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, November 23, 2013

Week 15--many choices, no prompt--choose ONE

Choice #1 Week 15.
If I tell you to do this assignment without checking back to your first week's journal, what will happen? Probably the same thing that would happen if I told you not to think of peanut butter in the next five seconds....

Still, this will work better if you avoid looking back, if you can resist that temptation.You're going to keep a journal on your own blog again, for a few days.

This time I want to do it a little differently. Instead of a journal where you allow in whatever strikes your fancy, I want you to focus on one thing and write a daily journal dealing only with that one thing. My school blog, for example, is mostly about school or writing or education related stuff.So, a journal about housework or your S.O. or your vehicle or the weather or a bad cut on your hand or summer preparation or keeping cool or your writing or your dog or your bad mood or whatever.

The goal of the first journal was to loosen you up, to let you write without much structure, thought, or anxiety. I certainly don't want you to be anxious, but this assignment demands, not looseness, but focus and discipline.

Choice #2 Week 15.
Revisions are tough. Either one resists the idea that one is less than perfect--so why change a comma in something that's already so very fine? Or one slags oneself mercilessly, throws out the good with the bad, and starts all over (and that is not revising!)

And yet, writing is always rewriting. Writers always stutter on the page and need to rethink, clean up, add new good stuff and subtract the tired and stale. Always, always.

There are a few tricks--sleep on something. Read it aloud. Have someone else read it to you.

Always save the first version and work with a copy. See if it works better without the first graf or the first page with a long piece. Throw out the ending and try a different one. Take out the jokes that make only you laugh.

Another option this week is to revise something from the semester--either prompt or theme and post it on your blog.

Choice #3 Week 15.
You have a bigger topic in you than anything you've touched on this year so far. A big project you dream writing when you have even two free moments to rub together. But you don't have those moments and, honestly, you're not sure if you have the courage to start it.

Well, give the first few paragraphs of the big project a whirl. Write them down (don't keep deleting!) right there on your blog. Then, write a further graf to the reader explaining what you want to do, why you don't think you can do it, why you can't stop thinking about it anyway, etc etc.

Choice #4 Week 15.
Write about yourself as a writer--hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and failures; reactions to the semester, what changed for better or worse in your writing; course experiences, problems, positives.

Choice # 5 Week 15.

Try one of these.

Sometimes elements of writing can be juxtaposed for effect (mentioned this a few weeks ago) and sometimes those juxtapositions can be segmented (separated from each other with a space, row of three asterisks, and another space--or just spaces.)

The elements can be similar in nature or very unalike. Depends

This is called an assemblage or collage, just like in art. It can create weird, surreal, frightening, surprising, emotional, etc effects.

Your assignment is this week is to create a collage using any materials you can find in your own blog, on the web, wherever.

Here's a sample collage off the internet, a poem made up entirely of actual quotations from George W. Bush, arranged by Washington Post writer Richard Thompson.

I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.It's a world of madmen and uncertaintyAnd potential mental losses.
Rarely is the question askedIs our children learning?
Will the highways of the Internet
Become more few?
How many hands have I shaked?
They misunderestimate me.I am a pitbull on the pant leg of opportunity.
I know that the human being
And the fish can coexist.
Families is where our nation finds hope,Where our wings take dream.Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!Vulcanize society!
Make the pie higher!Make the pie higher!

Here's a sample from a Fall 2005 162 student (these are all things she found in my comments or course writing over the semester):

Theme Week 15: Jux Suppose
This time I want to do it a little differently
Speculate, imaginea quick in-and-out
Mysteries can still be written pearls of beauty
Turns and curves and rabbit prints in the snow
A lot of quiet
The little girl dreaming
Imagine being the girl laughing
A little short of breath
It’s inevitable
Everything you want me to see
Smoky, sad, boozy
Aapproach it with dread, run right past it without hesitation, resign ourselves to the inevitable, peek at the weaknesses all those thorns
Inimitably me, simmering rage directed inward
The inner trash
Thoughts curl back on each other
With a stranger, someone who had no face
Unusual circumstance, peculiar feeling
Check your horrors against our own....
Beat the poet out of you
Hit me that way a little.
Drunk on those tequila shots enough to find some calm
Something magic about that
A rush of pleasure bits and pieces of secrets
It came out of your mouth too
Something new: in the past he would probably have been safe
Find a new place to be gone to....
Something pleasant to think about
Temptation to be wrestled with pretty much says it all.

