January 31, 2006

Reaction to critiquing

I can't think of a good comparison for criticizing other's work. Sometimes the experience is easy because you know what needs fixed, others it is kind of messy because you are afraid you are stepping on someone's creative toes, and others, well, it downright sucks because you aren't really sure if you are missing some valuable component of the story, which could result in personal embarrassment. The embarassment is suposed to be for the person being critiqued, right? Right? :-D

Now, with a short story for Publication Workshop in hand, I reflect on these possible outcomes of critiquing, and in particular, your peers' work. It doesn't really matter if you critique someone dead or across an ocean or somewhere far away that doesn't have Internet access (ha!ha!). When that person is someone you know and interact with on a daily basis, that critique can go, I've discovered, two, no, maybe three ways.

1. They take the criticism and run with it, trying new things and fixing up the negative aspects that you found, and enjoying your comments about the positive work they've shown.
2. The crap can hit the fan, and the person will take it badly, believing that they are, in your eyes, worthless writers bent on the destruction of the literary world, and you are the only person who has ever told them so--damn you. Simply put, they believe that the person is bad, not the product.

When I critique, I rarely ever find everything all bad. A real writer, and editor, for that matter, can work with practically anything.
3. The critique gets through and changes are made, but the writer doubts their ability for a while. (I often fall into this category.) With so many people that will look over my work, I will probably doubt my abilities often, but I'm reminded that I am in a place to be critiqued. Not everyone gets feedback from writers with similar abilities. It's great to be critiqued, really. It helps you in the long run. It helps you in the long run. I should keep telling myself that...It isn't pretty when the crap hits the fan anyway.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 11:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 30, 2006

Denial is the name of the writing game

It's funny. This book I'm reading for Media Lab has an introduction and says some pretty profound things about the craft of journalism, and I was completely disinterested. Shouldn't I really care? Shouldn't I worry about this kind of thing? Maybe not. I skimmed sections I knew were probably profound, but it all seemed like superficial, hyperintense puff-up-my-book action. I'm not feeling too badly about it.

I guess I just wanted to get to the part where George Orwell steps in and starts describing his real experience as a writer. I think I've had a little too much theory. It was time for Georgie to step in with the facts of life.

It's a strange thing, reading a writer's work while he is working, but now he is dead and you know what lay ahead in his life. By the time he wrote "Why I Write", he's reached some celebrity, but he isn't jaded or pompous like the book's introduction. He is real to the point of describing writing a book as a "horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of asome painful illness".

I feel that, but it is something that I can't live happily without. I guess the feeling is infectious among writers: he writes, "So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style...and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information."

I think that last part of that quote really speaks. Writers take useless things, particularly dog and pony shows, in the journalist's experience, and make them work for a purpose. Quite unlike any other field. When I was chatting with a Trib reporter, he said he couldn't do any other business. I asked why. He said that journalists really do something different from any other profession and the skills do not usually translate to something "related" like PR. I'm starting to understand that. I'm already having difficulty with turning my journalistic mind over to fiction in my creative writing classes. It's real work to let go of certain beautiful things like "she said" or "Margaret Green, director of the Office of Public Information". Oh well, I'm learning versatility. It's going to make me think creatively...I need that.

One thing Orwell said in this piece is still making me think: "I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure." In truth, he is right. Books, writing, even articles for the journalist, are taken apart, savored occasionally, and inevitably thrown into the gutter to be, if it is "lucky", picked up for another round of picking and second-hand savoring. Like some pizza that is never fully eaten, just spat back out and retasted.

Okay, maybe I am being dramatic.

For me, the reason I write is to quench this nagging thirst. I agree that writing is an "exhausting struggle", but it is not always horrible. At times, writing can be like having your foot reset or a having papercuts all over your fingers, but not always. It can feel like you're standing at the top of the world and you see everything for a moment or you've just crossed the English Channel in less than 2 hours, breaking the world swimming record. Whatever the feeling, the memory of the passion writers expend on a certain work will always stay with them. These memories, in my experience, have helped me through the struggle and succeed on subsequent tries.

Orwell looks at writers as driven by a demon. I like the muse. Writing is unlike anything else, but the same ideas of positive outlook should apply. I don't think I'll ever drink to find my muse. I don't think I'll ever need a person to be my muse. My muse is illusive, but I always find it before the deadline.

