Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Writing About Something I've Come Back to: Our Rooms (to be continued)

      My room was always smaller than Kayla’s. Somehow, even though I’m the older sibling, I got stuck with a room almost half the size of hers. [add something here about coming from the old house that I don’t remember]. I guess she needed the space. While m room was cleaned and organized at least every weekend, Kayla’s progressively got messier. There were rare occasions when I could see her floor or make my way across to her closet where I would hide a plastic snake. Those were the times when Mom would bring up a few trashbags from downstairs, come into Kayla’s room, and threaten to start throwing away anything that wasn’t organized or put away. Sometimes they would clean her room for two days and still end up with three bags of trash to throw out. Most of the time, though, I didn’t venture in there for fear of stepping on something important buried deep within the layers of worn and unworn clothes. She had a massive work desk in the back corner of the room where she made “concoctions.” She would mix dish soap, hydrochloric acid, radishes from the garden, some body lotion, candle wax, brown sugar, and dandelion leaves into a bubbling new “skin care product.” She always made me try it. 

Treehouse: A Place Writing

We had a massive tree house in our backyard. Whenever I made a new friend, I just told them my house was the one with the castle tree house, and they’d be over that night. Dad built it by hand in 2001. I remember going to some scrap metal yard and getting two long metal playground slides to go along with our rope-net and wooden swing. Dad started sawing off pieces of the big oak tree growing next to our garden in the backyard until there was nothing but the trunk left, and he cut the top of the truck straight across to lay a 15 by 15 foot square wood floor on top. In the end, we had a castle. It was perfectly square and painted with grey bricks on the outside with four real-opening windows. Overtop, a white tarp was spread in a triangle like an old fashioned tent. We had two entrances: a ladder going up to a trapdoor entrance in the middle of the floor, and a front door that led out from the castle onto a balcony of think rope-net.

            From the net, we could climb left down the rest of the climbing net or go straight down the metal slides. The slides were attached to each other, the end of the first to the front of the second to reach the ground. We had to go slow down those slides because when the first one leveled off, the next one started to dip again, so we could fly right off the first slide and smack our tailbones on the bottom of the second if we weren’t careful. Mom warned us almost every single time we played on it not to hurt our butts. But dad was crazy with us. He would gather all the balls—basketballs, soccer balls, Wiffle balls, rubber bouncy-balls, the blue rubber football—and throw them at us while we dodged, hiding in the top of the castle. We would retaliate by throwing them back through the windows and out the front door. Sometimes we used water balloons, but that got the slides wet, so we always hurt our butts on the way down after that, and Mom would yell at Dad for being irresponsible.

            On warm nights, we would camp out in our sleeping bags in the castle, under the white tarp. Our dog, Shiloh, learned how to climb the ladder up to the trap door. We would hear a thump from under the floor and open the door to see him waiting there for us to let him in to cuddle. Dad would always let him sleep in his sleeping bag with him. But Mom never came out to the tree house. She would watch from the inside window and wait for one of us to get cold during the night and scurry inside to fall back asleep over top of the heating vents in the dining room. We would wake up with a blanket and pillow, or sometimes miraculously in our actual beds. 

