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, October 26, 2013

Week 10 Theme: distance, framing, alienation

Use the ideas here as a springboard for a piece on your own blog.

Writers do not broadcast pearls of beauty and wisdom in the hopes that a reader will find them and appreciate them!

No, indeed, the writer has to be much more aggressive--he really has to get into the reader's head and play mind-games and force the reader to participate and collaborate in the writing. If the writer has to do everything, it's going to be a long day.

Here's an example from 101. Student is writing about grocery shopping. If she says 'cheese,' nothing happens in my head. There is no picture of cheese up there. Sorry 'bout that. But when she says, "Cheese for pizza: house-brand mozzarella, grated cheddar, and crumbled feta," great! We're in business. I picture a green rectangular bag of white mozzarella, a blue rectangular bag of orange cheddar, and little clear-plastic dish of dried-up feta. I will do that work for her. She doesn't need to add all that detail herself.

Every reader's mind responds to the chance to see mental images, one after the other, because it's a cheap, legal high.Sometimes, though, getting the reader to come out and play is trickier.

This week you're going to think about distancing techniques that pull the reader in.

'Distancing techniques that pull the reader in,' you say--how can you pull the reader in if you're pushing the reader away? Think grade school. How do you show someone of the opposite sex that you like them? Well, hitting them might be a good start! Think junior high. How do you show someone of the opposite sex that you like them? Pretending to not know they exist might be a good start! Think high school. How do you show someone of the opposite sex that you really like them? Pretending to like their best friend might be a good start!

It isn't til you grow up a little that you learn the more direct technique: "Hey, dearheart, wanna be my sweetie-pie?"

Sometimes you get the reader's attention by abusing the reader a little! Just like grade school!

Sometimes this is called 'alienating' or distancing the reader. Making the reader work a little for those pearls you are offering. One way of alienating is by playing with the time order of your material. Is it always right to start in the beginning? Ask moviemakers--they often start just as the hero's car goes over the cliff and then they fade to a long flashback that brings the story right to the car going over the cliff and then they continue the story to show how the hero gets out of the pickle he's in.

But it's an alienating technique because instead of just being swept along by the narrative, the technique forces the audience to say, 'Oh yeah, that was a teaser, and this is a flashback. We're going to have to remember that car and not be too impatient.'

Another alienating technique is the frame around material. Instead of just telling the damn story, the writer has someone else talk or talks about something not quite immediately and obviously relevant or does something offputting and confusing. Here's the opening of "Alexander Dolgun's Story":"One day in late 1948 a young American out for an innocent walk in the streets of Moscow was accosted by an operative of the MGB, the Soviet secret police. Had he been quick to run away through the crowded streets to the American embassy, only two blocks away, he would probably have been safe. Instead, he paused to answer the agent politely. Within seconds, the young man was a prisoner of the MGB. He would live under their shadow for the next twenty-three years."

That's straightforward-seeming third person narrative, but there's a catch: that young man was Alexander Dolgun, the writer. After the first few pages, the whole rest of the book is told in the first person. In fact, here's how the second chapter begins: "One day in late 1948 a young American out for an innocent walk in the streets of Moscow was accosted by an operative of the MGB."

Wait a sec! That's how he started Chapter One! Why is he alienating us, playing games with our heads, messing with our minds? He continues: "That is where the book begins so I come back to that day...." And on he goes.

But this is what he's done: he's said this is not just a begin-at-the-beginning roller-coaster ride of a story. He's saying: 'You've got to really work with me, folks; you've got to imagine my story from the outside, where I started, and you have to imagine it from the inside, as I'm about to detail. You've got to be agile because what you're about to hear is going to shake your notions about what makes people tick, so if you can't handle two identical openings to two different chapters, maybe you ought to check out now!"

So--he pulls us in by pushing us away.

The linked vingettes you did last week are essentially an alienating technique. Why not give the reader every last little detail? Why leave things hanging sometimes? Why start without a lot of explanation and end before the end? Why stick in apparently inconsequential details? Wy avoid commenting on the material? Why not connect the vignettes? Why ask so much of the reader?

Here's cindylou's linked vignettes from last week. How does she pull the reader in? By not telling us everything. By avoiding dealing with stuff directly. By letting skiing stand in for other things and forcing us to figure it out. By tossing green Dickies into a piece about cancer (why does she do that?)

(Because introducing the apparently inconsequential forces the reader into the picture, sometimes unwillingly. Because the humble can be huge if seen in the proper light. Because it forces the reader to slow down. In the movie 'Schindler's List' it's all black and white except for one vignette sequence where a little girl in a pink coat is shown--and we follow that girl and then her abandoned coat. Very effective. That's what 'inconsequential detail' can do.)

Because I Can

I make supper like it’s any other day. I’ve talked to friends and family. Convinced them that I’ll be fine. Try not to say cancer, just say lump. My husband comes through the door. Green Dickie work clothes laced with welding holes, lunch pail on counter. Dirty, tired like any other day. I drop the tomato-y spoon. I point to my neck, words yip out that make no sense.
In my mind think I’ll ski full and strong as I’ve done for years. Close to home this time in case it doesn’t go well. Weak and not admitting it. The skis slip ahead of the body and down I go. Terror strikes as my head falls back. Terror all out of proportion to the fall. Thirty stitches across the front of my throat hold. What did I think, that my head was going to fall off?
Head strapped to the table. Nurses caring, touching, loving my hair. They are happy for me that I won’t lose it. They are more accustomed to older and balder. Or little bald children, children must be the worst. The nurses like me. I look healthy and happy. A nice break from their normal. Strange green and red lights. Hard to believe lights will kill cells.
Midnight all the time. Never have been so tired. People expect things I can’t deliver. Just too tired, can’t even explain how tired a strong, always been fit, in the prime of her life woman can be. Everyone so kind, but needing things. Needing me to be healthy. Needing me to be happy. Needing me to pretend. Just go, let me be. Let me be tired.
Skiing across the lake, heading for beautiful, snow capped Mt. Katahdin. Won’t really make it to the mountain, but I can ski toward it. Skiing hard and fast and alone, celebrating the fact that I can. Healthy sweat steaming up from the jacket, working too hard, going too far, because I can."

Copyright (c) 2009 by Cindylou

Here's an X-rated one from Pinot Prisoner using a framing device and shock tactics to alienate, with my comment attached.

I guess the first thing you should know is that I have no clue how many women I have slept with. At best guess I would say somewhere between 200 and 500. Ok, ok, I’m sure that sounds far fetched. However, think about it this way. I lost my virginity in a threesome with two women, I lived in Europe for the better part of four years and there were multiple days where I would sleep with someone I came home with from the club the night before and then take someone new home later that night when I went to another club. I’ve been borderline paranoid about using condoms; I can count the people I haven’t worn condoms with on one hand. I’ve been tested regularly every 6 months since 1996; that’s the full “rod” and blood tests and, so far so good.

I’ve never had more than 3 relationships last past 6 months…and I think that’s important for you to know. It’s not that I don’t want to share feelings, or share my life with someone. I think it’s mostly a defensive mechanism that I have. Push away before they can push me away. I’ve always had a low self esteem, and my divorce only acted as a catalyst to my downward spiral right before my cross country drive. I can honestly say that most of my “numbers come from Europe, Washington, and my cross country drive. Shit…18 women in two months. I slept with seven women in New Orleans alone, and I was only there for 10 days. All of them, every last one of them was only a glimpse of what I want and what I need in life. I believe as Casanova said, “Can you not love someone in more ways than one?” that I was using these chances to hold myself over until I found what I was looking for. I realize that there is no romanticism in this letter. I realize that there is absolutely nothing here that would make you want to give me a chance with you. I guess I just needed to put this out there to you for myself. I needed to take a chance and share what I consider to be my biggest flaw with the one person I trust, the one person I want to share more with…you.

