Tag Archives: creative nonfiction

Writing Lamentation, Writing Celebration

Close Acorn“I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious,/Each moment and whatever happens thrills me with joy,/I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish,/Nor the cause of the friendship I emit, nor the cause of the friendship I take again.” -Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass

Recently, one of my nonfiction professors mentioned that, if the tone and texture of writing can be divided into either writing of lamentation or writing of celebration, my writing style tends toward lamentation. She said, unlike Whitman’s celebratory exaltation, my writing texture is more like Emerson’s, brooding and internal.

To me, this makes sense: my writing broods. Maybe that’s why my stand-up comedy special The Writer of Lamentations has done so poorly on Netflix. It’s not that I avoid celebration. I try (and often fail) to celebrate others. I try to support my friends and praise their successes as much as possible, but this celebration rarely enters my writing. Instead, my writing fixates on losses.

More and more, I write about the environment, the west, and disparate interests like history and music, and I think my essays do, in fact, have a sense of lamentation: for places that will soon no longer be, for talents I used to have, for wars that I never fought in, and for friends who have shaped and continue to shape me, even in their absence. Despite my best efforts, friends come and go. I lament being unable to continue being shaped by them, and departure starts to feel normal and they have their lives. Thank goodness they have their lives. And still, I brood.

And what does it mean to celebrate? A friend and colleague of mine shared a poem by Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi called “The Will of Life” about embracing “the love of life,” an active, rather than passive, task. Even in the midst of what is worth lamenting, there is room for celebration. This makes me think of Prior in Angels in America refusing to be a prophet, telling the angels he wants more life: “We can’t just stop. We’re not rocks. Progress, migration, motion is modernity, it’s animate. It’s what living things do. We desire. Even if all we desire is stillness, it’s still desire for. . . . It’s so much not enough. It’s so inadequate. Buts still: Bless me anyway. I want more life.”

It’s been almost a year since I saw Angels in America with friends whom I miss dearly. I will admit that I desire, and I often desire stillness. I don’t want to celebrate myself the way Whitman does, but lamentation requires life in memory, the shadow of what was and could be. It is an act of wanting, but it is always active, not passive. To lament is to recognize that life, friendship, love, the burning world will never be enough, will always be inadequate, but to want to celebrate it anyway. Can there be lamentation without celebration, even in possibility? I write for the past while stuck in the present, constantly spiraling headlong into whatever disaster the future holds, one after another.

I want more life, and I want to mourn life for all that it is, all that it isn’t, all that it used to be. Someone should. Life requires lamentation as much as celebration, but the opposite holds true. To lament is to want, but to want without striving toward celebration misses the point completely.

-jk

Essay Published in Atticus Review

buffalo parkI’m honored to announce that my essay, “Buffalo Park,” is featured online in Atticus Review. Feel free to read it, but also read the other nonfiction essays, short stories, and poetry featured in Atticus as well. This essay has been published one year to the day that I first submitted it to my graduate nonfiction workshop at UNL. I’m grateful, as always, for the feedback my peers and professor offered me about the essay last September. This is also the essay I used as a writing sample for my application to the University of Idaho’s MFA program. With a little luck and a lot of work, I might have a few more publications on the way.

-jk

Grad School Reboot

booksIn May, Grad School ended with an undramatic series finale in which the protagonist received his degree, went to a few low-key parties, then went home. The writers worked a possible spinoff involving Idaho into the plot, and this Fall that spinoff will appear as a reboot of Grad School, starring the previous series’ main character and, as far as the writers know, nobody else.

In the era of rebooted shows, many of which ended several decades ago, a reboot of Grad School is only the next logical step. In the upcoming Season One/Three, the protagonist will attend an MFA program in Idaho’s panhandle, the only untapped part of the Pacific Northwest not used by modern television’s fascination with the region, ranging from Portlandia to Twin Peaks to Northern Exposure to Twin Peaks: The Return. Critics wonder if Idaho’s panhandle qualifies as the PNW, and many more critics wonder if Idaho even qualifies as a state rather than several disunited principalities ruled by various Mormons, libertarians, and seventeen armed lumberjacks from Montana, all of whom are named Slim. Our protagonist will have at least three seasons to figure this out.

The reboot’s narrative arcs will be predictably similar to those of its first two seasons in Nebraska: the protagonist will take classes, teach classes, and spend most nights grading, reading, and writing. Most episodes will begin with him walking to campus and end with him walking home. Critics wonder if the show can sustain itself for the intended three seasons of Grad School: MFA, but hope that the introduction of more creative writers will create more quirky dialogue and probably melodrama. The show could also do with more humor and lightheartedness to balance the protagonist’s late-season arc toward nihilistic cynicism, and some critics are even expecting a full-fledged comedy to emerge. But one can only hope.