Kim & Kevin - an attempt at backstory

When he was 9, my dad found a .22 lying on the table and carried it outside while Norvel and Dorris were arguing. There was some movement in the tree next to the sheep pen, so he shot over to the tree, aimed, and pulled the trigger. He’d hit an adult squirrel.
            “Dad, I shot a squirrel!” he told Norvel proudly.
            “You didn’t shoot no damn squirrel.”
            “I did, he’s a’right over there!” he pointed to the small tree by the pen.
            “Well alright. Go grab him and skin him down then,” said Norvel as he handed Kevin a gutting knife. Kevin ran back to the tree, climbed halfway up, found the squirrel and grabbed it. It was still alive. It wasn’t alive after it hit the ground though, and Kevin diligently skinned it and handed over the pelt to Norvel. He was pleased.
            “Alright, now why don’t you run down into Peoli and grab me some smokes?” asked Novel. So Kevin stood on his tippy-toes to grab the keys from the hook, started up the old red farm-truck and drove into town for cigarettes.
            Kevin was 16 when he started to experience puberty. He only got the muscles though, so he was still five-foot-five with no facial hair and a baby face. Out in the Peoli farm country, the hills are steep and the flat ground is sparse. Kevin and his brother Kyle would run full-bore down the steepest hills they could find, always challenging each other. As the youngest Kevin felt obligated to win every dare. They would run closer and closer to wooden and wire fences before sliding to a halt, and then one day, Kevin didn’t stop. He tucked in a front flipped right over the wooden farming fence and just kept running. He’d bet Kyle he could catch the deer out in the distance. He chased it relentlessly into the nearby patch of woods. He lost it for a second, cut through some bushes, and burst out into the small green clearing. Directly in front of him stood the deer—a large buck with massive and elegant horns. Instinctively, Kevin shot out his arm and grabbed hold of the nearest horn. The buck jumped into the air with all four hoofs off the ground, came down planted, and jerked his horn out of Kevin’s hand with an unparalleled force. Kevin reeled back, and the buck dropped to its knees and army-crawled through a patch of bushes. Kyle came up running from behind and never believed a word of it. Later, Kevin dumped a bucket of tar on him with Vince’s help. They all got covered, and Doris scrubbed them red and raw in a bathtub full of gasoline.
            People say Mom looked like me when she was young. At 16, she was 111 pounds of scrawny, with long, bushy red hair. In all the pictures I see, she wears a familiar goofy grin. Kim was the middle child, but always the smallest. Sue learned how to push Kim around by the time they could both walk, and Wendy, her younger sister, was born with Giantism—there was no hope for equality. Kim’s first name was Carolyn, after he mom, but the one thing she did manage to call her own was her middle name.

            Get up before the sun cracks over the horizon off far in the distance. Look out the window to see the red turn orange, and the orange turn yellow, and the yellow shine on green—or brown on the far fields. Clothes on, bite to eat, out the door. Mom made eggs today: no fighting until at least lunch time. Walk out to the red garage barn closest to the house. The sheep are down the hill again. Get them after midday. Hop on the new tractor and hook up the bailor. Drive out to the far field and turn that brown back to green.
            Come back for lunch. The dogs are pestering the chickens again. Yell, smack in the head, deep growl and pin to ground.
            Kevin left home at 16 in his 67’ Oldsmobile. He became a Jehova’s Witness and wholeheartedly believed in his message. He went door to door. He handed out flyers. He biked or ran and left his Oldsmobile by the Amish house he rented a room from. 

“Three Spheres” by Lauren Slater from Creative Nonfiction Magazine

a.      Techniques: Begins with “Initial Intake Notes,” which would not be written from her perspective but from someone else’s which she is now assumedly reading for the first time as we are. It begins the piece bonding the reader and narrator together and peaking interest in a unique way.

b.      Tone: Slater writes the first section to begin a tone of separation. She separates herself from the patient, especially in the notes at the beginning and continues to use speech that creates the “me” and the “other.” This tone switches when she lets the reader into her past in the mental institution. The tone of otherness fades away, but unwillingly, giving us the perception of growth or mental change. Slater uses more professional vocabulary toward the beginning to separate herself from the patients and uses more simple speech toward the end, which joins her back with her patients symbolically.

c.       Structure: There are 11 sections including the beginning intake notes section. Each section is a mini-scene, some more related to each other than others. But the scenes always start anew to give the narrator a fresh take on something. The sections always seem to do a pause and reset on tension or awkwardness.

d.      Tension: the tension is vague and unclear but always building toward the beginning. The reader doesn’t know why she dislikes Mount Vernon so much at first. Her anxiety about it puts the reader on edge as well. The tension has lulls and spikes as she has experiences like going to the bathroom where the patients should go.

e.      I will take from this piece the strategy of changing the vocabulary or jargon I use to write with throughout a piece to chow transformations or changes in my thought process.

f.        Q’s: Is this written as real non-fiction or as a part of a “metaphorical memoir” like the title of her earlier book? Why the birthing woman analogy at the end?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Craft Notes: “Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White

a.      Techniques: immersion into the experience. He paints vivid images as soon as the piece begins, but not before he puts it in context. Summarization  - quick summaries of backstory to be developed later. He picks out the most minute details like the dragonfly and a fork and a bait box and gives special meaning to them.

b.      Voice: Open and honest. He lets us into the process of remembering and re-finding the place. He lets us into his mind and what he’s thinking and how he feels like his father.

