The Big Squeeze

Bearded man with a Foot on his Face
Image Source: https://www.nojitter.com/big-squeeze

One of the most frustrating things about graduate school (well, there are many which I’ll probably do individual posts about for the next month or so) is the fact that it is my writing time that gets squeezed in the process of “becoming more educated.” I’m not very appreciative of the fact that, as writer, my time for writing every week gets slowly wittled away as I have to complete more and more assignments which touch on, ironically, writing and the theories and applications of the writing process. My Master’s Degree is in both Rhetoric and Writing and my Bachelor’s Degree was in English: American Language and Literature (with a Concentration in Writing), which just means that I took extra Writing courses on top of the required literature courses. Writing is instrumental to pretty much everything that I am and/or do as an individual and citizen.

We Want You To Write–Just Not What You Want To Write

One of my greatest sources of frustration with the educational process in general, and the way Rhetoric and Writing is treated in particular, is the fact that we privilege the teaching of writing as something that is both special and magical in terms of allowing students to find their own voices/means of expression, but also a craft and requires work through revisions, and yet, the program I’m in does not actively privilege my creative writing endeavors. Only a handful of people in my “community” know that I “Dragonhawk” was accepted for publication and not a ONE of them is a professor. Not to appear boastful or braggadocios, but this is a success that pretty much all my professors of writing should be happy about. I’m able, at a high level, to use the techniques that we teach our students (inspiration, brainstorming, drafting, revision, consideration of audience, and perseverance to see it through to publication) to create and shepherd a work to fruition.

No Conferences = No Credentials

No, I’m not talking about the conferences professors hold with their students. I’m talking about conferences that academics attend to present papers and the like. That’s really the only true measure of graduate student’s success. How many conferences did you attend? How many papers have you presented at a conferences. I both understand and am appalled at the process at the same time. Conferences, let’s be honest, are built for the extroverts who love being with other people. Sure, if you’re an introvert, you can (sorta’) get by just attending panels for the ideas and information. But, to use an old analogy–there’s as much noise (socializing) that occurs at a conference as there is signal (information/ideas). Conferences, while stimulating and fun, are not the end all and be all of an academic’s existence–which is what they are at the moment that I write this.

Value ALL Academic Expression

The main reason why this blog has been spotty this semester and that I’ve had very little time to concentrate on anything writing related, is because I’ve been fully committed to writing, reading, and working for class and for both of my jobs. I’m not really happy as the results for all my hard-work have not materialized the manner that I would have expected after giving so much of myself–and foregoing so much of my creative output in order to do all of this work. I think that if I felt that I could talk to (and get praise from) my professors for the creative work that I have done (and am doing), this would go a LONG way to assuaging the dissatisfaction I feel in that others are being treated better because they are playing the “academic” game, whereas others, who are not, seemed to be “looked down on” (and I’m not okay with this. I’m using the exact same techniques in my own writing life that are good practices (using brainstorming methods to come up with ideas, engaging with the material, drafting–including multiple drafts, getting feedback on my writing, incorporating feedback through revisions, and persevering through multiple rejections until I find a market who is willing to accept the story). The fact that I’m made to feel that my writing endeavors are not worthy in lieu of someone else who simply attends a conference is very distressing to me as a writer.

Hopefully, after this (very) disspiriting semester is over, I can get back to writing (and enjoying the things that I write) more frequently. Right now, I can say that irregularity of the blog is simply a symptom of a larger set of issues and hopefully, regularity will return when I can address the larger problem of being made to feel that my worth as a creative writer is less than someone who just enjoys playing the “academic game.”

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)
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Preliminary Exams

Image Source: https://grad.ucdavis.edu/resources/graduate-student-resources/academic-information-and-services/degree-requirements/doctoral
(While this is from the UC Davis Grad School website, it is the closest thing that I could find that simply and accurately explains the process — just change Qualifying Exam to Preliminary Exam and you’ll have a pretty good idea of both where I am in the program and what is still left to be done.)

It seems as if I’m always apologizing for stepping away from the blog for various reasons (illness and the like). For the past two weeks, I’ve been in “crunch” mode for reading trying to prepare for my Preliminary Exams. So, what are preliminary exams? Well, they work differently at different schools, but essentially they are the “final exams” that one takes before moving on to the dissertation phase of graduate work.

