Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The weekend of April 20–22 marked the second annual Weekend Residency for graduates of Antioch University L.A.'s MFA in Creative Writing Program, which I chair. After acknowledging this event was both a reunion and a celebration, I asked everyone in attendance to take note of the main reason why we had gathered. What happened in the writing workshops and seminars that weekend mattered, I claimed. What happened after the residency was over and we each returned to our homes and put pen to paper or tapped a keyboard in front of a shimmering computer screen also mattered. Then I took a few minutes to illustrate why.
The day after the Virginia Tech tragedy, I received an email from a senior reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education who said he was working on a story about the shootings. He informed me that a one-act play written by the shooter, Seung Cho (identified elsewhere as Seung-Hui Cho or Cho Seung-Hui), had become public. He provided a link to the play, and invited me to read it and respond to a series of questions, including these:
Is the writing particularly disturbing?
Or is it the sort of thing you've read before from undergraduates?
What would you do if a student handed in a piece of work like this?
I followed the link and read a short play by Seung Cho called Richard McBeef. The play is about a breakfast-time confrontation between a 13-year-old boy and his stepfather, whom the boy accuses of murdering his biological father in order to have his way with the boy's mother. The mother is also present for part of the action. The play includes a great deal of yelling, cursing, wild accusations, unlikely behavior (including some off-stage sex and a brief incident with a chainsaw), plus a considerable amount of violence—including, if I read the ending correctly, the death of the boy. All in just over seven pages.
I did not read a word of the play to our MFA alumni, but I did share my response to the questions listed above.
Is the writing particularly disturbing?
For me, yes, but only in the way that boredom is particularly disturbing, the way writing that demands rather than deserves our attention is disturbing.
Have I received this sort of work before?
At the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch L.A., never, thank god. The fact that we are an internationally competitive program with a rigorous application review process has probably prevented this, at least so far. However, for 22 years I taught undergraduates at a large university in the Great Plains, which, for many of those years was pretty much open to all graduates of any high school in the same state. On rare occasions I did in fact receive writing as violent and as badly written as this. And, truth be told, I received clumsy, violent writing from female as well as male students, though not as often.
What would I do if a student handed in a piece of work like this?
I doubt I could do anything that would prevent a deeply disturbed person from performing some horrific act, though of course if I feared this would happen I would try. But in my role as a teacher, the first thing I would do would be to talk with this person about the concept of aesthetic distance, specifically what literary critic Wayne Booth calls emotional distance—in particular the emotional distances between the author and the characters, the author and the action. What makes Richard McBeef disturbing is the same factor that makes it badly written: a complete lack of distance between the implied author (the person we assume the author is) and the emotions, particularly rage, felt by the characters. The script lacks the aesthetic distance that results from contemplation, from separating oneself and one's experience from the experience rendered on the page, from separating self from other, from imagining the other, from imagining how events appear to another person and are experienced by that same person—the aesthetic distance through which a writer perceives and thereby values the experience of others.
At Antioch there is no preferred way to write or think. And the writers who teach here have different views on the nature and definition of creative writing. But for me, creative writing is the opposite of self-expression. Creative writing is the expression of otherness, the relationship between self and other, the writer and the world, the writer and experience, the writer's view of things outside—and in interaction with—the self. Without imagining the other, the writer's craft and vision cannot grow.
What Seung Cho wrote was self-expression. What he did on that awful day at Virginia Tech, all of it, was self-expression, a failure of the imagination.
In the end, the writer's rage left the page and became a national tragedy. The events in Blacksburg have left almost everyone feeling vulnerable and helpless, as if nothing we say or do about the issue really matters. But this is not true. What happens in the classroom, in the home, and on the street does matter. What people say and what they write matters. Interaction with others—face-to-face and on the page—matters. The act of imagining others, and thereby understanding them better, doesn't merely express and engage—it staves off madness. It can save lives.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Is it absolutely necessary to print out a document for accurate proofreading? Is it possible to master the art of screen proofreading to eliminate or minimize the need for proofreading on paper, thereby saving the office supplies? Is it ever possible to print out a flawless document through proofreading on screen alone?
