Picking Apart Picka Pocketoni

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I thought Picka Pocketoni (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 219-227) was hilarious and, as usual, David Sedaris had me laughing out loud time and time again. I even picked it (no pun intended) because I knew it would be funny. I could tell by the title and more so by the writer. Sedaris, in my limited experience of him, is almost always funny and his POV usually interests me. But while I found this story just as funny and interesting as the rest, I simply didn’t find it believable.

It’s not that I don’t think it could’ve happened. And, in fact, I more than believe something happened that inspired this essay, but the story itself in its entirety, and the way Sedaris tells it, felt exaggerated and in moments even entirely fabricated to me. It’s a great story in that it kept my attention from start to finish but it didn’t feel real to me. It didn’t seem true.

Part of a writer’s mission, whether he or she is writing fiction or nonfiction, is to write in such a way as to suspend disbelief—to make us believe. In other words, even the craziest things should have us believing. Even when reading fantasy, we start to believe, at least for the sake of the story, in things we wouldn’t typically believe in like, say, aliens or zombies or unicorns. In nonfiction, this should be a no brainer—since the things, the writer’s stories and experiences, allegedly really happened. Right? Well, I’m no longer sure that’s the case since, basically, while I enjoyed the story, I don’t believe it happened—or at least I don’t believe it happened like this.

I’m disappointed, too, because I wanted to believe. I rode the subway in NYC for years, through most of my 20s, and have quite a few stories of my own brewing in my brain since some crazy stuff happens on trains but my issue isn’t with the probability of the occurrence itself it’s in the believability of the telling of the story. Sedaris set the story up well. I could picture this train. Hell, I could smell it. The story about the obnoxious Texas college kids was believable but it was also short and not so breathtaking. It was more of an observation than a complete story. I’m wondering if Sedaris decided to make up the second part to fill out the story. Perhaps if the story wasn’t already about those Texan kids, had Sedaris focused specifically on the couple instead, or entirely on either one or the other, it might have been more believable to me. I don’t know.

Have you ever people watched and then made up stories about those people? This felt like that to me. I don’t doubt he spotted an American couple on the train or even that they were rude and obnoxious. Maybe they were even talking about this particular topic of being robbed on a train. But that’s about as far as my faith goes on this particular story. I question the likelihood of Sedaris’s reaction or lack of reaction to being the topic of this couple’s false accusations, fear and anger. The words and actions of the couple, in particular the man, seemed farfetched to me. But Sedaris’s thoughts and reactions, or lack of reaction, is what really had me scratching my head. Based on what Sedaris has shared about himself in this story and in other stories, I think if this had happened he’d have moved to another part of the train, closer to Hugh, perhaps.

The fact that he was previously buying burlap for no apparent reason made me wonder if that was his way of saying he was about to sell us a bag of goods. There’s just something about the burlap. I mean, why burlap? There are many uses for burlap but he doesn’t tell us why “he’d hoped to buy a good deal of burlap.” He could have said it was for painting or to make a sack or mask, for example. But he skips the explanation. And by mentioning it and then never returning to it like this it somehow drew my attention to the burlap. And suddenly I’m obsessing over burlap and I’m not sure why. Was the burlap a distraction, like one a magician might use in a slight of hand trick? It may be a stretch but burlap is also a tough, resilient fabric so maybe Sedaris was making a point about people needing to be tough to deal with other people. Either way, something about the burlap had me wondering if this experience even really happened.

In so many of his stories, Sedaris seems determined to put two elements before everything else: humor and some sort of moral message or lesson. But while his other stories managed to grab and keep my attention, and more importantly suspend my disbelief, while simultaneously making me laugh, think and feel something, this one didn’t. His humor kept my attention but, at times, I found myself laughing at him, as well as at the ridiculousness of certain elements of this story, more often than I was laughing with him. So much felt exaggerated, even fabricated, for the sake of the joke. There was a moment when I actually rolled my eyes and that’s never a good thing. The moment when Sedaris writes: “Now I was a stinkpot and a thief. It occurred to me to say something, but I thought it might be better to wait and see what he came up with next.” I rolled my eyes at this because Sedaris himself says he’s not the type of person who would have said something, or even think quickly enough on his feet to say something in the moment, so the claim that he’d considered doing so plays false to me, but also the line “see what he came up with next” made me stop and wonder what Sedaris would come up with next.

