Tag Archives: school

History of literary criticism

I can’t think of anything to write about. I just spent a good chunk of time getting my reading done for class tomorrow. It’s a graduate class, all about the history of literary criticism. And I have no idea what anybody’s talking about. When I got accepted into this program to get my MFA in creative writing, one of the professors I talked with suggested that I get this class out of the way as soon as possible.


And I thought to myself, why? I don’t get it. But now I get it. Because this class is insane. I wish I could even explain how tough it is, but that would require an ability to actually articulate what I find difficult. I don’t even know how to talk about anything. I’m reading these texts, and I’m rereading them, and it’s like, yes, the words are all in English, but nothing makes sense.

Did you know that according to some critics, there’s a difference between a work and a text? Yeah, I have no idea what that means either. And I’m not just throwing my hands up in the air and claiming ignorance. No, I’m really struggling to wrap my head around some way in which this will all make sense. Because I know that this stuff has to be for real. Someone wrote this book that I can’t read. And my professor is making a living teaching it.

So yeah, the problem is with me. But it’s like I thought that admitting that I had a problem would somehow make it better. But it’s not better. Like the relationship between a work and a text (in these anthology textbooks, I feel like so many random words are italicized, for some reason that I just don’t get) is that a text can cut across the work, or several works.

That’s straight out of the textbook, the whole cutting across business. And I’m sitting here and scratching my head and trying to imagine that at some point in time, someone actually had to sit down and write that out. To what end? What’s the point of coming up with all of these ridiculously impenetrable smart-sounding sentences that refuse to make sense in my head?

And it’s just, man, I’m so screwed. Every week we’re supposed to write these one-page response papers based on the reading that week. Last week I handed in my first paper, and I was actually somewhat pleased with myself. I told myself, yeah, I’m smart, I read the readings, I put something smart sounding together. Nice job, Rob.

And then as everyone handed his or her paper in, I saw the person in front of me, she handed in a single-spaced page. I thought to myself, wow, that person’s probably going to be penalized for sticking two pages worth of material onto one. But then I looked around, everyone else had it single-spaced also. “Is this single-spaced?” I asked the professor as I handed mine in. “Yeah …” he told me, and I just kind of stared back at him, like shit, I can’t believe it, how did I miss that?

Because yeah, I went back to the assignment, and it was printed out, “one single-spaced page.” Man, talk about starting off on the wrong foot. And then throughout the course of that class, I realized that the half-page of response I had written down was in fact all garbage. No, I had not understood the reading, and therefore whatever I handed in was similarly way off.

I don’t know, I want to do well, but this is all just so hard. And I have to get this next response paper in by tomorrow, and I’m trying to get something single spaced, which sounds easy, because I write all of this nonsense on this blog every day. But here’s all I have so far:

“Well … you see … it’s just that … the point I’m trying to make is … upon close examination of the reading … it’s obvious that the author was trying to … I mean, after a close interpretation of …”

And it goes on like that for another paragraph or so before whatever cohesiveness existed that managed to even link those words together disappears. In fact, after a while, the Word software sent me a popup message, it said, “Something isn’t right here, please wait while Word runs a diagnostic to make sure everything is OK on our end.”

So yeah, that’s where I’m at. Maybe if I sit up in the front of class, I can cross out the name on that smart girl who sits two seats back, and I’ll write my name in her place. And then when the professor hands them back the week after that, I’ll go up to her, she’ll be holding my paper with her name penciled in on top, hers will say D and mine (really hers) will say A. And I’ll say, “Oooh, too bad. Hey, don’t take it personally. This is some really hard work. Not everybody has what it takes to master the history of literary criticism.”

