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I selected these comments about Sandor, Doerr, Gibbons, Merrill, Ozment, and Yakich from our 4-G book because these stories helped me discover that a Creative Non-fiction short story can be powerful.
I have also included (after this DB posting) my favorite response to a group member on the Group database, because other course members are posting this. I am responding to Priscilla Osborne.
The DB POSTING
These stories made me think about my own life, and the authors we read for this class really made a deep impression on me. I could especially relate to “All Out Effort” by Reginald Gibbons, and “Things That Will Make You Cry...” by Katherine Ozment.
When I read Life Studies by Mark Yakich, I was thrilled to find that he had a website. On his website at
Yakich puts his artwork, along with his writings. Some of his writing has been published in prestigious magazines. I was really impressed. Reading all of these great authors has inspired me to think in a larger way. Perhaps some day I, too, will be a published writer.
My first step will be to self-publish on the internet, and who knows what will happen next? I am excited and feel very positive about what I have learned this semester.
I will be published on the internet now!
Current Forum: GROUP 2
Date: Mon Jan 17 2005 10:08 pm
Author: Hirst Sheppard, Elizabeth <email@example.com>
Subject: Betsy's comments
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Two Articles from In Brief by Judith Kitchen:
Rhapsody in Green
By Marjorie Sandor
I really liked the way this piece jumped around, and the way it used the color green to stand for uniqueness and a psychic, surprising metaphor green as life, green as desire, green as her special sign that things were the way they should be. The author is searching for something she knows is there a restaurant by a train track she has seen this place in her vision. She looks for it but only finds part of the place. The problem was, things in the real world weren’t the way they were pictured in her dreams. She fell in love when she shouldn’t have with someone who wasn’t right for her. This theme haunts her through the article. The author wants to know why things happen in her life. She is always looking for perfection where none exists.
There are clues to what the writer is really talking about her dreams God the mysterious rightness of life that eludes her. She is telling us her story about what is important to her. I believe that the author has a deep sadness for the love that wasn’t right. She wants to find the meaning in her choice and discover why she was so attracted to this love at age 40. Somehow the pieces of her life’s puzzle are so hard to understand. She tries to ask for help in order to discover the meaning of her life. Her therapist laughs at her trivializes the importance of her questions, of her life. She reaches for God, can’t find Him. “I’d asked him if there really was a God. ‘I can’t help you,’ he said mournfully. ‘That green doesn’t exist except in pictures.’”
This story calls forth memories for the reader of times we can’t forget. “Some apparently trivial things appear to contain the sublime,” the author says. Filled with hurt, she consults a psychic, who gives her answers that will become meaningful to her later, then sends her “out into her yard with dazzling uncertainty.” Marjorie Sandor, the author, writes a piece that is becomes deeper with each reading.
Questions for my group: has anyone in the group had this kind of experience where you stop at a moment and know that you will never forget it? And it’s the kind of moment that’s so usual like sitting in a chair and noticing someone’s eyes. You know that at that instant, your mind is sculpting that moment, is engraving it with a laser beam and putting it in another section of your brain? I know it’s happened to me more than once.
Low Tide at Four
By Harriet Doerr
This story carried me to the beach with the writer. A moment in time has been lovingly resurrected for us. The author paints a detailed picture of a day long past with her words and on her canvas. She is in California with her family and loving husband, and brings back the long-gone day by looking at the picture she painted long ago. Like magic, the memories flood back to her when she discovers the painting after it has been stored away.
The best parts? To me, the pictures she gives us of lying on the beach “at compass points like a four-pointed star” under their umbrella. They taste salt in the air. “Small gusts of wind lift the children’s corn-straw hair.” I love the way she furthers the word picture of the family together laying on the sand. “Face down, arms wide, we cling to the revolving earth.” She describes the beach, the other people, the water, and the mood lovingly. The children play in the sand, the parents swim and walk on the beach. It is an idyllic scene. “We are on the sand, a whole family father, mother, a boy and a girl.” This is the writer’s family, and she is the mother, now remembering fifty years later. The mother watches her family and takes part in a leisurely day. “I swim and read again.” The mother watches old Mrs. Winfield who has “survived everything her husband’s death and the death of a child, earthquakes, floods, and fires, surgical operations and dental work, the accidents and occasional arrests of her grandchildren. All these, as well as intervals of a joy so intense it can no longer be remembered.” The reader is transported to the time and place of the story. The time from noon to four o’clock, the time of low tide, passes quickly. The scene is a happy one, of every thing in its place, and everything just feels right.
I think that the author identifies now more with old Mrs. Winfield. Did she paint the picture during their vacation on the same day, or did she recall this day from memory later in an art class?
