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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 06:45 am:   

I'm sure many of you have read this, but if not, check it out:

http://www.locusmag.com/2003/Features/Letters07.html

I heard Gene's kind of depressed and I wrote him a letter of support yesterday and I'm hoping some of you will feel the same impulse. I've taught at a bunch of workshops and over the years the students have grown increasingly defensive and protective of one another. This kind of bonding is endemic to long intense workshops and not necessarily, but when it begins to interfere with the process of learning, one has to speculate about the worth of such (as Avram Davidson called them) weekathons. There seems to be more and more of this kind of crap happening at workshops. I don't know if it's generational or what., but it just seems bizarre that people would come to a workshop with such a rigid ant-learning attitude that they would take umbrage when one of the best genre writers in the world dares to suggest that they might try and few more short stories to hone their skills before starting that really great trilolgy about the mage who heals deaf, dumb, and blind prince...
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 07:06 am:   

Lucius: Yeah, I was wondering what kind of surly dullards they had attending that workshop. I remember when I was trying to become a writer and actually had the good fortune, through the years, to meet up with two real writers who were willing to teach me stuff -- one was John Gardner and the other William Jon Watkins -- my only saving grace was that I realized I was dumber than a sac of shit and this stood me in good stead. It was time to check the ego at the door and open my ears. Some of the stuff the two of them taught me I have no use for now and have discarded or gone in another direction with it, but there are still things they told me that I never really understood in the past that every once in a while reveal themselves to have been true. I also remember the great impatience to publish and having to supress it and concentrate on just becoming better. I've got file cabinets full of lemons and still often add to the stack. Too bad for Gene, he's always struck me as being a very good guy and one not unwilling to share what he knows.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 07:32 am:   

Jeff, it's weird, the workshop scene. Over the years, I've had increasing numbers of students who, when I give them a critique, actually cry and weep and go into shock and shit. I always try and leaven the critique with some praise, but you're not doing your job if you don't tell them exactly what you think. I always tell my students going in, I don't care if you bleed or piss your pants, I'm going give you the straight shit. Do what you want with it. But don't waste my time and the workshop's time by going on an emotional bender because I hate your adverbs. Gene's probably too nice a guy to do that, but I find it helps reduce the sniffling factor. Truthfully I think workshops like Oddyssey should prepare the students more and tell them what "professional: means and what to expect -- that would cut down on this kind of crap.
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Ellen
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 08:26 am:   

Also, the administrator of any workshop should make it clear that any problem with an instructor should be taken up by administration first. That letter should never have been given to Gene in the first place.


I think our support means a lot to Gene. He seemed very glad to hear of it.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 08:39 am:   

Exactly, Ellen! This kind of thing definitely should be handled by admin. Gene and Rosemary should not have been subjected to this dumbass shit. And I also agree with the support thing. Gene was quite hurt by this, and I kknow he'd appreciate any support he gets.
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Bob
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 08:55 am:   

I'm really glad to see I'm not the only one outraged about the workshop student's collective garbage-headed mentality. I hope Mr. Wolfe doesn't think all of this generation's writers are as self-involved a bunch of chuckleheads as them.
What a bunch of jackasses.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 09:02 am:   

Bob....

Amen!....to the chuckleheaded thing, especially.
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Bill
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:02 am:   

Lucius,

How do you get in touch with Mr. Wolfe? I'd like to send something to him by way of encouragment, also.

Bill
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:13 am:   

Bill,

Honestly, I mean no offense by this, but I'm not sure it's in my purview to give out Gene's email address on the net. It would be just as kind of you, and perhaps even more effective, if you were to write in to Locus Online, where the letter was published, I know how much it would be mean to him. I hope you understand.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:18 am:   

Bill, another possibility. I'd be happy to give you my email and forward a message to him. It's luciustshepard@yahoo.com.
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Bill
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:20 am:   

Furthermore, I would've loved to have been taught by Mr. Wolfe or you, Lucius, or Ellen, also. As a guy who wants to be a professional someday, ANY advice by a professional would be appreciated, especially if I'm paying for the privilege. Just because yo mama says you can write don't mean you can. Just grow the hell up!

Bill
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Bill
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:25 am:   

Lucius,

I understand perfectly and will send a note to Locus. Thank you for the offer of your email, as well. This is such a damn shame.

Bill
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Ellen
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:27 am:   

Bill,
Thanks <g> I'm sure I'll be teaching CLarion west again--I usually ask (and accept) once every five years or so.
I'm due back in 2006 ! (if you can wait that long LOL)
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Bob
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:29 am:   

Hey Ellen,
I live three hours from Seattle. You be sure to shoot me a letter when you're teaching at CW again, and I don't care if I'm three novels into my career, I'm gonna be there.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:34 am:   

Bill, I appreciate it and I'm sure Gene will, too. And your attitude toward workshopping is really the only viable one to have. What's the point of attending if all you want is stroking? You can get that where you live.
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paulw
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 11:17 am:   

Yeah, I was wondering what was up with Jeannie Cavelos, who runs Odyssey. How did she let things get so out of control?
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 11:36 am:   

Paul, I don't know Cavelos. And not knowing the situation entirely, it would be precipitate to assign blame. But, yeah, this is something that should be anticipated by anyone with experience in running a workshop. To one degree or another, as you understand from our Clarion experience, this kind of thing always happens. The people at Clarion West, in my experience, have been adept at putting out these small fires, and it's been greatly appreciated by the instructors.
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paulw
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 11:50 am:   

Yeah, not meaning to assign blame to Cavelos, since I don't know the situation. And Wolfe's amazingly gracious letter at Locus certainly absolves her from any fault. I've only met him a few times and don't know him at all, but if he taught with the same generous spirit with which that letter was written, then the students responsible should really be ashamed -- it's they who should have been sent packing!
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 12:00 pm:   

I've heard Gene can be a little crusty, but man, you get crusty at this deals. The students have little comprehension of what the instructor is dealing with, twenty or so yeasty egos swelling up around him. It's impossible to be other than somewhat imperfect, no matter how hard you try. You're part of and yet not part of a group. It''s a weird dynamic. But I know Gene's an excellent teacher and that he works hard for the students and that's all that they should ask of him or of any instructor.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 12:01 pm:   

I offer the following URLs not in the spirit of "hearing both sides" but to show some of the personalities and expectations at work:

Odyssey student Natalia Lincoln's livejournal:
http://www.livejournal.com/users/labrysinthe

Odyssey student Sarah Totton's blog:
http://www.geocities.com/bronymor/odyssey.html
(the Wolfe stuff is eight pages in)

Totton's blog especially suggests that the place was a hothouse this year. I do wonder how adults (both seem to be in their late 20s/early20s) with pro salea and membershipa with a good writers group like CITH (Lincoln), and Clarion experience with a couple of sales (Totten) can still be so flummoxed over the idea that any hard-and-fast rule or opinion offered by any writer or editor is necessarily contingent. "Cavelos said this, but Rob Sawyer said that! Which is the Real Magic Secret!"

Gawd.

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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 12:44 pm:   

Thanks, Nick....I read the entries and found nothing surprising. Gene, as mentioned, can be crusty. But this over-sensitized crap, this cliquish sense of we-they, his "Nothing can change the way I see my work" garbage, it's all part of a workshop sickness that needs steady treatment throughout. I have to take with a grain of salt the assertion that no one but the author of the letter knew about its existence. Secrets have a half-life of a nanosecond in that kind of environment. I'm absolutely certain there were all manner of whisperings and covert complicities involved.

But thanks again...
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paulw
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 12:52 pm:   

Like peeking into a teeny-bopper's diary.
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Bill
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 01:15 pm:   

Where does this mindset com from? Don't these people know that writing is work, hard work? Can't they appreciate that someone _who's been there_ is trying to stop them from making the same mistakes?

Hi, I'm just up here on the mountaintop screaming into the cold, cold air.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 01:42 pm:   

It's the group mind, Bill. Bunker mentality. These workshops wax long and they get people crazily defensive and paranoid. Of course some are crazy when they arrive and that doesn't help, either.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 01:43 pm:   

Paul....

Yup.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 01:49 pm:   

I think that some people don’t value plain-spoken criticism, and up front, honest reactions. One of the weblogs referenced above states:

“Wolfe's critique didn't give me anything the rest of the class couldn't deliver, only more tactfully.”

