Fuck Pedagogy: A First Draft

I’ve begun work on an autobiography on my twenty years in teaching. Here’s a rough version of the opening:

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out who I am. I smoke out of boredom. I don’t want to do anything. I get excited about the dumbest of things. I seek revenge. My first thought after learning someone died, anyone, is that it was good that it wasn’t me. I digitize old pictures. I search through old letters. I reflect. I remember. I think about who I was as a kid. I sure as hell didn’t know who I was then, but I was certain that I would know when I was 19 or 20. And, it’s true, I thought I knew what I was about then, or I certainly acted like I did. The thing is I was just a dumb ass kid who wanted to fuck and be recognized as a great writer.

I’m no more than that now. I separate myself from everyone because I don’t like people. But what do I do when I’m on my own? I think of who I can talk to on the phone. I like being alone but I hate being alone. I’m afraid of nothing, and I’m afraid of everything. I wish this was just clever stuff. But it isn’t. It isn’t clever at all. It’s a spew. I mean, I hate acronyms. They are lazy and dumb – 911, Fidi – I hate them, and then I finally give up and use them and don’t question it anymore. It’s true that I have principles. Or I think that I do. I have a moral code. I just don’t know what that is. I’m not what I want to be. I’m still that stupid kid, thinking I will grow up soon. Even now, I think I know everything. I actually know that I know nothing. But knowing that is knowing everything. I think that I could hold up under torture and know that I wouldn’t last a second.

I really am stupid like that. I judge everyone. I objectify women, young and old. It doesn’t matter. I think that I am better than everyone, and I know I am not. I know that admitting all of this is good but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like I’ve wasted my life trying to be something I never was. I never could be myself. That’s the thing. I want to find that guy, figure out who the hell he is. One thing I know for sure: I’m no teacher.

Beware…The Values and Beliefs Committee!

I was in a game of cruel tag where you were stabbed with a pen. That made you it. Bryce was far too aggressive and broke the tip of the pen off in my arm. I looked at the ink spreading through my veins and told him that he was way too violent. He just smirked at me before racing off up the stairs. “Beware the Values and Beliefs Committee!”

Bryce’s friends said that he went to get his gun and that I had better leave. It was an odd space, wide open in the center and then winding corridors with doors and passageways off to the side. I needed to go to the bathroom, but they were all closed or occupied. I finally found what looked like a bathroom in the corner, which had a view down the valley, but it was full of people, some my former students, all of them chanting, “Beware the Value and Beliefs committee! Beware the Value and Beliefs committee!”

I pleaded with everyone to leave, but it was a big joke, especially for Tom Hanks. He was photographing everything and mocked me for wanting privacy. The sound of gunfire was everywhere, and everyone ducked and scattered, except for Tom Hanks who continued to mock me. He made it impossible for me to go to the bathroom and so I offered him my camera, complete with zoom lens. Before leaving, he delivered the line perfectly, “The Values and Beliefs Committee, you know, it might sound like a good thing, but it’s just another cloaking device to maintain status quo. Think about that.”

Overlooked New York: Underwood Building

Downtown Manhattan was dominated by turn-of-the-century skyscrapers such as the Woolworth’s and Singer Buildings in the 1920’s.

The majority of these buildings are now gone, although some of the lesser know ones like The Underwood Building remain on the corner of Vesey and Church.

This 17-floor edifice was constructed by John Thomas Underwood in 1911 for his typewriter company and sits across the street from the World Trade Center site.

Cheap nondescript tenants give no indication of the building’s 100+ year history.

It is only when you notice the upper floors that a sense of history is revealed.

But you really have to look for it.

Young Chronicles IX: Halifax to Charlottetown

June 6, 1983 Dalhousie University, Halifax

Construction worker tearing down house in Dartmouth, “God knows why the’re tearing it down. I don’t think they’ve decided anything yet.” He used a blow torch to cut through a solid beam.

Big-breasted, purple garbed woman, a typical lunch-hour secretary, fed the ducks in the public gardens. Sleazy, sultry and of an inefficient nature, full lips pouting and omnipotent (in a sexual sense), eyes watching, obviously dedicated to some rich jerk. Ducks meditate on the luxurious summer in harmony with the crude coo of pigeons.

