Short Story: “Regret”

This story was one of those assignments which only really good music could get me through.  The late nights of drafting and editing, and re-editing again was hard, but rewarding in the end.  The music gave me inspiration for my plot and characters, and I definitely worked at a better pace with some tunes.  Music gave me hope to finish this assignment, as with others, and I hope that shines through.

Originally, I started writing this paper through the eyes of a jaded rockstar’s son, but decided it wasn’t really going anywhere. So, the day Tim told us to write based on a photograph, I became inspired.  The black and white photograph was of four black kids, innocently playing on a blacktop. From there, I wrote about Ricky and Ray, two best friends from Brooklyn.  Ray, the narrator, starts out by reciting the eulogy at Ricky’s funeral. He is reminiscent of when Ray told him he was gay. The story jumps at different moments in their lives.

This was a really difficult topic to write about because I wasn’t sure how to give it a substantial plot and make it interesting enough for a reader to continue reading after the first page. I took a lot of inspiration from Richard Ford’s Optimists because it is written in the form of a memory.  I admired Ford’s use of bluntness and assertiveness in his story, which I wanted to incorporate into my story.

So ladies and gentlemen of English 223, I present to you Regret.

Short Story

Also, here are some of the songs I listened to on repeat for about a week:

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Reconstructed Art Project

Joshua Bennet: learn that name because one day, he will change the world.  Last spring, Bennet, a spoken word artist, visited my high school, and completely changed my idea of what poetry is.  His passion, rhythm, messages, and rhymes make his poetry stand out amongst the rest.  He is currently earning his PhD in English at Princeton (he’s a smart cookie).

He read a poem called  “10 Things I Want To Say To A Black Woman”, and it was a chilling experience.  My creative writing in teacher had us then write our own 10 things.  This poem hits extremely close to home, and I remember the first time I read it, it was really emotionally taxing.

I chose to reinterpret this poem in dance form because dance is my true passion, and what better way to converse one art form with another (duh).  Currently, I’m having some technical issues so apologies for not having the video in this particular post, but hopefully, it will be up soon.

Meanwhile, PLEASE take a look at Joshua Bennett’s videos, he is a poetic genius.  Also, the transcript of my poem is attached.

10 Things I Want to Say to Fathers Who Have Cheated on Their Wives

1)    Admit to it.  The denial trapped in your throat, begging, pleading, striving to become free, has had enough.  It is sick and tired of being imprisoned, of being trapped; so that when the truth finally does slip, it slips like soil after a rainstorm, honest and rocky,

2)    You are smart.  In fact, one of the smartest people I know.  Your knowledge is like the depth of the ocean.  Somehow, it seems like it can last forever and ever.  But what happens when the horizon stops?  When you cannot see the other side?  I can’t help but think that that’s starting to happen.  You think that the land on the other end is becoming more visible; greener, plusher, fresher.  No.  Just the opposite: brown, dry, rotten.  You’ve become a horizon that falls short, disappoints.

3)    Apologize.  It does not matter if she or anyone else forgives you.  Just say you’re sorry.

4)    You were the love of her life.  The one she would go back in time to marry over and over again, press rewind a hundred time to see the picture, hear the laughter.  Never did she imagine you would ever press stop and record over that tape.

5)    Why don’t you call me?  Why can’t you find the strength to even try?  Once a month, barely at that, is NOT enough.  If you really wanted to make an effort in uncovering the severely wounded scars, you would unglue your tired eyes from your second life and dial.  Even if I do not answer, talk.  About you, about me, about the weather.  About whatever.  Talk.

6)    Share the wealth.  There is only one of you, I understand, but when you are here, please, at least make an effort to detach yourself from the woman who tore my family apart.  It’s the least you could do.

7)    Be nice to your ex.  She was the one who raised me.

8)    Take a closer look at what you’ve left behind.  Yes, you can call yourself my father, but in no way would I ever consider you my dad.  My awkward tween years when I decided to cut my own bangs, the parent-teacher conferences that you’ve put off for my entire academic career.  They’re gone.  Those moments are gone, fluttering in the wind where they cease to continue.  You have missed them and it’s too late now.

9)    Remember your past; where you came from; who you were, are, will become.  Remember that I am still your baby, even though I know I can’t compete with the real one you have now; remember that I used to always take your side.

10) I will still love you, no matter how dumb your decisions may be.

 

“It’s a Poem Because I Said So” Literary Event (4/9/12)

Let’s be real, what college student doesn’t love free Pizza House, soda, and t-shirts?  If you answered absolutely no one, you would be correct.  The wafts of greasy cheese and pops of fresh soda cans was enough to lure hungry, poor students in from slaving away on Facebook…I mean, exams…

For my literary event, I chose to attend a poetry reading (snaps for April being Poetry Month) at Hatcher Graduate Library, sponsored by MLibrary. Albite a quick event, I did indeed learn a lot from the speakers, Linda Gregerson, Laura Kasischke, Van Jordan Benjamin Paloff, namely poet and University of Michigan professor, Cody Walker.

