This weekend was busy learning how to use Zoom and preparing lessons to go online. My daughter had a double ear infection and was not doing well. But I got everything together and was excited to go into Monday.
There were a couple people on campus today but without students everything lagged. Classes on Zoom went pretty well. There was a bit of a learning curve, meaning that we didn’t get as much done as I would have liked. I made sure to collect exit tickets on Showbie and most students gave the first day a thumbs up. I will be sure to add more detail to all my prompts.
On the upside, I got to have my son come to school today. He built LEGOs, did math, practiced writing, and read with me for a while. I had to learn a bit about SeeSaw, an app he is using for virtual kindergarten. When Jonathan’s Amazon Fire was vertically oriented, I couldn’t see the instructions from his teacher, something I realized when I got home. Jaime and I got caught up with his lessons.
Jaime and I talked about all the parents posting on social media. Some seemsed to have stuff together. We didn’t. At least it didn’t feel like that. There were plenty of people sharing failures and being cynical. I get that. I relate to that. This is a difficult time for a lot of people. Some people need to present perfection. Some of us wallow in dark humor and self piety. These are both emotional responses to a new and uncomfortable situation.
I am also reading about friends losing their jobs and the Dow Jones losing another 3,000 points. Please look out for one another. If you can manage to help out by floating a loan or ordering take out, do so. It will make a difference. Take care of each other!
But it is Monday night. I have worked somewhere between 10-11 hours and have a little left in my tank. I think I am going to push on a bit more.
We showed up to work at 7:30 am today. No students, just adults. Everyone was dressed casually, snacking on morning pastries and drinking coffee. The morning chill brought a light dusting of snow to our campus.
Administrators and some colleagues came up with an entire day’s worth of professional development–and all within a 24-hour window. We listened, worked together, and shared our skills to get ready for Monday. We are all strong teachers but none of us are perfect. (I will go into details at a later time.)
This will provide me an opportunity to grow as an instructor because I am being forced to do something I haven’t done before. I’m already thinking about approaches to making class something extra ordinary.
The day ended with some snacks and a farewell gathering. There was something sad about the whole thing. These are people I like and I won’t being seeing them for weeks. That’s a bummer.
On my way home, I stopped by Costco and loaded up with some bulk food. As always it was crazy busy and I was glad to return home.
Now the day is done. I’m writing on the sofa, sitting next to my son as we watch Disney’s The Sword and the Stone.
There is also some great news that I will save for another day, but for now I’m closing this note feeling excited about what’s to come.
It was 2:34 pm on Wednesday March 11, 2020. I was four minutes late for a mandatory all-star meeting in the chapel at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, Washington. Vut there was an eager student with a shopping list of questions about the last test. I smiled and answered them one by one, but all I could think about was the clock tick-tocking on the wall and the voice of our principal echoing in my head. “Would all staff please come to the St. Aloysius Chapel at 2:30.”
I entered the chapel late. Everyone sat listening the to President talk about the probability of our school transition to “distance learning” for the three weeks before Easter Break. Then the Principal talked about how Thursday would be a unified schedule (in contrast to normal block schedule) and Friday would consist of professional development in order for us to smoothly transition to online instruction.
A million thoughts shot off through my mind. How am I going to pull this off? What web platform will I use to instruct? How will I instruct online? Teaching 24 juniors the nuances of The Great Gatsby was difficult enough in person. How the heck am I going to teach them Ernest Heminway’s In Our Time? Students were presenting on grammar and the sentence. How will they do that? In AP Composition we need to get ready for the upcoming AP test. We offer AP as a college-in-the-classroom course for college credit through Central Washington University, with strict requirements. How am I going to pull that off? I am teaching Creative Writing to what might be the quietest and most introverted group I have ever had. How am I going to work with them on writing elegies? How are we going to put together a new edition of our literary magazine Belles Lettres?
How am I going to do my job?
I went home to my wife and two children that night. Jaime, an educational consultant who works remotely from our home, talked about the obstacles for teachers and more importantly students. She asked what are we going to do about students without access to internet at home. That’s a huge issue with regards to equity, she reminded me. She’s smart like that. Jaime makes me look like a dull penny on a barroom floor. I’m luck to have her.
My son is in kindergarten. If we were closing down, his school would likely close as well. And we have a nanny share at our house for our ten-month-old daughter. How are we all going to be at home for three weeks?
I knew there were people with far worse situations, but I had to solve my problems before I could start solving others. (A convenient and somewhat selfish position.)