This student seems to not realize that sometimes the teaching can occurred without “tact”, and that there is value in direct, unadorned criticism. Kudo’s to the student for trying to not take Wolfe’s criticism’s personally, but the following statement really gives her outrage a context:

“Wolfe then proceeded to the next critique, a story by someone half my age, which had its merits but confused us. Wolfe to youngster: blah blah blah”


Notice the resentment of this student, who thinks it matters that the next writer was “half her age”, and then goes on to characterize her fellow workshop attendee as a “youngster” – clearly with pejorative connotations that imply that she is the more accomplished of the two. Wolfe’s enthusiastic praise of this “youngsters” story clearly got under here skin…

People need to get over having everything soft-peddled too them. Cranky, biased old-guys like Wolfe are our ELDERS… they have wisdom, and if they choose to share that wisdom in a plainspoken, “un-tactful” way… well maybe form is following content, and there is value in NOT soft-peddling criticism. This “Shiney-happy-new-age-bullshit” shouldn’t have a place in a workshop for supposed professionals. That kind of crap may be needed in lower division writing class, but in the real world, it doesn’t seem that valuable.

Its kind of like John Malcovich’s quote in the recent movie “knock-about guys”. Malcovich plays an older Mafia type, who is counseling the 20-something son of a Mafia Don about the cut-throat nature of the family business, and how things have changed for the worse... “It used to be things were done in a certain way, and if you screwed up, there were no second chances… now everybody’s FEELINGS are involved…” (The movie is worth seeing, just for this scene, and Malcovich’s performance which was excellent, BTW.)

I’m not suggesting that these Odyssey workshop students should be given cement shoes… but well… Maybe the person who gave the letter to wolf should, anyway…

-jl
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Bill
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 02:12 pm:   

JL,

"Cranky, biased old-guys like Wolfe are our ELDERS… they have wisdom...“Shiney-happy-new-age-bullshit” shouldn’t have a place in a workshop for supposed professionals."

Here, here!

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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 02:36 pm:   

Well said, Jeremy.

Especially the deal about... "Everbody's feelings are involved."

I always give a lecture before I start and tell people I'm not going to play daddy. I'm not their daddy, not their big brother, not their long lost soul twin. I'm their instructor. I'm there to give them the skinny. That doesn't say I'm going to be mean and that we can't have fun, but I am going to be straightforward. I say I know what they're going through, I've been there, and I understand the weird dynamic, the kind of competitive fraternity they've formed, and I say further that I don't care who likes who and etc. I'm not part of that, not on anybody's side. I say nothing I tell them is writen in stone. Use what they can, disregard what they can't. And if they take it personally, that's on them. This cuts down on the whining later during the week.

Now I gotta go have a dream about an eagle that lands on my shoulder and tells me I am the mage who everyone's been waiting for.... :-)
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One of Your Smartass Students
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 02:59 pm:   

What if it'sa dream about a pigeon that lands on your shoulder and tells you that you are the cabdriver selected to drive the mage around?

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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 03:23 pm:   

Are you talking, SS, about a dream you've had? Do you yearn for analysis? Or are you attempting...let's call it levity? If the former, I would suggest that the pigeon stands for your inner critic who is currently preparing to take a messy dump on your shoulder. If the latter, I would advise you to sit the fuck down and write your ass off.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 05:39 pm:   

Lucius, I'm taking that offer to forward words to Gene Wolfe, if you don't mind; have sent along a note to you. (If you do mind, never mind, if you know what I mean.)

One comment about the student who weeps: one of my best friends in the field is a talented woman (since multiply-published), who speaks very, very warmly of the sympathy you showed her when a critique of one of her stories sent her into tears. I should say that this was NOT typical behavior for this lady, who was upset by other things as well; but she said that you were a champ in dealing with it in an empathetic and professional manner.

I separate HER little spell with that of the crybabies.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 06:05 pm:   

Adam, I think I may have misrepresented myself. It's not crying per se that bugs me, it's crying and not taking steps to do what's necessary to cope and then crying again and blaming others and carrying on these little high school "He was mean to me" type conversations. I may know who you're talking about and she doesn't fall into that category.

Crybaby is an apt term to cover the sort of thing that bothers me.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 08:58 pm:   

If you know who I'm talking about, you're right: she was emotional, but not a crybaby.

I once helped run a writer's group in NYC (Jeanne Cavelos herself was a member for a while), where one of the members was a small press writer of short stories who, quite literally, freaked out whenever a certain individual gave him a bad review. I'm talking shouted obscenities. That kind of thing.

He ultimately left the group by mutual decision and joined another, where he performed pretty much the same act.

Not a bad guy, in other contexts. But a volatile one, all the time. Whatever writing future he has, he certainly won't improve in workshops. *

* * * *

* In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit I have been known to go apeshit myself when reviewers of my stuff go beyond critiquing the piece under discussion, or even my current body of work, to make wide sweeping generalizations about my own psychological makeup, or confidently predict failure in anything I might try in the future, but then that's pretty far outside the scope of a normal critique and, I think, pretty contemptible; indeed, one reason I survived the very respected mainstream writer who told me in college that I'd never sell a thing, is that I'd already seen him levy an unfounded accusation of plagiarism on a student who had the temerity to show dramatic improvement between one submission in the next, which was enough in my mind to establish him, whatever his credentials, as an abusive asshole. In any event, a real writer, good or bad, is driven to write and shouldn't be stopped by that kind of thing anyway. But nobody's suggesting that Gene Wolfe told anybody to pack it in, or that he attacked anything but prose and story structure. He was not there to compliment everybody.

I've already remarked that in a perfect world, the next instructor after this incident would have been Harlan.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 09:30 pm:   

Adam...

to quote the ol' Bard, as far as workshop hassles go, I could tell a tale to "make each particular hair to stand on end like quill's upon the fretful porpentine." I recall one workshop in which one guy wanted all his stories back from the rest of the students because he felt if they kept them they would steal his ideas. Another guy, not a big fan of the first guy, said, Hey, the stories are part of my Clarion, so screw you. The first guy thereupon turned him into the campus police on several charges, some of them false, including a false drug charge, that wound up getting his motorcycle confiscated, etc People just go whacko in these six-week-long settings. It's basically a reality TV show. There's stuff I can't talk about that's so weird...on the normal end, I've broken up fistfights and stuff of that sort commonly.
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ben peek
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:17 pm:   

there are a couple of threads going on about this, and i wondered if i would say something. now, reading the third, i think i'll chuck in my five cents. (two cents have been taken out of circulation years ago in australia.)

anyhow, i teach a creative writing class at uni, and i tell people that you take away what you put in, meaning if (as jeff ford said) if you come in with open ears and a mind, you'll learn stuff. but i've also noted, that occasionally, one or two people will show who has a quality of work above the others, where they're at, i wouldn't say a professional level, but a readable level: they know the tools, they know the way, and it's just going to take them time and practice to hit the right notes for them.

i've always noted that with people like that, i have less to 'teach' about the form of a story or characters and whatever; less 'concrete' 'you do this, you do that' if that makes any sense. instead, all i can offer is a critique of their work, of what i think, which is by no means an absolute. i also sometimes think that these are the people who get the least out of the workshops, as they're simply at a level where teaching, being shown the path, as they say, doesn't work anymore. now it's up to a whole lot of other things that mostly depend on the individual.

but in the end, you know, that's just my opinion. in relation to the gene wolfe thing, it's just sad that people wouldn't want to listen to him. it seems like a lot of money to pay and then get angry cause the man disagrees with you, but, perhaps, there lies the reason for people getting all defensive and antsy.
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Jay C
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 01:38 am:   

I am stealing this with permission from a ng where more discussion rages on this issue. These are very good rules IMHO.

Esther Friesner wrote:

> Y'know, when my Mom, G*d rest her soul, was teaching in the NYC public junior
> high schools, she used to tell the kids straight out at the first class
> what Da Rules were: If they showed up every day ready to learn (which meant
> they had to have their own textbook, notebook, and writing implement) and
> if they did not disturb the class, they were guaranteed a C from the get-go.
>
> Maybe these I'm-Entitled-to-Val-i-DAY-shun folks would benefit from someone
> readin them Da Rules at the start of the session, viz.:
>
> 1. This is a writing workshop, not a back-patting seminar.
> 2. Your ms. is not yourself. You can tell the difference by the page numbers. [g]
> 3. Your ms. will be evaluated in accordance with ONE reader's tastes, aesthetics, and notions of what a good and/or saleable story should be. Take it FWIW or leave it.
> 4. If your ms. receives a negative evaluation, you are free to say "Sez you" and have someone else read it or you can apply the critique to making changes in the ms.
> 5. Your evaluator will give what are perceived--by yourself and others--as positive evaluations of some ms. and negative ones of others. Adjust. If everyone liked the same thing, there would be nothing on TV but "Will and Grace."
> 6. If you want nothing but positive evaluations of your work, ask your Mom. If she likes you.
> 7. The first person to reach for his Assured Privilege, Inborn Sense of Entitlement and/or lawyer shall be turned over to the Sergeant-at-Arms for a crowd-pleasin' *ss-whoopin' with a side of delicate ironic scorn.
> 8. Grow UP!
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 04:54 am:   

Adam, I never did get your email for Gene.... Care to resend. I'll be happy to forward it.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 05:27 am:   

Ben,

when I used to read mss for the Clarion West workshop, one of our criteria for acceptance was the cover letter. My feeling was, we wanted to steer clear of anyone who professed less than an open mind, and over the years this was borne out -- whenever we accepted a student who's cover letter expressed any kind of narrow agenda or rigidity, he or she usually proved to be a nightmare.

