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I have to give a 10 minute presentation in less than forty-eight hours about “story structure, and what some long fiction writers think about when planning a work and making of decisions about form, plot and structure.”

I’ve managed to get about 30 seconds of material out of Stephen King’s ubiquitous seed metaphor that he tells to every passerby, but tracking down the opinions of other published authors on the specific matter of “story structure” is proving difficult. If you happen to know what any other authors think about the subject, be a dear and leave me a comment.

My re-enrolment for next year’s classes was, apparently, November 15.

Whoops!

The reason this vital date flew past without me realising is because the only way the university informs you is via OASIS, their online service, which we’re supposed to check at least every two weeks. Nobody does, of course, because the only messages we ever receive are endless dire warnings from Curtin Security, with useful gems such as “BE CAREFUL LATE AT NIGHT” or “DON’T LEAVE YOUR BAG UNATTENDED.” This means that critical, life-influencing information can be overlooked among the tsunami of unimportant shit. This particular email – the one on which my future education, career, and life depended upon – was from the 22nd of October. Evidently I hadn’t checked OASIS in quite a while. 

Good thing I did today, completely by coincidence, because the absolute final chance one has for re-enrolment is December 15 or thereabouts. It involves a late enrolment fee of $70, which is a small price to pay considering I’ve already flushed several grand down the shitter on this course.

One might argue that it’s my own fault for not fulfilling my responsibilities as a student, but it’s much easier to simply blame the campus cops for stuffing my email inbox with frivolous rubbish instead of actually doing their jobs and stopping all those rapes in the library. What the fuck are my tax dollars paying for?

Today I received my mark on the short story I posted earlier: 29 out of 40. It’s better than I expected, especially since I have a particularly harsh and nitpicky teacher, but I’m still going to post some of the comments he wrote which I find amusing or ridiculous.

Note that I do so with no sense of bitterness or sulkiness, unlike last time. I’ve come to realise that writing is a considerably subjective medium. I’m happy with this story, and other people have read and enjoyed it, and that’s good enough for me. So…

Most puzzling of all was her appearance. At first glance she looked like the retro rockets from the space boom of the 21st century, amusingly primitive, no different from the wrecks Hopper explored nearly every day. But she was… irregular, with slight stylistic changes. As though somebody had built a fresh ship in the old fashion.

Response: “The language and phrasing doesn’t feel futuristic.”

He brought this up quite a lot in the earlier assignments, and I really don’t know what he expected from me. Science fiction writers are not clairvoyants. Just take Alien, a classic sci-fi movie, in which Ellen Ripley taps on the keyboard of a 1980s style computer with green writing. Compare it with the fancy holographic computers we see in Minority Report, a movie made 23 years later. What computers will actually be like in 200 years is utterly incomprehensible. Likewise language and phrasing. Anyone who has ever read Heinlein or Clarke can tell you that all science fiction stories become a dated product of the era they were written in, particularly in terms of dialogue. That doesn’t make them any less good.

The recording finished. “Wow,” Bly breathed.

Response: “Again… are people going to be saying “Wow” in 200 years?”

Probably not. But again, I’m not a psychic. What did you want me to write? “Kaschizzle-funkdog?”

“About 3 hours ago, you discovered a spacecraft in Terran orbit…”

Response: “Only three hours?”

Yes. Yes, 3 hours. I am the author and that is what I say. Does it even matter?

His accent was bizarre, with clipped vowels and slushy pronounciation.

Response: “Show, don’t tell.”

Short of waiting for technology to develop to the point where we can embed sound files into paper, how did you expect me to show you a sound?

“You see, Andrew Hopper, I know all about you.”

Response: “I hope in 200 or so years people have more interesting names than Andrew.”

Look, “Andrew” has been a name in Western society for approximately two thousand years. I think it’s a safe bet that it’ll hold out another two hundred.

There’s a few other minor things, like his objection over my use of the word “stranger” a mere four hundred words after my use of the word “strange” (unforgivable!), and his dislike of strange metaphors and similes even after he spent every single lesson urging us to be fresh and unpredictable. But the final comment worth spectacle is from his wrap-up, in which he said it was a readable sci-fi episode but too derivative of Star Wars.

Because… it was in space, I guess? I didn’t realise Lucas had a patent on that.

Last week I scrambled to finish all the journals and notes and other frivolous shit my units make me do; commentaries on every little reading and every single lecture (I went to exactly 1 of 26 lectures this semester). This week, I’ve finished off my Creative Writing story, and spent last night in an epic struggle with an opinion article for Professional Writing. Me vs. 1800 words about the justification of satirical hoaxes. Our combat dragged us down dark chasms, spitting flames and rending flesh, plunging us into cold lakes deep below the earth and inexplicably teleporting us to snowy mountain peaks, where our epic duel cast avalanches down into the worlds of men and tore apart the very fabric of heaven. Finally I reigned triumphant and feasted on my opponent’s corpse (i.e. drove to university this morning at 10 o’clock and handed the assignment in).

