Tag Archives: farewell

a great gift for your little savage

Tomorrow is my last day of school.  I’m finishing up 22nd grade, and in all likelihood I will only enter a classroom again on the teacher side of the desk.  Weird, no?

I will have to pick up my last paycheck, surrender my keys, and go to the registrar’s office to make sure they mail me my diploma once it’s printed.  Another master’s degree!  One thing that is certain about the life of a person with two master’s degrees: at some point, a plan was changed.  One does not get two of these things on purpose.

When my husband & I get a roomier place to live, we should put up a Wall o’ Degrees, everything from high school on.  Between the two of us, that will be eight of them.  Adding up to 46 years of schooling.  Yes, that’s right, FORTY SIX YEARS.  If our combined schooling were a person, it would be in the thick of its midlife crisis right now.

I don’t think I mentioned yet on this blog that I have a teaching gig for next Fall: an online fiction workshop for UC Davis Extension.  I will try out the teaching creative writing thing.  Meanwhile, I am looking into joining a writing group in San Francisco this summer.  I am hoping it will give me (1) deadlines and (2) human contact, otherwise I am likely to turn into a smelly grunting hermit who has been working on the same paragraph for weeks on end.  For the sake of my sanity and my marriage, I will try to avoid that.

(The biggest threat to my productivity right now is Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Wii.  What a fun–and graphically stunning–video game!  I love Yoshi so much.  If only I could eat my enemies whole and shit them back out as candy in real life…)

The last of the copyediting stuff for 13 rue Thérèse happened last week.  I am not quite sure what happens next.  I’m guessing I’ll get to see sample pages of the layout?  As a publishing virgin, this whole process is very mysterious.  I will say this: making a book is more work than you can possibly imagine.  Writing the damn thing, as much of your blood as you pour into it, is totally the easy part.  Submitting it is the worst part.  What happens after someone buys it is a very peculiar process.  Your dream gets fashioned into a product.  Your reclusive, naked forest child is scrubbed clean; taught to speak, smile, and shake hands; given a haircut, a nice suit, a pitch; then sent out into the world to sell himself.  It is a great gift for your little savage, but also a great act of violence against him.

I guess anything worth doing is like that; anything worth doing makes you into a different person.

Why is Yoshi always spoken of as male? Doesn't he have to be female? He lays eggs. Discuss.

Last class for now…

So, I taught my last class at UC Davis yesterday.  The students gave me an ovation and I got all misty-eyed.  I will miss this job very much.  Honestly, it was easy to shed the identity of an academic.  I thought it would be trickier, but basically it entailed no longer performing textual analysis for my superiors and no longer writing articles in a language that is completely unnatural to me.  It turns out I can manage that quite well!  So well that I can only understand in the dimmest way that I’m still supposed to take an examination next quarter; it no longer quite seems real.

No longer teaching literature is going to be a lot harder though.  That really worked its way into my heart.  I am a total crackhead for that look of dawning understanding on my students’ faces.  Best thing ever.  Sometimes I wonder if and how they will remember me.  I wrote the following about teaching in a short story once:

The Egyptians had no hell.  The punishment for the wicked was oblivion; there was nothing worse than not existing.

The students absorb this piece of information quietly.  Probably some of them even write it down.  They are very sweet, in many ways still children.  In many ways they do not understand yet what I tell them.  Certainly they will forget everything I say before they are old enough for it to really sink in, but sometimes I wonder if I leave a trace.  Any trace at all.  I wonder if they will recognize something that is happening to them slightly sooner because I told them to expect it.

You cannot really tell someone something they don’t already know.  Teaching is not about filling blank minds.  It is about inducing a flicker of recognition.

The protagonist of that story was an adjunct who couldn’t stomach finishing the PhD (I wrote it over a year ago–prescient, no?).  I will try to get some kind of contract teaching work after I get my MA, maybe with the UC extension.  After the book comes out, maybe I will get a job in a Creative Writing department?  Quizás.  It still seems far away.  For now I have to access the totally feral, slightly unhinged head space I get into while writing a novel.  But I’ll be back in the classroom eventually–if only to have a reason to get dressed in the morning!  Writerly isolation can do unfortunate things to your psyche after too long.

