Archive for the ‘memes’ Category

Influential Writers

Dorothy has this meme up over at her place, and it looks very interesting.  I’ll try to think of the writers who influenced me the most, and all of you can see just how different we are.  I like her idea of trying to put them in a personal chronological order, so I’ll make the same attempt.

  1. Eleanor Estes
  2. Franklin W. Dixon (or his minions)
  3. Ray Bradbury
  4. Kurt Vonnegut
  5. Stephen King
  6. John Updike
  7. John Barth
  8. Dorothy Sayers
  9. Raymond Carver
  10. John O’Hara
  11. Nathaniel Hawthorne
  12. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  13. Mark Twain
  14. Henry David Thoreau
  15. James Fenimore Cooper
  16. Susan Fenimore Cooper
  17. Sarah Orne Jewett
  18. Emily Dickinson
  19. Patrick O’Brian
  20. Neal Stephenson
  21. Rachel Carson
  22. John Muir
  23. Janisse Ray
  24. Roland Barthes
  25. Barbara Kingsolver

It was difficult to think of this in terms of authors who have influenced my own writing and not authors whom I admire.  The two groups overlap a lot, of course, but there are some things these authors do that I have either consciously or unconsciously tried to imitate in my own writing.  I see that it is an almost exclusively American list.  Hmmmm…

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A New Bicycle

No, not really.  If I really got a new bicycle, I’d put the title in bold, all caps, and finish with at least five or six exclamation points.  What I’m really talking about is a funny little internet meme that I just discovered.  A guy in San Francisco was thinking about how he was gently teasing his wife about her dedication to Obama.  She was an enthusiastic cyclist, but her volunteer campaign work for Obama was cutting into her ride time, so her husband said to her, “Barack Obama is your new bicycle.”

He then went and sent up a funny, but utterly simple website called, appropriately enough, Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle.  When you go there, you see a silly but nice little thing about Obama, such as “Barack Obama wanted you to have some cupcakes.”  If you keep hitting refresh, you get other nice messages.  This, of course, has spawned variations, such as “Hillary Clinton Is Your New Bicycle,” which plays with the whole “Hillary is mean” image.  For example, “Hillary Clinton thinks Shakespeare was Francis Bacon.”  My personal favorite.  Now you can play the game with Michelle Obama as well, and a few others.  Check them out for a laugh.

By the way, if anyone does want to get me a new bicycle, I’d like a 2008 BMC Pro Machine (61 cm) with full Campy Record parts and Fulcrum Racing 1 wheels.  I like the blue one.  Thank you.

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Tagged and Time

I haven’t had much time to think about blogging or reading or writing or anything else, really.  To give you an idea of what’s going on, I have three meetings this week and at least six next week and four the following week, one of them an all-day thing.  Plus, I’m leaving for El Salvador at the end of February.  At the same time, I have a book review due any day now, and I have been writing an average of three letters of recommendation a week since classes started again in January.  So it is with some relief that I see I have been tagged for three memes, which means that I do not have to think too hard about coming up with a topic so I can keep this blog lurching along.

I am going to begin with the one that seems easiest, which is the meme that comes from Dorothy.  I have to list ten signs that a book was written by me.  Since I have written a book, I can easily do this one.  Here we go:

  1. It’s a novel.
  2. It moves from a very realistic to bizarre, Gothic fantasy.
  3. The tone is relaxed to a fault.
  4. The narrative plays clever games that too frequently make that deadly transition to stupid.
  5. There are academics in it, and they come to bad ends.
  6. It is set in a place I have lived, like the Bronx.
  7. It reads like a bad Stephen King knockoff.
  8. The grammar is impeccable.
  9. The formatting and document design are first rate (I used to be a tech writer).
  10. The title–how do I say this?–sucks.

And that’s it: the ten signs that the book you are reading was written by me.  By the way, if you do find this novel, let me know so I can start getting my royalty payments.  If you haven’t been tagged, jump in and play.

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Bloglily tagged several people to explain how they plan, especially how they plan their writing lives.  I can make this very simple:  Plan?  I need a plan?  Who said anything about a plan?

