Monday, September 29, 2014

Disembodied Teeth

For the last month or so, something has been eating at me.

I mean, literally.

Here is where you have to clarify further that when you say "literally," you actually mean LITERALLY, because who does that anymore? It's unusual. Nonetheless, I, a writer who strives for clarity at all times, am, for lack of a better phrase, eaten alive; which is to say, not literally eaten alive (because in that case I would at this point be dead, and therefore no longer able to write about the experience), but figuratively eaten alive; or, literally, experiencing the condition of being eaten by something in a literal, yet (as yet) non-fatal fashion.

Hopefully that cleared everything up nicely.

Except my bites. I'd like to find something that would clear those up nicely, because something is eating me alive, figuratively speaking. They feel like mosquito bites, but I know they are not, inasmuch as I am not given to doing high kicks whilst going commando in a swamp. No, something is biting me in quite inappropriately personal places, and they feel like mosquito bites, and I never see what's doing it, and I would quite like it to stop. Thank you.

So anyway, I did some browsing around online (as you do) and came across this post, which includes every single symptom I'm experiencing, up to and including the scrabbling-around noises in the attic, which I've been attributing to squirrels.

Which are rodents. Last time I checked.

I'm not a taxonomist, but I know what I like, and what I don't like is being eaten alive by fucking rodent mites. So does anybody know a good exterminator?

Because I literally do not have time for this.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Amateur Perfectionist Lessons

In the grand scheme of things, it's pretty easy to bang out a blog post. Nothing in particular to talk about? No problem! I believe this will be my 1,058th post about nothing in particular. It's a topic dear to my heart.

Much more difficult is writing about something - any actual, you know, thing - and, moreover, writing carefully about it. Putting together a first draft. Getting feedback. Revising. Fine-tuning. Revising some more.

At this point in my development as a writer, the revision process feels like this:

Damn it! I just remembered I clean forgot to ask my professor what his take is on double-spacing after a period.

Meanwhile, we had some drama in my other class, at a different institution, neither of which for these purposes I think I'll name in any searchable fashion. An email went out to all the students Friday. My professor, stating it had nothing to do with any of us in the class, was resigning as instructor of record. More details would be given at the next class meeting, if not sooner.

This was rather abrupt.

Being about one degree (if that) removed from high school students, we were excitedly abuzz about this development as the classroom filled today. What happened? Did our professor get fired? Leave in a (Chevy) Huff? How did we feel about the instructional style, anyway? Was there a lack of clear direction? Were the lectures productive?

You would think the presence of an unfamiliar, older person near the back of the room would shut us up. But perhaps lulled into security by having already accepted my middle-aged person into their midst, my fellow students gossiped away.

Eventually the stranger moved to the front of the room and distributed business cards, revealing himself to be the chair of our missing professor's department. "I see you've already heard the news," he said, with a certain sense of irony (irony not being an unfamiliar concept, I wouldn't think, to anyone in his particular field).

I don't know that we were particularly chastened, though we probably should have been. The department head asked if any of us had any notion of our professor's imminent departure, and asked to be forwarded a copy of the email suddenly announcing it. We meekly accepted the assignment of a new professor, under the assumption that what we were getting was at least as good and possibly better than what we'd had. But I have a pang for the departed professor, whom I'd liked. Class started a few days earlier here than it did in my writing class (my writing/Shakespeare professor having been summoned to jury duty), so this was my first face-to-face encounter with the return to academia. It matters to me. It's special! I hope all is well.

But if not, I hope my professor leaves well enough alone and doesn't try to hammer anything out.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wonderful Things

My philosophy as a writer is best summarized by Franz Liebkind in The Producers:

"You are the audience! I am the author! I outrank you!"

Sometimes my blog gets as many as three hits a day.

This is technically antithetical to what I'm learning in my UT advanced writing class, by the way. But I'm settling into the groove of it now.

A couple of wonderful things have happened in connection with this writing class. First off, well, it just feels good to be there. It's a casual class, couched as an opportunity to expand one's skills in a supportive setting, rather than a trap where points are docked for technical errors. The professor is nice. The other students are nice. It has a vibe, and the vibe is good. And hey, writing is fun - right?

So last week, as we went around the room and introduced ourselves, the professor (who's been at UT for many, many years) mentioned that he's a great fan of Shakespeare, and used to teach literature classes in that subject. I suddenly remembered the Shakespearean plays class I took at UT on my first go round, and realized that my professor does seem kind of familiar. And I asked: Did you teach an introductory Shakespeare class in, oh, I'm not sure, 1987?

