“Me Talk Pretty One Day”

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In Me Talk Pretty One Day (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 166-173), David Sedaris tells the story of his time in Paris while taking a French class taught by an abrasive teacher. He describes his struggles learning the language and the acquaintances he makes along the way, effectively engaging the reader’s sense of humor. In the essay, Sedaris uses the English language in a very calculated manner and he uses the words themselves, both real words and gibberish, not simply to tell the story but also as structural and stylistic tools, too, and devices of theme, conflict, tension, detail, description and characterization, as well as to show us his own character arc.

In this essay, Sedaris exhibits varied levels of vocabulary, sentence structure, diction and grammar to show us his struggle to learn French. By comparison, in the essay, Sedaris speaks eloquently in English. When speaking English, he speaks naturally and in complete sentences but when he attempts French he speaks in simple sentences and often with broken structure and with obvious grammar mistakes. Not only is this quite comical to picture him trying to wrap his mind and mouth around the words but it also makes it easy for us to see his struggle and make sense of his classroom experience. He doesn’t make the essay all about French words and phrases either as that might exclude us if we’re unfamiliar with the language. Instead, he makes it about the feeling of confusion itself and that relatable feeling of exile that comes with it.

Sedaris’s style of writing is more inclined towards humorous, witty, self-deprecating, silly, sarcastic and concise language and that translates (no pun intended) nicely into this piece. Having had struggled myself through six years of Spanish (from which I am now able to freely toss around questions like “Donde esta el bano?” and, of course, such suitable answers as: “El bano esta en el pescaderia!”), I could totally relate to Sedaris’s struggles to learn a second language and his inclination to poke fun of himself and the process.

When Sedaris describes his attempts to speak to his fellow classmates he uses only basic vocabulary words and he uses them in a disorganized structure like they do. I loved when he and his classmates were bonding over their language difficulties and similar negative classroom experiences. He says “it was a conversation commonly overheard at a refugee camp” and that detail was both awful and awesome as it fit the moment perfectly. I couldn’t help but picture Sedaris and his classmates huddled in a corner struggling along in their broken French trying to communicate with each other about this shared experience. There are so many awesome moments in this piece when Sedaris’s unique eye for detail and description allowed me to visualize his story, feel his struggle and picture his experience in my head.

Perhaps the best part of this essay is how Sedaris presents his French teacher to us. Although it’s unclear if she’s really as awful as he makes her out to be or if he’s exaggerating since the majority of his issues with her are due to a language barrier combined with his own frustration, but either way he makes her out to be a rude and cruel monster—albeit a monster who is highly intelligent and fluent in multiple languages. The teacher plays the role of the antagonist and heightens the conflict and tension throughout the story. His interaction with her becomes a lesson on tone, too. Sedaris does an excellent job of capturing the teacher’s snarky sadistic tone and relaying it to us so that, even though we really don’t always know what she said or her intentions, we believe she’s purposely being mean to him and his classmates.

I loved the way Sedaris used gibberish to replace words. All of the parts when he missed something in French altogether and chose to translate it to us as an obviously inaudible or incoherent “meinslsxp” or “lgpdmurct” instead of simply saying he didn’t catch the word or phrase was genius! It put me in the moment and I felt like I also didn’t catch the word or phrase.

When the teacher speaks, we don’t even need to know the word she really said because what we don’t know is made up for through context and tone. For example, when she says “’Were you always this palicmkrexis? Even a fiuscrzsa ticiwelmun knows that a typewriter is feminine.’” In this line, like Sedaris, we are forced to fill in the blanks of what we think she was saying. Because of her tone, it’s clear that she’s insulting him. We do not need an actual English translation to see this, and neither does Sedaris. Additionally, the teacher speaks eloquently with a very high vocabulary and strong diction which shows the reader her high level of understanding of French. This technique is also used when the teacher insults Sedaris directly in flawless English and, in doing so, she adds insult to injury. This increases her power over the classroom, too, since she is the only one who can communicate there completely.

