Episode 10 of my podel (podcasted novel) CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is now available. This chapter features Dr. DAG, the chancellor of the Enchanted Campus, with its fairy godteachers, gnomes, dwarves, vampires, zombies and boojum (kind of like a yeti), among other assorted creatures, like teenagers, grumpy faculty members, and inept administrators. Dr. DAG has a regular afternoon liaison with his beautiful secretary Ms. Subowski, but it is NOT what you think.
If you have a poem, short story, or essay, why not submit it to my literary magazine, Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal? You still have plenty of time! Submissions are open until September 1, for the Fall/Winter 2021 edition. See the submission guidelines for more information. I would love to read your work.
Michele Harper is an emergency room physician, and her book The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir reminds me of how much teachers have in common with doctors. I’ve blogged about the similarities before. Harper offers more confirmation of my perceptions, especially in “Chapter Two: Dr. Harper: The View from Here,” when Harper describes her internship in internal medicine before completing her residency as an emergency room physician.
In the chapter, she describes one of her professors, Dr. Jaiswal, a “forceful character” (33) whom all the interns feared and loathed. Harper describes how Dr. Jaiswal was particularly cutting and brutal to Harper during the author’s first presentation and in front of the patient, berating Harper for not completing a thorough patient history and for being ill-prepared for her presentation.
Some people, me included, would have been tempted to give up or simply been angry and rejected anything Dr. Jaiswal said out of bitterness and contempt, but Harper learns from the “breaking.”
“I never forgot that encounter,” she writes. “For the entire intern year, I made sure to ask too many questions of my patients….To the best of my ability, I not only read about the topics I didn’t understand, I also read around them. I reviewed the history in my head and practiced my assessment and plan, making sure the reasoning led to a logical conclusion….That was the last time I was unprepared for Dr. Jaiswal’s rounds. What’s important was that in that very long year, she helped me become a better doctor because I saw the good in her, in the value she placed on meticulous preparation and critical thinking” (40-41).
I am not advocating being “deragatory and cruel” (41) as Harper describes Dr. Jaiswahl, but I don’t mind being tough. I don’t really think I am all that tough actually, but in today’s ultra-sensitive world, I am perceived as such by some students, parents, and administrators. I wish I could help them all understand that all I want to do when I challenge and push students is motivate them to stretch themselves–ask too many questions, read about the subjects, read around them. I want them to learn how to think!
Harper offers many stories of encounters with people in her work and personal life who break her or come to her broken, in need of healing. She writes of what she learned from them and how she has come to embrace not the brokenness itself but the lessons that inevitably come from it.
In Chapter Three, Harper writes, “We had all been broken in that moment–broken open by shock and grief and anger and fear. I didn’t know how or when, but this opening could lead to healing. After all, only an empty vessel can be filled by grace; but to get there, we had to help each other rise while we shed the same tears. We had to get up and start again” (68-69).
Another chapter in the book I liked was “Chapter Four: Erik: Violent Behavior Alert.” Harper laments the bureaucratic bull that she has to put up with on her job that does little to nothing to help her patients. Man, can I relate. She speaks about a 2011 study that exposes the myth that most ER patients are uninsured. Not true according to the study. Most are insured and come to the ER for various reasons, including, she says, because they feel “so entitled from unchecked privilege that even polite questioning causes them to blow a fuse” (77). Again, man can I relate.
Harper touches on other issues that doctors and teachers, especially women, experience similarly, including the inequity in how female professionals are treated in the workplace and false perceptions of doctors, but the positive aspects of her work are similar to mine too–helping people, challenging them to take action, to move forward into a new and better life.
The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir is well-worth the read for anyone, not just doctors and educators; we’ve all been broken, and we all can learn from that breaking–something I want my students to understand.
Harper, Michele. The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir, Riverhead, 2020.
The next book I finished is the young adult fantasy novel Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin. In this imaginary world, the people of the Lowlands are blessed, or perhaps cursed, with magical gifts–some seemingly benign, like summoning animals, and some dark and sinister, like the ability to twist limbs or melt flesh and bone.
