Sharing the loathe

July 14, 2008

Oh look! It’s a piece in the Times of London about what books writers hate. Super fun, always. Oh wait, LOOK what’s on it:

Helen Hawkins, Culture editor

Atonement by Ian McEwan The only book that has ever moved me to hurl it across the room is McEwan’s 2001 bestseller. I was doing fine – wading through the minutely detailed atmospherics, ducking the gobbets of Fine Writing that careened off each page, soldiering on through the epic nightmare of Dunkirk – until about p330, where it was revealed that the whole damn effort I had put myself through had now to be reevaluated retrospectively, as the book was Not What It Seemed. Then, 50 pages later, came the final paragraphs, where I was informed I had to decide how to end the plot myself. My weary brain protested that McEwan had bottled it. He was effectively handing over a key responsibility of the novelist – the ultimate fate of his imaginary creations – to the unsuspecting reader. I thought John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman had rendered the double-ending gimmick redundant 30 years earlier.

My literary soul twin, at last discovered across the Atlantic, ducking gobbets of Fine Writing.

And while I’m hating, I just want to point out that either this is some kind of unfunny joke or it’s a compelling reason to never, ever read a line of poetry published in the New Yorker again (not that you didn’t already have a sneaking suspicion that was the case).

Thanks to Brian for the tip-off.

Who here has been to Key West?

In Key West, there’s a lot of t-shirt shops. Some of them sell tacky, faux expensive looking shirts that you could wear back in Michigan. Most of them sell tacky, sexually themed shirts that could wear back at the Delt party if you are a dude who feels the need to do such a thing. You know, shirts that say things like “I need some lotion applied here” with an arrow pointing down, or “Breathalyzer test” with an arrow pointing in the same direction. They are shirts for frat boys. Funny how this guy over at Kos thinks that a similarly phallus-centric shirt sold at Spencer’s thinks it is also a shirt for politically enlightened people:

I work at Spencer’s Gifts, a store that prides itself on being fairly humourous and “edgy.” We sell a shirt there that shows portrait shots Hillary and Obama side by side, seperated by the words “Bros before Hoes.”

Apparently, to him the only issue is, should Spencer’s be selling the shirt? What a non-question. Of course Spencer’s can sell the shirt, it’s Spencer’s and we know what kind of people wear shirts from Spencer’s. 14 year olds. The question should be, should I wear this shirt, and the answer to that is a definite no. You have a problem with Hilary, fine. But the same way that we wouldn’t wear a shirt that says “whites before blacks” if we had a problem with Obama, we shouldn’t wear a shirt that says “men before women.” Even if you think it is funny in context, it is disgusting.

Why can’t all men be more like Ernie?

This NYT article plows through a number distinctions that should be made in discussions of whether or not any fabrication is permissible in works marketed as nonfiction.

  1. No one ever said that there isn’t space in memoirs for ambiguity, mystery, and imagination. You just shouldn’t say something actually happened when it didn’t, and you shouldn’t market your book as nonfiction if that is what you’d like to do. There are all kinds of ways to talk about things that aren’t factual as part of a memoir or autobiography–see Woman Warrior for a good example of this. The story in memoir does not have to be all facts, but you can’t lie about the facts that you say are there. I can imagine a very interesting memoir about how one is obsessed by thinking of oneself as a street tough druggie when one is actually a typical suburbanite. However, to just pass yourself off as the former when you are the latter is clearly a lie and should be marketed as such. And if it isn’t, there may well be legal ramifications (eg Clifford Irving, who wrote a biography btw, not a memoir).
  2. No one ever said that memoirs are bound to tell the whole truth. Selection and editing, sometimes to the point of skewing reality, are allowed, although broadening your perspective is often (though not always) necessary to craft a strong, compelling piece.
  3. I think it is a travesty to include Laura Albert (aka JT LeRoy) in a list with James Frey. She wrote fiction. She called it fiction. She was pretending to be someone else in her life, not her work. Fair enough, and any effort to hold memoirists accountable for what they claim as facts (which I would support) should make the distinction between lies in the work and lies in life. I care about the work, the other is, well, that’s life.
  4. This article supports the idea that people who demand honesty in memoirs are trying to kill creativity. I am tired of writers who have never studied or tried to work in the genre of creative nonfiction coming down on the side of the liars b/c they claim that to do otherwise would be to limit artists. Bulls***. There are plenty of ways to do whatever you want to do, and if you can’t figure them out it wasn’t telling the truth that stopped you.

