Saturday, November 28, 2009

I want to go to MIT and be an engineer of Writing

Ah, summer time. When the publishing was easy.
Writing my poems in the summer with sure publishing by fall time in something called the Fifth Page, my college's literary magazine. Once in with the editors, knowing their ways, their foibles (one had a problem with impotence, so your wrote about impotence)-- you stayed in.
Young man on the make. And one poem in The Fifh Page could get you a job at the Toronto Star. Hang the journalistic requirements. One poem or short story could do it for you.
But once in the real world, you realize that your chances at the big time were not really good. "This is The Star. And at The Star, we have a policy of 'No stars'". So you did rewrites of crime stories, became a grunt, wrote headlines. Interviewed fire victims after a blaze, chased ambulances.
Forrest Grunt.
I wrote, on a copy sheet, "Get me out of here so I can hear the angels sing, to write poetry. Get me out of this portrait painting crapcan!" I had crumpled the copy cartridge up, but a woman editor picked it up later and read it. "What are we doing to you?"
Nice lady. Gave me the Education Beat where there was at least some hope. There was certainluy more satisfaction. My new milieu was among brighter, more accomplished people.
Besides writing about new developments in education philosophy "Make education student-centered and not teacher-centered", was the mantra of the Sixties, till they tried it as a matter of policy and hardly anyone could add or spell. Great for the genius, but not so great for the grunt.

I tended to my work and meanwhile entered a circle of really fine writers who did journalism to pay the rent whlle working on their books.
Ah, those were the days before published writers became snobs and snots, where you were welcome, and any number could play. Less egotistical, giving.
Hugh McVicar and Pat Williams.
Support, support. "Writing is a lonely business." "Talent seems to hide in the strangest places." "You got into The Star through a poem...But you can actually do the work. No fluke."

The poem? Frankly, it was not very good.

You tower over me like music
my lofty green-boughed tree
You whisper,You speak
In Paleolithic silence
Till the wretched hour of adulthood comes.

The other published poem, the whimsical one about Sex and the Slavic Social Climber was, I think, better and funnier.

And there had been the short story of impotence and woe, which surely pleased my prissy editor at the Fifth Page, but somehow gave people the impression that I was a poet of mpotence and woe. Maybe that was why Hugh had said, "Talent hides in the strangest places."
In fact, my glamorous new job had strange women calling me at night. Unlike my poor literary editor, there were actually chicks under my bed. Ah, youth. And a star at the Star where "there were no stars."
And then clunk. I was moved to the business pages where I produced grey copy among grey men and women.
I left the Star disappointed. They did not recognize genius, I keened. Are they blind, lazy, or just stupid? Heh.
Slavic social climber indeed.
Seemed to me more like "Nuke the Uke." There were maniacs in journalism. Don't give the cub an even break!
"Nothing personal," wonderful Star editor Gerry Toner had said.
"You just didn't amass enough experience berore getting to The Star."

Going back to Ryerson for my final year, a professor had been less kind. "All talent and no judgment, no experiencece. And I don't like your short stories."
Ah the young fool in the real world.
I went on the the Star Weekly, less fast paced, more open to creative writing. But it seemed I had cooked my own goose by 27. And the Leonard Cohens and Irving Laytons were ploughing deep furrows in Canadian Literature. I was nowhere near those luminaries in talent, but neverheless seemingly stuck in second gear at The Star Weekly, writing about baton twirlers, olympic wrestlers, skaters, professional athletes.
"Watch it, baby," my wife had said." With your stories of impotent professors, you may yet be abused by professional athletes. I worry about you sometimes. While driving the car, you seem to be really shy of being rear-ended," she laughed.
I worried about it too. A professional jock sniffer made good money. "But I want to be a novelist," Martha.
"So why don't you write a novel?"
Ah, nice work if you can get it.
That took much time and learning. Developing your craft.
And I was the hare among tortoises. And the turtles were crowding me. And at this, at the novel writing, I had hardly begun.
So what to do. I was a zippy writer, but not a writer.

I would have to go back to university, to be among professional writers, to really learn how to write.
Hell. Go first class. Go Ivy League, though pedigree requirements were high.
I perused the MIT writing programmes.