The teacher and her insults play an important role in Sedaris’s character development throughout the story and throughout his learning experience because as the gibberish ends, coinciding with the story’s conclusion, Sedaris realizes he can actually understand what is being said. Even though what he’s hearing is insulting, he’s happy because he finally understands it. This moment is both satisfying and somewhat psychologically dysfunctional he’s still being insulted and, yet, he’s happy that we also feel happy for him

While I absolutely loved this essay, I didn’t like the way Sedaris constantly shifted back and forth between tenses. On one hand, this added to the conversational, informal feel of the story itself and it also sort of played nicely into the whole language lesson themes and conflicts as this was one of the lessons Sedaris struggled to learn. That thought made me wonder if this was a conscious decision and if Sedaris was in fact shifting tenses on purpose to make some sort of point or to carry though the language lesson themes but still, at times, I found it distracting.

The overall point of this essay was to amuse and entertain while showcasing his own experiences and I think he did a fantastic job. Even though I struggled at times with his tense shifts, I truly loved this essay. Not only was it, quite frankly, one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever read but, in terms of language, it opened up a whole new world for me as a writer.

There have been plenty of times, in my own experience as a writer, when I’ve felt bogged down by structural or stylistic rules and other times when I’ve given in and changed something I loved to please someone else. But Sedaris doesn’t seem fazed by what others might think and he doesn’t seem to be playing by any particular rules. There is a sense of freedom to his writing that I really like. For example, I love the way he just threw in a bunch of gibberish nonsense and actually made it work! There have been plenty of times when I’ve second guessed myself as a writer or when I wanted to break a rule or even make up a new word, for example, but didn’t.

Maybe next time I will.

This essay has broadened my thoughts on what can be done. Sedaris has made me realize that there is no limit to my writing. The possibilities are infinite. I feel empowered.

Works Cited:

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

On Self-Respect

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Joan Didion’s essay On Self-Respect (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 142) is a beautifully-written essay about what self-respect is and what it really means. Didion’s tone is open and honest throughout and she uses it, along with thoughtful language and examples to skillfully establish her attitude, thoughts, feelings and her frustrations on the topic of self-respect.

This essay shined a new light on Didion for me and allowed me to see her and her work in a whole new way. While the topic of self-respect could have so easily lent itself to Didion talking down to her readers, it didn’t have the same pretentious tone I’ve come to expect from her essays. For me, it was a breath of fresh air and it caused me to view Didion in the same positive way I had when I was first introduced to her work. The title itself sounds pretentious and I honestly expected the tone of the essay to match and manifest itself into a lecture. But it didn’t.

Instead, I felt connected to what Didion had to say and, perhaps more importantly, to the way she was saying it. For the first time in what felt like a long time, I could relate to her and to her feelings, ideas and thought processes. To me, the essay shines as a powerful representation of how writing can help make us feel less alone in the world and gives us an opportunity to share the burden of our problems and our struggles with others as well as our hopes and dreams, too. One writer to another, I felt connected to Didion as I read her essay.

I love how Didion made her points through dissecting bits of culture and history and time. The line: “Self-respect is something our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about” stands out as a gem in that it’s something we can all understand and agree upon. We all have (or had) grandparents and, whether or not we have (or had) a personal relationship with our own, we each have a similar perception of what grandparents are like. Even if one has never met his or her own grandparents, we still maintain this ideal and hold them up to this sort of standard.

Similarly, by speaking of Indians, again Didion touches on something we all know or believe to be true based on what we’ve learned and/or been told and taught all along. Didion uses common knowledge, bits of history, relatable memories and information we all already know to make her points, perhaps the most poignant one being: “To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.”

Wow! I think that bears repeating, so here goes: “To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.”

Didion makes broad sweeping points which consistently feel borderline pretentious (or maybe it’s my expectation more so than an actual feeling, though it’s sometimes hard to separate an expectation, once one has been established through repetition and experience, from an actual feeling) at times but then in this particular essay she follows up with examples and illustrations and then turns those examples and illustrations loose on herself to provide another emotional dimension that helps bolster her points and somehow makes her relatable and even likeable.

