Hey, Rejection, I understand. Life is tough. It’s been hard for you, too. Having to send all those form letters informing the writers that you appreciate them choosing to submit, but that their story/poem/essay/art isn’t a good fit for the magazine/review/journal. Printing those rejections and cutting the paper into little strips…that takes a lot of time. And the paper cuts! Let me just say that I feel your pain. You at least have the courtesy to reply, right? A little form letter is better than nothing, right? You’re a prince compared to the ignored submission. Oh, sorry, I don’t have time to tell you that your story isn’t good enough. You’ll just have to wonder. What’s up with that guy? I’m taking him off the Christmas card list.
I have to say that I respect the work you do, Rejection. As the world of letters begins to go digital, you’re keeping up with the times. People no longer work just from their offices. They’re taking their jobs with them to the beaches and subways and Popeye’s franchises that they love. They’re working from free wi-fi hotspots and from cell phones with unlimited data plans. You’ve had to keep up too! Don’t think I haven’t noticed. Take today, for instance. You came via email. It looked something like this:
Apologies for not reverting sooner.
I’m afraid the _________ Press list is filled.
Two points to make here, Rejection, and I offer them as humbly as I can. 1) I applaud your move to the ‘green’ side of things. No wasted stamps or envelopes or printed materials. A sharp, crisp email is fine by me. It makes me feel good that you aren’t killing trees to get the message across. Together we can save the planet! And 2). I feel funny about mentioning this because you’ve been doing such a good job for so long and it’s really such a minor thing, but this note kind of shows your age. Are you losing a step? See that ‘reverting‘ in there? What’s that doing? It’s not doing anything. It’s all wrong. Why?
Here’s my theory: you wrote your rejection from your iPhone. I’m all for it. I use my iPhone like I was born with it. It’s an amazing device, no? It has a helpful auto-correct function that fixes things our fat thumbs mess up. Usually, I find it quite handy. Sometimes, it fixes stuff I didn’t know was wrong. And it fixes them to yet another wrong word. Now I’m three spaces removed from the word I wanted in the first place. See, I have a feeling that ‘reverted’ was supposed to be a ‘replied’ or perhaps even an ’emailed’ but got mixed up along the way. I’m happy to get the message, Rejection, but that sloppiness sends a pretty sad message, right? I mean, if you aren’t up to the task, who is? In the past, I’ve been comforted by your terse, purposeful prose. You were always on task. Some might believe the wrong word to be a slap in the face of the rejectee. I don’t think so. I refuse to think that way about you. I refuse to believe that you typed the message, saw the auto-corrected word, and decided ‘The heck with it…he’ll get the gist” and pressed send anyway. You wouldn’t do that, would you? I hope not. That’d just be sad, Rejection, sad on so many levels. No, I believe it was an honest mistake. I’m counting on you to pull yourself together. For the sake of the next email or letter you have to send my way, I hope that you’ll proofread and get us all back on our agenda. We need you now more than ever. We need you focused and strong. We need you clear and concise. Stay gold, ponyboy, stay gold.
Thanks, Rejection, for all you’ve done. If you ever need help, or need me to write my own rejection letter to help unburden your tired shoulders, just let me know. Send me a note that say, ‘you’ll have to handle this one on your own.’ I’ll undersand. It’s the least I could do, I think, after all that you’ve done for me.