-jk

 

Welcome to the University of Hell; Here’s Your Parking Pass

ParkingOn behalf of Satan and his minions and CEOs and several charitable people who donated buildings to us, we would like to welcome you, personally, to the University of Hell.

You’ll find your freshman orientation packets in your complimentary tote bag, along with two coupons for two free meals in the Hell Union. The cost of the tote bag and coupons will be included in your student fees, which will be calculated in total for you at the beginning of Finals Week. You will also find information about parking, which will become much easier with our new Henry Kissinger Bill Gates Memorial Super Tennis Parking Lot, located on south-east campus near the Ninth Circle Dorm. This year, parking passes are $786, which will also be included in your student fees. For those who don’t have a car, you’ll be glad to help pay for the parking passes of your fellow peers, or else.

The University of Hell is honored to serve our new students. Our Beelzebub Administration Center is located in the middle of campus, at the suggestion of UH graduate Jeremy Bentham, and our administrators are always open for questions, suggestions, and even concerns during their office hours from 3:00 AM to 3:15 AM every fifth Tuesday of the month. Feel free to direct all questions regarding student fees, parking, jobs, recreation, and housing to one of our 4,000 departmental administration management directors (we call them the DAMD for short). You’ll be paying for their salaries and Satan’s swimming pool of virgins’ blood with your student fees, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of their time.

Please feel free to tour our new Adam Smith Institute for Pharmaceutical Studies, or the recently constructed Brett Favre School of English Literature and Mass Entertainment, or our Walt Disney School of Criminal Justice and Gender Studies located next to the Pit of Eternal Fire, where football practice is held.

If any of our guests today find a lack of toilet paper, please do not be alarmed. We are working on a new system in which students pay for the necessary quantity of toilet paper with their student ID cards, and their student accounts are then charged for the toilet paper they use on the spot. If students lose their ID card for any reason and are unable to pay for toilet paper, they will be reminded that it is useful to carry their class syllabi with them at all times in the event of an emergency.

The University of Hell values you. Ever since its founding by Satan, who received his Hotel and Restaurant Management degree from Yale, UH has prided itself in the quantity of its students. We are here to help you help us, and we want to help you in doing so.

From all of us here at Hell, welcome to higher education.

-jk

Exciting Spring Break Plans for Grad Students

Spring BreakLet’s face it: Spring Break is an undergrad’s game. Most of them flock to some sunny island whose painful history of colonization you learned about last week in a story form PRI’s The World. Grad students just don’t have the time or money or energy for a ritzy vacation, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a glamorous Spring Break from the comfort of their university. There are many fun activities grad students can enjoy.

  1. Grade! Spring Break is a great time to catch up on the forty papers your students turned in three weeks ago. Knowing that two thirds of your students will probably go to the obscure Caribbean island you mentioned in your lecture about neo-colonialism will make it easier to point out their spelling mistakes.
  2. Enjoy the library! There’s a fifty percent chance your university library will be torn down to make room for another Business Administration building, so enjoy it while it lasts! Remember, the triple-major out-of-state undergrad running both checkout desks at the library during Spring Break is probably as miserable as you are.
  3. Find places to publish your articles! It’s an exciting time be writing in academia, almost as exciting as a train wreck, but finding the right journal takes time. Whether it’s a case study proving that spiders have more successful dating lives than you do or a new argument about something Shakespeare once wrote, academic journals are eager to publish high quality caffeine/wine-fueled work.
  4. Enjoy public broadcasting! There’s a seventy-six percent chance that NPR and PBS will lose all their funding soon, so enjoy them while you can! Remember, the new administration probably won’t imprison you for supporting them, but if you stream PBS on your laptop or listen to NPR while microwaving your last hot dog, the government will know.
  5. Taxes! You still have time to file your taxes, and between grading forty papers and apologizing to your committee for the typos in your 400-page dissertation about John Carpenter’s The Thing and applying for the same teaching position that 250 more qualified graduates are also applying for, this is your chance! What could be better?
  6. Binge watching while binge drinking! Catch up on your favorite obscure foreign-language Caribbean documentaries you heard about on PRI’s The World or rewatch your favorite sitcom for the seventh time! Remember, one bottle of vodka per season.
  7. Find conferences you can’t afford! You have an idea for a paper to present at the Fall Interdisciplinary Shakespeare in the Caribbean Conference held in the ever-lovely Fargo, North Dakota, and even if you can’t afford to attend, you can still submit your proposal and fantasize about the bus ride to Fargo.

This is your time. You’re a grad student; you’re socially awkward and prefer the company of cynics and hipsters, and you prefer dedicating your time to research and analysis, because without it, you’d go crazy. What is there to do on a sunny beach with hours of boring free time, anyway?

