A Presumption of Interaction: Readers, Writers, and Fanfic

There’s been a conversation circulating on tumblr of late about “the culture of fanfiction”: namely, about how in the Good Old Days on LiveJournal and Fanfiction.net, people left comments on fanfic, but now, on Archive of Our Own (AO3), they rarely do. Commenters also associate this shift with a change in readers’ attitudes towards fic writers. This shift, folks argue, has been from one of gratitude towards one of demand in which readers expect stories to be crafted to meet their preferences in pairing, plot, sexual situations, etc., and get pissed off when stories don’t do what they want them to.

Something about these discussions has nagged at me all week.

Admittedly, I’m relatively new to the fanfiction game; I know next to nothing about LJ and even less about Ff.net. I’ve cut my teeth as a fic reader and writer on AO3, the Grindr of fanfic, where the next story is just one swipe away. Perhaps that will make you take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. To wit:

Writers, your readers don’t owe you anything.

They don’t owe you a kudos, or a reblog, or a comment, or any sort of public recognition at all. No matter how long you worked on it, how much research you did, how much of yourself you invested into its lines: readers don’t owe you a thing.

Continue reading “A Presumption of Interaction: Readers, Writers, and Fanfic”

Collaborating With A Fine (Not So Young) Cannibal

gorgeous two shot from potage

I made this pact with myself that I wasn’t going to write about NBC’s Hannibal. Not in an academic way, at least. For all of its gore, its elegant violence that can make cruelty taste like art, I didn’t want to engage with it on a critical level because I love it too damn much.

Continue reading “Collaborating With A Fine (Not So Young) Cannibal”

10 Things I Never Thought I’d Learn In Grad School

  1. How to spell “Apocalypse.”
  2. What it’s like to go to your student’s funeral.
  3. How to drink bourbon straight.
  4. That I’m really good at writing porn.
  5. That cats can get asthma.
  6. What it’s like to get a tattoo. Or two.
  7. That I’m a kick-ass teacher of literature.
  8. That writing at its best is always a collaboration.
  9. That Twitter is my lifeblood.
  10. That academia may not be for me.

Writing is a road trip

A moment of horror in the copy room. That’s where this post started.

A moment of horror borne of another instructor’s handout, one that simultaneously reduced and universalized the writing “process” to a tick sheet of dos, don’ts, and otherwise. Writing is a formula, this handout shouted, one that I, as your instructor, have licked. Follow these steps, do exactly as I say though I don’t explain why, and I’ll give you an A.

I wish that I’d saved it, this castoff from another classroom, but at the time, all I wanted to do was escape it.

As a writer, as someone who teaches writing, I see composition as a road trip: you point the car in a general direction and let the road take you where it may.

Sure, you might have some idea of where you want to end up–you might choose a particular highway to take over another, after all–but you’re open to diversions, to side trips off of what you thought was the main route. And you’re willing to let those diversions rewrite your travel plans entirely.

Such an approach, however, doesn’t neatly line up with the ways in which many instructors teach writing as a “process.” While early discussions of writing-as-process made note of the messiness involved, much of that acknowledgement has been stripped away in the professionalization/commodification of composition. In place of such mess, a process designed for a flow chart, for easy replicability in any classroom, with any students, any instructor, because of course, all writers—especially first year writers!–are alike.

tumblr_newt7kyW081t3mjj1o1_500

Yeah, no. No no no.

One of those steps in the “process” that makes me particularly enraged is forcing students to write a “thesis statement” before they start writing an essay. See also: the horrifying “write a topic sentence for each paragraph before you start writing the essay” variant.

Let’s talk for a second about why this tactic often frustrates the crap out of students and, bonus, results in boring, slack-tastic writing:

Look, when you put these restrictions on students’ writing, you’re reinforcing the idea that a writer should know exactly what she or he wants to say before they sit down at the keyboard. You are preventing a student from writing, period. Continue reading “Writing is a road trip”

Composition’s Industrial Turn (And The Question of Who’s Left Holding the Wheel)

Ok, a quick trip down disciplinary history lane:

As Geoffrey Sirc and others have noted, composition had a choice to make back in the 1960s, when it began to behave (and thus be recognized as) a discipline: a) to fashion itself as an integral part of the university’s mechanics, thus ensuring its survival; or b), to keep on keeping on as its own weird, inscrutable thing, one whose value the university itself was likely to recognize.

