Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Worldedit IV: Usage on a Lower Level

Hanging on the wall of a luckless Baltimore parking garage:

Dear Valued Customers:

Don't be statistic! Remember to place all packages and personal passions out of site in your trunk. Do not leave them in plane view and risk tempting someone to break in to your vehicle.

On behalf of P---- Corporation, thank you fir your patronage.

P-----: Parking at a Higher Level

This should be given to every student who thinks spellcheck is all you need.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Teaching Greece

On Tuesday I embark upon a new experience. I will be teaching, for the very first time, the history of Ancient Greece. I am a Romanist by graduate focus, but perhaps it is time to put aside that restrictive label. The term generalist seems, well, too general. But, I think if it can be applied to one who has an equal passion for Greek and Roman antiquity, then it might be just right after all. In preparing for my first lectures, I have rekindled a long-forgotten passion for Greek things. I am not in threat of becoming a Hellenist, for the Romans and their Empire have too great a hold on my heart, but you cannot deny the sirenic qualities of the Greeks. Linguistically there is much to admire, and Western Art would not be were it not for the Greeks. I think, then, to share my passion, I should provide the readers of this blog with small insights on Greek culture, history, art, and literature. I will hope to post such musings at the end of each week of teaching. I look forward to sharing with you.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

TED Talks: Creativity and Pedagogy

I am fond of Sir Ken Robinson's theories on education and creativity, so I thought I should share.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Wait

A yes or no, Logos, would be sufficient. Particularly after keeping me on the hook all summer, past the registration times of some daycares, making me go to multiple interviews, and getting free editing from me. It's not like you're a top secret organization. Put me in a cubicle and let me get to WORK.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Goodnight Moon

Thorn, our 15-month old (on Saturday), went to bed clutching his copy of Goodnight Moon. He does not have a single toy or doll that he likes to accompany him into the realm of sleep and dreams, but he has never (as far as I'm aware) taken a book to bed before. I'm absolutely delighted. He wants to read every day, although, of course, reading consists in flipping rapidly through as many books as possible, but he loves the tome, he loves the images, and I think he will learn to love the words. My bibliophilic heart is warmed. I look forward so much to the years and the days and the hours that are ahead.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reading Patricia McKillip - A Brief Review

"The lords were due any day, and the house was in a turmoil preparing to receive them. Already their gifts had been arriving for her: a milk-white falcon bred in the wild peaks of Osterland from the Lord of Hel; a brooch like a gold wafer from Map Hwillion, who was too poor to afford such things; a flute of polished wood inlaid with silver, which bore no name, and worried Raederle, since whoever had sent it had known what she would love." --Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia McKillip

Scenes scripted so lusciously are what attracts me to Patricia McKillip's writing. I return to her tales again and again. She is one of the few authors who rarely ever disappoints, and yet maintains a prolific publishing schedule that I greatly envy. I was introduced to McKillip's fantasies by Alphabet of Thorns. I stumbled upon it one day at a bookshop. The cover, a dense and alluring painting by Kinuko Craft caught my eye. Yes, I admit, I do judge books by their covers. At least, I do when I am in a bookshop. When presented with so many thousands of bindings, I think it is the only way that I can navigate the selection. After all, a publisher, a marketing division, and sometimes (if very lucky) the author herself has made a deliberate choice in how the book will appear. If the marketing does not appeal to me, I will generally pass by. This process can be curtailed, however, if I am struck by the title. I love good titles, and I couldn't resist one like Alphabet of Thorns. So, I picked it up. I read the first page. I was immediately transported to a world where magic flowed freely and language had mystical properties. As a philologist I find magical languages fascinating, and McKillip's language featured very heavily (as one might expect from the title) in that particular book. As was my habit in those days, but thankfully is no longer, I began to purchase every McKillip book I could. Now, upon our shelves at home, I have a large and rather unwieldy stack of her novels. I decided this year that I would invest my fantasy reading in McKillip alone, at least until I'd made a dent in that pile. If you take a moment and look over at our Book List on the right side of the screen, you will see that I have finished four McKillip novels thus far this year, and the quote at the top of this entry is from a fifth that I began last night.

