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People.
I was 22% into Dear Committee Members when I realized it was my new favorite book.
It’s everything I’ve ever aspired to write. It’s a blindingly bright, acerbic academic satire with tons of actual-laugh-out-loud gags, it has brilliantly complex interlocking storylines, and it moves forward from letter of rec to letter of rec at an almost frenetic, mad cap pace that does not get stale. One moment the protagonist is kissing his former literary agent’s ass, trying to score a publication deal for a beloved mentee; the next, he’s passive-aggressively plunking out a screed to the University Medical school. This book is pointed, pissed, delightfully silly, and so, so accurate about what academic life is like. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject later. But for now, just read the damn thing okay???

I began and finished this book last night. 
I sold it short initially — not only is this book incredibly incisive and witty, it’s also surprisingly humane and sweet. The sweetness of the book’s outwardly prickly protagonist grows more apparent as the book goes along. It’s a gradual, slow sweetening that blends perfectly with his sour, acidic narrative voice. By the end of the novel, you’re left with a remarkably complex blend of sugar and spice, darkness and light, wit and heart-rending pathos. 
You’d think a book consisting solely of letters of recommendation would lack a plot, but the turns and twists of the story actually left me gasping and sighing audibly as I paced my apartment flipping the pages. The main plot events occur off-page, of course, but the letters themselves tell a vast, decades-long story of petty jealousies, squandered career ambitions, ruined relationships, and fraught but loving mentorships. 
This is my favorite book! I just read it last night, and it’s my favorite book! It’s the perfect blend of acerbic social satire & brilliantly complex, philosophical fiction. If you’re a recovering English major, an adrift college student, a postmodern nerd, or a professional academic of any stripe you should totally read Dear Committee Members. 

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People.

I was 22% into Dear Committee Members when I realized it was my new favorite book.

It’s everything I’ve ever aspired to write. It’s a blindingly bright, acerbic academic satire with tons of actual-laugh-out-loud gags, it has brilliantly complex interlocking storylines, and it moves forward from letter of rec to letter of rec at an almost frenetic, mad cap pace that does not get stale. One moment the protagonist is kissing his former literary agent’s ass, trying to score a publication deal for a beloved mentee; the next, he’s passive-aggressively plunking out a screed to the University Medical school. This book is pointed, pissed, delightfully silly, and so, so accurate about what academic life is like. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject later. But for now, just read the damn thing okay???

I began and finished this book last night. 

I sold it short initially — not only is this book incredibly incisive and witty, it’s also surprisingly humane and sweet. The sweetness of the book’s outwardly prickly protagonist grows more apparent as the book goes along. It’s a gradual, slow sweetening that blends perfectly with his sour, acidic narrative voice. By the end of the novel, you’re left with a remarkably complex blend of sugar and spice, darkness and light, wit and heart-rending pathos. 

You’d think a book consisting solely of letters of recommendation would lack a plot, but the turns and twists of the story actually left me gasping and sighing audibly as I paced my apartment flipping the pages. The main plot events occur off-page, of course, but the letters themselves tell a vast, decades-long story of petty jealousies, squandered career ambitions, ruined relationships, and fraught but loving mentorships. 

This is my favorite book! I just read it last night, and it’s my favorite book! It’s the perfect blend of acerbic social satire & brilliantly complex, philosophical fiction. If you’re a recovering English major, an adrift college student, a postmodern nerd, or a professional academic of any stripe you should totally read Dear Committee Members

hotcrossfatbuns said: one of my best/worst attributes is that i give no fucks what people think of me. for me this stems neither from a super sense of confidence or arrogance but more from being a loner child.

That pretty much sounds like the ideal way to be! There’s no point in crouching through life or apologizing for one’s existence — even if super super confidence isn’t always in high supply. Being direct and valuing oneself while still possessing some humility and open-mindedness…that’s definitely the ideal, for me anyway. I hope I learn how to actually embody that someday. 

And really, the only time I actually find confidence grating/loathsome is when it’s coming from some mansplaining blathering white dude who’s, like, talking in the verbal equivalent of all caps about all the shit he knows and believes. That’s the only time when confidence is actually a terrible thing. 

Forever conflating confidence with arrogance, and therefore loathing confident people

And

Consequently mistaking paralyzing self-doubt for virtue

bookriot
Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women for the money. And it made her miserable.