Even the dialogue seems fake to me. It’s more comical than believable. “Golly, Pete?” Really? Did she really say that? Maybe, but this seems more like a caricature he’s painting than a reenactment of an actual memory which makes me wonder if maybe he’s the one doing the discriminating here. This dialogue feels so fabricated, forced and false to me that if it really had happened just like this then I’d probably recommend changing it in the story anyway to make it seem more believable. Just the fact that a story is true isn’t always enough to make it believable.

Sedaris admits “I was now licensed to hate this couple as much as I wanted. This made me happy, as I’d wanted to hate them from the moment I’d entered the subway car and seen them hugging the pole.” It seems to me that it was his reaction to the Texas college kids that upset him. I think he made up the story about the couple because the story about the Texas kids wasn’t enough to fill the essay. Later, after picking the couple apart and mentally mocking them, Sedaris says: “In disliking them, I was forced to recognize my own pretension, and that made me hate them even more.” Immediately after this, as if given a gift from the karma gods Sedaris was given a reason to hate the couple as if he hadn’t already made up his mind to do so. This felt a bit too convenient and for me was the turning point when I lost my faith entirely in the story.

Sedaris gives us several clues that may imply he’s making this story up. Again there was the burlap, which I can’t seem to let go of, and there’s also the memory of his sister shouting: “Good luck beating that rape charge.” Also, the fact that Sedaris seems to have taken all of this as a compliment, like he let it go in his imagination a bit too far to the point he was enjoying the implication that he could have been a sly thief, leads me to think he was too busy daydreaming on that train to have absorbed such a detailed and dialogue filled recap of actual events.

On my first read I was already feeling skeptical of the story and I found myself wondering how much was true versus how much was made up simply for the sake of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” theme. Sedaris seemed hell bent on teaching this lesson. But after reading it again, letting it sit for a bit and looking back, I think the lesson goes a step further. Perhaps Sedaris is also saying: “Don’t believe everything you hear.” Or, in this case, read.

Unit 3’s lecture on Character says: “As you begin to develop in your writing character sketches, remember that you have precious little time to convey a life of a person to a reader, and so finding (and, if need be, altering or creating) these moments can be key; if you can create a strong, visual, memorable image of a person, where a distinct personality is conveyed through a line, an exchange, or an action, you can really do wonders to unlock the power of a story.”

Sedaris took this lesson to heart as he described the characters in his story. He painted vivid pictures of these people, perhaps too vivid and overly detailed. Details are good, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes when a story has too many details, if any one detail starts to seem even slightly off, even just a tad BS-ish, then the rest of the story quickly falls down like dominoes.

My brother is a horrible liar. When he lies, he has a few “tells.” For one, he smirks when he lies, like his body knows he’s a horrible liar and is laughing at his brain for even attempting such a thing. But, in addition to the smirk, he just flat out says too much. When he’s telling the truth, he gets to the point quicker and doesn’t take a bunch of detours. But when he lies, he piles on the details like he’s hoping one of them (or the combination of so many perhaps) will be the one that convinces me he’s telling the truth. Instead, more often than not, the opposite happens. Somewhere in the abundance of details he loses me altogether. And this is what Sedaris did.

A few paragraphs before the American couple acted scared of him Sedaris says: “People are often frightened of Parisians…” It’s like he was setting up his story—or setting up his joke. This could be seen as foreshadowing, I guess, but then there was just something about the way Sedaris continuously changes his reasoning for not speaking up. Every few paragraphs or so, Sedaris offers a new reason why he isn’t reacting. At first, insulted by the couple’s comments, he says he stayed quiet so he could criticize them in his head. Then when they accuse him of stealing, Sedaris still doesn’t say anything because he wants to see what they’ll “come up with next,” then because he doesn’t want to risk receiving an awkward apology that would result in an uncomfortable handshake, then because he’s trying to come up with a witty response or he’s daydreaming about the big scene with the cops. I wonder if he had simply stuck to that first reason, my mind might not have shifted so much and that shifting, I think, in the end caused me to stop focusing on his characters and start looking at him and his thoughts and actions instead.