For example, she states: “That kind of self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.” In that moment, I sighed audibly and probably even rolled my eyes and thought “oh here it comes” since I honestly believed I saw the next part—the pretentious and seemingly self-absorbed part where I feel talked at or spoken down to—coming. But, then she surprised me and followed that line by recounting a particular moment when she herself learned this lesson by breathing into a paper bag as an antidote to crying. Of course, breathing into a paper bag to stop hyperventilation is common knowledge (or at least common practice) but as a reader, I paused at this admission and thought “why was she crying?” She doesn’t go into the details in regards to the why but that doesn’t matter. In essence, the admission itself—the fact that there was a time when she was so distraught that she bordered on panic attack and needed to breathe into a paper bag—is to admit she’s human.

On that note, this essay spoke to me as one human speaking to another about an issue we all care about. We all want to be respected. But Didion is saying, something we all know is true, that first you must respect yourself and others. But what does that even mean?

Well, for one, at least for me as I read this essay, it meant me having a moment of clarity, revelation and self-reflection in which I had to pause and say “Okay, enough already, Val. Open your mind and read the essay without trying to guess where it’s going.”

Even if we dislike a piece of work, or even more so have decided to dislike the writer as a result of something he or she has written, we must choose to respect the act of writing and the writing itself for it’s a part of us, too. Disrespecting the writer is, in turn, disrespecting ourselves.

Once I realized this lesson on self-respect, I knew I needed to respect Didion and her writing style, too, despite any previous experiences, and read her essay with an open mind. I could see that I was being disrespectful—to her and to me—and deep down I knew it all along. If I wanted to learn from her and benefit in some way from her writing and from this experience I needed to set aside my griping and grumbling and pay her and her writing their due respect.

Doing so meant respecting my own writing, too, as well as my time and energy as a reader. But beyond that, it allowed me to set aside judgment and preconceived notions of taste in terms of style or delivery and instead to absorb Didion’s message and the meaning behind her writing. As a fellow writer, as a writing student and most of all as a person, I’m glad I did.

Works Cited:

Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Time and Tension in Creative Nonfiction

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To further explore structure and style, and more specifically time and its correlation to tension, my focus will be on the following four essays: Make That a Double, (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 187) and Twelve Moments in the Life of an Artist (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 39) by David Sedaris, Mrs. Kelly’s Monster (Literary Nonfiction, 73) by Jon Franklin and On Self-Respect (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 142) by Joan Didion.

Make That a Double is a brief, lighthearted look at Sedaris’s struggle to learn French. It’s funny and sweet. The essay itself is short and concise and I imagine that’s because it was meant as more of a succinct statement than an actual discussion or debate. There was no bigger picture to it, really. While brief, it’s really the perfect little package. It captures a moment in time, or rather a sequence of time, in Sedaris’s life and uses it to identify a struggle. I love the way the essay flows so naturally through Sedaris’s issues with the language and how he breaks his thought process down so that even if the reader has zero knowledge of French s/he can still “get” it. He uses the element of time in this essay subtly and successfully to establish his point of view and build his argument while backing up his thoughts with actual life experiences, both in and out of the classroom. I struggled with Spanish but I felt I could totally still relate to Sedaris in regards to the idea of the foreign language struggle and the confusion and frustration which come with learning a new language. By nature of the topic itself, the structure of the essay, as well as the examples he uses to make his points, Sedaris lets us know that this is not serious. It’s more of a conversation starter. It’s relatable but at the same time it never goes off topic or beneath the surface either. It doesn’t have to. In fact, part of this particular essay’s charm is that it doesn’t.