The next day at school, I did my best to teach students how to use Zoom, a online conference platform that I have never used before. But you know who uses it all the time? Jaime. I talked to my students how this was going to be a big moment for us teachers. We were going to have to learn a lot in order to pull this off. It wasn’t going to be easy. There was so much out there that I have simply avoided because it takes time to learn new things. And now I am being forced to learn new things and I am scared because I don’t have a lot of free time or energy. But I don’t have a choice. I need to step up. I also talked with them about this as an opportunity to step up and into the future because whether they are aware of it, this next three weeks will like the glimpsing into their life after college. Remote employment has shaped Seattle, a 45-minute drive to the north.
Then in the afternoon of March 12, Washington’s Governor closed schools in King, Snohomish, and Pierce County until April 24. That was us. Ground zero.
We will be away for 6 weeks.
This is uncharted territory.
This week was supposed to be the start of our school’s musical. My room is across the hall from the theater so I get to know the kids. The guys use my room to change in during dress rehearsals. Every morning, I arrive to a note from the young men. Sometimes there is joke but always a giant THANK YOU, MR. SINGER and their signatures. Almost all of their shows will be cancelled. Tonight they are performing for family and friends. Tomorrow they will get to do one more show. Then the theater will go dark. The fields will grow weeds in the spring sun. The campus will close.
(This was posted on Facebook by my friend Virginia about her experience in Seattle, Washington during the corona virus outbreak of 2020
Hi friends. For those of you that live outside of Seattle, I want to give you some information about what’s happening here in the US epicenter of the virus. This is not meant to incite panic, but these are facts, not my feelings or personal opinions. Please don’t post videos or links about coronavirus facts in response to this post. I assure you, as a scientist, a teacher, and a reader (and as a human living in the very thick of it) I am extraordinarily well-informed.
– K-12 private and public schools are closed for 6 weeks. I don’t know yet how this will affect my school, since I run an isolated preschool classroom in the forest. We don’t have a source of running water for hand washing, so we’ve been continuing to thoroughly use hand sanitizer. (Yes, I realize that it’s not as effective).
-However, I am an hourly worker (not salaried, despite my 15 years of experience) at a well-meaning non-profit that is constantly financially struggling. If we shut down, I will likely get laid off, and thus lose my income and my health insurance.
– The Seattle Aquarium, the Woodland Park Zoo, the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and all branches of the Seattle Public Library are closing, due to staff illness and the governor’s limit on large gatherings of people.
-Initially, many restaurants closed in the International District/Chinatown due to racism/xenophobia sadly related to the virus’s geographical origins. However, the past few days have seen many “fine dining”, local staples, and other restaurants close both temporarily and permanently due to illness amongst staff, as well as customers staying home due to social distancing recommendations.
-The University of Washington has suspended all in-person classes and has moved online.
-The Washington State Convention Center laid off all of it’s hourly employees.
-Google, Facebook, Boeing, and many other tech companies here have closed their offices due to confirmed cases amongst staff. Tech workers are mostly working from home.
-Taking public transit here is currently ill-advised. This is, unfortunately, my only means of transportation besides walking. All grocery delivery services have been suspended.
-There is talk in the news of potentially closing the borders to the state of Washington, since we are considered a “viral hotspot”.
-Hand sanitizer and bleach wipes are 100% unavailable here. I found some toilet paper last night after getting a ride to the Trader Joe’s supermarket in Shoreline, north of Seattle. My aunt and uncle are mailing me bleach wipes from Oklahoma.
-A quarantine facility has been established for unhoused and/or low-income people (and college students who live in dorms) in the south Seattle neighborhood of White Center. White Center is one of the poorest and most racially diverse areas in the city. Why would they put a quarantine site next to senior living facilities and a couple of churches in a low-income, residential area with a large population of immigrants and people of color, especially when other sites the county had scoped out were in more commercial/industrial areas?
I’m not looking for sympathy, just relaying information. I am more scared of losing my job than of getting the virus, and I’m privileged to have a strong immune system and a safe basement apartment with a landlord who will (hopefully) never throw me out. Things are really challenging here, but hopefully some kind of vaccine will be developed before it gets this worrisome where you live.
I love y’all, and will update more as the situation unfolds.
