Saturday, June 30, 2012

largely unquantifiable in business terms

Baltimore got rocked by a pretty brutal storm last night - to quote a friend of mine, the aftermath looked like "the giant Monty Python foot had stepped on my city." That's pretty much it. My car was thankfully not crushed by falling trees or their limbs, but it is completely blocked in by storm debris and a downed power line. Of course, the last time I saw my car was around 7:45am, so it could have been crushed into a cube by the elements by now.

Which is a long way of saying that I'm in UB's business school lounge charging various appliances and thinking about the books I've read lately: Amberly Hyden's Piano Lessons, Abigail Higgs' Hit the Ground Laughing, and Bil Wright's Sunday You Learn How to Box.

I graduated with Amberly and Abby, who both write memoir, which has always been a hard genre for me to stomach because a lot of it smacks of people trying way too hard to seem cooler and more interesting than they really are. It's like watching a high school sophomore cycle through false personae to try and find a clique that will put up with him/her.

Amberly and Abby, however, are as earnest and unpretentious on the page as they are in real life. Amberly has a knack for observation and a graceful sense of narrative that a lot of fiction writers would envy, and Abby's ability to transfer humor to the page is most admirable. It's hard to write things that make people laugh out loud as they read them, because that kind of laughter is generally a public phenomenon. That Abby can do it so well says more about her gifts as a writer than dissections of craft or whatever the hell actual book reviewers do with their time.

Bil Wright's book, which is about a gay black kid's coming-of-age in the late 1960s, was also an enjoyable read. The tone is way more understated than I expected, and Louis (the protagonist) has a refreshing sense of who he is, even if he doesn't often understand other characters' hostility (and even if, as the New York Times pointed out, "[his] episodic adventures are disjointed and never pick up much momentum"). Boxing doesn't really occupy much of this book, though: an alternate title could have been Holy Shit My Mom Is Insane, because every scene Louis shares with her is equal parts surreal, painful, and darkly funny.

Man, I never know how to end blog posts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

an evanescent sense of grandiosity

First things first, I picked up my diploma from UB earlier today. I'm officially a Master of Fine Arts! Yay! Not that it really does me any good career-wise, but yay! I still feel accomplished.

Second, I reviewed Deviant, a novel by my buddy and fellow UB alum Austin Wall, over at jmww. Austin managed to finish that and his short story collection thesis in the same semester, which just boggles my mind. I mean, I don't even put on pants unless I absolutely have to leave my apartment, so Austin's work ethic is almost an alien concept to me. Still, it has borne fruit in some fine writing on his part, and he doesn't seem to be slowing down.

Third, the EMP Collective's talk show was awesome. Ken and Nolan were great hosts, the other guests were fantastic, and I don't think I came off like too much of an asshole. I even sold a couple of books. Talk shows are a weird limbo between amiable conversation and public performance, and I'm hardly a natural at either one, but I still enjoyed the experience.

Finally, all this stuff at UVA is bringing the corporate sector's influence on higher ed. into sharper focus, which is good. The idea that everything should be run like a contemporary American business is a popular one, but it barely works for contemporary American businesses, let alone public universities that should have much different goals.

To quote from the end of the article linked above, which is an excellent read, "whatever good intentions that the University of Virginia Board of Visitors may have had were quickly overwhelmed by its parochial anxieties. Apparently, they were afraid that their beloved alma mater might not be able to compete with rich private universities in enrolling undergraduate classes comprised exclusively of rich legacies, ruling class trainees, and students whose remarkable talents reflect well on the Board of Visitors. They were worried that revenues would be used to support money-losing subjects like classics instead of recruiting “star” professors who never teach undergraduates. That the task of teaching young people might distract from the pursuit of status competition with rival universities on whose boards their fellow plutocrats sit. That the university would be forced to get by with $5 billion in the bank, and remain entangled with the needs and desires of the state citizens whose two centuries of labor built the place, brick by brick. In other words, they saw a future where the University of Virginia might be forced to operate as an actual public university, and were terrified by the thought of it."

Now back to work.