In his book English Composition as a Happening, Sirc talks about this in terms of theater: composition could either become a scripted drama or remain more akin to a “happening,” a particular kind of immersive, often improvisational theater in the 60s and 70s that valued the unexpected rather than the preordained. As an audience member, you were never quite sure what to expect from happening, which were often staged in industrial spaces 180 degrees from a traditional proscenium stage and called upon each member of the audience to move independently throughout the play space. The expectation was that each individual would have a distinct experience with the play and its actors; no two encounters with the text were the same.

Of course, as Sirc bemoans, composition moved away from the spirit of the happening and towards formalization within the official structure of the university. As a discipline, composition valued its own legibility and viability over what Sirc constructs as its original, free-spirited ways–and this, for him, marks a tremendous loss of possibility and opportunity. Composition, he seems to suggest, chose to be boring. And that sucks.

I was reminded of Sirc’s argument today when reading through the website of a composition program at a land-grant university in the United States. Since I only came upon this site because of my job search, you’ll forgive me if I don’t identify which one it is (and if I complicate the quotes below a bit to obscure identifying details). That said, what’s of import here is not the university’s location, but the way in which it talks about the values of its composition program.

To wit, the program attempts to “advance [the university’s] mission to pursue academic excellence in the context of writing instruction. Undergraduate composition courses . . . help students [to become more effective] writers and researchers by [offering students]. . . flexible strategies for researching and composing texts.”

On solid ground so far. But then, there’s this: guess who is charged with “advancing” this central element of the university’s mission? Yes, they’ve chosen those who traditionally possess the least amount of teaching experience—grad students who are new to the university themselves.

Continue reading “Composition’s Industrial Turn (And The Question of Who’s Left Holding the Wheel)”

Audience, Purpose, Angst

So the final, painful push of grad school is on and, to be honest, it kind of sucks.

On the one hand, there’s great promise: I’m almost done!

On the other, there’s great pain: Yeah, but, you’re not done yet and oh hey, how’s that job search going?

derek hale wth

Right.

Continue reading “Audience, Purpose, Angst”

If Borges Wrote My Job Letter

After a night of Seagram’s 7, I’m a bit of a better headspace today. Am even feeling up to engaging with that anxious octopus of an academic genre: the job letter.

Maybe it’s my obsession with narrative, but it feels like a key part of said letter (and the job search in general) will be to show potential employers how all of the seemingly disparate pieces of my work as a scholar fit together into a coherent whole.

This issue came up for me in a roundabout way last fall, when our department was involved in a hiring search. In reading through candidates’ CVs, I kept looking for the story: I wanted to know how conference presentations X and Y and publication Z lead the candidate to do a dissertation on A. That shows my bias right there, I guess, because I assumed there was a connection, one that could be discerned by me, the grad student, in looking at a potential future colleague’s CV. And I got frustrated, if not irritated, when I couldn’t find one.

However, when I asked a faculty member whom I trust about this, she said, in essence: no one cares how the pieces fit together. To me, she seemed to be implicitly suggesting that as long as you’re doing the “right” things in publications, conferences, etc., the big picture–the grand narrative arc of yourself as a researcher–is irrelevant. Which, I have to admit, makes no sense to me. But what the hell do I know?

The more I learn about this job search thing, the more I think: not a hell of a lot.

Maybe narrative coherency is overrated. Still, I want to get my own story straight, as it were, because think it’s important–in part, too, because on its face my research and publications stuff is, shall we say, wide-ranging. Like, how do I swing from the Harlem Renaissance to some pretty boy angel from Supernatural to the sex lives of evangelical Christian women, exactly, and still claim to have a coherent research agenda?

Yeah.

So this post is me trying to do that, in a way that I hope I can mine for my cover letters to come. But we’ll see. If you’re not opposed to blatant but inevitable self-promotion and repeated references to my CV, you’re welcome read on and watch me flail.

*clears throat nervously*

Continue reading “If Borges Wrote My Job Letter”

Academia fucks with your head

Sometimes I write to make sense of things. Sometimes I write for fun. Sometimes I write because if I don’t, my anxiety will eat me alive.

Today, I’m chasing the demons for reasons that, on paper, make ZERO sense. I’m freaking out this morning because it appears that I might, might, have three publications coming out this fall.

Three. Just in time for the job search.

And these are all pieces that I really, really like. Of which I might even be proud.

So this is a good thing, right? Like, duh. It sure as hell can’t hurt.

Then why do I need a drink?

Let’s go to my inner Greek chorus of negativity, already in progress:

1) None of these pubs will appear in the “right” places, according to TPTB within my department. That is, these pieces will not be featured in any of the top journals in what is ostensibly my field: rhetoric. Instead of appearing in RSQ, Quarterly Journal of Speech, or College English, they’re scheduled to show up in this edited collection and in these two journals.