Or this from Meghan R:
Caring is the essence of nursing.It is one of the Fine Arts:I had almost said,the finest of Fine Arts....the character is as important as the knowledge she possessesPays better than McDonald´s (though the hours aren´t as good.)The average annual earnings for registered nurses was $44,840 in 2000
Needles: ´tis better to give than to receiveNurses have a lot of patientsBlessed are the nurses, for they help us heal through love and care.You know you are a nurse when you baste your Thanksgiving turkey with a Toomey syringe
There are more nurses than any other workers in the health professionYou know you are a nurse when you find yourself complimenting a complete stranger on his veinsConstant attention by a good nurse may be just as important as a major operation by a surgeon.Whether a person is a male or female, a nurse is a nurse.No man, not even a doctor, ever gives any other definition of what a nurse should be than this - 'devoted and obedient.' This definition would do just as well for a porter. It might even do for a horse.

So, choose one.

Week 14--using yourself differently:

Week 14. Prompts, theme, lecture all rolled into one untidy package....

Baseball legend Ty Cobb used to say, "Hit 'em where they ain't!"That meant shifting his stance, shortening his swing, guessing on the pitch, and drilling grounders through the infield into gaps left by defense, then legging out a single or double. It sure worked for him.

But when he suggested to even-greater baseball legend Ted Williams that he do the same, to take advantage of the extreme Williams shift that opened the whole left side of the field, Williams was horrified. He had his thing, he did his thing, his thing worked. No way was he going to mess with it, change things around just to punch out a dinky hit--so what if that's what it took to win a game!He was Ted Fucking Williams (in his autobio, he says that's how he thought of himself), and you'd never see him change anything!Ever!And he never did! (And one of the elements of the Curse was always Ted F. Williams. Appropriate they named a tunnel after him, not a soaring bridge.

But that's a sidetrack, and the 2004 baseball season is over--gloriously over and the curse is no more!)This week you're going to hit 'em where they ain't.In other words, you have your strengths and the fielders try to guess where you'll hit, but you're gonna pull a Ty Cobb. You're going to fool them!I seem to be addicted to sports epigrams this morning: the same idea is expressed in boxing--'Box them if they're punchers, punch them if they're boxers!'

Okay, you all have convinced me you're punchers! You do excellently what I spend a whole semester trying to get my ENG 101 students to even consider--you use yourself and your experience, thoughts, feelings, observations to motor a piece along.You're Ted Williamses! And I'm philosophically inclined as a teacher to have you reinforce those strengths, to build on them, but I'm equally suspicious of myself, arguing that--c'mon, John, you're obliged to get those students to peek at the weaknesses too.

So, how would you do in a piece where you couldn't use yourself directly? Instead of offering prompts this week, I want to throw out this gauntlet: write two or three pieces where you don't show up as an authorial 'I.'Not an anonymous encyclopedia article. Not voiceless instructions. Not cookie-cutter prose. Not a ranting political editorial about some evil thing. Not smarmy greeting card goop that's the most anonymous stuff going. In fact, NOT something that sounds like anyone else but you, but something that somehow has you stamped all over it--but that is not directly about you, your life, your experience.

Tough, tricky? You bet, but there ought to be roses on the other side of all those thorns!And why not post them on your blog, and use the comments section here to react to the assignment, ok?

How about an example for Week 14? Sure!Well, actually, most of Week 14 prompt/lecture/theme material--all the stuff about Ted F. Williams, Ty Cobb, bridges, tunnels, boxers--is an okay example of me writing about something outside me in a way (again I hope I don't flatter myself) that is inimitably me, even though I'm not in it directly. That's what you're working on this week.

By the way, this kind of writing could be considered a distancing technique. If it works right, the reader keeps trying to pull the curtain aside to see you. The reader says, 'What an intriguing voice! Who is this?' But while continuing to intrigue, you never quite offer an answer to that question--which keeps the reader reading....Another example?

You could check this out from another semester:


Or this: http://josiejosplace.blogspot.com/2004/11/week-twelve-attempt-1.html

Or this:#1. The blank stare:Either no one cares that fifteen people were just fired from their jobs of 21 years and up, or there are just some heartless people stuck on this earth. The least they could do was blink.#2. The Whispering Heart:She's ugly, and fat, and too young, and greedy, and a whore...I wonder if anyone's knows that she's a scholar, a singer/dancer, and a great friend.#3. Men are who they are:Leave without notice; arrive at early hours; take spare clothes in the truck; spout on and on about nothing. Come home to a warm clean house; give a kiss to the cheek and an I love you to the ear; stay up all night rubbing backs, and shoulders; surperise with coffee and breakfast in bed; live a happy life.#4. Car trouble:Ugly blue smoke, smelly, thick residue filling the air, polluting the ozone, outrageous gas prices, astrinomical tickets issued; the sound of thick fabric covered air-bags protecting a head, the snap of vinyl holding a body, and the cushioned seats saving a life. Not such an environmental issue any more.Copyright (c) 2006 by Jenna

