Outtake – Final Exam

The mini-story below, about a final exam, is posted in response to the Daily Prompt Final. The mushroom image is the best representative I have for hyperbolic paraboloids, without resorting to borrowed imagery 🙂

That fall, Marie had boldly and confidently signed up for Math 201a: Multivariable Calculus. The topic had a visual component that appealed to Marie. Hyperbolic paraboloids reminded her of Pringles chips.

During the first exam, the pressure of finishing within an hour—the tyranny of the clock—jangled Marie’s nerves, and time got away from her. The clock loomed overhead and mocked her with each nervous glance. An hour was a minute; a minute was a second. Her mind was a wall of worry. The hour marched to its end, and she had answered no questions.

The professor, Maciej Zaborowski, paced around during the exams. He had a habit of holding a piece of chalk on his chin and accidentally creating a chalk soul patch. He tripped backwards when looking at the board and not noticing an umbrella beneath his feet. They called him “Magic Z.”

There were four exams in this course: three hourly exams, and a long multi-hour final. Failing an exam meant that the remaining exams were weighted more heavily. Marie was embarrassed but not horribly worried. She had several chances to redeem herself.

During the second hourly exam, time played the same cruel tricks as before. She could practically hear the tick, tock.

These two exams didn’t bode well. She had never gotten a poor grade in a class. However, she still had a bit of hope, and a plan. She joined study groups. She crammed. Studying would solve the problem; studying always solved her problems.

The day of the third exam, sweat trickled down the small of her back. She wasn’t prone to palpitations but she could feel her heart pounding. She knew before even submitting the booklet that she had failed a third time. She felt like crying. This was completely absurd and unacceptable.

The night of the third exam, she dreamt that she sat naked in the front row of an empty class. Incomprehensible Math 201a assignments crackled loudly out of the intercom system. Compute the surface area of the sphere above the xy plane. Locate and classify all the local maxima, minima and saddle points of the function. Find the parametric equation of the line of intersection of the tangent planes. She woke up in a sweat.

The final was now the biggest single contributor to her grade for the class. She took drastic measures. She reallocated all resources to Math 201a. Her mind swam with wave equations, flux integrals, and arc lengths. Nights and weekends were entirely dominated by Stokes’ Theorem and Green’s Theorem. Helical curves and one-sheeted hyperboloids danced before her eyes.

The day of the final exam was bright and sunny. Spring was coming and that day seemed the first hint of warm weather to come. The final exam was a leisurely, multi-hour event. There was a clock, but it was far less potent. One question after another, she answered, confident she understood the question. The parametrized surface is everywhere perpendicular to the vector field. False! The vector field has zero curl and zero divergence everywhere. True!

A few days later Marie went to the class to check on her grade. They weren’t posted yet, dammit. A day later, on a terribly rainy Wednesday, she came back to check again. She saw a flyer for a vegan support group and an advertisement for used textbooks, but no grades. On the third day she came back and saw the fateful sheet with a half dozen students clustered around it. She shoved her way to the front with a few Excuse me’s and looked for her name: Anderson… Ebert… Gibson. There was her score, but could that be right? She did a double-take. She got an A on the exam.

All at once the relief washed over her. She couldn’t believe it. She looked around for a chair; she had to sit down. Finding a metal fold-up chair in the same hallway, Marie plopped down, put her hand through her hair, and worried about her future. Would it be like this for every science class going forward: weeks of stress followed by an unbelievable day of relief? She couldn’t take another Math 201a. Shit, she thought. Maybe she shouldn’t be a scientist.

What is your attitude towards the word final? Does it feel you with unease like it does me? Do you hate endings as much as I do?

Work in progress

 

I will be sharing snippets from my novel Washing off the Glue in the hopes of getting some constructive feedback. I’ve been working on it for about a year now. You can see the synopsis on my about page.

The first two paragraphs:

Marie came to Burning Man to let go of a memory.

Ten long years of searching for Dad, and she had nothing to show for it. What if he’s sick? What if he’s dead? She had no way of knowing. That’s the part that killed her. Rachel, her best friend and roommate, was probably right: she should give up the search and start living in the present.

I am told “absent or missing fathers” are a cliche in novels, but I’d like to think I have a novel (so to speak) approach. It’s not about the father; it’s about the main character, Marie, who embarks on an obsessive search for him, and encounters all sorts of problems of her own.