June 7 Mileage 1172-1243

Ride One: Halifax to Bedford, brown Cadillac, middle-aged man, “Fuckin’ Toronto.”

Ride Two: Bedford to Fall River, Department of Nova Scotia Transport, big hippie with a red headband.

Ride Three: Fall River to Amherst (Al’s Camp), blue Trans Am (or Firebird), Al Smith, balding, excessively friendly. Al invited me to stay at his cabin in the woods. He talked about not wanting to work, man’s self-centered nature and the sanctity of human life As he got more comfortable, he said that he wouldn’t mind if his daughter was a lesbian or did porn. He went on to show me a giant stack of porn in the woodshed. The cabin was just one room, my bed a few feet from his. I did not sleep well that night. (Editor’s note: I now realize that I might have avoided being raped and murdered on this night.)

June 8 Mileage 1243-1320

Ride One: Al’s Camp to Amherst, blue Trans Am (or Firebird)

Ride Two: Amherst to Carleton, PEI, Custom Deluxe Truck, Dwaye with a strange mustache. “Potato farming is a bigger gamble than Las Vegas.” In 19 car crashes over his life, one where an old woman was killed.

Ride Three: Carleton to Charlottetown, red Oldsmobile, a Charlottetown resident who supplied food to eight schools.

Self-realizations in Charlottetown: a) bird chirps equal freedom b) I am an external viewer opposed to a tourist c) My photographs are artistic, not materialistic d) Hobbling is apparently our way of saying we’re sorry.

Dee’s Back Story

When I look back on the jobs I’ve done, performance sex was the hardest. I don’t mean how I was judged, and even judged myself, because none of that means anything, or even the unpleasantness at times. Some people really do stink. It was more about making it real. It was rare when I could lose that control, not just have that half open mouth, and give what I knew was expected.

It was when I broke from that, that I got frantic, balancing at the tip, and felt like I might slide sideways, barely hanging on. I would push hard and then stop, do that again and again, all taut and stupid, clinging to this good side of the moment, and keep it like that.

And then I would right into like a mania, straight ahead, nothing else but plowing straight for that full-on orgasm, so much that it was almost I’m made me get mad and crazy, like I was a kid and wanted what I wanted, and would not let go, and skip ahead, my feet barely touching the ground, until I was in it and nothing else. It was really hard work, but there were those moments.

Wave That Flag: Nostalgia is Everything

My script, Wave That Flag, details my Deadhead days back in the ’80s. Quite simply, it’s just another coming-of-age, I-can’t-believe-I-did-that, Don’t-do-what-I-do-or-maybe-do-I-don’t-care, Those-were-the-days movie. It’s all about me, a plea for attention. Me. Aren’t you amazed by the things I did? Wasn’t I crazy? No one does it like me. That’s right. Look at me.

But that’s why it works. The big theme is chasing down the music. At its essence, it is about a sound, a path as it were, and I was on it, and I went in a direction that could be so clearly understood, that everyone can understand, and it was an incredible place to be. I was astonished that I was on it, just there in the middle of magical fantastical place, through the woods and fire, where nothing but amazing things happened.

It was a communal thing of splendor and everything was ahead. It could never end. That was the certainty. This eternity, the whole thing laid wide open, it would go on forever.

And then it didn’t. And so, it’s really about losing that, never having it, or remembering what it was like when I didn’t know what I know now, if I know anything. So, yes, nostalgia.

What We Can Learn From The Indian Act

A former student of mine and delightful Instagramer, Hilary Angus (aka slow.road), posted recently on Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act.

Slow.Road’s August 2020 post

Joseph’s point-by-point analysis of the Indian Act succinct demonstrates how the Canadian government sought to annihilate indigenous peoples by undermining their tribal council systems, denying woman status, Christianizing their names, creating reserves, and denying them access to markets and arms, to say nothing of alcohol. The Indian Act prohibition set the stage for the pervasive stereotype that Indians suffered from alcohol intolerance. It was a stereotype that played nicely into the federal government’s stance that Indians were savages that needed to be “lifted up”, or more accurately broken down bit by bit.

Excerpt from Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

Joseph goes on to explain that, while the federal government have conceded that aboriginal peoples have the right to self-government and has apologized for the residential school system that it savagely implemented, there is still a very long road ahead. As Ms. Angus notes in her post, this book should be included in the Canadian high school curriculum, and I think many other sources on indigenous history should be included as well, such as Alanis Obomsawin’s film Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance and Gord Hills’ 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book.

