She fell in love with a Cuban General, had his baby, and then moved home to San Francisco because Cuba was no place to raise a child

I had a fascinating American Literature professor. Her favorite student was a psychology major and she allowed him to speak, but often cutoff anyone else who wanted to talk about meaningless things like symbols which don’t speak to anything at all in a story, so she said. (The image above is an example of a smug psychology student. Just judging everyone.)

She told us about how she fell in love with a Cuban General, having his baby, and then moving home because Cuba was no place to raise a child. She never did say Cuba. I guess it could have been Panama or something similar. But I met her son randomly at a friends house. I didn’t ask him about his biological father. He’d been discussing a trip he took with his adopted father, a doctor, where they volunteered at a clinic in Port au Prince.

But this fascinating professor talked longingly about teaching at a well respected university where she could have longstanding conversations about literature with her adept and well-attuned students. Instead of us–except for the psychology student–Portland students. She was Jewish, an atheist, and adopted two girls from China.

From her I learned about structures and tropes and that Gertrude Stein’s sentences are like branches upon branches.

Of my work she said, “I like your voice, but you need to say more.”

Which was nice because I want my writing voice to be liked and also because I have a little bit of pride for my holding back. And this might be a silly pride because I don’t often write beyond what I think needs to be said. Which isn’t much. I could stop here. I’m fighting myself not to stop here.

I’m an introvert. Whatever that means. But it doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say. It’s just that in order for me to form my thoughts I must write them out first. So writing is often more than just saying what I want to say, it’s also wading through my subconscious to figure out what I feel and believe. I am hidden from myself.

Again, I’m fighting. I feel like I’m through. I don’t have an opinion any more.

Last thought then: writing for me is hard because it often involves a super-concentrated form of thinking mixed with an unknown and hyperactive agent called feeling. I can write when I don’t feel, but it’s often dull and lifeless. But it’s close to impossible for me to write when I don’t concentrate.

So when I’m stuck, when I’m tired and I don’t want to think, I imagine my American Lit professor, turning away from the class and facing that smug psychology student and asking his opinion. And then I start writing. I start saying more. Because I hate smug psychology students who know so much about literature that they don’t major in it. And I also hate when professors condescend.

Another thought, now that I imagine myself in the class again: I wasn’t prepared for American Literature. I needed milk, but I was fed beef. I hadn’t prepared myself, that’s for sure, but I didn’t know how to prepare. I wonder if literature would thrive with more priming. I took every literature and writing class in high school. High-brow literature needs the equivalent of a gateway drug. Maybe that’s what they call Young Adult lit. Or maybe I’ve become smug.

Is College Worthless?

A twenty year college professor is leaving his job because:

…most of today’s college students, especially those that come to college straight from high school, are unnecessarily coddled. Professors and administrators seek to “nurture” and “engage” and they are doing so at the expense of teaching. The result: a discernable and precipitous decline in the quality of college students. More of them come to campus with dreadful study habits. Too few of them read for pleasure. Too many drink and smoke excessively. They are terribly ill-prepared for four years of hard work, and most dangerously, they do not think that college should be arduous. Instead they perceive college as an overnight recreation center in which they exercise, eat, and in between playing extracurricular sports, they carry books around. If a professor is lucky, the books are being skimmed hours before class.

[here via PW]

Thank You, From Dr. Gale

Most of the people I know didn’t go to school for six years. Which is why I’m proud to say that I’m moving on to my sixth year of college in the fall. I once saw a movie about a guy who had been in school for seven years and he was rich and he got lots of girls and he had lots of friends and he threw lots of parties and he got lots of girls. I’m pretty sure that the girls start coming around by the sixth and seventh year.

I know you might ask, Ross, are you going to school to become a doctor? And although it may appear that way on paper, with my six years of school and all, but I’m actually going to school to fulfill my dream to become a writer. 

The first novel I ever wrote was about a young hockey player who was recruited to play at an elite hockey school in Canada. But his performance is hampered by his anxiety on the ice. When the coach benches him he starts to wonder whether he should give up pursuing his dream. I never finished the ending, but if I could re-write it I think I would have him give up his dream of being a hockey player, have him return to his hometown where he dies in a freak washing machine accident while trying to fit his shin guards into the washer (which is a terrible idea, never do it). Its title was, Nervous on Ice. Not to be confused with Fear On Ice, which was a short young adult novella about a minor league hockey player who seriously injures another hockey player in a fight and then is afraid he might hurt other players as well.

Fighting in hockey wasn’t my cup of iced chai tea with a dab of cream. As the girls in my sixth and/or seventh year of school will say, I’m a lover not a fighter. But there were times in my long and respective hockey career where I was called upon to fight and/or seriously injure an opponent. The first time I seriously injured an opponent I wasn’t actually asked to hurt him. I accidentally caught the other team’s best player in the baby makers during the face-off. He didn’t finish the game. Our following game I was heckled by his teammates from the stands. I was actually oblivious to this all, even the accidental sticking.

The second time I hurt someone was in an actual fight. He was from Alaska which meant he lived in an igloo and he was crazy like a wolf. To give an example of his craziness, towards the end of the year when we were trying to make the playoffs, this crazy Alaskan tackled one of my teammates and tried to poke his eyes out. Our fight was violent and gruesome so I’ll save us all the details. My opponent did wear aviator sunglasses to the rink the next day, if you catch my big winking hint that’s quietly telling you he had two large, purple-black eyes.

I’m getting bored telling old war stories that I need to save up to tell the kids that I’m going to have with the girl that I’ll meet in my sixth and/or seventh year of college. So I’ll stop. But I do want to tell you that I’m going to be helping out at this summer camp for three weeks and that my blogging will continue somewhat. But if it’s not as much as normal then still come back and look at everything you’ve read already read because my self-esteem and self-worth are dependent upon my readers everywhere.

But I do want to thank those who take the time to brows and skim and watch and sometimes, if the first line is engaging enough, read my blog. I don’t know all of you who stop by, but if you’re not a stalker and you’re ever in Portland drop me a line and I’ll invite you over to one of the college parties I’ll be throwing because I’ll be so popular. I’ll introduce you to all of the girls that I’m going to meet. 

To curb your already growing enthusiasm to leave a comment so I can subsequently make fun of you, I’ll send you to J.K.Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard. Remember, some Harvard uppity’s were insulted by having a children’s book author speak at their commencement. She was good.