As to people who're at a higher level than other students, I've always found -- contrary to your experience -- that these are the people I'm most able to help, that all they need from me is to give them confidence, the names of agents, and show them a few tricks. But then perhaps we're just talking in different languages here. There are probably people who learn more from me than these "better" students," but I don't know with most of them whether what they learn will ever come to anything, whereas with the "better" students, I'm pretty damn sure I'm doing something that will have a result.

As far as people getting paying a lot of money and getting pissed off. here's my feeling -- why would I want to pay thousands of bucks just to hear them tell me that I'm wonderful and they have nothing to teach me. That would piss me off. These people wanted to be told they were God's fucking gift and I just don't get that attitude. If you want that kind of validation, go talk to your mama or hire a hooker. Don't waste people's time at a workshop. That's the real crux of this -- people who come to a workshop with closed attitudes, who're there to further a narrow agenda or to network, they'e wasting the time of both the instructors and their fellow students. I've known of students who've gone to Clarion just to meet one instructor and have not read any of the workshopped material, have turned in nothing but trunk stories, and all they'd done is subtract from the experience of the other students.

Anyway, I have to get to work...
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adam-troy
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 05:34 am:   

Yeah, for some reason it came back to me. I will resend later: about to leave house. ATC
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Bob
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 05:34 am:   

Jay,
Now that was worth the read.
Can I be the Sergeant at Arms? I was a Master at Arms, for a time....
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 05:40 am:   

Jay,

Esther's mom had the right idea. The thing that seems to have gone wrong here, as someone else has pointed out, the administration did not apparently make it plain how problems such as arose during Gene's week should be handled. I've had a suffciency of nutball students to know that you can't avoid some of this stuff, but as long as students are clearly told what's expected of them, then big dust-ups can be avoided. You're always going to have assholes. I recall one guy who was so taken with the first week's instructor, he claimed that everyone in the workshop had learned everyone had learned all they needed for success during that week and he disrespected every instructor who followed. He told Crowley on Crowley's frst day that he had nothing to teach him. When Katherine Dunn lectured, he read a novel in plain view. There are genuine idiots out there and it's quite evident that some of them were at Odyssey this year.

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Jay C
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 06:44 am:   

Absolutely, though further discussion seems to be indicating that there was one prime arsehole and several who simply did not speak up. However, reading some of the blogs, I'm inclined to take that interpretation with the proverbial grain as well.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 08:43 am:   

Jay, there's always on--or two--prime arseholes; but like I said, in these long worshops, the assholes generally develop sycophants, and the blogs give evidence that Odyssey was Sychophant City. Implicitly or otherwise, approval was given for the letter handed to Gene.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 10:40 am:   

6. If you want nothing but positive evaluations of your work, ask your Mom. If she likes you.

Who are these people and their mothers? My mother HATES my stuff.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 10:59 am:   

Their mothers are Mothers, eagle mages who swoop down from the blue serene once every centon to give birth to human girls to whom they have given the gift of high fantasy...

...I think.
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Gabriel Morgan
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 02:05 pm:   

I am one of the current students attending Clarion West this year. We are all - students, administrators, instructors - appalled at the way Gene Wolf was treated. We have sent him a latter saying as much, making it clear that he can write 'Oh, COME ON.' on any of our mss. any time he likes. His reply was very gracious.

I can state unequivocably that there is no bunker mentality here. I've come to Clarion West to learn my shit, and I trust the instructors to help me along in the way they feel is best. Am I going to take all of their advice? Hell, no. But I'm damn well going to be respectful while they give their time and energy. Anyone who does otherwise has no respect for their craft, the profession, and SF in general.

Please don't indict the entire workshopping process. This is my first workshop, and will likely be my last (barring invite-only shindigs, knock on wood), but I came here to learn and I have. Take that as a datapoint.

Best,
Gabriel Morgan
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 02:13 pm:   

Datapoint taken, Gabe. I didn't think anyone here was indicting the ENTIRE workshopping process. In fact, I believe I mentioned in one post that CW was especially good at defusing situations before they developed. Which may be why there is no bunker mentality at your workshop. As mentioned by one of the Odyssey bloggers, Odyssey is NOT Clarion.

Good luck. If I were you, though, I'd skip those invite-only deals. They're basically strokefests (I know some will disagree) and don't do a hell of a lot for one's work.
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Gabriel
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 02:33 pm:   

Thanks, both for the kind words and the advice. I've no doubt those workshops can turn into self-congratulatory monstrosities, but (to me) the workshopping process is all about dodging the many pitfalls and waiting for the random bit of gold to fall in your lap. Having a fairly accurate bullshit detector certainly helps, and that's something I'm trying to develop as we speak.

I'd like to think there are lessons to be learned at Turkey City, etc. , but I reserve the right to be completely and utterly mistaken.

Best,
Gabriel
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Ellen
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 05:30 pm:   

This was posted today by Eileen Gunn on the Tangent online topic on the sff.net bb
Ellen

Update on Odyssey workshop:

I just talked to Harlan, who has spoken with Jeanne Cavelos. He says that it was in fact a single person
who wrote the letter, misrepresenting himself as speaking for all the students, and it was only through
a series of additional misunderstandings that only a few students were in the classroom. So it
was not a rejection of Gene by the group, although it looked to Gene as if that were the case.

Apologies and explanations have been made to Gene. It wasn't anything in the drinking water,
and there's no evidence of mass hysteria. The students,
understandably, don't want to discuss the debacle.


Eileen
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 06:05 pm:   

Taken with a grain of salt, Ellen. Make that two grains...

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ben peek
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 08:30 pm:   

lucius--

probably just a different language. could also be most of the students who i come into contact with are of a similar level, being that of 'not so good' as opposed to 'better' (such nice terms, huh? me teach ;) but i figure the meaning is there). so it could be a point of where the class as a whole is that shows how much more you can do for them.

but i'm in total agreement that an open mind, and willingness, is more important than anything else. without them, that student is nothing but trouble. (that said, flexibility for a teacher is good too, so as just so people don't think i mean everything falls upon the student.)
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Ellen
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 08:34 pm:   

Lucius,
Of course.

So did UPS show up yesterday (or today)? If not, I have to make a call on Monday.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 09:16 pm:   

Ellen...

Nope. No UPS. Deborah's disconolate. She's a dyin' to send that email.

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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 10:02 pm:   

Ellen,

I think it must be because of no apt. number. It's probably undeliverable -- if my usual UPS guy wasn't on the job, that is...
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Ellen
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 08:35 am:   

OK. Looking into it. They have your phone # though if there was a problem they should have called. Arghh.
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LHoney
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 12:23 pm:   

This whole debacle reminds me of just about every class I've taken at a big university with a decent professor. (I attended two colleges: one a big university, and the other a highly disciplined small private college).

For some reason, students at Big University figured they were paying for it, so they should be treated like gods. This is pretty much a disease of spoiled suburban brats. At the smaller college I attended, students expected to be challenged-- in a rational manner-- and also expected to put up a fight if they didn't agree with someone's comments or ideas. But they didn't expect fawning over their work.

The best teachers will write something like "bullshit" over something that strikes them as such. If the student disagrees, they should come talk to the teacher and defend it. But it is never a personal struggle or affront. Can you imagine a martial arts master letting the students run the class? Taking it easy on students so as not to bruise their little egos? That's no way to teach.

These whining little piss-ants are the same people who would join the military and then spend years nurturing a grudge against a drill sergeant who has long forgotten their existence.

I do leave room for the possibility that Gene Wolfe is not a very good teacher. But how is it that he would draw people to workshops year after year after. . . and so on, if he were not? How is it that he would enjoy teaching if he weren't any good at it? I'd gladly pay Gene Wolfe to read and critique one of my stories. Hell, I'd even think about paying Lucius to read one of my stories. . . ;)

Anyway, welcome to the self-esteem generation and its inevitable consequences.

