Final Exam tomorrow

Tomorrow I'm giving a final exam in the writing class I've been teaching at a local college. In this case, it truly is better to give than to receive — they're going to be working their heinies off — but as far as exams go, it's got nuttin' on Monstro's epic midterm that he gave on Friday. He told me the subject and I nearly went catatonic. I'm telling myself it's only because I've not read the book upon which it was based, but I think I'm just sweet-talking myself with that excuse.

My gradebooks are up to date and I'm a bit paranoid that our second class newsletter isn't going to be published because the lead story is an investigation into whether the standards are declining at this college. So that's why I didn't get to sleep until 1:00 this morning.

Other than that? Not much, except the MacArthur Maze melted — see for yourself at SF

“Infinite Jest”-ing

I think I've mentioned that I'm reading three books this year: Infinite Jest, Gravity's Rainbow, and Finnegans Wake. Why? Because I'm not feeling as accomplished as one ought to at the ripe age of mid-30s. And also, it's fun to be an intellectual.

NOTE: Spoilers are in this, but not until the end, and they're clearly marked, so you can read half of this post and then ignore the rest if you want to.

I'm about 250 pages into Rainbow right now; the only problem I have with it is I keep flashing back to Jest, which is a truly incredible book that achives the impossible: even after finishing the 1,000+ page book, you want more. The only other book(s) I've read that've accomplished this feat are the Ring trilogy tomes.

(Get it? Ring tomes! Funny!)

Anyway, I finished Infinite Jest in March and it continues to stick with me. In fact, I find myself eschewing GR some nights, in order to re-read a favorite section of the Jest. There are many: The end. The beginning. Eschaton. Standardized Time, and the creation of O.N.A.N. (which hearkens to the Sin of Onan). The fight with the pissed-off Hawaiians, brought to a head by scumbag Randy Lenz. The hugging at the NA meeting. The dissection of the personality of Charles Tavis. The defenestration. Oh, somebody stop me.

I think that it's important, when embarking upon a major work of literature, NOT to read any introductions or essays on the subject until you've completed the work. Otherwise, how can you come up with your own idea of what really happens, and why the book is important?

(Granted, I'm ahead of the game with GR, because Monstro's read it three times and has regaled me with the best and worst parts of it for years now. I am not to be held accountable for the ideas of the man to whom I am married. Anywhoo…)

The Jest kept me reading because 1) it's funny and 2) its wordplay is extraordinary. Beyond that, the freedom of writing a book that takes a ream of paper to print is that the author has plenty of room to expand his secondary, tertiary, and quadriary (sp? if it's a word at all) characters. The brothers Pemulis, Ortho “The Darkness” Stice, Bruce Green (sweet old Bruce). Their well-roundedness only enhances the IJ universe. And while I could have done without the mostly expository meeting of the operatives/spies on the hill, such expansion keeps the novel interesting, even when the main characters (mostly Hal) start to sink into inexcusable self-pity.

In addition, the hundred-plus pages of footnotes at the end of the book are granted the same treatment as the tertiary characters — they bestow additional information upon the lucky reader. While much of this information is pharmacological to the point where your garden-variety reader (moi) isn't enlightened by it, other bits are informative, educational, hilarious, or a combination of the three. It is in the footnotes where we first learn to what the title refers. And it's fun to read a book that requires not one, but two bookmarks. (One of mine was a Mary Engelbrect that said “Miss Smarty.”)

The parallel time of the beginning and the end of IJ hearkens to Richard Powers and Hamlet. But (and the rest of this post is a SPOILER, but only if I'm right), nobody I've read seems to understand what actually happens. Here's my take on it:

Don Gately's on his way out at the end of the book. In fact, the last 100 pages of flashback of his big drug binge gone bad dovetails beautifully with Hal's drug binge gone bad at the beginning of the book (which is truly the most surprising opening 30 pages of any book I've ever read). With his binge at the opening of the novel, Hal has cemented his impending junkie-dom. This is why he and Don have a melding of the minds. Don is dying, and Hal is taking over Don's path from addiction to redemption. They are both trying to save the copy of IJ from the grave of Hal's father; a film that reduces its viewers to a junkie-like state, but more dangerous because the people watching the film can watch it on infinite loop, never needing to sober up enough to go score again.

