Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Distinguished Lecture Part 1: Preparation

On November 20th, Boise State University put on one of their Distinguished Lecture series events. A free event, open to the public, at which interested members of the community could come and hear a speaker. On this particular night, the speaker was Sir Salman Rushdie.

I had been looking forward to this event since I first read about it in September. It seemed to me that I should have read something by him, but I hadn't. So, I took a break from my current project of reading the entirety of The Wheel of Time to read both The Satanic Verses and Joseph Anton. Lacking sufficient homework from my class this semester, I assigned myself those books.

I had heard of The Satanic Verses. I was only seven when the book was published, but I had heard about it from friends in high school more interested in politics than I, and I've more recently read a science fiction novel that explicitly references it (Zendegi by Greg Egan). And yet, in hearing about it, I had never caught on to how fantastical it was.

There is this idea that I have of serious literature, the kind that would win a nomination for the Booker prize. I felt that it had to be serious and realistic. Brimful of poetic imagery and perfectly placed metaphor. Perhaps I have been reading the wrong literature.

The Satanic Verses was a fascinating read. I found myself incredulous at what Rushdie was "getting away with" in regards to using the fantastic as a part of his story. Whether the fantastic was supposed to be a part of a man's madness or not, it still began with what had to be a miracle of two men surviving an airplane explosion at altitude.

I didn't see what made it an insult to any religion, but that could very well be simply because I was reading it as fiction. Since, you know, it is fiction.

I read Joseph Anton next, and found myself fascinated again, but for a different reason. This was a memoir. It is meant to be truthful; true to the memory of one man. I was aghast at the negative reactions of the British press. I wondered how I would have done in similar circumstances. Here was a man who stood by his words when those words brought him the threat of death. Not a hero, or a superman, but a writer.

In both books, I found sections that I found particularly moving or well-worded. Some paragraphs I read to my husband, usually those that included vivid description, which is something he wants to see more of in my writing. Others I savored to myself, especially the parts in The Satanic Verses that were about Alleluia Cone and Mount Everest. I'm still trying to come to terms with what I think is an important lesson from Joseph Anton, that seeking to be loved is not the right path.

I brought my husband to the lecture with me. And I brought anticipation and excitement. I didn't know what to expect from a Boise crowd. Would the Morrison Center be echoingly empty or filled with a smattering of students seeking extra credit and a few others who might come to see such a writer speak?

To be continued...


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Last Unicorn Tour: A Review

I like books. I've liked books as long as I can remember. And yet, despite spending the first eighteen years of my life next door to Chicago, I never went to an author event until last week.

Now that I live in Boise, I often bemoan the fact that the authors and musical acts that I really dig don't come here. For example, I was quite incensed to notice that Passion Pit was going to go to Salt Lake City, then skip a day and then play Spokane. That means that they drove right through Boise without bothering to stop.

Jerks.

(Just kidding, you're not jerks, Passion Pit - come to Boise!)

And when I did see notices of author events in the area, they weren't authors that I knew of or they weren't authors I was passionate about, even if they were big names. Okay, I did want to see Cheryl Strayed, but the tickets for that event were a) out of my budget and b) sold out in seconds.

But, as I wrote a few weeks ago, a magical concurrence of events occurred that allowed me to go to The Last Unicorn Tour and meet Peter S. Beagle on November 4th.

To be perfectly honest, I have attended one other author signing, if you want to count being dragged to the mall by my mom so she can get a signed cookbook from the Frugal Gourmet. I don't really count it, and what I remember most about that event was a long line emerging from the bookstore and wrapping around the upper level of the mall.

This was different. For one, the signing took place in a movie theater lobby, which was fairly dimly lit and subject to flows of people exiting their films and staring at the partially costumed hoard of people lined up in front of the tables of merchandise. I met some people in line, and attached myself to them in a way, since my husband didn't want to stand in line and I didn't want to be completely alone.

