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I’m still alive

In that excellent 1980s film Throw Momma from the Train, the two main characters (one, a creative writing instructor; the other, his student) keep chanting the mantra of the instructor’s class: “a writer writes… always.”

Stephen King in On Writing gives the same advice, as does Cerebus creator Dave Sim, who says something like (I’m paraphrasing here) every comic book artist has 1000 bad pages to get out. If you do a page a day, after a few years, your pages will start being good.

The nice thing about being a creative writer or a comic book artist is that you don’t have to (or get to, depending on how you look at it) publish everything you create. So if you do have 1000 bad pages, you can tuck those away in your closet or throw them in the trash can (Stephen King’s hit novel Carrie was going to go into the trash bin before his wife rescued it, seeing the potential).

Blog posts aren’t quite the same way. Sure, you can have hidden blog posts or passworded ones, but the idea behind a blog is that it’s your thoughts. Blog posts aren’t supposed to be masterpieces you rehearse for and then finally publish for the public. They’re supposed to at least have the appearance of spontaneity.

Well, for you few readers I have, I just wanted to reassure you I’m still alive. I’m actually quite relaxed (on vacation from work). I just don’t really have a lot to say right now. In fact, when I’ve thought I have had new things to say, I’ve gone back into my old blog posts (over 400 right now) and seen “Oh, I’ve already written about that.”

I’m not promising everything I write from this point forward will be insightful. I don’t think I’ll be blogging for blogging’s sake, though. If I have something to say, I’ll say it. Thanks for reading!

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Writing

The noun disconnect

The English language changes. It’s a fact of life. Much as grammarians and pedants would love for it to stay the same, it changes. I understand that change is inevitable—I don’t have to like the change, though.

I have finally embraced the verb impact, and I still cringe when someone says something was [insert adverb] unique (e.g., really unique, very unique, so unique). I realize, of course, I’m fighting an uphill battle. I’m not quite as extreme as some are, though. I don’t impose arbitrary grammar “rules” (no split infinitives, no ending a sentence with a preposition).

Shifts in usage irk me if I see no logical reason for them. I’m okay with calling stewards and stewardesses flight attendants, as it apparently gives their job more dignity, and it also saves me the trouble of distinguishing genders. I’m okay with people using the term sick to substitute for what used to be phat, bad, tubular, or groovy. Every generation has to have its “cool” words.

Why did, after Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas, harassment suddenly shift from being harassment to harassment? Why in 2002 did people start using the word disconnect as a noun? I swear before 2002 I had never heard a single soul say “There was a disconnect between….” All of a sudden, the past six years, I can’t go a month without hearing someone say “There was a disconnect” or seeing the phrase written in a blog or news article. I get a mental shiver every time I hear it.

I never thought I’d be a “Good old days…” person, but I do miss the days of disconnect as a verb, which I rarely hear now. Could you please disconnect the phone?

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Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality Writing

Owning Subjectivity

Through various times in my education, I was taught to not use the first person and to use an “objective” voice in my writing. When I became an English teacher, I taught my students a similar principle, except I called it “the illusion of objectivity.”

Objectivity is an interesting concept, but I do believe it is usually an illusion. There is an approach popular in the social sciences (particularly with regard to discussions of gender, sexuality, race, and class) in which the writer or researcher owns up to subjectivity and doesn’t pretend to be objective. The writer recognizes that her or his own upbringing colors the research, both in the questions that are asked and in how the answers and findings are interpreted or made meaningful.

How do I see this played out? Well, I’ve seen it in several scenarios. One was a faculty meeting once, when I was still teaching, in which a rather heated debate about homework loads ensued with various teachers believing hefty amounts of homework were necessary to moving along the curriculum and preparing students for the rigors of college and other various teachers believing that hefty amounts of homework left students too stressed out and unable to balance their lives properly. At one point, a teacher noted that most teachers who belonged to the former group were non-parents and most belonging to the latter group were parents. I believe his observation was intended to defuse the tension in the room, but it served only to make things tenser by making the conversation personal. A non-parent teacher I spoke with later after the meeting was quite upset, because she said not all non-parents chose not to have children, and we all give all we have to these kids (the students). I was in full agreement with her. More importantly, that incident made me aware of how tenuous the idea of objectivity is, particularly in that kind of discussion. After all, are the teachers who are also parents more “objective” for being parents, as they see both sides of the homework issue (as parents and as teachers), or are the non-parents more “objective” for being non-parents and not being emotionally tied to the apparent sufferings and imbalance students and their families might feel when overwhelmed with homework?

