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Fiction Workshops Are Like Focus Groups
Rick Moody is a postmodern novelist, who has published four novels and a number of non-fiction books and short story collection. Best known for his book "The Ice Storm," which was adapted into a hit movie in 1997, his other books include "Demonology," "Purple America," "The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven," and "Garden State." He is a past recipient of the Addison Metcalf Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. His latest novel, "The Four Fingers of Death," was published in July, 2010.
Question: What do you think about MFA programs and the way that creative writing is taught today?
Rick Moody: The writing workshops that have proliferated in the last 20 or 30 years—and there have been so many of them in universities in America now—that this workshop culture makes it easy to talk about a story if it precedes in a way that demonstrably similar to stories past. If it actually has sort of rising action, climax, emotional epiphany, satisfying humanist conclusion, then it’s really easy to talk about in a workshop and it’s easy to organize the workshop to talk about it. That just means that the story sits right smack in a kind of demographic or intellectual mean. It’s not challenging us in any way. So the really great fiction and the really horrible fiction gets sort of pushed out to the margins in a workshop setting and it’s not easy for us to come up with a vocabulary to talk about them, nor to figure out how to fix them if they need fixing.
So it seems to me, in that circumstance we’re doing a real disservice to our national literature with the workshop and it really is exactly like a test screening for a motion picture or a focus group to talk about a new car design or a new detergent or something. And I don’t think that’s what we want to be doing with our art, you know?
The older model for writing was: read a lot, try to make the acquaintance of some great writer and ask him or her to read what you’re doing and respond to it. And I think what we mean by that kind of model is a mentorship kind of model. That mentorship model adheres much more to undergraduate education then it does to graduate schools. Like the workshop is primarily a workshop is primarily a graduate school kind of model, whereas undergraduate school usually tends more towards a kind of mentorship approach. At least for me, mentorship was much more effective. It was more important for me to want to impress Angela Carter, who was one of my teachers at Brown when I was there, then it was to try to impress my classmates at Columbia, you know, who are all fighting with one another about trying to get agents and all that kind of stuff. I think mentorship has an emotional component and artists and writers thrive where there are emotions at stake more readily, you know?
Now there are models springing up now that avoid some of the problems of the workshop. One of these is the low-residency model in which most of what you are taught in writing workshop is done by correspondence. Bennington has one, Warren Wilson College, Goddard College; these are springing up all over the place too. If you get a great teacher in that low-residency setting, you’re in kind of good shape.
Still, in all, there are writers in contemporary American fiction who never went to graduate school and to me they’re some of the most interesting writers. They feel free to follow idiosyncrasy and they’re not worried, or they haven’t been worried about what those other 13 people around the table are going to say. And their singularity is not a bother to them. So there is also a lot to be said for just doing it how they do it in Europe now, which is just read, read, read and go in that direction.
Recorded July 28, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
Writing courses and MFA programs make it easy to talk about a story if it proceeds in a way that is demonstrably similar to stories past. This means the really great fiction often gets pushed to the margins.
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Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
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- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".