Mastering the English Major Lifestyle – According to Me

It’s the beginning of the week.  My weekend involved hours of work, catching up on sleep, cleaning my house, late night talks with friends, homework assignments, paying all my money for concerts, hangouts, and Pabst Blue Ribbon.   I ponder what this week has in store for me.  I have to gather music and practice for RUF worship, meet new people, more work, study for tests, write papers, practice for our house concert, and lose more sleep trying to get to class on time.  No matter what your year is in college, you immediately have responsibilities that take up your schedule.  Sound familiar?  How in the world will I get all of this done so that I can write more short stories and finish John Steinbeck’s East of Eden?

There has to be a solution.

As an English major at UTC, I think the three most important things are homework, writing, and reading.  Homework is my archenemy.

I hear this conversation between my friend and I:

“How are those new poems gong?  Started anything new?”

“Nah, I’m behind on homework.  But I have new clever ideas that I want to get back to!”

“Right, right. Keep me updated!”

This has happened too many times.

I think that the first step in conquering these tasks is to either get ahead of homework, or always stay on top of it.  Ironically, homework has a mysterious force that is knocking at the door of our brains, eager to find a home to rest.  Homework is the key to decreasing the study time we put into tests and papers, and it eventually allows more available time to write.  If I am caught up on homework, I can write more.  Simple, right?

Secondly, I think that consistent writing is essential.  I know this sounds unrealistic since we do enough writing as it is, but developing your own voice is something that can’t be ignored.  English majors love to read and write, no matter how much stuff they have to get done.  It is what gives us encouragement in our own character and writing.

I know that some people are not confortable with sharing their writing, but this challenge has to be met if you want to further develop your voice.  Please, take a class with Professor Najberg or Professor Braggs, and then you’ll be set.

Lastly, I think reading inspires better writing.  This is where I might lose some of my readers, especially if you’re trying to read a novel a week in class, and on top of writing papers and finishing King Lear.  I get it.  I trust that the materials read in certain classes are capable of influencing better writing; however, wouldn’t it be better if we could shred through 20 pages a night in a novel?  I like that thought a lot.  Think about what your schedule will entail after college when there will be more tasks that need to be met, so why not take advantage of the time now?

I challenge myself and other students to live this life style.  Maybe it will be too stressful or not worth it. But I know from experience, that this challenge is worth practicing and mastering.  Now get a friend and start sharing your creative work.

– Adam Jones

Doing God A Favor – Fiction

 

 

Doing God a Favor

by Anonymous 

 

            The door was slammed shut behind her by the strong wind that was whipping her face as she pulled on her red coat.

            “Phew, the wind’s really whippin today isn’t it Sadie, gal” said a deep, soft voice inside her head.

            “Yeah daddy, sure is,” she whispered softly to the memory.

            She was glad that he was with her tonight. It seemed fitting that he be present for this. She flipped up the collar of her coat to block the bite of the wind and walked to the little one car garage behind her house and hopped in her truck. Red had always been her favorite color, so of course she’d picked the brightest red car on the lot. It wasn’t exactly the most conspicuous color, but in Tennessee any sort of truck blended in just fine.

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Chopping Down on Writer’s Block

One of the biggest challenges for me as a writer is coming up with something worth writing about and more importantly, something others will find worth reading. Often times I notice that instead of working around that obstacle, I let it block me from writing anything, which isn’t good for someone who aspires to be a famous author one day. Working toward a minor in creative writing however challenges me to face my writer’s block everyday. It also allows me to explore other types of writing styles and techniques and how to incorporate the things I’m learning into my own style.

In one of my writing classes, I read a literacy narrative by Peter Elbow, an author of several books and papers and a retired English professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While discussing Elbow, my professor mentioned a writing concept Elbow commonly discusses: free writing. Free writing is an exercise where you set a time limit, however long or short you want. Find paper and something to write with, and then start writing whatever is on your mind. Your pen or pencil isn’t supposed to leave the paper until time runs out.

When I first heard about this, I honestly thought I would still have nothing interesting to write about. I thought there must be some rules or topic I had to use. Nope! The only thing you have to do is keep going. Don’t stop to re-read what you just wrote or edit. You just simply write whatever is on your mind – whether that is your opinion on Miley Cyrus, what you’ve done so far that day, or the fact that your hand hurts from writing. Just keep on writing. Trust me, you might be surprised to find out where this little exercise takes you. I certainly was! 

