Archive for the ‘Graduate School’ Category

Invisible Women

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

I got admitted to grad school in the English Dept despite having essentially no undergrad English classes. To compensate, in addition to the regular Grad classes, I was supposed to take a bunch of undergraduate English to make up the deficit. I did take a few of those classes, but then I got bored and decided to leave more of the units for later in the program. Eventually, they got waived — I think because they wanted me to finish and I was taking forever.

I wrote this essay for one of my undergrad grad classes in 2002. The task was to read a series of articles and compare and contrast two of them. If you’re patient or interested enough to read to the end, it’s still relevant today. Perhaps more than ever, actually.

October 7, 2002

My reading journeys take me down diverse paths. Without question, my world expands with every corner turned. Should I find myself at a literary crossroad, I go where I like, secure in the knowledge that I’ve got the road not taken tucked under my arm. I fondly recall Yama, the Pit which I bought because of the cover, a claw-like grasping red hand on a black background. (It proved to be about life in a Russian brothel.) The Man Who Lived Backward, alas, was not so fruitful as the brothel. The Once and Future King succeeds with the life-in-reverse theme as splendidly as the other fails. I followed a Japanese path for some time and discovered a world where small is immensely large. The Popul Vuh introduced me to an underworld of bats and blood and words that transform the English X into a soft and mysterious shh. “Xibalba” still makes the back of my neck shiver.

So, naturally, when presented with the opportunity to read any two essays from a selection grouped by theme, I did what I do in a used book store. I selected the theme I felt I knew least about. In this case, Race and Ethnicity. What, I thought, would a woman of such pale coloration as myself know about issues of race and ethnicity? After all, many would argue that I have neither.

In doing the reading, I met an old friend, Junichero Tanizaki, and found myself once again floating on images of exquisite shape and infinite depth. I admit to broad holes in my literary portfolio, and Carlos Fuentes is one of them. I’m glad to at last make acquaintance with him. Where Tanizaki is all delicacy and shading, Fuentes feels robust and vigorous, even when he’s confessing to youthful uncertainty. And yet, having read these two essays and adored and admired the words and meaning and presentation, I find myself face-to-face with an irony so profound I hardly have the words to express it. Which sparks another confession; I’ve read ahead and now wonder if I’ve cracked like poor F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Tanizaki bemoans in phrases of exquisite shape the loss of what is Japanese. Fuentes grapples with his discovery of what it means to be Mexican. These two brilliant essays, crafted by men of genius, let others see with Japanese eyes or feel with a Mexican spirit. They rail against the West and how its whiteness subverts their native souls. It’s hard not to feel the white man’s guilt since both essays put voice to the voracious destroyer that is Western culture. And yet. Neither writer seems the least aware they share a gobbling hunger of their own.

If Tanizaki has correctly captured the Japanese spirit, then Japan is a country without women, for in this essay, women are, quite literally, disembodied objects to be admired in shadow and light and made love to in the dark. He never wonders whether the woman with black-painted teeth chafes in her box of shadowed sex or whether she might want to make love in the light. Fuentes hardly fares better. Gladys from Guadalajuara is a whore who exists without face or identity and even then only while he has a yen for orgasm. In the anti-climax, Gladys ceases to exist. What happens to her Mexican spirit when the razor cut festers?

With every sentence and word, women were the whiteness of this page, unseen and invisible no matter how loudly we shout, “Here I am!”


Rant Alert! (Carolyn Finds a Practical Use for Grad School)

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Save yourself while you can.

Oops. Too late.

I got off from work early and decided to finish reading my Fall 2007 Author’s Guild Bulletin in which volume is contained a lengthy essay entitled Goodbye To All That 1 penned by Steve Wasserman, former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The essay was originally published in the Columbia Journalism Review September/October 2007. You can read the essay here.

Here’s my entire thesis:

It’s not all or none, people!

Here’s a sub-plot (that’s writer’s humor for This is totally off the cuff, otherwise it’s not a rant.)

Maybe there’s another reason no one reads the book review section…

I’m going to riff of Valleywag and give the 100 word version of Mr. Wasserman’s essay2:

Nobody reads important books anymore, we’re all going to hell in a hand-basket and it’s all the fault of those low-culture morons plus popular fiction. The only way to save democracy is to revive the Book Review section (but for dog’s sake, don’t do it any differently.) Keep it exactly the same so we’ll all still find it mostly irrelevant.