 Then I went to work, and now I’m here at 8:30 on a Thursday evening. My final assignment is due at 4:00 PM on Friday afternoon, roughly nineteen and a half hours from now. And then I’m done. Free of university until March. A huge stretch of glorious summer is beckoning to me from the other side of those nineteen hours. It lies in a field of clover, illuminated in warm sunshine, surrounded by dancing butterflies and squirrels.

 But this is no ordinary assignment. This is for CIT – Cultures, Identities, and Texts. People ask me what it’s about and I can’t tell them, because despite having been enrolled in it for two years now I still have no idea. I guess it’s philosophy. It does involve a lot of words like “socio-economic,” “post-modernity” and “theoretical perspectives,” with assholes like Voltaire constantly shoving in their unwanted opinions. Everybody hates it. It’s a core unit, meaning that it’s forced on all of us Communications students – creative writers, actors, film students alike – because otherwise nobody would enrol in it and the unit would die. The obvious conclusion to draw from that is that perhaps the unit deserves to die.

Anyway, that won’t solve my problems now. I have 1500 words (minimum) to write about the media or something.

Jesus, I wish it was Saturday.

8:50 pm – I may as well liveblog this. So far, no progress. Driving to the corner deli to buy chocolate.

8:59 pm – DAMMIT IT WAS CLOSED

DOOT! DOOT! DOOT! DOOT!

10:05 pm – I have written an introduction and huge first paragraph adding up to a measly 267 words. Fuck.

11:16 pm – One of my father’s drunken friends has decided to sleep on the couch in the adjacent living room, and is now snoring extremely loudly. GOOD. I AM EXTREMELY PLEASED ABOUT THAT.

11:27 pm – I don’t write very well while listening to my iPod, but with a tractor being hauled through a trench of rusty gearbox parts in the next room, I don’t have much of a choice. Unfortunately Portishead is about the most bland/non-distracting music I have. Word count: 526.

MIDNIGHT – …and I’m on 822 words. More than halfway, but I’ve already worked through most of my talking points.

12:43 am – 1130 words. My sources are rapidly becoming less scholarly, and I think I may be approaching THE ZONE, where I completely stop caring and just vomit out whatever shit I can to pad it up to the word limit. THE ZONE is a wonderful place to be, because my professor is a really generous marker and I’m gonna pass this just as long as I hand it in, really.

1:25 am – I have spent the last half hour trying to find a cholarly article about the relationship of the media to swing voters. WHY IS THERE NOT A SINGLE ONE?

1:35 am – Okay, I’ve wrapped up the whole thing, including conclusion, and I’m on 1391 words. I can pad that out tomorrow. It’s a stinking pile of shit, but every essay I write for CIT is, and I’m really only gunning for 50%. Night y’all (i.e. nobody).

11:47 am – Okay. Had a refreshing sleep and now I’m feeling pretty good about this. Reading over it, I think my command of the English language (vocabulary, grammar etc.) will be impressive enough to disguise my complete lack of any relevant discussion. Works like a charm. Now I just need tos tick a few more article references in…

12:47 pm – 1626 words and the minimum of five sources cited. It’s a terrible, rambling, idiotic, unprofessional pile of drivel, but that’s about the same standard of everyone else’s assignment. I’m logging onto Web CT and handing this bitch in.

12:50 pm – FINISHED! FUCK YES MOTHERFUCKER!

I’m not really feeling as jubilant as I should, because I know it’s a shitty essay and have a terrible nagging doubt that I might fail the unit – even though I submitted an equally shitty essay last semester and still got more than 60% for the unit, as I am blessed with an amazingly generous marker for a professor. Unfrtunately he doesn’t teach next year… instead I may well have the head of the CIT department taking my classes, a notoriously draconian woman who failed two thirds of her class this semester.

But until then, it’s summertime.

And, tomorrow, this happens:

HOLY FUCK YES

I got 11.5 out of 20 for the creative writing assignment I posted a while back. I have no problem with constructive criticism, but it really shits me when my teacher focuses entirely on things like cliches, hackneyed phrases, and constant urging for our writing (word choice, not story/plot) to be “fresh and original.” Just because a word is original doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good and just because something is cliche doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. He’s too obsessed with the aesthetics of writing; he doesn’t teach us anything about how to make a good plot work. It’s style over substance, and I hate it.

Example: there are two ways for a gun to fall to the ground. It either “clatters” or, if it’s being propelled with force, it “skitters.” If that’s cliche, it’s because that’s the best way to describe it. God forbid I should use those words instead of coming up with some awkward metaphor.