This week, I also had to clear my desk in my office in Sproul Hall (they didn’t waste any time reclaiming my space!).  It was a melancholy endeavor, despite the fact that Sproul is an utter dump no sane person should miss.  My desk was a bleak-looking gray plastic-and-pressboard affair no bigger than a coffee table, lodged in a completely naked train-car-shaped room that gets broiling hot the instant the sun so much as kisses the roof.  One time I tried to open the window in there and the whole pane fell off.  Fell right the fuck off the side of the building, only kept from tumbling nine floors and ending the life of a passerby by the rusty latch, which did not open.  There also has been a weird and unpleasant smell emanating from the wall in the corner of my office where the lone eldtrich computer resides (I swear that machine dates from the Clinton administration) that has not been resolved in all the three years I’ve been there.  And that expiring groan the elevator makes when it grinds to a stop at the ninth floor freaks me the hell out; I always wonder if this is the time the whole contraption is going to let go and and plummet down into the basement, where my mashed flesh will mingle with the poorly-written student papers in my satchel.  Plus Sproul Hall is never, ever cleaned.  I think some of the dust bunnies in my office have evolved sentience, plus there is a green Skittle® on the floor in the staircase that has been there for so long I believe it has tenure by now.  It began its life between the fifth and sixth floors, and when I didn’t see it for a while I surmised that perhaps whatever is making the weird smell in my office wall might have eaten it–but then I was relieved to find it crushed into the second floor landing.  I will miss you, green Skittle®; don’t ever change.

One at a time.

I’ve done something highly uncharacteristic this week: I quit!  I gave notice that this is my last year in Comp Lit at UC Davis, and instead of taking a PhD qualifying exam this Spring, I am taking an exam that will grant me a Master’s.  A Master’s and then…  Terrifying, dizzying, absolute freedom!

I say “uncharacteristic” because I am not a quitter.  I don’t necessarily say this with great pride; I simply don’t have the mental apparatus that allows me to let go of things.  In life so far, I’ve been tested in ways that have developed my blind tenacity–to the point where it can be an impediment.  So this quitting thing is new and alarming.  But holy mackerel is it ever the right decision!  The sudden evaporation of my dissertation feels like such a blessing, like a burst of air and light.  Like the gnawing on my brain has mercifully stopped.

I simply do not have what it takes to produce two totally different kinds of books on two parallel tracks for the rest of my life.  If I were to keep writing academic criticism it would severely limit my fiction output.  I was okay with this waning process when my investment in fiction was strictly personal.  Now that the layout of my life has changed so dramatically, I will not spend the energy I would have spent on novels writing scholarly works.  Hell no.

When I got the book deal last June, I tried to talk myself into staying on the academic track by telling myself that dissertating (and writing critically presumably for the rest of my life) would provide me with a needful framework of discipline.  After all, I had been investing myself in this career for a few years and it wasn’t going to simply explode out of existence.  Still, I’ve been haunted for months by this “needful discipline,” and its blood-draining effects…  “Discipline,” definitely–“needful?”  I no longer think so. These days I need vitality and passion more than I need structure.  The tamer may have a stage, a stool, a whip–yet he has nothing but a hollow pantomime if he doesn’t have the goddamn lion.

Besides, when the well runs dry and things are going badly, I don’t think I can handle the terrible weight of being utterly impotent at two kinds of writing.  I will fail at just the one, thank you.  I am not Giles Corey!  I do not want more weight.

So, I’ve been giving notice to the professors in my department.  Some are disappointed, some are fly free, little bird! I am now reading for my MA examination in the Spring instead of my PhD quals, and I like the sound of “MA.”  It sounds so wonderfully…  finite.  Still, only in academia can you tell everyone that you quit and still have 5 months of work to do.

So, I will have plenty time to practice and get used to this thrilling new quitting thing–for instance, on Monday I will go on an ecstatic orgy of returning no-longer-necessary dissertation-related books to the library.  (And it will be a fine orgy indeed; I have enough in my piles here to fill up a fairly sizable wheeled suitcase.)  Oh, those thick critical volumes written in ice-pick-to-the-soul prose will make such a sweet melodious sound on the way down the chute… It will feel so good I will have to make it last; I will feed the books to the library’s gaping metal maw

one

at

a

time.

The chute from the other side: doesn't it look like Literature got liquored up and puked all over the floor?