 

–Madeline Chambliss 

Crafting the Personal Essay: A Review

“It is not what happens to us in our lives that makes us into writers; it is what we make out of what happens to us.” Dinty W. Moore penned this statement in his book, Crafting the Personal Essay. Moore has written several creative nonfiction books and published many personal essays. Moore is now the director of Ohio University’s undergraduate and graduate Creative Writing program, and his experience with teaching greatly affects his writing.

I was assigned Crafting the Personal Essay in one of my UTC creative writing classes, and honestly, I simply expected just another text book—dry reading that I would have to sift through simply for a grade. However, the wisdom behind Moore’s words astonished me, and inspiration quickly ensued.

One of the most impressive elements of Moore’s work is the context he gives for the Personal Essay as a genre. He lays out the conversation people are having today regarding the personal essay in an accurate and understandable way. Moore explains that some believe the genre is “naval gazing” and self-centered. However, he persuasively argues that this genre is concerned with developing the writer as a human being, and that this development is extremely important. He also puts the personal essay in a historical context by referring to ancient and brilliant essayist such as St. Augustine and Thoreau. This genre has existed for centuries, which means that it should have some position in culture.

In addition to this impressive argument that Moore puts forth, he provides encouragement for the beginning writer, writing exercises and prompts, and tips on how to fight writer’s block. Crafting the Personal Essay is a brilliant guide toward success. I walked away from reading it with a new desire to write and fresh ideas about topics. Moore’s words have given me freedom to produce terrible first drafts, and receive hundreds of rejection letters. He has provided information on how I can grow as a writer, and how I can make my own life seem somewhat interesting. I would recommend this book to any aspiring writer because the tools Moore provides are priceless and useful when attempting to write creative nonfiction.

But A Background On Which To Paint The Dreams: The Episodic Novel

Books and reading as we know it are changing and I think most contemporary readers can feel it. With the advent of eBooks, podcasts, the omnipresence of the Internet, the decline of bookstores, and, hell, even books themselves, there is a seismic shift occurring in what we’ve known as reading and literature. I believe as information and entertainment has become more and more immediate (hulu, reddit, google, facebook, netflix) readers have been less inclined to work through monster pieces of literature like War and Peace, Moby Dick, or Gravity’s Rainbow. And I’m among them; it took me almost a whole semester to get through Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree even though I obsessed and loved it. Alongside the decline of readership and reader’s attention span, or what Douglas Glover calls the rise of the “Post-Literate Age”, there has been a surge of a new form of media: the episodic television show. These shows—like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, and even way back to The Sopranos—are television programs unlike all which have come before. The shows largely act as long, serialized movies that can be watched stripped of each other but work better when watched chronologically. And these are great programs, acclaimed by both critics and viewers, and have risen in popularity as streaming content from the Internet has become almost effortless.

So what do these shows mean for reading and books? First of all, people will always love reading and that will likely never go away, while the form and classic structure of the books and novels might change. It’s my belief that has readers’ attention spans shorten and the demand for intense, segmented narratives rises in popular, novels will become more episodic in scope. Or should I say, will once again be episodic, as fragmented novels are no strangers in American literature. Sherwood Anderson’s classic Winesburg, Ohio is one of the most lauded novels of the early twentieth century and is essentially a collection of self-contained, linked stories about a character named George Willard as he grows up, gets a job, falls in love a few times, then eventually leaves the fictional Winesberg. Subsequently, the stories collected in the book read like a segmented narrative of George Willard’s upbringing rather than a linear, rising action based narrative. And Winesberg, Ohio is not alone in the cannon, as William Faulkner’s Light In August, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, and, again, Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree are all composed of tense, short narratives that build on each other for a final effect.

With Junot Díaz receiving the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and a Nation Book Award nod for his most recent story collection This Is How You Lose Her, it could be said that the reemergence of the episodic novel is already upon us. When I purchased Díaz’s new book, I honestly had no idea it was even a short story collection, as it wasn’t indicated on the cover. Before buying the book, I had only briefly glanced over some reviews and figured I’d give the book a try, considering the acclaim. Maybe I read too passively, but it wasn’t until I reached the midpoint of the book that I realized the book was indeed a short story collection and not a novel. I had no idea. Each story flowed so well and chronologically into the next that I thought the novel was just experimental and nonlinear, as almost all the stories are based on the same family and the upbringing of their two sons. Now, after having read the whole thing, I am still not convinced that Díaz didn’t intend it to be a novel. The pieces are obviously linked and each story adds an aspect to the ongoing narrative and the eventual ending that reading the stories apart wouldn’t make much sense and might seem half full. It be like trying to jump into Sons of Anarchy half way through season two, it just wouldn’t work as the viewer might be able to infer what’s incurring in a scene, but has no idea why any of the action is occurring. With all that said, I think This Is How You Lose Her is an amazing book, but am still bent on the idea that it’s more of a novel than story collection.