In conclusion, I’m gonna go eat a big bucket of ice cream to make myself feel better.

An assignment involving three short scenes: one consisting mostly of dialogue, one conveying a tone such as “menacing” or “cool”, and one dealing with action of some kind. About an hour before I left for uni I realised the second part actually had to be either “menacing” or “cool”, not whatever tone we wanted, but too late! The die was cast.

The scenes take place in a space opera setting I’ve been tinkering with for a few months, with the intention of writing some novels in it some day. It’ll be my next epic project after I bury the End Times leviathan (353,400 words and counting!)

Dialogue
An elegant restaurant. Windows reveal the city lights casting glittering reflections across the dark river. The clatter of cutlery drifts out from the kitchen, mingling with the bubble of conversation and pinging of wine glasses. A debate begins at a corner table.
“… because we could reclaim Earth.”
“Wishful thinking.”
“No! We could. We terraformed Mars, didn’t we? Two hundred and thirty Kelvin, poison atmosphere, air pressure one per cent of Earth’s? We terraformed Ganymede and Callisto and Titan, and those were even harder. The things we can do these days… the nanytes, the software, the engineering… we could rebuild Earth. We could rebuild Earth easily.”
“Earth is a bit different from Mars or Ganymede. Earth is still throbbing with radiation.”
“That could be overcome. There’s hundreds of amateur sims for it on the net. You should check them out. Estimates go as low as fifty years.”
“Yeah, and a hundred trillion dollars. Why do you want it so badly?
“Uh, it’s Earth. Mankind’s birthplace? Cradle of civilisation? All that jazz?”
“So what? Mars is better. Mars was always better. Mars has more to offer than Earth could ever dream of. Do you know how high the tallest mountain on Earth was? Eight kilometres. Eight! There are cliffs on Mars that high.”
“So why do we colonise Pluto and Mercury and every boring, backwater moon and asteroid in the system, hmm?”
“Resources. Minerals. Obviously.”
“Exactly. Earth has resources.”
“Not enough to justify all the time and money you’d spend scrubbing it clean. Earth was sucked dry long before the supervolcano and the war.”
“You just don’t get it.”
“No, you’re just trapped in sentimental nostalgia. Earth is gone. It’s been gone for nearly a century. Get over it.”
“Chill out. I don’t care that much. I’ve never even seen it. I’m just saying, we have the technology, we have the funds, so why not restore it? Why doesn’t mankind fix the mistake it made?”
“Because it would never be the same. Even if we spent a thousand years cleaning up the atmosphere, negating the radiation, replanting forests, cloning and releasing animals, it would still be artificial and constructed. We’d know it wasn’t the same Earth.”
“So? It’s better than nothing.”
“No, it really isn’t. It’s better not to disturb the dead. It’s better to leave it as a reminder of how easily a world can be destroyed. That’s why we don’t build fusion bombs or radiation curtains or orbital weapons platforms anymore. Because we remember.”

Despair
The Iron Lung is mostly quiet. Straining ears can pick up the muffled throbbing of engines, or hum of computers glowing in the darkness on the flight deck. It is a spacious ship, a freight vessel originally designed for a crew of dozens. But only one man lives here now.

His name is Hopper. He wakes alone, works alone, and eats alone. The net gives him access to media whenever he needs it, and he often cranks the volume up, filling the empty corners of the ship with music or news headlines, drowning out the silence.

Sometime he gives in and simply sits on the flight deck, gazing out the windows at the titanic Earth, looming up and filling his field of vision with its ugly brown atmosphere. He was born on Mars long after the war, but still he cannot help but think of the history, from the Mesopotamians to the Mongol Empire to the European Union, the whole epic sweep of human accomplishment, erased in the course of only three days.

The job is psychologically torturous. Some scavengers quit after mere weeks, flying back to the comforting atmospheres of Mars or the Jovian moons. Some commit suicide. Some go insane, staring at the dirt storms swirling endlessly across a world that was once green and blue. For the same reasons, all the Lunar settlements are on the far side of the moon.

Finding fresh wrecks to loot is the easy part; there are hundreds of them. The looting itself is far more stressful. Suiting up, kicking away from the airlock, gripping the meteor-pocked hulls of the target station with his lifeline unspooling back to the Iron Lung. Cutting through the hull, and floating into the depressurised cabins among the eternally tumbling papers and pens and food packets. Occasionally he finds frozen corpses, American or Chinese or Indian, nearly a century old but perfectly preserved. Sometimes they float in clouds of red ice spheres, from wrist-slitting suicides.

He frequently suffers from paranoia, hearing ghostly, muttered words, or seeing shadows flitting at the edge of his vision. Space dementia, he warns himself, but he still has nightmares. Fears of something dark and evil, some supernatural horror borne of the death of fourteen billion people, lurking in the forgotten fragile shells in decaying Terran orbit to prey on foolhardy scavengers. He doesn’t think he can do this much longer.