The Writing Center (12-132) offers several services to the MIT community during the academic year. Students and staff members can get free individual consultation about any writing difficulty, from questions about grammar to matters of style, including difficulties common to writers, such as overcoming writer’s block, organizing papers, taking essay exams, revising one’s work, or presenting scientific information. They may visit the Center during any stage of the writing process: prewriting, writing a first draft, revising, or editing. Consultations may concern papers that have been (or will be) submitted for a grade. The Center is not, however, a proofreading service; it aims to treat writing as a process, to clarify and promote techniques of good writing. The Center also offers instruction both to individuals and groups in methods of oral presentation (how to write a speech, how to use visual aids, how to conduct oneself when presenting scientific or nonscientific information). The Center provides specialized help to those for whom English is a second language.

Well, English was surely my second language but I saw myself as Zipppy the Lood King, the ougragegeous raffish character out of, I thought, R.Crumb. Write rings around ya!
But, sadly, my marks at Ryerson had not been high enough, I could not possibly make Northwestern or MIT, so I bypased MIT, too rich for my blood, and settled for the Instituto Allende, in Mexico, a branch of the University of California.

Durn. No sooner I get off the plane than they promote me to professor of nonfiction because of my journalistic credits.
And I still didn't know how to write fiction.
I am wondeting to this day if I will ever get it.
Hm. I just got a note about MIT from somebody who had noticed my blog.
Be a novelist. Go to MIT. There are real writers there. The woods are polluted with them!
Ah Walter Mitty. There is hope. There is always hope! Even if long in the tooth.


Anonymous said...

Actually R. Crumb was not the same cartoonist that did Zippy. R. Crumb is well known for Mr. Natural, Zap Comix, Devil Girl, Flaky Foont, and many stories and characters -- but not Zippy.

ivan said...

Thnx Anonymous.

I must look to my research!

Erik Donald France said...

Man, this is the writer's equivalent of The Wrestler. "Keened" is such a cool word in this cruel world.

It's not what you know and write it's who you know, right? Keep on fighting the good fight, Mr. Mitty. Always better than a stick in the eye. And it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

ivan said...

What a nice comment!

the walking man said...

Hie thyself back to the tallest tower you ever jumped from and use your words as incantation and set it to crumbling at your feet. And when standing atop the pile of ruined brick and mortar and them climbing from the pit of journalism are wandering the desert of "What Happened" you will be there to tell them..."your inability to produce and edit your own copy correctly was your downfall."

Go to MIT and reeducate yourself as a theoretical physicist. You already know theory.

ivan said...


You hit the nail on the head.
All broadsheet newspapers in Canada and the U.S. are shrinking to tabloid, and then even smaller pony tabloid size. My friends in the business are reporting that there is the spectre of famine.
Yes, I think I jumped off that tower of babble just in time.
...And yet I still freelance just to keep a hand in.
Ah Ozymandias.

ivan said...

Hi, it's Michael Koerner once again. Thanks for allowing me into your web space once again.

Thought for Today:

"Dance like nobody (who can commit you) is watching" ~Unknown
Our always-growing community of newsletter subscribers reading this email is now over the 800 mark. The following is contained in this edition of the newsletter. If you have anything that you would like the community to see, or your looking for old friends, don't hesitate to ask, and I will post it here in the newsletter.

Links Worth Visiting,
FAAR 2010
Site Support,
Pinetreeline Site,
Down Memory Lane
39 & Counting (Birthdates),
Anniversaries, and
Track Faded (Last Post)

ivan said...

....Whoops. That was from Michael Koerner, who runs the site for former Fighter Control (radar) operators in the old Royal Canadian Air Force.
Sure miss the old Air Force days. Sort of like a second high school. And co-ed! Whee.

Jon said...

like the walter mitty nod at the end... gotta watch out for that modern world...

and this narrative reminds me of the aeolus section of Ulysses by Joyce... when Stephen meets the editor and is asked to write something good...

then he writes the parable of the plums... and he's all set!

ivan said...


Ya caught me doing in. Trying to create a narrative account of events in my life.
...Feel kinda stupid in the face of received insight.

Anonymous said...

stand your ground,boy...your life's a continuous musical score and you're the orchestra...there are many more concerts to give,and even more listeners to touch...

ivan said...