I think I may feel something special for you; how do I avoid screwing this one up like I’ve done so many times before? I guess the easiest way is to tell you everything. This could be dangerous…why would I do such a thing? I guess it’s because the only other person in my life I have ever selflessly loved was someone that I felt safe enough to share all of this information with…and later I married her. I hope you can look past these faults from my past that I have laid out before you, and realize that I am trying to be as open with you as possible. I guess we’ll see in a few days.
posted by Pinot Prisoner at 11:24 PM on Nov 11, 2006

johngoldfine said...
This definitely is an approach to pulling them in by pushing them away. First you drop an anvil on their heads, then you offer to make the pain go away--exactly!

If I were an actual woman receiving this, though, I would say, 'Slick writing, but I'm not buying a word of it. No way do I want to be merely # 501.'

Your job this week is to play with one or the other or all of the tricks I've described: time order trickery or framing devices or linked vignette technique or anything else that does the trick--there are an infinite number of devices.

Late entry: I was reading a book review tonight and the reviewer is discussing the author's technique: "...we simultaneously find ourselves inside [the character's] head, seeing the world through his eyes, and also outside him.... [I]n many sentences the reader must figure out where in a welter of "he's" and "him's," [the character] is....

The point is not to create an insoluble puzzle but to make you, the reader, do a little work in order to orient yourself."

Yes! That last sentence explains what week 10 is all about: getting the reader to work with the writer.

So--thoughts or reactions to or comments on this theme?

Another late entry, March 25, 2012.  FWIW and in aid of further understanding of week 10, here's part of a comment I made on a student blog last night: 

"But, of course, audiences often exist to be abused and often find the experience exhilarating. Many a comedian and many a performance or installation artist has found abuse of an audience a successful and lucrative career move."  Week 10 is about that abusive (but stimulating) relationship with an audience!, where the audience actually becomes a part of the performance or of the thing being read!

Week 10 Prompts--distance, framing, alienation

Use three of these as springboards for pieces on your blog--and look for ways to distance, alienate, and frame in your reactions, ways to practice the week's theme-- not simple or straightforward grafs: distance, frame, alienate!

43. The pin pricks your skin. You feel nothing.

44. You write a story which ends with the words, "...and then I woke up and it was only a dream." And then you wake up.

45. You said...but, but, how was I supposed to know you meant--.

46. None of the people fallen on that field of battle were as real as I am.

47. Nature red in tooth and claw. The Law of the Jungle. Survival of the Fittest.

48. Mother Nature, Gaia, holistic, and all-natural too.

49. Doesn't matter where you begin, you'll end up back here.

50. If you don't believe I'm leaving, you can count the days I'm gone.

51. Just calm down and begin at the beginning.

Extremely interesting (to me) take on truth, fiction, nonfiction, fact, accuracy, art, lies that speak truly, truth that lies, etc.


Week 10--last thoughts on distancing


Reading the first pages of Péter Nádas’s epic is like settling into a comfortable chair: the reader waits for the mystery to be unfolded, for Döhring to reveal his true nature, for Kienast to prevail. Given the setting of the story, it is natural to hope for a political dimension to the crime: perhaps the corpse will turn out to be a spy or a dissident, someone implicated in the Cold War that is just coming to an end. Even the reader who has uneasily noted that Parallel Stories is 1,133 pages long will breathe a sigh of relief. The murder draws the bow of the novel tight, and the released arrow of the plot will surely keep flying to the very end.
But as any reader of Nádas’s earlier fiction could have predicted, every part of this supposition turns out to be wrong. We never find out who the dead man is, or why he was killed, though we get a pretty good idea of the identity of the culprit. Nádas has nothing to say about the end of the Cold War: most of the novel turns out to take place in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, and not in Berlin but in Budapest, where Nádas himself was born in 1942. Kienast and Döhring disappear fairly early in the book and do not resurface for another eight hundred pages, and then only briefly.
By opening the novel with this kind of blow to readerly expectation, with such a defiant deflation of suspense, Nádas makes clear that the characteristic movement of Parallel Stories will not be forward but lateral. In a skillfully disorienting manner, Nádas slides from one story or character to another, and then to another; the alternation takes place not from chapter to chapter, but from page to page and even from sentence to sentence. Pronouns are a mystery and a challenge: when a chapter opens “I did feel it on my back,” or “He could not go back during the next few days because of the steady quiet rain,” it generally takes a while to determine which of the book’s stories we are hearing. And while these many stories are not, strictly speaking, parallel—they do intersect, sometimes quite elliptically—they also do not culminate. In fact, the last hundred pages of the novel are largely devoted to an entirely new character, who is the relative of a very minor character introduced long before.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Vignette of the week (so far):

Three of them sitting there in complete silence... 

Three of them sitting there in complete silence... 
The pages of the newest Uncle Henry's rustle beneath his oil stained hands. She's tucked in on the other side of the couch, patting Troubles as she squints down at the hand bound cookbook in her lap. And then there's me, coming in from the kitchen with two steaming mugs in my hand. As I place them on the table, he looks up and winks. She flashes the smile that I fear I'll forget. I settle into the space between them and sit with them in complete silence, and that's perfectly okay with me.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Week 9: Linked vignettes or literary pointillism.

Many readers want every i dotted and every t crossed, and there is a place for that sort of writing. But a lot of nonfiction works on a different principle. It asks the reader to collaborate with the writer, to fill in some blanks. It might even leave the ending hanging on a certain note without offering the reader full closure or certainty.

It's not that the writer is lazy.

When the reader works in harness with the writer, the writing flows differently, often faster, often better. And if the reader understands a subtle hint and doesn't need coddling, he and the writer enter into a much deeper relationship. They are partners, not mere acquaintances. The reader becomes a little bit of a writer too, and both parties are winners.

So, for those readers hankering after total certainty on the page, this assignment may not be for them. Others can not only live with a bit of uncertainty but can actually find uncertainty a pleasant place to stop and ponder meaning.

So, now we come to linked vignettes or literary pointillism. Pointillism (point-tee-ism) in art is the technique of making a picture by using a million dabs of paint. Here's a famous sample.

In linked vignettes or literary pointillism, we have a zillion small, discrete facts and moments eventually revealing a full picture. Or a series of separate scenes or vignettes (you remember vignettes!)that nevertheless wind up telling a tale when looked at as a whole. Often the linkage or connection or transition between these scenes is simply dropped: no "So, the next day...." or "What happened next surprised everyone...." Instead, just bam, bam, bam.

Here's a sample of a piece offering a series of vignettes or bam bam bam moments that add up to a complete non-fiction piece.

In the parking lot after our workout at Champions. I open my car door. Instead of coming over to say goodby, she goes to her car, speaks over the roof of my car and over the roof of her car. She seems a long way off. "I went to the doctor yesterday. I have to go in today for more tests."
We're alone in the hot tub. She lets her legs slide over my mine. The bubble maker bounces her up and down, up and down.

In the sauna. She leans over, exposing most of her breasts over the bikini top. "Take a good look, buddy boy," she says. "Last chance."
In the hospital lobby. She sits down next to me, shakes her head. Gets out of her seat and climbs onto my lap. "Security," I say.

"Fuck 'em." she says, and she turns her face into my shoulder.

The hospital social worker asks about her family and as she names them, she begins crying.
The fifteen or twenty friends and relatives wait in one room. A few of us try to read newspapers. The patients go into a changing room. We are called out after a few minutes and there are the patients now in hospital johnnies. Each patient has a nurse escort him or her to a cot. Friends and relatives tag along behind. There are no windows here. 40 beds, perhaps, each holding someone who'll be operated on in the next few hours.

A doctor with a Russian accent appears and picks up her paperwork. She says, "I thought you'd never come."

The doctor raises his eyebrows. She says, "We have to stop meeting like this."

He gets it. "Ah, I will send the nurse away now! Just you and me, together at last."

She is laughing and then, without any transition, is crying.
I'm on Huntington Avenue, walking away from the hospitals. I look toward the Richardson House where I was born. I have never in my life been so glad to be outside, in the open air, and walking. At about the time her surgery is scheduled, I am sitting in Jake Wirth's ordering sauerbraten and beer. Another never: never has anything tasted so good. I am so glad to be alive. So ashamed. So glad.

Here's another series of linked vignettes:

There she was, 14 long years after her diagnosis. She had Lupus, which is much worse than a flower. It is one of the most miss diagnosed diseases. But not her, the doctors hit it right with her. Her cells were attacking her inside out; slowly, and then progressing to faster. The disease was able to strike the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, and skin, but it hit her joints and lungs. Her body had swelled, and she became very tired. Then she had to leave home.

Her swollen body laid in the white sheets, in and out of conciousness. The massive amounts of morphine made her sleepy; sleepy but not in pain. She would wake up and talk like everything was going to be alright; it wasnt.

Most of the family were there, not the grandchildren. Her body had attacked her to death at the young age of 56. She had so much more living to do, but, her body killed her. Not JUST her, but it killed her family too.

He asks the same questions, over and over again. He cant remember his grandson's name. He cant remember the year, or season. He has become such a burden on his family, he has to live in this place with others who cant remember. His family does come to visit, but he doesnt remember. They brought him roses, but he doesnt recognize the smell. He has pictures in his room, but cant recall the faces. His roomate has been the same for 6 months, his name is Ed. Two letters, yet his mind doest allow him to recollect. He opens the same door everyday wondering what is in there; a toliet and sink. His meals are the same time everyday; 8, 12, 4. He always asks. He was a capenter, but when he sees a picture of a hammer, he doesnt know what it is. He has a stuffed dog; he thinks it is real. He pats it and kisses it. His shoes have always been black; there is always a fight because 'his shoes have always been brown and those are not his shoes!'

Its getting worse for him. He says he is hungry, there is food in front of him, but he doesnt precieve it; he doesnt remember to pick up his fork and place it in his mouth. He is getting combative and abusive becuse his mind is now haywire. He is forgetting how to toliet, so now he lays in his own soil; and he has fogotten the smell. He has forgotten the call light to bring in a nurse. He is there, smelling and stinking, such a poor site, such a sad end.

She thanks the people looking down on her from above everyday. She knows it has been them all along. They are gone now, from this life, but havent completly forgot her. There is no other way he would have been brought to her. Everything changed after she laid eyes on him.

She was in a bad relationship at the time, full of lies, cheats, drugs, and incidences of abuse. Her family had dispised this man, but she didnt listen. Her grandmother even hated him on her death bed. Maybe thats the reason why her Gram brought this new one to her.

He showered her in kisses, roses, and loved to show her off; all things that she had never had. This wasnt a tough decision for her, but it was. She had know her boyfriend for ten years. Sucide became his motive to get her back. It was difficult, she kept with the sweet boy, and everything for her has been perfect since.


The funniest of funny, the most generous, and the most hardworking, gone. He was a lobsterfisherman, just finished hauling out his boat and all his gear that day.
His friend was home from the army, got him out of bed for a few drinks at the bar. A few turned into too many. He got dropped off, stummbled into his house for what his driver thought was going to be a good night's rest. She was wrong.
He lived the length of a football field away from the pier. After a few minutes inside its suspected, he wanted to take a ride to the pier; he had done it a thousand times before. He jumped into his red dodge and drove off. It was cold; a blanket of snow was covering the ground. His truck slipped, hit the cement barrier and bursted into flames. He was in there, and that was his last ride to the pier.

Copyright (c) 2006 by Meghan Ruhlin

Write on your own blog a theme incorporating linked vignettes or literary pointillism.

PS. 3/13/2009.

Still hazy on vignettes? I was talking to a student today about the difference between narrative and vignette and suggested that a short and nasty approach might be to write a story and then cut off the beginning and ending and that might yield a vignette.

You could start a story, 'Once upon a time,' and describe a prince, a princess, an evil spell turning the prince into a frog, a kiss from the princess, and...'They lived happily ever after.' That's a story or narrative.

Or you could just have a frog on a lily pad and a beautiful woman walking by stops, kneels, stretches herself across the stream toward the rock the frog sits on. She lowers her face, her lips toward the frog...lower, lower, and kisses the frog....

And that's where you stop. That's a vignette. Kinda leaves you there hanging, wondering, hoping, speculating, guessing, dreaming....

Week 9 Prompts. Linked vignettes aka literary pointillism

Linked Vignettes or Literary Pointillism Prompts. Do three of the four; each prompt should lead you to write a short series of linked vignettes, asterisks between them (except 42 which is what it is, a list.) This week do not put all three prompts under one post! Open three separate posts, one per prompt.

39. I came, I saw, I conquered.

40. The best part of this story is the part I can't tell....

41. You never know what you have until it's gone.

42. Try one of these lists about yourself:

A list of random things about me:

1. One of my best qualities is my Yankee ingenuity
2. I can get all parts of a meal to be ready at the right times
3. I miss making yogurt cheese and miss even more eating it with my dear friend
4. My friend Terry died by crashing his BMW on Chuckanut Drive. It might have been half on purpose.
5. I forget most things I learn
6. I’m a fast learner
7. I’m a slow learner
8. In yoga, I don’t like warrior poses
9. I miss my kids when they’re at school.
10. I feel most patriotic when I flash my lights as fuzz warning for other drivers
11. I waste time, big time.
12. Looking at art kills my appetite.
13. I don’t know how to let go
14. The best thing I did last summer was swim in a stormy lake
15. My world is shrinking
16. I love sharp pencils
17. I’m terrible with money
18. I’m blessed with a good body
19. There’s not enough time in the day.
20. My relationships are treasured and easy but always sources of pain
21. We have way too much junk in our house
22. My child is not doing well in math and I don’t do flash cards with him.
23. My face feels like it’s going to explode when I talk on the phone
24. The drape of fabrics registers sometimes as joy.
25. I believe many of the things my mother taught me in spite of what I know to be true: feathers are dirty; a neat appearance is supreme; animals heal themselves.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Louise D. W.

42A. Try one of these:


by Gregory Burnham

Number of refrigerators I've lived with: 18. Number of rotten eggs I've thrown: 1. Number of finger rings I've owned: 3. Number of broken bones: 0. Number of Purple Hearts: 0. Number of times unfaithful to wife: 2. Number of holes in one, big golf: 0; miniature golf:3. Number of consecutive push-ups, maximum: 25. Number of waist size: 32. Number of gray hairs: 4. Number of children: 4. Number of suits, business: 2; swimming: 22. Number of cigarettes smoked: 83. Number of times I've kicked the dog: 6. Number of times caught in the act, any act: 64. Number of postcards sent: 831; received: 416. Number of spider plants that died while under my care: 34. Number of blind dates: 2. Number of jumping jacks: 982,316. Number of headaches: 184. Number of kisses, given: 21,602, received: 20,041. Number of belts: 21. Number of f***kups, bad: 6; not so bad: 1,500. Number of times swore under breath at parents: 838. Number of weeks at church camp: 1. Number of houses owned: 0. Number of houses rented: 12. Number of hunches played: 1,091. Number of compliments, given: 4,051; accepted: 2,249. Number of embarrassing moments: 2,258. Number of states visited: 38. Number of traffic tickets: 3. Number of girlfriends: 4. Number of times fallen off playground equipment, swings: 3; monkey bars: 2; teeter-totter: 1. Number of times flown in dreams: 28. Number of times fallen down stairs: 9. Number of dogs: 1. Number of cats: 7. Number of miracles witnessed: 0. Number of insults, given: 10,038; received: 8,963. Number of wrong telephone numbers dialed: 73. Number of times speechless: 33. Number of times stuck key into electrical socket: 1. Number of birds killed with rocks: 1. Number of times had the wind knocked out of me: 12. Number of times patted on the back: 181. Number of times wished I was dead: 2. Number of times unsure of footing: 458. Number of times fallen asleep reading a book: 513. Number of times born again: 0. Number of times seen double: 28. Number of deja vu experiences: 43. Number of emotional breakdowns: 1; Number of times choked on bones, chicken: 4; fish: 6; other: 3. Number f times didn't believe parents: 23,978. Number of lawn-mowing miles: 3,575. Number of light bulbs changed: 273. Number of childhood home telephone: 384-621-5844. Number of brothers: 3 2. Number of passes at women: 5. Number of stairs walked, up: 745,821; down: 743,609. Number of hats lost: 9. Number of magazine subscriptions: 41. Number of times seasick: 1. Number of bloody noses: 16. Number of times had sexual intercourse: 4,013. Number of fish caught: 1. Number of time heard "The Star Spangled Banner": 2,410. Number of babies held in arms: 9. Number of times I forgot what I was going say: 631.

Another linked vignette sample

That first moment in each other’s arms, so fierce, yet gentle enough to show the true affection of unconditional love. He was here finally, but he’ll gone soon enough.

He’s been gone since July and now, it’s godforsaken freezing in the month of December. The future’s already on our tongues, as we drive past Hannaford, the place of our first union. Who will be the bacon-bringer next time and who will be the slacker taking classes next year? Oh, the annoyance of the unknown future questions.

Please, let’s begin to live our life while you’re here, and you’re not killed from a mortar attack. Let’s not maintain sustaining injury that’s yet to happen. Listen to my chorus of “I love you” and I’ll listen to yours.

Now we’re clashing, giving each other fevers of anger, induced by those six dollar shots of Jim Beam. You’re getting jealous because I’m wooing some strangers with my philandering skills while you sit back on Chummy’s plastic chairs. I’m not strumming your pain; I’m just too smashed to know the difference between pants-strippers and beatniks that want to discuss the intellectual aspects of life.

I hate you right now. I am not allowed to take a ride in that black man’s Audi. Who’s the one who gave me the Adderall, huh? You wanted to ease my nerves; well, baby, they’re eased and I’m taking that funky ride. Trust me, I know, some guys are only about that thing. Doesn’t mean they’re getting any honey from me. The bass may be switched all the way up, vibrating my seat while I’m so warm and fuzzy inside from that whiskey, but baby, my senses are still awake.

You’re leaving me. We had our fun. My bed is going to be so empty without your flesh beside me, your arm wrapped around my hip, your warm breath behind my ear. I’ll be smelling the pillow-cases till Mom demands they be washed, but I’ll keep one behind for my your scent.


Monday, October 14, 2013


I don't usually spend time in 162 talking about the picky stuff, but I have to deal with paragraphing because a lot of you aren't paragraphing your material at all.

To offer the reader 500 words without paragraphing is like threatening to hit him over the head with a hammer.  He recoils; he whimpers and begs you not to whap him; but you pull out that fat mega-paragraph and whap him with it anyway!

A failure to paragraph sets up a huge psychological resistance to reading in your audience--pretty much the opposite of the reaction a writer would like to have.  It is a simple courtesy to the reader to carve the writing up and offer those bite-size pieces called paragraphs.

I don't know what other teachers did to so many of you to make you snakebit about paragraphing!  But it's not a science; it's an art.

The rules are simple.  If you move to a new topic, start a new graf.  If you shift focus within the same topic, start a new graf.  If a new piece of action begins, start a new graf.  If speakers change in dialogue, start a new graf.  If you feel like the damn paragraph has just gone on long enough, but none of the rules above seem to apply, go ahead  and treat yourself: start a new graf.

It's not just the reader who is helped.  The writer needs to be thinking not just of sentences but also of bigger chunks of writing--of paragraphs.  Paragraphing helps you, the writer, to know what you're thinking and to organize better.

This hasn't suddenly turned into a punctuation-and-grammar type English class. The writing is still the important thing.  But paragraphing is important to the writer--not as important as sentences, but in the same conceptual ballpark and not to be ignored completely.  Paragraphing is not optional, is not a frill, is not just another dumb piece of teacher b.s. It's civilized, it's real, it's important, and it's not going away!

So, from now on--

If you aren't paragraphing: before I comment and before you can get course credit for your work, I will tell you to rewrite by paragraphing the piece.


If in my comment on your posts, I use the nasty seven-letter word r-e-w-r-i-t-e as either a noun or a verb, you  have to...rewrite the piece to get credit for it.  I may not be happy with a piece, I may offer advice and suggestions for improvement, I may say any number of things, but unless you see that one magic word (REWRITE), you are all set.

Once you see the word and rewrite your piece, repost the rewrite as "Prompt 561 (or whatever) rewrite."  Unless it's a new post I probably won't realize you've rewritten it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Week 8. Vignettes

Let's you try something extremely straightforward and extremely useful, particularly when incorporated in longer pieces. That is the short literary sketch or vignette (pronounced 'vin-yet,' emphasis on the second syllable.)

Here's the online definition--the very first item I got when I googled 'literary vignette': "A vignette is a short, well written sketch or descriptive scene. It does not have a plot which would make it a story, but it does reveal something about the elements in it. It may reveal character, or mood or tone. It may have a theme or idea of its own that it wants to convey. It is the description of the scene or character that is important."

The key word here is 'sketch.' There are artists in this class, and I hope as I stray into your territory I don't say anything too stupid (feel free to slag me with a comment if I do). An artist does a sketch, a quick sketch on the fly without a lot of concern, to tap his deepest instincts, to find out what his eye is registering, to reconnect with his basic apprehension of the world's light & shadow, shape, form, mass, line, and presence.

Later, there's time to consider, to add and subtract, to use artifice, to color and so on--but the sketch in pencil, charcoal, ink is the first and freshest look, the one always there as a guide to the original impulse and inspiration.And what you're sketching is something to do with "character, or mood, or tone."

It's a quick in-and-out, a minor production that has to immediately ravish with its quick insight but not maintain or sustain itself.I'd like you to try writing vignettes for your theme material and also to try using the prompts as springboards to vignettes.

As for sample vignettes, try this for a quick portrait: http://porcelain40deuce.blogspot.com/2004/11/week-eleven-theme-response-distancing.html

Or this from my blog: I think it describes a scene in a way that creates a bit of character, mood, and tone--it is not a narrative, however because there really is no story at all:

Sept. 19. The wind was whipping down Pitcher Pond toward Ducktrap, not enough for whitecaps though, and, despite nervous noises from someone I first met 41 years ago this month, I launched the rowing canoe. Scoot jumped in without hesitation; he's always ready to head out. Chloe dithered a little, couldn't quite pull the trigger and found herself left on shore, racing along the beach with her eye on us.

We headed back in and this time, when she had her chance, she took it, and then we all three pulled for the island.Scoot stood on the bow thwart balancing and keeping an eye on the passing scene--he's only ever tumbled in once. When I see him up there, benign and watchful, I always think of this book one of the first I ever remember reading (Reading level according to the librarians: baby to preschool.)

Scooter is my Scuppers the Sailor Dog, the dog I've wanted to have ever since I was six or seven.One of the reviews on Amazon asks: "Is there a more charming picture in children's literature than Scuppers the Sailor Dog standing on the prow of his little boat, dressed in wet weather gear, with a spyglass to his eye?"My answer is no, there is not, but fine as the illustration is, it pales next to the actual sight of my Scooter with his forepaws on the gunwale of the blue Old Town Discovery.

After I'd pulled a few strokes, got my rhythm, and could feel how much the wind was going to let me dig in and use my back and knowing Scoot was behind me alert to problems and Chloe was in the bilge alert to Scoot's alertness, for a few seconds there my brain flooded my mind with endorphins, the body's natural high, and I was purely happy. Just for a few seconds.Then I thought, "God, this is perfect," and, as soon as I had a thought, even a happy thought, the endorphins dissipated.

I was still glad to be out on the water with my dogs, but that first thrill of a drug hitting the brain was gone.We circled the island, slid back with the wind, still having to pull quite a bit to keep the boat from yawing, and then we were back at camp, the dogs excited as heck to see Mumma who had been out of sight for a half-hour now. Seeing Mumma is always a thrill for me too, but I'm a little past the crazy-waggling-my-rear-end stage.

Late-break: here's this week's (4/22/06) prompt reaction from Amy Cross in Eng 101 (Amy is an ENG 162 vet), a perfect vignette:

Tonight I’m sitting in the dark trying to type by the light of the computer screen. I don’t want the neighbors to see that I’m still awake. I’m afraid that one or the other of them might tap on my door hoping for some respite from their eternal fighting. It starts the minute that she pulls in the driveway after work and doesn’t stop until one of them tears away in the little red car. I hate that I have to sit and listen to the horrible names that they call each other and the brutal threats that they make against one another.

Every day is another battle in their war. The same shots are fired with the same precision as the battle before. The voices get raised to the same crescendo in the same manner. Even their physical positions are unchanged. She stands in their doorway with the yellow light behind her and he paces betweens his broken down truck and the stairs. Occasionally, one of them throws something in the other’s direction and whatever it is will lie there through the night like a soldier’s boot on a deserted battlefield. In the morning their three year old daughter plays with it while her mother loads the car.

The bluebird of happiness flies over the battlefield and lands on a boot left behind.

Here's a risky vignette--risky in topic or approach:

A Sign at the Whistle Stop, or Credit Card Penny Candy

There is an odd convenience store downtown next door to Ben’s Paint and Wallpaper Store. I think it is called the Whistle Stop or maybe the Caboose, I don’t exactly remember but I’m sure it takes its name from its proximity to the downtown Gloucester commuter rail stop. Sometimes when I am at Ben’s I’ll run next door to pick up a pack of cigarettes or even a can of Zig-Zag tobacco, and maybe a newspaper. The thing that makes the Whistle Stop so unusual is what it carries…and what it doesn’t. There are no cupcakes, Ring Dings, no Glamour or Seventeen or People. No designer water, no discount water and no lottery tickets. I don’t think they even sell sodas or chips of any kind. I always thought that soda was to a convenience store what liquor was to a restaurant, “where we make the money”. Instead, they sell tobacco products, newspapers, penny candy, which now is more like three for a quarter, phone cards, a few leathery old sundries, and dart parts. Yes, dart parts. You can get the tips, various knurled brass fittings, and the feathery tail end things, everything you would need to assemble your own set of darts. The dart parts are mostly housed in a glass case below the phone cards.

I stopped in recently to pick up a can of Zig-Zag, and found the store unusually busy. There was a swarm of youngsters at the counter and one or two people kind of standing in line behind the kids. It was hard to tell who was in line because there was so much buzzing around and a woman had positioned a stroller so you couldn’t tell if it was just indiscriminately parked or was holding a place in line. She was wandering nearby, but not as close to the stroller as you would expect. I positioned myself as though I were in line, sort of. As I watched the swarm of kids more closely, I was able to slowly piece together who they seemed to be and what they were up to. They appeared to be brothers and sisters, the oldest two were girls, probably about 15 and 17. The other three were much younger, and were all so blond and pretty that I couldn’t tell which were girls and which were boys, but I’m sure there was some of each. I may have been so enamored with the beautiful teens, I simply lost my other basic powers of perception for a few moments. The swarm looked as though they had left the family compound at Eastern Point or Annisquam on their own for an excursion downtown for candy or ice cream.

To admit that the two long-legged teens were mesmerizing makes me a bit ashamed at my age. They were like lovely pies just about to come out of the oven, as the lacy crust bakes to a perfect color brown and the apples begin to turn soft and sweet. I watched as the woman behind the counter counted out the pieces of candy and dropped them into a couple of brown paper bags, ringing in numbers periodically on the cash register. It seemed to take a lifetime, and I tried to watch the counting and the girls with a casual, but I’m sure completely transparent, air of indifference. I thought of Lawrence Ferlinghetti for a fleeting second, and to pass the painful amount of time it took to count and bag each piece of candy I found myself trying to recall “…The candy store beyond the El is where I first fell in love with unreality…her breasts were breathless in the little room…outside the leaves were falling and they cried too soon, too soon.” That was as much as I could remember. Candy and breathless breasts. Oh yes, and leaves. My God, please help me.

When all of the candy had been totaled up the store clerk announced, “That’s twenty dollars and sixty cents.” In my day, that would have bought a year’s worth of penny candy for me and all my buddies, but who wants to hear that? The oldest of the blond temptresses, or so they now had become as I tried not to study them too intently, pulled a credit card out from her wallet. The clerk told her they did not take credit cards, so the girls started digging through their pockets for cash. As the digging became less and less fruitful and the murmuring between the two girls increased, it became apparent they were ill-prepared to pay for twenty bucks worth of, dare I say it again, penny candy. I couldn’t see much of the candy as it was bagged, and the only ones I could quickly remember from my childhood were Mary Janes, root beer barrels, jawbreakers, tootsie rolls, and the little Turkish taffy bars. Even the candy has changed now, dyed with colors more otherworldly than the pinkest of bubble gums and wrappered in pictures of spaceships and bionic beings. At that moment the woman with the strategically parked stroller stepped up to the counter and offered to pitch in some money to help the move the transaction along. I am not sure if she was a total stranger, but the offer was accepted with so little fanfare that I guess she was somehow acquainted with the girls and the rest of the brood. Alternatively, she just really wanted them to move on so she could finish her business at the Whistle Stop. I don’t’ know.

The temptresses gathered up the smaller kids and the candy and left the store. I saw them get into what must have been Grammy or Grampy’s Oldsmobile outside, but no grandparents were waiting in the car. The eldest got into the drivers side, started it up and off lumbered the old Yankee tank. When I finally made my way to the counter I splurged and bought my can of Zig-Zag and one package of Lucky Strike. Both seemed so out of place, this place, any place. The Luckies were part of the uniform of returning world war veterans and James Deans, the loose tobacco the emblem of young, roll-your-own reefer renegades, all living long before credit card penny candy made its debut.

Copyright (c) 2006 by sag

Remember--sketch, not a story....

2/9/12--Late note: a lot of times if you cut off the first and last grafs off your piece, leaving it a little mysterious in origin and a little hanging or ambiguous or indeterminate in its close, you will find yourself with, voila!, a vignette!

Week 8: vignette prompts

Use three of these prompts as springboards for fully developed vignettes (remember: not stories exactly--something a little breezier, less plotty) on  your blogs:

30. Just a passing face on the street. Oh lord, just a passing face....

31. Eeenie, meenie, minie, moe, catch a rabbit by the toe....

32. "There are eight million stories in the Naked City... this has been one of them.”

33. "We are gathered here today to remember....."

