24 May, 2002

At San Francisco State University, everybody has to take the JEPET. It stands for something like Junior English Proficiency Exam Test. It's a written test they only give once maybe twice a semester on a Saturday. You even have to pay for the privilege of taking the test. If you fail, you have to sign-up for English 414, which is Junior Level English or something.

Anyway, I failed the test. No big surprise there. My writing skills suck so I had to sign-up for English 414.

I had the best instructor. He was a really cool guy. Graduate student in English. Teaching on the side. Even had his own band. So, the first day of class he gave us an assignment to write an essay describing ourselves or something like that. The point of the essay was so that he could get an idea of our writing skills. He even met with us individually to give us back our exams and talk about the kinds of things each person should focus on. So, I meet him in his office to get my exam back. He takes one look at me, flips me my paper, and asks me what I am doing in the class.

Huh? I failed the JEPET.

You get a postcard from the university. It has a stamp on it. Some people get a postcard stamped "PASSED," and some people get a postcard stamped "FAILED." Maybe, it said "NOT PASSED." I forget. Anyway, whatever your postcard is stamped is what you get. You can't challenge the postcard. You'll never know what criteria went into getting the postcard. It is pass or fail. End of story. While the process is supposed to be fair, it has occurred to me that the more people who fail the JEPET the more people are required to take English 414. The more people who take English 414 the more sections of English 414 are required, which means more money for the English Department. Now, I know my English 414 teacher would deny this, and I would believe him. However, I am sure there are others in the department who just might think otherwise in the darker moments of their hearts.

Hey, if the prison security guard's union can lobby for tougher crime laws instead of education and thereby promote the job security of their union members, then English teachers can subconsciously think less highly of certain essays, which through no fault of each individual JEPET evaluator leads to more people needing to take English classes.

Then, again, my English just sucks.

But, my English 414 teacher thought my writing was really first rate and there was absolutely no reason why I should be forced to suffer through another boring class. So, I should have fun with it. Relax. Pay attention in class. Do the work assigned and don't worry so hard about failing the JEPET. Shit happens and I should have passed the stupid test. What are you going to do?

So, I had a blast. It was a fun class. The teacher was really cool. I have no idea why I'm not mentioning him by name. Maybe, because I have just made fun of the entire English Department and implied that some people other than my teacher may have been doing things for the purpose of boosting the attendance of certain English classes and thereby get the department more money.

The first real paper or two I did totally straight. I participated in class. My work was gone over just like everybody else's did in workshop. I used complete sentences. I got good marks, and I realized that this could get boring. Sure, I could coast through the class getting straight A's, but where is the fun in that?

I decided to take chances. To try out different stuff. Damn the grade, I was going to be creative. I even warned the teacher that I was going to try out different stuff, and I didn't care if it affected my grade. Well, of course, if it started to hurt my grade too much, I would reign it in and squeak by with a passing grade. But, that's not the point. I had fun.

I took one boring essay and made it totally lighthearted. I filled it with jokes. I mean not like knock-knock jokes or anything, but I spiked it with humor. The line that lingers in the back of my mind had something to do with sticking a battery on your tongue to feel the zing. It was totally in context of the essay, but it was fun.

I really hit my stride with an argumentative essay, which I wrote in the form of a surreal dialogue. I used the second person perspective. Everything was you did this or you said that or you thought this to yourself. It was great. It was challenging. Everybody who read it in class during workshop looked at me like I was crazy. But, you know what? They understood the essay. They could follow the arguments and the conclusion drawn from them. Best part was the teacher really marked it down. He didn't give it a bad grade, but he didn't give it a good one either. I still remember what he wrote. Something to the effect of great essay but do you think this format is really appropriate for a serious discussion of the issues.

I didn't care. I did what I had set out to do. I had followed all the necessary conventions of structuring an essay. I had used coherent arguments. I had simply presented them in a very unconventional format. It was fun. Getting marked down was just the icing on the cake.

Which is all a very longwinded way of getting around to my point, which is that writing sucks.