Here's a 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

Or this:

Bruh Man
Who is it that driving what appears to be a miniature mobile home or what most of us call a grocery cart?
The appearance of him is reminiscent of what's chasing people in their childhood dreams; a shadowy figure that just keeps on moving seemingly in slow motion. No matter how slow he moves, he can be seen all over the city.
This is that old dude sitting in the back of the project hallway. He is going through the trash, past the food and the empty crack vials just to find something to wrap up in; perhaps some clothes scraps of little children. Nobody walks past him to get to their apartment, they would rather take the fire escape because it is unclear whether he can be trusted.
This is the same dude with the scraggly beard in the back of the bus. “It's Fraaayesh...They sho is” He says, as he is observed talking to the remaining pieces of someones grinder sandwhich.
It doesn't matter whether he has food stamps, bottles and cans or one hundred dollars; He is getting kicked out of the store. Just to eat he crashed the cookouts, family reunions and even funerals.
Brotha is just sitting there telling a story in his own language. It sounds like he is speaking E-Z Wider dipped in Heineken and when that starts to make sense he puts a quayloode accent to it.He can be spotted from far away just by looking for the military surplus jacket that he wears over some of the clothes that get “borrowed” from the Goodwill Store dumpster. Is that jacket really green or is so dirty that it is beginning to seed.
He has arthritis, a lazy eye, slipped discs in his back.Open toe shoes are in style for many but for brotha man they are all that is left his once spit shined general issue. Underneath that do-rag/ winter wool hat is there hair or not? Is it just stuffed with the thoughts of life's wisdom like the scarecrow that Michael Jackson played in “The Wiz”?
One earing or shining wax in his ear; He's musty and apparently he don't care about staying in the warmth of a shelter because he won't wash for any agency. He's always hollering at the police, “YAW AIN'T SHIT!” The cops won't touch him, they can't touch him because they know him.
Everyone in this city knows who he is. Some would say that he is an angel in disguise and some with a guilty conscience would fear that he is Jesus come to earth. He is not an angel or Jesus, but he is a messenger from the almighty sent to weigh the hearts of humanity. He at one time was a savior, in a sense, for the world.
This is “Bruh Man” and this is his song:
He tries to GET MONEY and the VA won't fund himHe came back from overseas and society shunned him.You support your troops but get mad when he poops in publicHe joined the army after 9-11 when everyone loved it.Living off the land and dining in garbage cansWho ever thought their little boy would grow up to be that kind of man.Enjoy your day and please don't feel badBut think about the US citizens whose mind is still in Baghdad.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Marlon Weaver

Finally, here's one that tells a huge amount about the personality, tastes, and problems of the writer (but where is the writer?)

Quiz:If you had to eat one of the following, which would it be?
A – finger paintB – toothpasteC – poopD – mom’s cookingE – EMCC dorm food

If you had to sleep on one of the following, which would it be?A – floorB – broken glassC – rockD – pull out couchE – EMCC dorm bed

If you had to wear one of the following, which would it be?A – bottleB – dirtC – turkeyD – shirtE – EMCC sweatshirt

If you had to live in one of the following, which would it be?A – card board boxB – trash canC – industrial waste parkD – houseE – acadia hall

If you had to go to school at one of the following, which would it be?A – Jeeve’s school of butleryB – Igor’s school of lab assistantsC – Madame le Goth’s school of obedienceD – Jenna Jameson’’s school of sexE – EMCC

If you picked anything other than d on any of the above, you may want to seek help. If you answered E on any of the above, you have been brainwashed, seek immediate reprogramming.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Eurayle 7

So, how would you do in a piece where you couldn't use yourself directly? Instead of offering prompts this week, I want to throw out this gauntlet: write a couple of pieces where you don't show up as an authorial 'I.'Not an anonymous encyclopedia article. Not voiceless instructions. Not cookie-cutter prose. Not a ranting political editorial about some evil thing. Not smarmy greeting card goop that's the most anonymous stuff going. In fact, NOT something that sounds like anyone else but you, but something that somehow has you stamped all over it--but that is not directly about you, your life, your experience.

Tough, tricky? You bet, but there ought to be roses on the other side of all those thorns!So: you're going to write about something without you appearing, (write two pieces). No sneaking! None of this fakey third person bizness: "The 60 year old English teacher with the grumpy expression sat at his keyboard writing stuff to his students..." Nahhh.The idea is to write about not-you, but to do it in a way that somehow conveys your tone, your voice. It's a great trick to have up your sleeve.

So, this week no separate prompts. Use this lecture to develop your own theme on your home blog (write two pieces).

week 14 josie jo

Week 14 - Attempt # 1

"Can I come?"
"No, just stay here - I'll be in and out in 5 minutes by myself!"
"Awwwhhhhhh......." door slams.

Fifteen other doors have simultaneously slammed in the faces of bickering, squabbling, dirty faced little heathens as mothers decidedly leave them behind with dad in the car; while she just runs into the grocery store for 5 minutes.

She runs the list over and over in her head, "Canned milk, butter, peanut butter, bread... canned milk, butter, peanut butter, bread....canned milk, peanut butter, bread... wait, thats not right... canned milk, peanut butter, bread.... awh crap, what was the other thing?"

Aisle 2, 1 minute 28 seconds... canned milk.
Aisle 3, 1 minute 56 seconds... peanut butter.
Aisle 7, 2 minutes, 13 seconds... bread...wheat bread.
Aisle 8, 3 minutes, 8 seconds... chips, soda, wheat thins.
Better go get a cart. 4 minutes, 24 seconds...
Aisle 7, 5 minutes, 11 seconds... who is she kidding? White bread.
Aisle 9, 5 minutes, 49 seconds... Jane Johnson.
Aisle 10, 16 minutes, 3 seconds... now what was that other thing?
Aisle 10, 17 minutes, 5 seconds... Jane again.
Aisle 10, 20 minutes, 38 seconds... guess it wasn't that important.

The checkout lines are crazy... all those other mothers who were in the store for only five minutes are trying to leave at the same time. She spots Jane in Checkout #4... might as well make the best of the wait. 22 minutes, 15 seconds. Jane unloads her cart... Jane has butter. "Butter!" she exclaims like a child on Christmas morning. Fifteen other mothers turn their heads at her exclamation and lend a knowing knod... been there, done that. Backing the cart up, "Excuse me... sorry." 25 minutes, 18 seconds. Aisle 10, butter, eggs, and milk. Checkout #3, 28 minutes, 32 seconds. Finally through the Checkout, 36 minutes, 19 seconds. Mother returns to the car, only to find dad standing outside it. His eyebrows are raised, "5 minutes?" 


week 14 josie jo #2

Week 14 - Generic #2


#10 A SIGH - Used as a first resort to signal that something is amiss; this could range anywhere from a bad hair day to "I think he forgot my birthday". A peck on the cheek is inorder, as well as a mental rundown of dates just to be sure.

#9 A SIGH, FOLLOWED BY "WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR SUPPER?" - this is an inadvertent request to eat out tonight, order take in, or at least get some help with the process.

#8 AFTER A MEAL - "DID YOU LIKE IT?" - more than likely tonight's meal was an attempt at a new recipe that probably took a minimum of 1 hour to prepare - answer carefully... comments to avoid are "ehhhh...", "okay", "different", and "I ate it didn't I?".

#7 QUESTIONS SUCH AS "DOES THIS LOOK OKAY?" - insecurity alert! Proper responses include "Is that new?", "Wow!", "Looks great!". Caution: stay away from "Have you lost weight?" unless you are sure there has been an attempt made; otherwise this will backfire with a retort such as "Why? Do I need to lose weight?"

#6 "THE LOOK" - a nonverbal warning signal - generally more serious than the sigh, and used in instances where a line has either been crossed or is getting pretty close. The improper response is to raise the eyebrows and say "What?"

#5 THE TERM "WHATEVER" IS USED TO END A CONVERSATION - "whatever" is secret code for "You're a moron and there's no sense in continuing this conversation with a moron."

#4 A CONVERSATION THAT WAS ENDED WITH "WHATEVER" IS FOLLOWED BY A CLEANING FURY - although this may appear as harmless, take heed: cleaning furies are a woman's stewing time; she chews, chomps, and stews over the aforementioned conversation with the moron. It's generally best to leave the site for awhile - perhaps to get flowers.

#3 AN OBVIOUS SULLEN MOOD COMBINED WITH THE RESPONSE "NOTHING" WHEN ASKED WHAT'S WRONG - something is wrong! Unless you are very confident that it's okay to leave a "nothing" alone, this response must be followed up by personal attention and a listening ear. Sit, ask again, and shut up.

#2 PRIOR TO CLIMBING INTO BED AN EXHAUSTED "I'M SOOO TIRED" IS ANNOUNCED - this actually means what it says, "I'm sooo tired.", which also means "Not tonight."

#1 THE CLASSIC "I HAVE A HEADACHE" AFTER CLIMBING INTO BED - chances are you missed many signals today; a review is in order. Also, chances are that tonight you will have plenty of "reflective" time to think about those signals. 


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Beat the Black Friday stampede for the exits! Weeks 14 & 15 (both!) go up Saturday!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Week 13, small to large, large to small

Use this sample as a spring board for large-to-small piece on your own blog. Or! Scroll down and check out option 2.

Instead of laying out a theme and offering some lecture material this week, I'm going to start by writing a piece doing what it is I imagine this week is all about--starting very big and contracting the material until it focuses right in on your area of maximum expertise, which is the things you've seen, done, thought, and felt. I start with evolution, a pretty darn big topic and end with walking a dog, a pretty darn small one (except to the dog...):

Ultra-marathoner Bernd Heinrich tells us in 'Why We Run' that humans are built not for speed but for endurance. We've evolved to be hunters of fast animals, but we don't capture them by being fast ourselves. The fast animals we like to eat--deer, antelope, and so on--sprint off at a speed we can't match, but then they stop for a bite of grass and a look-around.

Meanwhile, the slowpoke primate is jogging along, jogging along. When the antelope sees us coming, it chuckles at our foolishness and sprints off again, leaving us in its dust. Before too long though, the human with his sharpened stick appears, and it all happens again. Eventually, that naked human with his puny stick wears the antelope down, and gets his shot in.

We've evolved, Heinrich says, to be distance-runners, slow and steady. It's no accident that the fable of the tortoise and the hare still survives, and that the winner is the plodder, not the flashy speedster.

My running days aren't quite over, but I certainly am losing speed each year, not that I was ever likely to burn up a course. But I don't really worry about my speed. What I worry about is my soundness. If I never run again, it would be okay with me, and I would stop running in a second if by doing so I could save my knees and feet for the activity I really care about: walking.

My ancestors may or may not have been naked hunters with spears, but my grandfather definitely was a rag peddlar shoving a pushcart through the streets of East Boston, and even when he got prosperous, he still walked 7 or 8 miles into work every day. So walking is in my blood.

Ever since I can remember my answer to anything was to take a walk. Even before I can remember, that was apparently the principle I lived by. My mother liked to tell a story about me getting angry with her one snowy day when I was about three years old. The next thing she knew, a pounding came on the front door: when she opened it, there I was, wearing only my pajama tops and in the arms of a motorist who'd seen me floundering through the snow. The motorist shouted, "You aren't fit to be a mother! You're lucky he doesn't have frostbite! And do you know what he told me? He said he was going to walk until he found 'the little o'phans' home!"

I never did find it, but I'm still walking:Walking....walking the dogs two, three, four times a day--racking up nearly two hours of dog-walks on a good day. One reason I get along with dogs is that we see eye to eye on the importance of this vital activity. We four just got back from a walk a half-hour ago but if I stood up now and said, 'Hey guys, let's go for a walk!" I'd have three eager customers, whose only question would be why it took me so long to get some sense in my head.

Walking....walking on vacations. On my vacation I don't care to lie on a beach or to see the sights or to have a thrill a minute. My idea of a vacation is an eight-hour, sixteen mile slow walk from one English village to another, over hills, down dales, across fields, through woods, along the beach, and with a quick stop for lunch at a pub and for a peek into a thirteenth-century church. Let me do that for a week and I'm refreshed deep in my spirit.

Walking...walking off the blues. Any therapist worth jack will tell you to get some exercise, get outdoors, get your body working. My faith is that we don't need therapists very much at all--we need more hiking boots instead. When the woman I loved slipped away from me through my own foolishness, I began tramping the streets of Boston, hour after hour after hour.At first: Every happy face reminded me I'd never be happy again, every glimpse of my toe caps reminded me that there was no turning back because there was no place that ever could be home without her. The parks gave me no rest, the skyscrapers gave me no lift, the noise of the streets did not interrupt my furious dialogue with myself. My legs kept pumping, my feet kept beating the street.Eventually, I pounded pavements enough to find some calm (or maybe it was just physical exhaustion extinguishing those agitated thoughts) and to make things right with my sweetie, and for the past 35 years now she and I walk together (with the dogs usually.)
Driving home on a perfectly nice day, I see people checking their mail boxes from inside their cars, rather than parking in their driveways and walking twenty yards back to the road. I'm sure they are fine human beings, but, for the dogs and me, this is one of the great imponderable and unsolvable mysteries of the universe--people who don't walk.

That's one choice--write a big to small piece of your own. Here's choice two: small to large. And here's some lecture material:

I went to my bookroom this morning and picked the second book off the first shelf--you remember that the first book was by John Henry Abbott. I went to a lot of trouble to alphabetize the books by author, and the second book was 'My Father and Myself,' a nonfiction memoir by JR Ackerley.

It begins: "I was born in 1896 and my parents were married in 1919."How's that for a grabber!

Here's how Chapter 3 begins: "Aunt Bunny used to say that there was a strong streak of coarseness in my father's nature.... It was specially evident, she said, in some of his ideas about women. In fact, as I remember him, his social manners towards women were admirable, always courteous, indeed gallant; it is also true that in male company he was liable to refer to pleasing specimens of the female sex who caught his eye on the street as 'plump little partridges'."

Ackerley is starting with a fact and an observation. He's not unloading the whole story right off the bat. The whole story goes something like this: as a young man, his father was bisexual, a rich man's boy toy, then, as you've heard, fathered several bastards. He did marry Ackerley's mother eventually...sort of--but he happened to have a whole separate family, wife and kids, a few blocks away, and neither family knew of the other one. But it takes the whole book before we learn all this.

Ackerley starts small and lets the ripples spread outward, a fine storytelling technique.

This is not the same thing as building suspense or springing surprises, which are things authors do to their readers. Ackerley is musing, reminiscing, considering, recounting and is not in the business of giving his readers a thudding heart or a sleepless night of page-turning. He respects his material enough to let it speak for itself without hype, hokum, tricks, and fireworks. He respects his reader and his own ability enough to assume the reader will read on, even if a dead body is not swinging from a curtain rod on page 3.

And the reader does read on because of curiosity and because of the authorial modesty that shines through the writing: this is the way it was, Ackerley says, so make of it what you will. That's a writer who understands that every book (and all writing) is a dialogue with the reader, and readers do not ordinarily like being shouted at, tricked, teased, goosed, or jerked around.

Writers don't do things to their readers, they do them with their readers.

There are two classic approaches to dealing with material: one can start small and expand, or one can start big and contract. This week you're going to play with the first notion (or if you insist, the second.) I think most writers find this first approach a natural way to go.

Say, for example, you want to write about the trials and tribulations of modern life. You could start: "Modern life has many trials and tribulations: from the frustrations of losing work to computer problems and of cars not starting, to the anxiety of facing the flu season without a shot, to fears of sudden violent death, to anger at the dithering of so-called leaders."

Or, same topic: "I can't start my car without depressing the clutch. I can't start my car without having the seatbelt fastened. But, even with my clutch depressed and my seatbelt fastened, I couldn't start my car yesterday--the day's trip to the lake aborted, the dog waiting in the back window for the ride to start confused and miserable, the phone call on a Sunday for a boost hopeless.... Worst of all was the simmering rage directed inward but really generated by cars which no longer can be tinkered with in the driveway."

Examples and specifics leading to general thoughts, inductive reasoning.
My fear with this theme is that in trying to write, you'll over-perform, you'll write something you dislike because of its mechanical quality, but, hey, you say, he's the teacher, and we have to give him what he wants, or else! Most of you already instinctively embrace this style of writing--what I want you to do is be aware of it and, this week, play to your strength.And by the way--I'm certainly not asking you to write about the trials and tribulations of modern life!I am asking you to start with something close to home, something small, something humble and modest--and work outward to see what it might touch in the larger world.

So, on your own blog, write a piece that starts small and works toward the big. Or vice versa. Your choice.

Week 13 Prompts

Post your take on three of these prompts on your blog.

Remember these are not questions or a test. If you 'answer' the prompt, you're not making it your own, and that would be a shame. Use it, don't let it use you. Big to small, small to big is this week's theme.

Think about the small and then...work outwards.

62. For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoethe horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the wantof a horseshoe nail.

(This is not an invitation to repeat a nursery rhyme or make up a rigamarole; it is a prompt--it has its meaning and possibly is a springboard for a mini-essay of your own.)

63. To see a world in a grain of sand. and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. -William Blake

64. Dump the trash bin on the floor, pull on your rubber gloves, and start hunting for the truth that only your throwaways know.

