Busy Summer Is Busy

As you all may have been able to guess by now, I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy this summer.  But you guys don’t even know the half of it!  Between taking vacation at Yellowstone for five days, going to three concerts (Snow Patrol in May, Legend of Zelda Symphony, and then the Chicago/Doobie Brothers concert in July), and having dinner with famous people, and reading as much as I can manage, I’ve also been hard at work.

School never completely ends for those in graduate school.  There are always things you need to do (or at least SHOULD do) during the summer.  For me, this has included mainly getting more involved with extracurricular/service activities.  I’ve mentioned on this blog before that the English graduate students at UH have been in the process of developing and promoting both a yearly Graduate Student Conference and an academic literature journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature.  While I did some work this past school year to help out with both, I decided that this upcoming year I wanted to be even more involved.  And I managed to get myself nominated as an Assistant Editor to the journal as well as Head of the Publicity Committee for the Conference.  And the work has already begun, especially for the latter.  I’ve spent the last few weeks creating contact lists for every Humanities/Liberal Arts College Dean, English Dept Chair, and Graduate Director/Advisor, for every university in Texas so that we can start sending out personalized invites to both present at and attend the conference.  I still need to make a list for all the community colleges in the Houston area.  And THEN I need to move on to the universities in Louisiana.  In the meantime, the Chief Editor of Plaza is working on the CFP for the journal, and I’m helping out with that.

At the same time, I had made plans last semester to make some serious changes to my syllabus for the coming semester, which I have now started work on.  After having done a lot of research on the benefits and practical applications for using blogging in a First-Year Writing course, I’ve decided to implement it in my classroom.  So I’m trying to work out a concrete plan for how and why I want my students to use blogging as a learning tool and as a way to open the classroom out into a more public space.  I’ve also submitted an abstract for a presentation based on all this research to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, along with two fellow grad students I’m doing a panel with.  It’ll be late August before we find out if our panel abstract was accepted to the conference (which isn’t until next March), at which point we’ll have to get hard to work actually writing the presentations.

AND THEN, throughout the whole summer, in between everything else, I’ve been writing.  A lot.  I started out writing the second draft of Midnight’s Knife, which I made some decent progress on until about three or four weeks ago, when I was hijacked by a new story idea that has completely consumed my brain lately.  It’s going to be a strange one, I can tell…  I actually have the basic premise for an entire series of stories, but this first one is a sort of science fiction detective story.  It’s a kind of mix of X-Files, X-Men, and Sherlock Holmes, with a large helping of human drama about a veteran with PTSD laced through it.  Yeah, if that sounds insane to you, you’re not alone.  It sounds insane to me too, and I’m so excited about it!  I’ve been living inside my main character’s head practically non-stop for two weeks now.

I have a month left until the Fall semester starts, so I’m trying very hard not to waste a minute of it.  We’ll see how much more writing I can get done before school-work takes over.

Also, I’m trying to finish reading Dominant Race by Elisa Nuckle – it’s a novella, and it really wouldn’t take me that long to read, except that I’ve been so busy the last week or so I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit down a finish it! – but hopefully you can expect a review on that on Friday.  And then I’ve agreed to review another novel, a literary fiction called A Work in Progress, which I’m planning (cross your fingers) to post on Aug 3rd.

Okay, folks, that’s all from me for now.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll catch you all on Friday.

And Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Program

A Letter from Your Host:

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I saw you last!  I’ve been gone far too long, and for that apologize.  As my previous posts have made clear, this past semester nearly did me in.  I’m rather disappointed with myself, actually.  During the Fall semester I managed to keep mostly on top of my blogging despite my PhD study and teaching, but for some reason I just could not do it this semester.  In my defense, it has been universally agreed among my fellow English grad students at UH that this semester was especially heinous for some reason we can’t identify.  For some reason the workload, the time-crunch, the number of things going wrong, the stress, were all WAY worse than usual.  Bad juju. Gypsy curse.  Karma biting us in the ass.  I have no idea.

