Greg Bachar (students) is the author of many stories and poems (click links to read) published in 3rd Bed, Conduit, Quick Fiction, and other places; all his things can be found here.
What differences were there between teaching "you are a little bit happier than i am" and "cognitive-behavioral therapy"?
I taught one book in one class and one book in another class. The first book is easier, I think, and maybe more "fun." The second book requires the reader to do some work to figure out what you're trying to say, if you're trying to say anything at all. In both classes, some students seemed worried about you or said they think you're crazy. A few in each class seem to "get" you right away and laugh a lot while reading and talking about your work. A lot of students seemed to want to "psychoanalyze" you as a person before getting into an analysis of your work. A lot of them think you are anti-social and withdrawn from society, living in a state of isolation. So I asked: if he's isolated, why does he have a blog and a Myspace profile? Why are there clips of him on Youtube walking down the street in New York? Why is he laughing? Why does it look like he has friends hanging out with him and having a good time? Why does he do readings? Why does he answer e-mails? I try to get them to think about your ideas instead of worrying about you as a person, your poems instead of your personality.
Have you know anyone who really lives in isolation, like doesn't see anyone in person, but maybe still uses the internet a lot; or maybe doesn't use the internet and also doesn't leave the house, or does leave the house but doesn't have friends or acquaintances?
Emily Dickinson would have loved the internet. I lived near her house in Amherst when I was in grad school and heard that although she was a known recluse, she sometimes lowered baked goods in a basket to the neighborhood kids from a second floor window. A second Emily Dickinson memory, unrelated to your question, took place in a graduate level literature course. One day the instructor had us arrange our chairs around an empty chair in the middle of the circle. He told us to imagine Emily Dickinson was sitting there and to ask her questions about her poetry. All questions were answered with silence. The professor began to weep and said how beautiful the moment was. The thing about being any kind of recluse is that you have to become KNOWN as a recluse, which means you have to publicize the fact in public or appear infrequently but consistently enough for people to think you must be a recluse. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t leave the house and doesn’t use the internet. Maybe I walk by them in the grocery store, but they aren’t wearing a t-shirt announcing the fact. Perhaps a RECLUSE t-shirt would be a good idea. I bought a baseball cap at Walgreen’s a few months ago that says “Leave Me Alone” but I never wear it because I bet people will read the hat and do exactly the opposite. I don’t know anyone who does leave the house but doesn’t have friends or acquaintances, although I once had a neighbor that might have been someone like this. He didn’t acknowledge anyone in the hall and always left at night with a heavy-looking leather bag we assumed was filled with tools. I like to think he was working on bank heist tunnel jobs. My favorite bank heist tunnel job story occurred in Paris in the 1970s. A group of robbers tunneled into a vault and made off with millions of dollars. As far as I know they were never caught. The best part of the story is this: not only did they get away with the heist, but they brought china, silverware, bottles of wine, chairs and a table INTO the vault with them and cooked and ate a five course meal before making their getaway. I thought that was a nice touch. Perhaps the best criminals live like people you describe in your question. I watch Masterminds and it seems like the thing that trips up every mastermind of every great heist is either a need to talk about it, telling a friend or girlfriend who then feels a need to talk about it, or drawing attention to themselves by spending a lot of the stolen money on things like cars and partying and women. In the criminal world, the contradiction between the need for secrecy and the desire to be recognized for one’s criminal work must be powerful. The real masterminds are the ones who don’t care about publicity, who pull of the big heist and are never heard from again. I know a lot of people who use the internet a lot and perhaps live in “isolation,” but are they really “isolated” if they use the internet a lot? Many writers and artists seem to live and work in isolation, maybe caring that their work gets attention but not themselves. Many other writers and artists appear to be very social and seem to enjoy having as much attention paid to themselves as to their work. Most of the people who appear on the cover of Poets & Writers seem to fall into the latter category, but how would one know for sure? The interesting thing about the internet age is that one can be both a recluse AND a “celebrity.” I wonder if Emily Dickinson would have a blog, though. Maybe she would be an internet recluse in addition to being a social recluse.
Did anyone say anything about the dog in the author photo on the back of "cognitive-behavioral therapy"?
No. I think they noticed it subliminally. Maybe they were looking at the author in the dog photo...
Do students ever google you and read your writing and then "use that against you" in class sometimes?
No. Sometimes one or two students a quarter says something like "I Googled you." To which I usually say: “Oh yeah? Let’s take a look at today’s reading assignment.”
If you had a lot of money would you still teach or would you focus on writing, or something else?
I used to have a better plan for what I would do with my life if I won the lottery than I had for living my everyday life. When I hear of someone hitting the jackpot and then saying they're not going to quit their job, I feel sorry for them. There are so many things one could do with a lot of money, like start a publishing company, buy an apartment in Paris, or a small house on George Clooney’s lake in Italy. I would first pay off my student loans. Maybe I would keep teaching. I like teaching. But between running a publishing company in Paris and working on my own writing, I don’t know if I would have time to teach. I don't know if I would write more or less, hopefully more. I don't think money has much to do with writing. One needs things to do in one's life. I need to leave the house every day and feel like I'm a part of humanity, and I need to read and write and buy used books. I would definitely buy more used books if I had a lot of money, maybe some rare editions too. I would probably throw a party for my friends like they had at Jay Gatsby’s house. How much money are we talking about here, anyway? It seems like the times I was broke were the times I lived the best, like when I was doing temp work and had twenty bucks to last until Friday and it was still only Monday. You have to get imaginative when you only have a little money to last you for a while. I imagine having a lot of money would require a lot of imagination too if one wanted to do it up right.


Blogger Zignoto said...

if you win the lottery, start your own college and teach everything incorrectly.
like poetry

January 17, 2013 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger stephen michael mcdowell said...


January 18, 2013 at 6:34 AM  

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