Hal's memory of eating the mold is the first step he takes toward becoming a drug addict, though he's too little to even be aware of it at the time. We never learn how he gets ahold of the DMZ(?), which is frustrating and yet true-to-life; can anyone be aware of when it is they turn the corner to Addiction Road?

Could David Foster Wallace have tied things up a little more neatly? Sure. It feels like we're missing a number of weeks between the end and the recursive beginning. But these weeks, I think, are covered by Don Gately's hospital-bed stream-of-consciousness thoughts, which means he is thinking of Hal at the same moment Hal thinks of Don. It's done the same way as the end of Richard Powers' Plowing the Dark, only it's done in a more creative and brilliant manner, because the book Infinite Jest is the same as the film Infinite Jest — a mobius strip, with no beginning and no end. Much to the dismay of the film's viewers, and the book's readers, because if I don't stop re-picking through the Jest, I'm never going to finish Gravity's Rainbow, to say nothing of Finnegans Wake.

Critique went well

Well, Monstro read Count of Three last night and said I've “turned a corner with this piece,” found it “deeply philosophical” and “surprising.” Which is great news. Just amazing. I was so jazzed all night, didn't go to bed until well after midnight (and am paying the price for that today).

I also had a guitar lesson today with the senior guitar hero of Mytown. What an excellent teacher he is. I learned more in 30 minutes than most would learn in hours and hours. It helps, I think, that I “get” what he was saying — he said that a lot of guitarists can usually do things one way or the other but not grasp them both — and even though he's got a full plate of students (I got in today on a cancellation), he endeth the lesson by saying that he could always come in half an hour early on weekdays, just tell the staff that he said it was OK for them to call him and schedule an early appt. So I guess we both felt it went well. I'm going to work on all the stuff he taught me and give him a call in a couple of weeks to go in again.

I bought a strap for my guitar today before the lesson, and had difficulty putting my strapped guitar back into my gear bag.

“It's harder to zip up the bag, now that there's a strap on it,” I said.

“No, it's because your guitar is stuffed full of more notes. Makes it fatter,” he replied. 🙂

Another First Draft in the Can

…and by “in the can” I mean “done,” not “in the toilet.”

I have completed a 12-page first draft of Anna And…. One thing I know that's better about it from when I started writing it is the title. It is now called Count of Three, which is such a better title I hardly know what to do with myself. Goodbye, Rural Juror!

Thanks to the two playwrights who had their work read at Mytown's Playwright's Lab tonight — their work was good and quirky and a whole lot from nothing and it inspired me to finally get off my butt and finish this thing.

Best quote from lab tonight: {Motormouth], you are an endless fount of information.

My reply: I know a little bit about a lot of things that don't matter.

I should give props to Monstro, though, who told me that ghosts can't cross running water, which one of the playwrights didn't know, even though her pages featured a ghost who lived near a brook. Thanks, honey. He's reading Count of Three right now, under strict orders to only tell me what he likes about it tonight, and to save the criticism for another time. Because really, a woman can only take so much, and, after all, he's kind of a dick.

Taking Requests

I have been navigating the waters of AT&T and local childcare this week, which at times has sent me screaming to my electic guitar, because a girl's got to make SOME noise and primal-scream therapy would probably upset our little one. This is how my set list is coming along, in no particular order:


Wish You Were Here (complete with tab intro)

The Alphabet Song/Baa Baa Black Sheep/Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Itsy Bitsy Spider


Mr. Jones

Rain King

True Colors

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay (cause a girl can't be too homesick)

Horse with No Name (two chords! Whoot!)

… and I'm sure there are more but they're not coming to me right now.

My ultimate goal is to learn a bunch of these songs, lyrics and music, and then go to Mytown's Main Street and sing with the various homeless folks who busk on the sidewalk. Help 'em earn a little more coin, you know? In the meanwhile, I'm looking for more songs to learn… any requests?


The following tidbit was posted on my luncheon table at the college where I teach:


THINK OF THESE FAMOUS RIVERS WITH NOTABLE DELTAS: the Amazon, the Niger, the Mississippi, the Sacramento-San Joaquin, the Rhine, the Danube, the Volga, the Tigris-Euphrates, the Indus, and the Mekong.

Corporate Duality

You know that any morning that starts with a call to AT&T ain't gonna be good. AT&T has restricted our long-distance use, though the payment center says our account is paid in full. AT&T has a voicemail tree that's like a freaking' 1000-year-old redwood. Menus upon menus upon menus. And once you've navigated to where you think you want to be, deafening tones burst forth from the handset and then they disconnect you. Effers.

And while I'm on the subject of corporate duality, does anyone out there belong to a bank whose ATMs and deposit envelopes both tell you to insert your deposits with the same face-up/face-down instructions?

In the meanwhile, I've been transferred to AT&T tech support. Pray for me.

Mountains of Grading, etc.

Only a couple more weeks left in the classes I'm teaching, which equates to a mountain of grading. I had the writing class write in-class obituaries on Monday; poor timing, as we were just learning of the Virginia Tech tragedy, but as obitiuaries are often seen as a thankless job to be foisted upon the lowest-ranked copy editor, I felt it necessary to impart some wisdom on the subject. Frankly, I'm glad I did — the ladies really cranked it up for this one, and I learned interesting cocktail-party tidbits about Steven Spielberg, Reba McIntyre, and Ludacris, among others. Two ladies wrote about Oprah, and the two girls who sit in the very back row each wrote about a cast member from The Golden Girls, which made me giggle. Talk about a research job — one chose Estelle Getty! I'm happy to announce that the lowest grade on this assignment was 17/20, which shows how far they've come in not many weeks.

I'm working through the picture stories that my photo class turned in and they're all decent. It's tough to grade them on a technical aspect because the laser printer in our classroom is so shoddy, so I'm giving most of the ladies the benefit of the doubt, and I'm trying to save what I think will be the best story for last, so it doesn't wreck the curve for everyone else.

In the midst of all this the weather has gone from crappy and snowy to seventy degrees and beautiful, so we took a family break today and took baby to the park, where he emulated Monstro by climbing up the slide and getting sunscreen in his eyes. Those two are definitely related, no doubt about it. We came home and plopped baby into the bathtub — I bathed him while Monstro made mochas and snacks. What a guy! Baby is sleeping it off now, and I'm taking a grading break. Oh, and I wrote a script for a puppet show we're doing at church tomorrow — it announces the pancake breakfast we're holding to celebrate “The Week of the Young Child.” It was fun trying to think of things that rhyme with Young Child (Monstro is George in this script, while I'm Gracie). My favorite was “Dung MIld,” but Monstro won't let me say “dung” in church. Spoilsport.

Need to sign off and finish my grading because Mr. and Mrs. Beck from Beck's Blog will be gracing our town with a visit tomorrow. I'd call the mayor, but she just had brain surgery (the mayor, not Beck), so I'll not bother her this time. Next time, maybe. In the meanwhile, my brilliant friend Anne just started three blogs: Anne Jennings Paris, Another Brilliant Idea, and Annie Bobannie Books. Go check 'em out posthaste. You won't be sorry.

Gun control or psychiatric drug control?

So of course the comments at the SF Chronicle's Web site are all aflame about gun control and immigration control, vis a vis Monday's tragedy at Virginia Tech. But only one news outlet so far has reported that the gunman was on psychiatric medication and had been increasingly erratic the past number of weeks.

Psych drugs are a touchier subject than gun control and immigration combined. I was on one such drug one time in my whole life, after being victimized during a violent crime as an undergraduate. It was an anti-anxiety drug that caused an idiopathic reaction within me. To this day I'm convinced that only my camera saved my life; I could either kill myself, or take some pictures. Twisted pictures… a Barbie doll trying to off herself. A pencil in an electric pencil sharpener, spattered with stage blood and sporting a “Goodbye, Cruel World” sign.

I stopped taking the drugs that morning and found other ways to deal with the insomnia and anxiety. Audiogenic therapy worked great.

As I see it, the biggest problem with psychiatric medications is that everyone's body chemistry is different, and no matter how many people are in the FDA testing groups, they're never going to be able to test one of every person. And it only takes one person to have a bad reaction and cause a horrible tragedy.