of all things, at least two of these classes will have handouts provided by the professor.

ENG 520: Non-Fiction Writing Workshop
Danticat - Brother, I'm Dying

ENG 580: Modern Irish Literature - James Joyce's Ulysses
Blamires - The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses
Brooker - Joyce's Critics: Transitions in Reading and Culture
Gifford - Ulysses Annotated
Joyce - Ulysses

ENG 620: Theories of Rhetoric and the Teaching of Writing
Aristotle - Rhetoric
Bernays - Propoganda
Burke - On Symbols and Society
Ellul - Propoganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes
Freire - Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Schiappa - Defining Reality: Definitions and the Politics of Meaning
Smitherman - Talkin' and Testifyin': The Language of Black America

ENG 700: Teaching Practicum
Glenn & Goldthwaite - The St. Martin's Guide to Teaching Writing