As a young writer, Alcott concentrated on lurid pulp stories of revenge, murder, and adultery–“blood and thunder” literature, as she called i–and enjoyed writing very much. She was in her mid 30s when an editor suggested she try writing a book for girls. Alcott wasn’t very interested, but her father was a complete moron with money and had left the family in terrible financial trouble. Alcott wrote Little Women in hopes of some decent sales and a little breathing room and got way more than she asked for. The money in sequels was too good to turn down (and her father didn’t get any smarter with a dime), but Alcott hated writing what she called “moral pap for the young” and longed to return to the smut and violence of her early endeavors.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Books and Authors You Had to Read in High School (via bookriot)

(via skeletonweather)

Yet Another Guide to Moderate Graduate School Success

It is a new academic year, which brings a new spate of fresh-faced little matriculating graduate students who have no idea what all-consuming terror is coming for them. Every year the babies come, and every year I see them make the same few entirely reasonable mistakes. 

Ok. Granted, many of these innocent little academia babies are actually 31-year-olds with a decade’s worth of experience in their professional industry of choice, but still. Babies. Drooling big-eyed sacks of hope, ripe and ready to waste a ton of time and lose a ton of sleep on shit that does not matter. 

I am a jaded slacker half-asser with a PhD and a job, so I have some advice for all them. Including, perhaps, you. 

  1. Don’t read everything assigned in class. Skim. Hell, don’t read anything you don’t have to. 
  2. Do not expect to come up with a “perfect” thesis topic. You will have to settle for something feasible, actionable within a short time frame, and appealing to your adviser. 
  3. Do not be a perfectionist. Work a lot, write a lot, and turn in work as soon as possible. Don’t waste days, weeks, months tweaking. 
  4. Accept criticism with skeptical grace. Your adviser doesn’t know everything, but he/she thinks he/she does. And you probably do need to hear at least 50% of the criticism you receive. 
  5. Set a regular work schedule and stick to it. No one else will force you. 
  6. Allow time for breaks, social contact, and hobbies. Your mind needs time to unwind and incubate. Your work will be better and you will be less miserable. 
  7. Half-ass your course work. Grades do not matter in graduate school as long as you pass, so allot as little time to class as possible. 
  8. Treat your assistantship duties dead fucking seriously. Even if you do not care for your adviser’s research program, get invested in it. Put in time, be conscientious, be respectful, and act like it’s a job.
  9. Prioritize your academic goals. Your utmost goal should be meeting your academic requirements as quickly as possible. Write your thesis, take your exams, make your reading lists, submit shit to your adviser, etc — do it early and often. 
  10. Don’t wait for confidence or competence to magically materialize. Listen, ask questions, make educated suggestions, make honest attempts, and move forward. Expertise will blossom in the back of your brain when you aren’t watching for it. 
  11. Be your own advocate. Your adviser will not cajole you into working, or make sure to schedule regular meetings with you. Push for the time and support you need. 
  12. Do not waste time on “service”. You can piss away years organizing lunches, helping visiting speakers find parking, and sitting in on committees. It will not advance your career and it will delay your graduation. 
  13. Network in a meaningful way — by contacting researchers who are interested in the same things as you. Propose projects, write papers together, and so on. 
  14. Don’t be a rude dick. Faculty are insanely busy teaching an increasing number of undergrad classes, attending bullshit meetings, forming admissions decisions, attending conferences, conducting research, writing papers, and advising countless other graduate students. Make sure you have a huge buffer of time for every request, and be patient. 
  15. Do not be competitive with your peers. Fellow graduate students are often your best source of up-to-date knowledge and technical expertise, and will provide far more vital career connections in the years to come. Being a competitive careerist is super socially isolating anyway. 

————

Should you go to graduate school? A list of relevant questions. 

Some graduate school survival tips.

February 7, 2010 (Night)

Being underwater allowed Andrea to consider things from a different angle. Submerged in warm, womblike silence, she tried to envision herself as a dead woman. She could barely remember being young these days. Her daily pill intake was as high as the number of hours she worked. In her left peripheral field of vision, there was a floating grey specter that never went away. Carlton had been persuading her to get an ocular implant for years.

“What did we invent ‘em for?” he asked, whenever he caught her rubbing her eye.