Anyway, the semester officially ended for me a week ago.  I wrapped up three papers (I got an A- on one which I am particularly bitter – an A- is grad work is about equivalent with a B-, maybe even a C, in undergrad work, and I know for a fact that the prof simply did not AGREE with my argument).  I graded an enormous stack of freshman papers, and turned in my grades to the department.

The same day I turned in my grades, my mother graduated, receiving an Master of Science degree in Technology Projects Management, with a focus in Future Studies (pictures of which I have been forbidden to put online because my mother is paranoid about the internet, despite – or because of – being a computer programmer/engineer).

That was two Fridays ago.

I have spent the last week wrapping up a last bit of work as part of the editing staff of University of Houston English Department’s literature journal Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature.  It’s our second year doing the journal, so we’re still getting the hang of things, but we’re pretty proud of it.  It is free and (as far as I know) you don’t need an account to view it, so please feel free to take a look.  It showcases the work of my fellow graduate students, and is affiliated with the graduate student conference I mentioned early in the semester.

I also spent the last week with my mother, who took a week off her day-job to celebrate graduating and get a little bit of a vacation.  We’ve been up to a lot this past week, and it’s too much to cover in one post so I’m spreading some of the fun out over the next few days to stretch my blogging-muscles and get back into the swing of things.

Besides spending a lot of money at the mall as a belated birthday present to myself (my birthday was May 6th, right in the middle of finals, so I didn’t have much chance to celebrate), there were several highlights: a trip to Brenham, TX where Blue Bell ice-cream is made, my mother’s birthday (which was May 18th), and seeing the Irish alternative rock band Snow Patrol in concert (but more on all of that tomorrow, and probably Wednesday).

I have a lot of plans for this summer that I’ll probably be sharing with you as well.  I intend to start revising Midnight’s Knife, the novel I wrote a first-draft of last summer.  I want to start practicing the piano again (I say this every summer, and I always do for a while before it falls away again).  my mother bought me a fantastic painter’s easel for my birthday and I’m going to start drawing (again) and painting (which will be a bit new, despite a little experience from high school).  I have an ENORMOUS stack of books I want to read (I started Hunger Games – FINALLY – on Friday afternoon, and finished it on Saturday night).  And I’ll be doing a bit of traveling as well.

On top of that, I am planning to sit down and build a new syllabus/curriculum for my freshman writing course, which will incorporate a lot of student-blogging.  I was not at all happy with my performance as a teacher this semester.  I mean, I was admittedly extremely busy with PhD stuff, and I still did okay by my students – I didn’t completely slack off or anything.  But I had much more trouble this semester staying on top of things, and keeping my students engaged.  I firmly believe that what I do is important, but that only remains true if I do a good job, put serious effort energy into it, and I did not do as good a job as I could have this semester.  That’s going to change in the Fall.

I also have some ideas for ways I want to change-up the blog.  And I’ll be frank, that’s not so much for the benefit of you, my readers, as it is for my benefit.  To keep myself moving, to keep myself interested, to find a focus or a rhythm or whatever that will work for me, and will hopefully make it possible for me to keep this up through the Fall semester when things have gone upside-down-wacko again.  I’m fiddling with some ideas/plans, and I’m waiting on one major component before these changes will begin to take shape.  But I’ll keep you in formed about that.

In the meantime, I hope I didn’t lose too many of you during my extended absence, and I hope I can keep you entertained over the summer at the very least.  I’ll see you tomorrow!

Sincerely,

Amanda

You’re All Invited!

Free-For-All Friday: You’re All Invited!

Okay, I know I said I would do a review of the second Sherlock Holmes movie, and I will try to do that on Monday, but I wanted to spread the news about something I’m a part of.