Even though a lot of us who appreciate logic theory want to think we can avoid ad hominem mistakes, we nevertheless often judge what people say based on who they are and what their perspective is rather than solely on the soundness of what they say in a vacuum. Think about how many letters to the editor of newspapers start out with identification. For example, let’s say there were a letter announcing its author as a Jew before going on to argue that anti-Israel sentiment is not the same as anti-Semitism. Wouldn’t the argument, if it were sound, be just the same, whether it came from a Jew or from an Arab? Or a letter announcing its author as a woman that also talks about how feminism has ruined the traditional American family values and is responsible for a number of societal ills—would the argument, if it were sound, be just as strong coming from a man? Or would it retain its potency if the letter writer didn’t reveal her or his gender?

Recently, I read some letters to the editor about capital punishment. One letter was for capital punishment. One was against it. Both were from self-proclaimed family members of murder victims. Does that perspective offer credibility? I guess, strictly from a theoretical logical perspective, no. But, really? Yes. I take a hell of a lot more seriously someone who’s had a family member murdered who is still against the death penalty than I do someone who has the same stance but lacks that personal experience. Yes, it seems to go against logic. The one without a personal investment in the trial and sentencing would seem to be the one with her head about her. But is that really objectivity? Or is it just another kind of subjective experience (the lack of a murdered family member)?

One time, in an American Literature course, my colleague and I planned a unit talking about race theory. Because I was Asian-American, some of my students questioned my motives for teaching that unit (“Is Mr. W.’s class doing this, too?”), but Mr. W was not similarly questioned, because he was White. But why would a White person be more objective about race? White, after all, is a race, too. It isn’t the lack of race… or shouldn’t be, at least.

In the end, I own my subjectivity. I know if I were White, born in the South, poor, raised to be macho, and taught to appreciate guns, I’d be a different person with a totally different perspective on life. If I were a woman forced to have sex with my boyfriend, I’d be a different person with a different perspective on life. If I were an American soldier in Iraq or an Iraqi, I’d have a different perspective.

We aren’t just detached logicians. We are all human and come with our own experiences. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can come to at least some semblance of the truth.

Categories
Writing

This is the kind of writer I am

I’m not the only one who had dreams of writing “the great American novel.” Having a penchant for drawing also gave me dreams of writing the great American comic book, too (sort of like Dave Sim’s great Canadian comic book Cerebus). God knows I’ve had many false starts. Such works take commitment, though.

And, as the expression goes (which, oddly enough, I first heard in Throw Momma From the Train), “a writer writes always.” Or, as Dave Sim says, “everyone has about 1000 bad pages in them that they have to get out before they can be good,” and if you don’t believe him, just compare the artwork and stories from the first 25 issues of Cerebus to the next 25 issues.

Writers write. That’s what makes them so good—practice. How did I become good at drawing? Practice. Did I have some natural talent? Sure. But that’s not how I became good. And I know plenty of people without natural talent in drawing, who perservered and practiced and became amazing drawers. One of the most inspiring books I read about writing is Stephen King’s On Writing, which is part writer’s-advice-book and part autobiography. The one thing that really stuck with me about the book is that Stephen King, through all his trials and tribulations, rejections, and periods of poverty never questioned whether he should write or not. It didn’t matter to him whether the story he’d written was garbage or not, whether he and/or his wife liked the story he wrote. He just wrote. He felt the need to write. This is musician Sara Bareilles talking about her songs:

I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember. Some of them make me happy and some of them are shit, but all of them come because I can’t imagine what else to do with my head and the things that are in it besides write songs.

That is what it’s all about. You do it, and you do it. You don’t stop because you produce something bad. You just keep producing.

Much as I sometimes I enjoy fiction-writing or music-producing (singing/playing), I don’t feel that same drive to always write fiction or to always make music. I do have a ton of random non-fiction thoughts always swishing around in my brain, and I feel the need to spill them out onto a page and share them with the world. I think I’m a blogger. I think that’s it. I don’t have the coherency a traditional non-fiction hardcover book would demand of me. I do have a million thoughts on random issues, though, and I like to write them down. That’s what I do. I write. I write a ton of crap. In a blog. That’s what I do.