2) All of these pieces are about Supernatural, in some way, shape, or form. Ergo, I imagine, they’ll be perceived as “unserious” in the minds of some (including members of my dissertation committee).

3) One of the pubs will not only appear solely online, it’ll be presented in an unconventional electronic format (read: as a Storify). Thus, its very form will further undermine its seriousness for some readers.

4) NONE OF THESE PUBLICATIONS ARE DRAWN FROM MY DISSERTATION. This fact seems to really, really bother my dissertation chair. Perhaps understandably so.

5) These pieces mark my first attempts to bring rhetoric to play in the field of fan studies.  I fear alienating (or worse, being ignored by) both sides.

6) I have to revise two of these pieces in the next 15 days. Granted, we’re at the minor changes and copy editing stages of revision here, but still.

7) Time spent working on those revisions is time that I’m not spending on my dissertation. Again, my dissertation chair will be very unhappy about this, should I choose to tell them about it.

8) One of these pieces is about Wincest. Hence, it features lots of quotes about, and lengthy discussions of, gay incestuous sex. I can see this being a problem for some hiring committees.

Ok, whew. I feel a bit better spewing all that on the screen, though there is part of me going DON’T TALK ABOUT THIS because you might jinx yourself. Ugh. Yes, I am shaking as I type this (ugh). Yes, I realize that my anxiety is totally illogical, if not nonsensical. And yes, I’ve found myself utterly unable to BE HAPPY about this unexpected development this morning, even for a moment, because of all the people I can hear in my head telling me why it’s not as cool or good or helpful as I might think it is. And that’s pretty fucked up, I think.

Academia is aces at undermining what little self-confidence I might naturally possess.

Why am I trying to get into this business again? Blargh.

I think I’m gonna go run around the block. Or to the liquor store.

Let Me Go

I’ve been pushing for the past three weeks to complete a revise-and-resubmit from a year ago. Yeah, I know. I suck. In the end, though, the R&R turned out to be more like “totally rework the damn thing from stem to stern”–including rejiggering it into an unfamiliar online format– which led some of the ugly truths about my writing process to hit me full in the face.

1) Every project will take me 7-10 days longer than I estimate.

2) I tend to regard deadlines as flexible. This is a mistake for many reasons, the least of which is: see above.

3) The last few days of a writing project are akin to binge drinking: I eat badly, I don’t sleep, I walk around in an anxious, semi-coherent daze.

4) I become more of a self-absorbed asshole than usual. Can’t be buggered to answer emails or talk to anyone other than my keyboard.

5) In such moments of crisis, I write good stuff.

6) In such moments of crisis, I write complete and utter dreck.

7) Only reading my stuff out loud helps me even it off to some sort of workable middle ground.

8) I will never be pleased with the final product.

9) ..except in the first two minutes after submitting it to the journal, during which I think I’m a genius.

10) After which, all I can see, whether I wish to or not, is all that is wrong with the piece.

11) Depression and self-flagellation ensue, as does singing along loudly to mushy George Michael songs.

12) And then I think, how lucky I am to have the chance to write about this stuff, stuff that I care about, that I think is interesting, that I’d love for other people to read.

13) Maybe one day they will.

Meanwhile, back to the diss.

Writing is Hard(ly Something You Should Be Doing Alone)

Last month, I attended one of the two big conferences in my field, that of the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA). Ironically, it was the first rhetoric or composition-focused conference I’ve attended and the last conference of any sort I’ll attend (gulp) before I go on the job market this fall.

Eeep! No, I’m ok. I’m alright. I swear.

Anyway, one of the most interesting panels I attended at RSA was ostensibly about the future of journals in our field. I took this to mean there would be a discussion about the journal model more broadly, about restricted vs. open access, etc.

Yeah, no.

Instead, the panel featured the editors of three of the BFD journals in rhet/comp riffing on their roles as editors, the kinds of submissions they receive and why they do or do not suck, and the messy nature of the review process. Not what I expected, no, but fascinating all the same.

For me, one of the most striking moments was when Jim Jasinski, the editor of Rhetorical Studies Quarterly, described his role in this way:

Editors are there to help writers figure out what they’ve got.

YES. Exactly!

The best editors I’ve had a chance to work with have been able to do precisely that: to peer into the abyss of a messy first draft, pick out the ideas worth exploring, and make concrete suggestions as how I might make the most of what I’ve got. This is also what I see myself doing (what I try to do) as a teacher when I ask my students to write: to read their drafts with questions like what have they got here? where are they trying to go? how can I help them get there? in mind.

Continue reading “Writing is Hard(ly Something You Should Be Doing Alone)”