Two young people, Orrec and Gry, friends all of their lives, must face the consequences when they refuse to use their gifts, refuse to take life only to help others retain power.
In the end, the true power lies in friendship, sacrifice, and love.
It also lies in storytelling.
One of my favorite passages in the novel is when the narrator discusses how storytelling empowers us:
“My blindfold and my mother’s illness worked together in one way that was good: we both had time to indulge our love of storytelling, and the stories carried us out of the dark and the cold and the dreary boredom of being useless” (194).
This is why I love to write. It carries me out of the dark and the cold. It gives me purpose.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Gifts, Harcourt, 2004.
Most writers I know aren’t happy keeping their writing to themselves. That is why I started Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. I wanted to offer a place where other writers out there, especially writing teachers like me, could share their work. Until September 1, I am accepting short fiction, poetry, essays, and more for the 2021 Fall/Winter edition of Teach. Write., and I would love to consider your work. I am especially interested in the work of those who teach writing, but I am open to all. See the submission guidelines for more information.
ANOTHER EPISODE OF MY PODEL (PODCASTED NOVEL), CAMPUS: A NOVEL THAT WANTS TO BE A MUSICAL, IS COMING YOUR WAY THIS WEEK! NOW’S YOUR CHANCE TO LISTEN TO THE PREVIOUS EPISODES SO YOU WILL BE READY FOR EPISODE 10. IT’S GOING TO BE A DOOZY!
I love it when my summer reading plans fall into place almost magically. In April, for my birthday, my nephew Timothy, a total bibliophile (I love it!) who blogs at The Mugwump Diaries, gave me the book Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. For one reason or another, I was unable to read the book until later in May.
Another thing that was put off was my correspondence with potential contributors to Teach. Write. Turned out that one of the writers, whose work you will read in the next edition, mentioned W. G. Sebald in his cover letter. In the acceptance email, I told him that I was reading Austerlitz; thus began a brief correspondence about the work and the author that helped solidify some of my thoughts about the work. He suggested that I read another of Sebald’s books, The Emigrants, which I have added to my very long reading list for this year.
In his excellent review of Austerlitz on the website The New Canon: The Best in Fiction Since 1985, Ted Gioia, music critic and book reviewer, writes that Sebald “has written a historical novel that appears to exist outside of history, yet this represents less an escape and more an exile. That dislocation is both the tragedy of Austerlitz the character, and the wonder of Austerlitz the book.” This statement reflects my understanding of the book as well.
Austerlitz is a displaced person, growing up in the UK from the age of five, feeling different and not understanding why until his adoptive parents explain his origins. As he travels through life, drawn more and more to the seemingly immutable architecture of Europe, he also explores his history and the trauma of his childhood. Further highlighting his isolation, Austerlitz tells his story not to a friend or relative but to the narrator, whom he meets by chance at a zoo in Antwerp. Their intermittent friendship develops slowly over the years when the narrator is invited to the various places Austerlitz lives, especially London, where the German-born Sebald lived and worked for a large portion of his life.
The unusual style of the book is part of its appeal. Like Nick Carraway, the narrator shapes our vision of Austerlitz. We only know what Austerlitz reveals to him and what we see in the various photographs like those below, displayed throughout the book. (You can see why I think of The Great Gatsby now, can’t you?) The long narrative passages with no chapters and very little paragraphing are often punctuated by the words “Austerlitz said,” reminding us that this is not the narrator’s story.
Also unusual are the long sentences and dialog without punctuation. The effect is not exactly stream-of-consciousness, but stream-of-conversation or narration, like when listening to an elderly relative recalling events from childhood, moving seamlessly from one memory to the next, digressing when the recollection leads to some topic of interest or area of expertise.
