Camille Reyes

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Deconstructing in a Breakdown

In Writing on December 12, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I realized tonight that I am technically not a great writer. This would not chafe much were I a chemist, but since I have fancied myself a writer since my first head swelling feedback on a 7th grade creative writing assignment, wherein a anthropomorphized refrigerator wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting household, this is a let down. (Diagram that sentence, nerds!)

I’ve been unwittingly making excuses for my faults. “Oh, professors tell me I write in a more French, lyrical way. I don’t need your American sense of order <spit>.” Until today, I did not connect other feedback, including my need to “summarize the literature more, critique less,” or “get closer to the texts” with my actual deficiency. No, the cartoon coyote in my brain dropped the TNT tonight while working on a research proposal—a dangerous space for me since without the original research, I have few props with which to embellish my own exciting ideas. No, I have to review the literature that came before–a vital step, but one that requires, much to my horror, topic sentences and transitions.

I shant transition here; you see I wonder if my shortcomings are similar to the brilliant mathematicians who struggle to calculate the tip at dinner. There are such Einsteins, yes? I’m not saying I am Margaret Atwood, or even J.K. Rowling. Hubris is not my issue; it’s crankiness. I used to know this stuff because, much like sentence diagramming, I had to number the parts of a paragraph within the context of an essay. Like James Brown, I used to break it down. THEN, I brought back the fridge funk. I had game.

Maybe I should give myself a grammar and structure camp over the summer. Get back to my roots. Oh, but that sounds tedious, like picking up the socks strewn about my apartment right now, only much worse. I don’t have this lazy tendency elsewhere. (By the way, I added that last transition after I finished the post. Doh.) Whenever I get the notion to take up tennis again, a biannual event since age eight, I start with the mechanics of my swing. I now hear the voice of my last instructor (my first being my dear dad): “Swing UP Mount Hood, UP Mount Hood, UP Mount Hood.” My swing secured, I then pay attention to my footwork, trying hard not to overrun the ball (good God, that is a metaphor for my life!). Finally, I get to my favorite part: crushing the ball. THWACK! That felt good.

Now if only I could muster the same patience and dedication to fixing my writing issues. At least I can finally be honest with myself about my GRE writing scores. Turns out, I wasn’t misunderstood. No Van Gough here. For now, I will crack open another Red Bull, and ponder it no more. In the immortal words of Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Today, and until about 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, I must finish this paper with a stylish thwump.

Portland, Oregon skyline and the swinging Mt. Hood


Mon Petite Frite

In Travel on June 12, 2010 at 2:06 pm

“My daddy says George Bush is going to be the new governor of Texas.”

“You mean, George W. Bush?  Presidents don’t become governors.”

It was 1994.  I was traveling all over Europe with a blonde Texas beauty queen.  After not being served at a Parisian restaurant because we were Americans, I was dejected.  Jen’s French was not any better than mine, yet she had the tougher, and magically more mostuirized skin.  I wept by the Seine.

“Milla, snap out of it!”

The longhorn drawl worked; I had to laugh.  I decided to ignore the fact that everything was closed on All Saints Day, Nov. 1 and push forward.  We looked for a friendly Canadian and asked for directions.

I leave for Paris to study propaganda and journalism (yes!) in a week, after a wonderful stop to visit a friend and her family in London.  It is my first time abroad since that comical trip with my Texan friend.  I hear Americans are treated better these days, although I’m not sure we deserve it.  I have cultural guilt.  Of course, we are a baby country; our mistakes are young.  Come to think of it, having a teenager run the so-called free world is a bit alarming.  Someone teach me how to say that in French.

I’ve been told when it comes to my research I have more of a French writing style.  I don’t like “mapping” up front, or telling my reader where I am going to take them.  Crediting the French sounds better than the truth.  I don’t know where I’m going to go when I start; I get lost in cities and on paper.  I find it tedious to go back to the intro after I’ve finished and hold hands with people.  I suspect that professors and readers simply do not want to read 15 pages on the lacunae of life in a Foucault world as evidenced by De Certeau, and my wanderings around NYC.   If I provide a map, one does not need to read the whole thing.  Pbbbbttttt!  I snicker in your general direction.

So I’m looking forward to getting lost again in Paris, and detecting Canadian flag patches on backpacks from far away.  I’ve been dutifully learning French phrases, contorting my face to produce alien sounds.  I told my sister I was very well in French (She’s fluent.), and she did that half laugh, half choke thing.  Perhaps I will stick with “sava” or even “mal” to get sympathy votes.  Only then they might ask me what is wrong, and I’d have to tell them, in English, that I don’t like maps.

Beware the Single Story

In Culture, Education on March 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I’m going to a talk at NYU tomorrow night about Transgender issues. As a Queer activist, I’m guilty of often forgetting the end of the LGBT alphabet. Sometimes I have a “me first” attitude—let’s secure my equal rights as a lesbian, and then we’ll get to the transgendered among us. Although I’m very open about my sexuality with family, friends and colleagues, I seldom say I’m a lesbian or a queer. Aside from the unfortunate, vaguely disease-like sound of the name, “lesbian” is far down on the totem pole of my story. Due to my outward appearance, I’m also able to control that story, i.e. unless you watch me walk (so I’m told), you can’t tell I’m gay.

