Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Teaching to Write or Writing to Teach?

Ever since I graduated from San Diego State University with my Masters Degree in Creative Writing, I have been teaching to write. In other words, the teaching paid the bills so I could write. Following ten years of writing and teaching, I accumulated some fiction about which I was proud to say, “These stories were written to teach the reader something.”

What better way to label a volume of short fiction that had a lot to say to humanity about compassion, understanding and open mindedness, than to put the picture of “Compassionate Conservative” himself, George Walker Bush, right on the cover? Of course, the title story about “The President’s Parasite” is a satire, one of the time-honored traditions of my relatives from the British Isles, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and George Orwell. Satire teaches by using ironic humor, and this story is dripping with it.

How’s this? I’ll make you, the reader, a promise. If you have an open mind and are not offended by things like the biggest penis on record, homeless folks fighting for fame and fortune, the President of the United States being outwitted by a genius tapeworm residing in his bowel, or an abortionist who sings Beatles’ songs, then perhaps you will see the humor in my work. Remember how it was in school? Sometimes, the teacher made you think about what you were reading. That’s the way it is in my new book of short fiction, The President’s Parasite and Other Stories.

I am the kind of guy who chuckles out loud when showing my college students The Trial, a film based on the novel by Franz Kafka. There’s a scene in it where Joseph K. watches a lawyer make love to a washer woman on the floor of the courtroom where he is supposed to be getting his “justice,” but all the court officials stand around “gawking” at them. Milan Kundera, the Czech author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being was quoted as saying, “Franz Kafka should be read as fact and not as fiction.” Aha! So, Joseph K. is magically transformed into William Jefferson Clinton, one of the Bush boys, or dozens of other “absurd politicians” that we elect as our leaders. Now do you understand why I laugh?

My college professor, Dr. Maurice Friedman, once told us in his “Modern Existentialism” class, that he knew Max Brod (the best friend of Kafka who refused to burn his manuscripts when K. died), and that Brod told Friedman that Kafka used to read from his work to a collection of “Czech Literati” at some bistro in Prague. Friedman said Brod and the audience “laughed their asses off at Kafka’s stories,” as I hope you will laugh when you read many of the stories in this collection. It’s the laugh of the literati “insider,” so this makes you an intelligent human being. If you don’t laugh, and you take them seriously, then that’s fine too. Many never found the humor in Kafka. Remember this: I am a teacher who teaches to write and writes to teach. So, write to me at, if you have questions!

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