PhD Student

So a PhD student is much the same as any other Master’s level student as we attend the same classes. The primary difference is the amount of work we have to produce for those classes. Generally speaking (with some few exceptions), PhD students are required to produce longer works and provide more in-depth analysis for scholarly materials. There are other things that we are supposed to do that is more than a Master’s student might have to be responsible for, but in general, we simply produce more volume and are required to use more sources and go into a topic in far greater depth. At the end (or close to the end) of one’s classes, there is some sort of “gateway” (usually in the form of some sort of test) that one has to pass. For me, this is the Preliminary Exam.

PhD Candidate

Once one passes the Preliminary Exam (again, this specific to my program, although it can be somewhat generalized to other programs), one moves from being a “student” to a “candidate.” This means that one either has passed all of the preliminary stages (or in my case, will soon pass) all remaining requirements. For me, I have a couple of more electives that I need to take as I am finishing the last of my “required” courses this semester. My next major responsibilities will be coming up with a Research Proposal/Prospectus for what I want to do my dissertation on and putting together a committee to direct my dissertation. I’m planning on locking this down over the summer.

ABD

ABD = All But Dissertation. Unlike the previous two headings which are official, there’s a third, unofficial heading. When one has completed everything (classes, submitting dissertation proposal, putting together committee, etc.) and all one has left is the actual writing of the dissertation, we informally call that person ABD (All But Dissertation). While technically still a PhD Candidate, ABD just communicates the fact that the dissertation is the last remaining hurdle to complete before that person can graduate.

Right now, I am still waiting to hear back my results from my two Preliminary Exams. I’m hoping to move from the first stage (PhD student) to the second stage (PhD Candidate). If successful, I will use the summer to put together a strong research proposal/prospectus and will try to have a committee in place before the middle of the Fall semester (Sept./Oct. 2019), so that I can spend the rest of the year and the first part of 2020 writing the dissertation.

I know that’s probably WAY more than you wanted to know about my school life, but I hope that it, in some small way, explains why the blog has had to take a backseat for the past two/three weeks due to these Preliminary exams and illness. Well, that’s all I have for right now. Have a good day!

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

“I Need the Rest”

tired meme: dog sleeping
Image Source: https://www.frankiesweekend.com/2016/01/what-im-doing-wrong-on-rest-days.html

The title of today’s blog comes from Tommy Lee Jones’s character at the end of the movie, The Fugitive. He gave 110% trying to catch Harrison Ford’s character and then pieced together the puzzle of the mystery at the heart of the movie (yes, it’s an older movie, no I won’t spoil it for those who’ve not seen it).

The image above (thanks, Frankie’s Weekend) is a visual representation of me during this semester. I gave 110% in terms of trying to teach my classes while taking classes as well as working part-time. I’m sorry that the blog took a “hit,” but to be honest, it wasn’t the only thing. My creative writing also suffered during that period. When you’re grading papers at 3 am in the morning, after trying to write a 15 page paper and study for an exam within two days of each other, things just get a bit dicey.

2019 — Trying to Get Back on Track

Before the end of the semester, 2018 had a lot of great refinements to both the blog and my creative writing. My goal (or resolution, if you prefer) is to continue to build upon the successes of last year. While I’m striving for a daily blog, I may have to realistically aim for 3 entries every week, and use the weekends to “stockpile” entries for when I get overburdened with school/classwork. I’m also trying to find a consistent time to write–these shorter times work for blog entries, but are unsatisfying for short stories. I’m still in search of the perfect writing time/space.

2019 — Creative Writing

So, in 2018, I wasn’t able to publish any of my creative writing. I also didn’t really finish any new pieces, although I started on several. I did, at least, find a way to submit work and to keep it circulating to give myself a chance at publication, but the stories were the older ones that I finished that most publishers just don’t seem interested in while the ones that I’ve started are in various stages of “production,” but none are really ready to market (in my opinion), so I have to keep submitting the older ones. One good thing is that I found a “system” that works for me: I submit my stories “weekly” now–write on the weekdays and submit on the weekends. I’ve been able to keep 1-2 stories out each month, for the past two months using that system. As I finish newer stories, I can add them into the rotation, and hopefully, they’ll see publication by sticking to this system, so that’s one area where I can now say that is no longer broke, so I don’t need to fix it anymore and I can put my energies to figuring out other areas of concern in my writing process.

Well, that’s all I have for today. Have a Happy New Year and I’ll see you in 2019!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

A Physical a Day . . .