Here at University of Houston, we, the graduate students of the Literature program, are trying to build a larger community for sharing our work and learning about the work of others.  To do this, several UH Literature students started a new student-run academic journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature, and also decided to a host a conference: The University of Houston Graduate Student Literature Conference.

“Reviving and Revisioning Work: Examining Class in Literature and Language”

Second Annual Graduate Literature Conference

With Keynote Speaker Dr. Rosemary Hennessy

from Rice University’s Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality

Saturday 31 March 2012
Open to the Public

“Class in society is determined by voice” — Marshall McLuhan

Between the recession, partisan rhetoric about class war, and the current Occupy movement, class has moved to the forefront of American political consciousness. Class is also something we can’t avoid in the academy–whether we’re talking about the relative place of men and women (Schell); WPAs, professors, and TAs (Bousquet, Scott); literature and composition (Miller); the university and the community (Mathieu); undergraduate students; or the literary canon and authors that we study. This is a kairotic moment to reexamine our assumptions about class and look more deeply at the class implications in our literature, our languages, our classrooms, and our communities.

We invite presenters to consider topics that include classroom experiences and literary research, but as this is Houston, we also invite you to consider and focus on issues of class in the Houston area. Our city is brimming with local writing– fiction, nonfiction, poetry, music — populating coffeehouses and bars alike. How is class represented in local literature as well as global and “canonized?”

As you may be able to tell, this is the second annual conference. Last year was the inaugural conference, and it went very well, if I do say so myself.  I presented a paper, and enjoyed listening to the work of my fellow UH graduate students, as well as several graduate students from other universities (including one who came all the way from New Mexico).  And then the first volume of Plaza was published, featuring the papers that were presented at the conference.  This year we are really hoping to spread the news, and gain a wider audience and a wider group of conference presenters.

To that end, I would like to extend this invitation to all of my blog followers.  Even though it’s called the “Graduate Student Literature Conference” (that’s only because we’re the ones running it), this conference is open to all undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines.  We are looking for presentations that fit this year’s theme of class.  In other words, we are looking for student-written critical research and creative non-fiction works that examine the role of socio-economic class structures in such things as literature, rhetoric, composition studies, folklore and ethnography, language and cultural studies, linguistic studies, technical writing, and gender studies (among others).  However, there are always a couple panels open for non-theme-related presentations as well, so please submit an abstract proposal even if you don’t think it fits the theme.

Some Things To Know:

1)     Abstract Proposals should be approximately 250 words in length.

2)     Abstract Proposals are due by January 30th, 2012.

3)     You will be informed of acceptance by February 15th, 2012.

4)     Individual Presentations should be 15-18 minutes in length in order to allow time for questions.

5)     For more information, include contact information, presentation guidelines, and submission procedures please see the UH Graduate Student Conference Website.

So, that’s what I’ve got, folks.  I know at least some of you are undergraduate and graduate students.  And I know some of you don’t live all that far away either, so travelling to Houston for a weekend wouldn’t be that difficult.  I urge you all to dig through all those papers you’ve written in the semesters and see if you can find one that would fit the theme (or even one that doesn’t), that you could dust off, clean up, and present.  Or, perhaps there’s a half-started research project that you’ve been meaning to work on?  Here’s the opportune moment!

I and others would really love to see this conference become a big deal someday, and it all starts with getting some presenters from outside the UH school system to come and present and spread the word themselves.

I hope we hear from you!

Have a good weekend, and see you on Monday!

Let Me Explain…

Let me explain…  No, there is too much. Let me sum up (bonus points to anyone who knows what that’s from):

1)     On Friday, Dec 9th, having completed one 20pg paper, one 10pg paper, one portfolio with various elements, one 20 min presentation, a final French translation project, graded approximately 50 student papers of various lengths, and compiled my final grades, I reached the official end of my first semester as a PhD student.  And survived!

2)     I spent yesterday (Saturday, Dec 10th) with my grandmother, as I had been too busy over the last month and a half to go visit her.

