Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Prince of Darkness or How I've Spent The Last Three Months


Courtesy of Deviant Art


So I’ve been a little negligent with my life, loves, and blog friends lately. You can thank the Prince of Darkness for that. Let me explain.

I’ve been taking a course this semester that has literally kicked my arse. A short story workshop that should have been more appropriately named Sadism 101. I have been spending all of my time either creating stories to please my very-hard-to-please professor or doing wasteful, unimportant things like eating, sleeping and trying to ensure my mind doesn't go mad. I thought the workshop a slam-dunk because I think I do alright in this area; oh, silly, silly girl. Little did I know Satan would be teaching the course. The man took pleasure in making us sweat and telling us time and again that our submissions were shit. There were only a "handful of formidable writers" in class, myself included, (his words not mine, and at least we agreed on something) and although he would comment time and again that I wrote very well, had a vivid imagination, and showed a clear desire and willingness to write pieces that were worthy, he had a problem with my writing nonetheless because it was filled with too much symbolism, allegory, and tended to be on the side of complex and sophisticated. Oh, this is going to be fun.

First submission he didn't like and he felt it was unfinished (okay, in retrospect, I concur). Next.

Second submission and one of my favorites (and I will stand by it as being one of my best - it had a solid beginning, middle and end, it had conflict, resolution, strong character development and depth; it was dead on), but unfortunately it was allegorical and symbolic once again and he hated it. With a passion. *sigh* He nearly had a coronary trying to explain it to me, "allegory and symbolism went out in the 18th century!" Is he for real?

But he wasn't finished yet, "People found it hard to read then and still find it hard to read now. Although your piece is well written," (I think he would say this to soften the massive verbal blow that always followed), "it fails the reader. As a reader, if at the end I am suddenly hit with the fact that this was an allegorical story all along and oh, how very clever and smart you are, then it fails because now I feel stupid. And, if your intent is to make the reader feel stupid, then you’ve succeeded."

I look at him blankly trying hard to keep my homicidal tendencies in check. But, he wasn’t finished. Nope. Not by a long shot, "Well, let’s not go by me. Let’s take a poll to see how many of your peers liked it and, most importantly, got it." 

Ninety to ninety five percent of the class loved it and, guess what, they all got it. That only caused him to be further infuriated and he proceeded to slam me to the wall.

"Oh, I see, I am the stupid one then. Very well, but it’s still shit."

Great. Now he really hates me. I go to the required one-on-one tutorial all students must have to meet with him.

"I’d like you to write something more along the lines of a fable, fantasy or science fiction. Let's try that, shall we?”

Terrific. I've never attempted any of those genres because it's not my thing and now what he's really intimating is that I have to write something he likes otherwise I'm screwed, right? Great. Give me some needles quick because I’m using them to stick them in my eyes. That would be far less painful.

I become stuck. Mentally anguished and creatively stuck. I can’t get a trickle of fantasy, science fiction or children’s story from this brain of mine. I eat. A lot. I watch TV. A lot. Okay, so this is looking and feeling a lot like depression. I curse the man each morning when I wake and each night when another unproductive day in writing has ended. I read other students’ submissions. Some are good; really, really good. Yet, some are not. Actually, some are really bad. Dude, give me a break here. You can’t grade my allegorical-inspired stories that happen to be beautiful in language and depth, but you can grade this elementary garbage?

I ask what was wrong with the latest submission, "Again, you are an inventive and excellent writer. But I do not want allegory." Okay then, two words: bite me.

An idea sparks. I decide to meet him halfway. I won’t write any more stories filled with symbolism, but I’ll write what I want. And it isn't going to be fable, fantasy or sci-fi.

Next submission. Allegorical again. *sigh* I can't help myself can I? I knew he would hate it but I was creatively tapped out, brain dead trying to come up with something that didn't come naturally and I needed to submit something - anything. But, guess what? The class loved it but did that matter? No. Some even approached me after class and kindly told me they wished they could write like that and wanted to know how I did that. Though a long piece - 20 pages - I had them engaged from the first word and they never lost interest. Do you know how hard this is dude! But, of course, he hated it. Next.