But when I got to the head of the line, where Peter sat and the skull glowered, I was alone, if only for a moment. I was tongue-tied and on the verge of tears. I wanted to speak eloquently, in a way that he would remember. But all I managed was to reference what he had said on the Writing Excuses podcast. "I must call myself a writer," I managed to stammer. And he told me to keep up the work. A quick photo-op and I was off to the theater to watch the screening.

A Q&A session preceded the film, and I later kicked myself for not asking the obvious question, "How is a raven like a writing desk?" But the questions were good, and Peter spoke in fascinating stories. It was a shame that the session had to end, because I doubt I was the only one ready to listen to Peter talk all night.

I cried during the film. At the sad parts, the happy parts and my favorite parts. I resolutely did not let myself get in the way of feeling and expressing those emotions. I revisited a film of my childhood and experienced it in a way that I never had been able to, on the big screen in a full theater.

I left feeling satisfied and glad that I had taken part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Draft Down, Long Way to Go

One thing that I can thank the slow pace of my class for is the time to work on my next solo trip book, Hike with Me: Queens River Loop. Last year, I wasn’t able to finish an initial draft until mid-December, due to the heavy workload for my literature class. There just wasn’t time to write as frequently when I had to read, re-read and write papers.

There is also the possibility that I’m getting a little bit better at writing this kind of account. I have been engaging in some practice by writing up my other trips this summer on my hiking blog, as well as the experience of last year’s book.

Plus I have a firm deadline from my husband, aka my motivation, aka my first reader, for a Christmas release. Pre-Christmas, rather, so we have Christmas gifts.

Although, to be honest, he gave me a deadline last year, and I didn’t quite meet it.

But this year, I’m on a good track. He has finished his initial read-through, and so my next step is to re-read and edit. After that, the big formatting push will come, which is the most time-consuming part of the non-writing process, because of the way that I’m doing the pictures. I have to make picture plates in GIMP, and then insert the plates into the text at the appropriate places.

Oh, and I have to choose the pictures. . . Maybe I’m actually running late. . .

I’ve got to get back to work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Six Stages of Alien Abduction

1. Denial
As your eyes slowly adjust to the bright lights and you find you can't move, of course you're going to deny it. You insist that it must be a dream, but you know that once you realize a dream is a dream, you tend to wake up. There is no waking up. So you move onto the next lie, "I must have been in an accident. I'm in a hospital and I have amnesia." Sorry, no dice. Hospitals on earth do not have pulsing purple walls or tentacled nursing staff. It doesn't take long to get past denial when the three mouthed doctor leans over you with an oddly cute head tilt and a quadruple wink.

2. Anger
Why you? Of all the people in all the world, why did these stupid damn aliens have to pick you? If you could punch them right in their noses, er, hoses (nozzles?), you'd do it, right now, arm, hey arm, why aren't you moving? Anger turns out to be much more difficult to hold onto when you can't even thrash in protest.

3. Bargaining
Although you can't speak, you decide to see if the aliens are psychic. Or if you're psychic. You stare at them until your eyes hurt, thinking as loudly as you can: Let me go and I'll give you candy. You'd like candy, I promise. How about beer? Nothing like a cold one on a hot day. Shiny penny?
Incomprehensible trills fill your ears, but you can't tell if they're responding, laughing or completely psychically deaf.

4. Depression
You'd cry if you could. But you can't even tighten your sphincter, which, of course, you know they'll get around to eventually. You wish you could see your mother again, and tell her you love her even though she's crazy, which is totally the reason you fight all the time. What's the point of trying to thrash or telepathically beg? There's no point in anything anymore...

5. Acceptance
What will be, will be. You are paralyzed and helpless, and having absolutely nothing you can do certainly helps speed the process to acceptance. You endure, even as the expected probe strikes home, and tears actually do manage to leak out of your eyes.