In Picka Pocketoni, there was a moment when Sedaris saw and took an opportunity to pretend to be someone else and he let his imagination take him to another place. His intention was to take us with him on the journey and while he achieved this to a degree, especially through his humor, his characters and the story he told about his alleged experience on the train in Paris that particular day came across instead as exaggerated, fabricated, preachy and contrived.

Although I laughed a lot along the way, rather than pull me into his world and inspire me to feel connected to him and to his story and experiences, Sedaris lost me on this one.

Works Cited:

Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.

“Untitled”

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I wrote this “poem” a few weeks ago in response to an event that happened with my dad. He’s been going through a lot of changes lately and, as a family, we’ve been struggling trying to seek medical assistance and a diagnosis. Yesterday, he was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Dementia.

The following is less a poem and more or less a vomiting of my feelings onto the page. It’s raw and unedited and I plan to leave it that way.

I’m going to see my dad tomorrow. So I’m sharing this with you now as a way of getting it, along with some of the feelings and fears it represents, off of me as I move with my family into the future and try to figure out what this diagnosis means for my dad, for my family and for me.

Untitled by Val Zane
It’s not so hard for me to think of you as crazy considering you’ve always been completely nuts
For as long as I’ve known you. That’s right. Forever. Or for my forever anyway.
“They either love him or hate him,” I always say.
I bet you don’t even know that I say that about you. Well, I do.
But who cares what they think anyway? Or what I think or say for that matter.

Just tell me another joke. I need to laugh.
What happened to the eight again? Or was it the nine?
No wait. Now, I remember. It was the seven who ate nine and ten.
But when you tell it, it always sounds so dirty.
I’ll never be able to tell it like you.

It’s like asking a stranger for directions.
“Excuse me.” Smile, nod. “Make a left at the McDonald’s?” Uh-huh. “Thanks.” Smile again, then wave cordially and drive away, when I’d rather just skip ahead to the part when I call you.
“You shouldn’t talk to strangers,” you’d say with a quip that no one’s stranger than you.
It’s certainly strange how you always know how to find me and guide me home
Even from a payphone in the middle of nowhere. Do you remember payphones?
You were my compass before GPSs were ever invented.
With you I’m never lost.
But without you?

Mom said she spoke to the doctor.
Undiagnosable.
Well, sure, that goes without saying because you’re nothing if not interesting
Isn’t that what you always say?
Maybe you could use your map and point them in the right direction?
Oh I don’t know. It’s probably in the trunk of your car with your wallet and your keys.
They should’ve said: “We don’t know but whatever this is, it sucks.”
When they came and took you away the other day, I wasn’t there. That sucked more.
Maybe it’s your medicine. Or just old age? Dementia? Alzheimer’s? Senility?

It’s funny but I still see you and hear you the way you were. The way you’ll always be to me.
Or maybe that’s not so funny after all. See, you’re not the only one who’s confused.
Remember that time we were talking and walking together hand in hand and you stumbled and tumbled ass-over-teakettle, then stood back up and kept on walking like nothing happened?
That’s the stuff legends are made of!
You’re my hero. And anyone who says that’s cliché is just another asshole.
Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. Right?

Is that what this is, just another one of your jokes?
It’s like you’re faking it, pulling a prank, playing a game.
Are you testing me, like way back then when you tested me on the state capitals?
Well the joke’s on you because I’ve forgotten most of those too. Have you?
Maybe it’s not me you’re trying to trick. Maybe it’s him. The hooded dude with the grim expression. Do you honestly think if he thinks you’re crazy, then maybe he’ll walk on by?
I’m not sure that’s how it works, but I guess it’s worth a try.

This just doesn’t feel real to me. Why do I refuse to believe what everyone else sees?
Even the butts of your best jokes are laughing at me.
But that’s okay because they don’t know you like I do.
You’re the opposite of… or was it the epitome of charming?
“But looks aren’t everything,” you’d say.
Tell me again about the man from Nantucket who uses his bucket for God knows what
And that thing he used to say… what was it again? Oh, does it even matter what he said?

