Notes from Virginia
Entertainment Journal, Entry #2
Read a "nail biting ... edge of your seat drama and romantic suspense" novel (so announces that the blurb on the back cover): Murder List by Julie Garwood. Pure, unadulterated mind candy. By reading it, I probably shaved a good 10 pts off my IQ. But sometimes I just have to indulge ... and remember why I can't stomach romance novels anymore. I used to read them by the bushel. Mom and I would trade them back and forth while I was in high school and college; they were a way she and I could share something even though we weren't speaking to one another. And the books were a needed escape, a pleasant little bit of fantasy that I could gobble up between richer meals of Nabakov, Ellison, Eliot etalia (all male authors, btw, assigned by professors, usually male, in my literature courses). Now I wonder what it means that my mother and I both yearned for the same type of escape. She so tall and movie star gorgeous with the big house and fairy tale life style. I at 17 short, over weight with acne, hair that wouldn’t take a curl, and a lazy eye. But of course, hers wasn't a fairy tale life as my parents divorce proved much later, and I grew out of acne and learned to embrace the joys of straight hair.
Back to the novel:
The plot: a beautiful hotel heiress, Regan Madison (two presidents' names, get it? So a blend of Hollywood, ultra conservativism, and... I don't know squat about Madison other than his wife was named Dolly and she invented strawberry ice cream for his inaugural ball. I'll have to look him up to figure out how that plays into it) is stalked by a vengeful psychopath who calls himself "the Demon." Alec Buchanan, the drop dead gorgeous excellent detective turned FBI recruit is assigned to the case as Regan's bodyguard. Surprise: there’s lots of sexual tension as Regan resists being protected by her hunky overprotective man. Very Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. There's the obligatory build up to the final culmination/copulation scene which is immediately followed by the cops arresting the wrong guy and Alec leaves the case (Alec of course thinks they don’t have the right guy because he’s supercop and therefore destined for the FBI. Really negative toward local law enforcement). Meanwhile, Regan is trapped by the bad guy who has her running through the woods like a scared rabbit. She has to use her brains to escape b/c she clearly cannot outmatch him physically (did I mention the "Demon" is obsessed with body building?). She, of course, outwits the lumbering menacing ox by dropping down out of tree onto his head like an over ripe coconut and just in the nick of time, too, as the Demon is preparing to blow off Alec's too perfect head (Alec, of course, realizes after he leaves Regan that he LOVES her and MUST HAVE HER and he also suspects the bad guy is still on the loose--hence why he is an excellent cop). Alec and Regan get engaged and he makes an honest woman of her. The end.
What does it all mean:
"woman" is made to mean: tall and leggy, naturally passive to the point of ridiculousness. In fact, until she rolls around in the sack with Alec, she's Jane Doormat. Suddenly, afterward, she has the needed testosterone to stick up for herself. She also has the requisite great body. Men ogle her but of course she also is incredibly humble so she doesn’t notice=> the ideal woman is a sex object and doesn’t mind being stripped by men’s invasive gazes because she is so incredibly naïve and out of touch that she never notices. If she noticed, she would have to either play up to it (her sexual power that is) and be a “tramp,” be intimidated and timid, or get pissed off (which is the reaction I would prefer but I know that from my own personal history, I would be intimidated and try to become invisible). Regan, however, has the good grace to never notice and therefore she is neither self-conscious nor pissed off. How convenient for the men in the book who are represented as hypersexual to the point of not being able to think straight when around Regan b/c of the sexual fantasies she inspires. Ridiculous and yuck. She is also very rich and very white. Super nurturing, NEVER raises her voice, incredibly repressed emotionally (Alec also helps with this.), a do-gooder (she's the company conscience), innately naive and childish. She cries A LOT. Very emotional. It's supposed to be one of her endearing qualities. Also a bum knee (which makes it impossible for her to physically out run or match her attacker). So the ideal woman is all of the above plus physically frail but wily.
"Man" is made to mean: hero or villain
Hero: ideal, strong, emotionally and physically, rescuer, analytical, stoic, out of touch with own emotions until almost too late, overprotective, jealous but self-conscious about it, sensitive, a g-man rather than a cop, super smart, sloppy dresser and not concerned with fashion but cleans up nicely when necessary, very independentç not under a woman’s control
Villain: obsessed with his own body so incredibly strong physically but a weak mind and psychologically deranged, controlled by an evil woman (in the novel the Demon is the husband of car accident victim, Nina, who we find out in the last chapters is the real Demon behind the scenes controlling everything.
So woman is also made to mean “Demon”: the old Angel/Monster duality. Priceless. Women are fair and foul, and the foul one control the weak men who then are employed to do her dirty work. Gag. AND the fair women are dangerous because they so distract men from their Very Important Business. The only way to neutralize these obvious threats to civilization and society is to 1) murder the foul and 2) marry the fair. In either case, the woman is rendered completely under control.