For a while when I was little, my mom worked while my dad was trying to go to school, so my dad also took over many of the household duties.  I remember him making up the weekly plan on the calendar that hung in the kitchen.  It was fairly simple, but even so, all I remember is the meal planning.  He planned out every meal at the beginning of the week and printed the menu on the calendar.

It was probably part of his officer training, because my dad loved plans and planning.  He made charts and graphs and had separate notebooks with color-coded tabs and plastic inserts and different colors of ink and on and on.  He made little organizational things on 3×5 cards (and no one on god’s green earth has ever loved a 3×5 card quite as much as my dad did), laminated them, and pinned them to his cork board.  I think my dad was always a little sad that he did not have to plan a major invasion of a country involving fifteen different military powers, marine forces, a navy, and artillery.

Here’s the thing, though: he liked the planning much better than the execution.  That nifty menu calendar?  We followed it for maybe two weeks, while he continued to make the plans for another two before he tossed it out in frustrated depression.

So, with that model, I don’t trust plans.  I think plans are the tools of the devil.  As a teacher, I should be very good at plans, but, luckily for me, as a college teacher, I do not need to hand in lesson plans to anyone.  Instead, I have my syllabus, which lists everything we are going to read but allows me a lot of space for contingencies.  The world revolves around contingencies.  Things might happen.  Things might not.  You have to be flexible, ready to roll in a different direction at a moment’s notice, and I, winging it without a plan, can do just that.

Take today.  In my American Literature class, we are finishing up the semester with Emily Dickinson.  Instead of assigning specific poems, I told my students to read through most if not all of the poems in the anthology and choose some that they wanted to talk about.  Because of this, I had to be ready to talk about anything and everything.  I prefer to work it that way, though, where I can rely on my background training to get me through the class without too many crashes.  And the class went great–one of the best in the semester, in fact.

My writing follows much the same path.  i know where it is going, and I may even go so far as to make a little list of all of the things I want my writing to accomplish.  If it’s an academic article, I’ll list the main points I want to cover or the salient points of my argument.  I call this an “outline,” though my outline is to real outlines what a one sentence synopsis is to an entire novel.  Maybe I would be a better writer (and certainly a more disciplined one) if I wrote from a more detailed plan.  But I just can’t do it.

I know I promised the 7 weird things meme, but for some reason, I’m getting stuck.  At one moment everything about me seems completely weird but in the next moment it all seems completely bland and boring.  I’ll keep thinking about it and post it soon, though.

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I was going to post on Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, and I will soon, but I read Emily’s (aka the Queen o’ Memes) meme about moving, and I had to jump in. I am, you see, an expert.