34. The things I see as I walk along the street, that's heaven to me.

35. A knife, a pistol, two letters, and a pressed flower.

35. Three of them sitting there in complete silence.

36. A city street--

37. Down in the boondocks.

38. The bluebird of happiness flies over the battlefield and lands on a boot left behind.

Another take on vignettes:

William Carlos Williams at his house in Rutherford, New Jersey, 1954
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
This is not Williams’s best or most important poem, but it does illustrate some crucial aspects of his art. In hisAutobiography (1951), Williams explains that his goal as a writer is to capture the “immediacy” of experience: “It is an identifiable thing, and its characteristic, its chief character is that it is sure, all of a piece and, as I have said, instant and perfect: it comes, it is there, and it vanishes. But I have seen it, clearly. I have seen it.” This is just what he does with the wheelbarrow, the rainwater, and the chickens: trivial in themselves, their sheer uninsistent presence strikes the reader as somehow disclosing the very essence of being. ...
Williams himself, not given to making high claims for his own work, considered this poem “quite perfect”: “the sight impressed me as about the most important, the most integral that it had ever been my pleasure to gaze upon.”

Most important of all, however, is the wager with the reader introduced in the first line. If you don’t understand why “so much depends” on this quotidian scene, Williams is not going to tell you. As a result, the reader’s ability to intuit the poet’s meaning becomes a kind of test of spiritual fineness, a conspiracy of meaning. 

--Adam Kirsch, New York Review of Books
This is about a poem, not a prose vignette, and I don't welcome poetry in 162,. but the material I've highlighted is directly related to what vignettes are all about.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Piece of the week (so far): Place

I don’t remember the first place I saw, or the places that were deathly important to me at the time I was there. I don’t want to remember some places though. I don’t want to remember the 40 days of hell I spent in Belknap County Jail.

I drove myself to that awful building. It went against every instinct in my soul to do that. Drive myself to jail. Seriously? Did I just do that? I was a wreck, and completely unprepared for the terror on the inside of this place. Not a terror from fear, but from solitude, and isolation from everyone I knew and loved, and even hated. They were at least known to me.

I walked in and my roommate pulled away in my car, to return again on March 1st. It’s January 22nd, 2008. That’s such a long wait. The low brick building sent a shiver up my spine. It looked creepy, like it was reaching for me. I didn’t want to go, but my choices were limited and the repercussions of taking off would have earned me more than my well deserved 40 days. I push the button in the middle of the square metal box next to the cream colored steel door. A voice erupts loudly from the speaker and startles me. “What can I help you with?” she yells. “I’m here to check in.” I whisper. There is no one around but I’m still embarrassed. Perhaps the shrubs on each side of the door, or the snow under my feet or the barren and cold parking lot behind me might judge me. The outside walls of this jail won’t judge me though, they are going to treat me like everyone else to pass into them. I’ll be treated like the violent offenders and the drug addicts and the people who are awaiting trials for murder by these walls. They will hold me in. I resent the look of the cream washed large concrete bricks before I’m even behind them.

He walks me in through a 1 bay garage, a large man with a gun. The Belknap County Sheriff’s car begs me to run a key along its side, just to spite the fact that it is allowed to leave and I am not. The thought of turning and running for it crosses my mind again as we get to door number two, but it passes quickly. I’d never make it, and if this guy tackles me, I’m sure to get a hernia of some sort, he must weigh twice as much as me. Head down, here I go, through the door to a hell I’d never known existed until now. I wish I would’ve keyed the cruiser. They walk me into a small room with 3 smaller cell type rooms off of it. They escort me to one of these little rooms, and lock me in. I’m still in my clothes, I still have all of my things, and I am trapped in a room that is about 4 feet by 5 feet with a hard wooden bench and a large window in the wall and the door looking in and not out. These, I assume, are the observation rooms. I sit, and then, lay down. I feel like a homeless person in a park, all squished and uncomfortable trying to sleep away the misery on a bench. They leave me in there for hours. I can see them in their raised glass room that is the center of their world in here, where they have a view of every corridor and the observation cells. They look proud to be there. I think they look pompous and stupid in their shit colored uniforms. I hate their perceived arrogance already.

The next time that anyone pays any notice to me is when they come to put me into my “Jail gear”. A woman guard comes to me and takes all of my jewelry and my boots and everything in my pockets. She catalogues it all and puts it in a paper bag. I feel like my whole life has come down to the contents of a paper bag, and that it’s going to be taken from me. I’m depressed. Then she takes me into another side room, where they keep all of the inmate clothing on these metal racks. All stacked by color and size. It’s a dark room with only one 4 foot florescent light fixture that burns at a quarter of the brightness that you would expect. I’m forced to take off all of my clothes and give them to her in this room that gives me the creeps. She says a phrase that I will not repeat but will haunt me for the rest of my life. I’m not wearing any socks. “Shit I don’t know who’s walked on this floor, I’m going to get a foot disease!” My thoughts are a little off, but that is what worries me about this dirty concrete brown floor.

Once dressed in my blues (I’m sentenced so I get to wear blue pants and shirts, while the people awaiting their sentencing wear green, and the violent people get to wear orange) they put me back into this god forsaken room. I’m fed lunch there. They tell me that once they determine my class they’ll decide where they are going to put me. By class they mean my security level. For now I stare at the writing on the walls, the graffiti from the previous tenants of this room. Names and dates, lewd pictures roughly drawn by the hands of those with no artistic bones in their bodies are all there. Some are disgusting, while many are amusing, but I cannot laugh in this place. The walls keep your joy out too, I’ve noticed.

I get moved to another room after they feed me my meal. It’s larger and it has 3 bunk beds. The usual thought of a bunk bed is of a nice wooden one from childhood, these are not those. These are hard, metal, and unforgiving. There aren’t any mattresses on them, just a slab of metal on metal posts with an identical one above it. There is a small table in here with a few chairs, and a television, but it’s so small you can barely make out the images on the screen. I’m not a fan of daytime television anyway. I sit here and I wait some more.

Right before dinner I am finally sent to my pod. I used to think of delicious snow pea pods when I heard that word. Now I think of something totally different. The pod I am assigned to is low-medium security, whatever that means. I walk into the rooms that I will spend 23-24 hours a day in for the next 6 weeks. There is a pay phone immediately inside the door on the right. They don’t tell you this but it’s a $5.00 fee to accept a phone call from this phone. Then there is a small microwave stand next to it with a microwave on the second shelf and a television on the top shelf. It’s not as small as the last one, but still only about 19 inches. Across from the entrance door that has a glazed out window is another door to a small cell. I look left and there are two more doors in line with that one. Three cells means there might at least be a little bit of privacy, but not much. Each cell off of the pod is identical. A window at the back, a bunk bed to the right and two gray totes where we can keep our things, one per inmate. Also in the main room is a metal table with the stools built in that can swing out for use or be tucked away when no one is using them. There are plastic molded chairs around it because the stools sag so bad that they are unusable. If you take a step into the pod and turn around you’ll see another door next to it, I thank whatever Gods there might be, it’s a bathroom with a door! That was one of my biggest worries. In all honesty, who wants to have a BM in front of people, let alone people that you don’t know? I’m shown to my bunk, and they bring in a tote for my things. I don’t have anything to put in it yet except my spare set of clothes, a bar of soap, a tooth brush, toothpaste, and nothing else but I guess that’s all I need in here for now. I don’t realize how badly I’m going to need to have some kind of entertainment to keep me from going mental yet.

I get a mattress that is about as thick as my four fingers are high, approximately 3 to 4 inches. It’s a hideous green plastic thing that squeaks and protests every time you move. I’m put on the top bunk that I am too short to get up on. I really have to jump and pull and squirm because there is no ladder-type contraption at all. The first week is miserable because they don’t give me an extra chair to use to climb up onto my bunk until they see that I’m not going to hit someone with it. I end up in that first week with vicious bruises from my knees all the way up my thighs from the 2 inch lip around the edge of the bed that holds the mattress on. Those are not the only bruises that I suffer from in this place. The mattress is so thin that I get bruises on my hips from sleeping basically on a metal bed. I cry myself to sleep in depression and pain almost every night.

