Saturday, August 29, 2009

Making Things Work

I have to teach a class in creative writing as part of my MFA requirement. In academic parlance it's a practicum. Every field has its jargon, I guess.

Bottom line, I have to teach at least three people for 15 hours. I called up the junior college in this burg a while back to see if I could do that in their continuing education program. I thought a class that was part of an established program would be more fun and more beneficial to me. I also figured since they had a marketing program in place it would go smoother i.e. I wouldn't have to do the marketing.

Turned out they hadn't had anyone to offer creative writing in a while, so they signed me up. But it seems the class didn't "make." That's another use of academic parlance. We all know what make means in the more colloquial parlance. Yeah, "make" is what I seem to be left with a big pile of for what seem to be a variety of Catch-22s.

Happily, sometimes things seem to fall into place even when make happens. I discovered three people in my day-to-day encounters who were interested in taking the class. When one of them called to register that's how we found out it had apparently been cancelled. I'd worried about that happening, but I really stayed pretty subdued when I got that word.

The potential participant noted almost instantly that her minister is extremely community minded and opens the doors to provide a venue for many different groups and issues, so I called him up, talked things over, and he said he was down with it and that he'd be the observer I needed for one session.

So, after a little coordination with the other guys who'd expressed interest, looks like we have a creative writing class for the month of September.

While I'm a writer, I can't deny the virtues of direct sales techniques.

The Lesson Plan
My plan is to focus on wringing the cliches out of ideas, look at how to build a story from the nucleus of a core idea then focus in-depth on character and plot development and how character and plot feed each other.

I'd planned to look a little at how John Goodman's character drives the story in "The Big Lebowski," but we may forego clips from that since the language is maybe a little indelicate for a church venue.

I'll start putting flyers around to see if we can attract a few more participants to, er, make things interesting.

With any luck, this project will turn out to be "The Make!"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Twisted Tales: The Lime Works

My current MFA advisor has a reading list that was given to him by a professor of his, though he's refined it a bit. It's a wonderfully eclectic collection of titles, and I'm happy to have learned of a book called The Lime Works from that list.

It's a book that may not be to all tastes. It's a rather eccentric work, and I had to get it via interlibrary loan because it's momentarily out of print, thus used-copy costs have sky-rocketed, but I believe it's scheduled for re-publishing next year as a mass market paperback.

Originally published in German, it is the tale of Konrad, an eccentric scholar denied formal education by his parents but determined in later years to craft a masterwork on the science of hearing.

Toward that end, he thwarts a cousin's efforts to prohibit his purchase of a vast, abandoned lime works and moves his invalid wife to the dark, cold plant to conduct hearing experiments to contribute to the perfect book he's convinced resides inside his head.

Author Thomas Bernhard tells Konrad's story in a manner that virtually puts the reader inside the character's twisted mind, though it's not a point of view story exactly. Instead the virtually stream-of-consciousness narrative is the amalgamation of several accounts compiled by an insurance man after Konrad's murder of his wife, which occurs on the opening page.

It's a twisted, dark tale of obsession, madness and one of the worst cases of writer's block ever. If you see a copy for under $40 grab it, and immerse yourself for a little while in the chilly, shadowy world of the lime works.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Cooking Shows And the End of Life

I think the gist of Michael Pollan's New York Times Magazine piece "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch," which coincides with the release of the Meryl Streep movie about Julia Child, Julie and Julia, is that more people are watching cooking shows than actually cooking.

Sometimes that's not a bad thing.

I do a fair amount of culinary work at home, so I might not fit the pattern described, but I had occasion to watch The Food Network a good bit a few years ago. It helped pass the time as I sat with my mom in hospital rooms on a few different occasions, and I recalled that as I perused Mr. Pollan's article.

My mother was a home economics teacher for most of her career, an expert on food preparation, and sewing. Her memory had faded by the time she neared the end of her days, so I sought things that might seem familiar to her such as food preparation.

She never really developed much of an interest in the shows, but I sat watching, whiling those endless hours between doctor visits as she fought one condition or another. In a trapped situation, any diversion becomes more engrossing.

It winds up being an oddly fond memory now that she's about a year gone, not the best of memories by far, but a pleasant moment. Sitting with her, watching Emeril prepare a chicken dish or one of the other hosts dishing pasta or barbecue rubs.

Watching those shows provided peaceful lulls between the strife-filled moments. They were just entertainment, not instructional shows. They were something we could share in a strange way, something my mother might once have appreciated but couldn't fully on her slow journey toward the end.

I printed out some of the recipes from the web later. They're in the folder with all of our recipes, but I've never attempted any of them.

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