But the money is good.

Action
Webster stalked into the pod bay quietly, holding his Koch .38 in one hand and surveying the room. The four escape hatches lined one wall, the others tastefully landscaped with a mix of ferns and flowers, like every other room on the Calypso. Corpses were strewn across the floor, and the smell of burning plastic lingered in the air.

Only one escape pod remained, the wounded stragglers from the raiding party having commandeered the other three when their ramshackle ship had retreated without them. Webster prowled towards it warily.

Without warning somebody burst from the flower bushes and slammed into him from the side, sending the gun skittering across the floor. Webster gasped for breath and struggled against his attacker as vicious blows slammed into his jaw, panic flooding his body. Desperately, he twisted a leg up and kneed his assailant in the crotch, pulling away and stumbling backwards, strings of blood hanging from his mouth, trying to override the frenzy of adrenaline and evaluate the situation. His attacker was a skinny, long-haired wretch. One of the pirates, an abandoned bastard who must have slipped past security sweeps and tear-gassed corridors in the aftermath of the failed raid, trying to reach an escape pod. He was scrabbling backwards on his rear, and Webster realised suddenly that he was reaching for the gun.

Webster yanked a combat knife from his belt and hurled it underhand towards the pirate. It twirled forward with a glint of light, then dug into the man’s forearm just as he brought the gun up. He howled in pain and dropped it, a vibrant ooze of blood seeping between the fingers he clapped to his wrist. Webster staggered to his feet, pulled out his second knife, and lunged forward, slamming the raider against the wall with the blade at his neck.

“Where are you from?” Webster demanded.

“Novybor,” the pirate choked.

Webster had heard of Novybor once or twice; some backwater Slavic asteroid, a failed state with one endless revolution or civil war after another. Evidently it wasn’t too far from the Calypso’s flight path. Unsurprising, really; the asteroids were full of tiny nations that had exhausted their mineral wealth, and had their society collapse as their economy did. Most ships were prudent enough to travel above or below the ecliptic plane, burning extra fuel but avoiding the piracy-soaked asteroid belt. Unfortunately, the Calypso‘s captain was a cheapskate. “Thank you,” Webster said, and slit the man’s throat.

Today I was celebrating the end of yet another brain-erodingly boring CIT tutorial in the Tav with Dave when two police officers entered. Eager to see them confront some motherfucker, slam his face down on the table, handcuff him and march him out of there, I craned my neck over the dismal rainy-day crowd and watched them wander between tables. To my disappointment they simply looked around a little and sauntered out again.

One and a half jugs later, another pair of officers entered, this time dressed in those fluorescent yellow jackets. Once again they simply took a gander around and left.

At about 5 o’clock, as I emerged into the rainswept evening and stumbled drunkenly towards the bus stop, I noticed a police car marked FORENSICS parked outside the library, as well as a small police bus on the pine lawn. My curiosity was once again piqued (had there been a murder? A rape? Surely we would have heard about a shooting?), but since I was already running late and really had to take a leak, I ignored it all and boarded a wheezing, dilapidated bus to travel all the way back north.

When I got home I googled it with anticipation and found that reality, as usual, was far lamer than anything my imagination could come up with.

I had to get up at 7.20 this morning, so I could be at work by 8. I think that’s the earliest I’ve crawled out of bed in about a year.

Driving through the suburbs just an hour after sunrise sure was weird. There were long shadows everywhere and the sun was in my eyes, so it was like late afternoon, but there was still dew on everything. And there were all these other people around waiting to catch the bus, or driving their kids to school. I sometimes forget that, on a normal day, most people are already at work while I’m still eating cereal.

Anyway, now I’m sitting here sulkily doing my “journal” assignment for professional writing. I basically have to write 300 words for every teaching week, discussing what I thought of the lectures and readings and so on. It’s a cheap, dirty, blatant trick to put pressure on students to attend lectures. Since these are at 9 a.m, I haven’t been to a single one this semester, and don’t even know where they’re held. So I have to bullshit my way through it. Not only that, but I have (like an idiot) left it until the last moment. Instead of writing one entry per week I’ve let it accumulate like a menacing snowdrift, and now I have a backlog of six weeks to do and it’s due on Wednesday. I do this, without fail, every time I have a journal assignment. Last semester I had three simultaneous units that demanded a journal, which made for an interesting night of OH FUCK THEY’RE ALL DUE TOMORROW.

I also need to come up with a plot outline for a science fiction story by Wednesday, and a write a scene from it. Not to mention an 800 word piece on “rammed earth” housing, whatever that is. It’s a wonder I have any time to murder homeless people at all.

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