Pretty much, that’s what he’s saying. Maybe I inserted a bit of Carolyn RhetoricTM in there. Can you find it? Because that’s an advanced technique and I only know about it because I had to take Rhetorical Theory in grad school. If you try that at home, just be careful, okay?

Right. So, western culture can only be saved by reviewing IMPORTANT books in newspaper Book Review sections. That’s IMPORTANT in big red letters because he doesn’t mean anything else. Marxism Alert! He means ONLY stuff the cultural elite find important. Substitute "Rich White Men" for cultural elite to round out the typical Marxist view. He doesn’t get off the hook for mentioning a Spanish nun. And now let’s go to my favorite bit because it’s soooo Post-Modern and Post-Modern, folks, is grad-school-ese for ist-isms3: sexist, elitist and freaking annoying.

I often tried to imagine what I might do if I had been, say, the literary editor of The Times of London in 1900 when a then obscure Viennese doctor named Sigmund Freud published his first book, The Interpretation of Dreams4 Suppose I’d had on my desk only two books — Freud’s and, say, the next surefire best-selling novel by Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the Danielle Steele of her day.

I’m sure you can guess where he was going with this. Because we all know that if only we eliminated the Mrs. Wards of the world from the literary landscape, we would all leap to read whoever is the equivalent of Freud today. (I have no idea who that is because I’m pretty sure all the theorists I read in Grad school were dead. Except Kristeva, she made my head hurt, so it’s probably her. I think she’s still alive.) Because no one would ever in all the world read both Freud and Ward. I mean, what kind of freak would do that?

Ohmygod. Wait! I have. I’ve read Freud. And years ago I did read some Ward. Because I was one of the massive readers he talks about. 20 books at a crack from the library when I was a kid. And now, I still read a couple books a week. Unless I’m on deadline and working at the collapse of civilization. bwahahaha!

And since when has Nora Roberts or J.R.Ward ever been reviewed in any Book Review section of the sort Wasserman eulogizes? I think the answer’s never. There’s a really fine rhetorical device. Set up a hypothetical dilemma that didn’t happen in 1900 and hasn’t ever happened today, either. And now, we can all conclude that Mrs. Ward (J.R, are you listening??) is single-handedly responsible for the decline of Western Civilization.

And that’s my point. It’s not Freud vs. Mrs. Ward. (But, if it came to a throw down between the two, Freud would die because Mrs. Ward would shoot him dead before he had a chance to explain the significance of her weapon. Either that or Vishous5 would perform a laying on of hands and zzzttt goodbye Sigmund.)

I think more people probably know who Sigmund Freud is than can identify Mrs. Humphrey Ward. And it’s not because of The London Times Book Review. Sorry.

Intellectual importance isn’t determined in The Los Angeles Times Book Review (especially not now, I guess!) mean little snicker (ohh, prosody!) It’s determined in Universities by professors and students who rigorously study difficult issues and who figure out stuff like the parts of Freud that are complete and utter crap. (There’s no penis envy, trust me. Admiration and maybe longing, sure, if I’m in the mood) and which parts have something useful to add. Like possibly dream interpretation. What Mr. Wasserman is actually suggesting is an intellectual trickle down theory. Please, editor, let me inform the Proletariat!

Wasserman: You there! Put down that Ward!
Reader: Hey! I didn’t get to read what happens to Phury!
Wasserman Here. Take this edition of The Lais of Marie de France.
Reader: But I already read that.

See, the thing is the really massive readers do both.

Is there some reason you can’t have a short review of J.R. Ward’s latest and a longer review of Ransom Seaborn? That’s my question. I don’t doubt for a minute that Ransome Seaborn deserves a long, intelligent and thought provoking analysis. Ward maybe not so much. But not none, either. And if they’re both there in the same section… But that way lies heresy.

. . . . .
1. Yeah, I get that the title comes from Robert Grave’s WWI novel Goodbye To All That. Isn’t that ironic? I mean that someone like moi would get the reference?