Thanks for the encouragement.

Remember the old days?

"Why am I up here?"

"'Cause you're rock star, asshole."


Anonymous said...

can't ever remember being called ass-hole...or was it rock star???......

ivan@c said...

Are there two anonymouses, one a male and former musician and the other a female Asian bot out to do us both? said...

Are there two anonymouses, one a male and the other a female Asian bot out to do us both?

Mona said...

I would still say, Be Natural than being an engineer if you want to be Creative.

To be an engineer is to be technical, not creative. Produce art, not perfect pieces of a technician.

ivan@c said...

My bad, Mona. I can't help it.

I am a graduate of the old Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, of Toronto, Now Ryerson University.

It was the Polytechnic that dunnit to me.
You may be right.
I write tight.

Anonymous said... pick up the strangest women...but then,you always did...anonymous st. louis de ha ha ain't me,man...the heat's on,I'm the new janitor...

JR's Thumbprints said...

Does "poet of mpotence" mean "of importance" or "of impotence"? I'm hoping not the latter.

As for being a professional jock sniffer, Mitch Albom as perfected it; He writes about sporting events as if he attended them. The Detroit Free Press loves him. I, on the other hand, have grown tired of his sappy words.

ivan@c said...

"You gotta stop. hey, what's that sound
Everybody look, what's goin' down."

ivan@c said...


I fear I have climbed the latter of my success.

Mona said...

For the desires
Gone wanton
There are excuses
Like those of Debtors'
Unwilling to pay! :) said...

Yeah. King David, out of Judges, Old Testament.

Couldn't keep it in his kilt.
And he paid, and paid.

Devin said...

You have so many great articles/thoughts on writing/-and other things here Ivan-really such a great blog-I hope Mr Mitty triumphs in the end!
I laughed when I saw your comment at Benji's:-)
all the best in the world to you-and thanks for this great blog.
Your honesty and introspection are very good traits to have for a writer-I would think anyway-but what do I know?
thanks again!! said...


Thank you, Devin.

Donnetta Lee said...

You have the right to write, right? No matter what the age. Just keep at it and keep seeking opportunities for expression. It isn't over til it's over. Go, go to MIT as a creative engineer. D said...


Thank you.

I suppose that a writer, unlike an athlete or businessman, can be like an Energizer Bunny. Keep ongoing and going and going.

Anonymous said...

do your dance,bud...even if the music stops,or the fat lady loses her voice,keep tappin''ve paid your dues,don't owe nothin' to the company store... maybe MIT should come to you...[ya lift sixteen tons,and what'ya get?]'ve done your lifting... said...


I think MIT just did this. A note for a Ms. Smith to ask me if I would help her publicize MIT online creative writing courses they are offering. Hey.

Tom Bailey said...

"In Paleolithic silence"

Paleolithic in a poem? That is the first poem that I have ever read with that word included.

I only know one really successful published writer but they do not work at MIT. The closest I have ever been to MIT was reading the book about the MIT blackjack team that won tons of money counting cards.

ivan@ said...

Hi Tom Bailey,

You're probably right. In my experience, it seems the really good writers come more often than not from Harvard, Berkeley or fine arts schools abroad. Here in Canada, it would be Victoria College, U. of T. or UBC.
But many,many writers have little college experience, even the late (very late) William Faulkner, who never did wrap his mind around studies at Ole Miss. John O'Hara and John Steinbeck took college writing courses, but no degrees.

But my first teacher of writing was Tom Mayer, a Harvard man.

The most recent famous MIT novelist is Alan Lightman.

Poking around and looking for other writers from MIT, I came across a blurb from an MIT writers' club. Thes people have formed a group and a publication called WRITERS--what else? Here is what they say:

"Welcome to WRITERS!
If you're looking for a group that talks about writing, editing,
getting ideas, marketing, literary're warm. But we also talk
about the Oscars, the lunchboxes we had as kids, buttered cats and gravity,
Tori Amos and whether "Picket Fences" and "Northern Exposure" are too
similar. This too is part of our inspiration for writing, and it isn't
something we intend to change: one of the constants of WRITERS is that
freedom to wander down conversational byways. While it can lead us VERY
far afield, it has also given us some of the finest material that WRITERS
has seen.
It also makes WRITERS something more than just an academic list: for
many of us, it has become a true part of our lives, a place of friendship
and mutual support. That friendship and mutual support allows many people
who always wished they could write to discover that they can.
So if you are looking for a group that's extremely focused on the
topics of writing, re-writing, and getting published... you might want to
look elsewhere. Likewise, if your space for incoming messages is limited,
you may also wish to reconsider your subscription to WRITERS."

