Monday, November 23, 2009

Hey Texas State U, I want my money back, you jerk.

I wrote this little number about a year ago but never posted it because I felt like an asshole. There’s still a little nugget of karmic fear in its publication, but hey, I’m uninspired right now, and I’ve already spent too much time staring at a blank Word document. Besides, I’m not going to be a teacher anyway, so karma’s just going to have to kick me in the balls or something if the universe is to balance out.

I’d like to regurgitate a small resentment that’s been festering in my heart for some time. So, a reason for my directionless plight of so long is because an English degree standing alone is only an intrinsic reward, as I mentioned once upon a time. Initially, I was going to be teacher certified, so I could enjoy the same high school disrespect that I offered to my teachers in the 90s. I quickly discovered that the renowned teacher certification program at Texas State University is a joke. The two classes that I took, and I’ll be singling out instructors in a few sentences to come, were a complete waste of time, all exaggeration aside, I can’t think of a single useful thing I learned in either class. The first of my Curriculum & Instruction classes was taught by a very nice man named Hal. Professor Hal was genial and entertaining, but he didn’t know the material beyond his interesting personal experiences as a teacher and principal. His test reviews were his tests, verbatim, and they required almost no memorization or utilization of study habits. Again, I liked the man, but he struck me as a fellow who was placed at the head of a class whose subject he understood through years of experience but didn’t understand the science behind his knowledge. The second C&I class was taught by a man named Christopher L. Sisto. Unlike Professor Hal, Sisto was a complete idiot. His lectures involved the literal reading of the textbook. That’s it. He was an extraordinarily lazy educator, who reminded me more of a high school coach than a real man. Fine. I could have just quietly despised him if I were able to simply skip his class and show for tests, but the strict Education Department policy, which he arbitrarily enforced, established an entire letter grade drop after three unexcused absences, and I had no choice but to sit in his classroom and squirm with outrage. So to my immediate regret, I dropped the certification part of my English degree and have suffered financial hardship ever since.
But the gold medal for the world’s shittiest teacher goes to a man not in Texas State’s Education Dept. but the English Department. His name is John Hill, and if he’s not dead from old age, retired, or beaten to death by a seriously disappointed student, avoid his class. At the beginning of my college career at Texas State, I noticed an interesting class called “The Concord Writers” in the school’s catalog. It wasn’t offered ever semester, so I was delighted to find an opening in both my schedule and the school’s, allowing me to enroll. I brazening skipped almost the entire semester, showing for maybe eight days of class in the four months of schooling. Why, you ask? Because Dr. Hill was an even lazier teacher than Sisto, but he was tenured and involved with many English- and Academic-related committees for the school. This academic involvement left him untouchable in his position, and we never, never discussed any of the Concord writers in his Concord Writers class. The preferred topic was Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. No shit. The closest thing to covering Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville were questions like, “What kind of car do you think Thoreau would drive today?” to which an idiot student (much to my distress) replied, “I think he would have driven a Prius because he liked nature.” We only had two grades in Hill’s class: two papers at 40% and 60%. I received A’s on both but got a B in the class, probably for attendance. I never complained about any of my teachers. I regarded it as bad karma, and I didn’t want to be responsible for their losing their jobs, but after all these years, I still feel cheated, so I thought I’d at least mention it, here, on my low platform.

Update: Dr. John Hill retired in 2008, and Christopher L. Sisto is now Senior Lecturer. Professor Hal is still at large.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dear Charlie Kaufman, I love you.

I've been thinking screenplays lately. They seem easier than the books and short stories that I haven't been working on these past few months. I just don't have the time. It's true. Even these self-indulgent "me" blogs are written during slow moments at my two jobs. Any minute now, I expect a student to timidly appear at my side and interrupt my thought process for the next that. What was I saying? Writing. You can't write a committed story between moments of interruption. You're not committed. You can, however, write a disjointed blog posting. They're short and wandering, and since I have my finger on the button, I know I'll be published regardless of quality. Take that Harper's Magazine, you bitch. Digression! Screenplays. Roger and I were collaborating on one a few months back, but he has psychological problems, and I expect him to be dead before either one of us overcomes procrastination. That's just inconvenient for me. He reintroduced me to Adaptation. That's a damn fine movie, folks. Charlie Kaufman wrote it, and after watching it as an adult and not a shit-for-brains kid, I will now boldly claim that Kaufman is not just a screenwriter, but a literary icon, alive and well and still creating. Spike Jonze played a directorial role in Kaufman's story, I won't take that away from him, but that's just well-executed aesthetics. Kaufman's the wordsmith, and I'm in love with him. I read the screenplay for Being John Malkovich, another Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze collaboration, and while it, too, was eye-wideningly impressive, it was Kaufman's authorial introduction that resonates. I've never been more entertained with a man's self-deprecating ramblings. I'm so impressed with this person that I am now including him in the canon of living writers (Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, and until recently Kurt Vonnegut) whom I'd publicly avoid for fear of transforming into a hysterical fan, red-faced, tear-smeared, dangerously unpredictable.
So yes, I supposed I could try my hand at sensational screenplays like Saw or...or whatever other paycheck movies the kids are droning to, but Charlie (that's Mr. Kaufman to you) would judge me. I'm sure of it. Or, maybe not. Maybe he likes Saw. Roger likes Saw, and he's an intelligent man. Maybe it's me. Is it me? Crap, it's me. I'm in an ivory tower on an island of conceited stupidity, an all I have is Internet access. Sigh. You see the delineation of this short blog? It's taken me three days and many "between moments interruption" to complete it. I don't even like the damn things after three days, so why would I concern myself with proofreading and transitions? Damn you people and your external pressures. Damn you Kaufman for making me realize that screenwriting is a legitimate form of literature. I'll just blog until I grow bored and leave it laying half-finished and half-passioned among the rest of my quarter creations. What monsters they would be if electricity were to jolt them to life. Would they try to kill me, their negligent father? Bah! I'm done.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Swine Flu, You're Just Bacon.

