Monday, December 14, 2015

Every Day is Workshop

This past semester I participated in my last writing workshop of the program, and it's possibly the last formal writing workshop I'll ever take, depending on whether I get a PhD someday. This makes me sad, because I love workshop. Some people hate hearing their work critiqued, but I think it's great--other people are able to see flaws that I can't. And even critiquing and hearing critiques of another person's work helps my own writing in many ways. But the positive effects on my work are not the only reason I enjoy workshop so much. In fact, one major reason I enjoy workshop is that I have permission to speak my mind, to be completely honest--about what I like and dislike, about what I'd do differently.

This is not a permission I feel that I have in most of my life.

I don't know whether it's because I was raised with lots of Catholic guilt, or whether it's because I was raised in America's official emotion-suppressing region (read this article on "Midwestern Nice" if you haven't yet--it skillfully sums up how we're taught to think in the heart of the nation), or whether it's because I let my anxious thoughts run away with me--probably a combination of all three. Regardless, it seems that somewhere along the way, I largely lost the ability to say my actual opinions aloud, unless I'm with my very closest friends.

You know how when you pass acquaintances out on the street or in the office or wherever, and they ask, "How are you?" and you say, "Fine," even if you're not fine, because you know they're simply being polite and they don't actually want to hear an entire assessment of your life? That's how I treat most interactions. Even if I completely disagree with what someone is saying, I usually don't bring it up, or if I do it comes out as nothing more than a mild "I don't know...", because to say or do otherwise would be impolite. My brain has decided that it's impolite to consider my own opinions equally valid as other people's opinions.

This bothers me on many levels. For one thing, over the years I've developed a reputation of being very "nice." People often tell me how nice I am, which is wonderful--except that now I have to wonder, do they think I'm nice because I'm actually nice, or do they think I'm nice because I'm dishonest? I don't say what I think, and therefore I give them whatever they want. By staying quiet, I boost their egos. And that's especially problematic because sometimes, to be truly kind to someone, you have to be brutally honest and tell them exactly what they don't want to hear. I know for a fact that I'm not good at letting people down in this way--even though I realize that it wouldn't really be letting them down at all. My closest friends have not infrequently told me that I'm too nice, and they're probably right. It's good that I want to help other people, but as they say, you can't pour from an empty cup.

The idea of dishonesty bothers me on its own. I don't like the idea that I'm going out into the world and lying to people, even if that lying temporarily helps them out. I don't believe that everyone needs to state everything that's on their mind by any means, but it's different when you hardly ever state what's on your mind. The idea of staying silent is horrible, too. Why do I feel like I need to stay silent? Why are my own words and ideas worth less to me than the words and ideas of others? Why do I feel like I'm not worth being listened to? What's more, being this way is exhausting. I often replay earlier interactions in my head, worrying about what I should have said instead of what I actually said.

The only other place I feel like I can drop this act is in my writing. This blog is, for the most part, as honest as it gets (especially in these more introspective posts). And even on something like Facebook, if someone posts an article I strongly agree or disagree with, I don't mind stating my opinions in the comments. I'm concerned that the semi-autobiographical novel I'm working on gets a little too real at points. But there's something about stating these same opinions directly at other people's faces that I typically can't bring myself to do.

Due to all this, I've been thinking lately that I ought to treat regular life more like writing workshop. Which isn't to say that I'm going to constantly critique the things that other people do--while that may be the point of a workshop, that's not the point of real life. I only mean that I ought to be more honest with other people, that I should try to say what I'm actually thinking more often and trust that people will listen to me the same way I listen to them. Because the fact is, I don't trust that people will value what I say, and that's as unfair to them as it is to me. I should make it a mantra: "every day is workshop." See where that takes me. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Crossing the Finish Line Early

Sorry about the lack of blogging, but can we just talk for a minute about how goddamn efficient I am? I gave my second final exam yesterday morning. I then proceeded to my office, where I graded those exams, calculated semester grades for both my classes, and emailed them to the English department. Final grades aren't even due until Monday. We had our last workshop on Tuesday and I turned in a second draft of my translation right after Thanksgiving. You know what that means? I AM DONE. Finished with the semester. No more work. It is officially Winter Break.


Yeah, it's pretty exciting.

On Tuesday I fly to Chicago (my 24th flight this calendar year), where I shall remain for three weeks. Looking forward to Christmas, which I finally feel like I can celebrate. For whatever reason, I don't like to let in the holiday cheer until I've completed all of my schoolwork. I think I'm afraid I won't be able to re-focus. But now there's no need to re-focus, so I can dedicate my energy to Bing Crosby, fattening foods, colorful decorations, and snow.