When, in the scheme of things, I’m trying to recall all the things you’ve said along the way
All the laughs we’ve shared, your words of wisdom and the lessons you’ve taught me.
But I can’t. Oh great. Now I’m crying. And through all those empty threats, this is the first time you’ve actually given me something to cry about.
In a way, it’s like you’re already gone. Or not yet gone but already forgotten?

How is it I can recall all of the pointless, useless information?
Cross on the green, not in between. Or how E equals MC squared. All the things that Rob Base knows about and the ingredients to that cheesecake Mom loves so much. How flared jeans make my butt look small(er) or your secret for making the world’s best pancakes.
I remember it all but I’m forgetting you? Maybe I’m going crazy, too.
The irony is that if you weren’t stuck on a loop right now you’d be mad at me for making this about me. But don’t even try to deny the truth because we both know that’s what we do.

You’re the one who taught me ten and two. Don’t you remember?
And the best advice anyone’s ever given me: “If you feel like you’re going to fall, fall on your ass.”
And you know what? I still do that all the time.
Fall on my ass that is.

You asked me to write your stories down but they’re your stories, not mine.
I’ve given you books, journals, voice recorders.
Damn it, Dad. I don’t want to be mad at you but…
Couldn’t you grab a spare square from the diner or that coffee truck you loved so much?

Remember those road trips when we’d just talk? The turnpike was so beautiful at night.
Or that time we went out of the way to cross the Brooklyn Bridge just because?
Or when we drove straight from Philly to Florida and I read every single sign while Mom slept?
You said it was my responsibility to keep you up. See, you taught me about responsibility.

It’s so easy to remember your stories when I’m in them but I guess those are our stories
But the others? The ones which came before me?
Well, this is precisely why I wanted you to write them down!
Not just for me. For you. For mom. For the princess who calls you “Pah-Pah.”

“But I don’t write,” you said. “That’s what you do.”
And you’re right. You’re always right. And in a way, you’re the reason why I write.
But to write your life story is… well it’s impossible.
“Nothing’s impossible,” you’d say. “If you work hard enough for it.”
Shut up, Dad!

No, wait. I take that back. I’m sorry. Please keep talking. Start from the beginning.
Because I need your help. That’s why.
Because I can’t tell your stories—not like you do. At least not without you.
Oh no, you’re fading again.

So you have the stories and I have the pen. Is that how this works?
Well, then I think you’d better start talking because you’re running out of time

And I’m running out of ink.

Haiku and Haibun Fun

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As I wind down toward the light at the end of the tunnel of this eight week poetry class, which has been a wonderful experience all around, these have been my favorite forms so far!

Haiku was awesomely freeing. I loved writing haiku (even though I sort of hate that the plural form of haiku is haiku; it just seems so pretentious, doesn’t it? Just me? Oh.). Anyway, I feel like I could write haiku all day long. Not just the word “haiku” though that’s fun, too, but haiku themselves. In fact, yesterday when I wrote my haibun/haiku, my husband and I started randomly free styling haiku. The game got old (rather quickly, especially for him) but we both had fun.

Even though I read it’s not necessary to stick to the 5-7-5 format, I somehow found safety and comfort in counting syllables and always felt finished once I liked the poem itself and landed on the correct, so to speak, count.

I also really enjoyed the haibun aspect of this. It was different than my typical prose in that I felt it needed to sound more poetic, if that makes sense, so I worked to include images and descriptions. Still, I wanted to stay true to my style so I kept it as tight and concise as possible and I tried not to go overboard (for me) with the flowery descriptions which aren’t quite me. I went as far into the descriptions as my skin would currently let me. I’m comfortable writing prose though and I’m no stranger to present tense so for me this was natural and fun.

Content and form seemed to play equal roles in haiku/haibun. This week’s class activity was to wrote a haibun containing haiku (see my previous post for the product of said activity). For me, while the haiku portion was easier, for lack of a better word, to write, the haibun grew naturally out of the haiku. While the haiku is a sort of clever and mysterious little poem, the haibun was like the haiku’s helper. It broadened the message, added clarity and together, I found, they told a real story.

I really love where I ended up with this and I want to write more of these. The haiku (man, I really want to write/say “haikus”) just spilled out of my brain! On that note, what a wonderful way to rev the creative engine and get pumped up to write more? I think haiku would also work well to get the creative juices flowing and maybe even serve as a weapon against writer’s block.

