Monday, August 26, 2013

The Last First Day

Good writing vs. bad writing.

The semester started last week, which means I experienced the first day of school for the last time. (Unless I decide to get a PhD or a third Masters, in which case please punch me in the face.) (Or unless I manage to find a teaching job post-graduation, in which case call the newspapers because that would be a miracle.) (So actually, there are a few scenarios in which I might have another "first day of school," but I am trying to create an aura of solemnity here, so let's just agree that this is the last and move on from there, okay?) 

My last first day of school. My third and final year of graduate school. At the end of the next two semesters, I'll have an MFA in creative writing. By mid-May, I'll be unemployed and looking for a job that won't crush my soul. It's a strange feeling - on the one hand, I want to savor every minute of the next year, because I love school so much and never want it to end. On the other, I'm already looking forward, searching job listings for positions I can't apply for yet and calculating how quickly I can pay off my student loans with a salary that's still imaginary. This struggle is nothing new - it's the whole reason I chose "present" as my theme for 2013, and while I've gotten better about living in the moment, I'm still a work-in-progress. So, instead of writing about my worries for the future, here's what's happening now: 

I'm taking one class, the last non-thesis credits I need to graduate, which is both sad (I love taking classes!) and a relief (more time to focus on my book). The class I'm taking is called Hybrid Forms, in which we'll mostly read and sometimes write things that defy or combine genres. I think it'll be a good balance to the very traditional form of the novel, which I'll be working on every spare moment from now until December 15th, when I have to hand it in to my thesis committee. (Sidenote: EEEEEEEEEEE.) 

I'm also teaching two classes this fall. Introduction to Creative Writing is the entry level writing course (we cover fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry), and it fulfills the arts requirement, so most of my 19 students are brand new to college life and/or are business majors. This is actually one of the things I love about this class - I'm literally introducing them to literature and writing, things they've always seen but never really seen, if that makes sense. And while most of these students will never take another writing course in their lives, will never write the Great American Novel or publish a poem or stay up all night working on an essay, I like to think they'll continue to read and appreciate the writing of others. And because I believe that reading can enrich your existence, make you feel things outside yourself, show you truths about the world around you, and change your life in profound and meaningful ways, well, let's just say I take this job seriously. 

The other class I'm teaching is Introduction to Fiction Writing. Most of these students have already taken Intro to Create Writing and have decided they like fiction enough to devote another semester to it. Same idea as the other class, but more focused. The photo at the top of this post is from my Fiction Writing class, and a discussion we had about good writing vs. bad writing. My students shouted out almost all the things I scrawled on the board, and I was pleased with their answers and ideas, so I think it's going to be a good semester. 

This post is a bit all over the place, so I will end it with the question I used to kick off my classes on Friday. What is the last thing you tried for the first time? I told the students I learned how to make and can my own jam over the summer which, combined with the fact that I also rattled off the names of all eight  chickens, means they probably think I'm a weirdo. The good news is, they're probably right. 


  1. The last thing I tried for the first time was learning German. Which I started doing yesterday. Because in September I'm going to Vienna(!!!) to present the video game my friend and I are making at a conference.

  2. Ah, I love this post! (Well, I love all your posts, but this one was so fun. Your enthusiasm just bubbled over.) This year has had a lot of firsts for me. I think my most recent first is my new job, and before that, first time I broke a tooth (boo--not fun) and first time visiting Colorado. It's been a busy year of firsts :-)

  3. I washed my car solo last week for the first time. I had been living in an apartment before and couldn't, and before that, my parents and I would wash multiple cars at once and work together. Kind of trivial, but it felt good!

    When I was waiting in line to process during my grad school commencement, I was totally thinking, "This is going to be the last time that this music [Pomp and Circumstance] will be playing for me. (Unless I am crazy and go back to school. Again.)"

  4. I don't agree with the bad vs good writing,it is kind of binary and reductive and eludes centuries of literary history...

    1. This comment made me laugh - maybe because you're not familiar with the context in which I teach. This is an intro level class - many of my students have never written a creatively before, so we're starting from scratch. While I would love to introduce them to "literary history," the goal of the class is to help them invent a plot, creative believable characters, and write well-constructed sentences. And while "good" and "bad" are certainly relative terms, I think most people would agree that flat characters, confusing dialogue, and lack of conflict, for example, don't work for the average, beginning writer. There is a difference between making conscious choices in your writing, and not knowing any better.

  5. Handstands, boy those took me a while. My head is meant to be right-side up -- at least in the physical sense :)