In my next submission I finally give him his dark fable. Feast on that you sadistic pig. Living in the pit of despair, of which he was to blame, birthed it. My dark side had been tapped. And, he loved it.

"Yes! Fear and evil is good and good is nasty! And we love nasty!"

All-righty then, got it. Satan was teaching the course and he was into some kinky shit. I finally gave him his science fiction request. A dark, evil and scary creation. He was beside himself with joy. It appeared I at last gave him the lollypop he wanted to so badly suck on since the beginning of the term.

"You can't possibly leave this as a short story! This is a novel! This can very well be turned into a movie!" Whoa, whoa, whoa! Relax there, Lucifer, I had a hard enough time coming up with this. Now you want a novel? Sorry, I’m not ready to sell my soul to you just yet. Plus you, you little bastard, had me tap into my dark side after I tried so hard for so many years to be a light in this world. Not nice. I much prefer Luke over Darth, but you wanted to play Satan, didn't you?

Seventh, eighth, ninth submissions, more pages of the dark world I created that he so craved and wanted to feast on. He fell in love with my story and couldn't get enough.

"Five more pages! Ten! Fifteen!"

Argh! My life came to a halt. Satan had allegorically and symbolically made me his slave.

Finally, the story was finished. That I lost part of my sanity as a consequence didn’t even ping on his radar of good conscience. He was happy. And we must make the man happy because there is a little thing called a grade.

My husband asks, "are you worried about a grade or about being taken out of your comfort zone and learning to write something different?" Silly man, of course it’s all about the grade. Hello! But he was right, grade be damned if you haven't learnt a thing.

Well, Satan was appeased. Satan was impressed by my final submission because he did not think I could pull it off. He wants to highlight this story next week in class. So this was a test, huh? Sadist. Had I wanted another man in my life that would push me to my limits to see if I indeed had it in me, I could've stayed home.

As our final assignment, we had to hand in our best pieces for our portfolio. My stomach was in knots because he hated everything I submitted, with the exception of his sci-fi request. So, I meekly ask what I should submit.

"Oh, you’re fine. No worries there. You’re more than fine." 

He's evil, I say. And now next semester I have a project seminar to take and tackle. Playwriting. And guess who’s teaching it? The Prince of Darkness again. I email him. Does this require an in-class presentation in front of peers, because if that’s the case, I’m out. Not my strength. I’d rather have root canal without anesthesia than to read anything in front of a class.

"No, not a requirement and it’s been a terrific pleasure working with you and I look forward to doing so again next semester."

Well dude, I’m glad you took pleasure, because for me, it was anything but. And so the second torture session will begin at the end of January. But for now - for the next month at least - I have light in my life once again. Unfiltered, immense joy. That is, until Satan once again comes to claim my soul.

December 2008

43 comments:

Matthew Saunders said...

I had the same experience with English professors at my college. They tend to be more interested in forwarding their own agendas that actually teaching you anything.

My worst encounter was a creative writing class that was poetry and short fiction. I went to Vanderbilt, and unfortunately this particular professor had a chip on her shoulder about the Southern patriarchy. As a Southern white male, you can guess how things went for me.

She had a favorite game she would play where she would start off class by asking, "So, how many of you have heard of [insert name of Random Poet Guy]?" When no one spoke up, she would make this horrible sound in the back of her throat and shot, "Well, he's only the most prominent American poet of the twentieth century."

Really? So prominent no one has heard of him? More prominent than Ezra Pound, E. E. Cummings, Carl Sandburg, Robert Penn Warren (who headed a writer's group at Vanderbilt), Langston Hughes, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Maya Angelou?

One day when I get my novel published (Dark fantasy. She would so disapprove.) She get's an autographed copy.

Tanya Gwen Minnick said...

Hey Rebecca,
Thank you for your kind comment.
I believe that too, that you are an intuitve soul, in tune with the universe :) how neat. I like that you call them your "spirit protectors" I imagine they came to protect you from this nasty teacher. How great that you were able to finish the course, and the story, I might have cracked and crumbled under such harsh judgements on myself and my writing..eek.
I do hope that life is back to being fun and enjoyable for you, I also hope you have a great holiday season.
Take care
hugs back
T :)

Genie Sea said...