Apologies for mispronouncing his name.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Also, I've been thinking about what Pat's friend asked about violence in writing. Some of my students have written violent things, okay not all of them, just one and a school therapist comes to talk to him/her about twice a month. It's school policy to report any writing or any behavior that is violent, naturally. I talk to this student; give them a lot of extra attention; talk about "general" things. However, I think what happened at Virgina Tech makes me think of Marilyn Manson's quote in Bowling for Columbine. Not a coincidence that Bravo decided to air it this week, hmm? I'm sure you all remember this, but for those of you haven't seen the documentary, Moore asked Manson, "What would you have said to those kids?" As Moore was discussing how this could have been prevented, etc. Manson answered: "Nothing. I would have listened. I would have listened to what they had to say and that's what no one did." Ok, it's not profound or anything, but do you ever feel like people have seriously forgotten how to do in a larger context? Sometimes I feel like my role as a graduate student is not to listen or understand but attack and critique; it's so tiring! Most violent acts seem to stem from one's inability to communicate or rather feeling as if what one is trying to communicate is not getting through. There are a million examples in our community, in the world. What I like about copyediting is that it allows the author/writer to communicate more effectively.
Sorry, I don't have time to proofread this! I know I switch POV!
Thursday, April 19, 2007
1) Who usually chooses the template for the journal? How long has Manoa had the same template for? For other newspapers or journals, will the template change under a new editor or designer? Or is it a component that remains consistent?
2) Do you think years of copyediting (experience as a copyeditor) improves one's own writing? Do you think copyediting just improves one's copyediting skills or does it actually help one become a better writer?
I’m a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education and I’m working on a story about the shootings at Virginia Tech. Seung Cho, the gunman, was an English major with a concentration in creative writing. A one-act play that he wrote has become public and I was hoping to get your opinion of it (I’ve included a link below). I was wondering a couple of things, including:
—Is the writing particularly disturbing? Or is it the sort of thing you’ve read before from undergraduates?
—What would you do if a student handed in a piece of work like this?
—Do you often get students who turn in violent work? How should professors respond in such cases? Obviously writing violent stories doesn’t mean you’re a violent person, but are there warning signs?
Any other thoughts would be helpful.…Here’s the link to the play:
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Advisory: Continuing Coverage on Virginia Tech Shooting
SAN FRANCISCO (April 17, 2007) -- Now that the identity of the suspected shooter at Virginia Tech is known, AAJA [Asian American Journalists Association] cautions the use of his heritage or immigrant status in news coverage.
We understand the need to research the background of Seung-Hui Cho (first name is pronounced "sung hee") and to provide details about him as a nation struggles to make sense of the horrific incident.
But we are disturbed by some media outlets' prominent mention that the suspect is an immigrant from South Korea when such a revelation provides no insight or relevance to the story. The fact he is not a U.S. citizen and was here on the basis of a green card, while interesting, should not be a primary focus in the profiling of him. To highlight that suggests his immigration status played a role in the shootings; there's been no such evidence.
We remind the media that the use of racial and other identifiers must be accompanied with context and relevance. Without it, we open the door to subjecting an entire people to unfair treatment or portrayal based on their skin color or national heritage.
We at AAJA, representing approximately 2,000 reporters, editors, photographers and executives in the industry, encourage journalists to refer to style and reference books, both within their own shop as well as AAJA's at http://www.aaja.org/resources/apa_handbook/.
I come from a biologist standpoint where I write using passive sentences all the time. For me, the question really is "Who does this affect?" In regards to Imus, it affects the players on the basketball team. In regards to rappers (whether Black or White), it affects the people they degrade. But, I'm sure other people are affected as well, like the children who listen to the "bad songs." Geez, I think everyone is affected, especially since we devoted blogs to the issue. And, I'm sure that this discussion isn't limited to Imus and rappers.
It comes down to rights and responsibilities. Yes, people have a right to free speech, but people also have to take responsibility of that speech. But, people also have a right (I think) to censor that speech to protect their children.
I guess I'm confused about the word generalization in recent posts. If you cannot make generalizations of audiences, speakers, discourses, people, etc., how do you know you have different audiences?
Many generalizations are subjective, and therefore open to debate. Generalizations do not always need to be assumed absolute. At some level, generalizations are an efficient way to begin to take in a large amount of information. Start with the big picture (or basic concepts), and then refine your understanding, ideas and opinions with more knowledge, awareness and critical thought.
Are positive generalizations necessarily bad too? As George Beetham, Jr. pointed out, we all have a lot in common. I agree with him that celebrating our differences is a good thing. If there were absolutely no differences among people and we were exactly the same, life would be pretty boring.