By comparison, Twelve Moments in the Life of an Artist is not only physically longer but it also goes much deeper into Sedaris’s life experiences and insecurities. The essay takes a close look at Sedaris’s attempt to be an artist and parallels that with his journey through depression and drug addiction which he refers to as his “long disgraceful blue period.” While this essay was also humorous, like his other essays, I found this one to be deeper, darker and far more personal than the rest. It felt important because of what Sedaris was sharing. By first seemingly innocuously comparing himself to his more artistically talented sister Gretchen, he shows us his younger naked inner-self through the lens of low self-esteem and his insatiable desire to be loved and admired. In the essay, Sedaris drips in other issues, like his mother’s alcoholism and the way his father never took him seriously, to show us where his self-esteem problems may have arisen and how lonely and desperate he became, too, perhaps so we could see and more importantly understand why and how he ended up a drug addict. By paralleling the addiction to his emotional issues like this, we start to see and understand what makes Sedaris tick as we notice a cause and effect quality between his thoughts and actions. This not only causes us to feel sorry for him but it lets us inside, it gets us beyond all the clown makeup and his need to simply make us laugh at him and lets us see what’s really going on in there. Once we’re inside we get to know and understand him better, too, and that emotes a sense of empathy. I love the way he structures this essay. By breaking the essay up into these numbered sort of mini chapters it makes it so easy for the reader to follow along and as the numbers grow we see time pass and we feel like we’re growing with Sedaris on this journey. And it’s all but impossible not to see the correlation between the twelve moments of being an artist and the twelve steps of addiction recovery. It is as if he is in an actual twelve step program looking back at his journey through drug addiction. Perhaps the essay itself is an actual manifestation of the first step: admitting the problem.

While remarkably different in topic and tone, Mrs. Kelly’s Monster is also structured chronologically as it takes us on a journey of its own through a medical procedure attempting to remove a brain tumor in an elderly patient. There is nothing funny about this essay, nor would we expect there to be, but rather it’s a very serious topic and it’s handed accordingly. The tone is serious, anxious and heavy. Early on in the essay, in the intro, when the surgeon is having breakfast (and “no coffee” because “coffee makes his hands shake.”) before leaving for work, we see the actual time of 6:30am. As the day progresses and even as the surgery starts and then transpires Franklin continuously provides time checks and we get to see time pass in this very literal way. Time itself feels like a living, breathing thing in this essay and as we watch it tick by we begin to rely on it and use it as our main source of hope that Mrs. Kelly will survive. To me, this paralleled how a loved one might feel sitting out in the waiting room watching the clock. Perhaps my favorite part about this essay is how Franklin translates the foreign language of brain surgery and medical jargon into simpler terms while using elements of onomatopoeia as well to add rhythm and portray the tension of the moment. For example, the “pop…pop…pop…” is such an awesome technique to pull us into the moment and into that room and allow us to feel and hear and experience it. The pop-pop-pop detail and similar details are repeated in the piece, too, and in doing so Franklin creates a natural if not harrowing rhythm to the piece. In addition to giving us immediate information, in this case that Mrs. Kelly’s heart is beating regularly and that she is still in stable condition, and providing us with a much welcomed feeling of ‘so far so good’ in the experience, it also adds another level of tension, too, and structurally, these pop-pop-pop details allow time to stand still, if only for a few a seconds at a time in a long, dangerous surgery, and give us, as readers, a moment to take our breath in this stressful situation.

Joan Didion’s essay On Self-Respect is a beautifully-written essay about what self-respect really means. And while the topic itself could have so easily lent itself to a writer talking down to his/her reader, it didn’t have the same pretentious tone I’ve come to expect in Didion’s essays. For me, it was a breath of fresh air and it caused me to view Didion in the same positive way I had when I was first introduced to her work. The title itself sounds pretentious and I honestly expected the essay to be a manifestation of that tone and come across as a lecture. But it didn’t. Instead, I felt connected to what Didion had to say and, perhaps more importantly, to the way she was saying it. For the first time in what feels like a long time, I could relate to her and to her feelings, ideas and thought processes. To me, the essay shines as a powerful representation of how writing can help make us feel less alone in the world and gives us an opportunity to share the burden of our problems and our struggles with others as well as our hopes and dreams, too. I love how Didion made her points through dissecting bits of culture and history and time. The line: “Self-respect is something our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about” stands out as a gem in that it’s something we can all understand and agree upon. Even if one has never met his or her grandparents, we still maintain this ideal and hold them up to this sort of standard. Similarly, by speaking of Indians, again Joan touches on something we all know or believe to be true based on what we’ve learned, been told and taught all along. Stylistically and structurally, Didion does not shine a spotlight on time but rather she uses it in subtle ways to make her points, perhaps the most poignant one being: “To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.”