If your stories are anything like this post, Satan is blind as well as dumb.

I teach creative writing, okay at the high school level, and I know one thing for sure. It's not about how I would write it, it's about how the students write it. Satan's ego is bigger than his accomplishments. He is afraid to look stupid because he feels he is, and uses this as a forum to self-aggrandize. Dude is clueless.

You are marvelous!

rebecca said...

Hello Matt! My favorite vampire writer! And, yes, I agree, some of them are more interested in forwarding their own agenda. They have such high opinions of themselves (but then, they are the only ones) that they are not open to your way of thinking, writing, etc. Their huge egos short circuit any kind of successful learning.

And, I can't wait for your book (I'm singing now!) I want an autographed copy mailed to me!

rebecca said...

T:

Oh, no, sweetness, they were not there to protect me from this nasty teacher. I was on my own with that one. But, luckily, I'm old enough to be secure in myself enough when I know something is good and when someone's ego is just talking. The ones I felt bad for were the young aspiring writers because if they had dreams of becoming writers, well, the Prince of Darkness sure put a monkey wrench on that! But, 'tis the holiday season and even he can't ruin that!

rebecca said...

Genie:

Thank you for that kind comment. And thank you for stating what I've been saying all along: it is not about his preference, but mine. And, as a professor, he should be able to grade and read anything. The genre was not the point of this class (which he made it); the point was in honing our skills and making sure we became better writers. When he made the comment about a reader feeling stupid, I knew then he was no longer talking about me. So, I didn't take it personally, but I needed to find what he liked, because like it or not, that ultimate grade depended on it!

d gypsy! said...

hehhehe.... there u'd some tough time...

why dont u show this blog to the prof. he wudnt ever repeat that...

nyways, creative writing sounds fun... i opted for journalism and the frst thing that was told to me and class of 49 was "you are here to report facts coz u love stating truth-not bcoz u love writing" sigh, i knew i mistook the place... :P

murat11 said...

rebecca: Welcome back: I'm happy to see that the Prince of Darkness (POD) takes a little time off. Probably has to go into hiding during the seasons of joy that are upon (and within) us.

Interesting that the dynamic of browbeating you into dark unallegorical fiction (the real Satan is full of irony; couldn't he also handle a sampling of symbolism, too?) is not (for this POD, anyway) simply a matter of domination: it's as if he needed to see if you would "like" him enough to play in his sandbox.

Best wishes to you: paschal

Pam said...

Makes me happy that I have stayed away from formal creative writing classes. I'm here from Writer's Island.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Rebecca,
you brought back such wonderful memories. I went to college late, and stumbled into and through writing courses in many ways similar to the one you write about. There was the "shark lady" who taught a course titled "Black Women Writers" and said I could not do my semester project on Gwendelyn Brooks because she was a poet.

Then there was the prof who truly believed that any artist worth her salt must suffer, and he would insure that by standing her up, repeatedly, for public humiliation, showing the classroom how he had marked her attempts with skulls and crossbones.

But, then there was the wonderful man who looked at me, looked at my writing, and said I could do whatever I wanted to do. Later, after college, when we had poems published in the same anthology, he called me and said it was an honor to appear in print alongside of me, and then asked me to be the guest poet in his most current classroom. The true gems are out there, you just have to really dig down deep to find them.

Loved your story and keep writing what pleases you,

Elizabeth

gautami tripathy said...

JUst keep creating. Keep writing.

I knew instantly

Derik said...

That sounds lame--I've never had problems with my English teachers, and I've written dozens of papers. I can't believe he doesn't 'get' allegory or symbolism--this is the stuff I remember studying all the time in high school and literary criticism, and American lit and Brit lit and pretty much any other class I've taken.

To be honest, I would have written exactly what I wanted the entire class; I never bow to authority. If he wants to judge on what he likes rather than what is well-written, then that's his prejudice.

rebecca said...

