Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rambling: Egypt

One thing that is fiercely disappointing as a Historian, especially one who enjoys studying the Middle East, is that you can't do shit about History, or the Present, or the Future when it comes to global events. You can, however, become unreasonably angry, disenchanted, apathetic and later intoxicated about it. We can only record, and guess at motives, and pretend that we know what is going on. (I've personally been doing some cheering for the protesters in the privacy of my home and informing other people of the situation in Egypt.)
No predictions. That is for the Political Scientists and Politicians themselves. They don't usually know either. The People do though, but The People are made up of individuals. Individuals can see the wheels start to turn, but they don't always realize that they are turning the wheels because their momentum is just a little part of all of the force it takes to move the wheels. Afterward, though, they can stand back and look at the images and fire on TV, see how the world was changed by a little movement, and say, "We did that."
And any day from then on will never be the same.

That's how I feel about the protests across the Arab world.
Egypt will not be a new place because Mubarak selected a new cabinet, but because the Arab world was tilted off of it's axis on Friday. It's only a matter of time before it is completely turned on its head.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One-line Rejection Letters #1

Started writing one-line rejection letters because submitting work is scary and it helps me own the whole jerk attitude rather than giving someone else the chance to out-douchbag me.

One-Line Rejection Letters #1

Sometimes we get poems that blow us away, but in your case we've decided to head to the fallout shelter because it is the last known refuge from your horrible work.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Poetry Class

Preparing items for poetry class and Scribes of Lancaster meeting...
Wrote too many drafts this past week and can't pick one to workshop tomorrow.

Sonnets: Bitches Love 'Em
see more Historic LOL

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Waving my History Degree in Your Face

Waving my History Degree in Your Face
J. Lannan

Yesterday someone inquired at to why I was working towards another Bachelor’s Degree and what I planned on doing with a degree in Creative Writing. The answer should be obvious. I need a piece of paper that tells me that I can actually write...that’s how I feel about art degrees. You can create art, but there’s something special about a new piece of parchment to show off. Maybe my first degree just looked lonely on the wall in the office.
A degree in Creative Writing seems only slightly more useful than my previous degree, which was in History. I had big dreams, but somehow I fell out of love with what I was studying. Iranian prison systems are not that romantic. I also bored of having to prove everything that I wrote about and trying to back it up with facts and figures and bibliographies. History is a place where in order to have an opinion it has to be supported by a few other people’s opinions, and it helps if they wrote books or were interviewed on the matter so that there is something to cite in the research. I always toyed with the idea of claiming something completely outrageous about some moment in History just to see if I could find enough research to back it up. With Creative Writing I can make it up as I go, and there’s so very little that I must attribute to anyone else. It is said that, “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” It’s creative theft. A rhyme scheme here, a twist there and suddenly we’re wearing a coat made from some other artist’s skin. Awkward.
The allure of Creative Writing should be obvious for someone who wanted to put as much flare as possible into their historical research projects, but what is a History degree really good for?

1. Grad School—That seems to be everyone’s plan. “I’m going to teach.” Only so many people can teach because universities can only hire so many people, and even though your research may be your baby, your love, your everything, it may not be someone else’s “everything.” What you find value in is not likely what someone else values, but when you do find someone that shares your interests you either love them, or you’re convinced that one of you is doing something wrong and suddenly it becomes a contention. History is a fickle mistress that leaves you exhausted, with a sore back and wondering if you’re ever going to succeed in appeasing it...but you’re not quite sure what it means to succeed at History.

2. A Masters in BS—Even with a BA in History you should be awarded a MA in BS. It is nearly impossible to complete every assigned reading while working on a History degree—here the similarity between the study of English and History is stunning—so you need to set priorities early. Ask yourself these questions: Do I actually want to read about this subject? How small is the class and therefore how likely am I to be called upon? Does the Prof think that I’m an expert and that I can be singled out on the topic? (And made to look like an idiot when I don’t do the reading?) Can I sneakily read this document during my earlier classes as I’m discussing the other readings?
BS becomes much easier with experience. By the end of my History degree I was BSing things that I did not even know that I could BS—even in a class where a Prof considered me an “expert.” If given proper attention to important facts (such as: time period, location, tone, political affiliation, etc.) you can determine how people will write about certain issues and concurrently guess what they wrote or how it could be interpreted.

