Posted by Erica Lin
My Life in the Words I Remember and the Ones I Don’t by Margrette Kuhrt
“I always signed my diary “love your friend, Margrette.” My entries never started with “dear diary” or any opening salutation, but they always ended with care and an expression of my friendship. The “dear” seemed so forced, a canned phrase everyone used without feeling or conviction. Somehow I had decided that it wasn’t really how you began a relationship, opened a conversation, or initiated communication with another that mattered. It was how things ended when all was said and done that spoke to your character. When you talk to a friend you just dive in, there doesn’t have to be a “hello how are you,” there’s a smile, a squeal of delight, a sparkle in your eye… all intangible things I couldn’t write on the pages of my diary. But when you leave your friends you say goodbye, you remind them you’ll see them soon, you tell them you love them, you say these things.”
I enjoyed reading this piece because Margrette makes insightful comments. As I read about her definition of love and of friendship, I feel I am better able to grasp my own perspectives about the topic. I particularly enjoyed the paragraph, copied above. It speaks to me because I, too, follow the same pattern: As a child, I never started my diary entries with the traditional one liner “Dear diary” but I always ended with a “Until tomorrow, Erica,” or some variation. I never stopped to think about its implications until I reached this paragraph. Additionally, I admire the way Margrette writes about these topics with such truthfulness and open-heartedness, like in the segment “You wouldn’t be Scarlett O’Hara.” It allows the reader to know her. This type of honesty is something I hope to be comfortable enough to use in my future writing experiences.
Blackout by Lawson Kurtz
“The typical physiological response to intemperate consumption is twofold, and if you are familiar with the college party scene or have experienced the local breed of “tailgate” you are probably already well acquainted with—and disgusted by—both. A good first step towards reducing the amount of a drug in the body is to immediately terminate the absorption of continued doses of the drug. Your body knows the best way to do this—what smart bodies we have!—and against our greatest wishes—“Stupid body! Stupid body! No, stop—we throw up, expelling future doses of alcohol along with what appears to be a hastily consumed #5 extra value meal. Party foul.”
I was really impressed with this piece. Lawson takes a sensitive topic (for college students, especially in the light of the recent banning of Fourloko and Tailgate) and breaks it down into key issues, such as social norms and acceptances as well as biological responses and temporary neurological impact. He writes about it all in a way that is really engaging. By using his experiences, he is able to break the barrier that would distance a college student and a similar report from a well-informed physician. Also, his witty writing style, evident in the paragraph copied above, holds onto the reader’s attention throughout the piece.
Posted by Erica Lin
Initially, I had decided to submit Project 2: Denied Entrance as an editorial to a newspaper with publications that targeted the medical community, but I was unable to find one that my piece would qualify for. Then, I decided to submit it to an online blog that collected stories thought about the application process; however, the majority of the blogs I browsed through were individual blogs. Although I really wanted to publicize this piece (I feel that handling an academic rejection is applicable to many people), I finally relented, attempting to submit one of my other pieces. In this search of a website for publication, I stumbled upon Creative Nonfiction, which was currently seeking blog posts that focused on foods, “including restaurant reviews; tales of meals gone awry; secrets, tips, and kitchen short cuts; confessions from cooks, chefs and/or servers; an examination of the kitchen life, and so on. Narrative, narrative, narrative” to re-print in their March 2011 Food Issue. I thought this was perfect for one of my posts from Project 1: E-Diary of the (Un) Accomplished. But wait! The deadline was 11:59 PM EST, Monday, November 29, 2010, and submissions required a blog. Then, I remembered that I had actually established a blog, temporarily , to familiarize myself with the blog designs, prior to turning in my finalized Project 1. I quickly re-activated the blog and submitted my post.
This piece was a re-write of my X4, the response to a text. My first draft emphasized the direct impact of the email, that is what occurred before and after I opened it. My final version better clarifies the aftermath. Honestly, it was difficult for me to verbalize its short-term and long-term influence, but I think that sifting through motivational quotes allowed me to obtain a more definite grasp on it. Additionally, I altered the structure of the piece. My beginning paragraphs revealed too much of the ending.
Posted by Erica Lin
I have wanted to sneeze for the past hour or so. Even now, I feel some foreign particles irritating my nasal lining. It is not always like this; I can recall incidents during which my body did expel such irritants from my nose. It used to come naturally. I would feel the particles tickle my nostrils, and in two seconds, I sneezed.
