Another writing exercise! This one quite simple, it was merely to write a piece starting with that first sentence about not having much time left. I was so exhausted when I did it that I could not write coherently, so I decided to use the voice of someone having some kind of systemic breakdown, like a stroke. It came out sounding like language poetry. Or word salad. (Okay, if there isn’t a language poetry journal called Word Salad, there really ought to be.) Something kind of surprising and fun happened: it randomly summoned this research paper I wrote on Richard Nixon when I was sixteen! Amazing how many factoids I still remember about the dude. Anyway, here it is–
I don’t have a much time left, and I still have a few things to say. First I’d like to know if there’s any way to get the grooves and bumps back, with some sort of emulsifier or something. 18 minutes hail to the chief someone has streaked black marker over the most important passages. Record silence over speech and the ribbon gets flattened. Expletive Deleted. The record the record the record spins again and the voice that has been erased laughs. It doesn’t matter; he will pardon us. Wait no, I’m sorry I cannot take notes fast enough. Expunged it’s expunged, see right here where he said cocksucker there’s only a crackling hiss; it’s like the ocean, peaceful. Abdication condemnation—infamy. That’s a nice suit nice coat not a crook respectable Republican cloth coat. What was the name of that sweet little dog? Check check Checkers Expletive Deleted. Not a Harvard man, what do they say about you, have you forgotten me already? Being dead is no excuse, no, again, it’s buttoned wrong I always liked your crisp white shirts five o’clock shadow, your dark face next to that fresh boy face no wonder they voted for the other but I always loved you best 18 minutes love you Expletive Deleted no. No, the Reds won’t get us look it’s safe, it’s safe all green and blue and gold, the sun melts it’s all gone, even the Catholic even the roaring sound even the dog—what did it feel like when you first held her? Like heat like dark like dirt like darts on the board in your heart it’s like that, the voice laughs, laughs, Expletive laughs Deleted laughs.
PS–let me just say that the phrase “respectable Republican cloth coat” might be even more fabulous than “perfunctory and pro-forma.” It makes my toes wiggle with delight.
I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist. What is that poor dead thing Ms. Palin is wearing?
I have arrived! I am referring, of course, to the existence of my book’s Amazon page. Pretty neat. It is a little odd that a book that won’t exist for another nine months is already on sale. Yet here it is–already discounted! More internet excitement: there is now a little blurb about me up on my publisher’s website, complete with author photo.
A couple of weeks ago, I took my Master’s exam and managed to pass it–though by how much depends on which professor you ask. The response ranged from “good job!” to “perfunctory and pro-forma.” Yes, the latter is a direct quote. I kind of like it, actually; it’s so rhythmic and alliterative. Perhaps I should write a poem titled “Perfunctory and Pro-forma.” Anyway, as the undergrads say, D is for Diploma. So, I am a Master–but not a Doctor–of Literature. I think that means I get to order Literature around and tell it to make me a sandwich, but I can’t write it a prescription for antibiotics if it starts to cough up blood.
Two days after taking the exam, I received the copyedits for 13 rue Thérèse, and have been eyeball-deep in them ever since. I was asked by a friend what the difference is between edits and copyedits, so I figure I should explain it here. Edits have to do with aesthetic or characterization concerns. An edit will say something like, “that peanut butter metaphor in Chapter 12 needs more work,” or “can you set a scene in flashback to explain why the protagonist is so traumatized by cucumbers?” Compared to copyedits, they are big-picture stuff. Copyedits operate on a level of excruciating detail. They say stuff like, “are you sure you want to use that adjective? You just used it five pages ago,” or “insert comma here.” And there are like eight million of them on every page; the manuscript is absolutely covered in little green hieroglyphs questioning the smallest of your decisions. They are the most existential-crisis-inducing thing ever.
Copyedits make you say things like, “YOU CAN PRY THAT M-DASH OUT OF MY COLD, DEAD HAND.”
(It’s all right, my precious m-dash, no one will harm you–sleep, my darling, sleep).
This is a writing exercise modeled on Jamaica Kincaid’s piece “Girl.” It was so much fun to write that I cannot resist posting it…
Cite the right sources on Monday with the appropriate degree of subdued awe; fret over your work on Tuesday to make sure it isn’t too derivative. This is how to string together garlands of words around your tiny quivering ideas to hide how flimsy they are. Always state yourself with confidence even when you don’t have any; it is not necessary to be frightened: the rest of them are too worried over artfully arranging their own smoke screens to try to catch a glimpse through yours. Remember that clarity is impolite; it disturbs the order of things. This is what hegemony means; this is what transformative means; this is what deconstruction does; this is how to capitalize the word Other without giggling like a crazy person; this is how to use the word Other as a verb. This is how to dress yourself like someone who moves in high realms of the mind that do not concern themselves with fashion. This is how to sit at a conference talk, with your chin gently resting on your cupped hand like so; don’t look bored; cultivate an expression of mild concern, like one who perceives a crack in a line of reasoning. Don’t worry too much about following lines of reasoning; as a matter of fact avoid it because you must never, ever burst into bewildered laughter when you see meaning evaporate from language when it gets boiled in our stew—oh yes this is how to make the stew: start with a base of hermeneutics, add two scoops of epistemology and a dash of dialectic; don’t forget to objectivize the paradigm shift and hybridize the transformative ontology of liminality. Do not laugh; do not laugh like the unpolished rube you insist on being. Do not believe that anything actually means anything. This is how to avoid committee work; this is how to sign up for the committees that will look impressive on your CV. This is how to grimly forecast the death of your discipline; this is how to passionately argue for the needfulness of your discipline in producing well-rounded, educated young citizens; remember to bemoan the piss-poor work of your degenerate students; remember you were never like them; remember you always cared deeply about your work unlike the dissipated corporate drone you are afraid of becoming. This is how to deliver a paper in a perfect monotone to make sure everyone knows you aren’t trying to pander to an audience with cheap affectations like inflection or liveliness. This is how to snicker at a joke that pivots on the judicious application of the word differance; this is how to utter the word jouissance to a colleague you are dying to sleep with; this is how to maintain deniability. When you explain the difference between sign and signifier to a dewey-eyed undergraduate who is only listening to the words coming out of your mouth because he likes the curve of your lip, you must not explode into hysterical laughter. Why do you insist on laughing as if this were all hilarious? This is all very serious. But what if I cannot believe that this is all very serious? You mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of academic that the department won’t let near tenure?