Today’s world leaders have finally been pushed into a corner. People are demanding change. But will any of it be meaningful? Doubts abound. The systematic abuse of the disenfranchised peoples of the world was always a terminal issue from inception. How we ever allowed any of this to happen remains a humiliating and damning fact, but here we are, and the next chapter could really be something, as long as we stay informed. 

Dialogue With My Former Editor

I admit that I might have taken it too far with my editor – now former editor – a while back. I mean, he had really given it to me, saying that nothing in my writing worked, not the scene arcs, character development, narrative, not even the dialogue. And that’s when I lost it.

“My dialogue?” I stared out at the apartment buildings, mute in the late morning sun. “You don’t like my dialogue?”

“Phed…”

“My dialogue doesn’t work? Is that what you said”

There were tinny sounds in the background of his phone, clicks and adjustments. I was probably on speaker phone so that he could do something else. “Phed, this has nothing to do with my personal opinion of your writing.”

“I thought I was paying you to do that. Isn’t this the point of the call?”

There was a long sigh. Or a gas leak. I pictured him in the basement in an oily shirt. “My job is to look at your book through the readers’ eyes.”

“The readers?”

“The readers.”

“But not you?”

“Like I said, this has nothing to do with my opinion of you as a person.”

“But what about a writer? Aren’t you judging me as a writer?”

The sigh was more of a wheeze now, like he might cry or the furnace could explode. “I am glad if it is working for you. I am. I can’t say anything about how it works in your head.”

“But my dialogue isn’t working in yours?”

“Your characters tend not to listen to one another. There’s a lot of cross talk.”

“Like now?”

“Uh, now? I wouldn’t write this scene. Would you?”

“Andy, listen, I get that you have a job to do, to make my work more accessible and everything, but I’m not looking to write the next Avengers movie. My work is focused on something different that.”

The wheeze was gone, the sigh too. I saw him strangling himself with an oily sleeve. “My comments are solely on the craft of writing.”

“My dialogue is excellent.”

“Okay.”

“In fact, nobody writes dialogue better than I do. Nobody. Not Joyce, not Hemingway, not The Avengers people, not anybody.” This is where I admit I might have lost it. “Words are the key, right, Alan? And then they aren’t. We use them, but they don’t mean what we want, what I want, Alan. That’s what I mean by that.”

“Phed, listen, I…” It sounded like he was breaking up with me. I mean, he was.

“Words are constructed, ideally, in an arc, conveying what is desired or implied to manipulate. To which we say, well done. Right, Alan? Well done!”

“My job is to focus on the craft of writing, Phed. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

“The alternative is dire and difficult. It takes too much effort. It demands. Let’s get back to those spandex babes saving the universe from ultimate destruction and send all checks payable to the propagandists. Maintain status quid pro quo.”

“I never said anything about The Avengers, Phed.”

“Are you saying that The Avengers have no craft either?”

The clicks and wheezes were gone. It seemed like he had finally just hung up. “Is there anything else I can help you with, Phed?”

I stared at the buildings, mute as ever. This went on far to long. I thought he would say uncle first, but he didn’t. “Well, good luck to you, Alan.”

“If you want to follow up with anything, Phed, just let me know.”

“You mean about my writing craft? Or did you have something else in mind?”

“I am available for a follow-up call, Phed.”

I waited another interminable moment before hanging up.

The Art of Dialogue: “You Talking to Me?”

The best thing about my writing is the dialogue. It flows.

“Who says that?”

I watch how people interact. I listen to how they speak.

“And?”

And so I replicate that interaction. I make it sound real.

“You know something I realized?”

Should I identify you as a voice?

“Covid’s always been here.” The disembodied voice was both gruff and shrill. “It’s not a new thing.”

Cross-talking. That’s one of my things.

“We just found out about it now. That’s all. That’s it. But it’s always been here.”

That’s when one person is talking about one thing, and the other one talks about another, and they barely listen to each other, if at all.

“I had Covid.” The voice was irritated now, probably because it wasn’t being listened to like it wanted. “I was one of the first. I went to a bar in Rhode Island. The whole state had it two weeks after that.”

My editor said that it doesn’t work.