6. X-Files
You wake up in bed, and while a part of you wants to pretend it was all a dream, a certain tender spot insists otherwise. You have no choice. There could be others out there, having been abducted, soon to be abducted, maybe even being abducted right now. You have to let everyone know that the truth is out there...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Best Kind of Coincidence

I listen to the weekly podcast “Writing Excuses.” I’ve been listening for almost a year now. I keep meaning to catch up on back episodes, because when they end I want more, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet. It seems like the only way to get old seasons is to download them one at a time and I haven’t had the patience for that.

I usually listen to them first thing on Monday at work, since they post on Sundays. But this week, for whatever reason, I didn’t. Maybe it’s because the latest update of iTunes has a red icon instead of a blue one and it might be freaking me out a bit. Or I was just busy doing work that required more focus than I can spend while listening. Or, quite possibly, I was so excited to see the name Peter Beagle attached to the week’s episode that I decided to savor it.

I have loved The Last Unicorn for as long as I can remember. I encountered the movie first, and I remember begging my mom to take me to the video store near our old house just to rent it again. The ones near our new house didn’t carry it. I could watch that movie over and over. It enchanted me, completely.

But for some reason, I didn’t realize that it was a book until I was almost a teenager. And when I did, I fell in love all over again. I have an old copy that I permanently borrowed from my dad’s office many years ago, and I have perhaps loved it a bit too hard. The book added to the movie without taking away any magic from the film. It was a new pleasure, but tied to the old childhood enchantment.

Although I came to read other novel’s by Peter S. Beagle, and enjoyed some of them more than others, none can approach the emotional attachment that I have for The Last Unicorn.

It was a complete coincidence that I listened to that podcast on Tuesday, and then decided to look up Peter S. Beagle online. I have recently sneaked onto Twitter and I thought I’d see if he did that. He did indeed, and I perused his tweets and retweets only to stumble upon something called lastunicorntour.com.

A tour? Of The Last Unicorn? In theaters? How did I not know this was a thing???

Well, I thought, they’ll never come to Boise…

Except, they kind of are. Because one week from Tuesday, The Last Unicorn will be in Meridian (right next door to Boise), and I had no idea it was happening.

And Peter S. Beagle will be there.

I am almost crying with delight.

Now all I have to do is not burst into tears at the signing table.

While I'm amazed that I didn't know this was happening, I am absolutely delighted that if I hadn't listened to that podcast, hadn't recently joined Twitter, hadn't looked Peter S. Beagle up online... I might not have known until after the tour passed through Idaho.

It is a delightful, enchanting coincidence.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hoping to Learn

I had heard that this class was a hard class. So hard, that an extra fee was attached to it to pay for tutoring. The tutors attend the class as well as having scheduled hours. And, in my opinion, they are completely unnecessary, because my particular instructor has no idea how to teach.

By the sixth week of a class meeting two times a week, the instructor had cancelled five classes, and missed two (the first two misses were due to contractual issues for which I cannot wholly blame the instructor). If I missed that many classes, I would not expect to be receiving a passing grade, but I tried to give the instructor the benefit of the doubt. Illness can strike anyone, and just because there are only four seventy-five minute time periods (this instructor has two class sections) that this person has to show up to work, doesn’t mean it is any less difficult to deal with being sick.

After all, one could use the time that they are not in class to catch up on grading, right?

Not so much.

As of this writing, it has been more than 32 days since the semester’s first exam was due. Half of the exam was multiple choice, instantly graded through the magic of the internet. The other half of the exam was short answer questions, and I have still not received my grade for it. Nor has anyone else that I know of.

After completely missing two weeks of class, the syllabus naturally had to be adjusted somewhat. You might think that once a new, accelerated syllabus was set, that it would be followed precisely.

But you’d be wrong.

In a move that I find appalling, there are to be no more exams in the new syllabus. Instead, workbooks will be completed. I’m not sure how the teacher plans to grade the workbooks, in part because I have no idea what they look like. The first one was to be posted, according to the syllabus, “over the weekend” of the 10th of October. But instead, we received an email the morning of the 13th, explaining that the workbook would be posted soon.

