Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On Conformity

MGMT is coming to my school, and I’m pretty stoked. Many of my fellow Wildcats do not share my excitement. Two of the undergrads who do workstudy in the same office as me had never heard of MGMT. “SCOPE [the Student Committee on Popular Entertainment] has been bringing some good shows lately,” one of the girls said. “Like Akon!”

I cringed inside. They also mentioned an excellent show by Sean Kingston. “Who’s that?” I asked.

“You know, he does that song ‘Beautiful girls.’ You’ve heard it.”

They played it for me. I had never heard it. I wasn’t missing anything. I played them “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel” by MGMT. They had never heard either song.

The SCOPE message board was in the middle of a flame war. “Plymouth gets Drake and we get MGMT?” one user wrote, and pointed out that Drake has had twelve top-100 singles (including songs he’s been a guest on), and MGMT has only had one—therefore, Drake is the better musician. I wanted to point out that by his logic, Drake is a better artist than Nirvana, and twice as talented as Jimi Hendrix, but I refrained. Like my coworkers, many on the boards have never heard of MGMT (I hadn’t heard of Drake before yesterday).

This drives home something that’s been bubbling beneath the surface ever since I got here. There’s not a lot of diversity. I was warned about this before I came, but I didn’t realize how it would manifest itself on a college campus. College campuses are full of different types of people, I thought—jocks, popular kids, mods, nerds, hippies, goths, punks, business majors, stoners, hipsters, frat boys, and all the weird gradations in between. At least WWU was like this (although I suppose they were wannabe frat boys, since we didn’t have any frats).

UNH seems to have two groups: the hipsters—the people defending MGMT on the message boards, the girls who wear mod dresses and the guys who wear skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses and scarves, the people I overhear on the bus talking about Arrested Development—and everybody else.

Everybody else listens to Akon, Lupe Fiasco, Young Money, Ke$ha, or whatever else is killing the Top 40 charts at the moment. They drive spotless new cars, wear Hollister, and drink at the socials every Thursday night (Thirsty Thursdays) at Scorps (a local bar).

Everybody Else.

I haven’t seen a hippie since I got here. Several people who ride my bus are math grad students and talk a lot about their research, but they seem to exist uneasily somewhere on the hipster spectrum, and they disappear once we’re off the bus—faceless in a crowd of Abercrombie, North Face, and perfectly coifed hair. The conformity disturbs me a little, especially coming from Western and Bellingham, a town incredibly tolerant of personal eccentricity. One day when I was back in Bellingham over winter break I watched a woman wearing a top hat and a long coat she appeared to have sewn out of other clothes walk down the street and stand in front of the Bagelry. This would never happen in Durham, I thought. Nothing like it ever has and nothing ever will.

Hipsters, conforming to their own silly bullshit.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Recent Happenings

Hey everybody. Just thought I'd give you the rundown, or the lowdown, or the dealyo. Here are some things that happened! Or are happening!


We went to a hockey game. It was the last hockey game of the regular season, and UNH (#1 in our league) was playing Boston College (#2) for a spot in the quarterfinals. It was a tense game. By the end of the second period we were down three-to-nothing and it was looking hopeless, but we scored three goals (are they called that in hockey?) in the third period to tie it up, and nobody scored in overtime. It was my first hockey game, and very exciting. I think I might actually see if I can go to a few more next year. There were two notable things about this hockey game:
  1. They played the Canadian national anthem before the game, even though both teams were American and as far as I could tell, everybody there was from either New Hampshire or Massachusetts. I guess it's a hockey thing.
  2. Hockey brings out my most violent impulses. I was surprised at how sedate the crowd was, especially for the first two periods. For two and a half hours I had to stop myself from jumping up and screaming "HIT HIM IN THE FACE WITH YOUR STICK!" while the undergrads and middle-aged alumni behind us commented casually on the plays
So anyway, it was really fun.