John Barth—Fiction: the Sot-Weed Factor (1960), Giles Goat-Boy (1966), Lost in the Funhouse(1968), LETTERS(1979); Non-fiction: the Friday Book (1984), Further Fridays (1995), Final Fridays (2012)
Robert Coover – The Origin of the Brunists ( 1966), The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968), and The Public Burning (1976)
William Gaddis—The Recognitions (1955), JR (1975), a Frolic of His Own (1994)
William Gass—Fiction: Omensetter’s Luck (1966), Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife (1968), the Tunnel (1995); Non-fiction: Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970), the World Within the Word (1978), Finding a Form: Essays (1997), Test of Time (2002), a Temple of Texts (2006), Life Sentences (2012)
(William H. Gass)
Joseph McElroy – Fiction: Women and Men (1986), Night Soul and Other Stories (2011)
Vladimir Nabokov—Lolita (1955), Pale Fire (1962), Speak, Memory (1936-66), Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969)
Thomas Pynchon—V. (1963) , Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), Mason & Dixon (1997), Against The Day (2006)
(A portrait of William Vollmann by Max Whittaker)
Roberto Bolaño—the Savage Detectives (1998), 2666 (2004)
Don DeLillo—White Noise (1985), Libra (1988), Underworld (1997)
Junot Diaz—Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008)
David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas (2004), The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2011), and The Bone Clocks (2014)
Richard Powers—Prisoner’s Dilemma (1988), the Gold Bug Variations (1991), Galatea 2.2 (1995), Plowing the Dark (2000), the Echo Maker (2006)
Salman Rushdie—Midnight’s Children (1981), Shame (1983), the Satanic Verses (1988)
George Saunders—Pastoralia (2000), the Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (2005), In Persuasion Nation (2006)
Zadie Smith—White Teeth (2000), On Beauty (2005)
William T. Vollmann—Fiction: the Rainbow Stories (1989), 13 Stories and 13 Epitaphs (1991), Europe Central (2005), Fathers and Crows (1992),the Royal Family (2000); Non-fiction: Rising Up and Rising Down (2003), Poor People (2007), Imperial (2009)
David Foster Wallace—Fiction: Girl with Curious Hair (1989), Infinite Jest (1996), Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999); Non-fiction: a Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), Consider the Lobster (2005)
Michael Helm – After James (2016)
Adam Levin – The Instructions (2010)
Martin Seay – The Mirror Thief (2016)
Aleksandr Tuvim – The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (2015)
Classic Baggy Monsters/ Encyclopedic Narratives:
Miguel Cervantes—Don Quixote (1605 & 1615)
Charles Dickens (Complete Works)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky—Crime and Punishment (1866), the Brothers Karamazov (1880)
Homer—the Odyssey (8th BCE)
Leo Tolstoy—War and Peace (1869)
Herman Melville—Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (1851)
Francois Rabelais—the Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel (1532-1564)
Marquis de Sade—Justine, of the Misfortune of Virtue (1791), Juliette (1797)
Laurence Stern—the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67)
William Makepeace Thackeray—Vanity Fair: a Novel without a Hero (1848)
Jean Baudrillard—Simulacra and Simulation (1981)
Jeremy Campbell—Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life (1982)
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari—Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972), a Thousand Plateaus (1980)
Jacques Derrida—Of Grammatology (1967)
Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett—the Mind’s I:Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul (1981)
Ludwig Wittgenstein—Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), Philosophical Investigations (1953)
(N. Katherine Hayles)
Writing and Literary Aesthetics:
M.H. Abrams—the Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953)
Erich Auerbach—Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature(1953)
Mikhail Bakhtin—Rabelais and His World: Carnival and Grotesque(1965), the Dialogic Imagination: Chronotope, Heteroglossia (1975), Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics: Polyphony and Unfinalizability(1984)
Wayne C. Booth—the Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), the Company We Keep: an Ethics of Fiction (1988)
Francis Christensen—aNew Rhetoric (1967)
Stefano Ercolino – The Maximalist Novel: From Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (2014)
N. Katherine Hayles – Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science (1991), Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science (1990), How We Become Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (1999), and My Mother Was a Computer (2005)
Richard A. Lanham—Style: an Anti-Textbook (1974), Analyzing Prose (1983)
Tom LeClair – The Art of Excess: Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction (1989)
Nick Levey – Maximalism in Contemporary American Literature (2017)
Steven Moore – The Novel: An Alternative History (Beginnings to 1600/ 1600 – 1800)
Franco Moretti – Modern Epic: The World System from Goethe to García Márquez (1996)