Here’s how to deal with Syria

As Congress deliberates President Obama’s proposed military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, I keep seeing the same counterarguments on Facebook and Twitter. It’s always something like, “Hey President Obama, let’s stop spending so much on foreign wars; let’s start spending more money at home, on infrastructure, on healthcare, on education.” And while I’m no hippie peacenik, I’ve got to admit, the school system here sucks.

syria conflict map

So let’s send them to Syria. Two birds, one stone. Right, I know, Obama’s only calling for limited military action, with both houses of Congress explicitly prohibiting American troops from engaging in the civil war. But come on, that’s how Dwight Eisenhower got the whole Vietnam War thing started: US military advice led to the draft led to that whole boring scene in Forrest Gump where he’s running through the jungle taking care of Lieutenant Dan.

I’m off topic. Send US students to Syria. After all, the real world is the best classroom. You can’t learn street smarts in school. These kids are going to get hands-on, real life experience, far superior than anything they might learn out of a dumb textbook recited from the podium by some overpaid union teacher. They’ll get to see another part of the world, maybe learn a different language.

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well what if it is broke? The liberals are always quick to point out the inefficiency of our school system, how we’re lagging behind almost every other developed country, with even some of the poorer ones starting to catch up. What’s the answer, to fix our broken school system? I don’t think so. It’s like when the engine finally went on my car, the mechanic was like, this would be crazy to fix. Just buy a new car.

So let’s buy a new education system. And when I say buy a new education system, I’m talking about enlisting our kids in the military and sending them over to Syria. I saw The Hurt Locker. I know what all of the adult soldiers are up to in their spare time, drinking, punching each other in the stomachs. If all of the soldiers were little kids, there wouldn’t be any down time. We could get all of that formal education reading-and-writing type stuff taken care of when they’re not out patrolling the streets.

But is it safe to have young students moonlighting as frontline infantry? I say, yes, because think about it, imagine you’re one of these Syrian soldiers, or you’re a Syrian sectarian, or a Syrian religious fundamentalist, or maybe you’re a rebel, but you’re taking heavy gunfire, and even though the US is on your side, you’re scared out of your mind, and so you lock and load, ready to pull the trigger on whatever crosses your line of sight. If that’s a regular soldier in the wrong place at the wrong time, well it’s not looking good for either party. But if it’s a little kid dressed up in an army uniform? I can’t think of anything more unexpected, giving everybody a moment of hesitation, just enough time for the Syrian to lower his weapon.

And that’s when we’d open fire, just when the enemy has his guard down, that’s how we’d take everybody by surprise. Kids are so good at video games. I used to love playing XBOX, I’d throw in Call of Duty and sit back to enjoy some online Team Deathmatch. But after a while I’d always give up, throw down my controller in defeat. Why? Because all of those kids were constantly pwning my ass. These little shits are natural killers. If there were just some way that we could program actual guns to operate like XBOX controllers, almost like Ender’s Game, I’m sure we could make the whole Syria thing a really limited engagement, five years, tops, just enough time for everybody to get in, get out, and get back home in time for senior prom.

Why not? We send all of these able bodied adults overseas, they come back home all messed up in the head, and after a few years we’ve got vets living in streets, broken men and women unable to piece their lives back together. I’ll be walking to work and I’ll see some disheveled middle-aged man wearing his army fatigues, begging for change. I feel bad for him, guilty even, I can see his embodiment of living despair, paid for by us as the cost for our freedom. But replace him with an eighteen-year-old kid, I wouldn’t have any guilt at all. I’d be like, come on dude, you’re young, get up off your ass and get back to work.

Let’s do it. Let’s fix the US education system while simultaneously fixing a two-year old sectarian civil war in Syria. If you think about it, the two problems are practically interchangeable. Here’s a sensible solution that deals with both problems without having to worry about diverting too much money to one resource in favor of another. Let’s send our kids to Syria.

Originally published on HonestBlue.com

Substitute teacher

When I was a little kid, every day I’d wake up for school, it was always the same drill, the same getting up way too early, way earlier than a human child is supposed to naturally wake up. Breakfast was a haze, I always remember sitting around the kitchen table, half-asleep, constantly pissed off at my brother reading the back of the cereal box while eating his cereal, annoyed in the way that an older brother gets watching his younger brother just sitting there content, minding his own business.