This is in no way intended to justify what Imus said, or excuse hurtful racist or sexist words/actions.
After I’ve completely overused the word generalization in one post—and made a few of my own—I have a question for the journalism majors: how are generalizations approached in your classes?
Monday, April 16, 2007
As I was reading the discussions, the concept of “moral relativism” came into mind. This concept says that the right and wrong of anything is relative to each and every human being. For example, most of us—I hope—feel that high jacking an airplane and crashing it into a building is a “bad” thing to do. But for some people, this action is a duty to their God—the holiest sacrifice, an epitome of virtue. Do we tolerate this behavior because FOR SOME PEOPLE it is a sacred action? Are we going to say, “Well, they thought it was the right thing to do”? (of course, I’m ignoring all the social and political factors that might have caused these people to do what they did) This morally relativistic view seems compassionate and understanding, but it is a potentially dangerous idea; any behavior can be justified.
Similarly some words can be offensive to SOME PEOPLE while SOME OTHER PEOPLE may feel that those same words can be “cool” or “hip” in certain contexts. What Imus said was obviously out of context and unwarranted.
There is really no end to this discussion. We all make our own decisions and stick to them while respecting others’ decisions. BUT I personally feel it is unhealthy for a 12 year old to be listening to a rap that espouses raping and killing women after making them high on drugs. Sorry. I am NOT saying all raps and rappers are evil.
Who among us has never said or done something egregious and wished it could be taken back? Humans seem to have a propensity to open our mouths and insert our feet.
Radio personality Imus is the latest to join the club after he criticized the Rutgers University women's basketball team and used racially-charged language.
Sometimes, when we learn about these things, I wonder how somebody can be so blatantly oblivious.
The list is endless. It includes, among many others, Jesse Jackson, who for the record is demonstrating against Imus. Jackson, some may recall, once made a disparaging remark about Jewish people.
We live in a time of heightened sensibilities. It should be obvious that how we conduct ourselves and what we say is closely monitored. One slip of the tongue can wreck a lifetime career.
Is it fair? I have no idea.
On one level, the old adage that it's not what I say, but what I do that I should be judged on applies.
But when it comes to ethnicity, what we say and how we say it is often revealing.
I grew up in a racist environment. To dismiss it would be wrong. It may have been because of ignorance, but racism is what it is.
I'm not proud of that, but I'm also not about to deny my past. I hope and trust that I've spent a lifetime fighting racism, both within myself and without. That fight will continue until I die.
A recent article in New Scientist pointed out that children notice skin color at an early age. Yes, we all notice color. But there's a difference between noticing skin color and using skin color as a reason to discriminate.
That article went on to say that people tend to form alliances more readily among people like themselves rather than embracing people different from themselves.
If that is human nature, then we need to question whether we should not work to change human nature.
If we look beyond the obvious we find that all people are pretty much alike. We love our families, we enjoy life when and where we can, and we all long for things to get better.
We share hopes and dreams.
Another thing that should be apparent is that if we celebrate our differences rather than isolating ourselves, we enrich our lives. And if we celebrate our differences, then perhaps we would not be caught in the trap of saying something we'd instantly regret.
Words, like bullets from a gun, cannot be recalled.
When we say something hurtful, we can apologize until we're blue in the face. The other person can forgive us, and life can go on. But we can't call those words back. They will always be out there, will always be associated with who and what we are.
Over the span of my life, I've associated with many people of all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyles. Most have been wonderful people. They've enriched my life immeasurably. I only hope I've done the same for them.
I hope I'd never say anything to hurt those people, intentionally or by an inadvertent slip of the tongue.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Friday, April 13, 2007
Because of the Imus incident, are we all going to have to edit and have "approved" whatwe're going to have to say to an audience? It wasn't very nice what he said about the women's basketball team but the same company that fired Imus are profiting, I'm sure, from rap songs that sing about raping and killing women. It's OK for "cool black dudes" to belt out hate but God forbid it's the geeky ones out there. I personally don't like rap. It's not my kind of music. Black men need to get over whatever it is that makes them think it's so "cool" and "liberating" to call each other "N!"
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Monday, April 9, 2007
For Par C, are we answering the questions based on the original, intact version of Par B? Or would it be acceptable to use the version after our editing?