Since I’m usually writing longer projects, like novels and screenplays, this was a refreshing break from the norm. While some of the longer poetic forms, like the sestina, frustrated me, there was nothing frustrating about haiku. It was simply nice to write something so small and yet still so meaningful and creatively fulfilling.

Of course, I can’t speak for the quality of my haiku since I’m so new to poetry in general and am learning as I go but I truly enjoyed the process of writing it and I’m happy with my results. I wonder if I could write a haiku a day… I bet I could!

This poetry class has been a great experience for me and this week was the icing on the cake. It’s hard to believe that in just one more week it will be over. These eight weeks truly flew.

Sestina: A Poetic Mountain

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This week I wrote (and posted) my first sestina.

In case you’re as unfamiliar as I was, here’s the definition of a sestina according to Merriam-Webster:

Ses-ti-na (noun): a lyrical fixed form consisting of six 6-line usually unrhymed stanzas in which the end words of the first stanza recur as end words of the following five stanzas in a successively rotating order and as the middle and end words of the three verses of the concluding tercet.

By nature, I tend to be sort of obsessive and competitive (especially with myself) and writing a sestina was extremely challenging for me. So it’s probably needless to say that ever since I learned I needed to write a sestina for class this has been a severe internal (and external) struggle for me.

Start, stop, start, stop. I counted (because I had to) and can you believe I started and stopped 16 different poems before finally writing one all the way through? Yes 16!

I definitely overthought it for weeks. I read all the sestinas in our reading materials, some over and over again, and I studied the process suggestions for writing one both in our course materials and online. I tried (and when I say tried I mean TRIED) the technique of choosing six words and ended up wildly frustrated every single time. Eventually I gave up.

I have to say that this time around, with my final attempt, procrastination played a big role in my process. I’m not typically a big procrastinator. As a former event planner, I thrive on checking things off my mental To Do list so having this sestina teasing and taunting me was no fun. But as this week approached and the deadline for our sestina assignment grew ever closer, I knew I had to eventually stop procrastinating, sit down and try again. So I inhaled, exhaled, cleared my mind and just started writing. The sestina I submitted this week was the product of that. It sort of just came to me.

I think in the end the answer to my sestina issues was simplification. Also, I needed to trust my instincts. My best writing usually comes from “just writing” so that’s what I did. That and once I stopped pressuring myself to write the best sestina ever written (I know I’m a mess), then the words started flowing and about ten minutes later I had my sestina. It’s not even close to what I originally intended to write but I’m okay with that. In a way, when I read it back, the rhythm of my sestina and the sort of circle effect it seems to portray reminds me of how I felt writing it. In some way I can’t quite put my finger on, to me, it feels like a round of “Row Your Boat” or like one of those songs that goes “second verse same as the first” but, again, maybe that’s just me.

It’s hard to say if it was the sestina’s strict rules which hindered me or more so the pressure I put on myself to follow those rules. I actually started to enjoy the nature of the form once I decided it was okay to relax and have fun with it. Midway through my final attempt, it became like a game or a riddle that needed to be figured out more so than this poetic mountain I had to climb.

That said; I’m glad I refused to let this sestina beat me and I learned a lot in the process of writing it. Similar to other challenges in life, I’m especially happy to be able to say I got through it and I’m even happier to say it’s over.

But now I’m compelled to go back and finish the other 16. 🙂

(Not So) Deep Thoughts on Billy Collins and on Writing Sonnets

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I really enjoyed Billy Collins’ poetry book Sailing Alone Around the Room. To me, it felt like stories and there was a casual quality to it that I truly enjoyed. Also, I found many of his poems/stories so relatable that I can’t help but think how awesome it would be to sit at the same table as Billy Collins at, say, a wedding. It seems to me there’d never be a lull in the conversation… though who am I to say? Maybe he’s better on paper than in person! In any event, I loved this book and have added it to my list of books I won’t sell or give away.