“To help people,” she said, with only a thin streak of irony.

Carlton had replaced a knee, his hips, a wrist. He was contemplating a new liver, made of the same material the Milton kid got. Andrea took pride in their inventions, but had trouble stomaching surgery when she was the patient.

“I want to age normally, so I know what our technology is preventing,” she said once, at a dinner meeting with an investor from New York.

 It had puzzled everyone present, Andrea included. But the statement felt right, in her creaking bones, and had passed from a passing whimsy to a solidified position.

She stared through the milky water up at the overhead light. The tub was heated from within by a metal core; the floor of the bathroom warmed from below, too. The shower in the guest bathroom had a covering of mist-resistant, mildew-proof mottled glass.  Invention had bought them comfort. Andrea blew bubbles through the water and rose from the depths to take air back.

Whose idea had the BrightBox been, initially? The ocular implants had been Carlton’s. The nanotech frontal lobe implants had been Andrea’s, along with the synthetic vital organs and the GI tract tubing. She liked the oddly sticky texture of the material, the way it seemed to sweat against her hands when she manipulated it. It didn’t feel like a living thing.

The Box, she was certain, would be a commercial windfall. She kicked and splashed quietly. The appeal was readily apparent. Heaven at last could be rejected by the science-minded living, and eternal, all-seeing life on earth would be embraced as the new utopia. Or maybe another bus station to stop at, on the way to eternity.

Carlton hoped that every person would choose to become a passive, shining cube of benevolence, all personality, no will. There could be no wars if there was no capacity for violence. Without death, all conflicts would lack stakes, and would end as soon as they began.

It was a comfort. All her life, Andrea had heard people make the idiotic claim that in order for evil to exist in the world, all good men had to do was nothing. It was nonsense. It made her pulse rise. If everyone did nothing, there would be no evil in the world at all! What caused evil was active, motivated men who thought they were doing good. Wasn’t that obvious?

But people didn’t like to be passive. Andrea pulled herself from the tub and, taking a firm grip on the bar beside the sink, stepped over the edge and reached for a towel. Even the softest fabric seemed to irritate her thin skin lately.

Walt Disney only froze his head. She gave this notion the attention Carlton would have wanted, though she’d gotten sick of the rhetorical point years ago. Why would he only preserve his head? Was he really that indifferent to having a body?

She looked down at her feet. They’d gone purply-pink, and the flesh at her toes was ridged and pruned. The paint was chipping, and hangnails were sprouting from nearly every nail. Her husband was going senile and there was so much work left to do.

That was when it hit her. The conspiracy theorists always said that one day, Disney’s frozen head would be thawed and resurrected, at which point it would dictate company operations and rule supreme. The implication was that Disney had a certain preternatural instinct for the entertainment business, and his brain and its guidance would be necessary to save the company in some untold, future dark day.

For years, Andrea thought the purpose of LifeMedia was to help people who were disabled or sick. All the profits she and Carlton brought in were immediately reinvested in the development of new hardware, and all their inventions were sold at prices they deemed fair, or at least offered for free to test subjects in need. They were freeing people’s bodies and minds by eliminating their ailments. That was the point.

But now, she realized that was never true. Giving a blind man sight didn’t help the man, it helped his impatient family who was sick of trying to understand him. Helping a weak child to be strong just made life easier for his mother, his father, his caretakers.

They had tried to develop a cochlear implant to give the deaf hearing. None of the patients they approached even wanted to try it out. They said they were fine. Carlton had called them delusional and prideful, but Andrea had been impressed. They don’t want half their identity erased. They don’t want to be a hybrid, a hyphen, a compromise between the world of the “sick” and the world of the well.

The unspoken truth about the BrightBox was that it wasn’t designed for the sake of the dying person. The burn it soothed was that of the family, the survivors. Walt Disney didn’t freeze his head so he wouldn’t die. He did it so no one would have to live without him. 

 ————

Click here to read Synapse from the beginning. 

Click here to download a free ebook of the prequel, Corpus Callosum. 

People. 

I was 22% into Dear Committee Members when I realized it was my new favorite book. 