One Article from In Short by Judith Kitchen:
All Out Effort
By Reginald Gibbons
This story made me cry. The tears just happened, and I was back in time, playing back memories of my own of relationships long gone, of loved ones now dead, of friends I probably will never see again. We were once close, and we loved each other. We thought we would always be together, but something happened and we separated over years and over miles. Sometimes I find myself trying to go back too, but as anyone who’s traveled in the world knows, “you can never go back.” Not really. You can visit the place, you can even live there again, but you are not back in the time you were, with the people you were with. You have moved on, the places have moved on, and the other people have moved on. Sometimes, how we wish we could go back and unsay what was said, undo what was done, knowing what the choices we made cost us. Such a short story this was, but what a story it brought back many memories for me.
It was a short story, but as the author slowly brought his clothing, the radio, the rocker and his other preparations together, the slow rhythm of the piece repeated and became more serious. When the writer was outside, looking in to a room full of people, I was back in Door County, listening to the voices inside the cottage on a warm summer day. My grandparents are long gone, and the times we had will not return. To read of the old person rocking, rocking, trying to bring the old times back, carefully wearing the same clothes they wore long ago, imagining that they could somehow concentrate hard enough to bring a loved one back, struck me. It struck me hard.
Do you see the person crying in this story? I see their eyes shut tight, the eventual realization that the careful preparation did not work, the keen disappointment, and tears. What do you guys think?
Three Brevity Pieces
#1: Two Kinds of Light
by Cheryl Merrill
pis·ca·to·ri·al (psk-tôr-l, -tr-) or pis·ca·to·ry (psk-tôr, -tr)
1. Of or relating to fish or fishing.
2. Involved in or dependent on fishing.
[From Latin pisctrius, from pisctor, fisherman, from piscr, to fish, from piscis, fish.]
Ah! Pisces the Fish! Now I see. I had to look it up.
Good word, piscatorial. Merrill eats almost all things piscatorial. That just grabbed me. What really struck me most of all in this story was the wonderful way Merill grabs the sea and its life and connects with it. She becomes part of the sea, “half fish, half mammal, my brain slowly arises, finds the equilibrium that it needs to survive the light.” She even walks like a sea creature. “I scull about in the dark, testing the edges of my vision.”
We are drawn with her to the garbage can, which is fluorescing with light from a shrimp wrapper. The gelatin that once enveloped shrimp the night before is still alive with living plankton. “The gelatin exhales the cold blue breath of plankton, tiny marooned luminous lives.”
I liked the way she told the reader about kelp stalk pickles and the “dark and dangerous carnivores” of night. Then Merrill takes the sky and the sea and combines them into one luminescent body of water. Plankton become stars and starfish cluster around the planet Venus. “I stare over the sink out the window at Venus, a silver hole in the big, briny sky. Starfish eyes too numerous to count swirl around her.” The sea, and the sky, live another life at night, luminous, shiny, full of movement. She enters into the life of fish when she ends her story “I rise to the day’s surface, gulp air and drag myself ashore.” I think I will try using my flashlight next time I get shrimp. Will you, too?
#2 Things that will make you cry in the first six weeks of your son’s life
by Katherine Ozment
I connected with this piece my daughter was also colicky as an infant as I was, according to my mother. Such great description Ozment describes her son’s shoulder bone as a “small, delicate chicken wing” and her son’s feet are “kicking through an imaginary storm”. It is hard to raise a child who is colicky, who is hard to calm down, who can’t communicate their rage at the world for allowing them to feel but not the ability to communicate in any other way. Some children are just born unhappy they rail out at the world, and at those closest to them. It will be years before the child can be cognizant of this, to know they are loved in spite of everything, of anything. So the parent never gives up, goes on despite the screaming, the head-throwing, the helplessness. They wonder at themselves too, was this really their fault? Did they do something wrong? Ozment holds her child through “hours of colic”, and her back hurts. She has lost a lot of sleep. Her friend has to tell her how to survive. She calls her, a lifebuoy on the phone with a breathy voice.
My memories are of being alone a lot as a baby perhaps my screaming and throwing myself backwards, of drawing back from my mother as this child did made it hard to connect with me. Nobody really knows what makes some children peaceful, content, while others storm and rage and can’t tell what is happening inside. Psychologists now say a baby’s personality is born with them, that babies are born all different, some passive, some violently unhappy, screaming, colicky. I believe these babies, colicky babies, are born with intense feelings, but no way of expressing them except this way. It is only the learning of years that helps these babies, these people, learn to shove the feelings down, contain them, use them creatively.