Laurie
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 12:29 pm:   

Lucius: nope, it came back to me again. Maybe I have the wrong e-mail for you. Can you click on my name and send me a blank, so I can send you the relevant response as a reply? Thanx.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 12:55 pm:   

Adam,

you should have it now....

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Deborah
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 12:56 pm:   

Laurie,

Even assuming for the sake of argument that you report only your own experiences, and the nature of discourse in this forum is such that sweeping generalizations are the order of the day, let's go easy on writing off the entire student bodies of Big Universities, shall we?

I attended a Big University myself, a football school, The Ohio State University to be precise. When there are upwards of 18K undergrads in the system, there's not much sense in trying to characterize them as All Assholes or All Saints. I also worked at one Big University and One Small Elite college...ditto. No way to say all students are alike in either place.

If every class you took was like that you must have had the worst luck in the history of higher education. I did three degrees in two institutions (logging a total of 9 years of classroom time) and I can only think of a handful of instances in which personality conflicts actually got in the way of things to that degree. But, of course, that's my experience. Maybe I was just lucky.

I think it's pretty clear that a Bad Thing happened at Odyssey this year, but let's all try to keep our heads here, shall we?

Deborah


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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 01:01 pm:   

According to Harlan Ellison's report, written after speaking with Rosemary Wolfe and Cavelos, the student who handed Gene Wolfe the letter was "a very elderly man, 62, 65, somewhere in his early to middle sixties, who had had a serious heart condition, whose wife had died, who wanted to be a writer but has some serious and even noticeable 'relationship' problems with others, which have caused him confrontations and angst in the past."

Click http://wwwharlanellison.com/heboard/unca.htm and scroll down to the appropriate item, which is timestamped Saturday, July 26 2003 15:43:5

It is interesting to see how many of the respondents castigated the Odyssey group as "children", "brats", and more concretely, as the end result of a very shift towards "self-esteem" in elementary and secondary schooling. I wonder why so many people either decided that age had to have been a factor, or that age-like attacks ("brats" etc.) was at all in evidence.

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 01:02 pm:   

That should be http://www.harlanellison.com/heboard/unca.htm
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 01:05 pm:   

Laurie....

You wouldn't want that--it's scary! :-)

I'm sure Gene's a good teacher. The thing is, you can't be a good teacher to every student. Some of them are just not going to relate to what you say, but in Clarion-like workshop, somebody'll come along.

Conversely, just because Gene shows up at workshops doesn;t make him a good teacher. Lots of people get hired because of their name and really aren't that great. And they'll get hired back if they're big enough.

But I know plenty of people who have been happy with Gene as a teacher,
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 01:57 pm:   

Nick,

why kids, why agist stuff? I think it's clear people associate these actions with immaturity, which leads one to think of the phrase, "kids of all ages....:

The blogs seemed to evidence a certain immaturtity, at least in my view...
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LHoney
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 02:29 pm:   

Deborah-- when was it that you attended said schools? I attended a large university in Boston in the mid-90's, just as the PC movement was reaching full steam there (and about to be deflated by people who were thoroughly sick of such nonsense).

Lucius did mention that he sees this tendency more and more in recent years, and that is not surprising. (It is true he did not say those people were always younger people: maybe it's true that some older folks have picked up on the vibe, but I think they are the exception).

I was just over at Harlan's site seeing what he has to say, and if you think I got carried away by the whole thing, check out Harlan's rancor as only Harlan can do rancor:

"Today, colleges are not permitted to discuss "failure" as a life possibility. Not to upset the ego-drenched little parvenus surfeited with their 21st Century self-pity, pointless rebellion, need to deconstruct and ridicule, not to mention their rodentlike feeling that everything and anything they want, they deserve, and they don't need to work to get it. It should just come to them, sans discomfort, because as advertising tells them, they are the noblest demographic that ever was, or ever shall be."

-Harlan Ellison

There's plenty more where that came from. Maybe I did have the worst luck in the history of education, but from talking regularly with educators, I don't think so. Most of them have noted the trend.

Laurie
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 02:36 pm:   

A general immaturity is very different than claiming that the "self-esteem" generation/movement in schools is to blame, as a number of people have done on a number of boards.

Even without knowing that the letter-writer was an older person, we do know that of the two bloggers, one went to Clarion and made it through vetinary school (neither known for privileging self-esteem over learning) and the other is part of a fairly well-regarded writers' group in NYC. Both are in their early 30s at the least, meaning they likely left elemntary school before the self-esteem movement became very prominent in the 1980s.

Were their comments immature? Sure, but blogs/journals are designed for that sort of in-the-moment commentary anyway. The unanimity with which people in the genre denounced them as "children", summoned the spirit of Harlan Ellison, and used the incident to draw definitive conclusions about an educational system that the bloggers weren't even a part of is as peculiar as the breakdown in Odyssey was,

Groupthink carried the day in both instances.
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Deborah
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 02:47 pm:   

Laurie,

Yes, I'm older -- I graduated from OSU in '84, but I worked at Pitt from 84-94 (while attending grad school and much later, law school), then at Lewis & Clark college 99-01, 01-02. So, I did miss a few years in The Academy and maybe things got much worse.

But I stand by my original point which is that I would be astonished to learn that student populations had become homogenized to that degree -- namely that all or even most students are now sniveling little weasels. That was my point. They aren't ALL like any one thing.

As for Harlan's quote, I'd be interested to know when he found so much time to do a through study of the culture of higher education. Last I heard he was a writer and didn't spend any time within those Ivy Walls.

Deborah
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Ellen
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 02:50 pm:   

Perhaps because many perceived the behavior (accurately or inaccurately reported) as that of children--spoiled brats in fact ;-)
No mystery or conspiracy there. Just perception of behavior.
Ellen

<<The unanimity with which people in the genre denounced them as "children",
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 02:58 pm:   

No mystery or conspiracy there. Just perception of behavior.

Not just perception of behavior -- there was an implicit agreement on the cause of the brattiness as well (the "self esteem" movement).

I'm not arguing that the blogs weren't whiny, what I am wondering is how the conclusion that this whining was an artifact of the self-esteem movement took off so quickly, and how it continues to be floated in spite of the fact that the main troublemaker was an emotionally unstable man in his 60s.

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Gregg
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 03:03 pm:   

A few words about Mr. Wolfe:
I attended Readercon the weekend before Mr. Wolfe went to Odyssey, and I recall him making a very strong negative statement on a panel he was on about being sick of the quality of writing he saw from students. This was right before he went to Odyssey, and to me it is obvious that he was not looking forward to Odyssey and perhaps didn't really want to go at all. He was crankier than I've ever seen him before at this year's Readercon, at one point leading the crowd in a round of boos for Michael Swanwick, who showed up late for a panel. I thought that was unfair, since Mr. Wolfe had been late to a panel himself the day before, but no one booed him. I bring up these observations not to trash Mr. Wolfe; he is my favorite writer. Rather, to me it seems that now, in his seventies, he should be doing what he enjoys doing, and if he no longer enjoys teaching, then he did the right thing in leaving Odyssey when he did.
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LeslieWhat
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 03:16 pm:   

Seems it would be a kindness to future workshop students to forbid them from blogging about the workshop.

Read the blogs. Talked with folks. Still don't feel I know the story and will only make the comment that it was an unfortunate situation and I hope all the folks involved can move on.
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John Langan
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 04:14 pm:   

Dear Gregg,

Just for the sake of accuracy: I was at Readercon, too, and present at the same two panels to which you refer. In the first, Wolfe did not bemoan the quality of student writing: he bemoaned the grammatical skills of some students who were otherwise producing good stories; he went on to excuse the students, saying that grammar wasn't being taught in primary and secondary schools the way it had been. This is, needless to say, quite a bit different from bemoaning the quality of student fiction. In the second case, Wolfe was obviously playing to the audience and poking fun at Swanwick, who took Wolfe's act for what it was. I can't comment on whether Gene Wolfe is fed up with teaching or not: I don't know the man well enough to render such judgements. Nor am I trying to jump on your case: it's just that, given everything that's been happening lately, I think that a certain amount of scrupulous accuracy is more important than ever.


Best wishes,




John Langan
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LHoney
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 04:58 pm:   

A final comment to try to clarify my position:

I'm sure that Gene Wolfe is, if not a good teacher (and nobody is saying he isn't, certainly not I who have never met him, let alone studied with him), at least he must be an astute reader of fiction. After all, someone who can write The Fifth Head of Cerberus is bound to understand many of the allusions and metaphorical power that slip right past many readers. It very well may be that his praise of the student whose story he called "brilliant", despite the perceptions of other students, was right on the money, but the others didn't see it that way because they don't have any foundation in real literature.