In 2008, Walker published a book of poems entitled Shuffle and Breakdown, from which he shared some of his favorites.  Prior to reading, Walker talked about his confusion of why April is poetry month because after all, it’s a little “scary”.  With Passover and Easter taking over the majority of the month, both holidays in which observants restrict certain food items or recognize the killing of a the Savior Jesus Christ, Walker remarked that he was unsure of whether April was the “right” month for poetry.  He then continued in jolly fashion to read his poems aloud.  He started with the poem “Art of Poetry”, a political satire about American leaders.  One of my favorite lines from that poem was “If I ever say even in my sleep…murder me with paper cuts”.  His crude, yet clever humor, which is a main asset of the majority of his work, is one of the most appealing factors.  At least, it drew me in.  I actually understood a lot of the messages in his poems, like the one about his teenage daughter, Zia, he recites: “Mistakes our Zia for Veronica Lake”.  For those who know who Veronica Lake is, you may understand the reference, but for those who don’t, here’s a visual:

Get the idea?

I really enjoyed listening to Walker recite his poetry.  His precise comedic timing and spot-on cultural and political references were for sure entertaining, but they were also enlightening.  I hope to listen in on more poetry readings in the future — definitely worth the sit…and free pizza.

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Some 6 Word Memoirs

I guess she looks like you.

Doctor, lawyer, executive, scientist, engineer.  Artist?

Dunkin’ Donuts defines where I’m from.

Pedicures aren’t even worth the money.

Must love being lazy.  Can cook.

Not a village, just a mother.

Hook, line, and drown, motherfuckers.

Forever the backseat driver.  Won’t change.

Craft Essay

Half-Full or Otherwise

Who are optimists?  Think about it.  Think about your closest friends; yourself.  Do you look at the glass half-full or vice versa?  Probably most of us would like to think of ourselves as happy, invested beings, but really how can someone be happy all the time?  There must be times when somebody cracks and lets out his anger.  In Richard Ford’s Optimists, Frank, the narrator, witnesses his father crack.  We go on a journey with Frank through about fifteen years of dread and separation from his parents based on one tragic event.

In Ford’s first sentence, probably the most compelling of the whole story, he draws the reader in to want to continue reading.  His use of perspective captures the innocence of a young boy who has just witnessed a tragedy, and enables the reader to be carried along with him on this discovery.  In Ford’s first sentence, “All of this that I am about to tell happened when I was only fifteen years old, in 1959, the year my parents were divorced, the year when my father killed a man and went to prison for it, the year I left home and school, told a lie about my age to fool the Army, and then did not come back (171).  Ford goes right to the point in explaining everything that we are about to read; I felt like I was having a conversation with him.  Frankly, I enjoyed that Ford decided to have his narrator “confess” his happenings because it was concise and a bit ironic that he was so honest with us despite the actions of his father.  By listing the setting and the key plot points, I felt like I had a special insight to the story, “scoop”, if you will from Frank, the narrator. His voice was clear from the beginning.

Through Frank’s youthful, innocent eyes, his father looks like a maniacal creature when he arrives home from work with “his fists…clenched white, as if there was no blood in them at all (175).  Frank’s background observations are interesting for the reader because it shows us how a teenage boy sees his father at a vulnerable and intense moment.

Maybe it is the year this story takes place, but I really enjoyed how perfect Frank’s mother made everything out to be — the ultimate stepford.  But what is most intriguing is what lies beneath the façade, and when tragedy strikes, the length she goes to protect that image.  The journey Ford puts her through, from married to divorced; to reuniting with her child makes me have some empathy for her.  Although I cannot admit to fully forgiving her for not trying to make a connection with her child who ran away or implying a relationship with the man her husband murdered, I can rest with the thought that she and her son got to see each other, if only for a brief moment.  That scene was intriguing because it flash-forwarded about thirty years later to a point when Frank’s mother seemed to have moved on.  I can only imagine the unavoidable awkwardness between an estranged mother and son, and what they would even have to talk about.  Ford portrays it really well by writing, “[She] held me for a moment that seemed like a long time before she turned away, finally, and left me there alone” (191).  It seems like that is what Frank really wanted: to be alone; to not have to deal with all the complications of his family’s life, all because of his father’s horrible mistake. But by Frank’s mother implying that she was, in fact, in love with Boyd Mitchell, the man her husband had killed, she leaves her son in abandonment.

I think my favorite part about this whole story is Ford’s use of time.  From directly saying the year, to the month (November), to the actual scene of the crime when Ford writes, ”All this had taken only five minutes” (181).  His ability to expand time is effortless, and gives the reader a full sense of Frank’s perspective of his family throughout years.  An interesting, introspective line from Ford about the passing of time:

The most important things of your life can change so suddenly, so unrecoverably, that you can forget even the most important of them and their connections, you are so taken up by the chanciness of all that’s happened and by all that could and will happen next…When you’re young, these things seem unforgettable and at the heart of everything.  (187)

A daunting task to travel through a significant amount of time in fiction, a writer like Ford is truly successful. Optimists  “works” in many ways, giving the reader plenty to grasp, characters to connect to, and lessons to be learned.

Short Story — Works In Progress

I’ve decided to change my story completely because my old story just wasn’t going anywhere interesting.  So, the new draft of the story is in the “Works in Progress” page above.

Thanks!

Response to “The Swimmer” by John Cheever

John Cheever does an excellent job giving the reader a thorough and accurate description of a man, Neddy Merrill, going through his mid-life crisis.  Initially, I was confused as to his task of swimming across the pools of America, but as the story continues, I realized that at each location, he discovers something about himself, as well as about his neighbors.

In the beginning of this story, Cheever writes, “…he had slid down his banister that morning and given the bronze backside of Aphrodite on the hall table a smack” (279) — clear signs of man longing for his youth.  His desperate call for “the good old days” is loudly described by Cheever as “the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny…” (280), a feeling that any proud man would want to have, even if the task is swimming in a couple of residential pools.

One of my favorite lines in this story is “Prosperous men and women gathered by the sapphire-colored waters while caterer’s men in white coats passed them cold gin” (280) because I can just imagine the gorgeous ripples of water on a hot summer day, and the luxuriousness of this high-society neighborhood.  However, Cheever is explicitly clear about the vast journey that Neddy intends to make.

I felt that each pool Neddy traveled through gave him a piece of himself that he was missing.  For example, when he passes through the Hallorans’ pool, the nudist pool, he complies and strips to birthday suit.  I found myself smiling at this point because of the shyness he exudes, yet in his mind he is still a pilgrim, an explorer and a man with a destiny.

By the last house he visits, he finds himself locked out.  It is his own.

Response to “What The?” by J.S. Foer

I was really excited to read this story because I had heard great things about the movie that was released earlier this year (I know, you’re supposed to read and like the book first before the movie).  Just from the trailer alone I had chills.  So, when I started to read the first chapter, I was slightly confused as to why this book began with a kid spurting random thoughts, albeit enjoyable, still very random.  As I read on I noticed that Oskar had to have been one of the most interesting characters I’ve read about in a while.  His wit and quickness are captivating for an 11-year-old boy and the charm he exudes is almost comical.

For this post, I would like to specifically point out the mention of Oskar’s father in this story.  Foer did such a fantastic job weaving him into the beginning and introducing his relationship with his son.  There was one passage that struck me most:

Dad always used to tuck me in, and he’d tell the greatest stories, and we’d read the New York Times together, and sometimes he’d whistle “I Am the Walrus,” because that was his favorite song, even though he couldn’t explain what it meant, which frustrated me.  One thing that was so great was how he could find a mistake in every single article we looked at.  Sometimes they were grammar mistakes, sometimes they were mistakes with geography or facts, and sometimes the article just didn’t tell the whole story.  I loved having a dad who was smarter than the New York Timesand I loved how my cheek could feel the hairs on his chest through his T-shirt, and how he always smelled like shaving, even at the end of the day.  Being with him made my brain quiet.  I didn’t have to invent a thing.  (12)

To me, this passage stood out probably because of its frankness, Oskar’s vulnerability, and the sheer memory of a child and his father. Maybe it struck a personal nerve because of my own relationship with my father, but this passage reminded me of why a father-son relationship is so special.

Also, I’m not sure if this is just me, but I’m definitely starting to sense a theme throughout a lot of our readings of father/child relationships — the struggles, the bonding, and the general dynamic.  “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face”, “Milk”, and “Why the Sky Turns Red” all have interesting and complicated relationships in them, which definitely put this one in perspective.  Personally, Foer gives the truest relationship between a father and his son, and hits the reader (or at least me) emotionally.

Response to “Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down” by Ryan Harty

When I first sat down to read this story, I was less than interested.  It sounded like a high schooler had written it and had no intrigue personally.  I was so confused as to what was actually happening and why Harty chose to make everything so vague and a tad cliché (“It’s our neighbor…who tells me in a breathless voice that my son had a problem” — how many times have we heard a writer say this?).  I shoved this imperfection aside and continued reading, catching myself once or twice rolling my eyes.  It was not until Harty wrote, “I brush his bangs from his forehead, roll him to his back, and slip a hand under his T-shirt, feeling for the power button.  I give it a push” (157), that I started paying attention.  The shock of pushing a button on a young boy was so confusing that I forced myself to re-read the paragraphs leading up to that in case I had missed something important.  “For one thing, your arm’s come off” (157)…WHAT?  I felt like I was reading a comic book for a brief moment because from that point on, the imagery was so vivid and precise, I couldn’t help but become fascinated by Harty’s attention to detail.