As for why I write, I guess it is my "thing". I didn't collect stamps, though I tried. (The pretty stamps were all too expensive for my six-year old budget.) I wrote. I like stationery and I liked creating things. I wrote a book once about a pony who broke out of her stall and tried to find the wild. I even illustrated it. I reported the news weekly as Sally Wiggin with my sister on my church's altar (funny story). Until eleventh grade, I didn't know what I wanted to do, but looking back, that's exactly what I was supposed to do. Simply, writing is a good fit.

All the other things associated with being successful in the field, including the role of journalists as watchdogs, though important, I often skim. They cause worry and detract from my performance. A writer doesn't need that immense responsibility, in addition to creating a great article. I just know they're there in some drear bubble, and they sometimes intrude, but the tangibles, like Orwell said, are what writers should grasp most tightly in seeking coherent idea expression. The daily to-do lists are enough for now. I'll eventually look back and really read--with notes in the margins.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 7:24 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 23, 2006

It's life...comparatively

So I haven't died or anything. Just took a break. Now, though, I'd like to share some of my break, and my first day back--comparatively.

Typical 10 of a day on break.
10. Wake up. Around ten or so.
9. Eat something high in calorie count, and generally chocolate-related.
8. Read something. Finish For Whom the Bell Tolls between girl power novels.
7. Clean something, you slob. That mountain of unwashed linen will fall eventually.
6. Watch something--practically anything with a plot. Wildfire, Judging Amy, Amelie or any film noir will work.
5. Okay, I've run out of things I did....maybe I should go back to school now.

Back to SHU. The unpredictable is norm.
10. Jabber endlessly about plans, because you really don't have anything going on yet.
9. Listen with a blank, stern expression. Impending doom. The sting of syllabi. Take it like a woman!
8. Stealthily slink to the bookstore. Steal book ISBN numbers for online pillaging. (No stealing actually occurred. I'm just a bargain hunter.)
7. Hike up a stair mountain. You've taken more steps today than you have the entirety of break.
6. Fight with an umbrella. It's pretty, but it doesn't seem to want to close. "Don't put me away; I'm blue, and I like showing it."
5. Conceal laughter by placing hand over mouth. Is it unprofessional to howl in class?
4. Smile to have a place to be and things to do.
3. Run four yellow lights on my way to school--okay, and maybe one red.
2. What am I doing blogging? I have homework to do. Okay, I have time to finish this.
1. Laugh for no reason, but with so many reasons. I have class with so many friends from freshman year. It's great we are finally reuniting in the upper-level courses. I can't wait to see what happens.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 6:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 9, 2006

On the pants journey

Young Adult Reading. What do those three words spark in my mind? I envision crusty paperbacks of some superficial series, which involve some kind of mystery that Encyclopedia Brown would sneer at and a drawn-out sisterly relationship that is not even realistic for the age group.

So what am I currently reading? The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Sounds hypocritical, eh? Not so much, as I was fortunate to find. I picked up the books after a stellar review by a library patron. What did I have to lose--ten minutes? I could take the risk.

I guess you could call me literary prejudiced. I read lots of children's literature. Sometimes I help with Story Hour at the library. I am an avid Avi, Porter fan, wild Maurice Sendak and profound Chris Van Allsburg fan, but the Young Adult Reading section I subconsciously shut off from my reading selections.

When literature hit the teens and I did as well, I tended to shy away from it. I guess I've been too conditioned by the girls in cropped tops returning Babysitters' Club books and the angst that immediately hits the reader on the first page. I give a book ten pages; if it doesn't deliver some kind of hook, it hits the shelf again. There are too many good books out there for me to waste my time on confusing flashbacks, overzealous attempts to be trendy and point-of-view that doesn't have character--just narration.

The Pants books by Ann Brashares, however, is the antithesis of all things bad in teen lit. I hit the first ten pages...then fifty in a flash. It has wit and querkiness and distinct characters that Brashares effortlessly jumps into and out of throughout the books.

Though the initial series explanation of the pants origins is a bit Babysitters' Club-esque, the hook is there in the rules of the traveling pants. I especially enjoy Rule #5. ;-)

The pants also have a claim to magic, but the magic, as the reader learns, is in the interpretations of the girls--not in actual floating hairbrushes or anything.

It is "chicklit" to be sure, but there is an edge to it. From young love and lust to parents remarrying and the experience of travel and heartache and sadness, there is a resilience in these young women that I like to think is in me. I guess that is why I feel so connected.