Image Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/getting-physical-examination#purpose

Sorry for the awful title–I tried to think of something clever, but words have failed me. Today’s blog entry will be shorter one today as it is the 18 year anniversary of the death of my uncle–the same one whom I have often spoke about in these blog entries (See the entry for Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain for a quick intro on how influential he was to me as a person). Yesterday, I wasn’t able to blog as I was at the Doctor’s office for my annual physical. The day before I had to upload the grades for my students and I was completely exhausted trying to make sure that I had accurately graded all papers and projects.

You Should Always Have a Physical

I rarely give advice in these blog entries–preferring to relate the events and things that happen to me and let the readers decide how and what to make of that information for themselves. This is the rare time when I would suggest that everyone, if at all possible, have an annual physical examination. Why, you might ask? I feel fine, you might say. Well, I know from experience that it is important to have your health checked on a regular basis.

The High Cost of Medical Care

So, I’ve lost a family member and a friend, both of whom did not go the doctor because of the cost of medical care. My family member was an uncle, who died in 2000 due to colon cancer. I will always remember that time and it crystallized the need to have annual checks as a doctor mentioned that the disease would have been treatable if it had been caught early enough. A few years later, when I was working on my Master’s Degree in Education, I had a fellow graduate student who wanted to be a teacher, but wasn’t technologically savvy. He asked for help on improving his “technology” skills and, since we’d previously had a class together and I knew he was good guy, I agreed to help him. The last part of that class was comprised of a technology “presentation” and he told me he would call me so that I could run him through PowerPoint and show him how it worked . . . but the call never came, then came his time to present and he wasn’t there . . . and then the professor informed us that he had passed away. He had told me earlier that he wasn’t feeling well, but that he didn’t want to go to the doctor because of the high medical cost.

Annual Checkups are Necessary

So, to end this blog entry, after these two deaths, I’ve come to believe that annual checkups are necessary. I have missed one or two (due to unforseen circumstances), but I try to make sure, whenever possible to make my annual checkups and I encourage everyone to take one as well. Have a great day!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)


Dead Stop

Image Source: https://www.americasmarketingmotivator.com/dead-stop-the-value-of-a-time-out/

It seems like I’m forever apologizing for not working on the blog, but this time I had some very good reasons as to why I haven’t posted in a while (over 3 weeks, I think). Basically, it’s because I haven’t been writing—not creatively, nor for the blog.

Work-Life Balance

So, the thing to understand is that my work-life balance is completely out of whack. I could go into the many reasons as to why this is the case, but to sum most of the reasons up in a short, pithy way: school. The classes that I had to take this semester were intense (one was reading intensive, while the other was watching films, both in and out of class, so it was time-intensive). The two classes that I was teaching were Monday, Wednesday, Friday courses at 8:00 am, so it was hard (and became impossible) to both plan lessons and write blog entries at the same time, and lastly, the Chromebook, while necessary to do my work, isn’t really conducive to “writing” as its keyboard is horrible in terms of feel for touch typing. I find myself making double or triple the amount of keystroke errors than I make on my (now ancient) 2008 Macbook Pro. The Chromebook does not make for a good writing experience—in fact, outside of short one or two paragraph feedback entries for my students, I now actively try to avoid doing any extended writing on the Chromebook as it is such a frustrating and dismal experience.

Solutions

So that this post doesn’t turn into a “gripe” post, I wanted to provide some solutions that I’ve been musing over during the unintentional sabbatical that I’ve had to take and you’re actually reading the first one—changing the time when I write the blog. Every weekday, M-F, I have approximately 30-45 minutes of usable time that I used to try to use for my creative writing. However, I was ultimately frustrated by the lack of progress that I could see myself making in those short sessions. I’m taking that time to write this blog entry. While I can’t actually find and place the images, nor upload it as I’m not on the internet as I’my typing these words, still the time (in my mind’s eye) fits better as I can write these words now and upload them sometime tomorrow—yes, I’ll still have to spend time finding images, linking them, and sourcing them, but at least the majority of the work will be done ahead of time. I still have to find a place to move my creative writing, but I’ll experiment with a couple of times I have in mind on the weekend to see if those times work better and allow me to actually finish drafts. I’m also going to use Scrivener to try to help out. I can see the word count at the bottom of the page (494 words so far), so I’m aiming for the 500 word mark. Some posts may be around 400 words (or even shorter if I’m tired), some may go long (600 words or more), but I’m going to try aim for 500 words, with a hard 1000 word cap. This, too, should help with getting these posts out of my mind and onto the blog in a timely manner. And, as I’m quickly closing in on that 600 word mark, I think that I will close for today with my family’s most adhered to adage (along with my personal addendum); If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it (but if it is broke, fix it until it isn’t broke anymore, and then leave it bloody well alone!)