The bathroom is just about the only peace you get in this place. You can shut and not lock the door, but at least it’s shut. I get in the habit of showering at least twice a day just to escape the madness. It is a tile bathroom made entirely of about one and a half in tiles that are a dark beige color. The shower stall is about 4 feet by 4 feet. It’s a welcome escape, I find. The small plain white sink is where we do most of our laundry because if you turn in clothes that fit you, you won’t get anything else that fits for 2 weeks. The mirror is almost mounted too high for me to see myself in, I can just see my face. We never have enough toilet paper.

Outside of our pod door is what they call a library. it’s a few shelves on each wall loaded with nothing that anyone would really like to read. I only get one book from there because there was only one worth reading. My Mom sends me a few books directly from Amazon.com. They aren’t really anything I want to read either, but she’s my Mom, she picks what she likes. I read them gladly.

I end up after a week with a wall covered in drawings and a count down calendar. I rip down a small sheet of paper off every morning, one day closer to freedom. I draw intricate pictures of my children’s names, and strange things that come to mind. Towards the end a friend gets a bunch of pictures of my children and sends them to me so that I can look upon their faces and be sad, and joyful, and hopeful.

We have a skinny window in each cell. It doesn’t close all the way. It’s the dead of winter. We are cold. We hang up a towel in front of it and use it as a refrigerator. It keeps some of the cold out and keeps out drinks cold enough so that we don’t have to let them spoil if we don’t drink them right away. The window is about 5 feet tall and about 6 inches wide with 6 inch tall sections that open outward from the bottom and stay stationary on top. I can see the main road from this window. I stare out of it and freeze just to remember that the world outside does exist. It’s easy to forget that in here. I also stare out of it on the 2 occasions that someone is supposed to bring my youngest son to see me. They don’t show up, and I miss my baby even more. I cry looking out of this window wishing that they would come.

Eventually I trade up to a bunk that is at the warmest part of the pod. It’s better because It’s across from the pod door and I’m on the top bunk and I can see out of the top 4 inches of the window on that door isn’t frosted. I can see other inmates and C.O.’s walking up and down the corridor. It’s entertaining. It keeps me busy. I have a crush on one of the C.O.’s and I count how many times I see him pass. I yell his last name, “BEAN!!” everytime he passes. He blushes. It’s satisfying on some level.

I make a friend in this place. Her name is Brittney. She’s young. She’s a good girl with a bad habit. She helps me through this place. She babies me a little bit. I sit on her bunk and she reads to me and talks to me and lets me be sad and doesn’t judge me for what I did. I don’t judge her either, because I think she’s going to be fine once she gets out. We have something in common, we have the same release date. That’s important to us. We hold on to that and we can’t wait for it.

We are allowed to go to the gym everyday if we are good. It’s a small gym with chairs lining the walls and half of a basketball court and a ping pong table. I’m terrible at ping pong. We usually just walk laps or play basketball games. Brittney calls out an exercise to do if we miss a shot. It’s like drills for a real team. I love it. Working out is about all I can do that is physical, it’s a joy.

I get used to the whitewashed walls by halfway through my sentence. It’s not an institutionalized feeling, just a routine that I can fall into and count on, something that is consistent. I can focus on me a little, which I haven’t been able to do since I was 16. I can’t focus on anyone else on the outside because writing letters only takes so long. If I think about them too much I get sad and I get a little madness in me. I shower and primp and take care of me. It’s kind of like a vacation after a while, in a sick way. I am working out so much that I’ve lost quite a bit of weight, my face is free from blemishes, I’m all toned and wiry, I feel good about the physical me. These walls keep me in and make me miserable but also open my eyes to many things, like how badly I neglect myself when I’m working 15 hours a day and being a mommy. I get the thought process that I’m going to try to use this time as an advantage to my physical being and try to get my emotional and mental self prepared for my release, and how I’m going to survive and pay bills.

Brittney and I get to leave together. It’s a comfort to me to have someone there with me. I’m scared, and it’s going to be cold. We wake up and it’s snowing. I am taken with my things and Brittney back to the observation rooms. She is in one and I am in the one on the other end, we can’t talk yet. I again have a view of the room where the C.O.’s spend their time. Our pod was recessed so I couldn’t see it while I was in there. I don’t hate them like I did at first. This is just their job. They aren’t bad people. I have to go back into the room with all of the clothes and change back into the clothes that I came with. It’s a relief. They still smell like home. Then I get to go back into the little observation room and wait for the appropriate time to be released. I’m actually amused by the graffiti this time. I laugh. I can’t get my earrings back in because they’ve closed up and I wasn’t wearing a piercing stud that I can re-pierce them with right now. That will have to wait. It’s time to leave. I have a friend by my side and I’m not afraid walking out, like I was walking in. The door to the garage is welcoming me to freedom. Brittney is holding my hand, it’s reassuring. There is no Sheriff’s car in the garage this time. We get to the door to the outside and out escort looks at us and smiles. He opens the door and we are free to go. I’m crying a little. A light blanket of snow is on the walk way. About an inch. I walk past those shrubs and step off of the walkway to the parking lot. I’m really outside, for the first time in 40 days. I’m really looking at an unimpeded view of the road that I can run to if I’d like. Neither of our rides are there yet, but we don’t care. The cold and snow doesn’t matter, we hug and jump up and down, we’re going home.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Robin Brayson

Piece of the Week: Place

The room was tiny and painted powder blue to try to make it look larger then it actually was but with the bed and all the life support equipment it still felt like a coffin. There was a tiny window with the blind closed that led into the hallway, for what I don’t know. Through the quietness, all I could hear was the hissing sound of the machine that are keeping my sister alive, all I can see is the rise and fall of her chest, knowing it was the machine breathing for her and all I can imagine is the worst. “Your sister is brain dead” is what the doctors told my mother.

It was almost 30 years ago that my family was awakened by the police telling us that my sister was in a fire and that she was rushed to the emergency room. They said it was serious and to get there as soon as possible. It didn’t become real to me until I went into that tiny room with all those machines for the first time and saw my sister laying there lifeless. I remember getting light headed and having to leave. I tried to visit her again but I wasn’t handling it very well so I didn’t stay very long. Every time I tried I felt like that little blue room would close up on me. There weren’t even windows to look through to the outside.

Five days my mom sat there and talked to her hoping and praying she would defy all odds and wake up. I imagined her sitting up and commenting on what a pretty color this room was or saying “what the hell happened you all look like you just lost your best friend” but she didn’t and time was running out for my mother to decide weather or not to donate her organs. You could see how my mother struggled with the idea of killing her daughter. Together with my other sister they made the decision to take her off life support and donate her organs. I was not there when it happened because my mom thought it would be for the best. There are people alive today because of her.

A whole week went by between the fire and the funeral. Looking at my sister in the coffin, bloated from being on the respirator. She he had this powder blue dress on that reminded me of that tiny, blue room that she died in.

--Fran T.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Piece of the week, so far: character

I the first time I met her was in kindergarten; they called her DeeDee and I always admired her, she seemed so happy and carefree. We ended up taking the same class’s together right through 8th grade and became good friends I think around 4th grade. As far as I was concerned she was my best friend, but she was actually more than that; she was kind of my protector, she always stood up for me all the time especially when the other kids teased me, which was often. I was from a very poor family; DeeDee’s family on the other hand was well off financially.