Oh damn it all Saul. I'm just trying to score brownie points. Someone at the botton of the food chain at MIT has noticed my blog and has asked me to say good things about MIT online writing courses. I have had a look at them, and they are extensive and meaty.
But I secretly hanker for a teaching job at MIT. :)

Anonymous said...

so,Noam,go for someone famous once said,"when legend becomes fact,publish the legend"... said...


I suppose so, T.

Not of Chomsky's tribe, at least not directly, but "In the beginning there was the word."

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Anonymous said...

Hi Ivan,

I know this email is out of the blue, but I just posted an article on my blog entitled “100 Open Courses to Take Your Writing to the Next Level” at . Anyway I figured I’d bring it to your attention in case you thought it interesting enough to drop a quick mention on your site about it as I’m trying to increase readership of my blog.

Either way, sorry for the unsolicited email and hope you have a good week.


Suzane Smith

Anonymous said...

Hi Ivan,

I know this email is out of the blue, but I just posted an article on my blog entitled “100 Open Courses to Take Your Writing to the Next Level” at . Anyway I figured I’d bring it to your attention in case you thought it interesting enough to drop a quick mention on your site about it as I’m trying to increase readership of my blog.

Either way, sorry for the unsolicited email and hope you have a good week.


Suzane Smith said...

Done, Susane,

Anybody who is promoting MIT undergraduate courses for writers is a friend of mine. said...

Susane Smith, presumably from MIT, says go

...And here is part of the epistemology for the curses...Lord, it's a bit long. (I have been told by one editor that I write too long).

100 Open Courses to Take Your Writing to the Next Level
Whether you are in high school, a graduate student, or a professional writer, there is loads of help on the web for your writing. An essential part to any career, everyone from journalists to managers to politicians need to have an impressive prose. Those low on funds will find a wide array of tools to take their writing to the next level with these 100 open courses from everyone from leading universities to private companies.

MIT Undergraduate Open Courses To Take Your Writing To The Next Level

Start your free education off right by taking the same writing classes as the undergraduates of this leading Ivy League school.

The Nature of Creativity : Get your writing to the next level by getting your creative juices flowing with this open course. It is an introduction to problems about creativity as it pervades human experience and behavior.
Writing About Literature : Up your writing skills by writing about famous works of literature, poetry, and more. Goals of the course include increasing students skills in reading, knowing a single writer deeply, and encouraging independent decisions.
New Media Literacies : Study literacy theory through media context in this course from ancient Greece to the present. Readings include Plato, Graff, Brandt, Heath, Lemke, Gee, Alvermann, Jenkins, Hobbs, Pratt, and Lankshear and Knobel.
Shakespeare, Film and Media : A master of writing, study Shakespeare on film with this open course. Most of the work will involve analysis of the film text, aided by videotape, DVD, the Shakespeare Electronic Archive.
Media in Cultural Context: Popular Readerships : This course will introduce students to the history of popular reading and to controversies about taste and gender that have characterized its development. Learn how to write for both men and women, different tastes, and more by taking this open course.
International Women’s Voices : Learn how to take your writing to the next level by studying these leading women in history. Contemporary women writers studied will be from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and North America.
The Linguistic Study of Bilingualism : If you speak more than one language and want to improve your writing, try this course. It examines the development of bilingualism in human history from Lucy to present day.
Expository Writing for Bilingual Students : Similar to the above, this course specifically targets student’s abilities to write in two or more languages. It includes an extensive set of general writing guide handouts, located in the study materials section.
Foreign Languages and Literatures : Examine the terms “avant garde” and “Kulturindustrie” in French and German culture of the early twentieth century through this open course. Figures considered include everyone from Adorno to Tzara.

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