Robert Nadeau – Readings from the New Book on Nature: Physics and Metaphysics in the Modern Novel (1981)
Viktor Shklovsky—Theory of Prose (1925), Energy of Delusion: a Book of Plot (1981)
Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg—the Nature of Narrative (1966)
Henry P. Stapp – Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics (1993)
Peter Stockwell – Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction (2002)
Susan Strehle – Fiction in the Quantum Universe (1992)
Wylie Sypher – Rococo to Cubism in Art and Literature (1960)
Joseph Tabbi – Cognitive Fictions (2002) and Paper Empire: William Gaddis and the World System (2007)
Tzvetan Todorov—the Poetics of Prose (1977)
Katie Wales – A Dictionary of Stylistics (1990)
(Leslie Marmon Silko)
Jorge Borges (Complete Works)
Mikhail Bulgakov—the Master or the Margarita (published in 1966)
John Dos Passos—the 42ndParallel (1930), 1919 (1932), the Big Money (1936)
Thomas King—Green Grass, Running Water (1993)
Milan Kundera—the Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979),the Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), the Art of the Novel (1986)
Matthew Lewis—the Monk (1796)
David Markson—Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988)
Toni Morrison—the Bluest Eyes (1970), Sula (1974), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987)
Alice Munro—Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), the Moons of Jupiter (1982), the Progress of Love (1986), the Love of a Good Woman (1998), Runaway (2004)
Haruki Murakami—the Elephant Vanishes (1993), the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995), Kafka on the Shore (2002), 1Q84 (2011)
Flann O’Brien—At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)
Leslie Marmon Silko—Almanac of the Dead (1991)
Jean Toomer—Cane (1923)
Lance Olsen – (Complete Works)
William Faulkner – (Complete Works)
James Joyce—Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922)
Franz Kafka (Complete Works)
Marcel Proust—In Search of Lost Time (1913-27)
Gertrude Stein (Complete Works)
Virginia Woolf (Complete Works)
Beat Generation and Friends:
William Burroughs—Naked Lunch (1959), the Soft Machine (1961), Nova Express (1964)
Allen Ginsberg—Howl (1956)
Jack Kerouac—On The Road (1957), Visions of Cody (1960), Doctor Sax (1959)
Ken Kesey—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), Sometimes a Great Notion (1964)
OULIPO (Workshop of Potential Literature):
Italo Calvino—Cosmicomics (1965), Invisible Cities (1972), If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979)
George Perec—W or The Memory of Childhood (1975), Life: a User’s Manual (1978)
Raymond Queneau—Exercise of Style (1947)
David Lynch—Films: Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks (1992), Inland Empire (2006)
Zak Smith—Paintings: “Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow“
In 2013, I published “The Hysterical Realism Reading List” in an attempt to share what I began to see as body of works that seemed related based on features that included innovative narrative techniques, flamboyant use of style, encyclopedic nature, and massive scale. These books fascinated me because they challenged me as a reader. I often turned to supplemental texts to shapen my understanding of the primary sources as well fiction in general. My academic background is in creative writing and I didn’t have the opportunity to dive into a deep study of the domain of innovative literature. In many ways the secondary sources added to this list have been an academic program of sort, one that allowed me to gain a greater understanding of innovative fiction and stylistics. The inclusion of secondary sources is where you will note the greatest growth of the reading list.
I have used bold to indicate additions to this list. Many of the books were lightning bolts that brilliantly illuminated my mind. My motivation here is to share what excites me and has proven valuable in my reading. I easily could have included every academic book about included authors, but I have decided against doing that. Between academic data bases, search engines, and Amazon—it’s pretty easy to find Steven Moore’s book on William Gaddis. The texts included tend to be those hidden gems that aren’t directly apparent because some algorithm hasn’t made the connection yet.
I have also included a “third wave” of writers that include Adam Levin and Michael Helm. These writers started publishing after 2010 and seem to be influenced by second wave authors—and I’m sure first wave authors as well. This group is also very much tied to hypereducated cis white males from (upper) middle class backgrounds.
Identity politics is the elephant in the room with this list. So much of this genre is by heterosexual white men. I’m going to openly acknowledge it. What originally inspired me to study hysterical realism is how the writers used language to bend the representation of reality, to bend the sentence to a point of almost breaking. These were writers I knew and found in bookstores. I went to what I knew at that time, to those who were celebrated as being innovative—so many of them are white men. While I started there, my goal is to move beyond–not because white is bad or wrong but because there is much, much more.
