Monday, 15 November 2010

Not even funny

I have often thought that someone could make a really hilarious reality show exposing what goes in creative writing workshops.  While I got a lot of good writing practice in my creative nonfiction classes as an undergrad, workshop sessions often ranged from exasperating to downright absurd.  In fiction workshops, there were always the obviously autobiographical stories of suicide, drug addiction, death, divorce, etc., discussions about which were much more therapy sessions for the authors than any kind of exercise in literary criticism.  In nonfiction workshops, the classic oversharers had free rein to spill their guts with total abandon, a privilege that resulted in, for example, an hourlong discussion of a female student's extended essay on her experience of childbirth and its gory aftermath, exploring in depth the significance of her own placenta and historical views on that organ.  If I found the experience uncomfortable, my squeamishness was nothing compared to the horrified response of our sixty-something male professor.

My experience in these classes provided plenty of material for TV-worthy situational comedy, but, for all that, it always had some redeeming value.  Despite the nonsense I sometimes had to read and treat seriously in class discussions, it was always the case that most of my classmates were honestly doing the best work they were capable of.  I could count on getting thoughtful comments on my work from at least a couple of fellow writers whose opinions I respected, and my professors always held the class to a sufficiently high standard to stimulate real effort, whatever kind of product resulted.

This semester, I am in a workshop once again, this time entitled Advanced Translation.  I had high hopes for this class:  the title sounded rigorous, and it is offered through one of the nation's leading writing departments.  Unfortunately, it has turned out to be the worst kind of sham.  This is hardly material for a satirical T.V. show.  This is prime fodder for an expose on how Ivy League professors get away with absolute murder, pulling down full salaries for decades in compensation for precisely zero actual work, while offering their students the opportunity to get an impressive-sounding credential on their transcripts for investing nearly zero effort.  While there are a couple of truly talented students in the class who consistently share well-crafted translations, the work we discuss is usually a far cry from advanced, displaying a bare minimum of effort and a profound lack of understanding of the rudiments of the English language.  Today's seemingly interminable class was especially illustrative of the laziness and lack of rigor that have been so characteristic of our weekly sessions, but after enduring two and a half hours of such nonsense, I simply don't have the stomach to describe it.

What I do have the stomach for:  the couple of dishes I've prepared from my new cookbook.  Last night:  a chocolate cake that takes about five minutes to get in the oven, contains only five tablespoons of oil and no other fat, and that turned out to be a moist, fudgy delight.  Tonight:  spaghetti with roasted peppers and fried eggs.  I roasted a pepper myself, and although I think I can improve on my method next time, the result was pretty tasty.  I would have enjoyed my dinner in any case, but it's truly amazing how satisfying it can be to put together a decent homemade meal -- to perform the simple, honest, useful act of feeding myself -- after sitting for hours feeling potentially productive time slip painfully.  Although, come to think of it, I guess that monumental waste of my time produces the useful result of putting dinner on my professor's table -- a pretty good wage for the couple of useless, redundant comments he made today.

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