I'm about to watch the Oscars. I'm hoping Hurt Locker beats out Avatar, but I'm being realistic. We're having people over for dinner--Ashley made delicious bread, we're trying to salvage a soup we maybe screwed up, and our friend Nate is bringing up "lobster macaroni and cheese," which sounds scary but I'm betting will be delicious.


I'm a freaking writing machine. I polished off a short story (promising) and a nonfiction article (we'll see what the class says about it) earlier this week, I finished the second chapter of my novel's messy first draft, started another nonfiction piece and wrote half a short story--and those last three things I did today. I feel like Josh Young or some shit. I also commented on a workshop story, sat in the sun, and finished off Stephen King's On Writing, which I'm reading for my form and technique class and which I'm thoroughly enjoying (I've actually read it twice before, but for a few years).


That's about all. I'm a little less busy now, so I'll try to update more (Chelsea).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Difficulties, Pt II

Last night I got food poisoning and threw up at four in the morning. Hell of a week.

I did, however, get the short story I've been working on into decent shape.

Monday, March 1, 2010


It's difficult to do homework without power. We lost our power Thursday night because of a big nasty storm (one of those wicked nor'easters they're always talking about), and didn't get it back until Saturday night. I spent the weekend at a friend's apartment with a terrible internet connection, which meant I could write, but not research or do my online tutoring job. Before the storm hit I was grossly sick (in fact I'm still not completely recovered). Now Ashley is sick and our apartment continues to be a gross pit of sickness. This semester is conspiring against us--neither of us will ever get on top of the workload.

In other random news, my friend Josh (formerly of WWU, now doing his MFA in Las Cruces, NM) posted an interesting commentary about workshop difficulties on his blog All Headlights and Vapor Trails. You can read the original post here. I want to post the comment I made on my own blog because dammit, I'm in full rant mode and I want to. Basically, Josh's post is about how he's frustrated that fiction workshops overemphasize criticism of a story, making what's not working in a story a more important topic of discussion than what is working. In his teaching and his workshopping, he tries to talk about what isn't working in terms of what is. ("This section would be better if you changed this and this, to make it parallel the scene on page three.") You should read the rest of the post--it's interesting. He also takes his fellow MFAers to task for only reading their colleagues' pieces once before commenting. In my comment I talk about what pisses me off in the workshop:

I'm okay with the balance of support and criticism, as least in my workshop (probably about 25-75). What bugs the hell out of me is the way we fall into phrasing our quibbles. "I like x and y about your story, but I do have some questions..." is such a euphemistic way to segue into talking problems about the story. For me, that kind of language just doesn't help--if something is wrong with my story, I want to fucking know that it's a problem. Telling me you have a question about it doesn't help much, telling me that it sucks does.

I often wound up treating student papers quite differently because they don't have the (typically) thick skin creative writers develop in the workshop, and to much overt criticism can shut them down entirely. Euphemistic workshop language seems appropriate for college freshmen--they need the cushion--it doesn't seem appropriate for writers in their mid-twenties or later who have been doing this for years.

As for reading, I usually give it a quick "enjoyment" reading (also to get the threads of the story in place in my head before I start getting critical with it), then get into the nitty-gritty on my second reading. I usually only have time to give the really flawed or challenging drafts a third reading, unfortunately.

It is weird how people write because something is due, and it does seem counter-intuitive. I wonder how often it's a problem with time to write. Now that my semester is in full swing, I'm finding myself stupid busy--working 30 hours at two jobs and reading other students' work, mostly--and I'm ashamed to say I am in the process of writing a phoning-it-in short story. I haven't had time to do better, and that sucks. Hopefully something interesting comes out of it, but right now... ugh.

But I thought my images were subtle with a deep ring of metaphor! WAH!

Josh is *hopefully* coming to AWP and crashing with Kenny, Chas, and I. He's a stud, his comments at WWU were always hard-nosed and useful, and he mentions me all the time on his blog. Nice.