Process Letter to My Advisor 2.2.5October 9, 2007
This was a letter I wrote a couple weeks ago mid packet period because it needed to be written:
I am writing you another process letter. What? How can this be? Is there no God? …but I already wrote you a process letter. Licked the stamp and sent in… or paid the internet bill I guess. Wow, it’s 2007. Who knew? …and you even responded no less. What is progressive education coming to? No boundaries I tell you!
So I’m not intending for you to take this, and reconsider it as my original process letter for packet 2. You have a life. I know this, but I guess this is something I need to write. This is because you deserve more of a response. Sorry.
I hated you several hours ago (don’t worry it gets better). Oops. I woke up and found out that I had been the victim of identity theft. Somebody stole my credit card info in Washington and ran up thousands of dollars in charges on my checking account. On my only savings. On my only money I have to live on until my new place is done in November and I am able to find a job, or the house I own in a cracked out neighborhood of a military town sales in this collapsing housing market. It’ll be fine, but it’s another slap on the list of everything that is currently out of my control. So back to me hating you. That’s the juicy part, right? I was talking to this delightful woman from the bank, filing a claim. Maybe she was a machine, maybe in India, or some charmingly forgotten part of the heartland… Anyway at that moment I received your process letter to me.
Everything negative jumped out. Even the way you signed your name “<name removed for privacy>”, that’s my boyfriend’s name but it’s not! It’s yours too! Subversive. You’re shifty like that. Venom pouring from your page, I can feel the hate. I literally killed myself to get that work done and on time. Why do you hate me so much? Kick me when I’m down? Why <name removed for privacy>, why?
Then I ate some breakfast and reread your letter (did I mention I’m hypoglycemic? Ooh, add that to the list!). Oh… The process letter is actually not bad. Some might even say good. Of course you aren’t seeing my brilliance when I intentionally use certain bland generic statements like “There are just a lot of trees” in contrast to what’s actually there (get it? He’s a dumb kid.), but we’ll always have Paris, right?
Can I address your previous process letter? Not because you need to respond to me yet again (you don’t), but so that you can see you asked valid questions that deserved to be responded to? So here goes:
I don’t understand what an annotation is. Okay, there I said it. Every time I’ve ever asked… I’ve been told something different that frequently contradicts what I was previously told. Okay, so here goes: Annotations are this… um, thing… that, er does… something. Right? My first advisor didn’t want us to give a plot summary or anything like it. She wanted us to dive in and find some treasure that brought insight for us. It was all about us learning to think about writing for ourselves. Sounds kind of new agey, should be easy right? I had mixed results.
It’s not a review. It’s not a book report. It’s not a summary? At the workshop first semester they said something different than both you or <removed for privacy>. I get it, it’s different for every advisor, but… How many questions do I have left? Is it bigger than a breadbox? Okay, so that was a preexisting problem… compounded by the fact that you really liked my first annotations. Oh crap, now what? I feel like that dumb chicken pecking at the piano keys to make a song… only I don’t know what I’m doing right, just that I get this neat tasting pellet when I stumble on the correct answer. I’ve just been pecking at the flashing red light all this time.
Another concern is I put a lot of time and effort into my annotations, more than I think I should (no seriously). I know that this doesn’t always show and that they aren’t always good. How do I balance this? I like critical work, but I like my creative work a lot more… actually this is probably better suited to my third process letter when I respond to what you just sent about packet 2.
“Why is “Stalking America” a television show that the narrator here is merely recounting? It’s interesting enough as a story about how a television show comes into being (though it is a bit too close to Daniel Minahan’s film “Series 7”), but because you are telling the story once-removed, as it were, it dilutes its power. Why is it fascinating to the protagonist and why is he telling us about it?”
The reality is that Stalking America still doesn’t exist. It’s had several different directions and false starts, but as it stands now. I don’t know where it’s going and it is relegated to a position of place holder of “later” until I figure out exactly what it is. It’s the recycled idea that keeps popping up in different incarnations until I finally use it. It’s essential, but how? The other storyline has been more immediate and concerns the arc of the overall story in a more direct way (at the moment).
The original idea came from an offhand comment in a San Diego bar with some old guy hitting on me. “What do you do for a living?” “I stalk people. (thinking go away asshole)” “Oh.” It became a turn on for him. Maybe I could stalk people for a living. He could pay me and I’d take little covert photos and rifle through his garbage for pay. Ah, the American dream.
My ex boyfriend and I played around with it a bit. One of my friends casts reality TV for Fox and there was talk of trying to develop it into a show, but nothing ever came together enough. My ex is social with Gus Van Sant and we played around with the idea of trying to create a script, but it never formed. That’s how it found its way into the book. This kid is basically stalking some particular ideas I have about America as a place without ever actually approaching it. These stories about anarchists, and religious zealots, mixed with reality TV and folk tales, that’s America too. As much as we hate it, TV is folk culture… The kid’s circling around and sniffing on a subconscious level. That’s where the first line in the novel comes in:
“Do you ever think you really get something, but later you realize you must not have understood what someone was trying to tell you?”