Some writers might balk at the idea of conforming their art for their readership, but I think the episodic novel would be a cool form to come into popularity, as the writer must appeal to the reader in both the short and long forms. Instead of idealizing the past, maybe we as readers should think that maybe we’re just now doing this whole novel thing correctly and that in fact Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice are too long and cumbersome. I am in full favor of writers making the fewest amount of words go the furthest and trying to make each scene powerful and concise, as the episodic novel often demands.

Winter Is Coming: A Review of A Game Of Thrones

In the epic series A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin creates a world of noteworthy political intrigue and drama with complex plot lines and dozens of characters and even more supporting characters to keep the reader thoroughly interested from start to finish. The first book in the series, A Game Of Thrones, introduces the reader to a time when kings rule the land and dragons and direwolves, enormous canines, are as common as deer. In this beautifully crafted fantasy, summers span years, winters last for decades, and winter is coming (figuratively and literally) as two pivotal families pit against each other for the race to rule the kingdom. As the tension rises, sacrifices are made on both sides. These incidences lead to a rising war for the throne. The knights and strongholds of the seven kingdoms are forced to choose sides and everyone is out for blood. After all, “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

When George R. R. Martin first came up with the idea of A Song Of Ice And Fire in 1991, he had envisioned the story being a detailed trilogy, but nothing more. After the first installment, A Game Of Thrones, which was released in 1996, he says that he had to rethink his strategy as more characters began to develop and plot lines grew thicker. Many critics of Martin suggested that he had gotten in over his head with the immense detail and the overwhelming number of characters that the reader is introduced to in the first book. Martin insists, however, that while he may have made it “too big,” he is still determined to see the story through and he promises to not disappoint his readers.

With all of the characters being so spread apart at the end of A Game Of Thrones, now also an award-winning television show on HBO, the reader is left to wonder how they will ever find their way back to each other and where the story will continue from here. Fortunately, Martin states that it has “always been [his] intent, as with The Lord Of The Rings, that eventually it would curve around and they would start moving back together.” Although the project has certainly expanded beyond the original trilogy limitation—the series currently consists of five books but is predicted to have as many as eight—Martin assures readers that “if [he] can pull it all off the way [he] want[s] hopefully it will be great.” The first book in the series is proof enough that George R. R. Martin is a skilled fantasy writer and definitely possesses the talent to be able to wrap up the story the way he wants to do so. In the end, I am quite confident that he will have “something huge and epic, with a cast of thousands and many different settings” as he set out to have when he originally began The Song Of Ice And Fire series over a decade ago.

Literary Haunts of Chattanooga.

Most, if not all, great literature is specifically grounded in a certain place or geography. Think about it: Twain’s Mississippi River, Faulkner’s Jefferson, Cormac McCarthy’s American West, Joyce’s Dublin, Hemingway’s Paris, and more recently Annie Proulx’s Wyoming. Some places leave such an impression that artists cannot help but memorialize them in their work. With a flock of young writers and artists emerging in Chattanooga, one cannot help but think of what places in the city are distinct enough to be preserved in literature. Notice I’m not saying what places are “nice” or “pristine” enough for literature, as it’s not about how beautiful a place might be, but rather the individuality of the location. In a world of Chili’s, Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings (here’s looking at you Chattanooga city leaders for letting those downtown), it’s nice to think that our little scenic city is still memorable for more than just its mountains and rock gardens. What follows is a list of places that are specific enough to Chattanooga to fit well within the pages of great literature.

1. The Mountain Opry

The Mountain Opry is unforgettable. Tucked away on Signal Mountain, each Friday night the Opry hosts live bluegrass music in what seems to be an old church or schoolhouse. Having been around as long as most Chattanoogans can remember, the Opry isn’t one of those revitalization projects put on by some community development none-profit group, but simply a bunch of old timers who really like picking out old tunes and don’t mind if people stop by and listen. The smell of popcorn wafts through the air, white haired seniors nod along to the music, children sip cokes, and teenagers lean into each other in the pews. The whole scene could fit well within the pages of Wendell Berry or William Gay novel. The best part of all, the Opry is always free.