3. A Massive Academic Penis— Historians, and, yes, other academics can be blessed with Massive Academic Penis. They always have that smirk as though they know a secret as soon as any debate starts, and then when someone lets their guard down the academic just flops it out there. The reaction may be awe or terror, or begrudging respect, but it is obvious who has won this contest. MAP is not just for show, but can also be used to poke holes in other academics’ research, and if your MAP happens to be big enough some people will thank you for using your clout on them. Writers can also have MAP without any proper training, but theirs manifests more as wit instead of facts, and they usually gain the cockiness after writing something especially clever. MAP does not decrease in size even if you don’t decide to go to grad school, and even if you’re not really using it for the intended purpose it is kind of nice to just take it out and look at it from time to time.... just to make sure that it’s still there and that it functions properly.

4. Research—I can locate and whip through several dozen articles on Vegetarians in “The New Age” magazine in the course of about 2 hours. My familiarity with finding things and people puts me up there with the CIA, but I don’t have any secret prisons and I’d only torture people if they asked nicely. I could probably find Bin Laden with an old episode of MacGyver, some chewing gum, a board with a nail in it, and the right Search Engine. I’d probably need Chuck Norris too, but even Google won't search for Chuck Norris because it knows you don't find Chuck Norris, he finds you.
There are other benefits of research though such as becoming really pale due to never seeing the light of day.

5. Stalking—That’s the bastard child of Research. I never know if I’m going too far, so I need to draw the line somewhere right before “Creepy.” On more than one occasion I’ve had to make that call on “If I tell them that I know this about them, does this make me a weirdo?” Give me a tiny shred of information on someone and I will turn that into “crossing the creepy line” in the matter of minutes.

6. A Strong Back or a Back Injury—From carrying massive amounts of books to and from the library. When the workload becomes physically too heavy of a burden you can pawn it off on your friends and help them get into shape because there’s nothing better than hiking the hills of Athens with two messenger bags of books as added weight.

7. The Fear of Historical Reenactments and Reenactors— Oh sure, reenactments seems like a cool idea at first, but then you realize that reenactors usually have a screw loose...and this commentary comes from someone who likes to play dress-up for their own amusement. I once attended a panel on the American Civil War (I believe it was titled “War is Hell” or something along those lines) and I had to leave early due to prior engagements and nearly falling asleep. I later came to find out that the Q&A nearly ended in fisticuffs over a lecturer and a reinactor’s disagreement over something trivial. As opposed to Massive Academic Penis the reenactors, who are not really historians, but armchair historians, usually have a narrow breadth of knowledge and experience. They may know a lot about one guy, one battle, a series of battles, etc, but when they try to fling their knowledge out there in front of an academic who has a MAP, well the only thing that can be focused on is how small it is. Due to their limited experience the reenactor does not recognize their deficiency, but is very proud of what they do have and when the Academic's reaction is less than awestruck the reenactor will then proceed to get really loud and defensive because they don't know how to back up their claims when challenged. The academic has a MAP, so they're not going to back down either.

After writing this out I suddenly wish I had cartoons to go along with it, but I don't have time for that right now... maybe I will get around to it though.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Short Story: Be Quiet

Today is my friend's birthday and I guess I wanted to give them nightmares. Or maybe not. I don't think this is too creepy of a story.
I wrote it from a randomly generated prompt...this one actually "A graveyard is the location, hatred is the theme. A coat is an object that plays a part in the story."

"Be Quiet"
J. Lannan

Hate isn’t something that I usually deal with, but here it is right around that corner of the mausoleum. It’s not something I can easily understand as to why I happen to offend someone else by just being me. That’s their hang-up, so why am I supposed to pay for their discomfort?
Behind me is a grey marble wall. The smooth stone chills my sweat between it and my skin with my t-shirt caught in between the two. I breathe slowly and hope that somehow time will stop. That I’ll no longer be obvious to my pursuers. That they’ll just give up.
In. Did they even see me come in here? Out. How can I leave? In. I can’t possibly be making any noise. Out. Did they hear that?
I heard it. A shuffle of leaves and a bitten-off scream. An impact. Two impacts. It was nearly unison.
It is dark in the cemetery. Twilight has passed and the sun has set. I cannot tell if they are afraid, but did they care that I was scared? I relax against the wall and run a finger over the seam between the blocks. The noise still creeps away as a shuffle and I feel a bit more protected. Perhaps the two tripped. My brain pours over what I should do, what I could say, and that debate as to whether I am a bigger person. Or not.
The commotion has increased to thrashing. Wouldn’t it be funny if they tripped into an open grave? My head swam with the images of their pleading faces upturned and begging. I could give them a hand. Knowing my luck they’d probably pull me down with them. Or I could throw dirt at them and then skip all the way home. “See you at school, you miserable wretches.” I imagine myself the victor of their stupidity.