It's something I cannot describe to people. It really is both heaven and hell. A curse. My second essay for that English 414 class was my attempt to describe how I could enjoy something I hated and couldn't live without and wished almost every day I could stop. I think I did a really good job with the essay. I wish I could find a copy. I would put excerpts from it on my website.

I can't describe. I got it down on paper once, and now I cannot repeat it. Hell, I bet if I found that essay now I would think it a lousy description.

I have to be creative. I have to write fiction, poetry, music. It does not matter. It has to come out. The stories choose me. They tell me what to say and what to write. They tell me when they are going to come out. The more I try to control them the more my head hurts.

It's a sickness. It is a beautiful and moving sickness, and I wish I could stop. I wish I never stop. I always want the stories and poetry and music to flow. It is. It will be. It already has begun. If this stuff doesn't come out, my head will explode. Not literally. But, I get really annoying and irritable if I'm not writing. Ask anybody I know. They'll tell you.

I've been asked why I do it. Why put myself through the pain. Why not just stop. And, all I can do is look at them as if they have just asked me why I just don't stop eating or breathing because we really don't need those things to live. It's just a question without an answer. If you have to ask why, then you wouldn't understand the answer.

So, why is it easy to stop String Finger Theatre?

Funny, you should ask. That is an odd case. There's nothing to it. It really was done on a lark. Just therapy while I was unemployed. I mean I look back over some of those comics, and I just laugh and laugh and laugh. And, I know what happens next. Zed is all bummed out so Mike and Cat start trying to find out who this guy is and where he got his contract. They wind-up having to deal with ghosts and the soul repossesser. Something like that. I'm keeping it a little vague partly because that is how I work and partly because I don't want to give everything away. Of course, while they are dealing with soul repossession, they also have to search for cube, and Cat has to accept the fact that she is an evil mad scientist in training.

So, I'm not stopping the comic for lack of ideas. I'm stopping because there simply are not enough hours in the day. I cannot hold down a day job, work on the comic and work on the prequel to The Magic Flute. After the prequel is the rest of The Faire Folk of Gideon. After that, there is the follow-up to Fire at the Damn of Night that I want to tell. Yes, there is going to be a fourth story, and it is going to be surprisingly different from the first three. Then there was that dream I had about using drugs and self-induced hallucinations as a way to explore the galaxy in spaceships. That's not even the plot. That's just the dream which lead me to the idea that is forming the basis for the story.

Damn, I hate writing.

I hope I never stop.

What? You wanted a coherent journal? Well, fuck you!

27 May, 2002

Way back in my junior college days, I had two semesters of a creative writing class. Never take more than two semesters. Take the class. Learn all you can from the workshop environment that the class provides and get out. Don't look back. You can't learn any more. Attending more writing workshops of any kind is destructive. It turns into a kind of incestuous mutual appreciation society. You have to strike out on your own whether you are ready or not, but that is a discussion for another time.

There was this guy in my first semester of creative writing. He was a real shit-for-brains idiot when it came to writing. His stuff was bad. I mean really bad. We are talking Ed Wood bad, and he was really full of himself on top of that. Thought he was really hot shit. I'm not going to mention him by name. I really try not to trash other people's writing too much. A little, sure, but not too much.

I always try to remember a story I once heard about Charles Ives' father George. See, George Ives was a choir conductor back in his day, and there was this one guy in his choir who was really bad. The guy stunk. He was bad. He was tone-deaf at high volume bad, and the congregation would always ask crazy old George Ives what aspect of evil incarnate had possessed him to let this freak into the choir. Well, being the crazy old coot that George was his answer was something along the lines of the guy made such beautiful music.

I can't remember exactly what I was told he said. It was something really profound, and the problem with profound things is that people tend to stand around in total awe of the profundity and never actually think about what was said. So, I'm not going to say it here. See, I heard this story in a 20th Century Music class, and the teacher thought this was a really profound story. He stood there glowing in the profundity of it all, and I just sat there thinking what a total nit-wit the professor was.

So, I don't tell people what crazy old George Ives actually said. Can't remember exactly what he said anyway. I turn it into more of an anecdote, which has the similar problem of letting people chuckle at how droll it all is while allowing them to ignore the point without showing any loss of face. What I take away from the George Ives story is that what the freak lacked in talent he sure made up for in enthusiasm.