What do you think?

Do you have any works in progress you’d like to share? Leave a snippet in the comments and let’s start providing feedback to each other!

On revising

I started this blog in order to write about my novel & the novel-writing process, and maybe to even get a little feedback, but when I sit down to put together a post I feel very exposed. I don’t like working in a vacuum, but I’m also frequently averse to sharing my work outside a select subset of people. So much of my identity is wrapped up in my creative projects that I fear criticism of the project as though it were criticism of me. I know in my head this is not the case, but emotion is ruled by the heart and the stomach.

My novel is deep in the revisions stage. I work on it in fits and starts. When I get feedback from friends or editor-types I tend to go on a rampage of editing. When I feel good about the writing, I go on a rampage of editing. When I feel like my writing is dumb, I avoid it. Right now I’m avoiding it.

It’s a bit of a a vicious circle, either in the positive or negative sense.

Do you have a source of feedback for your writing? How do you avoid that scary exposed feeling? What do you do when you feel like your writing is dumb? How long do you spend on a post before hitting that publish button? Do you revise posts after you publish them?

Avid writer not avid reader

I am an avid writer but not an avid reader. I spend much of my evenings and weekends (when not at work) posting to blogs or working on my novel. I’ve read that to be a good writer you should read, read, read. I have lots of books on Kindle and in paper format but I have a habit of starting them and not finishing them. I’m the queen of half-finished books.

Some of the half-finished books on my Kindle or nightstand:

  • The Scarpetta Factor by Patrica Kornwell
  • Geek Love By Katherine Dunn (I read it so long ago that I consider this a fresh read)
  • Until I find You by John Irving
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir by Nick Flynn
  • Finding Hanna by John R Kess
  • By Reason of Insanity by Randy Singer
  • The Judas Goat by Robert Parker
  • Finders Keepers by Stephen King

I do spend lots of time reading blogs and web articles. I would say that almost counts except that it’s a reflection of my short attention span. Anything longer than 5000 words and it’s TL;DR (too long, didn’t read).

I used to speed through books. Umberto Eco. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Thomas Hardy. Chaucer. When I moved to poetry I lost my tolerance for long novels. William Carlos Williams ruined me for reading novels.

Maybe I haven’t found the right novels to capture my interest. Many years ago (almost twenty-five years ago!) my favorite novel was Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I read it so long ago that it feels as though I’m reading it for the first time. The last book I really loved and read all the way through in recent history was Stiff by Mary Roach, but even that was a few years back. I read a few others by Mary Roach. Packing for Mars was quite good.

Since then my reading has atrophied. I might read a chapter before forgetting about a book. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an easy read or a denser, higher quality read. Stephen King is easy reading and I still can’t get past the first few chapters before neglecting it.

Does anyone else have this problem? Do you even consider it a problem? Are you an avid reader? Tell me what books you like best.

Avid

Harmony – Starting Over

I have spent the last year or so writing a novel. It’s currently at 70,000 words. It needs work, as I imagine all good (or not so good) novels do.

Previously, my blog was all over the place: photos, travel, cartoons, you name it. Anything but writing.

I need a purpose. I need harmony. I need a connection between my blog and what I do nearly every day.

So here I am, starting over. All previous posts are hosted somewhere, but not here. This blog is going to be about the novel and the novel-writing process.

Here’s the synopsis:

Washing off the Glue is a story about art, madness, love, and loss.

Marie’s mom, a compulsive hoarder and drinker, certainly doesn’t make life easy on the family. It’s no wonder Marie’s dad leaves so abruptly. Heartbroken at his departure and determined to reconnect with him, Marie makes a youthful pact with her best friend Rachel. Together, they spend the next ten years searching for her dad.

As Marie’s artistic future blossoms, the search for her dad becomes an obsession. Letters to far-flung relatives, a trip to Vegas, countless Internet searches, and private investigators bring her numerous clues and even more numerous disappointments.

At the same time, the debilitating ups and downs of Marie’s mental condition, mysterious to doctors and Marie alike, threaten to derail everything she’s worked for. Enigmatic dreams lead her in unexpected directions—some good, some not so good—until a suicide attempt nearly ends it all. It’s only through finding her dad, with Rachel by her side, that she learns how to grieve and let go.