The whole book goes back to that. The kid thinks he “gets” things, but he doesn’t. Something else is going on and maybe eventually he will get it. Everything he comes in contact with, he doesn’t get. He’s trying. That’s the thrust. Trying to “get” what’s going on in the bigger sense… and the book completely derails (haha train pun) in the next chapter when he steps out and tries to figure stuff out first hand. That’s part of why I had everything told through him, including the TV show. He’s exploring this relativism where everything carries the same weight and trying to create a hierarchy for himself and discover the sublime. He’s swimming through this rich heritage, but he just doesn’t really get it. The whole story was mediated. Everything he knew was mediated. Dude, is that Siddhartha… dude I just got that… I don’t want to write Siddhartha.
I know it doesn’t work, but that’s the logic behind it. Also, as of now… Nobody who is really important to the story has a name except Claire. Our heads are always full of the unimportant people. The power of names. The book goes pretty dream world in the near future.
I am rethinking Claire as a character. When I was a kid there was this teenaged girl down the street who was really white trash and getting thrown out… When I was in high school she became a rock start for this band called Lucky Me in Seattle and came into my work all the time. She didn’t remember me, but I felt like we kind of shared an in of sorts. She really grew into her persona. Claire is going to be based more on her as the teen down the street that people later say: “I knew her.” Claire will also be a mix of my high school girlfriend who was on the Real World. I think that might help with my main character’s direct interest in Claire. He knows her sort of, but feels he really knows her.
Overall I think your notes about my first packet were pretty spot-on. I don’t always agree with the particulars, but that’s usually in reference to trying to do something that ties in later… that may or may not be successful until it’s done. I’ll holding judgment, but agree that currently it doesn’t work.
Oh you asked about Miranda July. Yes, her parents taught at Goddard in the 70s. I’d have to look their names up. I got a little disillusioned with her immediately after I wrote that because I discovered she may be Scientologist, which I’m not impressed by. It’s depressing actually because I’ve recently discovered several people who I admire are now scientologists and I just don’t “get” it on a very deep level. I guess that’s just my bias. Oh, and you commented about me using some studenty phrasing in my annotation. Those are the remnants of learning to write from a Marxist social theorist professor in my undergrad… she hard hammered some of those habits into me, but I agree with you.
A final note. With the second packet the emails asking for my work were really damaging to my process. They started three days before my assigned due date when I was most in the heat of writing. I am insecure in what I write and in what I do at the moment and fighting losing battles on all fronts of my life, currently. After the fourth one (I read it while working on my creative work) in two days, I literally stopped mid-story and just sent it to you. I couldn’t do it any more. That’s not even where the bathroom sequence ends… I just had to stop. I shut down creatively. I scrawled out a process letter and had to be done (I even had notes prepared for it about Miranda July and my Claire character). I don’t work well under those circumstances. It’s not you, it’s me. You should smile because I’m letting you down easy. And know that writing has been my number one priority. I was supposed to be moved in June, before the remnants of my life exploded. These aren’t excuses. I’m a teacher, I know… I feel more like a person who is holding the remnants of a broken vase who is trying to explain what happened to myself…
“I don’t know. I was standing here holding it, and then it exploded.” Standing with shards of glass trying to pretend they are still a vase.
Every day this past packet period was spent driving, sleeping, or writing. Psychologically I am already buckling under packet three. I have to finish at least three more novels (I read one already…but it was short). I need to write twenty more pages. I need to do this in thirteen days, before I leave for Florida and lose my current headspace. I just don’t want to go to a fellowship and produce a critical paper now… it seems like a waste. I want to luxuriate in those twenty-one days and become intimate with my story again. That’s an extravagance. Writing the critical paper there feels like spending a Fulbright balancing a checkbook.
You asked about my job. The school district was almost condemned a year ago. They are pretty much bankrupt. They retroactively cancelled my contract after I had already fulfilled the terms in it. This is illegal, so now I’m taking them to court. I need the money to live.
I think I need to re-navigate my semester. I won’t be moved in until November at this point (although they’ve been telling me two to four weeks since June. It’s a ritual.) This semester is about transition and flux. I told you at residency that I wasn’t sure I could pull off my long critical under these conditions. I think I need to take that off the table. I’ll research it, but it will kill me… and not in some romantic way. I’m the type of person who never says no. I secretly cut off my fingers while smiling under hardship. I tell people I’ll do it… because they expect it, and secretly I make myself sick and destroy my health in inadvertent ways while producing shit. So I’m saying no. I’m in this graduate school to enrich my life and work, not because of some sort of death bent need. I want to be happy. I want to be healthy. I want to write. I want to write well. If all goes well, I will be moved in November… when the semester ends. I’ll aim to write a rough for myself between then and next semester. I need to be sane about this work load until I’m situated. I can’t cut off any more fingers. How will I type?