A few things have plagued my mind this month as I have been pulled ever inward by the insurmountable gravity of grading. While I am no mathematician, I calculated the total number of pages read this semester stands at 1400 pages. A total that does not include the fictional miscellany I peruse before my weary eyes fall asleep without a spotter nor the sundry articles that pass through my RSS reader and out the other ear.
A grand total of 1400 pages of nothing but student work. Mind you, I am not complaining here. Student work can be quite entertaining at times. No, the issue is not the reading, but the grading on top of the reading that is the issue. Those 1400 pages must be edited and evaluated. Their quality must be assigned. It must get done, so it has been done…for the most part. For that reason, I have a few moments to explore the randomness that spins in the void of my mind as this semester draws to a close.
For the Love of Sticky Notes
After washing my hands recently, I reached for the towels. To my surprise, I did not find the usual rough, nonabsorbent papier-mâché. Instead, I found a sticky note. A little sticky note that read, “Broken, Please Fix Me!” In and of itself, this little note would not have perked my curiosity. However, as I slithered back to my office burrow, I found another sticky note that proclaimed in capitalized, AND cursive font, “STUDENT DROPPED OFF ESSAY, IN BOX.” Of course, inside the box there was the student’s essay diligently displaying another sticky note “From [insert name here]”
While such things are a constant occurrence in our office, the rapid succession of stickies gave me pause. Are English professors overly infatuated with sticky notes? I almost banished the thought, but then I opened my office door. Inside was strewn hundreds of sticky notes. Sticky notes with Dewy Decimal Numbers, book titles, authors, teaching notes, general notes, notes with quotes, notes of random thoughts, notes on notes, notes about potential papers, notes about papers currently being written, notes on papers already written but need to be revised, and the list goes on and on…
They were everywhere! They were a Flood! T.S. Eliot was only half right. THIS is how the world will end: Covered and muted in sticky notes!
The Horses and the Clay Dipped Doll
Another thing, or perhaps things, that struck me recently as I was wandering the campus, were the police horses. Well, they didn’t strike me, although they strike a handsome pose every now and then. I would probably pay the police horses no mind if they were always there, but they are not. I only see them once a month if I’m lucky (which I’m not). The rest of the month, it’s cop cars and bicycle cops. Why do we even have the horses? I mean I like them, but why are they here? For our aesthetic pleasure? I decided to ask around, but no one knows. And as I ponder them now while I write, a greater question comes to mind: Who picks up all the shit they leave?
The other odd object that caught my wandering eye was on a wall by the music building. It was a clay doll sitting in the sun to dry. Not a doll made of clay (for that would be too easy) nor a doll made to look like it was made of clay (because that would be silly). No, it was a doll covered in clay, and that clay was then sculpted to look like the doll it covered. I went up to check it because I could not comprehend its purpose. Why? Why is there a doll covered in clay to look like a doll sitting on a wall by the Music Department? Do musicians take a break now and then from the notes and play with other things? Dabble in other arts? I don’t know, but the doll was gone a few hours later never to be seem again. Perhaps it walked away of its own accord fed up with being misunderstood and under-appreciated.
Riddles in the dark of daylight. I guess the light of learning only reaches so far.
Crowdsourcing A Novel
As I write this very sentence another thought occurs to me: why should I write when others can write for me? I mean this more abstractly since I do enjoy writing and would never desire not to write. But writing does take a great deal of effort. Why not split it up a bit? You don’t see lone programmers diligently crafting software anymore nor a single mad scientist changing our word (tip to Curie). So, why should a lone author write a novel? Some like Joyce or Milton did not, unless you call a transcribed voice writing. Why not get a bunch of people together and write a novel or series of novels? Even Lovecraft had a shared, and even peer-reviewed, universe with his friends!
Of course, these questions are not very original. Laziness is a defining human trait. There are numerous sites devoted to exactly that: writing novels together. Some seem to cost money, such as WEbook. Others are free to read and write for such as Protagonize. Some are simple and easy to work with like Novelet. And nearly all are a digital extension of the choose your own adventure novels I read as a child. Basically, you write little passages and others write additional passages that either continue the story linearly or create a fork in the story. They can also leave comments and questions for you as well.
Personally, as I reminisce about my fast-fading youth, the ability to create what I once loved to read sounds appealing to me. And as I clicked from link to link to link, I realized that these novels are basically just a focused collection of hyperlinks. Poking around some more, it seems that nonlinear novels (Pale Fire anyone?), which are so difficult to read in print, have finally flourished and come into their own on the internet. Sadly, while there is a whole collection of these non-linear narratives out there, they are often overlooked or unseen. Such fascinating texts as Hegirasope, Sunshine ’69, and the GRAMMATRON, which even has its own soundtrack accompaniment. However, as I dallied about these texts, I found then rather ugly. I mean the writing was interesting, but the pages were just horrendous. Were the authors so fixated on the text that they simply ignored the aesthetics of the frame?
Perhaps, perhaps not. I found out the texts were old, ancient by internet standards, and thus did not have the more elegant lines of our well-formed web today. I mean several were written in the mid 90s. You don’t remember that time, do you? AOL stood at 4.0 and internet speed topped out at an astoundingly fast 120kbps. Ah, the internet was more fun then. Emoticons were a novelty and chatrooms were all the rage. Long Live AIM!
I suppose it and all the rest will eventually fall into the UNKNOWN.
Update (9 years later)
I wrote this 9 years ago and it’s interesting to look back on what has changed and what has remained the same. The peculiarities of academic life never cease to amaze the uncommitted observer. After all, some things in the university do require a certificate of insanity to understand. “It is a blurred line that lies at the edge of Godhood and Insanity. Guess which side of it I am on. Feeling lucky?” Which reminds me, I need to read some Nietzsche. I haven’t had a good argument with words in a while. Next post! But I digress…
There is one area that has changed more than others, so I am adding a few words here, and that is user-generated writing platforms. All the collaborative writing sites I mentioned have faded away along with many other unique sites such as TextNovel. You barely hear the briefest whisper of them now. Some do not even warrant an obligatory obituary. The stream of progress moves ever faster, and the canyon of past works erodes ever quicker. The internet is a man-made Grand Canyon for the digital age.
Still, humans still like to read and write. Some sites remain, such as Wattpad, FanFiction, Archive of Our Own and Shōsetsuka ni Narō (Japanese light novels). I hope they stay around a little longer because the collectivization of fiction necessitates the democratization of writing (try and say that five times fast). They also allow writers who suffer from crippling authorial anxiety and insecurity to write and keep writing what they want to write. Everybody wins!
More writers have also dipped into the crowdsourcing pool or used it successfully. Eric Mack’s Crowd Control is a full-on experiment in it while Hugh Howey and Andy Wier leverage it to varying degrees of success, and those are only the ones that I am familiar with! Perhaps we will return to the days of Anon, where the great works of our age, just like The Odyssey and The Iliad before them, were crafted by the many not the few, or the one. Then again, Woolf argued that Anon, the great author of so many beautiful poems and stories, was often a woman. I suppose time again will tell.