“Lynn Freed, you are a piece of shit.”

By Kathryn Comment

gulag.jpgThat’s the title — as well as an effective summary — of “Iowa mafia” blog Babies are Fireproof‘s response to Lynn Freed’s “Doing Time: My years in the creative-writing gulag,” an essay on teaching vs. writing that appears in this month’s Harper’s. Its “gist,” according to Babies, is this: “Ms. Freed hates teaching, doesn’t think it’s worth her time, makes fun of her students … and can’t wait to get out of the gig altogether.” The blog continues: “K and I read it aloud [… and … ] I nearly puked right there on the kitchen floor.” Culture blog Long Sunday posts a similar reaction, made more block-quotable by its lack of vomit(-as-literary-device):

[Freed’s essay] is the usual diatribe against creative-writing programs–these [diatribes] are of course entirely justifiable, but it’s getting old as a topic–and also participates in a genre I don’t like, which is the one where the teacher complains about the stupidity of his or her students. What’s remarkable about the essay is that it too languishes in the captivity of the creative-writing gulag […] It’s the product of creative-writing hegemony and sounds like the texts produced by the very students Freed complains about, sixth-generation renderings of Chekhov.

Other responses to Freed’s piece range from the triumphantly humorless

First off: gulag?!? Are you that self-absorbed, are you that oblivious to this and this and this, that you can seriously apply the term “gulag” to your life as a creative-writing instructor? I hate you, Lynn Freed…

–to the fatigued and dispirited:

My plan was to post the letter I sent to Harper’s in response to Lynn Freed’s essay on spending, excuse me, “doing time” in the creative writing gulag. But posting that letter is pointless. Writing it was pointless. Lynn Freed’s writing is pointless as well. All writing is pointless…

Most memorable, however, is the response that exceeds a post to become a blog — incidentally, the best blog I’ve read in weeks.

From The Secret Diary of a Prisoner in the Creative Writing Gulag:

September 6, 1983

Beginning of the first week of torture sessions, also known as grading my students’ papers. One writes a science fiction fantasy obviously lifted from American television; another a ridiculous romance more suited for a scandalous tabloid, and a third a thinly-veiled tale of his first sexual experiences.

Red liquid runs off the table where I am being tortured. I suppose it was a mistake to actually use red ink in a fountain pen. Note to self: get red pencil.

November 14, 1983

The grounds are a sea of orange, less from any autumn foliage — there seems to be no real autumn in this accursed place — than from supporters of the University’s American football team. Football, as it is practiced here, seems not merely an athletic contest, but a collection of crypto-fascist symbols and roles that recall preparations for war. I thought the United States got itself into enough wars without having to re-enact them, but apparently they do it to keep in fighting psychological trim.

Even my cellmates are caught up in the excitement. One of them — a callow blonde girl who appeared today in an orange-and-white sweater set, orange trousers, and cowgirl boots — took it upon herself to explain the rivalry between the University of T____ and their arch-enemies, called “Aggies.” Later, a marching band trooped past our window, but I could only hear, not see, them. The window is high up to discourage escape attempts.

May 20, 1984

Exams are over. I toss them all, ungraded, in the trash outside the Mathematics Building and go back to my cell to compose grades. Long ago I decided these would be strictly based on attendance. Perfect attendance gets a C.

August 8, 1984

If the University of T____ was a concentration camp, and Yaddo a minimum security facility, what do I call the Napa Valley Writers Workshop? A sort of temporary jail. Every morning, a two-hour session with the would-be writers: housewives, delivery truck drivers, high school teachers, pesticide salesmen, insurance agents, all under the false impression that they can write.

What do they know of Talent? (I’ve taken to capitalizing it when speaking of my own gift, the better to distinguish it from other so-called talents such as juggling or putting on makeup — the latter being something one girl at the University of T____ claimed was her great gift. Perhaps — if she were about to go on camera to read the weather.) They know how to cook a roast, or how to amortize a mortgage, but they know nothing of writing, literature, and great art.

I know about all those things. But I can’t teach them. It’s unthinkable.