Not that I'm giving up all responsibility--I'm still planning on writing, of course. I have a novel draft to complete! I mean, it's technically completed now, but the last three chapters are a mess. I wrote chapter 7 while I was recovering from wisdom tooth surgery. Rewrites are direly needed. The break will also hopefully allow for more frequent blogging, or at least more substantial blogging. I've had all these topics bouncing around in my head, but I haven't had the time to write about them yet. Soon...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tour Guide

This past weekend I got to play Las Vegas tour guide once again, as Miss Ashley decided to pay me a visit all the way from Sunnyvale, California! The last time I saw her was on top of the Eiffel Tower, when she and the baby sister came to visit me in Paris. We packed in everything a first-time Vegas tourist could ever want to see--except gambling. I'm on a grad student stipend, and she lives in one of the most expensive places in the country. What do you want from us?

She arrived on Friday night, so I took her downtown to see the neon lights of Fremont Street. We stopped at The Writer's Block so she could see that Sin City actually does have some traces of culture, and also so I could chat with Drew about the new Claire Vaye Watkins article. (If you haven't read it, you need to read it. ASAP.) From there we passed the beloved flame-throwing praying mantis, we popped into El Cortez so she could experience the suffocating floral scent of old casinos, we stopped at the Golden Nugget so she could see the sharks, and then we walked all the way back to Atomic Liquors, where Austin, Olivia, and Shaun met us for a drink.

Saturday was a busy day. (Understatement of the year!)

It began with a drive to Hoover Dam. I love Hoover Dam. I know it seems like a weird thing to love, but I just can't help myself. Mountains and oceans and forests are awe-inspiring, but the awe that comes from them is sort of obvious; of course nature is bigger than us and produces magnificent things we never could have conceived on our own. That's not terribly surprising. Hoover Dam is great because it's gigantic, and well-crafted, and they made it back when people cared how buildings looked, so it's beautiful, too. And we built it. Regular people built it. With only early 20th-century technology at their disposal. In five years! Now that is awe-inspiring. I've gone on the tour twice, but I ought to read a book about it. Surely there's some good nonfiction tome out there on the subject.

After our morning dose of engineering history, we stopped in Boulder City for a hearty brunch at The Coffee Cup. We also meandered through some of Boulder City's many antique shops, because apparently we are old ladies at heart.

When we finally got home to Vegas, did we relax? Take a nap, perhaps? No! Sleep is for the weak. Instead we went ice skating on top of the Cosmopolitan. Yes, you read correctly. There is currently an ice rink on top of the Cosmopolitan. I am quite possibly the worst ice skater the Midwest has ever produced, but it was one of the most successful skates I've ever had. I didn't fall down a single time. Mission accomplished.

Then it was time to show Ashley the rest of the Strip. Aside from the gambling, of course. We saw the Bellagio fountains and the atrium there--which was still Autumn-themed, surprisingly. I was expecting Christmas. We wandered through the Paris so she could compare it to the real deal. We went to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace (damn you, missing apostrophe!) to visit the Apple Store so that Ashley could show me what her fancy new job is all about. Then we headed to the Brooklyn Bowl for dinner and a punk show. Because what better way to end a day spent entirely on one's feet than in a mosh pit?

We didn't mean to end up in the mosh pit. We just sort of got shoved in there unwillingly. At first it was kind of nice--we ended up much closer to Gogol Bordello than we expected. But then this girl stage dived and punched Ashley in the face. That night I gave her ibuprofen and an ice pack, so the bruise did not manifest as badly as it could have. But still, nobody wants to get decked. This leads me to believe that venues should schedule shows not by age, but by violence level. Don't have all-ages shows vs. 21-and-up shows. Have happy-dance shows vs. endless-slaughter shows. You'd probably inadvertently divide the crowd by age, anyway.

Gogol Bordello were fantastic as always, but I was also blown away by the opener, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas. Listen to them posthaste!

I was about to say Sunday was a little calmer, but we did start the morning by indoor rock climbing, so maybe not. I showed Ashley the ropes--literally! Ugh. That was a bad joke. I apologize. Austin came along, too. We haven't climbed together in a while, so that was fun. Ashley then accompanied us to Jesse's place for Dungeons & Dragons, which I fear was more dull for her than I'd anticipated. There was a lot of backstory and role-playing, not a lot of combat--which I generally prefer, but I can see where it would be boring for an outsider who doesn't know the story of the campaign. Anyway, Ashley had to leave in the middle to drive all the way back to the South Bay--and from what I understand, she got stuck in horrendous traffic, which I feel badly about. I should have guessed that the post-Thanksgiving traffic would be a nightmare. Now I know for next time, at least. We tour guides must learn from our mistakes.

It was a lovely weekend overall, and now I owe Ashley a visit! Haven't been to San Francisco since I was sixteen. It might be a good Spring Break adventure...