“What doesn’t work? I’m telling you I was Case Fucking A in Rhode Island.”

Cross-talk. He says that the reader doesn’t like it because they have to do too much work to figure it out.

“I don’t know who the hell your editor is, but I agree with him.”

I had a feeling you would say something like that.

“If you listened for half of a second, you might maybe understand half of one thing. Covid is a thing, all right. But it’s just one thing. I mean, they say it’s 19, but I bet you there’s been 2,000 of them already.”

2,000 what? 2,000 people you infected?

“Covids, man! Strands, all strands of the same thing!”

What is that based on? You know anything about biology?

“It’s not just humans and plants. It’s everything, the water, the air, the fucking cosmos.”

You lost me.

“You know how I know you’re full of shit?” The voice paced back and forth behind me, always on the side I couldn’t see. “You got nothing published. Zilch, zero, nida.”

Nada.

“A great big fucking goose egg, am I right?”

Published books?

“You got something out there I can read? Something I can actually hold in my hands?”

You can’t actually hold words in your hands.

“Actually? You really going to use that word twice?”

Uh, well, you said it, and then I–

“Yes?” It was breathing down my neck. “Or no?”

I thought about saying nothing but I knew that wouldn’t work. No. I said that.

“Ah-ha!” It had gone to the far edge of the room, almost out the apartment. I expected to hear the door close. But it didn’t.

It’s not like I’m not aware of that.

“My point is that–“

I know, I know. Covid’s always been here.

“If you’ve never been published, how can you have an editor? That’s my point, Einstein.”

I hired him. I paid him to read my book.

“Why the fuck…?” It chuckled or scoffed, something derisive. “You paid him to tell you that you can’t write? That is so fucked up.”

Don’t you read my blog? I wrote about all of this two weeks ago.

“You writing about Covid?”

Covid? Why would I write about Covid?

“And why would I read your blog?”

Well, I write about what I’ve done during the pandemic, things I’ve read, how Covid has affected me.

“Trump’s fucked. I tell you that.”

What?

“That fucker, Trump.” The voice almost came into view. “He’s done.”

Well, at least we can agree on that.

“You should get him to sell your book. What about that? You could work out some kind of weird deal with him or something.” The voice faded.

Signed in blood. Is that what you mean?

There was no response.

World Building II: Establishing Theme

The Cx Trilogy is the simple story of leaving this planet. As common as this idea might be in contemporary science fiction – including everything from Star Trek & Star Wars franchises to The Martian and Ad Astra – the central idea of abandonment, leaving everything that we know for a complete unknown, remains frightfully undeveloped. In other words, these films emphasize ingenuity and determination over the more likely issues of angst and despair once Earth Out of View Syndrome sets in.

The essential themes of nihilism and isolation are not only developed through character development and dialogue, but also in the speculative technology that identifies the desperate struggle to find identity when the origin of everything known is gone.

Second Skin (a synthetic anti-aging agent) and The Bearing (a ring-like portal to the internet) are prevalent throughout the first book, Anori, while The Hive (a fully immersive place of sensual pleasure) and boochies (doll-sized genetically mutated animals) are featured in Book Two, Aqaara, which documents the generational flight to the destination planet of Mina. All of these devices are intended to fulfill immediate individual desires and lead to division and isolation.

The use of speculative technology as a world-building tool, although present, is not as significant in the final book, Mina. The majority of the speculative devices have been in use throughout the trilogy, leaving the only thing new to build is the planet itself. (You can’t get more world-building than that.) The challenge with building another planet is our limited experience with distant worlds; we actually only have a few planets to use as models, this leading to a tendency toward arctic expanses, forbidding deserts and prehistoric beasts is hard to avoid. (See Interstellar, Dune & John Carter.)

I did use images of Pluto and Saturn for inspiration as well as the distant corners of Earth and settled on a highly volcanic planet with two suns. Water dominates the surface and so many of the life forms are water-borne, including the animal believed to be at the top of the food chain – a sort of hybrid leopard seal.

The ever-present sense of isolation is developed not only through the immense unexplored planet, but also through divisions in the mission itself. While a home-base, Ataa, is constructed on Mina, only a fraction of the people are invested in living there; groups venture off on long-term explorations while another large contingent elect to leave the planet altogether and continue their journey to another distant place. For them, the journey indeed is the destination.