Works Cited:

Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

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

Sims, Patsy. Literary Nonfiction. New York: Oxford, 2002.

“The Learning Curve”

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Last week I picked apart Picka Pocketoni. So this week I’d like to pick apart—in a more positive way—another Sedaris essay: The Learning Curve (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 83-96).

This essay hit home for me (and I assume for many of you) in many ways, particularly as a writer, writing student and someone who would someday love to teach writing workshops. But also, I’m currently writing a novel and one of the main themes is how we all find ourselves faking it (or feeling as though we’re faking it) at one point or another. We don’t start out being experienced. It takes time but we all have to start somewhere. That’s simply how life works.

Thematically, this story speaks to anyone who has ever felt like a faker. When Sedaris gets his first teaching gig, he feels like an imposter. And in a way he is one. But I bet anyone who’s ever been in his shoes has felt the same way. Of course, while most of us might not admit it or write a whole essay shouting it to the world, personally, I love how honest he is about it.

Sedaris exposes so many parts of himself to us, including: Sedaris as writer, Sedaris as teacher, Sedaris as the child who just wants to be loved and, perhaps most notably in this essay Sedaris as self-proclaimed, self-deprecating, low self-esteem fraud. All of these elements somehow add up to expose Sedaris as a charming, humorous, honest and relatable human.

“Like branding steers or embalming the dead, teaching was a profession I had never seriously considered.” Ha! Me either! Until recently anyway. Workshops have turned me on to a whole new side of myself. I’ve always loved writing and my initial goal coming into the MFA program here was to get my writing to the next level, where I will hopefully get my novels published. My writing has certainly improved but another side of me, one I didn’t know existed, has been nurtured, too. I love reading my peers’ work and offering my feedback. That critiquing part of workshops that so many of us dislike? Yeah, I love that part. In eight grade I was voted “Most Likely to Become a Teacher” and I’ve always scoffed at the notion but now I’m looking at it and thinking maybe my classmates back in 1989 knew something I wasn’t yet able to see or willing to admit. I flashed back to that moment while reading The Learning Curve and as I read about Sedaris’s experiences, I thought about all of these things I’m learning about myself.

I could picture myself standing before a classroom frantically trying to say and do all the right things, trying to make an impact on these students who expect to learn something. Just like any other experience in life, Sedaris started out self-conscious and self-absorbed and once those things fell away, along with all the butterflies, that’s when everything came together for him.

All of this adds to the tone of the piece. I found the tone of this story as well as Sedaris himself as the story’s main character to be honest and sincere. While he, at times, borders on self-deprecation he does so humorously and that adds to the gritty, realistic feel of the piece. Plus, there’s just something sweet about it, too. While each of his essays affects me in different ways and while I don’t find all of them as relatable as this one, I could follow his tone anywhere.

Structurally speaking, this essay hits all the right notes. He grounds the setting for us in the classroom and allows us to picture everything from his perspective. He starts by showing and telling us about himself physically and even adds insight into his mind through sharing his thoughts and fears as well as comparing himself to his father. Then he introduces the rest of the cast of characters and simultaneously presents the main conflicts which will affect all of them. He lets us see the floor fall from beneath his feet as he stands clueless before this classroom for the very first time. We get to see him squirm and then watch as he tries and fails multiple times, continuously adding tension along the way, giving us the opportunity to root for him and care about what happens to him and his students so we feel satisfied when he figures it all out in the end. The work he does with characterization in general but also in particular with his set up and descriptions, are awesome, too, because if we as the reader cannot relate to him or even find him likeable in some way, then surely we can relate to one of his students instead. That’s brilliant!

There was a point when I felt bad for him and for his students, too. Sedaris somehow became the protagonist and the antagonist and his students played villains and victims. He gives us just the right amount of detail to picture him (right down to his briefcase) and enough detail, physically and emotionally, on each of his students to picture each of them staring back at him. In one way or another, through his characters, this story becomes relatable to just about everyone. Additionally, he pays close attention to his own arc in the story. He starts out a little cocky and then falls from grace. We see all of his insecurities and we can see and judge his mistakes and along the way he himself does the same. Eventually he figures it out and succeeds.