While in Idaho, I’ve been waking up at 5 a.m. and watching the morning news. Always female anchors. The national news coverage starts at 5 a.m. on the weekends which means that if I grew up here I would never have seen CBS’s Sunday Morning program b/c I’m generally still asleep at o’dark thirty. In any case, here are my notes on this weekend’s local (as in ID) news morning programs:
“Woman” is made to mean
· early—really really early
· white (no other ethnicity represented on the major channels, and not even on the cable networks like CNN and Fox)
· rich (lots of gold and sparkly baubles, manicured hands, luxurious fabrics and tailored suits, and blonde—lots of blonde hair
· 40 something—which is refreshing because women are usually really young if they are on tv. Good to see some crows feet
· Authoritative but also compassionate and nurturing. Women reporters covered the personal interest stories, especially the impact of hurricane Wilma and local personal interest stuff (a house fire, for example). Interestingly male reporters covered the weather/meteorology (science… suggesting men do science, women do compassion), the war in Iraq (but if irt’s a story on the families of soldiers, a woman covered it), and movie reviews. I don’t know what to make of that.
“Man” is made to mean
· Interested or expert in science, war, and analysis of film.
“Race”/ethnicity is made to mean
· Anglo-European No diversity in race of news reporters. The people in the stories were often non-Anglo European suggesting the victims and perpetrators of crime are non-white which is statistically disproportionate.
· Only coverage had to do with terrorism, Al-Quaeda, and Islamic fundamentalism suggesting that Islam is an aberrant or dangerous religion
More notes on effective writing
Our class brainstorm came up with the following list:
stays on topic
is very detailed
has direction and something to say
includes lost of info and description
uses correct grammar
has VIVID imagery
the reader can SEE what is going on
draws out emotion (positive or negative) from the reader
the reader wants to keep reading
reader can FEEL the story
there is a freshness of ideas or expression
My personal definition of effective writing
So, today is our first full day workshop after a round of Visiting Writers. I want to begin the morning with a brief reflection on what for us defines effective writing, that is, what should we be striving to accomplish in the workshop session and how (if ever) will we know when it is time to stop tweaking and publish. So, in class we will brainstorm a collective list, but here are some personal thoughts on what makes for effective writing:
- there is a freshness of expression or of the ideas. Ideally there would be a freshness in both, but if its really good in just one of these areas I'm happy.
- I don't have to struggle as a reader to follow what the writer is saying. Now by that I don't mean I shouldn't have to work. I should have my brain expanded and I have new thoughts as the result of a great piece of writing. What I shouldn't have to do is struggle with misspellings or basic grammar problems. I shouldn't have to try and guess what the writer intended to say. It should be clear how ideas are connected because of the solid and clear transitional expressions and other sign posts marking the trail.
- There should be a clear sense of audience. The writer knows exactly to whom he or she is speaking, and modulates his/her tone, word choice, and attitude accordingly.
- I have a clear sense of the writer and her/his personality and sense of style.
- Something significant is being said in an interesting way
- I leave the essay feeling I am less alone, that I've learned something about what it means to be human.
Okay, so these are just a few items on my list and its not comprehensive. I'm anxious to hear what you all add when I get to class!
A snippet commenting on the new tenor of the culture wars as expressed on the radical academic blogsphere, The Valve
Perhaps the high point of this blog event, thus far, has been the essay posted by Morris Dickstein, who explains the current academic culture with a surplus of big-picture clarity and judiciousness: "Today the theory era is effectively ending and the public intellectual tradition is reasserting itself, along with a renewed attention in the aesthetic that many theorists dismissed as no more than an ideological formation. But thanks to tenure and the intellectual investments we make as graduate students, theory will have a long afterlife. It will also continue to inflect how many important issues are discussed, including the role of language in literature, the degree to which literary works reference the world outside the text, the role of social construction including class, race, and gender in forming our conventions of representation (as writers) and interpretation (as critics). Critical movements leave behind a residue of common sense after the dust of their polemics has settled and the most extreme positions have been abandoned."
True? What is the "public intellectual tradition" referred to here? Certainly we are operating in a time of anti-intellectualism in some ways unparralleled. Has theory--the tool of revolution against the canon--become canonical? How does that unwrite the tradition itself? I dunno but I wouldn't want to assume that I can do the kinds of things I do with texts without it ....
For me writing is like ... a halogen lamp. Once I turn it on, I'm in the pool of light it casts and I see things with a startling new clarity. Some of what I see, I don't like: the sharp edges of bias or prejudice, the moldiness of bad thinking, chipped paint of emotions, the broken furniture of ideas. Whatever I choose to bring into the lamp's glow is forever changed, whether that be a memory, a sense of who I am, how I feel about issues and/or people, tricky intellectual matters, or something I've read. Writing for me, in other words, is a means of understanding the world and my place in it in a more comprehensive way. When I better understand myself I better understand how my emotions, assumptions, and ignorances determine how and what I see. I can start to discern that to which I had otherwise remained blind. I think people in general see what they want or expect to see, but when I write I confront contradictions, either my own or those of others, and only then can I start to negotiate or work through those problems of false consciousness. See I'm starting to do it now, using big words to express big ideas, harnessing language so that I can examine my world. Here's another example of how this works for me:
My areas of expertise if you can call them that are Mary Shelley, her circle (father and mother primarily), and the Gothic romance form. I initiated study in these areas because I was hungry to see how these maverick writers used a popular tradition to explore a radical belief system. The more I work on Shelley, though, the more inescapable becomes a sense of her ambivalence about women's rights, about Empire, and about colonized peoples. So, my writing in this area has not served to reassure my assumptions or my original thoughts on the matter. Just the opposite, which is what makes it such an incredibly powerful tool when we give ourselves over to it. Writing does not always lead to self-reassurance.
