Archnemesis

There’s not much to tell, really.  Archnemesiseses are less exciting in real life then they are in comics.

He’s a grad student from Texas, with shoulder-length curly hair and a scruffy beard.  He writes nontraditional short fiction, and weird stream-of-consciousness things that he considers cutting edge.  He’s one of the editors for the school’s literary magazine, too.

Last year, my first year at Binghamton, he and I shared two consecutive Fiction Workshops.  In the Fall semester, whenever they were commenting out loud about my stories he wouldn’t say anything.  His written comments often contradicted what everyone else in the class was saying, telling me to cut out parts that the rest of the workshop loved, that sort of thing.  Once he scrawled across the back page, “Your writing is inane.”

In the Spring Semester, I had the Workshop from Hell.  There were four or five other “cutting-edge” writers, along with a different professor, and they kind of ganged up on me.  My nemesis was the leader of the pack.  I got stories back with “Cliche!” written in the margins during parts when I was deliberately subverting the cliches, “Preachy!” written in the comments in a scene when I was poking fun at a preachy character (the priest from the Angel story).  Whenever I tried anything out of the ordinary, like my apostrophe use in “DesertSong,” they said that I needed to learn how to use apostrophes.  They treated my work like it was written by a beginner, (deliberately?) missing any subtlety.  They complained when I ignored genre traditions to write something unique, and then screamed “Formulaic!” if I wasn’t unique enough.  My nemesis once said, regarding something I’d written, “I don’t know why this is even a story.  This is ten pages, it’s only got two pages of good writing in here.  Why are you even writing this?”  He once blasted a fantasy story of mine because “it didn’t need all those dryads and vampires and faeries in it.  You could have written the same story about real things.”

There was no such thing as constructive criticism in that course.  In the Fall workshop, we had to say what worked in a story before we moved on to what needed fixing.  In the Spring workshop, it was a bloody firing squad.

Other students, those not part of my nemesis’s cadre, would sometimes come up to me after class.  “I really liked that story,” they’d say, almost in a whisper.  But in class, they were afraid to say so.

Last semester I vowed I would never take a course with him again.  I said that I would drop any course, no matter how much I wanted to take it, if I entered the classroom and saw him sitting there.  But irony of ironies, his last name starts with ‘Ro.’  When I got my departmental mailbox, I was sharing it with him.  When I got my office, I was assigned to share a cubicle with him.

So there it is.  We avoid each other when we can.  I’ve actually seen him come into the office, see me there, hesitate, grab something from his desk as though it was what he came in for, and walk out again.  Yesterday, when I was waiting in my office for a student who had made a special appointment, my nemesis came in and said, “Oh!  What are you doing here?  You don’t usually have office hours now.”

Maybe I’m being uncharitable.  But I feel as though if ever I had an opposite number, a Shredder to my Leonardo, a Palpatine to my Yoda, a Saruman to my Gandalf, it’s this guy.

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