This is another complaint I have about the modern age: few people are reading much of value. The political has overwhelmed the universal. How many people have read the great Greek tragedies? More than a smattering of Shakespeare? The Romantic Poets? James Joyce, even? Why do we allow English majors to graduate without any grounding in the philosophy that shaped some of what they are reading? (For example, if you think you can fully appreciate something as "simple" as Huckleberry Finn without also reading Kant and Rousseau, you are wrong).

People got pissed off because Gene Wolfe's reading of student work seemed "arbitrary" to them. Could it be that they don't agree with him as to the merits of certain works because they just aren't very well read?

I don't mean to generalize about *all* students today, but I do think this is a growing trend: to be less than grammatical, to be generally unread in the major literature of the western world, and to think that the PC pet book of the year is serious literature.

SO maybe that marks me as a curmudgeon, or as insensitive. Well, like I've said before in other contexts: So I'm insensitive. Fuck 'em.

Laurie
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Gregg
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 05:48 pm:   

John,

I thought at the time it happened that Mr. Wolfe was just playing to the audience, too, but then when he argued with Swanwick on the panel and got increasingly annoyed with him I wondered if those two didn't have a history there. For the rest of you reading this, the panel was on Catholicism, and Swanwick made some blasphemous remarks during the panel that I can imagine were offensive to Mr. Wolfe. I wondered if Swanwick hadn't pissed off Wolfe before by the time this panel was over, and that's why Mr. Wolfe pounced on the opportunity to have him booed when he was late at the beginning. But I don't suppose this is really worth debating, I just wanted to point out what I observed, which was that Mr. Wolfe was already not in a very good mood before he even got to Odyssey. He did give a remarkable dramatic performance of the rationalizations of a murderer on that panel, though, didn't he?
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 07:44 pm:   

Nick,

For some reason I couldn't access Harlan's site--possibly a blessing--and I haven't sought out any of the conversations about this matter that are going on. So all I know is this -- I've taught over half-a-dozen workshops and attended Clarion as a student, and I've been in close touch and/or visited with half a dozen more workshops, and it's been my experience that the dynamic in all these groups has been remarkably similar, Nothing ever happens in a vacuum, and I don't for a minute believe that this dust-up was caused by the actions of one person acting in secret, with no approbabtion from his fellow students. I believe rather that his letter was the product of numerous conversations, ventings, and so forth, and that there were covert complicities involved. The blogs seem to support that, It's possible that this workshop was different from every other I've had access to, but the blogs seem to suggest that this wasn't the case, They have the basic ring of the dialogues that proliferate in a workshop environment.

Anyway, that's my take FWIW. Not group think.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 08:52 pm:   

In that case, Lucius, we'd still end up with no *actual* connection between the Odyssey incident and the so-called "self-esteem movement" in schooling today, because what we have are:

a. an older man
b. a woman in her thirties with an advanced degree
c. another woman in her thirties

None of these people are products of the self-esteem movement in schooling.

What is interesting is the repeated claim that they are, and that this incident is a sign of such things as the failure to teach English majors philosophy (to which one should ask: oh yeah, where is this happening?), to "PC" and other bugbears of recent vintage.

That is a different claim than the one you are making, about the workshop environment. It's not surprising that sticking a bunch of strangers in close quarters for several weeks in the middle of some shithole campus would lead to ventings.

What doesn't stand is that these ventings were caused by educational phenomena that did not exist at the time these folks were getting their primary educations and socialization.

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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 09:24 pm:   

Nick, I have no idea about the "self-esteem" argument. Generational labels always seem to me rather loosely applied, and I really haven't given the matter any great thought. I don't know enough about the argument to venture an opinion. But I do assume that not just the man and women you mention were involved in the mess at Odyssey, and perhaps some of these were younger. Perhaps, if so, the self-esteem thing came to play with them. I don't know. The only thing I'm assuming is that this is just another workshop freak-out, and that if there is any blame to be handed out, then the administration should be looked at--did they make it clear that complaints about instructors should always be directed first toward the administration? If they did, then, well, it's just unfortunate. It's quite possible you are correct in your assessment of the self-esteem argument. I simply don't have enough information to comment.

I should reiterate that from what I know of Gene, he can get pissy -- I've been on panels with him when he was grumpy. But most of the people I know who've studied with him have been pleased with his teaching, even those who weren't happy with his personality.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 09:52 pm:   

Nick, I have no idea about the "self-esteem" argument. Generational labels always seem to me rather loosely applied, and I really haven't given the matter any great thought.

Indeed. I had the same concern, re: generational labels, so when it came up earlier today on this thread, I had a hankering to tilt at it.

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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 01:46 am:   

Question: why does everyone take it for granted that the PC, self-esteem, you're-worth-it entitlement shit only applies to those who were schooling at the time it was introduced? It looks to me a lot more like a zeitgeist. Stupid people of all ages have bought into it.
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paulw
Posted on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 03:05 am:   

I think Mr. Liu is right. That's why a sizable portion of a culture, across age, gender, racial, political, and social divisions, can embrace the solaces of victimhood, for example. IMO, Mr. Mamatas assigns too narrow an effect and too specific a duration and influence to the so-called "self-esteem movement." It is Mr. Mamatas himself who, in this discussion at least, has coined that term. To label something a movement has an implication of organized direction by a person or group; I think this is a case of something more diffuse and organic.
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John Langan
Posted on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 06:22 am:   

Dear Gregg,

The funny thing is, what we're doing re: trying to decipher Wolfe's mood from what we observed at Readercon--when neither of us has talked to the man and so can speak with anything like surety--strikes me as similar to what the student(s) at Odyssey appear to have done. I suppose there's a relevant quotation about removing the beams in one's own eye before tweezing the splinter in your neighbour's, but I don't know it. For what it's worth, Swanwick's remarks didn't strike me as blasphemous, and I didn't see Wolfe taking them that way, exactly. He did disagree with some of what Swanwick was saying--he seemed to have little patience for Swanwick's nun horror stories--but he and Swanwick seemed in accord in their esteem for what they regarded as the intellectual component to Catholic education and religious doctrine. Having sat beside Wolfe during his coffee talk session (all the while praying I didn't say anything grossly stupid), I have to say that he struck me as fairly pleasant, though direct. While I think such directness is a virtue--and, quite frankly, something Wolfe has earned the right to--I can appreciate how that directness could rub some--especially those in the pressure-cooker situation of a workshop--the wrong way. I do wish, of course, that the parties responsible had tried to talk things out with Wolfe, first: it's amazing what a little face to face dialogue can accomplish.


Best,




John
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 06:53 am:   

Paul, Nicholas...you're absolutely right. Most of the people I know who're extreme PCers are baby boomers. For my part, as I've said, this seems so typical of workshop blow-ups, I just don't need to get into anything beyond that.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 09:12 am:   



pcussion I coined the term 'self-esteem movement', however it is simply a variant on LHoney's "the self-esteem generation and its inevitable consequences," whose commentary makes it explicit that he or she was talking about today's educational system.

As far as why I consider actually finding a link between concrete shifts in pedagogy and shifts in attitude more important than hand-waving about the zeitgeist, it is because the latter is mere handwaving. "Zeitgeist" has no measurement, is a subjective conclusion, and tends to be more easily explained by looking at the claimant -- people don't like "PC" or "self-esteem" and then blame every action with some epiphenomenal or coincidental similarity on PC and self-esteem.

Indeed, from my subjective viewpoint, PC was always more light than heat, and its primary puprose was as a convenient bugaboo for the neoconservative movement to bash people, all while themselves claiming victimhood (e.g., utter conservative dominance of tv and radio, and using that dominance to complain of "liberal media elites").

A few decades ago, it would be easy enough to imagine the two bloggers writing similar comments to a fanzine and being denounced as too feminine and weak-willed for the manly business of of writers' "boot camp." Today, "PC" takes the place of that sort of thing.

The idea that a) multi-week workshops may not be that great an idea or that b) some folks are just assholes (and that could be Wolfe, it could be the old man with the letter, it could be our two pissy informants) are easily as good explanations as any sort of conclusion-first-evidence-never argument about PC.




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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 06:15 pm:   

NicK: "As far as why I consider actually finding a link between concrete shifts in pedagogy and shifts in attitude more important than hand-waving about the zeitgeist, it is because the latter is mere handwaving. "Zeitgeist" has no measurement, is a subjective conclusion, and tends to be more easily explained by looking at the claimant -- people don't like "PC" or "self-esteem" and then blame every action with some epiphenomenal or coincidental similarity on PC and self-esteem."