A while ago, the best remedy for inducing a sneeze was inhaling a pinch of pepper, whose fine particles irritate the nasal membrane until it elicits a human response that expels all: whatever tiny pieces that are inhaled every time we take a breath. The corticosteroid nasal sprays can’t quite compare. It lacks the natural quality, and its use can cause drug dependence. Perhaps looking suddenly at a bright light can compare, but I haven’t tried it yet.
The way to induce a sneeze by pepper is to just sniff. The preparation is easy to do. Pour a few large particles of pepper onto a cutting board. Grind it with a mortar and pestle. Place a layer of cloth over the now-fine particles. Inhale. One unfortunate potential consequence of this technique as a result of a large particle entering your nostrils is the phenomenon of burning, where the spicy piperine irritates your nerve endings. The result is a bout of sneezing and a runny nose, and neighboring individuals assume (usually erroneously) that you are contagiously ill. It’s an easy enough leap to make for those unfamiliar with the notion of winter allergies. Theories for the cause of winter allergies include dust and mold particles that are sent scurrying into the air as soon as the furnace is turned on.
Does any of this make sense—
The desire to sneeze is what is currently leadings me to perform facial convulsions. The simulation of a sneeze. Inhale deeply. My voice starts to ah…ah…ah. Who hasn’t, one time or another, attempted to produce a sneeze by imitating this human response?
The creative flow of writing is like a sneeze. Writer’s block keeps the typewriter frozen, the computer screen permanent, the pencil still. The essay finds itself in motion, suddenly. The words typed and written flow out of our fingertips while the keyboard clickity clacks. Or the pencil tip blurs in hurried movements. We think of our ideas emerging continuously, but like a sneeze, our thoughts are restrained and then released finally, finally.
This is reassuring, that writer’s block does not last forever, that we will not be sitting motionless in front of our pencils and paper. So every writer’s block we have has a time frame of its own. Perhaps the time frame, the frame of time, is that time that occurs when our thoughts are in process, incomplete, not ready, and the end of this consists of its completion until it can be typed and written on paper, understandable by me, you or anyone.
This should be reassuring for writers of fiction in particle. No matter how much they think the plot development has reached a standstill, it has not, not really, not likely anyway. A fraction of writers might throw in their towel and give up here. This is a fraction not worth mentioning. The characters, no matter what type of individual has been introduced about, will appear to develop themselves. It is temporary, this obstruction. The most we can ask for is for a short time frame, until the flow of ideas rush back into our heads.
Posted by Erica Lin
This piece began as a combination of my X1-3’s. The similarity in my writing approaches to each allowed me to unite them in a blog-like essay. Therefore, during my first revision, I focused on preserving this characteristic writing style by re-writing portions that deviated from such. I was, however, having trouble transitioning through the three smaller pieces. Additionally, my piece concentrated solely on autobiographical sources; the group input on my initial draft provided me with examples on how to insert other sources into my writing. For the subsequent revision, I reviewed personal blogs, yoga websites, and internet searches about flying, in general. In addition to incorporating information from the latter two, I experimented with the physical design in order to better connect the smaller pieces. My final version has a similar appearance to a blog.
Posted by Erica Lin
“Assassination Vacation” is extremely entertaining to read. When I first bought this book, I was skeptical about the author’s ability to maintain the interest of its readers. Although this novel investigates the captivating subject of presidential assassinations, I was unable to wrap my head around the notion that fact upon fact upon fact could be anything but a slumber-inducing work of literature. Sarah Vowell, however, proves me wrong. This talented writer is able to inform the reader about the assassination of previous presidents (and anything remotely related to it) in an engaging way by transitioning into her own memoir. For example, she introduces the Steward plaque through an encounter with her friend, Bennett, ending the anecdote with a witty one-liner:
I e-mail Bennett the next morning that the Court of Claims Building, where the Seward plaque is hung, was designed by John Carl Warnecke, the architect who helped Jackqueline Kennedy with her historic preservation crusade to save Lafayette Square. After JFK was killed, Mrs. Kennedy hired Warnecke to design his grave at Arlington. In the process (I guess there’s nothing more romantic than poring over graveyard designs), she and Warnecke fell in love. She was having an affair with the man in charge of her slain’s husband tomb. For some reason, Bennett seems to think this sex and death gossip is more interesting than the Seward plaque. “Seward plaque,” by the way, has become our synonym for disappointment. When I break it to Bennett that I’m having trouble getting Fiddler on the Roof tickets, a musical he’s keen on seeing because it reminds him of his grandmother’s flight from te shtetl, he answers, “Whatever. I can take it. My people have been getting Seward plaqued for millennia.” (34)
By reciting her own experiences, as well as her own perspectives, she adds life…to the death of historical figures. She is able to incorporate humor and wit into this piece through such commentaries. Having such a macabre delight in these oddities, she conveys interest about the bloody history of American presidents to her audience (I am reminded of her quote: “For the first few days after I read that, every time I took a five-dollar bill out of my wallet I looked at the engraving of Lincoln’s head and couldn’t get the image of his detached brain out of my head.”). I hope to incorporate this writing style into my future works. I will attempt to include my own experiences and self-deprecating humor into the informative pieces that I write, in order to keep the audience absorbed throughout.