Derik,

That was the crux of the problem right there. As he continuously reminded us, this was a 'creative writing' class; not a literature class. And, my problem lay in the fact that my background was literature. It was not only me, but others as well, that he would inform time and again that once we stepped foot in his classroom, 'leave your literary language and aspirations behind.' He tore us down and forcibly tried to erase all of that we knew so that we could create from a clean slate. Pretty hard, especially if all you're used to is writing in a certain, "expected" way. Yeah, it kicked my ass all right. I'm not sure whether it was prejudice or whether there was a method to his madness, but it certainly took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to write something different and write differently altogether. In the end he was pleased with my progress and submissions, so I guess I did okay - despite the torture.

Rose said...

Rebecca, you truly are a light in this world! It's a bummer this prof is so self-absorbed that he can only respond to a limited range of ideas and writings, and it appears it's the darkness that appeals to him most. I doubt I could stay in a room with someone like that for long. I do believe in challenging people, coaxing them outside of their comfort zones, encouraging a little spreading of the wings, but he didn't exactly do that. He clipped the wings a bit. But your spirit still soars despite his narrow-mindedness.

b said...

Rebecca, I think I might know that evil dude! This piece was a genuine master piece. Don't stop...maybe we could have 5-15 more pages. Smile!

I reread my post after you commented yesterday. I need Satanistic teacher and a proof reader...hopefully not the same person.

Thank you for the comment.

b

Greyscale Territory said...

I have never wanted to take formalised creative writing classes. And if I needed any convincing my choice was the right one, your experience certainly assured me! How horrendous! But hey! I bet you feel proud you survived in spite of the guy!

Score: YOU ~ 100 points
POD ~ ZERO!

Kristan said...

Wow. I can honestly (and thankfully) say I never had a professor push his or her own agenda like this. Only push me harder, which I appreciated. Sadly, in his own twisted way, it seems like that may be what he's doing to? Whether or not it's intentional is another question altogether...

The Real Mother Hen said...

Derik would love this type of teacher. I, on the other hand, would have terminated him by now. Ok maybe not, since I love science fiction, oh I love reading about evil man wanting to feast on humans, sucking our brains out while pulling our guts out with one single bloody hand movement :)

In all seriousness, you write very well. And I do expect to read a novel from you, some day in the future, hopefully soon. Yes I'll buy your book.

Rambler said...

oh so many submissions..man I would have struggled

Lilibeth said...

Sorry. It sounds like you have had quite a semester. I'd go with the reactions of your peers and forget the scorn of the professor. Although it wouldn't hurt you to take the advice that actually moved you forward and discard the rest.

paisley said...

four words,,, "those that can't,,, teach...."

write for you girl.... if it comes from your heart,, you can believe there are a million others out there that will love it...

do you have any idea how many books would not have been published,, or how many classic movies would not have been made if their success or failure was based solely on the voice of one critiqe??

rebecca said...

neha @ d gypsy:

nah, i don't think i'll be showing this to POD, i'm not that dumb! i took a couple of journalism courses in college way back in my 20s; i found it wasn't my cup of tea.

rebecca said...

hallooo paschal!

i'm not sure and i don't buy that he couldn't handle symbolism - come on, he's a college professor - i just think he wanted us to leave that at the door. he informed us many times this was not a "literature" course but a "creative writing" course where we dealt with the nuts and bolts of the language. your symbolism, your allegorical tendencies, your complex and sophisticated language, etc., leave at the door please. there was one guy in class who wrote so phenom, yet he came down hard on him also. unfortunately, he was a young and very bright kid who got discouraged my his method of teaching, whereas, he did manage to piss me up big time (but then it's only because i was taken out of my comfort zone i suppose) but i never took it personally. with this prof, you either hated him or loved him. i stood somewhere in the middle, yet i'm going back for more, so i suppose that says something.

i mean, i had fun writing this 'venting' post, but it was in a comedic sort of way. in retrospect, i appreciate his madness because he kicked my ass and made me analyze and become a little better at this 'creative writing' venue. my background in english was literature and so i had to erase all that i learned (and that's what he wanted from us) and write from there. the first part of the semester, he was brutal with all of us, not just me; the second part of the semester, i notice his style of teaching change - he now became more supportive. so i think his method was to strip us of our egos, our likes, and push us into uncomfortable territory. well, for this, i am grateful. i've never walked away from a challenge and i'm glad i was able, in the end, to meet his. it gives me some belief, at least, that i am not too bad at this at all.

rebecca said...