Other types of writing I do on a daily basis include the following:
- commenting on student papers: I get enormous pleasure out of reading student work. It's not always easy, however, and can be very intellectually demanding in part because I have to know where a student is coming from, his/her subject area, in order to respond appropriately. I try not to grade more than 5 papers at a time because it absolutely tires me out. I like to be a reader who is "there" with the writer, and when I do that there's not much of me left over.
- responding to something I've read: I firmly believe that writing has to be given nourishment. These nutrients can come from many directions but for me reading what others think and write is essential to move my writing and ideas forward. I love to find wonderful quotes and write them on sticky pads around the house so I can contemplate them as I do the dishes or brush my teeth. When I am particularly intrigued by an idea or piece I write out formal response logs, usually in the form of an annotation in my Endnotes program. The response includes the quotations I thought were especially important and/or relevant, as well as my reactions. I have to admit, in my time drained life this is a special luxury. I'm looking around my office and see 5 books I need to annotate and I'm starting to flip out because school starts tomorrow and I need TIME to annotate effectively. Deep breath.
- syllabi and reading schedules: course design is a fascinating area. I can be creative but I have to be extremely clear on what I want and how I want it. That takes time and practice. I'm constantly revising and tweaking my syllabi because the first time I teach a class it's a draft and always needs adjustment.
- Email: I write a gazillion emails, some to close friends others to colleagues. Ironically, the letters to close friends are usually one or two line letters whereas the pieces I send off professionally are longer and more descriptive. I really want to start getting into old fashioned letter writing. There is something wonderfully affirming and satisfying about opening one's maibox and finding a thick envelope with a letter inside. The texture and weight of the stationary, the smell of the writer's pipe or perfume still lingering on the page: reading should be a sensory experience. Email just doesn't capture a person the way traditional correspondence used to ...
- Grants: I've not been terribly successful at this but am going to enter into the fray again this season. I have a wonderful digital humanities project that needs to be funded. There's a trick, a skill to successful grant writing and I'm just learning my way.
- Scholarship: Easily the most demanding and difficult and rewarding of my writing areas. Scholarship requires reading what other people think and theorize in your area, and that can be stimulating, baffling and affirming. Sometimes all at once.
Stuff I'd like to write or write about
- The family farm. It has been in my father's family since the early seventeenth century. It's located in Callaway, Virgina. We grow apples, peaches, nectarines, cattle, corn. The community around the farm is Brethren the original peace and love congregation. I would love to record my early memories of the farm and of the people who had such a profound affect on me.
- Going to Temple.
- My current spiritual quest: how being a mother has upped the ante in some ways. How my son is affirmation that life is good
- Working and growing up in daddy's veterinary hospital
- How Southern women can get away with calling their fathers "daddy" in public
- My brothers
- My father
- My mother and her sisters--so powerful to be with them around the dining room table.
- My novel. I'd like more time to pursue this cat and mouse game I have set up, to explore the character's inner lives and what they have to say.
- A biography of my grandmother, Lula. Noting the extraordinary in the ordinary: that's my goal.
- A poem to my mother. Not some maudlin crap but a real, gut-wrenching, honest poem that affects her in some profound way.
- descriptions of my son as he gets older, really detailed inch by inch portraits of his development.
- love songs to my husband. But not the mushy gushy icky kind. Married love is so much more profound than all that.
- A short story featuring my cat. Silly I know, but I think he has a lot to say about the world.
That's all for now. What kind of writing do you like to do? What is writing like for you? Like a pizza with lots of toppings, sometimes too thick and bready, other times to crisp? Like taking a shower: cleansing and something that the folks around you appreciate (smelly writing and b.o., now that would be an essay topic!)
Today the faculty swarmed on campus for all sorts of departmental meetings and for our first formal speech from the new pres. The first day of school is amazing for its simplicity, and it remains little changed from when I was in grade school: after weeks or months apart, we come back with new haircuts and outfits, hopes and expectations, and kiss cheeks and shake hands, go to lunch, laugh, stand alone, doodle, and snicker. Today was wonderfully special because of its familiarity. It was also wonderful because for the first time since I've come to Radford (and this is my fifth year), folks were smiling as much after the College and University meetings as they were beforehand. There is a new sense of hope and promise, or at least I feel a new sense of hope and promise. And what a relief it is to be optimistic for once! President Kyle is going to be good for RU. Things are going to change, and that is exciting.