2. Lamar’s Restaurant and Chrystal Lounge

While The Mountain Opry might be family friendly, Lamar’s has become known across Chattanooga for serving the strongest drinks in town. Located on the corner of MLK and Central, Lamar’s Chrystal Lounge boasts satin wallpaper, candles on each table, a killer jukebox, and a bartender that still wears a bowtie and pressed white shirt. While most bars downtown are slammed on the weekends, Lamar’s never feels too packed or too empty, filled with a wide array of people that keep the bar from being stale and predictable. It’s easy to imagine James Agee hunched over one of the back tables nursing bourbon if he were still around.

3. Wally’s

While few would claim Wally’s has the best food in town, it wouldn’t be a surprise for many to admit the diner is still their favorite place to eat in town; and for good reason. The food is fairly priced—less than five dollars for a full breakfast or dinner—, the service is sharp, everything’s clean, the coffee is strong, and the whole restaurant has that timeless aura that only a place that’s been around longer than your grandparents can muster. Wally’s could easily be the small town diner that Truman Capote details in In Cold Blood or one of the haunts in Sherwood Anderson’s classic Winesberg, Ohio.

4. T-Bones

The appeal of T-Bones is not what it is, but what it’s not. It’s a no frills, honest bar where normal people come to drink beer, listen to music, and maybe discuss football, fishing, politics, or The Rolling Stones. It’s not slummy enough to attract a swarm of art school students or polished enough for the entirety of UTC’s Greek life, as T-Bones instead welcomes whoever needs to get away for awhile while and just be around friends. Cormac McCarthy’s Bud Suttree and his gang of misfits would be right at home in a booth choking down BBQ tacos and bottles of High Life at T-Bones, and that’s a good thing.

Writing and the Human Face

This summer, as I was kneeling among a thousand other pairs of knees in a chapel nestled into the heart of a monastic community in the rolling hills of Eastern France, I gazed on the faces of each of the monks as they glided into prayer. Their white robes billowed, covering everything but their faces. Even the tips of their fingers were swallowed in the robes. Their wrinkles seemed to be etched deeper, their ears larger, their eyes so much more vivid, as if I was looking into a body of water for the first time: the deep green lake, the hazel mountain stream, the blue-green oasis of Caribbean water.

There truly is no end to the poetry residing within the art of the human face. Olivier Clément, a French theologian, once said: “Contemplation of the human face introduces us to a drama, in the light of our origins, then the night and waiting for an eternal sun. Every face, so worn as it might be, almost destroyed… as long as we see it with the eyes of the heart, it remains unique, unrepeatable, escapes any repetition.”

It was then I wanted to link this brilliant uniqueness to words. For it to become a challenge to writers anywhere: to portray the impossibility of repetition within a human face. In one of the brothers’ workshops at the monastic community, Taizé, he focused on the human face, showing slide after slide of human faces captured by ten of the top photographers in the last century. For anyone wanting something fresh to write about, something that pulls the poetry out of you, look up these photographers and write about the stories their faces tell.

Here are just a few: Dorothea Lange, a US photographer. She was a photographer during the Great Depression that I’m convinced captured the heart of people more than any other human could. Within this photo, “Migrant Mother,” how many images, stories, and emotions can be described? 

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Or take photographer Lalage Snow, for instance. He did a series of photos of several different people, mainly soldiers and some military nurses, that took place before, during, and after the war. 

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French photographer and solider for the French army, Marc Garanger, was required to take pictures of the  Algerian villagers for their new ID cards. Olivier Laurent, in the British Journal of Photography, wrote that “in less than a year later, Garanger’s images of shamed and angry Algerian women would become a symbol of French oppression over its Northern African colony.” 

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So, to all writers experiencing writer’s block or needing something fresh, you have a world of photography at hand. It’s a great tool for writing because it is often disconnected from our own memories, and the emotional and weighty personal baggage doesn’t weigh down the poem or story. Here are some other photographers: Marcel Imsand (Switzerland), Jean Dieuzaide (France), Josef Koudelka (Czech Republic), Roman Opalka (Polish-French), and Benoit Lange (Switzerland). Find images, faces, social situations that speak to you. Then start writing.

“…Sometimes the eyes are not only the vision of light but a donation. In the undefined prisons of this world, the face is a breach, it constitutes a gap of transcendence.” –Olivia Clément 

Sweet Potato Pie and I Shut My Mouth: The Narrative Craft of Country Music.