The only thing this was missing for me from his experience in the workshop was the actual critique portion and how that transpired in his classroom. He tells us his thoughts on critiquing (he says whoever designed the workshops “struck the perfect balance between sadism and masochism.”) but he never gets overly detailed about the process. But I can’t help but think that may simply be because Sedaris was more concerned with being critiqued and letting us know how he felt than in critiquing his students and/or in watching them critique each other. In a way, it was like he was saying that he only really knows and can speak honestly about how he feels about the situation and if we want to know how they felt, then we’d have to ask them.

In The Learning Curve, Sedaris invites us into a personal side of himself and he shows and tells us more than what “normal” people would dare show and tell. He sets aside any sort of pretense or shield one might have when discussing our views of ourselves, specifically our skills and abilities, and he puts all of his insecurities out on the table for everyone to see and judge.

I absolutely loved this story. I felt connected to it and to all of its characters, including Sedaris and his students. I felt like I was learning along with them and experiencing their trials and tribulations, as if I was actually one of the characters in the story. I felt invested in what happened. The story kept my attention and kept me laughing from start to finish, too.

Sedaris doesn’t seem to care what others might think or say about him; he just puts it all out there, blurting at times, and then lets the experience speak for itself. He lets us decide what’s weird, embarrassing and/or shameful. The fact that he’s not embarrassed to reveal such things makes him charming, I think, and his point of view personable and it’s what makes me feel connected to him and really love reading his essays. I want to know what else he’ll reveal and even more than the content I want to know how he’ll reveal it. It’s safe to say it’ll always be with some level of humor, but there are varying degrees of emotion and sentimentality there, too.

After reading The Learning Curve, I wonder how many new teachers feel like children playing teacher on that first day of school. Sedaris struck a chord here and it’s one that goes beyond the classroom. In truth, don’t we all feel like we’re faking it at one point or another?

Works Cited:

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

Creative Nonfiction: Some Stuff I’ve Learned

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For this reading response, I’ll be discussing the following essays and their affects on me as both a reader and a writer and what I think worked and didn’t: The Learning Curve (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 83-96) and Shiner Like a Diamond (Me Talk Pretty One Day, 132-141) by David Sedaris, Los Angeles Notebook (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 217-224) by Joan Didion and Ain’t No Middle Class (Literary Nonfiction, 269-289) by Susan Sheehan.

For the most part, this is about what I liked and disliked about these four essays as well as what they have taught me about myself as a reader and, in turn, as a writer.

I want to start by saying the more I read creative nonfiction, the more my tastes change. That said; even when I think he’s full of sh*t, my favorite essays (and the ones I find most memorable) week after week have been those written by Sedaris. He keeps my attention through and through. And there’s just something awesome about that! Plus, he keeps me laughing and thinking, too. The things I consistently like best about his essays are his quick pacing, his approach to conflict and the way he builds tension and, of course, his humor. I struggle at times with the authenticity of his characters and the believability of his stories. While I don’t always truly believe that what he’s writing is true, his essays are certainly fun to read.
For the most part, I found his stories this week believable. That was a plus. But above that, I found them and his parts in them gritty and realistic. They felt like real life to me—stories I could relate to in many ways. In both The Learning Curve and Shiner like a Diamond, Sedaris invites us into a personal side of himself and he shows and tells us more than what “normal” people would dare show and tell. He sets aside any sort of pretense or shield one might have when discussing our views of ourselves and our families and puts it all out on the table, so to speak, for everyone to see and pass judgments. I truly respect that. I mean, who of us wants to share and air our personal lives or our family’s dirty laundry and secrets like that? The private nature of his stories and the issues he reveals create a natural tension and sense of conflict.