Regarding writing a sonnet, I struggled with this form at first. I started and stopped several poems before finally being inspired to write and complete my sonnet about being hung over. That one came to me quite easily the day after my family’s annual Independence Day party. To that end, I think when I’m inspired to write something the writing comes easily despite any particular format, genre, rules or instructions. Once the inspiration for this poem hit me, the words came and sort of slid into the sonnet form. It’s hard to explain, but I imagine you will understand what I’m trying to say here.

I think the sonnet itself has been such a lasting form because it’s fun. For one, it’s short and although that brings with it its own struggles and complications, for the most part I found that the length itself and the rules brought about an interesting and playful challenge. Even though writing the sonnet wasn’t an easy task, it was a fun challenge and I enjoyed it. Also, having rules helped to set parameters for the poem and that was nice in that it allowed my thoughts to be presented in a neat little package. In other words, knowing the rules gave the poem a shape to strive for—much like having a diagram helps a pile of wood eventually look and act like a book case. Knowing I needed to write a sonnet helped my words become one. Without these rules, I’m afraid I might have gone on and on about drinking and being hung over without ever finding a form. In fact, I’m not sure I would have written this poem at all.

After writing a sonnet myself, I can see why so many poets write sonnets and also why so many seem to write them specifically to get their writing gears greased. The sonnet put me in the mood to write more. In a way, it reminded me of the 3AM Epiphany and 4AM Breakthrough books which are full of writing exercises meant to battle writer’s block and inspire writing students to write. As I sit down to write more poetry in the future, I think I’ll try a sonnet from time to time just for fun and for the challenge of it, but also to see if they positively affect me and my writing as they seem to have positively affected so many other writers and poets.

“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell

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The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell

This is a poem about war and more specifically about the airmen who manned the ball turrets during World War II. Thematically, this is also a poem about loss, fear, death and maternal love.

When I read this poem, I was immediately taken back to an episode from the 80s TV series Amazing Stories, in which a young soldier (who was also an artist) was a ball turret gunner and his plane got hit by enemy fire and he got trapped inside the ball. Worse yet, the landing gear on the plane malfunctioned, meaning that if the plane were to land he’d be crushed to death. In the story, the soldier, who was just a teenager, had to quickly draw a cartoon of his plane with landing gear intact and believe that it could come to life and save him which it inevitably did.

I loved that story and it was so powerful that it stayed with me all these years, but it was just a story. In reality, this was a hellish position to be in. The soldier given the responsibility of ball turret gunner had to be physically small enough to fit into such a cramped, confined space so typically they were the smallest and often the youngest soldiers. According to Wikipedia, “The Sperry ball turret was very small in order to reduce drag, and was typically operated by the shortest man of the crew. To enter the turret, the turret was moved until the guns were pointed straight down. The gunner placed his feet in the heel rests and then crouched down into a fetal position.” If that wasn’t bad enough, the gunner had to do this alone and with his eyes open.

In The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, poet Randall Jarrell helps us imagine what it must have been like for these soldiers and their mothers, as well.

First off Jarrell tells this in first person and that offers an unparalleled personal perspective, one which brings the reader as close as possible to the POV of the gunner himself. Next, he uses imagery to show what these men might have been thinking and feeling.

“From my Mother’s sleep I fell into the State” is such a powerful opening line. From the POV of the soldier, we learn what a nightmare, too, this must have been for his mother to have had to send her boy to war, knowing she may never see him again. Then, we picture the soldier inside the ball of the plane “hunched in its belly” in the fetal position, much like a fetus in a mother’s womb. This image makes us think of a baby and reinforces our connection to his mother and how she must feel and how he feels as he thinks of her.

As we move through the poem, Jarrell offers another image, that of “wet froze fur.” While some readers may picture tortured animals, like kittens or puppies suffering outside during winter, this image, I believe, is meant to signify the physical conditions and the fear and panic of the young airman as he both sweats and freezes in his military issued B-1 bomber jacket. These jackets were leather and fur lined. At altitude, the soldier would have been freezing inside this unheated compartment but the fear of death and the anxiety over what he must do was also making him sweat. Finally, and perhaps the most gruesome image is that of the soldier dying and having to be “washed out of the turret with a hose.” The idea of this young man dying in battle and having his body power washed away is tragic and horrifying. The idea that he is well aware of this possible fate but cannot escape it is even harder to swallow. With the image of a fetus in its mother’s belly, the poet may or may not have been also making a statement about abortion here.