It’s everything I’ve ever aspired to write. It’s a blindingly bright, acerbic academic satire with tons of actual-laugh-out-loud gags, it has brilliantly complex interlocking storylines, and it moves forward from letter of rec to letter of rec at an almost frenetic, mad cap pace that does not get stale. One moment the protagonist is kissing his former literary agent’s ass, trying to score a publication deal for a beloved mentee; the next, he’s passive-aggressively plunking out a screed to the University Medical school. This book is pointed, pissed, delightfully silly, and so, so accurate about what academic life is like. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject later. But for now, just read the damn thing okay???

People.

I was 22% into Dear Committee Members when I realized it was my new favorite book.

It’s everything I’ve ever aspired to write. It’s a blindingly bright, acerbic academic satire with tons of actual-laugh-out-loud gags, it has brilliantly complex interlocking storylines, and it moves forward from letter of rec to letter of rec at an almost frenetic, mad cap pace that does not get stale. One moment the protagonist is kissing his former literary agent’s ass, trying to score a publication deal for a beloved mentee; the next, he’s passive-aggressively plunking out a screed to the University Medical school. This book is pointed, pissed, delightfully silly, and so, so accurate about what academic life is like. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject later. But for now, just read the damn thing okay???

Should I get a Wattpad? Responses:


maddytatertot said: I would not recommend it at all. I have an account but I’m sorry to report that most of the works are poorly written, regurgitated plot lines executed by twelve year olds still caught up in the Twilight Saga.

Well, not all the writing on tumblr is all that great either…are there any readers on Wattpad that are looking for something more sophisticated? 
ubuntutravels answered: I use it! It’s been hit or miss so far, but it seems great for serialization. I’m just not sure I write the genre that most WP readers like
Yeah, it does look like the format is more conducive to long reads than Tumblr, which is exactly what I need. 

netshalycollazo reblogged this from you and added:
I think you should
Okay! I’m leaning toward trying it out! 
deanregal answered: I haven’t had any experience with it, but I’ve heard many good things about it. I think you should give it a shot.
Couldn’t hurt, except for the lost time! 
twentysomethingvagabond answered:Depends on what you mean by useful? To gain a fanbase or to get attention from an agent?
In terms of locating more writer-readers! My one concern is that it’s just an echo chamber of people posting their own stuff and nobody reading anything. 
wrongstateuniversity

wrongstateuniversity:

Class is now in session. 

Wrong State University is available as a podcast in iTunes!

February 7, 2010

Carlton wouldn’t be home until late. Andrea had learned to expect as much, and she couldn’t blame him for it, really. Their work was too important. Most of the time, she was at his side too, brewing the coffee and dipping the bags of tea, washing her hair with spritzes of dry shampoo in the warehouse bathroom, and only driving home to Palos Park for the rare weekend when the grandchildren were in town.

This was supposed to be such a weekend. Andrea had left the Peoria office early, after helping set Carlton up, and was home cleaning the house and preparing snacks for her children and grandchildren. They were supposed to arrive the next morning from the east coast, their bags bursting, their eyes wide and expectant of the glee only grandparents could bestow. Andrea swept the corners of the kitchen and moved along to the crevices beneath the refrigerator and stove. The remnants that appeared were indiscernible grey chunks and wisps of dust from ages ago, a stray penny, a curl of white hair, a raisin that had gone sooty.

Andrea tsked and bent down with the dustpan; her hips and knees moaned and stung in defiance. The tile sent a chill up her palms, to her elbows. She could hardly discern the creaking of the house as distinct from the creaking in her own body.

Her husband came through the door with a paper package in his arms, covering his face. Sweet Mandy B’s, the bakery on the southeastern edge of Peoria, with the birthday cake crepes and the coffee rolls that stayed sticky and mouth-watering for days after purchase. Andrea scuttled over to him, her stocking feet catching crumbs, and took the package.

Her husband’s face had a pallor that was growing. It used to be that Carlton only looked haggard in the morning, before his coffee and bran. Then he became to get forgetful early in the evening, and made obvious, trifling mistakes around the office when he was sluggish from a big lunch. Old age had come to claim him at the edges of the day, but those edges kept expanding, drawing in, approaching and cresting over one another; it would go on until no moment of Carlton’s life was left unperturbed.

“I made blondies and that walnut fudge they like, dear,” Andrea said, taking the package and placing it on the counter. “You really shouldn’t have.”