3)     I spent most of today (Sunday, Dec 11th) trying to clean the house, which became excessively messy and cluttered over the semester, so that I can start putting up Christmas decorations.  I will probably be cleaning and/or decorating all this upcoming week especially since we are Christmas-crazy in this house and I have four (count them, FOUR) Christmas trees.

4)     Beginning tomorrow (Monday, Dec 12th) I am participating in a series of blog tours with Novel Publicity. The first is for Terri Giuliano Long’s debut novel, In Leah’s Wake.  I am about halfway through the book myself (having started reading it the MINUTE I wrapped up my grading on Friday afternoon), and should have my own review up in a day or two.  The second is for Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch.  And third is for Emlyn Chand’s Ya novel Farsighted.

5)     I am planning some time over the next week or two to revamp a few things on the blog.  I’ll keep you updated on that.

6)     I have a list of 20 books I’m hoping to get through over winter break.  I probably won’t make it through even half of them, but I’m allowed to dream.  Be prepared for plenty of book reviews over the next month or two.

7)     I am also planning to get back to writing over Winter break.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to work on the story I started (and didn’t get far with) for NaNoWriMo 2011, or get back to editing Midnight’s Knife.  We’ll see.

In short, the hiatus is over.  I’ll be around for regular posting times again (MWF), through winter break.  When the Spring semester starts in mid-January I may have to adjust my schedule, but we’ll see what happens when we get there.  I look forward to getting back into the swing of things here, and to hearing from all you lovely folks again.  So please feel free to stop on by when you can.  The next few weeks are going to be fun!

Happy Thanksgiving and a Brief Hiatus

First: Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate!  I hope your day (and week) is joyful and filled with family and good food.

My Thanksgiving is usually pretty small: just me, my mother, and my brother, but we like it that way.  For years and years we never lived close enough to the rest of the family to have the classic huge family get-together.  Now that we do live fairly close to some of our aunts and uncles, we still generally don’t get together for Thanksgiving as there is a usually some tension over which house should host, and how many of them are going to their in-laws places instead, etc.  I love my big family but they are rather… exhausting.  So my mother, brother, and I enjoy a quiet day: getting up to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, cooking and eating very good food (we go the traditional route mainly, though my brother became a vegetarian this year so we’ve added stuffed flounder to the menu), watching 1 or 2 of the scheduled football games, and then in the evening going to a movie (I think it’s going to be the new Muppets movie this year).

I always love hearing what kinds of traditions others have.  I am always fascinated by, part-jealous/part-terrified of stories about enormous family get-togethers.  Some of my friends have really epically HUGE family dinners that I can’t begin to imagine — especially since they mainly get along really well with their aunts, uncles, and cousins (not something I can only claim).  So if you have any interesting traditions, or if you like a nice quiet day like me, I’d love to hear about it!

Second: I want to let all my lovely blog followers know that I will be taking a short hiatus for the next 2-3 weeks.  I am at the end of the semester, and between portfolios, presentations, term papers, and grading, but plate is over-flowing.  Add to that the fact that my NaNoWriMo plans got derailed by my work load, and I just can’t keep up right now.  I’m sure this has become obvious by my spotty posting record the last few weeks.  So I’m taking a short break while I wrap up the semester.  I should be done somewhere around Dec 9th-11th, and then I will be back on schedule.

Also, I am participating in a blog book tour in the second half of December, so I will definitely be back in time for that.

I am highly thankful for all of you who read this blog.  It’s been almost a year and half now since I started here, and I’ve learned a lot, met a ton of awesome bloggers, and managed to write more about random things than I ever thought I could.  I will miss writing here, and I will miss of the lovely comments I get from some of you.  I hope to see you all when I return.

In the meantime, have a wonderful end of November and beginning of December.  Be safe, be happy!  Bye!

