Annotation Nation

This, my friends, is Annotation Nation: a collection of book annotations done by a small group of authors. “What’s an annotation?” you ask. I certainly did.

An annotation is just a 1-2 page synopsis of your own thoughts and feelings about the craft of the book you’ve read. As part of the project period work for my MFA, I’m required to do ~10 of these per semester. Annotations are subjective, don’t necessarily include a plot synopsis and may be positive about a work even though it wasn’t a great read, provided that the author did something specific that the person writing the annotation found valuable. The purpose of doing these annotations is to get us to pay attention to the craft involved in the works we’re reading – to dissect and drill down on those things that worked and on those things that didn’t.

Annotations are useful to other writers when they give another writer who’s struggling with some aspect of their writing a reference to another author who is successfully managing that aspect.

Remember, as writers, it doesn’t do us any good to read if we’re not reading critically, with an eye toward what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s worth stealing.

Day 3: Buddies

Yesterday was the “getting to know you” sort of orientation where we all went around and introduced ourselves and tried desperately to identify with each other and pick out who our best friends were going to be.

Today was that “first day at the new job” kind of day. Paperwork. Orientation into the email system (I was booted out of their email system for reasons unknown and am still unable to access my email. This kind of technical malfunction is not at all unusual for me, and I am not worried about it.), into the stuff we’ll have to complete before we leave for our independent study periods (called “project periods” here). There was a sort of welcome breakfast, and then a “buddy lunch” where we were paired up with a current student who would answer our questions.

My person’s name is Isnel Othello. I emailed my buddy to ask whether the number of lectures I was planning to attend was a reasonable number, and after several days received the reply that I would probably want to take an afternoon off later in the week. I sat there in the room where the lunch was laid out wondering what my person would look like. Man? Woman? Old? Young? From the brevity of the response I had gotten to my email, I didn’t think I would have much to talk about with this person. I pictured a small Latina woman with hesitant spoken English.

Isnel is a 35-year-old Haitian guy. We have both worked as journalists and have a similar disgust for people who are intellectually lazy. We had a great lunch, and talked during all our breaks.

I met with my writing group. I had already read their submitted stories and made my comments on them, and I had already decided how I felt about everyone. When I met them in real life, the woman who wrote the absolutely delicious story about a small-time criminal with the priceless observation that he wasn’t built like a brick shithouse, but more like a kitty litter box, the one whom I thought I’d most like to hang out with, turned out to be a woman about my mother’s age.  A former lawyer wearing a Barney-purple pantsuit. Never in a million years would I have known how cool she was if I hadn’t read that story.

Every single orientation/welcome/familiarizing lecture basically said the same thing – “We know this is a lot to take in, but don’t worry…” And by the end of it, I felt like I had just gone to one of those extended-family gatherings where you’re supposed to remember everybody’s name and who they’re related to and whose kid they are and what their kids’ names are, etc. I have long since stopped pretending I was good at that shit. Nowadays I just take a lot of notes and hope that somebody will send me an email if it’s really important.

Not that I’ll be able to open it.