Turtles

Exhibit 24.26

Tattoo Ideas for Someone Else Sorted by Decreasing Likelihood

The Turtle from Mario Bros.

Old Timey Periscope Ad

Missouri License Plate

Map of Legoland

Sort of Grim Reaper

Comment / Posted in Old, Tattoos, Turtles

Exhibit 23.25

Journal

The new Open City is all kinds of awesome, and you should go out of your way to support them. Right now. The first story from Sam Lipsyte is hilarious and not just because there is a character named Vargina which–I’m surprised and ashamed to say–made me laugh almost every time I read it. There are some nice looking debut fiction pieces I’m working my way through as well though I had to put off finishing them because I kept giggling about poor Vargina.

I have a few Flasher pieces in it which are only notable for continuing to exist. He buys a painted turtle among other things. That (still) nutty Flasher.

Comment / Posted in Journals, Poetry, Turtles

Exhibit 21.9

A Place Like This

I’ve been at this university for two weeks now, and while that probably doesn’t qualify me to make the broad critique I’m going to make, I feel comfortable in my assessment anyway. Colleges are funny like that. Or maybe I’m just pompous like that. Either way.

But I want to acknowledge that I know nothing about this city. Okay, so I know Lyle Lovett is the greatest person to come from here. That’s about it and that’s about enough.

And so it was probably spending time with an architect–happy birthday, Marti–or visiting Rice’s beautiful campus, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the physical makeup of the university. Not the administration or degrees or students but the actual buildings and landscape and how they’re situated in the city. It’s something that’s been bothering me since the first time I visited the campus, and it only has become more clear in my time here because of this typical conversation (this one in particular I had with the guy opening my checking account):

Guy: What brought you here?
Me: School at UH.
Guy: Ha, how do you like the neighborhood there?
Me: Can I get any Ninja Turtle on my debit card or just Raphael?

UH knows the neighborhood around UH is bad. I know they know this because they talk about it as constantly as everyone else does. They tell us not to walk to our cars alone at night. They send us campus alerts when the Burger King across the street gets robbed. They have video cameras and emergency phones and anything else they can do to reinforce the idea that A) the neighborhood outside the campus is scary and B) aside from the occassional intrusion of this scary element, the campus itself is a protected space.

Obviously the university’s first priority is the physical safety of their students and they should do everything possible to protect them/us. Unfortunately, they seem to have bought into this narrative that the campus can and should exist in isolation from the community around it. One gets the sense that everyone–except for, you know, the people living in the Third Ward–would be happy if around the hallowed borders of the school there was white space until Montrose and its American Apparel definition of urban.

It’s such a pointless and anti-educational way of thinking about the space of the university that I hope I’m misreading the situation. I don’t think I am. There really doesn’t seem to be any engagement or even desire for engagement with the rest of the neighborhood, and its a shame to treat the campus as if it’s some kind of colony on Mars where this will happen if you go outside of the compound without a helmet:

As a teacher–and, yes, I now say things like that just like I now have to care what Stanley Fish and Gerald Graff think about whatever–it feels like the physical campus is already setting up for at least a kind of failure. If the university can place itself in a sphere, should we be surprised if students keep their knowledge in one? If the university can’t even confront what’s across the street, what do students do when asked to confront the world? Being a public school, being a largely commuter college, hell, even being in the academic shadow of Rice, just isn’t a good enough excuse to write off participation as part of the academic experience for students and professors.

(other things I do now that I’m in graduate school: ask inane rhetorical questions, wake up 30 minutes later than before, wear an academic gown around the apartment, have an opinion on standardized testing)

The university is–rightly–proud of their students. They makeup (allegedly) the most diverse student body in the country, they work jobs, they are often the first in their family to go to college. Which is why it’s so perplexing that their chosen college seems to be afraid of the world many of them come from. Not only does it waste an opportunity, but it detracts from the education they’re able to provide a truly unique student body. Building a moat around the university does nothing except reinforce the idea that the academic world is something that’s closed to their membership and irrelevant to their lives beyond going through the checklist of their degree in hope of a better vocation.

(addendum to list of other things I do now that I’m in graduate school: use multiple metaphors for same situation often times involving either space or knights or both)

None of this is to say I want a campus like the oak-lined East Coast academia of Rice or for UH to use its clout to force gentrify the area, but I would like to see some understanding from the university that their responsibility to their students and their neighborhood goes beyond emailing the police blotter and patrolling the outlying parking lots. When I step into the classroom, it’s the only time my students and I even have the opportunity to live in the same world in a very large, very diverse city. But if we can’t agree where we are, if we’re pretending not to be in a city at all, then we’re nowhere and there are no implications outside of the classroom.