Come again?
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 09:26 pm:   

Okay:

I don't believe the PC argument because there is no clear link between PC and these people (or even that "PC" exists, but that's another issue). You claim there needn't be such a link because PC is basically the spirit of the age.

I say the very notion of a "spirit of the age" is nonsense and that you see PC because you don't like PC and are using the Odyssey incident simply to amplify a previously-drawn general conclusion.

Got it now?
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Ellen
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 08:48 am:   

Nick, I actually think I can agree with you on this :-)

As Leslie What said on another BB:

"Just a note (not in response to anyone in particular) to defend "PC".
Seems that calling someone PC is an effective technique for closing off
discussions about issues that are important to people in minority cultures
(be they sexual, political, economic, or racial), and also a way around admitting
one's own issues.

People often proclaim how gutsy they are because they aren't swayed by any PC hard-line,
when lots of times it looks like the same-old, same-old retro excuse to bash the other.

Signed

proud to be PC unless there's some specific reason not to."
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 09:19 am:   

Nick: "I don't believe the PC argument because there is no clear link between PC and these people (or even that "PC" exists, but that's another issue). You claim there needn't be such a link because PC is basically the spirit of the age."

I claim that it is a manifestation of the general sense of entitlement prevalent today (and by the way, now would be a good time to state that I'm not sure that "PC" ought to be used interchangeably with "self-esteem" etc., as they usually refer to very different things!). I do not claim that the attitudes displayed are a result of it, but I do think that it is a part of it.

"I say the very notion of a "spirit of the age" is nonsense and that you see PC because you don't like PC and are using the Odyssey incident simply to amplify a previously-drawn general conclusion."

Speaking for myself (as one who has been relatively uninvolved in this debate up till now), I'm not using it to amplify anything. I merely note that this occurrence, and the sentiments expressed on the blogs of even those people not directly involved in the writing of the letter, are quite consistent with what I have observed in the past.

I think you are making too much of my use of the word "zeitgeist". My mistake, I suppose; all I meant was that it is quite widespread, and that its effects are not limited to people who were schooling at the time, as everyone seemed to be assuming.

Ellen: Ms What's sentiments are commendable, but I'm not sure what bearing they have on this discussion, aside from the fact that they refer to the same term--PC--that this discussion misuses. Here we are talking about sensitive egoes and expectations of validation, though we may be using some poorly chosen labels to describe it (the perpetuation of which mistake I apologise for); Leslie is talking about sweeping controversial issues under the carpet. They are quite different.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 09:30 am:   

Okay, I'll make it even simpler.

That sense of entitlement you claim is quite widespread is not actually quite widespread.

Complaining about a widespread sense of entitlement, on the other hand, is very widespread. It's a way for people to make themselves feel better by developing a cultural villain.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 10:19 am:   

Re: Ellen and Politcal Correctness --

The concept of political correctness itself doesn't disturb me in the least. The practice of it, however, sometimes does. I live in the NW and come from the south. I hear a great many people talking about racism in the south who have no experience whatsoever in dealing with different races and have never been to the south, except maybe to some convention, and their talk is for the most part couched in politically correct terms and is often avowedly politically correct. I sometimes wonder what these folks would do if they were dropped into a racially diverse circumstance and how long their political correctness would serve them. To a great degree, politcal correctness seems to me a hedge against activisim -- I mean, many people seem quite content to give lip service to noble causes, high-minded ideals, but don't exert themselves toward those ends in any real way. They appear to think that keeping the good thought imunnizes them against the need to display any sort of social responsibility and gives them a righteous platform from which to pronounce judgments they aren't qualified to make, and to do so with a kind of prudish snobbery and prissy chic that's annoying, of not downright absurd.

I played in racially mixed bands for many years, an atmosphere in which racial slurs are commonly used as terms of rough affection, and yet there was rarely anything but respect involved in those exchanges. It's not the words that bite, it's the attitudes, and here in the NW, in the white bread world of science fiction, I have run into a lot of proper words expressed by folks who's attitudes, I feel, are a little shaky, whose political correctness is a sham.

I agree with Nick that people create cultural villains to make themselves feel better, and I further believe this is what PC does in a great many cases.

I don't know from zeitgeists, but if ever an age had one, I think this age might...because of the media, because the media has been involved in the dumbing down of its audience engaging in an Orwellian homogenization of thought, reducing politcal (or any other kind of) debate to a He Said, She Said sort of simplicity. I run a boxing board at another site and most of the people who express themselves there are merely parroting opinions they hear on the TV. One might argue that the members of a boxing forum are not so bright, but that's not the case--many of the people on my board are authors, professionals, not at all dese and dose kind of people. But that's not the point. I hear the TV coming back at me from people's mouth in every segment of society I touch. So I bleieve that if there is anything out there approximating a zeitgeist, it's media-sponsored hoo-ha.

This is all rudimentary, but I don't have time to do more at this juncture -- have to get back to my book.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 10:27 am:   

Nick: "That sense of entitlement you claim is quite widespread is not actually quite widespread.

Complaining about a widespread sense of entitlement, on the other hand, is very widespread."

This is rapidly turning into a game of "It is!" "It is not!" "It is too!" Perhaps you are right; I'm merely going by what I myself have observed, and the plural of "anecdote", after all, is not "data".

Then again, I have to wonder if your evidence is any more convincing.

"It's a way for people to make themselves feel better by developing a cultural villain."

Yes, of course! It couldn't possibly be a sincere and genuine observation, could it? No, only you make those.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 11:00 am:   

Then again, I have to wonder if your evidence is any more convincing.

This is a fallacy -- you're making a claim. You have the obligation to provide the evidence. I'm perfectly fine with a very narrow, personalized explanation: some people at Odyssey were or became jerks.

Yes, of course! It couldn't possibly be a sincere and genuine observation, could it?

One would think that if it was, the actual business that occured would lead to some slight variation in the observation. But since significant new evidence (the letter writer being older and mentally unbalanced) doesn't alter your POV in the slightest, no I don't think your observation is very genuine.

Further, what I find most compelling is that only a few people have criticized Wolfe for walking off the job, and that nobody has suggested that a widespread sense of entitlement and the need to be coddled informed his decision at all.

So, when someone claims:

1. sans evidence, that there is a widespread sense of entitlement, and

2. when the only concrete connection offered between thise sense and the actual incident ("self esteem generation") doesn't actually exist, and

3. when the "PC" bludgeon is only used to criticize actions of the people one dislikes, and not similar actions from people one does like (e.g., Wolfe quitting the scene),

then yes, I see no reason to believe that the observation is genuine, even if is sincerely felt. Sincerity is not a measure of accuracy though.

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Ellen
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 11:58 am:   

Nicholas L:
The fact that the discussion does indeed misuse the term is--imo crucial to the discussion.
Ellen

>>>Ellen: Ms What's sentiments are commendable, but I'm not sure what bearing they have on this discussion, aside from the fact that they refer to the same term--PC--that this discussion misuses. Here we are talking about sensitive egoes and expectations of validation, though we may be using some poorly chosen labels to describe it (the perpetuation of which mistake I apologise for); Leslie is talking about sweeping controversial issues under the carpet. They are quite different.
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Ellen
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 12:04 pm:   

Lucius,
I agree that the philosophy behind PC can and has been abused but I believe that when it is not that philosophy can bring a sensitivity to various inequalities.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 12:06 pm:   

Am I going to piss away a work day? I hope not. But Nick raises an interesting point, i.e., whether or not Gene was in the right for walking off. Before going forward, I would like to reiterate that this, to my mind, seems to speak to an administrative problem both as regards the selection of students and oversight. I read manuscripts and cover letters for Clarion West over a ten-year period, and we didn't make too many selection mistakes because we erred on the side of caution as far as admission went. Any hint of a behavioral problem set off the detectors. We did make a couple of mistakes, but when those came to light they were carefully monitored by the administration --by that I mean, an administrator remained in close personal contact with the problematic person, keeping an eye on them and making certain that any significant hassles were nipped in the bud. This was not the case always at Clarion East -- there were, in my experience, failures in the selection process aplenty there during my involvement with the program, and I think this was due to the fact that the program was administrated by a single academic, who had all he or she could do just to deal with logistical problems. At Clarion West the administrators had closer social contact with the class and this proved a benefit.