(Kiini Ibura Salaam)
I have put a concerted effort into reading widely and reviewing books by innovative authors with diverse backgrounds. Since the original reading list’s publication in 2013, I have written about Erika Wurth, Angela Woodward, Ramón Saizarbitoria, Eloy Urroz, Marie NDiaye, and Lindsey Drager. All are wildly different writers that have taught me about the potential of storytelling. Presses like Dalkey Archive, FC2, Dzanc Press, and Two Lines Press consistently release books that challenge and captivate me. There are also plenty of writers that I have joyously read but haven’t written about, such as Amber Sparks, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Susan Steinberg, Julio Cortázar, Fiona Maazel, and Melanie Rae Thon. While I don’t consider them hysterical realists—they are all innovative writers that I have enjoyed. And there are writers who I have barely had a chance to read, giants of writing like Lidia Yuknavitch, Julián Ríos, Octavia Butler, and Abdourahman A. Waberi. I subscribe to Conjunctions literary magazine in search of new voices and follow writers like John Madera–check out The Big Other— who overwhelm me with reading lists. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Besides my updated reading list, please consider reading texts from the following sources:
Despite 2018’s many local, national, and global catastrophes, it was a wonderful year for me, especially reading-wise. I read over a hundred and thirty books in the year, thirty books over my goal. You can find the full list of all the books I read this year below. But first, here are some capsule-reviews of some of the books I read (* = rereads):
I spent a good part of my summer reading these books. As always, Vollmann transformed my understanding and thought process. His nonfiction always examines the observational and subjective minds behind the decision making process. In this instance, the focus is on humanity’s crippling inability to address climate change. Cynical but essential reading.
“Throughout the books, Vollmann addresses a hypothetical future reader—one from a future when climate change has made life beyond difficult. These books apologize to that reader. Vollmann speculates about the reader’s hardship and tries to explain the creature comforts of cooking with natural gas, cooling a house with an air conditioner, and flying around the world to write a book about global warming. Vollmann openly acknowledges, “I myself, an American born in the mid-20th century, enjoyed the best life that carbon could give.” Vollmann claims that reducing the demand of energy had been our only hope—one that we failed to live out. This points to the fact that we humans are more attuned to the short term than the long, more concerned with the local weather than the earth’s climate, the community we associate with than the strangers of the human race. Vollmann points out that after all the technological improvement, the source of all these problem is human nature—a cynical but honest assessment of our values and notion of progress.”
The Great Gatsby is included in the Common Core exemplars for literature, it’s rare to find a high school or university in the United States that doesn’t teach it, making it one of the most analyzed novels in modern American literature. Students examine and often re-examine the novel at different times throughout their lives, yet there are subtleties in the book of meaning and importance which escape the attention of many analytic reviews. Seemingly lacking is a discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stereotypical depiction of his one Jewish character, Meyer Wolfshiem.
The future has become a site of crisis, both materially – in the looming threats of climate change, environmental and species destruction, and imminent collapses of the global financial market—and in our capacity to imagine the future otherwise.
The unpredictability of the 2008 financial crisis, Brexit vote, and Trump presidency has left many doubting traditional prophetic tools—like exit polls and economic theories. Few experts predicted such turn of events. Political reports and journalists seem no better than the imaginations of our best speculative fiction writers. The journalists, many of whom want to keep working relationships with economic and political players, fail to question the status quo or are simply not given the opportunity to address big questions. Meanwhile, fiction writers are free to gaze into the future in an attempt to predict how science and technology will influence our intellectual understanding of reality and shape the human experience.
I’m excited to share “Necronom,” a short story that has been published at Chicago Literati for their Halloween issue. It is a retelling of one of my favorite horror movies from the perspective of the villain. Can you guess the movie?
We persist. We sit quietly and wait for the rabbits. Hunger is a real pain that deeply effects our whole body. The smell of rabbits is everywhere and it drives us crazy. We can taste them, our mouths salivating. We persist because we have no choice. Trapped in this labyrinth, we think and wait and think and wait. All of this imposes patterns on us.
Lo! A rabbit.
Its heathen speech seems very alien to us. We sneak and attack. What once was undetached rabbit parts becomes stages of rabbithood before our very eyes. Here rabbit. There rabbit. Fragments. The hunger subsides. And with that, we return to the labyrinth in search of mother and our sisters. We persist.
We have no words for our crude beginning, but we are prone to think of it. Cursed we roam the labyrinth that imposes patterns on our understanding. There is this way…