I’m demoralized about many things on this Super-cranky Tuesday, so I’m just going to post this lovely missive in its entirety, as found in my inbox this morning:

Tuition and Fee Collections Information
Spring Semester, 2008                                    February 4, 2008

Dear Florida Atlantic University Student:

We would like to take a moment to pass along some important information to you regarding your tuition and fee payments that includes pertinent timeframes, calendar dates, and collection agency details. Below is a semester schedule reflecting critical dates and corresponding information with which you should become familiar.  While we are already well into the semester and some dates have passed, we feel it important to provide  you with a complete timeframe for payments, late fees/penalties, and credit bureau intervention.

Classes Begin    January 5
Drop/add deadline    January 16
Final day to pay tuition/fees without late fees attached     January 17
Final day to withdraw completely and receive a 25% refund       February 4
Last day of Spring semester    May 2
Accounts sent to collection agency if balances remain     May 19
Collection Agency sends accounts to a credit bureau ? (could affect your credit rating).    August 19

As you can see, payments made after January 17 are assessed late fees.  After May 19th all accounts with past due balances will be turned over to a collection agency.  The collection agency will process the student account on behalf of FAU and collect the past-due balance; please note that once a student account is placed with a collection agency, the account will be assessed significant collection costs (determined by the collection agency and up to 33.33% percent of the balance due).  Most important to note is that the collection agency will submit the delinquent account to the three (3) major credit bureaus credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.  Please be advised that once an account is submitted to a major credit bureau your overall credit rating may be adversely affected.  Finally a ?hold? will be placed on a student?s account once it is transferred to a collection agency.  This means that until these balances are paid in full you will be prevented from future registration, receipt of official transcripts and access to grades.  Your full balance must be paid in order to resume normal university activities.We hope you find this information helpful to you as you plan for your financial obligations over the coming months.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at Student.Collections@fau.edu.  We wish you much success this semester.
Sincerely,

[REDACTED], CPA, CBM
Assistant Vice President for Financial Affairs and University Controller

I’ve started noticing that since we the most recent student data systems switch, I’ve been getting monthly emails with subject lines like “February 2008 Billing Statement” that has a link to my February “statement” which is “ready.” Keep in mind, there’s nothing on this statement, I’ve paid my tuition already and haven’t used my student account. I thought the system worked fine before–once a semester, I paid all my bills in full using whatever funds I had arranged and I didn’t hear about it again until next semester. I never used to get reminders that I had this open account called being a student at FAU, which may or may not be subject to interest as I speak. The main change that I’ve seen in the system is that it now openly acts like a for-profit credit institution. Seeing the kind of language that I expect from a bank or a credit card on communications from my school, sent to my email before I’m even remotely delinquent is very disconcerting. Maybe it’s always been this way, maybe past due tuition has always been farmed out to a collections agency at this school. I know the transcript hold is nothing new. Still, it’s gotten a lot more in your face of late. I am very upset to see the school openly treat students like regular customers (I’m pretty adamant about students not treating schools like stores, either, but that’s another story equally upsetting in the telling), showing no sensitivity to the fact that being a college student really is one of the most vulnerable times in a lot of people’s lives. You are more likely not to have health insurance than an almost any other time in your life (although this is changing, as fewer and fewer employers offer it). You are more likely to be driving an unreliable car, living in an unstable situation, and working a low-paying job. Not all of us had/have parents paying the tuition. Not all of us had/have steady jobs. Things can happen that are beyond our control, and we are already set to pay the price for these events in plenty of ways. For our school, the institution that we have placed some degree of emotional trust in and a whole lot of economic trust, to openly tell us that they think it is fine to farm us out to the professional pound of flesh gatherers and potentially subject us to usurious practices if we are unable to pay our tuition on time is disgusting. I know it’s not illegal to charge exorbitant interest in this country, but for a school to stoop to the level of  a Penney’s card is profoundly upsetting. It’s not like we spent that money on flat screens and rims. That’s tuition money they’re going after. Most of all, I hate the tone of this email: we would like to kindly warn you that you maybe be used. And now that we’ve warned you, it’s okay to do it.

Orson, shhhh!

January 31, 2008

Seriously, if you had just kept this priceless tidbit to yourself:

“Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”

I could have kept recommending Ender’s Game without a single hesitation, Mr. Card. I think you can keep your teen literature award because you wrote a great book that happens to be much more intelligent than that statement, but darn, you make it awfully hard to argue for you with kookbrain utterances like that.

(I realize that I’m dangerously close to echoing the people who told the Dixie Chicks to shut up and sing after they publicly stated what they believed in. Not sure what to do about that. Other than write it off to, well, the Dixie Chick’s stated a morally defensible view, whereas homophobia is not and neither is wanting to write laws to regulate sexuality.)