  1. What was your most memorable moving experience? In August of 1995 I moved from California to the Bronx. I had packed up my books, computer, and a few other things I would need for grad school and shipped them through UPS. I flew into JFK on an overnight flight, arriving at 6 in the morning. Although I was shipping a lot of things, I still needed to have things to keep me going until UPS delivered, so I had a backpack, a garment bag, and a large duffel, all terribly overstuffed; when I weighed the bags before leaving, they came to 95 pounds. I grabbed a cab at JFK and gave the address in the Bronx, to an apartment I had never seen but had rented over the phone. The cabbie didn’t know the Bronx very well, and I ended up navigating with my map. Since I didn’t know where the apartment was, exactly, I had the cab drop me off on the correct street, and I decided I would walk to find the right place. It only ended up being about five blocks, which isn’t bad unless you are dragging 95 pounds of luggage. When I got to the apartment, it was Sunday-morning quiet, and I ended up waiting on the porch for about an hour, ringing the bell every five minutes or so until someone finally woke up. The grad student who greeted me did not know that I was coming, and did not know that the landlord (who lived in Florida) had rented the place. Finally I established my legitimate claim to the apartment, but there was a catch: the grad student/tenant who had the key to my apartment was visiting his girlfriend in Tennessee. I decided to force a window, and climbed in to unlock the door. It remained unlocked until the guy with the key got back from his vacation. I lived there for three years.
  2. Have you ever made a move you regretted? I had a sweet little apartment all to myself on Josephine Street in Berkeley, just around the corner from Fat Apples, a Jack London-themed restaurant that served a tasty burger. It was tiny, with a little built-in kitchen and one small room, but it was perfect for me. I let my girlfriend convince me that I should move in with her, and I always regretted it, not the least because said girlfriend turned out to be more than a little crazy. She once confided to me her dream in which she cut me in pieces while I slept. But that’s another story.
  3. If money/work/significant other/family were no object, and you could move anywhere, where would you move? Tough question. Hmmm. I sometimes think a small tropical island would be cool, but then I feel that the cycling would be not so good there. Then I think Provence would be perfect–pretty scenery, good food, the Tour de France. Then I hear the land of my ancestors calling, and I think a farm in the Gaeltacht would be my ideal.
  4. How many times have you moved in your life? Dad in the army until 1972=7 moves. Family on the run for various reasons until 1981=9. Family still settling down until 1985=4. College peripateticism=5. Post-college moves=4. Grad school moves=8. Marriage, career moves=3. Total=39. I win.
  5. Is there anywhere you never hope to return to live? The town of my birth–Taft. The original name of the town, back in the late 19th or early 20th century, was Moron. I am not making this up.
  6. What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of moving? Packing. I always realize how much crap I have accumulated, and I feel extraordinarily guilty about it. I feel I should throw all of it away, and I usually do end up throwing away something that I will miss years later. This, though, is the worst story: For Christmas one year, I received a radio-controlled R2D2. It was very cool, if a bit boring after a while. When we moved to Colorado, I sold it in a garage sale. For $10. Do you know what that thing would bring on Ebay today? I weep to think of the bike I could by for that kind of money.
  7. What do you find to be the most exciting aspect of moving? The clean slate. Everything is fresh and new, waiting to be discovered. That room that was so sterile and empty will soon become a familiar and intimate place, but for a time it will be neither foreign nor domestic, perfectly in between.
  8. How have your thoughts/ideas about moving changed throughout your life? When I was little, I always hoped that the next move would be the final one, the move where everything would be resolved and life would finally come together and present itself the way I knew that it was supposed to. Now, moves just make me weary.

I tag you.

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Five Writing Strengths

I was tagged for this meme by Charlotte, and I am, like everyone who has done it, more than a little afraid.  Deep breath.  Jump.

The meme is self-explanatory: you name five strengths in your writing.  Self-explanatory, yes; easy, no.

  1. I write quickly.  Although this might not sound like any kind of strength at all, I think it is.  When I have a clear writing goal in mind and a few minutes of time, I can easily compose 1,500 words or more in an hour.
  2. I write synesthetically.  When I write, I can feel the words–their textures, their shapes, their tastes.  A really good sentence fills my mouth the same way the first bite of thick, chewy, fresh from the oven brownie fills it.  I can feel the words melt together and each ingredient–the butter, the flour, the melted semisweet chocolate, the eggs–contributes something to the sensation.
  3. I write fairly clean copy.  I do need to revise, but my first drafts are usually strong.  Major revisions–the tear it down and toss it out sort–are relatively rare.
  4. I try to be true to my voice.  To go back to my cooking metaphor, I know that I am baking brownies or chocolate chip cookies and not Roasted Scottish Langoustines with Lemongrass Melon Velouté, Cured Lomo, Minted Yogurt Dressing.  I’m not even sure what a Velouté is, but I am sure that a brownie is probably better for me.  My voice is my voice, and I like it.
  5. I know enough to let the guys in the basement do their work.  A little less than a year ago, when I was just getting going on my novel, I thought about Stephen King’s notion that the guys in the basement–or the unconscious–do a lot of the heavy work of creating, hauling ideas around, banging out metaphors, forging figures of speech, and welding symbols.  I try to let my basement guys drag a lot of the stuff out into the light before I get them to step back and let the guys upstairs do their magic.

And that’s five.  If you have not done this meme yet, consider yourself tagged.

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