If you phrased the question was Gene wrong to leave as, Was the instructor wrong to leave, I'm not sure how I would answer it. I myself would not have left. But then I don't believe things would have come to this pass had I been teaching, not because I'm a better teacher of writing than Gene, but because I think I'm more comfortable than him being direct with people in the sense of telling them what I expect from a class. If I had left, I would have been wrong. I also come from a background (rock and roll) that accustomed me to instant critiques and I doubt I'm as sensitive regarding them as Gene. Having your life threatened after a set tends to do that. I'm absolutely sure Gene did not leave in a fit of pique -- he was wounded by this incident. Hurt. So the question in this instance should be, I think, when one of the best writers in the genre, a man in his seventies, gives up his time for short money (and it is short, considering the hours you put in) to come and work his ass off for a week on behalf of a group of students, shouldn't that writer be accorded sufficient respect due to age and accomplishment that he not be put through this kind of crap , because he's basically giving of himself to do this? And if that respect isn't given (as I believe it was not, and, I further believe, not merely by one individual), and he is seriously disrespected, is he acting untowardly to leave after already having put in four hard days and then receiving this reaction? Maybe, all things being equal, Gene should have toughed it out. But all things aren't equal. Cavelos surely knew Gene's personality, so this can't have come as a surprise to her that he reacted so. Gene was hired as Gene, not Gene on his best behavior, not the idea Gene, but Gene with all the human assets and liabilities that he possesses. I mean, if you're a promoter and you hire Tool to come and do a show, you understand you're going to wind up paying for some trashed hotel rooms. It's not the best analogy, but I'm rushing. Hiring Gene for a workshop, you know you're hiring a very sensitive guy who is of a different generation from most of his students and is there to teach writing and likely isn't qualified to contrive an inter-generational bridge, and thus you may need to be on the lookout for certain problems to crop up. When you hire Gene, you hire Gene. When you hire Harlan Ellison, you hire Harlan. When you hire me, you hire me. Not "an instructor." All of us have buttons that can be pushed. All of us need certain things to go certain ways. All of us have our strengths and weaknesses. None of us are just "the instructor," just as the class isn't just "the class." Maybe it's most accurate to say that sometimes this shit simply doesn't work out. Bad chemistry. So I won't go so far as to say that Gene was right in what he did, but I won't say he was wrong, either. Teaching a week at a workshop is hard fucking work if you do it right, and I feel it's incumbent upon a class to avail themselves of an opportunity, not to get into the head of "he doesn't understand my brilliance," or the like, and that it's incumbent upon administration to keep the waters calm. I mean, it's not as if Gene put on a Hitler suit and ordered a genocidal purification of the students. He was simply direct in his critiques.

One more thing. Usually you get paid at the end of your week, and I bet Gene left without his check. Maybe that's not central to all this, but it bears mentioning.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 12:09 pm:   

Ellen, yeah, sure. I just think it;s misused to the point of absurdity. But, as I stated, I have no quarrel with the core intent of PC.
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GabrielM
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 12:29 pm:   

I have to say I see nothing at all wrong with what Wolfe did under the circumstances. I'm not a writer and don't know jack about workshops, but I only recently finished teaching a course in my own narrow discipline, and I think if I had at some point received a letter from my students stating that they had been insulted by my behavior in class and that they were refusing to return until I was prepared to apologize publically, and if looking back I honestly felt I had done nothing wrong, then to resign seems like a perfectly reasonable option. It's just an admission that the pedagogical relationship is broken and can't be salvaged. I suppose you could argue that the letter recipient should stay and try to explain and have a dialogue, but that doesn't fit with the facts -- if the letter demands an apology, if the letter states that the students won't return unless the apology is forthcoming, then it's the students who have decided that the dialogue is not worth having and not the instructor.

I realize that now that the dust's settled the facts were a bit different, the letter writer was not speaking for all students, there was a misunderstanding, etc., but that doesn't change the argument, which is really about the instructor's reasonable response to a situation which he believes subjectively to be as depicted.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 12:51 pm:   

Nick: >>"This is a fallacy -- you're making a claim. You have the obligation to provide the evidence."

You're right. Mea culpa.

I would argue, though, that this is not the sort of thing that can really be proven. One would be hard pressed to point to the actions of any one group or individual and say, "Oh, this is clearly caused by such-and-such a cultural phenomenon." I am merely observing that this sort of attitude is, from what I have seen, quite prevalent these days. It may be a cause or an epiphenomenon, or it may be the thing itself; it may be the cultural phenomenon that leads to them buying into the idea, or it may be their buying in that creates the phenomenon. I am not concerned with which is cause and which is effect. I am only bitching at the thin skins that people, for whatever reason, so often have.

>>"I'm perfectly fine with a very narrow, personalized explanation: some people at Odyssey were or became jerks."

It's fairly obvious that that is the explanation, whatever else may be at work here.

>>"One would think that if it was, the actual business that occured would lead to some slight variation in the observation. But since significant new evidence (the letter writer being older and mentally unbalanced) doesn't alter your POV in the slightest, no I don't think your observation is very genuine."

"Alter"? My good man, I did not actually offer my PoV until after this fact surfaced. Observe: my first post on this thread was,

"Question: why does everyone take it for granted that the PC, self-esteem, you're-worth-it entitlement shit only applies to those who were schooling at the time it was introduced? It looks to me a lot more like a zeitgeist. Stupid people of all ages have bought into it."

well after the facts of the situation surfaced.

I did post on this topic elsewhere on the board, but if I recall correctly, that was a fairly standard, "What a travesty! I would give my left nut to be taught by Wolfe" response.

In other words, you're accusing me displaying signs of having an agenda that I simply have not, in actual fact, displayed.

>>"Further, what I find most compelling is that only a few people have criticized Wolfe for walking off the job, and that nobody has suggested that a widespread sense of entitlement and the need to be coddled informed his decision at all."

This is understandable. The reason for his doing so quite understandably blots out the fact of his doing so: this is why few people are paying attention to whether or not he ought to have walked off. In every event, there will be something more noteworthy than other things; here, it is the students' attitude (and I am not referring only to the letter, and yes, I am aware that the letter was the work of a single person).

>>"So, when someone claims:

1. sans evidence, that there is a widespread sense of entitlement"

May I ask what sort of evidence would satisfy you?

"2. when the only concrete connection offered between thise sense and the actual incident ("self esteem generation") doesn't actually exist"

The point of my post was that the idea that it is limited only to the generation that was schooling at the time is faulty. Furthermore, if one insists on sticking to the idea of a self-esteem generation, there is still a not-insignificant connection to this seen in the journals of those who weren't involved in the letter writing. Sure, only one person wrote the letter, but if you're going to argue that he was the only one sharing these sentiments, I leave you with these two snippets from Totton:

"So, workshop critique occasioned an eruption of post-Wolfe reaction. Basically, some people (I'm in with this crowd) are getting irritated that our critiques are being critiqued."

"The one good thing to come out of this is that the class has now formed a more cohesive unit. Sort of the way musk oxen form a circle with their horns facing outward when a predator circles around them."

>>"3. when the "PC" bludgeon is only used to criticize actions of the people one dislikes, and not similar actions from people one does like (e.g., Wolfe quitting the scene)"

As I said, it is simply a matter of what stands out more.

If you pressed me on it, I would--grudgingly, because, as you rightly point out, I like Wolfe--say that Wolfe's walking out was a bad idea, and also too thin-skinned. Given his accomplishments, however, I would sooner attrubute this to pride or vanity than the need for validation (which is not to say that this is what I attribute it to; rather, I am only saying that on Wolfe's case, the emphasis on self-esteem would be rather low down on the list of plausible reasons).

>>"then yes, I see no reason to believe that the observation is genuine, even if is sincerely felt. Sincerity is not a measure of accuracy though."

I was replying to your statement that "[complaining about this is] a way for people to make themselves feel better by developing a cultural villain", a comment on sincerity, surely.

Ellen: >>"The fact that the discussion does indeed misuse the term is--imo crucial to the discussion."

I agree, and think the bandying about of "PC" in this context should cease ASAP. :p
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 12:55 pm:   

In my reply to point 3, make that "the societal emphasis on self-esteem", for clarity's sake.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 01:20 pm:   

Actually, Nicholas, the "I would give my left nut" commentary dovetails rather nicely into the 'stupid PC brats and their self-esteem' claim -- that's how PC as the cultural enemy works. Not only is PC bad, but oh no, us reasonable, normal people aren't like that; they don't know how lucky they are, spoiled kids etc etc. Now, you can sincerely feel that way -- people often sincerely feel they're in the right while chasing a scapegoat out of town.

I mean, why not just go to Odyssey? Sounds much less pricey than your left nut, unless you have extras.

I'm also unsure how Wolfe's vanity or pride can really be divorced from a need for validation. After all, he did write a letter to Locus to let everyone know what happened, but never mentioned the fact that he got into a verbal argument with the person who presented the letter, nor that said individual was nearly his own age, nor that there had been previous problems with the fellow, etc etc...