I came in here because it is like a maze. A maze that I know well. At least, I thought I knew it well enough. There were always additions, and mourners and grave blankets or flowers that changed with the seasons. Some forgotten graves with decorations from Christmases long past. A stray wooden rabbit. Dear little infants with stone lambs sleeping upon the top edges of their monuments. Couples that would one day meet again in the earth. The lonely stones of long-dead spouses who had reserved a plot for their husband or wife to rest beside them, but the spouse moved on and never joined them. Oh, the stories that a grave could tell.
This grave told a story as well.
After deciding to offer assistance I step out from behind the mausoleum and see an open grave. Of course I prepare to gloat, but there is a distinct lack of motion from the two who lay in the bottom of the neat fracture in the dirt. Faces that upturn at broken twisted angles. The school uniform-clad bodies look somewhere between clinging to each other and cowering away from something unseen. Under the lamppost the shadows play upon their faces exhibiting silent frozen screams and open eyes.
“Hey,” I call to them, but know it is pointless. I am even colder than before and the nightfall has absolutely nothing to do with it. “Hey!”
My shoulder is caught in a grip. An embrace as I twist to fight it. It tightens around me, but cannot hold. I fall back onto the ground to find a filthy-looking man standing over me. His jeans are caked in mud and the shirt under his stained brown coat may have been white at some point in time.
“The cemetery closes at dusk.” His smile did little to put me at ease, but there was something about his eyes that did help.
“What are you doing out here?”
“I’m a gravedigger. The uh... politically correct term is probably something like caretaker, but there’s not much to take care of. I just dig the holes.”
I nod, but don’t move further than that.
“You can go now. Go home.” His voice sought to move me anywhere.
“What about them?” I point to the open slice and immediately feel as though I should just get up and leave without another word.
“What about them?”
“They’re... dead?”
“Really...” He sighs and looks over the situation before turning back to me. “I guess there’s just one thing to do about that.”
Call the police. Call their parents. Get a news reporter out here. A camera crew. Paranormal investigators. I keep cycling through my thoughts.
“Help me burry ‘em.”
I glance at the filthy man and my eyes advertise my fear like a neon sign right across my face.
“Now, kid, I deal with bodies all the time. It’s not like they’re going to come back and do anything to you.” He tosses a shovel at the ground before me. “Now, the real thing you got to worry about is when they start talkin’.”
“Talking?” I use the shovel to steady myself as I stand up.
“Yep. When anything starts talkin’ you gotta’ bash ‘em in the head with the shovel ‘til they get quiet again.”
“How do we make sure they don’t talk?”
He starts to shovel dirt to fill the hole. “Talkin’ makes more talkin’. So, I keep quiet an’ you keep quiet, and they not likely to start anything. As soon as we’re talkin’ about them though...” He nods again.
“So, if anything talks?” I whisper.
He raises an eyebrow at my question after his next couple shovels of dirt and I get the idea. We silently fill in the grave. He looks over our work and takes off his coat. Placing the dusty coat on my shoulders he gives me a slight squeeze and bows his head slightly before sending me off into the night. The coat should protect me from the night air, but instead it hangs on me as though shepherding my silence.
I don’t turn back. I don’t speak. Days pass before I do, but I never speak of them. They are not worth my words.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Copy from my LJ: When challenged to write a bad poem...

First day of the quarter and my poetry class was asked to write a bad poem for an in class bad poetry competition. This was my contribution, it was deemed too funny to be completely horrible. I read it very dramatically.


My soul weeps
ice like fire
ashes blackened like my soul
my razors only
silence my pain
bloody regrets

We were then asked to take these two lines (the truth is, the bad poem) and write something crazy.

Bad Poem

The truth is
the bad poem
tastes like a week-old cake
stale, hard icing
sugar without flavor
dry without wit
and filled with
a sense of
without sustenance