As a teacher and a writer, I find the digression from the story that speaks about the difficulties of writing particularly interesting. The narrator has come to visit Austerlitz at his home in Alderney St., London; photographs of architectural wonders from around the world are scattered all about, but before Austerlitz can begin taking up the story of his life once again, he explains how he, recently retired from teaching, now wishes to compile his thoughts and ideas about architecture but is having trouble focusing:
“All I could think was that such a sentence only appears to mean something, but in truth is at best a makeshift expedient, a kind of unhealthy growth issuing from our ignorance, something which we use, in the same way as many sea plants and animals use their tentacles, to grope blindly through the darkness enveloping us” (124).
I don’t know a writer who has not felt this way at some point and time. Austerlitz goes on:
“I could see no connections anymore, the sentences resolved themselves into a series of separate words, the words into random sets of letters, the letters into disjointed signs, and those signs into a blue-gray trail gleaming silver here and there, excreted and left behind it by some crawling creature” (124).
And so I hear the words of the reviewer Gioia again–Austerlitz’ tragedy is the wonder of the book, that the character’s growing displacement can bring all of us, not just writers, not just survivors of childhood trauma, but anyone who feels displaced, into a community, giving us a place to belong.
Sebald, W.G. Austerlitz, 10th Anniversary Edition, Modern Library, 2011.
I feel that I am developing my own community of writers through editing and producing Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. It is devoted to writing teachers who want to publish their writing, but you don’t have to be a teacher to contribute. I welcome writing from anyone.
Submissions for the Fall/Winter 2021 edition are open until September 1. Follow this link for submission guidelines. I would love to read your work.
And, no, I have not forgotten my podel (podcasted novel), but I am having some issues, not unlike those encountered by Austerlitz. I am tooling along ,though, and quite proud of the nine episodes I have produced so far and having fun, which is not the only point but a big one. If you would like to hear the podel so far, then follow this link: CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical.
Episode 9 of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is now available!
I had fun putting together this episode of my podel (podcasted novel)–CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical. If you haven’t listened to all of the episodes, they are available all at the same place when you click on the link above. Many podcast platforms carry CAMPUS, so just search your favorite application.
If you like the show and are able, please consider becoming a supporter. I’m not looking to make any profit, but I would like to pay a composer and sound tech to help make the podcast better and maybe invest in some education (hey, there’s a novel idea), so I can improve my skills, just because. Wow! The support button is available on the podcast’s landing page at the link above.
In Episode 9, the plot thickens when we meet the villain of the piece. Oh, you thought it was Dr. DAG? What a lightweight! He’s nothing compared to Mr. M., who isn’t too pleased that the fairy godteachers have chosen Jack and Jill as their proteges and sprinkled them with fairy dust. He has his own plan for them, and it doesn’t include enlightenment or inspiration.
The Spring~Summer 2021 edition of Teach. Write. A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal is available free online. If you would like a print copy, they are available as well.
Maybe you are a writing teacher on summer break and would like to work on a writing project of your own. Why not consider writing a short story, poem, essay, or ten-minute drama to submit to Teach. Write.? I am accepting work for the 2021 Fall~Winter edition until September 1.
Although I prefer to publish the work of writing teachers of any kind, at any level, I am open to all writers and most genres. If you are interested, see my submission guidelines.
I would love to read your work.
I am getting back into the reading groove as well. My nephew Timothy, whose blog, The Mugwump Diaries, I have mentioned in previous posts, gave me a book for my birthday that I am finally starting to read–Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. I just started it so more about this interesting book that won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2019 and has been listed as one of the top 100 novels of the 21st century.
I’m also reading a memoir, The Beauty in Breaking, by Michelle Harper for my Western Carolina University Alumni Book Club and Maranatha Road by my friend Heather Bell Adams. She has a second book out, so I need to get on the stick. I also sneak in a chapter now and then of one of my favorite British mystery writers books–Many Rivers to Cross by Peter Robinson.
I told everyone I would be mainly reading and writing this summer.
One thing I love about creative work is serendipity. What a wonderful occurrence when things just fall into place. It was last summer when I was writing every day to finish the rough draft of CAMPUS when I started doing research to find the right piece of music that I imagined would inspire a fifteen-year-old girl, uninterested in the concert of classical music she was “forced” to attend.
