Lots to report. One of…

Lots to report. One of my jobs responded; I didn't make their top three, sadly, but I did make their fourth or fifth slot, so now I'm on something of a 'wait list' with them. Odds are one of their top choices will end up taking the job, but you never know. I think I'm in a similar situation with one of the other jobs I interviewed for as well. I have a sense of impending doom, that I'll end up in this situation with all the jobs, everyone's third or fourth or fifth pick, but no one's first. But a) that's being all foreboding for no good reason, and b) I have to keep reminding myself that I may be just as happy without a full-time academic job next year. I'm having a great time here at Vermont, and that plus writing sounds awfully nice at the moment. We'll see.

Long talk with Bob yesterday -- he's done a first read of the novel draft, and likes it, yay! He thinks the editor will love it, which is nice to hear. It would have been even nicer if he'd said that he loved it and thought it was brilliant, the best thing since sliced bread, it changed his world, but perhaps that was a bit much to hope for. We're going to talk further on Monday, once he's had a chance to go over it again, chapter by chapter, scene by scene.

We also talked about the nonfiction book I think I want to write next, the combination memoir / travel book / history / cultural exegesis thing. Bob's v. excited about that, and I think my current plan is to really try to work on getting three chapters and an outline together in the next 3-4 months, so that he can try to sell it. I'm feeling very under-read in creative nonfiction, though -- any recommendations for fabulous books would be very welcome. I've read perhaps a dozen or so, and they were so varied in type that most of them aren't close to what I'm doing. I think what I want to do might be sort of close to Pico Iyer's Video Night in Kathmandu, or Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land. More books like that would be very helpful right now.

Last night was the scholarship auction here. I'm very pleased to say that when I got up and said a few words about Sri Lanka and the tsunami, and then passed my hat, we collected $600 right there from the less than hundred people in the room. Writers are generous folks. That's in addition to whatever's shown up in the tsunami relief donation box sitting in the room where we do our readings. I think in the end, this workshop will have raised a good thousand or so in the last week, which is lovely. We're planning on donating it to the Canadian Red Cross, to have the funds matched by the Canadian government.

In addition, for the scholarship fund, I donated one of my advance review copies of BiM, which went for around $40, I think, and four batches of curry powder, which went for $50 each. I need to go home and make curry powder. That sounds like a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, right now, slow roasting spices. I miss cooking. It's been weeks.

This morning I gave my lecture (each of the faculty gives a lecture here, as do each of the graduating students). Mine was entitled "Identity Issues for the Straight White Male" and I think it went over really well -- I heard students talking it over hours later, which is very nice. :-) I presented for about twenty minutes on what I think of as Diversity / Identity 101, then I did a ten minute memoir of my developing consciousness of my own identities (geek, female, sexual being, upper-class, queer, poly, writer, sex activist, ethnic position, etc...).

After that was the fun part -- I had them get up (although I gave people the option of sitting out the exercise, which a few out of a hundred or so did) and move around the room, dividing them according to their various identities. So for example, I had all the white people stand up. I had all the men go to the back of the room and the women come forward (apologizing to the transgendered as we went). I divided the monosexuals from the bi/pansexuals. I had them divide into upper / middle / lower or working class. I divided the rural from the urban, the religious/spiritual from the agnostic/atheist -- and was surprised to find a bunch of mystics among the atheists. I asked them to consider age, to consider political orientation. I asked them to think about where they would stand if I asked the criminals to come forward -- those who got caught, and those who didn't. I asked about the adulterers, the cheaters. Finally, as they sat down, I asked them to think about whether they had lied at any point during the exercise. Then I had them write for five minutes about their identity, with discussion following.

Many people did come up to my afterwards and say that it worked really well for them -- that it made them uncomfortable and exposed, but in a productive way. I worry a little that those who may have been made unproductively uncomfortable wouldn't come and tell me about it in this kind of environment. Hopefully, I'll hear about it if so -- if any of you are reading this, do please e-mail me and let me know, or post anonymously here if you're not comfortable e-mailing. That exercise was new for me, and if it didn't work for people, I want to know, and know why. But right now, it seems like it was pretty successful.

8 thoughts on “Lots to report. One of…”

  1. Have you posted the text of your lecture on straight white male identity issues anywhere, or did we have to be there?

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    You had to be there. 🙂 If I had a written-up lecture, I’d post it, but I’m afraid I just talked off informal lecture notes, which would be slightly embarrassing and definitely hard to follow if posted. I know the students here can buy tapes of the lectures for $5 a pop, but I don’t think they’re available to non-students.

  3. I had all the men go to the back of the room and the women come forward (apologizing to the transgendered as we went).

    Why apologies to the transgendered? Those who are MTF or FTM are men or women just like the rest of us.

    Or did you mean “apologies to the genderqueer”? (which isn’t mutually exclusive w/trans folks, of course)

  4. A few creative non-fiction works that come to mind – though not sure how close/far these are from what you have in mind:

    – Travels with Charley in Search of America – John Steinbeck. One of my all time favorite books period – well written and very engaging IMHO.

    – David Sederis’s many books – amusing, comedy, but also written mostly about his life.

    – Granta. Not a specific book, but almost every issue includes one or more very well written creative non-fiction examples. You might also look for their collection of travel writing which might be even more specifically like what you are planning.


  5. Most of these are probably not what you’re looking for, but some good nonfiction anyway:

    I forget whether you ever read West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. If not, you should; quite well-written memoir, with associated extratextual meta-issues about authorship, colonialism, and the truth of true stories (as discussed in that entry of mine I’m linking to).

    I’m currently reading True Notebooks, by Mark Salzman (loaned to me by Arthur’s mother), an autobiographical book about Salzman(a bestselling author)’s experiences teaching a writing class to violent offenders in LA’s Juvenile Hall. Not bad, though not spectacular so far. I just now noticed that it’s kind of related, in some ways, to Herbert Kohl’s classic 36 Children, about a white teacher teaching at a Harlem public school.

    If you haven’t read Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue you ought to, if for no other reason than that it does some unusual things with form and structure. But also I think it blends personal memoir and point-making essay in ways you might find useful.

    I know you’ve read Dorothy Allison’s Skin, so I’m just including that link for the benefit of other readers who may not have. 🙂

    Back in college, in the fiction writing workshop class I took, we were assigned Frank Controy’s Stop-Time, a memoir. I thought it was okay, but the thing that stuck in my memory about it was that (iIrc) Conroy hadn’t had a particularly unusual or dramatic life up to that point; he just decided to write a memoir about the life he’d had.

    I’ve told you at least a little about Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, but you might want to take a look at it; it’s pretty short.

    I assume you’ve read Helene Hanff’s famous 84 Charing Cross Road, but you may not have read her memoirs Underfoot in Show Business and Q’s Legacy.

    And speaking of classics, there’s Cheaper by the Dozen (no relation to the recent film allegedly based on it), though I’m getting kinda far afield here.

    Finally, I never finished reading Cadillac Desert or Desert Solitaire (they were Arthur’s), but what I read of them was good, in different ways. The former more like journalism/history, the latter more like memoir.

    Speaking of Arthur, you might ask Arthur for some good biography and/or travel books—I think in particular he once read a couple about Richard Burton that you might find interesting.

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I haven’t heard the term ‘genderqueer’, actually.

    I think of ‘transgendered’ as a more inclusive term than you seem to be using it — including both FTM and MTF, certainly, but also those either born into or choosing to be in some more ambiguous and/or indeterminate state. I don’t know if that’s a common usage, though.

    Thanks for the book recommendations, guys — keep ’em coming. 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *