ENG 162 Fall 2013

ENG 162 at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor ME, taught by John A. (Don't ever, ever ask!) Goldfine johngoldfine@gmail.com

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Week 2 Theme: Perspective--you don't need a lot of miles on your odometer to do week 2!

A lot of you aren't done your journals (and a few haven't even started!) That's okay: keep the journal for the next few days while you also get to work on week 2. The journal is NOT a semester project; it's a warm-up exercise. When it's done, put it out of your mind.... Here's the week 2 lecturette:

You've kept a journal for a few days, a lot of stuff shooting off this way and that, depending on the kind of days you were having and what you decided you wanted to pluck from the whirling stream and put down on paper. Now, you're going to continue the focus of the first week on yourself. (Why yourself? Because you're the world's greatest expert on only one thing: what you've seen, done, experienced, felt, heard, tried, grasped, and touched. This course aims to link you to your sources of strength.)

This week you will write about yourself in history, about you passing through the larger world, on you embedded in bigger things. Post it on your blog as Theme Week Two.

Think about this.  You're at a community college that came into existence because there were a lot of returning veterans needing training after WW2.  You're living in a severe economic recession that affects each of  your futures and presents.  You live in a country at war, realize it or not.  The price you pay to fill your gas tank, for your morning coffee, and for a burger are all determined by global and historical forces.  The clothing and other stuff you buy at Walmart comes from China, but the state you live in made similar shoes and clothing until very recently--that fact affects you, your job prospects, your lives.  Every single thing around you is part of a much much bigger web--drugs, the way little kids are raised, the locked doors on campus, the way your teachers teach, the phones you carry, everything.  Write about you and some of that.

Here's a sample I wrote which follows me through one decade of my life. I offer some of the big names and events and my connection (or not) to them, and then, not exactly sure why, I focus on my history and evolution in the sixties as told through my shoes. But that's just my weirdness. You don't have to write about your shoes!!!

Here it is:

I crash on the couch and catch the History Channel with a remote in one hand and a bottle of Ballantine Ale in the other. On the screen is JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you--,” he says in that Boston accent like no other Boston accent I ever heard growing up in Boston. His hair blows in the January wind and the voiceover says a new youth and vigor had come to Washington.

Then it’s Castro and the missile crisis and, whoops, we nearly blew up the world! But it didn’t quite happen so on we go to…

Martin Luther King, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, dreaming his dream, his voice still lifting the hairs on the back of my neck. A little balance needed so we’re given Malcolm X. on some street corner ranting about the white devils which segues into…

The motorcade in Dallas. The horse with the backward boots and no rider. The country in mourning, but not for long because here come the four lads from Liverpool in skinny pants and jackets with no lapels and those sappy harmonies.

Ringo’s drumming turns into distant explosions, machine gun fire and dim figures in the jungle. We get a little ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ for background music, just in case we don’t get the point.

Suddenly, some turkey with a beard to his ankles, tie-dyed tee, and granny glasses is flashing a peace sign. His old lady with indescribably filthy bare feet and center-parted hair says, “If the people would only come together.”

Watts burns, more distant explosions in the jungle, mud at Woodstock and more hippies standing around VW buses talking about peace, justice, and dope. And that’s pretty much the end. See ya, sixties, and hello disco, long gas lines, and Jimmy Carter.

I finish my beer, flick the remote, and lie there in silence, annoyed. That may be tv’s sixties.

It’s certainly the same film footage I saw on tv in the sixties. But it wasn’t the sixties for me. I wasn’t in any of that footage. I didn’t live in those sixties, in some history channel footage with musical backgrounds. My sixties are mine and private and don’t belong to just anyone with a remote.

My sixties begin with white ankle socks and a pair of Weejun penny loafers. They’re just called penny loafers, of course—only a jerk would actually stick pennies in there! My mother fought against buying me those loafers all through the late fifties—did I realize they wouldn’t support my ankles? They’d give me flat feet? That gravel would get in them? That the stitching would tear and the backs would run over. Lace shoes were what I wanted. No, I did not, ma, and finally I got my way.

Of course, it was the early sixties and that meant your parents were generally right, and indeed, my ankles hurt, my stitching tore, and my backs ran over. But I ran with the crowd finally and nothing was cooler or more casual than sitting in school, arching one’s foot and letting the heel of the loafer dangle in the breeze.

However, by the time in the sixties I was ready for college, penny loafers no longer did it. Downstairs in Levine’s Store for Men and Boys on Main Street in Waterville were Maine-made, hand-stitched Bass moccasins—kind of a deconstructed loafer with a rawhide lace running through grommets. All the drawbacks of a loafer and even less distance between me and the road. My mother moaned when she saw them, gave me up as a lost soul. I wore those puppies into the ground, resoling them, restitching them, and when they’d finally head in, heading myself down to Levine’s with my $7.95 for a new pair.

I never gave up on mocs, but the sixties hit me pretty good in 1964 and I got a yen for the pointy toed, elastic sided, stack heeled black boots the Beatles wore. Winkle-pickers, they were called, or Mersey boots. They squeezed a man’s toes like high heels squeeze a woman’s. My mother took one look and sat me down for a serious talk about orthopedics, spinal alignment etc etc etc. Sorry, ma., I said. They’re cool, they’re me, and that’s that.

Except a funny thing happened by 1969. Others might have been running around barefoot or in sandals, but I started working outdoors jobs and when I wasn’t at work I got interested in hiking and being in the woods and swamps around Old Town, and the mocs and winkle-pickers really didn’t fit the bill any more. I found myself in orange-colored Georgia Giant waffle-stompers at work and play. They were comfy, practical, and if they weren’t cool…well, who needed cool? When my ma saw them she cocked her head as if to say, ‘I wish he was in something a little more stylish, but at least these will give him that vital ankle support he hasn’t had since 1959.’

Yes, the sixties began with an impractical 15 year old, trying to look cool and knowing everything and ended with a married man of 25, trying to be practical and wondering what would come next. Man and boy, heel and toe, I walked every step of my way from Dec 31, 1959 to Dec 31 1969.

And here's a corker, same idea, from ace student marciamellow:

Wow..the state basketball tournament is such a high for this little corner of the county, it almost makes us forget about the nightly news… for just a minute. I take the letter off the sweater, and fold up my cheering uniform for the last time while listening to Walter Cronkite tell us about the latest battle in Khe Sanh. The politics aren’t real to my 17 yr old brain, but the pictures of flag draped coffins will never leave my head. I regularly write to friends in the Army and Navy, and pray nightly that they don’t have to go to Nam. I love the biting humor of the Smother’s Brothers, and the silliness of Laugh In. My white sneakers with nylons are absolutely The thing to wear to school…no pants allowed, and skirts must fit the “kneel on the floor” rule..so of course I wait until I get out of sight, and roll the waistband so my knees will show….Cher, the original, is our hero..our fashion maven..I try every cure I read about for my cursed curly hair…Ironing it, using soda cans for rollers, taping it down while it drys…nothing works. At this time in my history, I’ve never heard of Farrah Fawcett, and have no idea that in 10 years, my hair could be the envy of those around me….alas…I won’t be a teenager then, so what does it matter?

The summer brings more California sounds. We all want to be part of the surfer crowd... quite a feat for kids in central Maine, but out comes the “Summer Blonde” for our hair, and huarache sandals too. (they were, after all, in the song) The summer spent at the camp on the lake, drive in movies, roller skating, and dances. Listening to Janis Joplin, and the Mamas and the Papas at the submarine races. Summer ends too soon. My boyfriend leaves for basic training. Two months later, a quick trip to North Carolina for a wedding..not your Bride Magazine , maids in frilly dresses wedding, but one in the judges chambers..the groom’s best friend, also in uniform, standing beside him. The brides older sister, with her. Niece and nephew in the back of the room being fed crackers lest they disrupt the ceremony. Months later, we are so thankful that hubby is sent to Korea, instead of Viet Nam…but he lands there the day the Pueblo is seized by the North Koreans. My closet is showing more flowers, more flowing fabrics. Caught between the idealistic, ‘flower-child-wannabe’, and the wife of an MP. A cap and gown is traded for smocks and a diaper bag. My hospital stay coincides with the funeral of Bobby Kennedy. Later that summer, we watch the news again to learn of King’s death. We move to Maryland during their hottest summer in 50 years. Short shorts and flip flops..Who can believe men are walking on the moon? Going back to Maine, getting caught in a traffic jam on the N.Y. Throughway…what’s with all these hippies in long dresses and dirty hair? The only “Woodstock” I know is in Canada..How confusing!

New closet…new clothes… a fringed vest and hip hugger pants…Kent State on the news …A divided country…I go to work in a shoe factory for the longest 9 months of my life. My clothes always look dirty with shoe cement…always smelling like leather.. For years after, the smell of leather jackets in a store, will turn my stomach. When the July vacation bonus comes, I walk out. Call this my notice. I won’t be back after vacation. I spend the week working on a roadside cleanup of cans and bottles..hot into the environmental movement..

New suit, job interview, no time for vacation..I’m a bank teller. Shorter skirts and higher stacked heels. I can’t imagine now how it must have looked, leaning over the counter of the drive up window. The little old ladies must have clucked their tongues and shook their heads. Saturday nights spent listening to Waylon and Willie..dances at the Red Barn. The end of the 70s brought me the same fashion as the end of the 60s. I had survived a decade of polyester, and was once again pushing a stroller, and watching Sesame Street..Slightly older, wiser and far more settled. Definitely better.

Then there's this from Marlon. Despite being poetry, which is utterly and totally forbidden in 162-land, it is a corker too:

The memory of my history is all about my culture. I miss it the most while I am up here in Maine. Donald Byrd, Ronnie Laws, Confunction, Parliment..........anyways

I'm Black Like:

Playing dominoes and a game of spades
it's night time and I still wear shades
Eatin' watermelon with a fork and some salt
drag my feet every where that I walk

Cook my bacon and I save the grease
even my baggy jeans gotta have a crease
Lettin' the phone ring when somebody's calling
sleepin in and never seeing the morning

Wearing slippers and I bent the heal
seasoning salt, paprika, and a box of cornmeal
Pancakes with a side of scrapple
fried bologna, fried bananas, and fried apples

Ashey skin and my lips get all chapped
my uncle's outta jail, next week he's going back
You think I'm good at every sport
you think that all I smoke is weed or Newports

I'm Black Like:

Saturdays and the Kung Fu flicks
grandad using scissors to get the toe nails clipped
Do rags, hair grease, and straightening combs
pigs feet, cornbread, black eyed peas and neckbones

My Kool-Aide is always to sweet
always wearing socks and never showing my feet
Whiskey and honey makes everything feel better
my corns are singing and I can smell the weather

Never knowing how to end a song
being in church on Sunday and staying too long
Baked macaroni and eatin' a sammich
saying I'm getting money because my hands itch

At the movies always running my mouth
all my cousins live somewhere down south
I'm black like...You can't say that word but I still can
I'm black like..."Who dis?" and saying words like

Week 2 Prompts

Choose a prompt. Use it as a springboard for a free-standing piece of writing of your own (this isn't a test and you're not answering some question). Post that writing on your blog.

Do that with three of these four prompts.

Week Two Prompts:

5. Those who forget history are forced to relive it, first as tragedy, then as farce.

6. The stuff I've collected over the years in my little box/bureau drawer/keepsake chest marks every step of my way.

7. Looking in that photo album, I see--

8. It was the first, but not the best--or was it?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Historical fiction vs creative nonfiction

The question came up in class about the difference between creative nonfiction and historical fiction.

Historical fiction has a setting in history, in some era or some event.  No reason why creative nonfiction cannot have the same setting.

Historical fiction may use actual historical characters.  Creative nonfiction can certainly use actual historical characters.

So, what's the difference?

All fiction, except maybe some weirdo science fiction, will have recognizable humans and settings, but that doesn't make it nonfiction.  What makes it fiction is that it has a story that derives from the writer's imagination.  Creative nonfiction can also follow a narrative arc, tell a story.  But the story it can tell is pretty strictly limited by the facts.

If Abraham Lincoln said in a letter that 'this nation is entering into dark times'--in my opinion, in creative nonfiction (other teachers will disagree) you can use that phrase as a direct quotation, as if he spoke it aloud.  You can certainly do that in historical fiction too, though in historical fiction, you're licensed to write it this way:

Lincoln slumped into his chair with a groan.  Mary said, "Tell me."

"It's hard to face; I'm not sure I can face it."

"Face what, for heavensake?"

"The dark times ahead.  This country is, it's...."  He, the great orator, simply couldn't find any more words.  He closed his mouth and stared into the fire.

You can't do that in creative nonfiction!  Too creative, too fiction-y!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Week 1, Part 1. Writer's Autobiography as a Writer

What's the story?

I need to know something about you as writers, so why not post a writer's autobiography (an autobiography of you as a writer) on your new blog, describing your writerly triumphs, tragedies, hopes, disappointments, dreams, fantasies, strengths, weaknesses, projects, course expectations, and so on.

Tricky part: do it three different ways.
Write it in the first person ('My head rested on my folded hands, which were wet with the beads of blood, sweat, and tears I was shedding at the idea that I had to write an essay in 45 minutes....").

Then write it in the second person ("You love to write, you sit for hours with your imaginary friends spinning stories, until Monday comes and back in school, you face the dragon in her lair, Mrs. Jones, the fourth grade teacher, writhing up to you hissing, 'Have you finissssshed your writing?' You want to split her skull with an ax, but the school you have been exiled to frowns on such things....")

Then write it in the third person ('She was a quiet student, a student who from the outside seemed in control, obedient, eager to help. But this was her mask, her public face. Secretly she was gathering material for the expose that would blow the lid off the Middle School forever....")

Go ahead and post it on your own blog where I promise I will read and comment on it. If you want, but it's optional, post a reaction to this assignment here, below, in comments.

Week 1 Part 2. Theme: know thyself...know thyself?

Theme Week One: a journal of daily life and living.

You will keep a journal for a week. Keep your journal online on your own blog.  Feel free to comment on the assignment here, but it's not required.

Hint: I don't get upset when people express dislike for or confusion about assignments in a reaction. Nothing is less interesting than "Wow, great assignment idea. I've been keeping a diary for years anyway, so I'm gonna hit the ground running on this one. Already majorly looking forward to doing this."

How about a dark or oddball approach to a comment instead, something I can't predict: a reaction in the form of an Uncle Henry's ad ("FS, Course diary, barely used....") or a political speech ("We all as good Americans cherish the values enshrined in our diaries, the values of honesty, sincerity, and love of self....") or as an argument with yourself (Me: Oh crap, he wants a diary. Yourself: Handle it, jerkface--what's your flippin' problem? Me: It's so pre-dict-duh-bul!)

So, you start the semester with a journal. Just one week! (I've had people in the past who kept it for weeks, people who thought they were supposed to do it all semester....)

Journal comes from Latin and is related to the word 'diurnal' or 'daily.' A journal is traditionally a daily thing, and teachers love that aspect because if you, the student miss a day, they get to shake their finger and say, "It doesn't work unless you do it daily, you know."

Maybe they've got journal-keeping confused with other things, which if they happen daily are nice but are no threat to body or mind if they don't. In other words, many teachers see journal-keeping as a part of their character-building mission, the part where the teacher inculcates good habits in bad-habited students (as if two seconds doing the forbidden bad thing isn't enough time to destroy two years of habituation to the boring old good thing.)

I'm not asking you to keep a journal this first week because I think it will give you the habit of writing regularly or daily, though if a miracle happened and it did, I would be the first to sing praises to heaven.

Journals do this, or ought to: they focus the mind on the present, the here-and-now, the actual, the real, the temporal, the nitty gritty.Maybe it's just my own taste, but I can't imagine good writing--or good student writing anyway--that doesn't at least start with stuff. Stuff--the stuff you know, you see, you experience, you cope with. Start small and build outwards is the way to go for most student writers, though exceptions come along.

Journals also demand another thing that is essential to all writing: sorting. Every day a thousand million things bombard your eyes, mind, brain, skin, ears, heart, and soul. Okay, which ones do you choose to write about? You have to sort through stuff and make some choices. All writers have to do that, because no writer can ever tell the truth, the whole truth. There's too much truth, too much of it trivial, to ever tell the whole truth. Writers lie in order to tell the truth.At the very least, they lie by leaving some stuff out. If your religion forbids that sort of lying, prepare for extensive journal-writing. A week of writing, 24/7, will not be enough time to relate everything you experience in a week.Or a minute, if you open your eyes and mind to it.

The third thing a journal ought to do is introduce you to you. If you don't think your stuff is worth telling about, how are you going to do this course, because creative non-fiction is the opposite of the just-the-facts encyclopedia, which is non-creative non-fiction. In creative non-fiction, the reader almost always is aware of the writer lurking behind the words.So, maybe the journal will help you to meet that writer and come to some understandings with him or her about what you like to write about, how tough you're going to be on yourself, what terrain you want to or dare to explore.Write a journal, however you interpret that word.

Please don't ask me The Questions: how long do you want it? What if nothing happens to us? How much detail do you want? Does spelling count? Are we supposed to write every day? There are a million of those questions out there, but you, the writer, have the answers. I don't.

And, last thought--just because you're starting this semester with a journal doesn't mean that this is a course where you diarize for 15 weeks, where you go on and on about each and every second of your story. You will use your stuff perhaps, but for a higher purpose, I hope, than merely venting, merely confiding stuff to 'dear diary.' That's where the creative part of the course comes in.

Week 1 Part 3. Prompts: Know thyself....

Prompts 1-4, Week One.

React to three (3) of these on your own blog, not here.

Here's where you strut your stuff, show your goods, and blow us all away with your prose, insights, wit, wisdom, madness, clarity, logic, poetic feeling, or whatever else it is you bring to creative non-fiction.

Don't take the prompts too literally: they aren't test questions or punchlines; they are springboards for your writing. Each week's prompts are an attempt to figure out a way to help you get into the week's theme, which this week is you. It's pretty hard to do anything with the prompts below without using yourself as a source and tool.

Take a step back from your daily hassles and concerns. That's why I start you alone in a room, however unlikely that is in your real life. So that you will stop, think about you inside and the world outside, and then imagine a response that involves and does justice to both.

What do the prompts remind you of? What feelings do they bring up? Are they like something else? Is there a story you remember, an incident? Or what--? But again and again, and all semester again, --these are not test questions and I'm not looking for answers.

Prompts 1-4. Choose three.
1. Alone in a quiet room. Listen. What do you hear?
2. Alone in a quiet room. What do you see?
3. Alone in a quiet room. How did you get here?
4. Alone in a quiet room. But what's really happening?

A bit more: first, the prompts are meant to match up to the week's themes. They need a little thought. Second, they (and the weekly theme) are the real meat of the course. They're your shot at writing creative non-fiction. I have expectations and hopes for them and hope that you do too. I will certainly comment on each one, and I may kick them back for more work.

If because of missed classes you ever need more prompts, here's where you can find them:


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Anyone/Never/No--Getting the blog comment settings right!

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