On the Kennedy Center’s website, I found a short article, written for young people, about The Moldau, by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. According to the article Smetana was inspired by his love for his country and for the Moldau River that runs through the Czech countryside and into Prague.
It is a musical poem, telling the story of the river’s journey as it encounters the people and landscapes that Smetana loved. There is even a musical description of whitewater rapids! (“Down by the River”).
Being a musical novice, I appreciated the simple language of the article that explained how the French horns and trumpets could represent hunters chasing deer through the forest and violins playing a polka at a wedding feast. Flutes become mermaids in the moonlight. Below the description of the piece was a video of The Moldau being performed at the Kennedy Center.
I knew I had found the piece that had inspired my character.
But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Now, I had to find a recording in the public domain that I could freely use. Would it be possible? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I support creative commons for a reason, so that’s the first place I went and I wasn’t disappointed. A simple search led me to a recording of The Moldau in the public domain provided by Musopen
I learned that, I’m quoting from their website, “Musopen is a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on improving access and exposure to music by creating free resources and educational materials. We provide recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions. Put simply, our mission is to set music free.” I discovered all sorts of things that will help me with this project and more. The website even has a free streaming classical radio station that I’m listening to as I write this.
But there’s more!!! I uploaded the music into Audacity (another open source that I love) and then just started reading the lyrics to my song, “The Liberal Arts.” It was such an incredible experience—without planning or manipulating anything, the lyrics of the song just seemed to fall into place with the music. Is this what musicians feel like when they are improvising? Whatever it is, it’s a great feeling.
Now, full confession—the piece was too long for my song, so I did cut some out of the middle, so I could have the ending that I love so much. Sorry to you musical purist out there, but not really. I am creating, feeling free from the shackles of having to do anything any certain way. Good or bad, this podel is mine, and I love it.
May 7 will be the last day of the spring semester for me, and I am looking forward to a summer of reading and writing. The last few weeks have been filled with taking care of my mother who was hospitalized in March and then getting caught up with school work after taking time to help her. I still managed to get the Spring~Summer 2021 edition of Teach. Write out, though. Yay me. You can find links to both the online free version and order copies of the print version here.
However, I have had to put off working on CAMPUS, my podel (podcasted novel). I just haven’t had the time, but I have seven episodes in the first season that you can listen to here. My plan is to have the first episode of the second season published no later than Sunday, May 9. That is if all goes well. I have a lot of grading to do between now and then.
It has been a strange semester for me, not just because of the pandemic, but also because I have had so few students. Most semesters in the past few years I have had over 100 students in five or six classes. This semester I have half that number, and I am finally able to be the kind of writing instructor I wish to be. I am taking a professional development course about improving online instruction and in the course, over and over again, the material emphasizes the importance of personal relationship when teaching online.
How can this kind of relationship be developed when teaching so many students? Only when we begin to value the individual student over sheer numbers can we really begin to help our most needy students. I don’t know if I will be able to finish out my career teaching fewer students, but I know that if I can, I will be a better teacher, and my students will truly reap the benefits.
Change the subject
My mother and I were able to talk quite a bit once she was home from the hospital and started feeling better. I was working on one of my classes and describing some of my my methods to her. She said I should write a book about my teaching methods when I retire.
I kind of like that idea.
I have a great many plans for my retirement.
Dreaming of what I might do when I’m free keeps me going.
I don’t know how much I will be able to write between now and May 7, but I’ll be back, and so will CAMPUS.
Last ten days of classes begin tomorrow. Summer can’t come soon enough.
In 1983 I wrote my senior undergraduate thesis comparing and contrasting the life and works of two great writers I’ve long admired–Franz Kafka and Flannery O’Connor. Both authors’ works are unusual to say the least. Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” begins with a man finding that he has been transformed into a giant insect; Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” ends with a corrupt bible salesman seducing a strange young woman named Joy-Hulga and stealing her artificial leg.