-jk

Invite List of the Men’s March

tax-the-tea

Protestors in Flagstaff, AZ, Winter of 2009, who just so totally accepted (without complaint or whiny over-dramatic public display) the election of Obama, courtesy of Lost Compass Photography.

To begin with, organizers would disagree about who to invite. Percolating through social media spontaneity, the Men’s March would draw folks who (apparently unable to cope with the emotions they felt at the sight of women moving forward in a linear direction expressing a desire to not be assaulted) would want to band together and reclaim their long-lost manhood.

Robert Bly would be there of course, but because Manly Men © have been defunding the humanities for so long, nobody would actually know who he was, and he would sit in a corner shirtless beating a drum, alone.

There would be a substantial debate about inviting women. Sarah Palin, Kellyanne Conway, Michelle Bachman, and other female meninist allies would show up, but would be accused by a few marchers of preventing men from enjoying their bro-friendly safe spaces.

Glenn Beck would show up and, within ten minutes, begin crying. Even though his tears would be patriotic and cowboy-like, a few hardliners would dismiss him. Attempting to recover their lost ideal manly hair-sweat manhood, organizers would publicly invite Nick Offerman, only to realize that he attended the Women’s March, thus disqualifying him. Organizers would desperately tag alt-righters with questions about which men they would invite to help recover America’s manly bearded manhood.

Ernest Hemingway? dead. Evel Knievel? dead. Charlton Heston? dead. John Wayne? dead. David Foster Wallace? dead. Elvis Presley? probably dead. George Washington? very dead. Freddie Mercury? queer and dead. Muhammad Ali? Muslim pacifist and dead. Johnny Cash? advocated for Native Americans too often and dead. Roger Goodell? too many penalties. Nick Offerman? feminist. Robert Bly? poet. Clint Eastwood? old Hollywood elite. JFK? dead cuck. John McCain? living cuck. Mike McCarthy? did you even see the Falcons game? All the oldschool manly male beer-stained men would be either dead or somehow disqualified. Organizers would realize this too late, but could easily tweet photos of the Women’s March and call it the Men’s March as a convenient alternative.

In the end, the number of men fitting the standard would be thirty-seven. Those in attendance would chant about being persecuted by society’s trends, like all the feminists not in congress, not passing laws requiring men to father children even if they don’t want to. They would complain about the woman who is not President and who was never recorded bragging about grabbing men by the purifier. Marchers would lament their dead sense of manhood in a prolonged circle-jerk of one another’s angst (but not in a fun way).

There would be many issues marchers would not discuss. Mike Pence would not mention mental illness among men or alcoholism or drug abuse. Franklin Graham would not mention institutional poverty or suicide rates among men, boys, and gay youths in particular. Piers Morgan would not bring up the consequences of concussions for football players or the fact that male rape victims tend not to be taken seriously. From the start organizers would be unconcerned with men as a totality. They would not care enough to lobby for men who are gay, foreign, disabled, or suffering a mental illness. Instead, they would see only themselves reflected in a wilderness of mirrors as they marched, self-consciously alone.

-jk

Filling Office Hours

officeYou sit down at your desk awaiting students with questions. Some have already sent you emails with one concern or another; they have questions and it’s your job to answer them in office hours. So you wait.

You check your email; nothing. In looking at your schedule, you see you have readings, papers, and writing to do. You begin one project casually, expecting students to pop in. You’ve done that countless times to other professors, after all.

You finish your first project and check your email; nothing. Good. More time to write. You write. You write some more. You look up, and there’s a student, but she’s looking for another professor and is lost. You feel smugly accomplished as an educator for helping a lost student find the answer to her question (room 345, third floor, past the weird-smelling book case).

You revise an essay, check your email, and find yourself interested in the political spam in your inbox. You sign some petitions, feeling less accomplished than when you saved that student’s career that one time half an hour ago. No, ten minutes. Has it really only been ten minutes since?

You begin a new writing project and look up, just in case. Yes, you are happy you have this time to get things done, but what if your students have questions? What if they didn’t understand the assignments? What if their email just isn’t working? You want to be a good instructor; you want to be accessible. It’s the first part of your teaching statement, and you want to be like those other professors you had who were so available, so accessible, to save your life with their marvelous answers.

This time you simultaneously check your email and your syllabus to see if you listed the correct office hours and room number. Yes. Students can access it. You keep writing.

No students come by. Soon your office hours are done and you have completed all your work for the next week, plus submitted an essay to a literary magazine. Before heading out for lunch, you check your email one more time to find you have a new email from a student inquiring about the first paper’s requirements. Finally, you think, relaxing back in your seat, the work can begin.

-jk