— Amanda

I AM a “Real” Writer and They Just Don’t Get It

Free-For-All Friday:  I AM a “Real” Writer and They Just Don’t Get It

(CC) David Turnbull

There’s been some discussion on Twitter and various blogs (as there always is this time of year) about whether NaNoWriMo is really for “real” writers, or if it’s just for non-writers who want to FEEL like “real” writers for a month.  Now, I have NO DOUBT that many of the people who participate in NaNo never write a single word of fiction (except for that email to the boss about being sick) at any other time the whole rest of the year.  However, a) that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them wanting to try on the “writer” hat during a month when there is lots of enthusiasm and support for the endeavor; and b) plenty of “real” writers who write ALL THE BLOODY TIME also participate in NaNo.

Case in point, I consider myself a “real” writer (whatever the hell that actually means).  No, I’m not published.  No, I don’t have an agent.  And no, I don’t write all that often during the semester (I should say I don’t write FICTION often during the semester, but I’m writing non-fiction up the wazoo).  But I DO write at every given opportunity, I scrape out every spare moment I can, I write in the middle of class sometimes, and I forego sleep some nights because that’s the only time I can find.  And when I took the year off last year, I wrote pretty much NON-STOP.  And did FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY finish a whole first draft (and very long one at that) of a novel.  So, I consider myself a “real” writer, and I think I have right to.

And I LOVE NaNoWriMo.

I love it for a lot of reasons.  I love it because it is the sort of masochistic fun I tend to get myself into.  I love because of all the enthusiasm and support.  I love it because of all the crazy, eccentric, fun, would-be/hopeful writers who crawl out of the wood-work disguised as housewives and teachers and highschoolers and businessmen and firefighters, etc, etc, etc.

But here’s the one thing I think I love MOST about NaNoWriMo: For one month, I can tell my family I’m writing, and they back off.  For some reason, the tangible goal of writing 50,000 in one month is real enough and presumably daunting enough that they realize my time/energy/concentrate are precious, and they don’t bother me with incessant questions, or requests to “just spend some time with family,” or tirades about not doing the dishes in two days.  They leave me alone, and let me write.

Here’s the problem though: They just don’t get that this is how we writers think ALL THE TIME.  In November, when tell someone you’re writing, they don’t respond: “but you wrote YESTERDAY!”  They understand: “But I only have x days left to write x words!  I’m on a deadline and I just don’t have time for anything else right now!”  BUT, any other time of the year, if I say I’m writing, so I don’t have time right now, the retort is: “but you write everyday!” or “you were writing yesterday, can’t you take a couple days off?” or (my favorite) “some things [insert: spending time with family, doing housework, mowing the lawn, etc] are more important than your little hobby.”

They just don’t understand that we’re thinking: “But I only have the rest of my life to write every insane word crowded around and screaming in my brain! And that’s a whole helluva lot of words, dammit!  I’m on a deadline and I just don’t have time for anything else right now!”

Now, I’m not saying I do (or want to) ignore every other aspect of my life.  I still do housework, I still clean the dishes, and do laundry, and go grocery shopping, and do my homework, and watch a little tv, and go to family dinners, and all that other stuff.  But if the dishes wait a couple days while I get a huge chunk of inspired prose out of my screaming brain, then so be it.  And if some Sundays I’d rather sit in my office and write instead of sitting in my grandmother’s living room while all my uncles watch football and I try to look entertained, then so be it.  And my family just doesn’t get it.

As long as it’s November, and I have a clear start and end date, with clear guidelines and an attainable goal in mind, well then: that’s a pretty cool achievement.  But if I’m just writing, every day, any time I can find a few spare moments, when I should be doing homework, when I should be sleeping…  Well, then, it’s like my brother playing video games all the damn time: it’s a fine enough hobby in moderation, but it shouldn’t take over your life, and never supersedes your other duties, activities, etc.

Perhaps if/when I’ve published something, and can definitively say: look, this is a career choice, not just a hobby!  I AM A REAL WRITER.