Many question why a devoutly religious woman from Georgia would write stories with such unusual, grotesque characters and such unsettling, even shocking, plots. One person wrote O’Connor and asked her why she wrote the way she did. Her answer still speaks to me:
“To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”
CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is my attempt to follow in the footsteps of O’Connor. It gives voice to my concerns about what is happening to higher education in this country. It is not intended to be my reality, but it is representative of a reality as I see it.
And lament it.
No, the campus in my novel is not representative of the campus where I work or any campus where I have ever worked or studied. The characters, even the human ones, are not descriptive of any person I have ever met. They are symbols only, but they serve my point and they speak for me.
They give me a voice again.
And it’s kind of a funny voice, I think.
The newest episode, that you can access at this link, introduces the fairy godteachers Belinda McBride and Brian Teasdale and features a song with music written and performed by Curtis McCarley, my good friend, former student, and composer for our play A Carolina Story. I had fun singing backup.
Another episode of CAMPUS is now available!! Click here to access all six episodes!
I wasn’t sure I was going to get out a new episode this week. I got kind of discouraged, feeling kind of down about the music part of this crazy podel project I’m doing. I have visions of what I want it to sound like, but I don’t have the musical ability or technological skills to make it happen, so Sunday, my normal day to publish a new episode, I just sort of gave up.
But yesterday, I had required conferences with some of my students. One young man who wants to be a nurse talked about taking difficult classes like anatomy and physiology along with two English classes AND working AND keeping his girlfriend’s children on track with online school work while she is at work. Another student works at a nearby hospital. She was tired because she had just gotten home, while her husband was leaving to go to work; he works at a hospital, too–2nd shift. She told me how she had Covid-19 a couple of months ago. She just received her second vaccine and the side effects have hit her hard. She had been told that might happen. You know, she still has gotten her work in on time and makes it to every online session that she can. Neither student has complained or offered excuses. They just keep on going.
I listened and felt ashamed. If they can persevere, then so can I. That’s why, after work, I went back to the drawing board and finished it. It’s not what I envisioned, but it’s from my heart–a heart that is thankful for the opportunity to teach these amazing people I call my students. This episode is dedicated to them.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! Another episode of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is live on Spotify NOW!! And it includes, in true Valentine’s Day form, a love story!! Click here to access CAMPUS.
I am especially excited this week because I think this is my best episode ever! First of all, my daughter Hannah, who is a recent graduate of UNC-Asheville, earning her second degree, a BS in Music Technology, arranged, recorded, and performed Gabhaim Molta Brighde in Irish Gaelic for this week’s episode. Her BA was in Music with a Voice Concentration from Converse College’s Petrie School of Music. The value of her education, one in classic music and the other in advanced music technologies is truly apparent in her recording. I know what you’re thinking, but a mother gets to brag on her daughter on Valentine’s Day, and every other day, too, for that matter. Oh, by the way, she has a job IN MUSIC during a pandemic (not teaching), doing what she loves and was trained for. How do you like them apples?
I’m also hyped because it has been so much fun playing around with the technology that is making this dream of mine come true. This week, with the help of Audacity: free, open source, cross platform, audio software, I was able to record two songs and alter my soprano voice to sound first like a tenor and then a bass. It is a little freaky but totally cool. The second thing I did was download the sound effect of a shower running from freesound.org and add it to one of my recordings. I also laid down background music provided by Anchor, which calls itself the “easiest way to make a podcast,” and I believe it. Anchor is provided by streaming music giant Spotify as an open source podcasting platform. All of my episodes are published immediately on Anchor and Spotify as well as numerous other podcasting databases very easily and at no cost to me.
CAMPUS is my passion project, and I am doing it for fun, but I can also see all sorts of educational applications of the open source technology I am learning to use. I hope you will listen and tell others about my podel (That’s my word for podcasted novel.)
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the other ongoing project I love, my literary journal Teach. Write. I have already accepted some incredible poetry and flash fiction for this issue, but there is still time to submit for the spring/summer 2021 edition. Submissions close on March 1, and the journal will be published on April 1. See the link above for submission guidelines.