Yet there are still times of joy, of peace, Ozment shows us. The “baby’s kidney bean body curled tight” on her mother’s chest, “the smell of his skin in the morning, like apples and soap and rain.”
This mother will not give up. She is devoted to and loves her child, through the pain and hardship. The last paragraph of this story becomes is a time warp and the reader sees Ozment’s child grown and walking out the door, starting on his life’s journey. She hopes for this, because her manic-depressive brother killed himself and this is not forgotten. We hope along with you, Ozment. We are well-met.
#3: Life Studies
by Mark Yakich
I greatly enjoyed Yakich’s descriptions of his art classes. Yakich draws each day with a spare hand he collects the most surprising events from each day and shows us the workings of his mind. The days, No. 2, No. 7, 12, and more, go through a college art course and show the funny, surprising events contained in each.
How he draws “I always begin… with the buttocks, then move upward with a small tremor for the spine, and finally plot out the head.” Yakich is a rebel he is supposed to “start with the main scaffold of the body” but chooses his own way.
He thinks it’s “rot” the way Anton doesn’t draw women’s nipples. I guess the models are old women. He puts nipples on Anton’s drawing when he’s not looking. He has a hard time understanding what the professor is saying. “Even Matisse couldn’t have eaten a Cezanne apple. That sounds so beautiful, but what does it mean?” The group in the art class discusses which fruit is the sexiest. They try to understand each other, and come close, but still the professor refuses to really enter into the conversation, “The Professor broke in, Can we back away from the clichés for a while and really think people!” I wonder… was that “Let’s really think PEOPLE…” or, “Let’s really THINK, people…” Big difference.
Yakich surprised me when he didn’t understand some events the reader could understand, but the artist could not. I wonder if this was on purpose. Yakich the art student points out everything that doesn’t ring with the clarity of truth but he doesn’t always get the joke. “Everyone laughed, but I didn’t really get it,” Yakich said.
I went to see Yakich’s website at Markyakich.com. He has his art drawings here! And poetry, which has been published also in Poetry Daily, the Chicago Tribune, and the Harvard Review. I read a couple “Recipe for Love” and part of the Harvard Review piece. Something tells me I’m going back there soon.
This article makes me want to put poetry out on the web and/or send it in for publication. How about you other poets in our group?
I chose this Group posting response because the reading of Jocelyn Bartkevicius. “The Stranger” really spoke to me. I have been trying to find out about my heritage, and recently I found out that I might not be part Native American, as I always thought I had been. I was very disappointed when I found out, and still plan to research and find out if it is still true, (despite not having any evidence after all...). This news made me think about myself differently, and it affected me in an emotional way. It was as though I was a stranger now, to myself.
I also have always been interested in the differences between men and women how much difference is there from birth, and how much is taught?
Here is my response to Priscilla Osborne (writing about “The Stranger”) on our Group posting area:
Current Forum: GROUP
Date: Sun Jan 30 2005
Author: Hirst Sheppard, Elizabeth <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Bartkevicius: recording emotion
In your writing about “The Landscape of Creative Nonfiction” by Jocelyn Bartkevicius you said that the writer is recording emotion when they write CNF.
That is such a great point! Emotion DOES happen and is part of human interaction. I'm so glad you said this. It explains a lot about CNF and puts it down perfectly.
I wonder if female writers do a better job of recording emotion (nature vs. nurture...) or if some male writers can learn this. The literature about this I'm reading lately suggests that maybe men and women are more alike than scientists and researchers first thought. I don't know. Women DO tend to dissect things like events more thoroughly - and men tend to just "go on" and make a decision to forget about a painful incident after a short period of reflection about some things.
I know I've been told to "let it go" when I try to go to an event again and again, looping it through my memory too many times to see if there was something I may have missed, trying to understand what happened. I sometimes go too far in that direction. Looking at something upsetting too many times can be bad for your emotional health. When I was laid off from my longtime job (ahead of others who were hired later!) I couldn't stop thinking about it for a long time. I played days, events, conversations, over and over in my mind. I tried to figure it out.
I should have written my thoughts down!
I know I read something lately about writing things down - it's healthy for people, it helps them emotionally get through upsetting events.
This article tells about the health benefits of journalling (which I think extends to all CNF). I'll bet WRITING of all kinds is healthy.
I think a spiritual journal would be a good idea too.
My gut tells me that both men and women can access their emotional side.
There have been great male writers who can describe their angst, their fears, their joys in great detail. These are the writers who can't "let it go".
Maybe that's part of being a "real" writer - we NEVER let it go, but writing about it helps.