Everything goes wrong, as it should, but it all comes together again--not without some scars--just like life. Though some of the resolutions are predictable, the characters and their reactions to trials are what keep me going, pressing on through the huge typeface pages. (I swear, publishers must think teens need big print for the feeling that they accomplished something.) Tibby, Bridget, Carmen, Lena and their families react realistically--not ideally, but that's life, right? Even if they don't react in the best ways, the reader garners a message from the experience, and particularly if the character "screws up".

Another great aspect of the Pants books, is the quotes prior to the chapter. They sometimes focus the chapter, and others, seem to just offer wisdom from multiple sources like Walt Whitman, Jack Handey, Groucho Marx, and the novels' characters, to further the story's action.

One of my favorites is by Michael Pritchard: "Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed."

I feel reminiscent, but still connected to the teen experience. So much growth and perspective to amass in such a short time. But, as I've learned, and as I sometimes want to say to the book, it doesn't end. The lessons get more difficult, but the rewards are just as sweet.

Brashares intimately illustrates, without flounces, growing up female (I daresay in an exclusively American? backdrop).

Bridget Vreeland, for example, a girl that lost her mother and since, lives a bit on the edge, retreats in the second novel by altering her appearance:

"But as she looked longer in this mirror, Bridget saw something different. She saw protection. she had a blanket of fat on her body. She had a coat of pigment on her hair. She had the cover of a lie if she wanted it. She didn't look like Bee Vreeland. Who said she had to be her?"

I'm mid-second book: The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, and I'm still loving it. I am hesitating about the recent movie, but I'm afraid my lovely book images will be dashed by cinema ineptitude. Maybe I'll just wait.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 6:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 5, 2006

Hearts in the highlands:
Scotland in jeopardy

Scotland is in jeopardy. Not the country, but the trip. If only 2 more people would sign up...

I'd heard about the trip and course, Political Song as Public Voice- CA 410, throughout the semester from the jolly professor, Dr. Frank Klapak.

However, initially I did not think I could swing the tuition and traveling funds ($2,050), but surprisingly, with some (rather simple) maneuverings in the Financial Aid Office, I secured them for the May Term extravaganza.

You see, the financial aid is attached to the Spring semester, so I do not have to pay for the trip out of pocket. It joins the rest of my loans on their wonderful trip to the subsidized pile I pay after graduation.

Though paying for this trip is a sometimes depressing thought, I realized that taking trips after I have a career will be more difficult. This is the time to invest in traveling. I'm young, I'm single without children, and I'm living with my parents (no plants that will not be watered while I'm gone).

The course sounds fantastic, and it's definitely not for music majors only. Political Song as Public Voice CA 410 (from the catalog):

"is designed to introduce the student to Political Song (folk, campaign, protest, union, war, nationalistic, patriotic, contemporary, etc.) as a viable and chronological reflection of the cultural and social circumstance during social/political conflict. Students will participate in online learning, conduct investigation on individual thesis topics at the Center, and explore the social, cultural, and political institutions at Glasgow and Edinburgh."

The best part is that it works for any major. It is tailored to you.

"Each student, regardless of her/his major, will work within the design of the course and the focus of Political Song as Public Voice. But each student will adapt this design to incoporate the principles, tenets, and foundations of their major when examining how Public Voice is represented within their discipline."

So what does all that mean for a journalism, English lit, or creative writing major? You can assess the voices in the songs according to the various forms of literary criticism, practice looking behind the scenes into the lives of the composers and writers, and permit yourself, above all, to actually stand and see the places that inspire so much literary beauty.

The trip is scheduled for May 16-24, 2006. The class begins on May 12 and does not conclude until the 31st.

The course evaluation includes

"attending workshops, lectures, presentations, discussions, activities, experiential learning events; and online presentations. Final assessment will include a personal journal, and a scholarly paper that reflects the accomplishment of each student's learning objectives determined during the first online meeting.

The class is three credits, so if you're needing them, this would be a wonderful opportunity. Not to mention the great time, wonderful real-life experience, a chance to go to another school--Glasgow Caledonian University, and an amazing recommendation of travel abroad on your transcript.

So, if you are even tinkering with the idea of Scotland, don't hesitate to e-mail me. (This was, after all, a grand advertisement to get two more people to come on the trip, :-)) I'm sure I could answer some questions for you, and get you in contact with Dr. Klapak for more information.

I hope this works out. I'm so excited to get my passport!

Picturesque , sublime, SCOTLAND!!!

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 10:32 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 2, 2006

Keeping Kipling

While perusing a new favorite poetry site, Wordpress Poetry, I stumbled upon "If" by Rudyard Kipling. Inspiring.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And - which is more - you’ll be a Man, my son!

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 12:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack