Total Eclipse of the Art

September 25, 2010 — 3 Comments

What kind of writer am I?

Fiction writer. Creative nonfiction writer. Occasional blog writer.

But more and more these days: Proposal writer. Application writer. Dossier writer. Student paper feedback writer. Email writer. Check writer.

The art is being eclipsed by the job, the classes, the committees, the email barrage. Once upon a time there was light in my life, but now there’s only love in the dark. There’s nothing I can do…

Or is there?

Maybe there is something I can do. I already accept the fact that the rhythm of my life is less like an airy but steady pop beat and more like a Beethoven symphony with constant change and multiple movements. I have bursts of syllabus writing that yield to bursts of story writing; long nights of paper grading that finally give way to my own work; periods of application writing (for grants and awards) that yield again to a burst of creative writing.

Each academic semester builds in intensity like the plot of a good potboiler. It begins with a new crop of characters, builds (sometimes unsteadily) toward midterm, and threatens to destroy professor and students alike near the end. Will the professor heroine survive yet another semester? It is never a sure thing.

So I succumb to the rhythms of academic life and fight for the right to, well, write.

But right now it’s pretty early in the semester, and for the first time since I arrived at IUSB I am teaching three courses I’ve actually taught before, so things should be good with my own writing. But I realize that my “writing” time is totally absorbed by other kinds of writing.

This weekend, for example, I have to finish a Study Abroad Program Proposal for a Berlin-Prague course I’m offering with a colleague (approx. 10 single-spaced pages), work on a teaching award application (30 single-spaced pages), respond to a 7-page proposal for a Master’s Thesis, and provide feedback on approximately 60 student poems. I’m reading books with titles like, The Academic Portfolio, The Course Syllabus, and The Teaching Portfolio.

I actually enjoy this kind of writing and thinking. So much of each day is spent darting physically and mentally from one place to the next, so I like to stop and reflect on what I’m doing (as a teacher, writer, etc.) and on what I hope to do. But I get caught in a loop of the same words: engage, demonstrate, objectives, promote, encourage, etc. Every sample teaching portfolio sounds exactly like the last teaching portfolio: “Students and instructors must be partners in the learning process” (Technology Instructor, 252); “My teaching methods are consistent with my philosophy and are designed to promote shared and authentic interaction as well as student empowerment and civic engagement (Nursing, 297); “Fundamentally, teaching and learning is a process of evolving self-discovery, analysis, integration, and action” (Religion, 315). [All quotes from The Teaching Portfolio by Peter Seldin.]

Writing these applications is like writing genre fiction: it’s basically the same story, with different characters, over and over.

(Every now and then I get a little bit restless and I dream of something wild.)

So, what can I do?

(Turn around bright eyes.)

I can renew my commitment to my writing. Not just to my submitting and my promoting and my scheduling of readings (which are other activities I’m doing these days), but to my actual writing. Oh sure, it lacks the deadlines and the demands of others and the instant rewards, but isn’t that what makes it all the more necessary? All the more valuable? That it somehow exists outside of all that? That it uses language differently, says something that hasn’t already been said a dozen times?

It’s only 10:40 p.m., well shy of midnight. I’ve still got time to write.

(Forever’s gonna start tonight...)



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3 responses to Total Eclipse of the Art

  1. 

    Great post, Kelcey. I’m always very goofily afraid of this; that if I even get that first book out, that I’ll become very complacent afterward, forget that it’s only a beginning, one endeavor / collection of words among so many that are there assuming I can keep up the work, which is always so much harder than I thought it’d be, so much harder than the brilliant ones ever made it seem (how easy the Bukowski’s and Lorrie Moore’s of the world make it all look).

    R.

  2. 

    Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for checking in and sharing my musings. The thing to be careful about, I guess, is (are?) all the other activities that can take over a writing life. (Usually related to bill-paying.)

    For me it’s not so much complacency as committee work. During an eclipse the sun is still there, it’s just not visible because the damn moon is in the way.

    I take great heart in the fact that Lorrie Moore is a SLOW writer (she teaches, raises her son, etc.). This last novel took her most of a decade.

    Well, the good news is that I’ll get to hear your poetry this week! 🙂

    kp

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. ProfPost » Blog Archive » What say ye? - November 22, 2010

    […] My question, which, I think, sort of relates to Toor’s, is more about using language that means something. And maybe it isn’t a question at all. I will be compiling my tenure dossier this year, and when I write about my teaching, for example, I wonder if it’s possible to: A. avoid using words like engage, facilitate, promote, encourage, or B. use those words and have them mean anything at all. (I pondered this question differently and more extensively here.) […]

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