Maybe then they’ll get it.

But then again, maybe not.

What Was I Thinking?

Free-For-All Friday: What Was I Thinking?

stressed like this

This week has been crazy.  Frantic, stressful, exhausting, and amazing.  As some of you know personally (and others know from reading my ‘About’ page), I began my PhD in Literature this week, after being out of school for a little over a year.  I was more than a little worried that after all that time off I would not be able to switch back into “school-mode” early mornings, heavy work loads, enormous stress, etc.  And the first week of class did not make it easier, that’s for damn sure.

I do not have classes on Monday, but I began the week on campus in order to fill out paperwork, take care of some logistics, finalize my syllabus (because I also teach Freshman Composition as a Teaching Fellow), and so forth.  I was greeted with ridiculously hot and humid weather (even for Houston), long lines, downed computers, and a screw-up that meant I would not be able to access the office I share with several other Teaching Fellows until NEXT Monday.  Not an auspicious beginning for the semester, to say the least.

Tuesday was my first day of actual classes.  For those of you who are curious, my classes are: French for Non-Majors (which I need to fulfill my foreign language requirement) on Tues and Thurs, teaching one Freshman Composition course on Tues and Thurs, Intro to Doctoral Studies on Tues, and Sociolinguistics on Wed.  By Wednesday night, having been to all of my classes once, I was already exhausted, stressed, and laden with homework assignments.  I already have to read two entire books and give a group presentation by Tuesday.

I guess my professors don’t want to give us any illusions about how easy the PhD is going to be.  “Welcome to the first day of your PhD. Now get to work!”  Part of me keeps screaming in the back of my head: WHAT WAS I THINKING???

One thing I can say is that my Sociolinguistics course, while extremely difficult, is going to be absolutely awesome!  The subject matter is simply so fascinating to me, and the professor seems understanding, friendly, egalitarian in her treatment of graduate students, and more than a little funny.  And seriously, I get to talk about language all day!  How could that be anything but a good thing?

I also think my students this semester are going to be wonderful.  After only two class periods the first of which was merely getting all that introductory stuff out of the way they seem to be mostly attentive and at least somewhat interested in the class.  Granted, these are all college freshmen in a composition class, and few of them (if any) really enjoy writing research papers.  But at least they were all willing to enter into discussions in class.  That is always a good sign.

All in all, I suspect this is going to be a very long semester.  I think (I hope) I can manage it, but it’s not going to be easy.  You may hear some exhausted whining on this blog, though I will try to keep it to a minimum.  I just thought I should give you all some fair warning.

surprised a little like this

However, what really made this week particularly insane, was being featured on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed page.  I’m not sure you can imagine my shock and glee when I was told on Tuesday morning by the lovely Piper Bayard on Twitter that she had seen me on the front page of WordPress.  I never saw it coming!

It was an absolutely wonderful feeling to check my email in between classes on Tuesday and see how many people had commented, liked, and subscribed to my blog.  Of course, I was far too overwhelmed by the sheer number of comments to do much more than sit back and stare at my computer screen in awe.  But it was (and continues to be) an absolutely astounding sensation.  Once again, I cannot thank you all enough for your interest and support.

I am currently trying to go through all the comments.  I read every single one of them, but unfortunately there is simply no way I can respond to all of them.  I am trying to respond to as many as I can, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I fail to respond to your comment.

I also hope you’ll forgive me if this particular post is a little too personal and boring to keep the interest of all my new readers.  But I wanted to get this out there.  I promise that next week’s blog posts are all written, ready to go, and far more interesting than this one.  So I hope you’ll bear with me and come back on Monday.

yeah, kinda like that

In the meantime, I need to read Professing Literature: An Institutional History by Gerald Graff.  And possibly put my head through a wall.  So I’ll be going.

Have a wonderful wonderful weekend everyone! Thank you again! And I’ll see you next week!