He laughed, because that was a long time ago. He's taught who-knows-how-many classes since then, and considering I don't remember him clearly enough to be sure he was the instructor, there's hardly any reason he'd remember. But when I brought it up, there was a big "awwwwww!" from my classmates (who incidentally are, for the most part, younger than my two older kids. But who's counting?).

Well, it's not a big deal, I guess. But I did check my transcript at the first opportunity. You like to know these things, right? My transcript doesn't list the instructor name, but does have the course unique ID, so I called up the English department and asked them if there was any way they could look up who it was.

Second wonderful thing (if the first wonderful thing is that all my classmates said "awwwww," though that might be the third or fourth wonderful thing already depending on how you count stuff - or the 537th), whoever answered the phone at the English department did not so much as entertain the idea of considering my request to be frivolous. Did not even offer it a glass of ice water. No, he put me on hold for about seven minutes, during which time he probably had to descend into the secret UT tunnel system* and pull dusty, moth-eaten PAPER FILES out of ancient mildewed FILING CABINETS. And, third (or eighth or 956th) wonderful thing, when he returned, he seemed genuinely excited to tell me that it was, in fact, the same professor!

Possibly he was just really relieved to see the light of day again.

Wonderful thing number I've-lost-count-(who's-counting) greeted me, upon arrival to the next class meeting. My professor said he'd pulled his rosters from 1987 and found the class I was in. I almost cried!

"You know who else was in your class," he told us all, "Scott Blackwood, who's a very successful writer today, was enrolled in that session. We keep in touch still," he told us. "Really a big name now, he's made a big name for himself."

Well, I'm still fairly young.

These are many wonderful things. I do wish I could take part of my generalized anxious energy about school and transport it back in time and magically kablooie it into 18-year-old Beth, who got a B in Shakespearean plays, but didn't do as well in U.S. History or U.S. Government or anything else that would be considered boring, such as the entire core curriculum. At that point I thought that if you took four years of electives, you ended up with a bachelor's degree at the end; it turns out that there are very few majors for which that's true.

So far this semester I can't sleep on school nights because of nerves. Leaving work at 3 on Mondays and Wednesdays to bike to class, I feel almost physically ill with apprehension. This doesn't help me smell any better when I get there.

It'll settle down after a while. Life is full of wonderful things, possibly as many as three a day. But who's counting?


*That everybody has always known about forever

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

I Do, You Do, We All Do for Mildew!

Look, I have a laptop and an internet connection. What do you expect?

They're moving our office at work. More to the point, they've already moved it. Everything else is on us, the humble employees, to show up at the new location at 8:00 tomorrow morning. But what if we didn't? Would it even be considered a strike if we all showed up to work as scheduled, just at the wrong place?

I probably won't be able to get hold of everybody tonight.

They tell us the move is temporary. The permanent location had a severe rainwater leak, leading to damage in the drywall and carpets. We've been moved out so they can rip all that up and redo it, then bring us all back.

The thing is, the new location is almost cartoonishly dismal. It's an old equipment hangar in a largely disused piece of property which is, in fact, subject to fairly imminent sale (though the grounds have been informally appropriated by the surrounding neighborhood for use as a public park). The building features cement-block walls and a grand total of four small, narrow windows for a cavernous room housing a severely cramped cubicle maze for about twenty-five people. Long biers of fluorescent lights hang from the ceiling. The air intake vents are red and flaking with rust. The breakroom features several strategically placed rat traps, left behind by the previous tenants. The carpet is thin, worn, and held together in places with duct tape. On my first visit there I squished a cockroach that had made me wait entirely too long for the ladies' room.

For reasons that have not yet become entirely clear - to me, anyway - there stands outside a majestic monument to highway overpass construction materials. There is a wall made of various different textured surfaces standing some 20 feet high and 30 feet wide. It's ringed by a walkway, with thoughtfully placed park benches, so you can sit and enjoy the solitude in its shadow. The walkway leads to a small parking area where there's an informational kiosk, which is blank. It's a bit surreal really.

What I'm wondering is if they are actually going to renovate our old offices at all? Because it seems to me that all they have to do is stick us in this dump for three months and at the end of it, we'll be so grateful to return to our own sunny, airy, spacious workspaces that we won't even notice the creeping tendrils of mold snaking across the walls and gradually sucking the life from our office plants.

We'll see how it goes. The new location was until recently occupied by part of the division I worked in when I first started at this agency. "We were told it was just a temporary move too," one of them told our move coordinator during an early site visit. "We've been here 11 years."

Our division director, who has a background in marketing, calls it a great adventure. And so it is! Let the adventure begin.