65. In the drawer is a box made of carved and joined bits of driftwood, which holds objects meaningless to anyone else but sacred, precious, unforgettable to you...

One way of looking at these next prompts is to consider that they (somewhat treacherously) invite you to write about four big things--love or physicality; hate or another kind of physicality; beingness without physicality; and eternity or spirit, another take on unphysicality.

So, can topics this big be brought close to home? That's your job--don't gas on in general, vague terms; instead, figure a way to put yourself in.

66. Loosely holding hands, not even aware of doing so, but, still, skin touching skin....

67. This fist has got pow-pow-POWer!

68. I think, therefore I am.

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

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Week 12: taking risks--humor, exaggeration, juxtaposition

The title up above pretty much says it all.

There is a place for all of the above in non-fiction. But these things are risky because when they fail there is no safety net.If you make a joke and no one laughs, you're in a pickle. If you exaggerate and everyone takes it straight.... Ditto irony. If you juxtapose, let's just say, a description of the honeydipper cleaning out your septic tank with his hose and pump with a sketch of a kid sucking up the last bit of soda with a straw--and your reader's reaction is revulsion instead of the amusement you had hoped for, well, then, you have lost your reader bigtime.

As for fiction in faction, there is always room for embellishment, stretching the truth, adding a nice but inaccurate detail, conflating events and combining characters. But is there a place (and a reason) to fictionalize, to change endings, to invent incidents out of whole cloth--all in the service of NON-fiction? Non-fiction, I repeat.

And remember: There are risky topics, risky ways of writing about non-risky topics, and risky ways of writing about risky topics.


Then there is the question of risky topics and risky approaches to topics. I don't think risky is necessarily the same as inappropriate or crude. For adults, long past junior high school, certain high-impact topics may still get a smirk--'sex,' most obviously. But that vestigial jhs smirk really is not enough to power the topic!

Once one has had that smirk, the hard work of writing still needs to be done, and the topic itself has risks and pitfalls aplenty. Another kind of risky topic is the low-impact, 'boring' topic--'my summer vacation' is the classic. Can one work successfully with and breathe life into something which seems DOA?

You may be asking, 'Why try risk? What's the advantage? I have my thing, my thing works, why change it?' Because an audience can sense when you're running on fumes--even if you're still speeding along, there's a difference. Taking risks is a way of reinvigorating the relationship with the audience. It's not quite the same as distancing--instead you're almost asking the audience to give you a break, to go along in tandem with you--you take a risk and the audience takes a risk that it will be a risk that pays off. You're in it together!

This is a week where you take a few risks and what those may be, I can't determine for you. On your own website, write a risky piece. In the prompts for the week, take a risk in your responses. 

But this week is not about writing true confessions about some risky thing you may have done--that absolutely misunderstands the week.  Not looking for stuff you'd rather not write!

Week 12 Prompts

Prompts Week 12.  On your own website, take some risks with your three responses! There are risky topics, risky ways of writing about non-risky topics, and risky ways of writing about risky topics.  But this week is not about writing about some risky thing you may have done--that absolutely misunderstands the week.  Not looking for stuff you'd rather not write!

56. Sex, drugs, rock and roll!

57. My summer vacation....

58. I met the most amazing person last week.

59. The door slammed, and I never looked back.

60. I held you in my arms.

61. I am an English teacher. All English teachers lie. But I am telling you the truth.

61 A.  50 Ways to Leave Your Lover!

A risky piece

I am an English teacher. All English teachers lie. But I am telling you the truth.

My date with an english teacher...

He said...
So tell me about yourself, your life, your history and past experiences but I don't want to know everything. Tell me too much and I'm bored, tell me too little and I'm hungry.

She said...
What do you want me to say?

He said...
I can't tell you what to say. I'm not you. You are you. If I were you, I wouldn't ask because I'd already know.

How's your dinner?

She said...
It's good. The steak is...

He said...
Don't use so many too many adjectives describing it too me. You can tell me without telling me. Telling me all about it gives it away.

Can I kiss you goodnight?

She said...

He said...
Don't just say yes. Make me wonder a little. Make me want more. Keep me interested. I think I may be falling in love with you. Don't get emotional. Emotion takes away from what it is I'm trying to say. What I'm trying to say without saying it, is really saying what it is I want to say.

Long kiss....

She said...

He said...
That's too obvious an ending. you'll say more by saying nothing.