I’m rather irritated with myself for getting so caught up in this whole swine flu paranoia. When it first appeared on the scene of my heart, I scoffed at the fear it was creating not just internally, but externally. The media virus spread its existence like STDs, and from the mouths of one, two, three networks, the idiot public began French kissing each other en masse, while I watched like a pompous voyeur. But like all heroes facing superior numbers, I’m finally in “the shit.” I wouldn’t be if my lovely girlfriend didn’t have these so-called “preexisting medical conditions” that this H1N1 nonsense apparently enjoys partnering up with, but she does, and I am. Sensational media is terrorizing me, folks, and I, in turn, am terrorizing my darling, angel, pumpkin culo, who without my paranoid ravings would be living blissfully free of media hype. It’s a sickening carousel, an ironic beast that has my head and 20 million* others’ way up its hairy ass.
And who is at the greatest risk for this plague-like nightmare? Oh no one special, just your BABIES! Your babies and your pregnant wife and secretary. Do you want them dead? Because they will be. Grandma, Grandpa, you’re cool. You’ve got grit, and I admire that, but we need you to unsnap your pocketbooks now and start shelling out dough for little Timmy and his preggo mama’s vaccination. They were sniffling this morning. Whoa, whoa, not too fast now. The healthcare cartels have a delicate balance here. It’s important to bank on this, of course, but it’s also important that they create the right demand as well as the right shortage for the government to appear incompetent with its distribution. Damn, dirty apes.
Anyway, I’m still paranoid.

*This is a completely arbitrary number since "research" tires me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Austin, a Pictorial (The Unusually Long Book Fest Edition)

This is a two-part posting, folks. The first part is about the annual Texas Book Festival and the second is about my discovery that despite Austin’s buoying progressiveness in a sea of Texas rednecks, I still live in a state with a shockingly brazen, Deep South mentality.
This here’s the Texas Book Festival. It was conceived and executed, so to speak, in 1995 by Laura Bush to promote Texas authors, but it has since gone international and attracted tens of thousands of literary aficionados, year after year. The festival's tents stretch several city blocks in front of the Capitol for a single weekend out of the year. There are readings, performances, and demonstrations, and you can often times meet a favorite author or two. There’re usually panels of ‘em pompously speaking from House and Senate floor podiums within the Capitol building or they're signing within tents. You can find local and statewide publications ranging from cookbooks to periodicals to fiction to...The New York Times? Why was that there? I don’t know. Anyway, I ran into Mr. and Mrs. Bash along with a sibling Bash, and together we met a friend who works at the Capitol and received a guided walk through with an inside man’s knowledge. That was cool.

This picture requires some explanation. While it looks like a 50s diner, it’s actually the office of Representative Joe Pickett. He tricked it out retro-style, presumably because working in a Norman Rockwell painting is much more pleasant than the windowless basement where his office is located. I'm not quite sure how to react to it.
This is an acknowledgment to the Confederate dead. I’ve seen the statue before but never really took the time to pay it any attention. I find an eerie correlation to the disconnected idealism of Joe Pickett’s office and the clear animosity in this Confederate tribute, but I can’t quite figure out the connection because I have a problem with this supposed "critical thinking." Perhaps I’m grasping at nothing here. That fellow at the monument’s pinnacle is none other than Confederate president Jefferson Davis. No big deal. It’s all historical, but then I read the memorial’s inscription:

For State rights Guaranteed under the Constitution. The people of the South, animated by the spirit of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the Federal compact in 1881. The North resorted to coercion. The South, against overwhelming numbers and resources, fought until exhausted.
During the war, there were twenty two hundred and fifty seven engagements; in eighteen hundred and eighty two of these, at least one regiment took part. Number of men enlisted:
Confederate armies, 600,00; Federal armies, 2,859,132.
Losses from all causes:
Confederate, 437,000; Federal, 485,216.

If you’re not schooled or interested in American history, you can trust me when I say that this is fucked up and even a little unsettling. You’re free to draw your own conclusions, but I may be returning to this subject later so that I may help you see it my way. I’m still scratching my head over the audacity of "to preserve their rights." The book festival, however, is barrels of geek fun. It’s over now, but it's still small enough to be a great opportunity for recently published authors, so drill down here for more info.
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