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)


Enjoying the Holiday

Image Source: http://moderndayms.com/2017/11/thanksgiving-with-ms-enjoying-a-healthy-holiday/

So, regular readers of the blog will realize that I’ve been spotty (at best) for the past couple of months.  I apologize.  I’ve wanted to work on it, but to be completely candid, I’ve managed to fall waaayyyy behind (on pretty much everything).  I wanted to take time away to catch up, but there never seemed to be enough time in the day.  Then the Thanksgiving holiday (in the US).  I thought that would be the perfect time to catch up (on life, universe, and everything).  Sorry, that’s a Douglas Adams joke–sometimes I think I’m much funnier than I really am–again, apologies.  Anyway, I had hoped to catch up on blog entries, grading, reading for school, etc., and pretty much everything, but I decided to just “take the holiday off” as it were except for some light reading for class.

All Things in Time

Rather than try to do all of these things at once, I decided that it is simply a matter of time.  Right now, grades & grading come first.  I will try to work on the blog daily, but for the next three weeks, I’m not going to make any guarantees.  I have a list of topics that I want to cover on my iPhone.  I hope that I will have time to work on them as I do have an hour each day that I currently haven’t been utilizing for that purpose.  Luckily, December 17th is the day that grades are due, so even if I’m spotty over the next weeks, it will only be for a short period of time.  This blog entry is being written in hopes of getting back on track–I personally love writing these entries daily as it helps me to be inspired to write creatively at night.

Short Update on Projects

I’m running low on time,  so I wanted to give a quick update on my writing as I haven’t done that in a while.

DSRV: Ship of Shadows: Graphic Novel–This is the project I’m actively writing.  I’m on page 32 of the graphic novel.  I will be working on it until I reach page 56 (basically all of December) and then I’ll switch to finishing The Indpendent.  

Project Star: Finished the “Rough” draft a couple of weeks ago.  I need to go back and write a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd draft for the story.  This will probably take place next semester (Spring 2019).  I probably need to change the name though–there is already a graphic novel with the name I want to use as well.

The Independent: I haven’t quite finished the 2nd draft, I would like to finish the 2nd issue of DSRV before finishing the 2nd draft–I intend to leap-frog the two projects (drafts of The Independent and DSRV).  I really enjoyed working on Ryn’s character and I’m having fun putting her in the story.  During the 3rd draft, I hope to improve the setting and the problems of the story.

I have several other projects in the works which will make an appearance from time-to-time, but right now I’m focused on my Preliminary Exams–and I pass them, my dissertation is next.  I’m so glad that I enjoy the writing process as I will be doing a lot of it both creatively and for school over the next year or so.  That’s all I have time for today–have a good day!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

Back to the Grind

Image Source: https://medium.com/the-mission/the-daily-routine-of-20-famous-writers-and-how-you-can-use-them-to-succeed-1603f52fbb77

So, last night, I wrote for the first time in almost a week.  I don’t know why I haven’t wanted to write in the past couple of weeks, except that I felt like my writing just wasn’t going well.  While I finished the rough draft of Project Star, it isn’t like finishing an actual project.  There’s not that sustained natural high that there is when one finishes a full project.  However, for some unknown reason, I really wanted write, so I made myself write and I really enjoyed it.

Reading and Writing Taking up the Same Time

I love to read and I love to write and sometimes those two loves compete for my (limited) pool of time.  For some reason, this week, I’ve really wanted to read, but I used the time that I would normally write and just read.  I’m rereading The Mallorean by David Eddings and I feel that has helped me stay sane.  However, my writing time has taken a hit because I’m using that writing time to do my reading.  Last night, however, I was so invested in writing that I wrote very quickly and finished up pretty quickly as well.  I then, still had enough time to read a little bit of The Mallorean.

I Feel Sickness Coming On . . .

The problem is that I think I’m getting sick.  I had a student in class today who had a Sinus Infection and some bronchus going on as well.  Based on how I feel writing this blog post, I really don’ t want to get sick as I have waaaaaayyyyyy too much to do, but it looks like that is what’s happening. Not sure how this will affect my writing as I play it by ear; it just depends on how I feel.  Well, that’s all that I have for now.  See you next week!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 31)