Copyright (c) 2006 by dd

Another risky piece, starting with it being a poem

Sew, sew, sew five days a week
That big check is what I seek.
Give me leather and give me thread
And I’ll sew shoes that are even red.
It’s all piecework, so I must work fast
I want my money to last, last, last.
Year after year I give my best
But I’m just a peon, like all the rest.
The big guys decide they want more money
They close our shop, sew not funny.
Sew down to Puerto Rico the work did fly
While stuck in Milo I knew I’d get by.
What can I do, if not sew shoes
I cannot let my family lose.
Go to college, take a class
Don’t just sit here on my ass.
Write that paper, read that book
Take that test, no time to cook.
Classes were work, just a different kind
Lots of knowledge, I did find.
Now I work with kids all day
Sometimes my work is just like play.
So screw those people who closed that door
I don’t work for them no more.
Fuck ‘em all, I hope they rot
A better job is what I got.
I think its clear, I can finally see
That slamming door was good for me.

Copyright 2012 by Reta 

Friday, November 08, 2013


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

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Week 11 Theme--when words mean something beyond themselves

Use the material here as the idea behind a piece of creative nonfiction you post on your blog.

A lot of time writing works as a piece of artistry (maybe even art!) because there is more there than meets the eye. A writer makes a point by not explicitly making a point.

What if I as a writer (in this case a song lyricist) want to express my sense that fate is an inexorable force pulling us forward, that we need to resign ourselves to the inevitable, surrender to it, and that all we can hope to do is experience life as it is happening.Well, there, I've said it--but are those song lyrics?

Not hardly.

What about this then? Here the singer is talking about life leading to death, about one's life adding to the universe and then being lost in the greater whole--and never uses any of those words at all! Nice trick.

Can you write about something and mean what you say about it, but, without hammering your reader, mean something else as well? Can you use non-fiction in a poetic way where there is something implicit, something of a subtext? And can you do it without appearing to be working at it?

Whew, don't ask much, do I?

Here's a sample (though you certainly can be more ambitious than just compiling a list). Is this just a list, or does it somehow convey his disappointment with the shabby way things actually were when the author arrived for his Barbados holiday? It is a list--but it does that other thing too, using words like 'frayed', 'fake', 'two months delay', 'factory', and so on to mean something beyond itself.

(This isn't quite the same as symbolism--there really is nothing symbolic in the passage below, just a collection of items, a vignette, that tells a tale without seeming to....)

"I had not envisioned...the appearance of a luggage carousel with a frayed rubber mat; two flies dancing above an overflowing ashtray; a giant fan turning inside the arrivals hall; a white taxi with a dashboard covered in fake leopardskin; a stray dog in search of waste ground beyond the airport; an advertisement for 'luxury condos' at a roundabout; a factory called Bardak Electronics; a row of buildings with red and green tin roofs; a rubber strap on the central pillar of the car, upon which was written in very small print 'Volkswagen Wolfsburg'; a brightly coloured bush whose name I didn't know; a hotel reception area that showed the time in six different locations and a card pinned on the wall nearby that read, with two months delay, 'Merry Christmas'."

Here's a corker of a student example: http://josiejosplace.blogspot.com/2004/09/stairways.html
which opens a whole life and world, just writing about stairways.

Week 11 Prompts--when words mean something beyond themselves....

Prompts 52-55. Write reactions to three of these four on your blog.

Less is more! Don't hammer your reader! Trust your material! (DH Lawrence talked about trusting the story, not the storyteller. Trust your story and trust your reader! The idea is to let the words mean something beyond their obvious everyday selves....)

52. There are a dozen stories on every page of Uncle Henry's--tales of divorce, death, wasted money, plans that went nowhere, hopes destroyed only to rise again, dreams deferred and dreams turned into nightmares. And as I read it, I see a million Maine cellars, attics, living rooms, barns, camps, boathouses, garages. Faces, voices, images of people too. You could do worse than Uncle Henry's as a source of writing ideas--how about looking through Uncle Henry's to find a prompt? Find an ad, copy it so we know where you're starting, and speculate on the tale behind it--thinking as you write about meanings beyond the obvious.

53. The things I see as I walk along the street--that's heaven to me. Or is it?

54. Pick a prompt from http://onemillionfootnotes.blogspot.com/. Tell us what it is and run with it.

55. Sometimes humans are defined as tool-using animals. Nowadays, the scientists talk about chimps both making and using tools, but, hey, we're Number One! Tools in their chests, drawers, and wallracks; tools scattered on the table; tools used and unused, new and old; tools of love, tools of war, tools of work, tools of play. Tools can say a lot.

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