In The Learning Curve, Sedaris throws his resume, intelligence and skills (or lack of skills) on the table and then points out the exaggerations and little white lies. I love the way he makes fun of himself while playfully discussing his first experience as a teacher and his thoughts about writing workshops in general. He’s like a blurter on a date or during a job interview—the guy who tells you way more than what you needed to know! While most people, and writers in particular, tend to censor themselves and/or withhold something, showing just what their inner PR person wants the world to see, Sedaris, is seemingly unconcerned by TMI protocol and unaffected by his own fears, oddities or issues. He doesn’t seem to care what others might think or say; he just puts it all out there and lets the experience speak for itself. He lets us decide what’s weird, embarrassing and/or shameful. The fact that he’s not embarrassed to reveal such things makes him charming, I think, and his point of view personable and it’s what makes me feel connected to him and really love reading his essays. I want to know what else he’ll reveal and even more than the content I want to know how he’ll reveal it. It’s safe to say it’ll always be with some level of humor, but there are varying degrees of emotion and sentimentality there, too.

In A Shiner like a Diamond, Sedaris takes his lack of shame a step further by throwing his family into the ring, too, and at times his father under the bus, when he tells us how his father negatively views women and how he even disrespects his own daughters. There were moments when the story got so awkwardly personal that I felt uncomfortable. It was sort of like being invited over to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving and learning his or her parents are racists. In the moment, you might want to run away but you feel tied to the table by the awkwardness of the moment’s revelation but also because of your own insatiable curiosity. While reading this story, I felt like I was being told secrets I had no business knowing but I couldn’t stop reading. I wanted to know more about Sedaris’s dad and I was curious to see what else Sedaris would reveal.

On the other hand, while I previously enjoyed reading her essays, Joan Didion’s writing has become painful for me. Her pretentious tone grates at me now and, while I had been enjoying her sort of disconnected “I don’t take sides” journalistic point of view, those same qualities have caused me to lose interest in her altogether. Her writing feels cold and at times heartless to me and as a reader I want and need more emotion from her. Her lack of emotion translates to an overall lack of interest and connection in me. There are moments when she doesn’t seem invested in what she’s reporting (it feels more like reporting than writing) about and if she’s not invested in it, then why should I be?

This week, I struggled to get through each of the three choices written by her (Where the Kissing Never Stops, Notes from a Native Daughter, Los Angeles Notebook). Though I struggled with all three, Los Angeles Notebook was the least painful for me (and it’s not lost on me that it was also the shortest in page length). But there was also something more easygoing and comfortable about the tone of Los Angeles Notebook. And while it still felt more like a news story than an essay to me, it also felt more conversational and personal than the other two.

Finally, and this has been the case week after week, there’s always been one diamond in the rough essay that grabs my attention and manages to keep it from start to finish while really touching my soul in some profound way. Last week, for example, that essay was Absences by James Conaway. I felt a personal connection to that one. This week it’s Ain’t No Middle Class by Susan Sheehan. I just loved this essay! It’s not the sort of story that needs bells and whistles to get my attention, nor does it need to fit a mold or tickle my funny bone to make me like it and want to keep reading. The content and writing go beyond all that and the story resonated with me because it’s its own. What I found truly interesting about my experience reading this story is that the essay came wielding a lot of statistics and numbers. There was even a point in it when Sheehan broke the Mertens’ budget down to the final penny. Typically that sort of thing would’ve bored me to pieces and yet this time it pulled me in. Sheehan quickly established and carefully built empathy for the Mertens. The characters felt genuine and they gave the story depth. It felt important to me and it was impossible not to care about these people—these people with real problems. It’s a really good story about real life told in an authentic way. That’s all.
Deciding (if you’d consider it a decision, really) that I like or dislike a story is easy. We like what we like, right? Determining the reasons why I liked or disliked something isn’t quite as easy but it’s not exactly the world’s biggest challenge either. The real challenge takes place for me when I, as a writer, try to break down those stories, those I liked and/or disliked, and then attempt to extract lessons from them for my own writing.