If the university thinks it needs to isolate itself in order to protect itself, the university doesn’t even know what it’s protecting.

Comment / Posted in Houston, School, Turtles

Exhibit 20.13

I Don’t Know

Old man
you walk slowly
we all agree
queued up behind you
except for maybe
the turtles
but they don’t
say anything
only shake
so excited
for Diane Johnson’s
craft
lecture
turtles love Diane Johnson
like old men
love Diane Johnson

1 Comment / Posted in Crafts, Old, Turtles

Exhibit 9.8

So if you care about such things, VQR got themselves in trouble–at least as much as one can get oneself in trouble in the tiny little world of literary journals–by posting snarky comments their readers had made to slushpile submissions on their blog. They’ve now been removed, but take my word for it when I say the comments were petty, smug, inane (one claimed that the inclusion of a prose poem was a personal affront), and probably a more or less acurate representation of what gets said at most literary journals swamped with submissions. The difference is, most journals have the decency not to make a public spectacle of mocking their target audience with wholly unfunny faux-revulsion written by nominally qualified undergrad/graduate students.

That’s not to say the comments themselves bothered me that much. It’s not what I would allow to be written about submissions if I edited a journal–and I obviously wouldn’t make any comments public–but in my time reading for a journal I probably said worse things to other bored, frustrated readers. In that sense, I think Mr. Genoways’s couching of his apology in the journal’s frustration at inappropriate submissions is fair enough. It’s hard to read 20 short stories in a sitting and have 5 be offensive, 5 be genre work, 5 be insanely boring, and 5 just be insane.

But pretending that the frustration about the kitten poetry and wish fulfillment stories the journal receives is actually a larger frustration with American literature is just disingenuous. He writes, “However, I do think that the comments, if not their public airing, are a fair response to many of the submissions we receive and accurately reflect the righteous indignation that we often feel as readers.” Again, it’s not my journal to run, but I find it callous to say that mocking your audience is “fair” whether or not the authors ever read it. That’s small potatoes, however, to the ultimate point of the response which seems to be that VQR and their army of undergraduate and graduate student readers are the last bastion of hope in American letters. That’s certainly overstating it, but I have a hard time believing that anything about this insensitive but very small misstep calls for a “mini-manifesto” or a dialogue about “what ails American literature.”

I like VQR. I’d probably like their staff. I hope they keep trailing the zeitgeist with issues about superheroes or robots or whatever for a very long time. I feel bad about my own smug last sentence. What I don’t like, is pretending that doing the arduous work of weeding out the 9/10 submissions that are all some level of crazy leads to frustration about the state of American literature rather than frustration over the fact that someone in prison sent in their Ninja Turtles fan fiction and there is an obligation to read it. That has nothing to do with American literature.

I read at a journal that received a large number of submissions, and in my time there I didn’t say “Yes” to single story I read. And I read a lot of stories. Probably some of the same ones that some poor soul at VQR had to read. There were some crazy ones. There were some competent but dull ones. None of it had anything to do with what “ailed” American literature and even if it did, I certainly didn’t think myself, as a graduate student, capable of being able to pinpoint the story or poem that would fix it. Which I guess is the point. If VQR is frustrated with their submissions, they should stop taking them. If they want to try to shake up literature, god bless them. I hope they do.

But those “indignant” comments weren’t trying to do that and nobody should pretend they were.

The thing Mr. Genoways doesn’t seem to get is that nobody wants the self-satisfied, juvenile writers of the mean-spirited comments to decide anything about the direction literature is headed. And, thankfully, they won’t. It’s a lot of fun to be an MFA student guarding the gate to a venerable institution, but by the time those students are submitting stories that earn curt rejections from journals, their ideas about what literature should and can be will have either changed or they’ll have stopped writing completely.

What Mr. Genoways wants in writing is out there. It may not be in every piece published by the Virginia Quarterly Review (ed note: or on my computer), but maybe he should ask himself why that is rather than fretting about the state of American letters. After all, if his readers are so prescriptive about what is good that they can’t imagine it being in the form of something like prose poetry, then VQR is fostering the problem not fighting it.

5 Comments / Posted in Journals, Turtles, Writing