I was not particularly a fan of the way Harty incorporated Dana, Mike the narrator’s wife, into the story.  I felt she had little purpose, and frankly, threw my understanding of the reading for a loop.  Perhaps that was the goal of the character:  to make me dislike her so much, feel no empathy for her, and focus solely on Mike and his robot son, Cole.  It was helpful though for Harty to mention that she was an attorney because I visualized a shark-like character, dressed in all black and constantly frowning.

It was interesting that Harty did not reveal what a “D3” was until five pages into the story.  At first, I was confused as to what D3: The Mighty Ducks had to do with this story about robotic children, but nevertheless, the clarification was quite helpful.  Although the importance of this explanation was valid, I kept questioning why the children were robotic and the parents were not: was it a generational thing?  Had the women become unable to conceive?  I would definitely be interested in a prequel to this story because it was confusing otherwise, or just poorly explained.

My “favorite” (I’m not sure if this actually qualifies as a favorite part considering this child is having a MAJOR freak-out moment) part that Harty writes is when “[Cole] raises his head, but his eyes veer in different directions.  His jaw makes a clicking noise.  Then he suddenly raises his head high and brings it down with a violent crack against the table” (163).  It sounds, or looks, like it should be in slow motion.  The tension has been built tremendously high to a point where all this kid can do is fall and breakdown.  I question what is actually making him fall apart (the visit to hospital seemed kind of redundant to this issue): is it stress related or just mechanical?

Harty wraps up this twisted science fiction piece by an “I’m-a-real-boy!” moment when Cole and his father are playing a simple, bonding game of catch, when Cole asks him “what’s going to happen” (172).  Instead of telling the harsh truth, which I thought would be the road Harty would take, he chickens out, and covers up the truth by saying, “Don’t worry, kid.  You’ll be great” (172).  For me, this really ruined the tension that was built throughout this whole piece, pulling it down to an anti-climactic falling action.  I wish the father would have been more blunt because it might have made his character more complex and would have introduced the harshness of his and his son’s reality.

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Response to “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” by Tom Perrotta

Stories like this always make me question family values.  What true significance do they even have if patriarch characters like Jack, Carl, and Happy cannot abide by them?  It saddens me to read of fathers taking advantage of their children and throwing away true, meaningful relationships. It seems like they are wasting away their family lives and taking them for granted.  Perrotta is successful at giving the reader a pure sense of anger and frustration when he writes about the fathers and their common characteristics.

At first glance, the reader learns a lot about the main character, Jack, a pessimistic baseball umpire, whose cynical attitude barely fades until the end of the story.  In the very first sentence, Perrotta writes that “[Jack] wanted them to lose”.  Who says that?!  A grown man who barely has any affiliations with these kids except to judge whether the pitcher’s throw is a ball or strike is hoping for their devastation.  Doesn’t that seem a little sad to you?  As we read on, we learn of Jack’s own family issues, specifically with his flamboyant son and his desires to dance and sing rather than catch and throw, like his father.

Like most men, I’d wanted a son who reminded me of myself as a kid, a boy who lived for sports, collected baseball cards, and hung pennants on his bedroom walls.  I wanted a son who played tackle football down at the schoolyard with the other neighborhood kids and came home with ripped pants and skinned knees.  I wanted a son I could take to the ballpark and play catch with in the backyard. (9)

I couldn’t help but single this paragraph out from the rest of the story because even though it doesn’t have much to do with the plot, I found that it showed a lot of character development, not just in Jack but in a lot of fathers.  I like how Perrotta writes “like most men…” because it makes us question why he didn’t just write “like all men except the flaming gay couples who want to raise their son on a Broadway stage…”.  It harshly stereotypes Jack with this man who is everything sports, beer, and women, rather than a sensitive man who develops some empathy with his only son, “an artistic, dreamy kid with long eyelashes and delicate features”. So, when he mentions Lori Chang and her “strategy, potent combination of control, misdirection, patience, and outright intimidation”, possibly characteristics he wished his son could have, it raises his true desires to have a son like Lori.  Jack’s admiration for Lori Chang is almost pathetic because honestly, it is just absurd and gross to have a crush on a twelve year old girl who also happens to pitch like pro.  But to say the least and to give some credit to Jack surrounding his family morals, he follows his intuition and goes to his son, a move of Perrotta’s that I greatly respected, “I climbed the fence over the ad for the Prima Ballerina School of Dance and left the ballpark”.  Although Jack is a jerk through the majority of the story, in the moment when Lori Chang, his baseball team, and the respect of the other men needed him most, he chose his family. He chose to honor it and protect it like he would on the field.

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