c.       Telling: He tells at the very beginning. It is interesting enough to keep me focused for the second sentence, which contrasts the telling with vivid imagery. “I felt dizzy and didn’t know what rod I was at the end of.” He tells there, but it is such a bizarre statement that it engages us.

d.      Form: simple paragraph form, but each paragraph serves a purpose. 1-Backstory, 2,-remembering, 3-lake description, 4-I am my father, 5-Lack of passed time, 6-trusting the lake, 7-changes, 8-painting the town, 9-travel, 10-boat memories, 11-father-son adventures, 12-storm description, 13-Feeling the feels of his son. The middle to end sections give less poignant insight like deciding that he is his father, but give us more details and imageryo the entire endeavor, so by the end paragraph when he makes the final connection to being his son, we have a very vivid picture placed within a larger scene we can also place.

e.      Weird and cool stuff: He doesn’t mention that there are other campers at the camp except in passing during paragraph 6. No mention of his wife or other family members. “The waitresses were still 15,” he doesn’t specify that certain things are false or imagined. “No loud wonderful fuss about trunks.”

f.        Q’s: The piece is separated into general sections of back-story, meaning and insight, and imagery and description. Which section was your favorite? Could I have stood alone or how does it rely on the other parts?

What was the value of leaving out other family details? Leaving other campers until certain points of the text and mentioning them in passing? Do we get a greater (but false?) sense of their solitude?

g.      Write about: A time or place where/when you felt like you were living in another person’s shoes, associating your actions with someone else’s, just as White associates all his actions with either his father or his son. Think of places once dominated by someone close to you that you now dominate or fill. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Craft Notes: ‘The American Man, Age Ten,’ by Suzanne Orlean, from “The New Kings of Nonfiction” by Ira Glass.

a.      Structure: Moves from the kid-life immersion experience writing style to a writing style that references Colin as a child, to an analysis section where Susan begins to put meaning with the way Colin lives his life, and then moves to a research based section where her research on various subjects like Street Fight II inform her points of meaning, but then she goes back to the kid-style writing again to show that kids can’t hold onto this deep stuff for too long.

b.      Voice: Mixes the voice between her own and Colin’s. There are key places (the opening parahraph) that are written from his voice, then there are analysis pieces and more reflective sections that Susan writes in her own voice, which is a voice of contemplative amusement—looking at his life quizzically.

c.       Telling: A lot of the telling she did was about statistics for boys, games, etc. It was clearly not image-provoking, but it was interesting and held my attention.

d.      Style: Some of the story seems to be written like a research paper on children and others like a personal essay and others like a journalism piece. The parts where she reports on what the teacher and the students do and includes interviews with the kids and their opinions on matters are like journalism. Whereas the parts where she uses data and knowledge that she wouldn’t know otherwise is clearly research based and even has a thesis aura to it sometimes. And then the parts where includes herself in the story seems like personal essay.

e.      I will take from this the skill of writing from a different voice. I’ve never tried that before, and now I think it might be cool to write from my Dad’s voice on a short part of my long piece.

f.        Qs: Why the reference to sex in the first paragraph? That was just bizarre to me. I didn’t want to think about a grown woman and a child having sex, even if she was negating the idea. Such a weird part of the intro. And did she use specific phrases from Colin’s repertoire to master coining his voice?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Craft Notes: ‘The Hostess Diaries: My Year at a Hotspot,’ by Coco Henson Scales from “The New Kings of Nonfiction” by Ira Glass

a.      Tone: Blunt and open. Not afraid to negatively portray herself. Tells it like a dramatic story, like casual story-talk.

b.      Images: Gives us a great image of the restaurant, the first and second floors, the outside door, the bouncer. Then when something exciting happens, she doesn’t waste time describing the places; she knows we already have the images of place in our heads.

c.       Form: Intro scene; Star Jones story; first getting the job and back-story; importance of clothes (with Naomi); the Bush Daughters; Leaving: six sections.

d.      Meaning: There doesn’t seem to be some inherent meaning or moral to the stories here. They are interesting and a good read. They keep our interest and give us insight into her life. If anything, we see a young and immature woman decide that she must move on and grow up.

e.      I will take from this the idea of writing a story as an insight into my life, not necessarily a moral or a lesson that must come out of it.

f.        Qs: What does she do now? Is she prolific and experienced as a writer, or did she stay in the pop culture scene? This would give it more meaning for me.