As of the 22nd, it still isn’t posted.

And then there are the classes themselves. Usually by this time in the semester, I will have memorized my classmates names, based on roll call. But this instructor has not taken attendance since the first class they came to (the third class in the semester). And, in addition to not calling roll, which I admit is a quibble, it seems to me that the instructor is not reading the textbook. And therefore, is catering to students who also choose not to read the textbook.

Exhibit A: As the instructor wrote an example on the board, a student asked for an example of the difference between a sound with aspiration and one without. An example of this was spelled out explicitly in the chapter of the textbook we were supposed to read, but the instructor responded by claiming that they couldn’t think of a good example of the difference.

Exhibit B: Upon working through an exercise, the instructor commented that I was doing well. I said that the example we were working on was laid out in the book, and the instructor replied, “Well, not everyone has read the textbook.”

I might be reading some defensiveness into that reply. I might not.

As a person pursuing a second bachelor’s degree, this is the only class in this particular subject that I am required to take. Based on the textbook, I find the subject matter interesting, but based on the class experience, I doubt I would have the ability to take a class that requires this class as a prerequisite successfully.

Sure, I hope that the class will improve as the semester goes on. I hope that the instructor will get a handle on grading and figure out how to read the textbook teach follow their own syllabus.

But I hope a lot of things. . .

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

-isms

This past Monday was my birthday. To celebrate, I took the day off of work. I know it was a day off anyway for most folks, but my workplace does not recognize Columbus day as a holiday. However, we get the day after Thanksgiving instead, so it all works out. My husband and I drove out to a roadside hot spring with the intention of camping next to it and enjoying some drinks in the steaming hot water.

The first bump in our road came about when we saw the sign warning of a road closure at milepost 34. Neither of us could remember exactly where the hot spring was on the road, as far as mile markers go, but Ambrose thought that the Troutdale campground was at mile post 28, and I didn't think that the spring was more than 6 miles past it. So we drove on with some confidence.

And, although Troutdale was closer to mile marker 31 than 28, the hot spring I wanted to visit was just after mile post 34 - and just before the gated road closure.

Unfortunately, the campsite right next to the hot spring, though reachable by car, was fully occupied by a hunting camp. There was not room for us to camp there, so we turned the car around and drove a short distance to another roadside hot spring. This one was not as well developed, and not really usable, so we drove back and claimed a spot just past the one way bridge. It would be a short walk to the hot spring.

As soon as I got out of the car, I was reminded why I prefer backpacking to car camping. There was a well developed fire pit, surrounded by rocks, and piled high with trash. Not just trash that would reasonably burn, no, it seemed there was everything but the kitchen sink - aluminum cans, tin cans, a plastic two liter soda bottle, muffin wrappers, wet wipes, a styrofoam bowl, more aluminum cans.

And that was just the trash in the fire pit.

Scattered in the brush were unidentifiable papers, perhaps wads of toilet paper, perhaps paper towels. When I reached for a rock to hold our plastic vestibule down in the wind, I found not one, but two tampons under it.

What the hell is wrong with these people????

I cannot comprehend the state of mind that makes it okay to leave trash like that outdoors. What - you think the paper will biodegrade overnight? You think the tampons are cotton, which is a plant, so it belongs under a rock? You think that you can just burn anything and it will be hunky-dory?

I went on quite a tirade, and Ambrose patiently bore it until I calmed down. He was amused, because to him, I was behaving like an environmentalist.

And if being outraged at litterers and picking up trash makes an environmentalist, then I guess I am one.

But it made me think about the argument that being a feminist is just about believing that women and men should have equal rights (as stated by, for example, Aziz Ansari recently). That more people are feminists than claim to be, because it isn't about the word as much as the beliefs of individuals.

But believing that littering is bad is not the same as picking up trash. And believing that women and men should have equal opportunities is not the same as recognizing where they don't and working towards change.