But here goes…

I’ve learned a lot from these four stories and perhaps more so from these writers. From Sedaris, I’ve learned that as a writer I want to be funny when the story calls for it but still personable and engaging. I shouldn’t sacrifice the story at the expense of any one joke or lesson. In Cliché Land they call that “cutting off your nose to spite your face” and that’s never a good plan. I’ve learned that while a reader’s attention is easy to grab, it’s also easy to lose. And while it’s possible to eventually regain a reader’s lost attention, it’s unlikely to regain their faith in the story and in me as the storyteller. From Didion, I’ve learned that it’s important to find that fine line between showing and telling without seeming and sounding pretentious, cold or unaffected. And from Sheehan, I’ve learned that if I want my story to be that diamond in the rough—the one that grabs and keeps the reader’s attention from start to finish—then I need to connect in a real way while telling a story that needs to be told. At the end of the day, it’s not about bells or whistles. It’s about how our stories and characters affect the people who read them.

It sounds so simple, but as writers we all know it’s not simple at all.

Works Cited:
Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2001.
Sims, Patsy. Literary Nonfiction. New York: Oxford, 2002.

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.

Autumn Alarm Clock (revised as an aubade quatrain)

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Autumn Alarm Clock (Original):
Mother tapped on my window this morning
Seizing my skin with her breeze and my mind
With the click-clack of leaves falling from trees
Still I squeezed my pillow in denial
My eyes holding on tightly to slumber
And pressing hard on my subconscious snooze
My loving mother found another way
She sent the rain to trickle and tickle
Sweetly on my subconscious mind with its
Dripdropdrip Dripdropdrip
Autumn sensations replaced with those of
Coffee and cream and delicious caffeine
Suddenly I’m awake.

Autumn Alarm Clock (Revised as an aubade quatrain):
Mother tapped on my window this morning
Seizing my skin with her breeze
And pleasing my ears with the click-clack-
Click of leaves falling from trees

Though I realized you were gone
I still squeezed your pillow in denial
Then pleading to be released
I pressed hard on my mind’s snooze

Nature found another way
She sent the rain to trickle,
Tickle and tease me with its dripdropdrip
Dripdropdrowning out my dreams

Still I refused to believe
In reality without
You beside me I’d rather
Stay here sleeping the day away alone

Finally, Autumn retreats
Her sensations are replaced
By temptations of caffeine, cream and you
I rise to delicious coffee for two.

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.

Haibun and Haiku

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I spread my yellow cotton sheet out onto our lawn’s lush green grass and lay down alone with my laptop. The warm air still smells of last night’s campfire tainted with a faint hint of chlorine. Birds are chirping. Bees are buzzing. This is the perfect spot to write a poem about nature, I think. I look across the street at the young cornfield and wait for my inspiration to come to me.

I feel the sun’s warmth
as deer play in the distance,
zero distractions.

But then braided blond hair bounces by. It belongs to a giggling girl. I look up and watch as she skips through a sea of bubbles, laughing, playing fairy, granting wishes. She spies a butterfly, chases it for a moment but becomes distracted, as easily as me, by a dandelion that has gone to seed and so she pauses to make a wish of her own. I lean in and listen.

She wishes for cake
with candles. Ah, more wishes.
Mother like daughter.

She spins off and I smile and look away. I try again to write this poem. “Watch me, Mommy,” she shouts and I turn back again just as she scoots her bottom onto the swing. Then she watches me to make sure I’m watching her. I smile to reassure her. She holds on tight and launches.

Swinging on a swing,
higher and higher she goes,
toes tickling clouds.

As she looks up, I do too. I see the cotton candy blue sky above us with its big puffy white billowing clouds. They pass ethereally. Maybe they’re my inspiration. They glide by and by and as I relax into the moment my mind decides to go with them.

Floating on a cloud,
looking down, the world drifts by,
but only a dream.

The sound of sneakers on gravel brings me back to my blanket. I rub my eyes and then stare back down at the glare on the blank screen. This assignment is due soon and I feel I must focus on being inspired. I need to force this poem out of me. Just then the reflection of the sun’s rays barely stings my eyes, just enough to inspire me in a different direction.

I look away again and see Lyla at the top of the slide.

“Arr, I’m a pirate!”
Sharks are surrounding the ship.
This haiku can wait.