Posted by Erica Lin
I enjoyed reading David James Duncan’s “Cherish This Essay.” In the piece, Duncan frames his realization about the endless act of being loved within a letter to an ornithologist, who was recognized for preventing the extinction of peregrine falcons through a mating hat. I find it impressive how Duncan drew connections between such dissimilar subject matters. Through this approach, he avoided the overly-expressive (sappy and mushy) descriptions that are characteristic of such powerful sentiments as love, and even, loneliness. By relating these abstract conepts to the coupling of the red-shafted flickers, he was still able to effectively communicate his recent insight: “I awoke…passion-shattered in blackness, sensing wings. And suddenly knew: I am never alone.” Such simple sentences, devoid of the typical never-ending string of love/loneliness-related adjectives, evoked the strong emotions that he was feeling. In my future writing experiences, I will strive to maintain this simplicity and conciseness.
Additionally, I admire his ability to incorporate humor in his writing. Consider his third paragraph: “I asked, for instance, whether, in addition to the Buddhistic bowing, he had to walk in a suggestive manner to lure down the hat’s, so to speak, opposite sex. And if so, I added, could he describe this walk to me so that, should occasion arise, I could reproduce it in the vicinity of a wife who’d grown dangerously scarce.” While I did not burst out laughing, I found this ending highly-entertaining. By allowing him and his wife to be the subject of amusement, he was able to garner a chuckle out of his audience. I hope to inject such subtle humor in my works of literature.
Posted by Erica Lin
“Characters should not, conversely, serve as pawns for some plot you’ve dreamed up. Any plot you impose on your characters will be onomatopoetic: PLOT. I say don’t worry about plot. Worry about the characters. Let what they say or do reveal who they are, and be involved in their lives, and keep asking yourself, Now what happens? The development of relationship creates plot.”
This passage, in particular, captured my attention because I have approached creative writing in the exact manner that Lamott advises against. Frankly, I am a little embarrassed to admit it…and even more so, now that it has been captured indefinitely in electronic print. Having typed that last sentence, I can confess, with only the slightest bit of shame, that I am the worst type of writer. I am the type of writer—if you can even call me a writer after this revelation—that hates developing characters. It is no wonder why I approach writing backwards. It is my attempt at procrastination.
Maybe I should clarify. I don’t loathe the process of developing a character. It’s just that I don’t feel it when I describe the particular idiosyncrasies of the protagonist or antagonist. I don’t feel IT—that excited feeling I have when my creative expression has reached its peak and the deluge of words forming in my mind flow onto the keyboard at such speeds that all the sentences looklikethis. I feel it when I write about plot. I feel such passion towards the work itself that I seriously reconsider my current career plan as a pre-med student. Even now, while I write about writing about plot (Did I get that correctly?), I feel could just immerse myself in my laptop for days. After I have slaved over and perfected the climactic ending, I realize that I must return to the beginning. Grudgingly, I develop the characters.
After reading the above passage, I find myself intrigued by Lamott’s approach. I am a little hesitant to expand on a group of characters and let their personalities compel a story. Then, I recall her reference to Faulkner (Sutpen’s need to establish his own dynasty led to the brilliance that is Absalom, Absalom!—Thank you, Victor Strandberg). I imagine it’s similar to grocery shopping, where you buy ingredients before knowing exactly what you want to make. A good cook can make a heavenly meal with almost nothing. Surely, a good writer can create a work of art with only a pencil and paper.