Fiction Writing is the biggest waste of time I’ve ever encountered. Four hours of worthless “activities” designed to improve writing skills. I’m not saying I don’t need help improving my writing skills, but these exercises don’t work. Well, they don’t with me. The other people in class seem to be responding to it quite well, but then again, the other people in class are part of the problem. The entire class is a nightmare cross-section of everything I hate about art school students.
Two weeks ago, the professor made the unfortunate mistake of saying, “There is no censorship in this class—say whatever you want, and we’ll deal.” That’s the kind of statement you don’t want to say to a guy like me. I get my jollies by relentlessly mocking everything around me until nothing is left standing, or if it is standing, it’s at least crying.
Then, after class, she pulled me aside and said this: “I would appreciate it if you were more participatory.” I gotta say I hate the fact that she constructed that sentence so poorly just so she could use the word “participatory.” I mean, my God, just say, “Hey, you don’t talk enough.” “Hey, participate more.” But, no, she’s gotta add the syllables for no particular reason. I wouldn’t harass people about this type of thing normally, but this woman has it coming. For one thing, she’s a writing teacher. For another, I could just tell that she was like, “I want to use the word ‘participatory’ in a sentence to make myself look smart!” And for yet another, I just don’t like her.
She’s like the fat kid at school. You know the guy. He’s a big fat tub of shit, but that’s not a big deal. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t make fun of this guy just for being fat. But the thing is, he’s a big asshole. And on top of that, he’s a big dumb know-it-all asshole. And if there’s anything worse than a know-it-all, it’s a know-nothing know-it-all. So you make fun of him. You could make fun of him for being an asshole, you could make fun of him for being dumb, you could make fun of him for being a know-it-all—but fuck it, fat jokes are easier. Which is a long way of saying that I’m gonna make fun of this prof’s diction quite a bit, but the subtext will always be, “God, what a damn bitch.”
At any rate…here’s why I hadn’t actually willingly participated since the first session: when we first start class, we sit in a big semi-circle around the prof, and we do what she calls “Recall.” We sit there, attempting with all our might to recall images or anything from the previous session, and we spew it out in a stream-of-consciousness style, as if we are the author writing it. Example: instead of saying, “I remember the part of that letter where Tolstoy realizes his wife has turned into a small porcelain doll,” you would say, “A man is laying in bed, and he’s waiting for his wife to finish getting ready, and she’s behind this Chinese screen undressing, and when she comes out from behind the screen, she’s actually a two-foot-tall porcelain doll. The man says, ‘Are you porcelain?’ She responds, ‘Yes, I am porcelain,’ to which the man says, ‘That’s fucked up.'” I can’t be the only person who feels that an exercise like this is one of pure and horrible torture.
After the nifty “Recall” session, we start to do reading that pertain to the current subject. For example, today’s subject was folk tales, so we read a series of disturbing and hilarious folk tales about people who spend the majority of their time chillin’ like a villain with the Grim Rizzeaper. Previous topics included letter-writing (which contained that fucked up Tolstoy/porcelain doll thing), journal-writing, and dreams. This we do for another hour or hour and a half. Then, we get a brief break.
When class resumes a horribly short 10 minutes later, we do this thing that doesn’t really have a name, but I’ll refer to it as “Gimme a Word.” The premise of “Gimme a Word” is simple: you say a word. And then we sit there and supposedly imagine whatever we see for the word, and then the next person says a word. We go around a room maybe twice, and then she has us think of a place where our word(s) would be comfortable (?). Then we name an object from the place. Then we name a verb not associated with the object we previously named. Then she hones in on what we as a class decide is the most interesting verb (?!!) and she badgers that student until he or she (it’s usually a he for some reason, though) comes up with a cohesive, detailed description of the place and the character(s) in the place.
When that torture is over, we do a little bit of actual writing. And I mean very little. She gives us maybe three or four minutes for actual writing. I’d much prefer a four-hour class in which maybe two or three hours were actually devoted to writing and not devoted to the Fiction Writing department thrusting its “supremely effective writing process” on the students. After we wisk through actual writing, we then blast through reading what we wrote. Of course, by this time we’ve wasted so much time with “Recall” and “Gimme a Word” that we have to rush, and most people end up reading maybe a few sentences of what they wrote. Me, I generally don’t write more than a few sentences. Jesus, I can’t come up with anything interesting and actually write it down in such a short amount of time. Then again, maybe if their forced writing process worked with the way I write, I might have better luck.
So after we speed through reading, we do another horribly rushed “Recall” session and invariably get out of class late, which gets me all in a tizzy because I have a train to catch.
Anyway, so the first week was cool because we didn’t do much with the whole “Recall” bullshit…it was mostly just getting acquainted with the whole thing. But ever since then, I’ve tried my hardest to simply not do it. Finally, two weeks ago, I just stopped. I kept saying, “I have nothing to say,” every time she would call on me. She was fuming, and I was amused with myself. As I said, she pulled me aside after class and was like, “I would appreciate it if you were more participatory.” I would have made a typical big deal about it, but like I said, train to catch, so I was just like, “Uh, yeah, okay,” and I bolted.
Now, I was kinda frustrated by this. I wasn’t able to make a big scene. What a bummer. But then I cooked a plot that I’m sure only I find hilarious. The prof told me before I left that she would be calling on me first thing for “Recall” next week. So, on the train ride home, I was like, “What if I didn’t show up?” And then I laughed out loud. I can’t believe I find such dumb shit amusing, but even now, I’ve got this big dopey grin on my face, still admiring my own comic genius.
Anyway, this week I was back, and since believe it or not I do need to get an A in this class, so I had my fun and it was time to get down to business. I had finally bought one of the assigned books—a really shitty novel called The Bluest Eye—yesterday, and I had just started to read it on the train ride to school. I tried to pick out some nice imagery and bullshit for “Recall,” which despite my better judgement, I needed to do. Participation is 20% of the grade, so if I keep my fucking mouth shut the whole semester, I’m not gonna get my A.
This book is the worst thing I have ever read, and I’ve purposely read some very, very bad swords-and-sorcery novels. I can sum it up in two words: pretentious bullshit. Right up the prof’s alley, of course. But, man, I’m glad it’s a fast read, because it’s such a load of ass, I can’t take it for much longer.
I stopped at Borders to buy the new Tori disc, and I ended up being about 40 minutes early to class, so I continued to read. I got about a quarter of the way through it, and ugh. But I had some stuff for “Recall.” And, truth be told, I transformed from the silent guy with the brooding and the loathing of every word that came out of anybody’s mouth to my semi-normal, jovial self in order to save my participation grade. And don’t think it doesn’t make me sick.
I have a horrible, hour-long one-on-one conference with her in a couple weeks. I think I’m going to address some of my grievances, and if she doesn’t stab me to death, maybe things in that class will go a little better. But the long and short of it is that as soon as this class is over, I’m done with the Fiction Writing department 4-evar.