I like that. I like to think that what Ed Wood obviously lacked in talent he made up for in enthusiasm. I like to think that Ed Wood enjoyed what he did. I mean, sure, he made some of the worst movies ever committed to film. I mean bad. I mean Ed Wood bad. They really stink, but I like to think that he actually enjoyed making them. He didn't realize they stunk. He didn't care. He got to make his movies. How many people can say that?

It's easy to complain. It's so easy to make fun of other people's movies as compared to the great number of good movies that you yourself have made. Yeah, you still think it's easy?

Roger Ebert walked up to Mel Brooks and said that his last film really stunk. I think the movie in question was Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but I'm not sure. Roger Ebert went on to say that he had totally trashed the movie on his TV show, and Mel Brooks just looked at Roger Ebert and told him how much fun it had been to make. I heard an interview where Mel Brooks told this story so I may have some of the details wrong.

I like to think about Ed Wood and that George Ives anecdote. For all I know, I am a total hack and my work sucks, but I did it. I've got one published novel and another just waiting for me to finish the third and then scrape the money together to print them up. Who cares if they suck? I enjoyed it—well, I continued my seriously demented love/hate relationship with the whole works.

Anyway, this guy in my first semester of creative writing did this really dumb and obvious Devil tries to buy a soul story. It was bad, and it didn't even have the aura of self-indulgent badness like Hercules or Xena. I loved those TV shows. They were so awful, but they knew they were awful. They reveled in their own awfulness. It was such grand fun.

Anyway, to sum up, woman thinks she is fat. Devil offers her a perfect body in exchange for her soul. Woman says that she would rather keep her soul. Devil leaves in a sulky huff. Woman thinks she doesn't look so bad after all. Laugh until vomiting ensues.

Story got me thinking. I mean it was kind of a waste of the Devil's time. A little heavy handed. Did he really expect the chick to go for his whole new body in exchange for everlasting soul thing?

It got me thinking. At what point do you loose your soul to the dark side? At what point does the Christian Devil win? See, I'm not what you would call "religious" so I'll occasionally say stupid stuff like "Christian Devil." I don't believe in God, the Devil, heaven or hell; however, I am of the imaginative and creative persuasion so I will think about stuff like the disposition of the human soul.

Like I said, it got me thinking. The Devil went down to Georgia and challenged this kid to a fiddle contest. If the kid won, he would get a nice shiny fiddle made of gold. If the Devil won, he would get the kid's soul. The Devil looses the contest, of course, and gives the kid the fiddle. Everybody's happy, right? Good triumphs over evil, right?


The kid lost his soul the second he agreed to the contest. The telling verse in the song goes something like while I know that betting is a sin, and that is all he wrote. Knowing he was doing something wrong, he did it anyway believing that if he won the Devil wouldn't get his soul even though it should have been forfeit because of the sin.

It got me thinking. Isn't that the best victory? Isn't that the kind of sweet victory that is so much better than simply making mean people meaner?

It's what I would do. Convince people that they are pious. Make them believe that they are saved. They might become arrogant and self-righteous. They might look down their noses and scoff at the lesser mortals, thinking that they are saved without even the slightest clue that they are in fact damning themselves more and more with their own self-righteousness.

You've heard that line? The Devil's ultimate trick was convincing people that he didn't exist. Nah, you've got that wrong. The Devil's best trick was convincing people that God loved them and that they were saved. Now, that is a trick.

Don't believe me? Talk to an anti-abortionist. Ask them why doctors have to wear bulletproof vests just to go to work. Ask them why buildings explode. Now, that is a trick.

Okay, that is a little severe of an example.

Who thinks the ultimate survivor from that show is going to go to heaven like she says she is? I would like to remind the jury that she admitted to having sinned in-order to win the million-dollar prize. Something about asking for forgiveness gives her a get out of jail free card. Why do I get the feeling that she missed a step?

I mean wasn't one of the root causes of the protestant reformation something to do with people thinking they could do anything they wanted and still get in at the gate?

Just thinking. I like to think about stuff.

copyright © 2002 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved
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