As a writer, I often find myself delving into other mediums of art for inspiration, longing to improve my craft by taking cues from the masters of forms of media outside my own. Literature and film have always been close friends, swapping plots and characters freely, but often I find country music just as inspiring and insightful as some of my favorite books when crafting a story’s rhythm, imagery, tone, and setting. Listed are four songs with exceptionally good narratives and characters in which writers could take some cues.

  1. “Paradise”—John Prine

    Country music doesn’t get more literary than John Prine. For over thirty years now, Prine, a past Poet Laureate and Grammy winner, has been creating characters that have a vividness to rival some of Faulkner’s, but his most essential cut will always be “Paradise” from his first album. The narrator of the story, assumedly Prine, tells of taking trips as a child to his parents’ hometown, a place “beside the green river…where the air smells like snakes.” Reflecting on and longing for the places of youth has a long tradition in American literature, including in To Kill and Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn, and “Paradise” taps into the same sentiment with the lines: “When I die, I’ll let my soul roll on up to the Rochester Dam, and I’ll be half way to heaven with paradise waiting, just five miles away from where ever I am.” “Paradise” is undeniably American in both theme and imagery, and is a song in which Prine secures himself as a master of words.

  2. “Bob”—Drive-By Truckers

    Creative writing professors often advise their students that good stories put the conflict in the beginning, and I can think of few better example than when “Bob” starts: “Bob goes to church every Sunday, every Sunday that the fish aren’t biting. Bob never has to get dinner with the preacher because Bob never bothered getting married.” Few stories and fewer songs start that compellingly. “Bob” fleshes out its protagonist so clearly that it’s almost intimidating how well and concisely it’s done. So much of a character is fleshed out by a simple line like “He likes to drink a beer or two every now and again, he always had more dogs than he ever had friends.” “Bob” is pure literary elegance.

  3. “Cold Water”—Tom Waits

    Ok, ok, ok. I know Tom Waits isn’t exactly a country artist, but is liberal use of slide guitar, Appalachian junkyard banjos, double bass, and tales of heartbreak and longing make him an honorary member in my personal Country Music Hall of Fame alongside Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and The Carter Family. But no matter what genre of music is brave of enough to call Waits its own, the scenes of degradation and waste in “Cold Water” make it feel like a companion piece to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row or Cormac McCarthy’s Suttrree, as all deal with squatters and ramblers struggling to stay afloat amongst urban decay. It’s also hard to top lines like: “I look forty-seven but I’m twenty-four. They’ve shooed me away from here every time before, but I’m watching TV in the window of a furniture store.”

  4. “Greenville”—Lucinda Williams

    Lucinda Williams is to country music what Flannery O’Connor is to the short story. Both womens’ work is so powerful and wonderfully jarring that it’s hard to imagine a time without them, as their influence on their respective mediums is so profound. Much like O’Connor’s work, “Greenville” is small tragedy coursing with both dark comic undertones and naked emotionalism. There are few better lines in contemporary country music than, “You drink hard liquor, come on strong, loose your temper whenever someone looks at you wrong.”

Gender Bending and Shakespeare

In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of attention given to possible homoerotic and non-binary gender themes and characters in the works of William Shakespeare. Sonnet 20 is considered by many scholars and spectators to be the most palpable example of these themes in Shakespearean sonnets:

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

At first glance it might appear that this sonnet was written about a woman, but that is definitely not the case. The second line makes this very clear, when the individual is referred to as the “master-mistress of my passion”. Once the revelation has been made that this sonnet is indeed about a male, the first line takes on a new meaning; this male has a “woman’s face”; that is to say he is likely very lovely and effeminate. Shakespeare then goes on to describe this man as being more desirable than a woman is, and then obviously is described once more as being a male, “A man in his hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling”. As this sonnet goes on, it gets more and more interesting: Shakespeare is in essence writing that this man was originally made a woman, until nature literally “prick’d” him out; that is to say, endowed him with a penis, thus causing the narrator (presumably a male as well, given the conflict and lamenting tone present in this sonnet) to say that nature has defeated him by an “addition”, “by adding one thing to my purpose nothing”. It is also stated that he was pricked out for women’s pleasure, i.e. given a penis in order to naturally please a woman (and not a man, furthering conflict), and this pleasure is the “treasure” mentioned in the last line. The homoerotic implications and gender bending in this sonnet are quite obvious when the sonnet is re-read with close attention to detail, and not taken at face value.