The poem itself uses a combination of poetic devices successfully. Through partial and full rhyme (froze/hose, black/flak) along with alliteration, consonance and assonance the poet is able to create a natural cadence for his poem. The poet also uses cacophony, or the repetition of unpleasant sounds, to tell the story. By repeating the “fr” and “er” sounds (fur, froze, fighters, nightmare, earth, turret) the poet reminds us of the feelings of being cold and scared—the sound of the combined letters even makes a sort of trembling, shivering sound that successfully reinforces the poet’s message and the overall feeling of the poem itself and, in some readers, may even cause a physical reaction. The poem itself is an example of allusion since it tells the first person story of a soldier who died in WWII and in an exceptionally creative way the poet uses personification by having a dead man tell his own story. Perhaps the most spectacular part of this poem though is its voice.

I really enjoyed this poem. Though brief, it was quite powerful and it really got me thinking of the horrors and tragedies of war. It’s so hard to imagine the many fears and struggles of a soldier but this poem helped put all of that into perspective by offering a personal first person account of one airman, a ball turret gunner, who experienced war and didn’t survive, as well as the added perspective of his mother. It’s amazing to me how much thought and feeling this poet was able to inspire in me through such a brief poem.

Work Cited:

McClatchy, J. D. The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry. New York. Vintage. 2003.

Wikipedia. Web. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball_turret 2013.

Go Ask Alice (a personal PS)

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I first read Go Ask Alice at age 12 and it was so powerful that it’s stayed with me. It was one of my favorite books back then and reading it again at 37, it was still powerful but it was also nostalgic. I remember once I read it back then wanting all of my friends to read it, too. It felt important. And honestly I still believe every teen girl should read it. What an awesome book.

I love to write in the margins as I read. I fully intend to share this book someday with my daughter so this time I wrote notes to her in the margins. Every time “Alice” wished she had someone to talk to, I wrote a little note reminding my daughter that she can always talk to me. And each time “Alice” failed and felt badly about herself, I wrote a note telling my daughter that I will always love her no matter what.

Look what popped up right outside our back door!

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It’s a robin’s nest. My immediate thought was mini Incredible Hulk eggs and then a friend suggested Smurfs. I guess they are a tad more blue than green. Anyway, I googled it and it’s definitely a robin’s eggs.

Mama has been coming back and forth and papa has been hovering above squawking down at us from up in a nearby tree. They are a cute couple!

It’s things like this that make me truly love living in Iowa. While I loved and often miss living in NYC, too, things like this never happened to us there. Though I once tried to doctor a rogue pigeon back to life but that’s a different story. I hope this story has a happier ending!

This is certainly a new experience for me. How exciting!

Spring has sprung.

“Tickets, Please” and the Revision Process

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I read and enjoyed D. H. Lawrence’s story, “Tickets, Please.” It was a simple and straightforward story but one that captured some large and rather far reaching themes such as lust, jealousy, rejection, revenge and even (though the term is more modern than the story itself) sexual harassment in the workplace. It was, I think, also the perfect piece to read while contemplating the revision process.

While the introduction was long and loaded with description and back story, it felt necessary since we’re looking back at people from a foreign place and point in history. Lawrence took the time to patiently provide details, like the drivers usually being “cripples and hunchbacks” and the girls being “fearless young hussies… in their ugly blue uniforms, skirts up to their knees…”who “fear nobody—and everyone fears them.” Without these details, the story might have fallen short for me.

Lawrence really captured his characters and set them up in such a way that made the story relevant and timeless. I don’t need to know everything about the people, time period or environment a story is set in but I need enough detail to get me intrigued. Lawrence grabbed and held my attention by paying attention to the right things.

As I read this, my own story and thoughts on revision puttered around in my head. I wondered how many revisions Lawrence went through to write this story. Though I doubt he was overly concerned about readers in the distant future, like you and me, understanding it, it is clear that he wanted to make sure the readers of his day got it. This story felt to me like a sort of sneak peek into a world not many people knew existed or got to see. Plus, since this was written in the early 1900s, I can’t help but think Lawrence was breaking new ground with such gender empowering themes. But more so than anything else, I think he got it right (then and now) in the way he told this story.

He captures human emotion perfectly with lines like: “Then she wept with fury, indignation, desolation, and misery. Then she had a spasm of despair.” This is exactly how it feels to be dumped! Centuries may pass but that feeling will always remain the same. His descriptions are spot on.

And regarding the plight of women in this day and age and in particular the way these women bound together to revolt against this one man, it had, for me, a quality about it that was reminiscent of the children’s nursery rhyme The Little Engine (That Could): “I think I can… I think I can…” Not only do both stories talk about trains and have that “I think I can” message but both stories are also about something improbable taking place; the seemingly smaller, weaker characters (the women in Tickets, Please or the little engine in The Little Engine) conquer all because what they lack in size, speed and physical strength, they make up for in spirit.

I certainly see this as a sort of literary manifestation of the frustration and pain the women of this age must have felt.

Lawrence also landed on the perfect ending. It’s juicy and thrilling enough without ever going too far in any unrealistic or dissatisfying direction. It’s an ending that can withstand the test of time. I’ve always been a fan of the sort of girl power stories where the female protagonist succeeds in the end. I also love it when the bad guy (or girl) gets taught a lesson and the hero (or heroine) is victorious. While I’m not typically a fan of violence as a means to an end, I think Lawrence handled this well. It was shocking but the physicality was handled delicately and felt necessary. I’m glad Lawrence exhibited restraint by not taking the violent lesson to the next obvious level. I think it would have ruined the story.

I can’t help but wonder if his perfect descriptions came to him right away or if they were the effect of a few (or even several) overhauls. I also wonder if he got stuck on the ending. I can see so many different routes that could have been taken. For example, I wonder if any of his drafts included a version with the girls actually killing Coddy or turning him into a cripple to sort of bring the story full circle to that intro.

There was a time, before taking this class, when I might have assumed Lawrence got it right on his first try. Or maybe I wouldn’t have even thought twice about it. But now I think about it… a lot.

Even though on some level I knew better, I think I thought I was in the minority of obsessive revisers. I rarely picture other writers struggling through yet another revision. The thought of revising, though obviously necessary, is also taxing. It’s far more romantic to assume they got it right the first time. It’s every writer’s fantasy… isn’t it? Well I’m currently on my fourth try for one novel and my second try for another. As I write and revise (and continue to revise again and again) my manuscripts, they continue to get better and I continue to grow stronger. I become a better writer with each new draft.

Even though there have been times when I’ve questioned my sanity, some of my best work rises to the surface during the revision process. I never used to think about revising while I was writing. Now, thanks in large part to this class, I am constantly thinking about revising. Even as I was writing my chapter for workshop, I was already contemplating revising it and even overhauling it entirely. Now I totally get what Annie Dillard means when she says the process of writing and revision “are one and the same.”

Professor Hurt, my current workshop instructor, says to think of the revision process as re-seeing. I love (love love) this concept. In fact, I’ve been “re-seeing” quite a few things lately. For example, I’m re-seeing how I perceive other writers and their revision processes. I’m also re-seeing my own process as a writer. A couple of those 4AM Breakthroughs have even caused me to (re)see some of my stories in new ways. One in particular breathed an entirely new intro into one of my novels. And the constructive feedback I received for my workshop piece has opened my eyes on various levels, as well.

While I read and enjoyed “Tickets, Please,” I was aware that I was reading and enjoying it on a new level. I’ve been told that film students can never just “watch” a movie without thinking critically about production elements and cinematography. As a writing student, I am starting to think the same way.

I can’t wait to get started on my revision, though in a way I guess the process has already begun.

My New Year’s Resolutions (More or Less)

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Take less
Give more
Procrastinate less
Write more
Thirst less
Drink more
Spend less
Save more
Snack less
Workout More
Whine less
Smile more
Cocktail less
Wine more
Ache less
Sleep more
Dry out less
Moisturize more
Worry less
Meditate more
Nitpick less
Celebrate more
Cry less
Laugh more
Dislike less
Love more
Bitch less
Adore more
Sit less
Play more
Limit less
Imagine more
Fear less
Dream more
Want less
Be more.