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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Slave and academic frustration

Robert Silverberg is fast becoming one of my favorite sci-fi authors. I've read his book "The World Inside" and it is a really fabulous look at what could potentially happen to humanity. It's a bit like "Brave New World" in some ways, and it does all of the things science fiction should do -it entertains and it makes the reader examine his or her own life in comparison to an imagined future.

"Unfamiliar Territory" is a book of short stories by Robert Silverberg which does essentially the same thing. His writing style is learned without being unnecessarily erudite or scholarly, and he occasionally throws in some humor to lighten the dark path down which he thinks we're heading. He examines a lot of our social mores through the use of poetry, music and sex; in the futures Silverberg imagines, sexual mores are much more communal than they are now, and our own writing is often in a form that has become incomprehensible and limited. People are trapped by their own inaction, by the societies they created or help sustain, and by some connection they feel to the way things are now.

He's a really fascinating writer, and I would advise anyone with even a passing interest in sci-fi to check him out.

Academically, I've just begun reading the book "Slave: My True Story" by Mende Nazer. I'm only about 30 pages in, but so far I'm enjoying it. The writing is simple, but descriptive, and it makes the reader think about how privileged we are in Western society as compared to most other parts of the world. Mende spent her childhood (before she was abducted into slavery) growing up in Sudan, where she spent several hours a day helping gather firewood and cooking or finding food for her family. Her tribe did not have access to clothing for most of her life before her abduction, and when the rains failed to come, people starved.

As far as the book itself goes, I am enjoying it. I would probably not have picked it up if I wasn't taking the class I'm reading it in, so I give the class points for that.

However, allow me a moment to complain about the class itself. Writers out there will be able to identify with the things I'm about to say. I am a junior in college. When I signed up for an upper-level writing class (Women and Writing is the name of it), I was anticipating learning about the ways women have written, the history of women and writing, feminist writings, women in writing...stuff like that.

Instead, what I got was a teacher whose specialty is African writing and chose (seemingly at random) books by 3 women from either Africa or the Middle East. I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is the total disconnect between a class on women and writing and the class I'm taking, which is about books that just sort of happen to have been written by women.

On top of that, apparently my teacher is under the impression that no one in the class has an intellect above that of a 4th grader. She has us drawing posters and doing fill-in-the-blank poetry. My first piece of writing was 4 pages long, double spaced, and she claimed I had written "a novel!" and asked that I try to be more brief.

That, by the way, is the only critique I have received. In 4 weeks of class, approximately 2 dozen pieces of writing/drawing/filling-in-of-blanks, I have not received a single constructive comment that could in any way improve my writing.

In addition to that, my professor frequently makes ridiculous spelling and grammatical errors on her instruction sheets, which I find insulting -she's a writing professor, she should know better -and she is one of the most disorganized teachers I have ever had. She's had to revise the syllabus once already because she can't keep things in order.

As a woman, and a writer (primarily a writer), I am beyond fed up. I am sitting in this class knowing that if I write something I wouldn't be embarrassed to share with a critique group, it will be considered to be too long. So my only other option is to write something so short that it is in essence undeveloped. I'm okay with writing flash fiction pieces, but we're supposed to be working on memoir writing. How are 1-2 page (double spaced, mind you) pieces of writing supposed to contribute to my ability to write memoir?

No. I am stagnating. I feel like I'm losing my talent as a creative writer, not improving it. The class is a waste of my time, and the time of everyone else in it.

Has anyone else had an experience like this?

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