2. Don’t count. I’m sure it’s not 100 words.

3. I just now coined that word, so don’t say you did. It was me.

4. Just to repeat viz Freud: Professor Kunat, you were right and I was wrong. I was honor bound to take that dratted Introductory Lectures and go confess that yes, Freud was brilliant. Rats.

5. Hey, Mr. Wasserman, there’s a cultural reference for you. Get it?


I done did it

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

My MA project is done. Signed off. Handed in. Now I wait three weeks or so and hopefully they tell me it’s fine to file the final one for binding. I’m done with grad school. No more tuition. No more classes. No more papers to write. I had my last meeting with my prof today, too. It was a long haul and a lot of work but going to Grad School was one of the best things I could have done for my writing and my life in general.

In other news, Magellan’s Witch seems to be going pretty well. I’m layering in elements, deleting the boring parts, and working my themes. I like this part much better than the straight writing. Except deleting the boring bits is humbling.

Today when I was interrupting various professors in order to get signatures, I was telling one of my committee members that I’d substantially revised the work since I gave it to her two weeks ago and that I’d deleted any of the boring parts. I spoke partly in jest, but in fact, that’s a lot of what I did. The student in her office asked, also joking of course, how I did that. Well, we all know that Elmore Leonard just doesn’t write those parts. Mere mortal writers do what I did. In your word processor:

  1. Highlight the boring bit.
  2. Hit Delete.

My committee chair also mentioned that she had comments, but that since I’d given it to her two weeks ago I’d pretty much rewritten it. Yes. That’s true. I simplified the stuff I’d made too complicated. I deleted boring bits, including scenes I really liked. That’s how it has to be. No writer with a deadline can afford to wait two weeks for input when the book’s not done yet. You write and keep writing.

I had a bunch of fascinating stuff I was saving up for when I had a breather, but I can’t remember any of it right now. Tomorrow my son and I are going to take my sister to see Hot Fuzz.


Close so very close!

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

I’m so close I can almost smell it! To being done with my MA in English, that is. Oddly enough, the scent reminds me of toner and hot paper. Yesterday, I did my Public reading for my final project. Some people from work came, which was really nice, I must say. I was reading to the students in my Prof’s class. Yes, I was nervous at first, but then I had to pay attention to the pages and my reading. Luckily, since I read to my son just about every night, I am a pretty good read-out-louder. The room was very quiet while I read. Which I hope means they were interested in what they were hearing. No talking or shuffling or what have you. Well, whatever, I guess. I can drive myself crazy trying to guess what people were thinking.

Tomorrow I will get the last signatures and turn my copy into the graduate affairs office. Then I think I get to wait until they tell me I’m good to turn in the final expensive paper one. And then I’ll be done at last. I’ll have a Master’s degree. . . in English. (you have to pretend like that was Buy Nye the Science Guy saying that, only dorkier but with better diction).

I didn’t work today, at least not on paper or computer. But I had some fairly long moments of down time when I was thinking very hard about Magellan’s Witch, particularly about the fellow who will be the hero in the second book.

And now, to be with a few minutes to spare for reading.



Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

The MA project is in the hands of my committee. They get to read it and then after a bit, one hopes, sign off on it. So, tomorrow I have a free day. Massage – yes. All for me.


Tommorrow already?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

So, today I slaved away on Magellan’s Witch and for a while there I thought there was no way I’d get through and fix what needed fixing. Good golly. But I kept on fixing and deleting and adding and I’m up to 75K now. Then I had to make an e-copy for my MA version because the formatting has to be completely different and get that reformatted correctly and paginated etc. Tomorrow I have one more scene to look at because it feels like it’s in the wrong place. And then I’ll print this out, get a copy made and to my professors for review. Office hours converge at 3:00 pm.

Mostly I was feeling not so hot about things, but when I was in 2-page view mode on the MA, I started thinking, hey, this isn’t so bad. I was feeling excited about reading it. I’m going to bed on that note.

Friday I’m getting a hand massage AND a back massage.


Oh, the carnage, the carnage

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

I cut 9,400 words from Magellan’s Witch today. The mess was bigger than I thought. But now it’s not. Now it’s more straightforward and the messy stuff is gone. Now, I think, I can do a read through (not paper) and get from page 1 to page-the-end without having to redo everything. That’s what I’m going to try to do tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll concentrate on the back end, because the replacement stuff is thin right now, and that has to be fixed. That’s a bigger priority right now.