Of the four books that I have recently read, I was most impressed with the very, very short, nearly novella-length, novel: The Changeling Sea. What I am struck so powerfully by is McKillip's ability to blend fantastic elements in a way that is neither clunky nor frivolous. She dips into world mythology, into fantasy-history, and into what seems an infinite well of creativity when it pertains to the workings and workers of magic. I am, as those who know me well will attest, a lover of wizardry and wizards. No one write wizards and their magic better than Patricia McKillip. She has a way with spellcraft that leaves me, for lack of a better term, spellbound. But, there is much more to her writing than that. Her characters are vibrant. Their dialogues are keen, engaging, and never superfluous. Female characters feature boldly in her stories, and are usually actors rather than victims or sidekicks. Alphabet of Thorns for example has two main, powerful, female characters. The Changeling Sea's narrator and protagonist is a young woman, as is the central character in The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Concerning the books that I have read this year, only the Riddle-Master of Hed didn't have a central female character. But, alas, that is only one of that particular book's problems. I give my highest recommendation to The Changeling Sea, but would also praise The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. I found both books more than satisfactory. They were truly delightful. The Book of Atrix Wolfe was good, but it suffered from some stagnant passages, and the lengthy and difficult silence of its main female character. Still, I enjoyed it. Riddle-Master of Hed, however, was my first disappointment from McKillip. I am under the impression that it was written early in career, for it lacks the elegance of the works that first caught my attention. I found the language to be puerile, the characters lacking in dimension, and even the beautiful descriptive passages which I think McKillip is a master of to be paltry in comparison to the lushness of works like Alphabet of Thorns. It took me significantly longer to read Riddle-Master than any previous McKillip work. Riddle-Master is also the only trilogy of McKillip's that I am aware of. All of her other books, as far as I know, are stand-alone novels. The sequel to Riddle-Master, Heir of Sea and Fire, which I featured in the paragraph at the top of this entry, has begun with greater potential than its predecessor. I hope it continues to. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Buffity Pastrami

There is nothing like a good round of exercise to blast stupid things like bad interviews from your brain. I scooped up Thorn and went to the gym for a few hours; it did me worlds of good. First pilates, which forces you to think about nothing other than your quivering, aching limbs for an hour. Next, the row machine to loosen up, and then weightlifting, which would be my favorite activity if I remembered my MP3 player for once. My gym has a "women's" section, but naturally I shunned it in preference for the fully-equipped, weight-loaded everyone-gym which men frequent. And I was on fire today. Added ten pounds to every machine, and still burned through it like a phoenix with a hundred lives to go. At the end, I was reborn: a sweaty, pulsating mass who didn't give a rat's arse about pencil-pushing, paychecks, or pastrami.

Well, maybe pastrami.

Fox Update

A wise and companionable friend asked why I don't write in this blog often enough. I didn't have a good answer for her, so this means I must write in the blog. And give her an appropriate pseudonym. Shall we call her Riboflavin? Excellent.

Summer has been a busy blooming time for this 'ere rose: I've worked-out, interviewed, and -- most importantly -- written. Physical therapy for Achilles tendonitis just ended: it really worked this time, and I'm keeping up the foot exercises, weight-lifting, and pilates religiously at my gym. In a year, I will have gone from a hobble to running up stairs. Nothing short of a miracle after three years of chronic pain. It also doesn't hurt that all this working out has slimmed me down a bit, too. A bit lower in the poundage, and I think I'll get myself a blue silk sari.

The interviewing I mentioned has all been with the same company, which I'll name Logos to keep it private. I've had two interviews and one editing test so far -- the process has dragged all summer. I can well believe it when economists state that companies are taking their time with new hires. My first interview went swimmingly, but I'm a bit anxious about how the second went. Sure, it was a success in any case because my clothes were made of flaming red womanpower, but in the broader scheme of things, I'm not sure I sold myself particularly well. The woman behind the desk had interviewed several just before me, and she was clearly pressed for time. I may not have sounded it, but I felt like I was screaming, "I'm a people person!" à la Office Space. Oh well. I'll find out next week as to whether I've got a cubicle at Logos, or a dismissive pat on the rump.