Pam:

Thanks for visiting and welcome. Well, as far as creative writing, it's always been a passion of mine. And anyone who can make me better at it, is always welcome. And he did, so I thank him despite his method of teaching.

rebecca said...

Elizabeth:

Thanks for dropping by and welcome. Yes, you have your good and bad professors, but I wouldn't necessarily categorize him as a bad one. He was challenging and sometimes he went a bit overboard, i'll grant him that, but you could still see he had a tremendous interest in this craft. now that it's over and this is the first weekend i have where i don't have to put together a 10-page paper, i suppose my perception is a bit different :)

rebecca said...

Guatami....thanks!

rebecca said...

Hello, Rosie, dear friend:

Yes, darkness did appeal to him, no doubt. Although he did manage to teach me and take me out of my comfort zone altogether (by verbal flagellation, if need be), i still appreciate him as a teacher. i know, hard to believe, right? but i always feel if you've learned something, then it's a gift.

and, no, he didn't clip my wings. not by a long shot. i'm older and have a better understanding of human nature and i knew at times when he came in it was not so much about us but what was going on with him. you just had to learn to put that on the side. the ones i felt bad for were the young, aspiring writers who came in so full of good energy and belief and i think he shot them down too harshly. whether he felt this was wrong or not, i don't know, but your age has much to do on how well you can take criticism. how harsh and truthful should you be, you know what i mean? and yet, in one of my tutorials with him while i was waiting for him to finish with a young student who was very timid, i overheard him being very gentle with her and it was this - this - that stayed with me. he had a heart after all. so i guess he was harsh with me (and some others) because he knew we could take it....and, believe me, i could. i never shied away from it, he never manage to beat my spirit so badly that i lost faith in myself (please, it will take much more than that), and i just tried to figure him out, that's all. his method, why he did it this way....but you never know what goes on behind the mind of another, only yourself. but i still, if anything, appreciate him for forcing me out of my comfort zone because i created something that i never would have done on my own.

Crashdummie said...

ouch, your own incounter with el diablo.

But i guess u climbed up the hellgate. Weird that is, how oblivious ppl are on what kinda effect they have on us. I dont think ur prof.., sorry, i mean diablo, knew how this was effecting u.

not an excuse, just an explination.

cheers!

Tumblewords: said...

Power is frightening when it's in the wrong hands - good post!

Leni Qinan said...

Rebecca,

I never took a course on creative writing but to be honest, That professor (POD) is killing your creativity. Some people think they possess the truth.

Go on writing and keep that creative flame alive!

rebecca said...

Coyote: I mistakenly 'rejected' your comment on my iphone (either i have very big fingers or this phone is arbitrary). So here goes what you wrote:

"FANTASTIC! This is outstanding!

Take the playwrights' course. Your prof is a literary dom. Not pretty. But hey. I think I want to come up there and take that course.

BTW - Your muses have not deserted you; they're giggling in the corner. You're my hero! Heroine. Whatever."

And my response?

Yes, he is a literary dom! No, not pretty at all, but I suppose there was a method to his madness. While in the course, I hated him, wanted to stick needles in his eyes (kidding, I actually wanted to stick them in my own!), and the man gave me so much agita and stomach pains it wasn't even funny. But, hey, that's on me and how I reacted to it. I'm a big girl, I should be better able to handle this. But taking me out of my comfort zone, he certainly did, and I suppose what would be the point of me taking the course if he was going to support and like everything I wrote - I think he did, in his own quiet way, but did not let on because then, I wouldn't grow as a writer. So, he did right; however, his method, well....but then again, perhaps I am one that needs to be hit with a hammer in order to understand. *double sigh*

anno said...