It took me a long time to read Peter Matthiessen’s novel Shadow Country, probably longer than it should take someone like me, someone who loves to read, loves to dig deep into a big fat book. At first, I felt sort of embarrassed that it took me so long–months really, at least three, maybe four–because a part of me just thinks I should be reading more quickly, getting to other things, moving on, leaving a wake of books fluttering behind me as I gun the engine and make my way through literature. But I guess that’s just not the reader I am. Just as I had to learn to be the writer I am (not the writer I imagine/imagined myself to be for years) and accept the writing life that is mine, I have to accept the reading life that is mine too. It wasn’t like I wasn’t reading other things while I was reading Shadow Country–stories, articles, poems, Whitman and Dickinson every morning, news, books and stories for school, student papers and exercises–my reading life is massive in many ways–and I certainly watched my fair share of television as well, which is always a reading killer. However, now that I look back at the experience, I’m glad I didn’t rush it. It’s the sort of book that needs a massive amount of space. It’s a tough, hard book. It’s a very American book. It is America–its people, its land, its racism, its landscape, its spirit of manifest destiny, its indomitable will to survive. Man, what a book. By allowing myself the time to really absorb this piece of art, I feel that I’ve been able to live it. It’s a serious book, too, but not dry and not without humor. It’s also a grim reminder of how we came to be America–by displacing and stealing and subjugating, by murderous, rapacious greed and unceasing invention and drive. By reading it slowly, I really found the voices living in my head, the people, good and bad, and I really immersed myself in the landscape of Florida. Since the book is a recreation of the life of Edgar “Bloody” Watson, it also deals with the power of the myth and how that myth is born of both truth and imagination. It took a long time, but it was a tremendously rewarding experience. Now that I’m done, I get to take part in perhaps one of my very favorite activities: picking a new book to read. The shelves are full, but I’m not going to pick right away. I chooses ’em like I reads ’em. Slow.
Anyone use Blackboard out there? Is it the worst, bloated, awful mess of a program that you’ve ever had to work with? I can’t believe how difficult it is to make this thing work in a smooth fashion. For instance, why in the world do I have to create an assignment with a due date and NOT have it show up in the course calendar? How come I have to return to a completely different module and create a “Course Event” that does show up in the course calendar that says, “Reminder that you have an assignment due on this date.” Why is that not automatic? Why is there no communication between the modules? Why are there modules in the first place? Is there any reason why this has to be so obtuse? I’m pretty literate when it comes to working with such things, but I can’t point to a single intuitive portion of Blackboard. Not a single solitary intuitive portion. Here’s another good one: why do I have to click through five windows to grade an assignment? Homepage, Evaluation, Grade Center, Assignment Details, Assignment? Are they like Microsoft in that they have a stranglehold on the academic world so they can whatever they want? Are there any competing softwares/systems? I used to use the MyComp system from Pearson, but it had problems too, and wasn’t really cut out for creative classes. So, that’s what I’ve been doing tonight instead of writing. I don’t mind prepping the semester, but I mind having to search for twenty minutes to find out how to make the course available to my students because the link is in a different place than it was in the previous software update. Ugh. Blackboard people, take a look at facebook. Your system doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.
Just finished writing a short short for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest. Ever try to tell a solid, well constructed story in six-hundred words? Character, conflict, setting, action, landscape, emotional core? Tough enough by itself. But this year, the contest added a few rules. Each story had to contain a character telling a joke and a character crying. I had fun with it. I showed my first draft to my wife, Gail, and she had a couple good comments, so tonight, with only an hour to spare until deadline, I finished a second draft. What a great challenge!
Plus, I’m nearly done with revampin’ my syllabus for my classes. I’ve managed to add some new stuff into the mix while retaining a lot of what made the class work in the past. I have to say that teaching composition for so long, it’s tough to get excited about it. The students are good. They’re smart. But they are also under a lot of pressure (financial, social, academic) and a required English class isn’t at the top of their list of fun things to do. Most hate the idea of required classes anyway. They seem to want classes that will get them into their prospective fields rather than the good old fashioned liberal arts education, that rounded balance of critical skills. So, I get them in the classroom, try to pass along a few skills that will help them become better writers, but that’s all I can really do. Whether they want to write more soundly is another question. Oddly enough, we are writing more and more each day, but saying less and less. I’d like to think that at least for a while, my students are forced to try and rise above the current elementary levels of discourse in our country. In the best of all worlds, I’d love to see them leave the class seeing how their critical writing/thinking skills will benefit them in their lives. But in the real world, I’m usually happy if they can get me a paper with some solidly crafted sentences and good sources. Still, I think we have some fun, too. It’s not all methodology or pedagogy. In fact, there’s darn little pedagogy in there. I’m a writer, so I approach the act of writing from a less theoretical standpoint. I think I have Don Murray and his descendants to thank for that.
The fiction classes are where I get to have fun. This semester, in an attempt to enliven the discussions, I’ve picked all new stories to read as a class. Has anyone read Roddy Doyle’s story, “Blood”? It’s a strange, cool story. I hope the students appreciate its oddity.
Now, I must go mourn that the stupid Steelers are in another Super Bowl. Boo!