It was just a regular school day. Summer vacation would still be months away, even Friday felt impossibly out of reach. All I’d have to look forward to on any given day was going to school, sitting in class, bored, trying not to get in trouble for fidgeting in my seat too much. Then I’d go home, I’d have to do my homework, help set the table for dinner, and then it’d be bedtime.

But every once in a while the universe would hand me a present, would break up the monotony of the school year with its routines and assignments and homework. Every now and then I’d arrive at school, I’d line up in the cafeteria to wait for the teachers to bring us into the classrooms, and we’d walk down the hallway and I’d see all of my classmates entering up ahead.

Something would be different. I could hear giggling, euphoria. Whereas normally the chatting would be silenced by our teacher immediately upon walking through the door, this time something was definitely different, instead of shutting up, everybody was getting louder. What was going on? Who was inside?

And I could already sense it, that our teacher was out, that, for whatever reason, maybe she was sick, maybe she just took a personal day, it doesn’t matter, she wasn’t there. It would be a substitute teacher. And for the rest of that day anyway, all bets were off.

My school had a rotating cast of subs. The best was Mrs. Tackish. She should have been our regular teacher. She loved kids. She loved us. While our regular teachers would yell, scream, “Stop laughing! Get in your seats this second!” Mrs. Tackish would welcome us to the classroom with a huge smile, a, “Good morning children! I’m so happy to be substituting today! We’re going to have so much fun!”

And we would. Of course our regular teacher probably left some bullshit photocopied worksheets for us to fill out, but Mrs. Tackish saw right through all of that nonsense busywork. Let’s play Seven-Up instead. Seven-Up was the greatest, seven kids selected to stand in front of the class, everyone else remained seated, putting their heads down on their desks. With nobody watching, each one of the seven would tap someone on the head. A hand was raised to indicate you’d been tapped. Then the seven lined up back at the front and each of the seven who’d been chosen got one chance to correctly guess who had been the tapper. If you got it right, congratulations, you got to take a turn up front.

Or there’d be hangman. It’s actually not that great of a game. I mean, not for an adult. Recently I found myself at work, it was dead and so a bunch of us started playing hangman. The category was movies, my coworker put five dashes and then three dashes. He showed it to me and I immediately said, Cabin Boy, to which he stared at me in disbelief for like a while, because how did I get it so quickly, with no letters?

But in grammar school? Hangman was the shit. It was all about putting things up there that the teacher had no idea about, like names of cartoon characters, weird little inside jokes. Under normal circumstances, mild giggling would be acceptable while playing hangman, but with Mrs. Tackish, even a full-blown uproar was tolerated.

Unfortunately, The Tackish (as we referred to her with utmost reverence) wasn’t always available to sub. In that case, our school would default to the B-team, which included the recent college grads still looking for teaching jobs, a bunch of retired nuns who used to teach school decades ago or, if things were really bad, somebody’s mom or dad would have to fill in. I always felt really bad for whoever wound up having to sit there while their parent pretended to be a teacher. It was painfully obvious how bad of a teacher impersonation they were performing, and everyone would make fun of that kid for at least two weeks, how he had to sit there and either call the teacher mom or Mrs. and then his own last name.

I wish we could have subs in the adult world. I wish that I’d show up for work some random das and instead of my regular boss there’d be a sub, and even better, it would be Mrs. Tackish. I’m a waiter, and so tables would start complaining about this and that, and instead of me having to explain the situation without upsetting anybody in charge, I could just go to the Tackish and laugh, like, hey Tackish, get a load of these clowns at table twenty-five. And she’s go, “Oh Rob!” like trying to be in charge, but really just getting a huge kick out of it, out of all of us, just goofing around and having a great day.