The update on the MA is that I can’t officially file anything until after my public reading, which is May 15. So I have to live with this for another two weeks because now it’s due May 18. I have one more form to file, too. I still have to get my committee members copies of it to read this week so they can sign on the dotted line. Which will have to be Thursday on account of office hours. Which gives me tomorrow and maybe a little of Thursday to finish fixing. Except in a way it doesn’t really matter because I need to keep fixing for the real deadline anyway.

Anyway, off to bed before it’s tomorrow.


Well, I knew this would happen

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Work on Magellan’s Witch has been going like gangbusters. Yesterday I was at 83K and feeling pretty good about things. Probably it was the sugar rush from all the birthday cake. I knew I had a couple of problem chapters coming up but hey only 7 chapters between me and a solid draft. Whoa. Today I am massively fixing. I’ve deleted two chapters so far and broken up two others that were too long (so no net loss of chapters). At the moment I’m down to 79K, most of which I should make back,depending on the state of the other chapters. I’m working with chapter 20 right now — the new chapter 20. I keep thinking that any day now I can print this darn thing off and do a read through and that keeps not happening. Sigh.

At least I’m in the middle of an interesting solution to one of my issues and to be honest, I’m not broken up over the chapters I sent off to the Recycling Folder for Wayward Writing. They were boring and belonged to the previous version anyhow. But still.

In an hour, I’m off to get signatures on the MA project and see about my actual due date. I’ll report back later. I’m going to use my new printer for the first time and print off my sig pages.

Updated to add: My pages printed beautifully and oh so fast. I had to do it twice though because the first time I forgot they needed to be numbered with lower case roman numerals at the bottom. Sheesh.


Today is my birthday!

Monday, April 30th, 2007

picture of a birthday cake

Picture courtesy of musingorchards.

Yes, indeed. I am another year better. And, since I am home from the day job working on getting my final project for my Master’s all done, it’s been a very nice day. First off, I got to sleep in, then I got a lot of writing done. I was right yesterday that my last chapter for Magellan’s Witch wasn’t the actual last chapter. I wrote/re-wrote that today, so now all the chapters are done and I’m going through chapters 19-25 getting them more up to speed. So, I think I might be able to call this thing done on Wednesday. Tomorrow I get signatures and go visit the grad dept to clear up a bit of ambiguity on my project defense. All should be good.

In birthday news, my sister bought me a cala lily, which I love and will plant outside my window, and some sparkling water, my favorite kind. I got a free smoothie at the smoothie place downtown (I got Protein Power), my son got something with too much sugar in it, and my sister got something or other and I used the rest of the gift card for them so 3 smoothies cost me 40 cents. Awesome, no? My son got me a scented soaps which I love. So nice in the shower. Then we came home and had birthday cake more or less for dinner.

This morning the dog rolled in something disgusting and so I was forced to give him a bath. He was not happy with me, but he forgave me.

Last night I finished reading Addicted by Zane. Somehow, and this is distressing to me, I had never heard of her. She writes erotica and apparently started out self-published and sold 250,000 (!!) on her own. Now she’s with a major print publisher, as she should be. Zane is African-American. I found out about her from My Space, as she was often mentioned as a favorite author by others, at least some of whom I could see were persons of color. Addicted is written in a very deft, very culturally specific style. It’s a far more complex story than most erotica, and I really, really enjoyed it. I’ll be reading more of her.

Got to get the son to bed…


Just a Moment

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound

It’s still National Poetry Month. And yeah, the more I read about Ezra Pound the more I disliked him as a person. His personal politics were distasteful to say the least. But, boy, could he write poetry. I love this poem. But I like H.D. better just on principle.

In non-poetic news, today has been a wash. I had to meet with my prof and didn’t get home from that until 5:30. It was also my son’s open house, so we left for that at 6:30 after I made him get his own soup for dinner while I answered an email from a high school student who’s got some questions about writing and writers. Got home from the open house about 7:45. Get the kid to bed etc, and I’m only now sitting down to write. Or not. Because, of course, I’m doing this instead.

Tomorrow is Friday (yay!) and the beginning of my week off to finish the Master’s degree project.