Sometimes I think the chief benefits of classroom work come from the exposure to other people's work, the (sometimes forced) incentive to stretch one's range, and the (always forced) opportunity to jump through hoops. It may not be fun, and the real learning that occurs as you discover who you are & what you want to become may not always get expressed on the page (especially when you have a Satanistic professor who would have you deny yourself), but it is real learning nonetheless. Hold tight to that knowledge and have faith: when you are ready, others will be interested in reading what you have to say.

San said...

that was an absolutely delighful read. and no, i dont mean i take pleasure in your misery. but i thought that the post was so well written. dont tell anyone tell you otherwise. :)

rebecca said...

Halloooo Barbara!

So you think you might know this evil dude, huh? Gee, I hope he's a better friend than he is a taskmaster....but as someone once said, the devil is always more interesting than those that want to do and be good....

I'm just happy I was able to withstand the fires of Hell.... LOL!

Tammy said...

Welcome back from the dark side. lol You really should write comedy. He was pushing your buttons, but I think he was jealous. Congrats!

nuke said...

Lucifer!!! Great story I was cracking up the whole time. He didn't appreciate your previous works you submitted but he enjoyed something that was filled with darkness and evil.... All I have to say is KOOKY!!!! And you are taking him again, you must love torture. There goes another three months of being ignored...

Stan Ski said...

I think the problem is not in what writers are capable of writing, but what readers are capable of reading.
What was the last book you bought?
Was it better than anything you could write?
Then ask yourself if you want to Write, or write commercially...
If it's the latter, then unfortunately, it may be worth listening...

vivienne blake said...

Your piece is absolutely brilliant: superb writing, which is, after all, what Satan told you you could do.

I think many of us can recount similar experiences with creative writing tutors: they ALWAYS want to take you out of your comfort zone. One of mine insisted that every story must contain great dollops of conflict. I shy away from conflict, and certainly don't like writing about it. Stories and poems tutors have condemned out of hand, have been the ones that made it to being published. So yah, boo, sucks to Satan.

Elizabeth said...

I remember the first time I read this, what a tumble of emotions and memories it unleashed. It was wonderful to come back now and just enjoy your ability to write and express one hell of a good story. Thank you for the seconds, they really filled the gap,

Elizabeth

rebecca said...

Stan,

The last book I bought (about two months ago) was Rabbit and Rabbit Redux by John Updike but have not read it yet. Right now I'm going through Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

I go to bookstores and see a multitude of books that I sometimes wonder how they made it to print yet there is an audience out there for them. I find many have a very low bar in terms of good literary taste and like to read garbage. Me, I like to write anything but because that is not where my heart lies.

The POD's (Prince of Darkness) recommendation did allow me to tap into a genre that I was very unfamiliar with and for that I'm grateful. Perhaps once it is done I'll peddle it. I don't know. Time will tell.

RiikaInfinityy said...

Somehow this story make me laugh but sometimes teachers are hard to please, and can give you a hell time ;D

vivienne blake said...

Rebecca, in one of your replies you said "so i think his method was to strip us of our egos, our likes, and push us into uncomfortable territory. well, for this, i am grateful."

I think you have hit on the truth about many writing tutors' methods.
I have recently finished, with great grades, 3 years of creative writing courses, but I didn't do it quietly! I posted on one tutor group forum a long poem written to the creator of the course, complaining about this and that and the other. He responded with an incredibly witty sonnet, and I riposted in kind. That was the beginning of an occasional online poetic correspondence which has rattled on ever since. I've been known to pastiche the tutor's own writing and send it straight back!

The role of the teacher is to bring out everything of which the student is capable. The role of the student is to challenge, absorb, adapt, and to find his/her own 'voice'.

rebecca said...

Vivienne,

Today I have such a great relationship with this professor and I admire him so much. He did for me what no other professor/teacher ever did - he didn't allow me to stay comfortable in what came easy for me. I really did not believe I had it in me to write sci-fi yet he saw it immediately. It was tough in the beginning, I won't lie, but then....then, a wonderful, creative story unfolded which has become my work-in-progress aka manuscript. If you read my follow up to this post - Part Deux , you can see how the semester ended.