Cranky Tuesday is ba-ack

January 22, 2008

It’s Tuesday, and I’m cranky. I had a lovely long weekend that I really did not want to end so I knew that today would not e the best of Tuesdays, but really did it have to be this bad?

  1. Morning drive to work kicks off with news of massive stock losses abroad and a possible 1/2 point interest rate cut in response. This could/will affect lots of people, not just me, but yet I feel a special bond with news of impending economic doom b/c I am five months away from the job market with not just one but two humanities advanced degrees under my belt. Joy. At this rate, I should just have stuck to the plan to be unemployed at what I really love, because it looks like I might just be unemployed at what I didn’t even want to do in the first place.
  2. Following the yee gads the markets are crazy story comes a story about “human life amendments” being put on the ballots in several states, potentially, although only Colorado right now. It was described as a stealth move by anti-choice activists, although I don’t know what is all that stealthy about it. These amendments would “would give fertilized eggs state protections of inalienable rights, justice and due process,” which is just… beyond words when there are so many born human beings in our country and being actively detained by our country who do not have these things. A NARAL rep mentioned the possibility that this type of amendment, were it to pass (would it pass??), could be a wedge into contraception as well if it is proven argued by nutjobs that a given type of birth control can interfere with a fertilized egg.
  3. Then I got to work and there was the free speech zone, more coherently discussed by Amy on Incertus than I can manage right now.
  4. Then I found out that because the Christmas break period fell between two of my work contracts, the extra hours I worked to make up for the hours that I missed over the holiday are null and void, and so I will not be paid for them. This doesn’t even top my cranky list, b/c I know that as an hourly employee I have no legitimate claim to being able to make up missed hours… it just annoys me that I worked them at all under a false assumption based on missed hours I’ve made up in the past.
  5. And a final, sad piece of cranky: this bummer of a piece about why Friday Night Lights just can’t live–it doesn’t have built in ways to sell more of itself! And Heffernan’s argument about how any art that “distances” its audience is just doomed from here on out in the age of wikis and fan fiction just seems completely misplaced to me. First off, the idea that this show is just sealed away by its artistic brilliance is laughable. Yes, it’s a great television show, no, it’s not War and Peace. Also, as she proposes that shows that want to survive today have to be rhizomic kind of ignores the fact that being rhizomic doesn’t necessarily make art more resonant with its audience, it just makes it more amenable to marketing.

But not to worry, there’s a very nice little slice of crankiness I’ve got all queued up for my next post.

Banished words 2007

January 9, 2008

In keeping w/ my perennial new year’s resolution to be a better writer, which by extension includes being a better blogger, I am going to take Lake Superior State University’s list of words to be banished in 2008 to heart and attempting to nix them from my working vocabulary. I first heard about this story on a new year’s day talk show that I watched in a motel room in Traverse City, and I was thrilled to find out that the complete list is available online. Highlights of what NOT to say in ’08 include:

Perfect storm (I have to agree–let’s keep this term reserved for actual weather, okay?)

Webinar (oh thank you Jay-sus, that word is the scourge of the library science student)

Author/authored (as a verb–the commenter here “wonders if it would be correct to say that someone ‘paintered’ a picture?”)

Surge (I agree w/ this commenter: “From Iraq to Wall Street to the weather forecast – ‘surge’ really ought to recede”

And some are just plain hard to let go, but when I think about it for a second, it’s just time to stop saying:

BLANK is the new BLANK

Random

Back in the day

But there is probably no single phrase I’d like to see terminated more than:

It is what it is.

Ach! What a piece of non-language. As one commenter on the list says, “It means absolutely nothing.” The abuse of English in this sentence alone is enough to get me riled, but what has really bothered me ever since I was first exposed to this saying in 2005 is that it seems to generally be used by people who are stuck in a bad situation and refuse to do anything to understand why that bad situation came about or what they might do to change it. It signifies an emotional quagmire that the speaker is so traumatized by that they have lost the ability to even be angry or sad about it. It’s not even at the level of “we’ll make the best of it.” Very few situations (eg the Iraq War, the abandonment of New Orleans after Katrina, the mortgage crisis) are what they are without someone, somewhere along the line having helped them get that way, and while it may be painful to realize that you are suffering from someone else’s bad decision, it is important to keep in mind that the only way it’s going to get better is if we try to understand why rather than simply being a resigned observer of what is. Sorry, that’s a lot of rant for a little phrase, but it’s upsetting to me when wrongheaded phrases make their way into casual conversation. It does affect how you think and see the world.