That said, I have no problem with Wolfe leaving. I think the right to say "take this job and shove it" supercedes contractual or social obligations -- at the very least, Wolfe did not explicitly sign up to teach someone who probably needs some medication.

As far as what evidence would satisfy a "self esteem" claim for this:

a. evidence that the students had been raised in such a way, plus

b. a pattern of prior statements in other circumstances that showed a victim/validation stance from these people in particular (two of them have blogs, shouldn't be too tough)

c. an explanation as to why this sort of commentary isn't present in other Clarion/Odyssey blogs in this year or other recent years (after all, how widespread can it be if only appeared in one class one year?).

You know, facts and shit.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 01:45 pm:   

Nick: >>"Actually, Nicholas, the "I would give my left nut" commentary dovetails rather nicely into the 'stupid PC brats and their self-esteem' claim -- that's how PC as the cultural enemy works. Not only is PC bad, but oh no, us reasonable, normal people aren't like that; they don't know how lucky they are, spoiled kids etc etc. Now, you can sincerely feel that way -- people often sincerely feel they're in the right while chasing a scapegoat out of town."

Now hang about! I can't claim that their behaviour is the result of or a part of a larger cultural phenomenon, but you can claim that my condemning them is? How's that?

But to address your point directly: yes, that is exactly my attitude here, except without the "kids" part, as all the people involved are assuredly older than I am. Yes, I do think bitching about Wolfe's harshness and/or seeming arbitrariness is a sign of ungratefulness and not knowing how good one has it. After all, if you think he ought to be more specific, fucking tell him that. Have they no balls at all?

As for why I don't go myself: I live in Singapore, and I am 17. If I am still at a stage where I need a workshop when it becomes possible for me to actually attend Odyssey or Clarion, I will assuredly do so.

>>"I'm also unsure how Wolfe's vanity or pride can really be divorced from a need for validation. After all, he did write a letter to Locus to let everyone know what happened, but never mentioned the fact that he got into a verbal argument with the person who presented the letter, nor that said individual was nearly his own age, nor that there had been previous problems with the fellow, etc etc..."

It is highly likely that he has a need for validation from his peers; it would be most unusual (and faintly antisocial, given that his peers are plainly people whose opinions are worth something) for him not to. However, what I was referring to was the culture of self-esteem; my point was that large egoes due to success are a different issue entirely, and a more likely factor than the self-esteem culture, though not the most likely one.

>>"That said, I have no problem with Wolfe leaving. I think the right to say "take this job and shove it" supercedes contractual or social obligations -- at the very least, Wolfe did not explicitly sign up to teach someone who probably needs some medication."

With regard to Wolfe, your point was that the people calling the students thin-skinend etc. were not applying that to Wolfe. I do apply that to Wolfe (though of course there may be other factors that I don't know about). I agree that what he did was not wrong, and that he was well within his rights to do so (commonsensically speaking).

>>"As far as what evidence would satisfy a "self esteem" claim for this:

a. evidence that the students had been raised in such a way, plus

b. a pattern of prior statements in other circumstances that showed a victim/validation stance from these people in particular (two of them have blogs, shouldn't be too tough)

c. an explanation as to why this sort of commentary isn't present in other Clarion/Odyssey blogs in this year or other recent years (after all, how widespread can it be if only appeared in one class one year?).

You know, facts and shit."

First off, let me say that I have no answer to C. I do not know the circumstances of previous workshops, and know that you raise this point, it occurs to me that this may well be a one-off occurrence as far as these workshops are concerned.

In fact, hell. I was going to talk about how my point is that whether or not it was specifically caused by the self-esteem culture, it is a manifestation of it, and how A and B are not reasonable criteria, but to be perfectly honest, that's irrelevant until I address point C. As I do not have the information necessary for that, I cannot.

For the moment (and perhaps permanently, as my feelings about this topic are likely not quite strong enough to make me dig through people's old blogs in an attempt to find dirty linen), I will concede the point.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 01:54 pm:   

The post above, of course, should be tagged "Nicholas Liu". Apologies for accidentally appropriating your name! Slip of the mind there; bit of an identity crisis on my part, perhaps?
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 03:05 pm:   

Just to answer the one question about why I get to label "PC bugaboo" a social phenomenon while you don't get to label "PC" a social phenomenon:

1. A lot of the claims of the PC-basher crowd are internally contradictory (e.g., "liberal media elites" are bashed on tv, on the radio, in newspapers, and in popular books; the bashing is far more prominent than any true liberal elite would allow, and indeed is more prominent than any liberal messages) -- this suggests that they're tilting at windmills and making a lot of noise to cover up the fact that their targets are windmills.

2. A lot of the claims of the PC-basher crowd are based on excluding the middle (e.g., finding some fringe example of identity politics and extrapolating it to refer to the attitudes of everyone left of the Republican Party), a logical fallacy. This logical fallacy is widely defended, even by people otherwise capable of recognizing logical fallacies, suggesting immense social pressure.

3. A lot of the claims of the PC-basher crowd are factually incorrect and transparently so; facts are reduced to clay in order to bash the bogeyman: (e.g., David Horowitz engages in historical revisionism in order to attack the fringe notion of reparations for slavery; Ann Coulter engages in historical revisionism in order to simultaneously defend McCarthyism and to claim that it never existed). This is done with nary a peep from most of the editorial apparatus that would otherwise flag these things as errors and correct them, suggesting significant cultural authority.

4. Both PC proponents and opponents agree that the anti-PC backlash was significantly larger than PC, to the extent that it even existed, ever was. The PC crowd is very aware of its minority status and the anti-PC claims to be speaking on behalf of the vast majority. Thus, their own self-identification follows my observations.

Hope that helps.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 01:59 am:   

May I just emphasise once again that I think "PC" is the wrong label entirely for the sort of thing I, at least, am referring to here? All I'm talking about is the entitlement mentality and the idea that everyone should receive validation for their efforts. That is all. All the stuff you mention has nothing at all to do with me. It isn't my fucking agenda. All I'm saying is that from what I have observed, people in general seem to expect recognition and praise simply for making an attempt at something, and tend to react very badly to criticism, and that this is lamentable. It is an observation and a bitch, and that is all (have I used that phrase enough times yet?). I'm not trying to prove a point or further some agenda, and the only reason that I'm continuing this argument is because you persist in claiming that I am, which is unfair and untrue.
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 06:03 am:   

Nick and Nicholas:

Perhaps you should both just tell the other to "bite me" and call it a day. I did not copyright the phrase, so it is available for use.

JeffV
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 07:10 am:   

The phrase, "eat a shit sandwich" is also available. I have, however, copyrighted that one, so there will be a nominal fee. :-)
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bluejack
Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2003 - 09:42 am:   

Speaking of PC, today's Non Sequitur is on topic:

"Non Sequitur"
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2003 - 09:46 am:   

bluejack....Nice!
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Alexanderastrophysique
New member
Username: Alexanderastrophysique

Post Number: 8
Registered: 08-2007
Posted on Sunday, September 06, 2009 - 06:01 am:   

Wait. HOW do you go about writing a letter of support to Gene Wolfe?
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 8026
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Sunday, September 06, 2009 - 08:05 am:   

I think it's a bit late (six years or so) tp do that. Best to let it lie.
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Alexanderastrophysique
New member
Username: Alexanderastrophysique

Post Number: 10
Registered: 08-2007
Posted on Monday, September 07, 2009 - 11:19 pm:   

I was speaking more in the general case.I have been searching for a way to write to Gene Wolfe for some time now.
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 8028
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Tuesday, September 08, 2009 - 06:58 am:   

His email's changed and I don't know it. Sorry. I suggest you write Tor or perhaps his agent.
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Alexanderastrophysique
New member
Username: Alexanderastrophysique

Post Number: 11
Registered: 08-2007
Posted on Tuesday, September 08, 2009 - 09:19 pm:   

I did try writing to his agent. He wasn't much help.

For the record on this issue though...I'd say any aspiring writer should consider themselves lucky if Gene Wolfe poured a drink on their head.

A true master of the craft that one.
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Lucius
Moderator
Username: Lucius

Post Number: 8032
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Wednesday, September 09, 2009 - 03:46 am:   

Sorry.
Yeah, having a drink poured onto your head from Gene would be kind of Zen.
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Alexanderastrophysique
New member
Username: Alexanderastrophysique

Post Number: 13
Registered: 08-2007
Posted on Monday, September 14, 2009 - 11:22 pm:   

Kind of indeed. Or then again, not.

Unless he said something like "I think you need to cool off." and then laughed.

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