Needless to say, kids can be cruel and they were relentless. They made fun of my clothing, my hair style, anything and everything because I didn’t wear the name brands and get my hair done at the beauty parlor. Not only did I have to wear hand-me-downs; I had a lisp, buck teeth, and a persistent snotty nose. I shed many tears during my elementary school years from the constant ridicule and because I was from a broken home, that made matters even worse. DeeDee on the other hand was pretty, blonde, athletic and popular; she had older sisters that had already gone through the grade school so all the teachers knew about her before she even started. Her road of success had already been paved for her and here I was trying to pave one for my younger siblings and it wasn’t looking good.

Before she took me under her wing and we became best friends, there were a few instances in the earlier school years where she stepped up in my defense. One day at recess on the merry-go-round, one of the kids pushed me off and my foot ended up getting twisted underneath it. I didn’t care about my foot so much but about my new ankle socks mom just bought me. I was devastated because they were torn to shreds. DeeDee immediately ran over to my rescue, knocked that boy on his ass and helped me in to see the school nurse. The next day, she bought me in a brand new pair of white ankle socks; I can still remember how confused yet exhilarated I was to receive a gift from a school kid. Another instance was one winter recess day, she was late coming out to the playground and the mean kids were beaming snowballs at my head and all I could do was stand there and cry. I remember it in slow motion, her running out the school door, screaming and heading right for them. I don’t how on earth she did it, but she gave everyone one of those boys a facial white wash. In the spring or fall, whenever we played kick ball or softball, I was never picked for a team and would end up sitting on the sidelines, well until DeeDee became my friend anyway. She was very athletic and the kids always picked her first for their team, but if I wasn’t playing, she wasn’t playing. It didn’t take too long for these kids to get the fact if they wanted her on their team; I was going to be playing, too.

I finally had my tonsils out in 5th grade so the runny nose and crunchy cough was gone and who came to visit me in the hospital, DeeDee of course. She made me a get well card and brought me in a gift. By 6th grade we wore the same size clothes and she’d ride her bike to my house practically every morning with a change of clothes for me. We had to sneak because my mom was adamant about me being proud of what I had and to not be one of those girls that had to wear what all the other kids were wearing. Her analogy to me was “if all the girls jumped off the bridge would you jump, too”? I couldn’t stand it. Anyway, I’d get changed out behind my house into the cool clothes before the bus came and to this day I can’t recall ever getting caught for that, cause I know my mother would have been pisssed if she knew. In 7th grade the school planned a bus trip to see the Haarlem Globe Trotters at Boston Gardens and there was nothing I wanted more then to be able to go on that trip. Of course there was NO way mom would ever pay for it, nor could she. My best friend DeeDee somehow collaborated with the coach and her parents and got me a ticket to go on that trip. She constantly went out of her way for me almost every one of my school days. DeeDee was the best friend anyone could ever ask for.

Although DeeDee ended up moving away during 8th grade (saddest day of my school year) she had "paid it forward" way before that phrase was ever spoken. If she hadn’t stepped into my life when she did I can only imagine how things would have turned out for me. She gave me strength and purpose; she never judged me and accepted me for who I was and not because of how much money I had. She was thoughtful, unselfish and compassionate; a true young humanitarian. We stayed in touch with one another long after each of us settled down, got married and had kids of our own. And to this day, she’ll always have a special place in my heart.


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Week 7. Character

Week Seven Theme--character

Write a theme, write about a person as the assignment directs, on your own blog.

Most people find people more interesting than things, though an interesting thing may be more interesting on any given day than an uninteresting person, though, for my money, understanding why someone is uninteresting is probably more interesting than reading about even a thing that interests me, things like knives, pistols, motorcycles, antique tools, canoes, books, writing, dogs, gardens, horses, and so on.

But this week, the focus is on people (or, maybe better, a person): real people, people you know, people who worry you or make you laugh and cry, people who piss you off, people who are the reason you live.That's one possibility.

The downside of writing about this kind of person is that strong emotions, raw strong emotions, don't usually help the writer out: putting that stuff on the page may be therapeutic for the writer, but making it accessible to the reader, making it more than a rant, is tough. "My ex is the cheatingest, no-good person in the universe. I'd rather sleep in a dirty kitty litter box than ever see his nasty-ass face again."

Does that have potential? Maybe.

It might also just lead to a gloomy rehash of what a mess you made of your life when you hooked up with him. You probably don't want to write it and we probably don't want to read it--not because the material is uninteresting, but because keeping the tone right is so hard. Your reader does not want to be wishing you weren't telling us all this embarrassing material--so you're on a tightrope between dishing the dirt and overdoing it.


Possibly very worthwhile.Or it might be easier to write about a lower-impact person, if they still have some juice in your life.

You can be as ambitious as you like and go in any direction you choose, but at a minimum, be thinking about character studies and how you get at character, what shows character, what techniques might help to describe a person, make the person come alive: stories, speech, adjectives?

Sometimes people have fooled around with oddball ideas: clinical descriptions, police descriptions, pigeon's eye views, husband's-eye views, and so on. Nothing says this piece on a person has to start: "There is a very important person in my life named Harry. He stands five foot ten and has a big smile. He's very nice and would do anything for anybody." In fact, I'm sitting here suggesting you absolutely do not start that way or any way even distantly related to that way!

Try one character study at least, several if you feel ambitious, on your own blog.

And here are a couple of superb ministudies of people, just to intimidate you: http://carpundit.typepad.com/carpundit/2006/03/moving_man_murd.html

Late note (Feb. 6, 2009): the oldest truism and formula for Hollywood movies is that character=action=conflict.

Which is to say that if a camera shows a man walking down the street, we know nothing of his character. But when he acts (let's say he kicks a dog; or, if you prefer, let's say he dives in front of a car to rescue a dog from getting hit), then we find out about character. Diiferent actions, different characters. It's the action that tips us.

And almost any action implies a conflict. If he kicks that dog, why, what's his motivation, what will the dog or the dog's owner do? What's next? Pretty soon, character which shows itself as action which implies conflict winds up as narrative!

Even later update March 12, 2009: A lot of people are writing character studies that read like this: "Bill is a truly wonderful person, the most unique man I know, always ready to do anything for you, always there when you need him, just a great man who always has a smile or a big laugh. Nothing is too much for him to handle, and he has made a huge impression on my life because of his kindness and happy personality. Bill is always there for me when things go bad and always has a cheerful comment to pick me up. Etc etc."

Please understand that that is terrible: one cliche, one greeting card remark, piled on another. There is nothing--NOTHING!--here at all. We want a story. Without it, this remains nothing. It's all packaging, nothing inside....

And, last thought: 'character' is being used here as a synonym for 'person.' You can write about any type of person. It does not have to be a person with 'character'--someone noble, brave, stronghearted, and decent. It does not have to be a person who is a 'character'--eccentric, weird, self-infatuated.
Any person will do, whether the person has character or not, is a character or not.

Week 7 Prompts

Week seven prompts. Prompts 30-34

Week seven. Post your prompt on your blog--do at least three of the five, and remember that, although some of these are phrased as questions, your job is not to 'answer'--it's to use the prompt to start you on a piece of writing about a person.

Do NOT 'answer'--answers are easy, but what you have to do is harder.

30. Take a look at a photo of a person. What do you see?

31. Who's the first person you remember?

32. Who's the last person you'd want to remember? (This has at least two possible meanings--think about it!)

33. Imagine someone you know is taking this course and has decided to write about you. Write their piece for them!

34. Check out Carolyn See Locator of Lost Persons --those short, very evocative, mysterious, and poetic grafs. Try a few of those!

Free Java Chat from Bravenet.com Free Java Chat from Bravenet.com
Free Message Forum from Bravenet.com Free Message Forums from Bravenet.com