Carlton dragged his hat off his scalp and squeezed it between his hands. He stood by the door, looking up and down at the kitchen as if scanning it.

After a time, he said, “Got everything ready for the kids.”

“Sure do, dear.”

Andrea took his hat and encouraged him to offer up his coat, and placed them in the front of the closet where he’d have no trouble locating them in the morning. She set a timer on the coffee maker as she walked by. The house was always beckoning, moaning, creaking, and asserting its many needs. There was never enough time to keep everything together.

Carlton Avers slipped his black work socks off and left them in his slip-resistant work loafers. Andrea found him on the couch with his feet splayed inelegantly across the table. He had a smart glass tablet in a weak, two-handed grip, and appeared to be reading a magazine in very large serif text. As she passed, Andrea caught a few of the words: sub-tropical humming bird populations, yada yada, forest restoration programs, localized rebuilding.

“What you got there Carly?” She asked.

“Well,” he pulled the smart glass down.

A hand found the sprouting whiskers in his chin. Andrea made a mental note to replace the razor Carlton kept in his work locker.

”Finished the rough prototype for the Box with Ted today,” he continued. “Think it’s gonna go pretty smooth, actually.”

“Oh, is that a fact?”

He cracked his mouth open and the words around on his tongue a few times before saying, “Eh-yup. It’s time. There’s no point in dithering around with simulations and tests anymore. Just need a brain to shove in it.”

He chuckled and pulled the smart glass back up. Andrea was standing in the middle of the room, doing very little.

“What about the body?” She asked.

Carlton lowered the smart glass a few centimeters and squinted at his wife. “What about it? It’s years from getting operational, Smithy, you know that.”

Smithy had been Carlton’s nickname for his wife since they’d gotten married. He was surprised and impressed by her choice not to change her surname. Andrea Smith didn’t know any other women her age who’d kept their last names. A few took solace in the hyphen, and patted themselves on the back for the showing of strength. Only half of their identity had been erased by their husbands’; that was what Andrea thought about it.

But when it came time for children, the hyphen solution had reared its head. People were forever thinking that their daughter, Dani Avers-Smith, was one of those crouching, liberal, compromising women who’d combined their name with their husband’s. Their son Houston just went by Avers, which drove Andrea crazy. She still wrote “Houston Avers-Smith” on all his birthday and Christmas cards.

Andrea paced to the other end of the room.

There was a deer in the back yard, chewing, with short antlers that had been broken in a mating scuffle, or perhaps simply through the harshness of winter.

She said, “It just seems, seems a bit, well. How are we supposed to sell the damn Box thing, without a body?”

“There will be a demand.” Carlton’s voice was gruff and authoritative now, the same tone he used when the children were around and acting up.

“Sure, sure,” Andrea said. “But I can’t imagine how awful—”

“Walt Disney froze just his head,” said Carlton.

Andrea did not need to hear his position in this issue; Walt Disney had long been Carlton’s go-to anecdote in support of BrightBox. She rolled her eyes and began walking back to the kitchen; Carlton raised his voice.

“Walt Disney knew that the brain was all that really mattered, that anything else could be replaced. When the brain dies right now, the person dies with it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The body is tertiary to the main goal, Smithy, no matter how much a person would prefer to have one.”

“Oh sure, of course,” Andrea called. She turned the spigot on and ran a glass under the white stream of heavily pressurized water. Carlton was still speaking but she was missing the essence of it. A few words floated in.

 “Unprecedented, absolutely unheard-of -”

“It certainly will be.”

“It’s gonna sell itself, just think about it!”

“I know you’re right,” Andrea called, “I do, but I just don’t know if it’s the most humane thing to do. Let a person live their whole afterlife in a itty bitty computer? I just don’t know if everybody would appreciate that kind of life, Carly, I just don’t. Maybe Walt Disney did. But not everyone’s so cerebral.”

“Can you grab me a beer?”

“Okay.”

Carlton fell asleep before his beer was half drained. He was never a big drinker, but ever since his brain had started to slip it made him exhausted after a few sips.

Andrea left him there, though she pulled the smart glass from his grasp and slipped it back into the protective sleeve. Then she padded down the hall, ran a bath, and prepped for bed. 

 ————

Click here to read Synapse from the beginning. 

Click here to download a free ebook of the prequel, Corpus Callosum.