This has caused frustration at times, as when I walked into Austin’s Rainbow Cattle Co. to two-step with a lovely stranger only to be asked, “You do know this is a gay bar, right?” Although it makes dating harder, at least I get to own my narrative. My trans sisters and brothers have less control, and not necessarily because of outward appearances. The gender binary is even more culturally loaded than the false gay/straight divide.  A brief example to explain why…

As a publicist, I work with many reporters. Talking shop with co-workers includes, naturally, sharing stories about journalists-their profiles, their quirks.

This one falls asleep in interviews (so be sure to invert your pyramid early). That one picks scabs. He is a funny, gifted writer. She slept with your client.

Such talk laid bare smacks of gossip and makes me uncomfortable, save for the compliments, yet this is how we relate to one another; this is how we process information. This is reality.

Clearly, the water cooler is tough no matter what your story, because more often than not, people feed on the negative, the strange, the culturally acceptable (notice the woman in my example is noted for her sexuality). This is like rain on your wedding day for the transgendered–not ironic, just craptastic.  When I first heard about CNET journalist Ina Fried, I was told, in the same sentence, she used to be Ian Fried. This story was repeated constantly until eventually I started to repeat it myself. Ina’s identity as a writer rode shotgun; we stole the keys.  I eventually discovered that Ina is talented, crafting flavorful reads in a sea of typically snooze-worthy tech writing. In fact, Ina is about to return from the Vancouver Olympics after a triumphant two weeks of wonderful storytelling. She makes software sing even in duller settings, yet we snicker about pronouns.

Without intention, out of cultural habit, I once reduced Ina to a single letter, T. This, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains below, is the danger of the single story. Stereotypes are dangerous because they are “incomplete.” Telling a single story “robs people of dignity.” I hope you will make time to watch this video. I humbly suggest that the moral of her brilliant story is not to censor, but to shine.

Include unexpected authors and stories on your reading lists, especially if you teach, and we teach every time we communicate. Shake up the white male cannon, but don’t negate the value of those words, the beauty of Shakespeare. Write your personal stories, lest someone else write them for you. Report multiple facets of people and places. Attend talks on subjects you know little about. Advocate. Do whatever is in your power to shift power, to change the story. Start by watching this clip.

To Joy, with love

In Philosophy on December 10, 2009 at 4:49 pm


I’ve been stressed lately.  The last time I was genuinely stressed involved a software company in Washington and a overdeveloped sense of responsibility.  The culprit this time is academia and a overdeveloped sense of politics.  I’ve been playing the “what should I get my PhD in” game, and losing.  A friend helped me realize today, through one of her web sites, that I was putting the strategy before the horse.

Before I pick mad gifted doctoral program #1 (of 6-10), I need to stop, collaborate and listen.  Who knew Vanilla Ice was a philosopher?  Me, that’s who.  What do I WANT to do?  I chose NYU and grad school even though it meant some pretty large professional sacrifices, not the least of which was working for the best PR agency in the universe.  This choice has proven to be a magical one–exactly what I was destined to do.

My dad and I talk about destiny a lot.  He believes that we already know what we know, we just have to uncover it.  Sounds a bit like Heidegger, Plato and a lot like my dad–my Cuban American poet/anarchist. I toss a certain spiritual, God directed element into that mix thanks to my mother and her mother before her.  Walk on down the line.  I wish more people could look at life in this manner.  It might not be the most productive system, but it sure feels good. Kudos to mom and pops.

I want to perform, period.  I love sharing, be it through writing or singing in particular. A doctorate would work wonders for my writing, no matter the Humanities field.  I relish the scholarly discipline and the incredible feedback of the academic process.  Yet, I also want to share broadly (hello, blog; next stop world) and the academy holds very few open houses.  Then there is the music. 

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The New Me?

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2009 at 6:43 am

I just received a typed page of notes on my paper, my first in 14 years, from a professor at NYU.  She opens, “Well you can truly tell you are a writer.”  How strange, and wonderful, that in my first college paper at Principia, I received a similar note, although not one nearly so affirming.  Dr. Campbell told the little freshman me, “You could be a writer if you wanted to be, but you’d have to give up family, fame and fortune to do it.”

I have been haunted by that sentence for nearly two decades.  I have even avoided the use of the word “writer” in any sort of meaningful identity sense, opting instead to see it as a skill I enjoy.  Better to be a publicist, because I won’t lead a life of misery, as described by my former prof.  To be fair, he was an excellent teacher, making me a far better writer by insisting on “a sparkle in every paragraph.”  You see, I remember the good stuff he said, too.  I’m not sure professors know the full extent of their influence, at least on me, at any rate.

So now, I am told I am a writer without the nasty, arguable baggage.  I have achieved that state of being, and in her eyes, the sentence ends there.  Period.  Ah, glorious punctuation!  Praise aside, my current professor also gave me valid and ample constructive criticism.  Frankly, I suspected I need to be more precise and get “closer to the texts.”  I’ve always leaned on the lyrical quality she praises, and used it to “get away” with stuff.

This was not born of a lazy attitude, but rather a warped sense of time.  For 14 years, I excelled in promoting ideas at an extremely rapid pace.  Breadth over depth was richly rewarded.

The well-fed writer I accidentally became viewed time in terms of billable hours and “client delight.”

Now, not only do I have the luxury of time, I must demand myself to use that time to go deep into the texts.  This is my new job.  The writer aspires to be the scholar.  I have a lot of unfamiliar work to do.