A Thousand Flappers and Hobbledehoys

My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.

Archives: Fear of Autobiography

So as usual, I am up too late with too much to do and not enough done.  The good news is that my sleep schedule has become so destabilized that I don’t feel remotely tired; that probably won’t happen until 4 in the morning or so.  The worst part is that my cell phone’s alarm clock had something happen to it in the latest firmware update, and now it will only occasionally ring when it’s supposed to.  So I have no consistent way to get up on time in the morning, and one of these days will have to trust myself to stay awake all day just to get back on a regular schedule.  Looking back it seems clear that my failure in my first job and grad school is largely a matter of not being able to keep a proper sleep schedule.  Every time I get tired, it’s harder for me to focus on work, and I’m more likely to burn full hours doing nothing in particular as I fail to focus on any one of the eight things I have to get done that day.  It’s appalling that such a simple failure of basic personal discipline should be responsible for my inability to get things done in any aspect of my life, but then “a simple failure of basic personal discipline” would be a great title for this blog if it weren’t the mechanism I was trying to use to break my bad habits.

Looking back, my greatest mistake as an undergrad was my failure to develop any sort of peer group in the humanities in general, and English/Creative Writing in particular.  The smart kids in those classes would have made me get used to pushing myself and make it not feel so miserable, and I might have more than five Facebook friends who went through the creative writing program here.  Instead, I was friends with a bunch of people in engineering and science, and while they are all totally cool, stand-up people that I am privileged to know, I spent my undergrad years happily convinced that they were working more often than me because their majors demanded more work, and never really thought too hard about whether I could be doing more.  Really, the more I go through life, the more I wonder whether college wasn’t the worst thing I could have done right out of high school.  Maybe I should have been charged rent at sixteen like my grandfather, been forced to work by circumstance, if only to develop an appreciation of the way the world worked and what I valued within it.  Given infinite spare time, you end up not liking things that much.

An example: despite my recent non-presence on this blog, I have been writing a fair amount of stuff, including a few 1000-word short fiction entries for a local writing contest.  And I would have to say that the most difficult part about submitting my entries, more difficult even than working up the nerve to submit them in the first place, is writing the short “author biography” they make you send on the off-chance that you win.  Not only does it seem borderline-criminal to put you in a headspace where you’re even considering winning a writing competition, especially before you send your entry onto the slush pile with all the others, I can honestly not figure out what to put there.  In my most recent graduate conference presentation (okay, my only graduate conference presentation), I submitted a biography stating only the most basic academic information about myself, and the panel chair felt the need to embellish it, telling everyone that I was “modest” and described my level of knowledge in terms that were wildly disproportionate to anything I had accomplished (or, to be fair, to anything I accomplished in that presentation). It was one of the more humiliating grad-school moments I’ve yet had- akin to having a parent dress you down in front of your friends.

But if I keep giving presentations, those introductions will become easier- it will just be a matter of me listing previous publications and current research areas.  Fiction intros, however, are another matter entirely.  There’s always some personal information about the author: “In his free time, he likes mountain-biking through the Appalachian Foothills with his pet ferret, Musky, and an electric guitar, bringing the gospel of punk rock to the hill-folk.”  “She works as a projectionist for one of the last hundred 35mm movie theaters in the United States, and regularly organizes a charity 5k run to help children with bone disease.”  It’s an encapsulation of a life that appears more full and eventful than anything I could ever psychologically handle, and always gets across the idea that this person is an impressive specimen.  But the most annoying thing about it is, these biographies generally have nothing to do with the story the person has written.  It’s just salt in the wound- “oh, before I recite this story/poem/essay that was chosen ahead of yours, allow me to give a brief sample of credentials explaining why I am a better person, too.”

Of course, my main problem with the author biography is that I never have anything to write, because I can’t account for my own interests or hobbies nearly as well.  In fact, beyond reading and writing, I generally can’t think of anything I “like” enough to place it on a biography like that.  What do I like enough that it defines me as a person?  I can’t mention hiking in good conscience, seeing as I only go a few times a month on the good months, “being socially awkward in public,” would seem overly-cutesy, and “is a Christian” would seem confrontational, plus I’m always a little uneasy about making that part of my identity, particularly my identity as a writer- I tend to touch on Christian themes obliquely enough that making my religion part of my persona would be akin to replacing a mineral hammer with a sledgehammer.  So for my most recent submission, I put down the following:

Douglas lives in Tucson, where he attends the graduate literature program at the University of Arizona. His interests, hobbies, and background are entirely irrelevant to his writing, and it would be best to pass over them without further comment. He has no publications of any note, though he does keep a secret blog under a URL that he has never shared with anyone.

No, I’m not happy with it, but I wrote it down, and it might get a laugh if I read it out loud (I won’t get to read it out loud).  But it lets them know who they’re dealing with- probably more accurately than I would like.

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This entry was posted on 30 April 2013 by in Life and tagged , , , , .
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