At least my real words are working for me. This has been the writing summer of wonder. In just two months, one short story is awaiting acceptance or rejection at a random webzine, one short story is being read by some of my readers, another chapter has been written, and several short stories are emerging from their beginning phase. Creative words clutter my notebooks, my voice recorder, my waking and dreaming thought. I've even revived the old writing group and spread my fire, putting up word exercises and reading others' submissions, not to mention finally tackled the three novels my Aunt Violet sent to me some time ago. A lot of word confidence is spinning around my head, and I want to use it to its fullest before I get my first rejection.

Looking back, I can understand why "beginning phase" sounds rather pathetic. "So what if short stories are in a beginning phase?" you might ask. "That's what, a paragraph?" So let me explain my phases to you. Being the lunatic organizer I am, I have a master list of all stories in progress, color-coded according to phase of writing. The last three phases have to do with publication. There are also the writing and review phases, two and three, respectively. The beginning phase includes early research, which can be enormous, particularly for the science-fiction. It also includes character and world creation. Most importantly, it encompasses only one form of writing: the first sentence. Anything beyond the first sentence --even the title -- is second phase, since a short story tends to flow well for me after that. There's so much pressure to produce a good first sentence that I've had stories sit that way for weeks after everything else is done, waiting for the right set of words to blast it off. So much of writing is sheer work, not inspiration, but that first sentence has to be dynamine. It has to appeal to the curious, suggest questions. It's what makes an editor keep reading. Thus, I'm willing to wait for inspiration. I just got the first sentence to one of the phase-one stories and I'm very excited to finally begin. Onward with the words!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Three Years

Three years isn't a long time, is it?

Sometimes when I think about the prospect of the next three years, I imagine that I have an abundance of time. I see the months ahead, the rolling weeks, and the seemingly interminable days. I see the work -- oh, the work -- that piles like a winter snow, deep and cold.

And then, dear reader, there are times when I see three years, and I realize how often such a trinity has passed in my life. For example, I'm entering my seventh year of graduate school. That means I've gone through two three-year periods. It didn't seem all that long. In fact, it felt as if it rushed by. The last seven years have been a whirlwind to me. A lovely whirlwind. Well, generally lovely. There were, as there always are, bumps and twists along the way, but the views were marvelous and the overall impression was excellent.

Why am I going on and on about three years?

Very dear friends of ours have moved away. We expect them to return to Maryland (or nearby) in three years. I'm beginning a countdown. I've had many friends move away. I, myself, moved away from home a decade ago. People move. Sometimes you know that they will never return to live near you, and so you make the best of it. But, when you know someone is going to be coming back -- you cannot help but wait. And so, dear reader, I wait.

I hope the next three years goes by quickly.

My friends (so newly departed), return to us soon and in good health. We miss you. We love you.  

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Writing and Grading Writing

The title of this blog suggests the subject, but I should nuance my purpose. I assign my students work that requires them to write. Sometimes this writing is short -- one or two pages in length. Sometimes it is considerably longer. I assign writing projects because I believe strongly that students should have to articulate their ideas, and that reading assignments often deserve deeper attention than they usually receive in class. My problem comes not with assigning this sort of writing, but with grading it. I am never certain how I should evaluate another person's writing. Generally, I tend to look to see if the student has answered my question (or questions) to my satisfaction. If he or she has done so, then I give them a good grade. If they haven't, then I don't. I have noticed, however, as I teach more often, and as I assign more and more writing work to my classes, that more than a few people lack even rudimentary skill when it comes to writing an essay. My question is often repeated back at me a dozen times within a single page. Theses are obscure or non-existent. Spelling is terrible, and proof-reading has been shoddy if present at all. I don't expect perfect essays. I don't write perfect essays. I make mistakes. I rush through things at times, but when you need to turn in an assignment to your professor, then, at the very least, it should be read aloud once or twice. So many mistakes could be prevented if people would just read aloud their work. I think that I will have to consider ways to instruct people on writing techniques. I want students to leave my class, not only more aware of the topic that I teach, but also better able to articulate their thoughts. I think that if you leave college able to do nothing else but explain your thoughts and analyze something you've read, then you can consider yourself accomplished. The problem is -- how to do it? As I think, I'll write more.