Month: March 2012

“So Dennis, what did you learn in school today?” Episode 2

Two Classes Down

Creative writing class-fine arts center (40269...

“Praise De Lawd!”

The journey continues.  I have just completed the 2nd course of my Certificate  in Creative Writing program: Introduction to Creative Nonfiction, or CNF if you please.

Much praise goes out to the instructor.  I think she did an excellent job, especially in dealing with my whining about the nature of the stories we had to read. I originally was going rate the course an A-, with points taken off for the nature of the stories.  Honestly, some of them were just plain depressing. Visits to graveyards.  Abortions.  Observations on an organ donor’s dead body being kept “alive” while prepping the parts for removal. Unwanted pregnancies. Loved ones dying of cancer.  A teen swimmer drowning. Loved ones dying of Aids. I think it was the third class where I asked her if it was ok if we just read essays by Poe for the rest of the course.

Now I admit, I am unfair here, because I penalized the course for  the negative.  I guess that’s because it seemed like I was reading one “downer” story after another.  Did anybody live happily ever after?    At first I felt  that the ten percent “bummer”  stories stole something from the total enjoyment, and that bothered me.  No A+ from my red pencil. I’m a predominantly positive person, so reading those stories really left me feeling kind of bummed out.  However, I also gained some knowledge about this form of writing, and gained a bit more knowledge of the writing style that’s closer to my heart  as well… as undeveloped as my style  is!  Also, my instructor correctly pointed me to look beyond the content and detect the structure.  But an even more compelling reason to give it my full A rating is that it’s totally unfair and absolutely wrong of me to brush off someone else’s pain and sadness.  This genre contains stories that are open wounds laid out for public consumption, and the authors should at least get an encouraging pat on the back.  Key word here: nonfiction.  Real pain.  Real suffering.  Real impact on the authors’ life.  Life is not always happily ever after.

On the other hand, the 90% was GREAT!!!  My concentration is in Creative Nonfiction Writing.  So, exactly what is this form of writing?  Lots of definitions given by lots of writers and critics, often in lengthy, no make that very lengthy  discourse.  Allow me to give my version, in shorter form.

“My Humble Attempt to Define Creative Nonfiction”

First look at the “nonfiction” part of the name.  It’s exactly what it means.  It’s based on something that is or was real… it really happened, it really existed, you really were scared by this, you really were scarred by this.  If I’m writing a memoir or a personal essay it’s a real event from my life.  Note: it’s just centered on one event, one experience, one memory.   Creative Nonfiction is not an autobiography, it’s examining one event, a slice of one’s life, and in particular a life-changing/affecting moment.  The concept is couched in “self-discovery” – I take you, the reader, along with me on my personal journey of discovery about this story, and if we end up in a different frame of mind or a different place from where we started, fine!  I should write to make you enjoy the ride.

The “Nonfiction” Part:  Discovering You Through An Event, or Person, in Your Life

The stories I’ve read covered the gamut of topics in this genre: stories of the time spent in a clinic with a loved one dying of cancer.  Reminiscing about going for the first time to your ancestral German city with your Jewish father, who fled there as a child as Hitler began his insanity, and discovering how it shaped your father and subsequently your relationship with him.  Growing up in a Puerto Rican community in New York, condensed into a simple story of watching an old home movie of a family party, remembering the faces there and then spinning out to episodes about each member, and then spinning back into the party with the sights and sound and smells of the meals and the music and joy in that gathering.  Taking your one year old son hiking up to a mountaintop in a baby backpack, moving through the clouds and fog, and sharing the joy in that experience.

The “Creative” Part:  Painting Word Pictures, Evoking Feelings With Words

The story, “Cloud Crossing” by Scott Russell Sanders, who wrote the story of taking his one year old son up to the mountains, contains one of the best lines I’ve ever read that paints a picture and an emotion with words.

Once I carried Eva outside, in the first spring of her life, and a gust of wind caught her full in the face.  She blinked, and then gazed at the invisible breath as if it were a flight of angels streaming past. Holding her in the crook of my arm that day, I rediscovered wind.”

That, to me, is where the “Creative” part comes in.  The incident, the feeling, really happened.  The creativity is in the telling!  Much classroom discussion on using the words to color:  do you stay inside the lines, or can you go outside them?  After all it’s your story!

The “Nonfiction” Part:  Discovering Others Through You

I mentioned the memoir and personal essay as sub genres of CNF, but they are also joined by two others: what’s called Literary Journalism and Cultural Criticism.  Once again, based on  fact here, in this case it’s not directly about you, but how you see something as you’re involved in it.  The subject is not you, directly.  It’s about a specific public event, a person or a group of people, an occurrence of public interest, a common mood…you get the picture. Think of a story written, by you,  about a 9/11 survivor’s first return to Ground Zero.   That moment should be 75% of your story.  The remaining words are spun out of that moment to cover other things that touch upon the  event (how was America before and after 9/11, how did that person fit into that, etc.)  but they should spin back to that moment.  You either write about the escape from the disaster, or you write about the return to the scene, but only one of these two is the star of the story.  In my mind, if you write about the escape it’s a “report.”  The return is a story. This is the type of writing that appeals to me the most.

Now, This is What I’m Talking About!

Gay Talese has been dubbed the father of this new form of literature, and his article for Esquire Magazine “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” has been cited as the definitive example of CNF writing in just about every thing I read or researched in this course.  It has all of the elements I’ve described.  It’s not a biography about Sinatra, it’s an essay, a profile if you will, of him.  From the introduction in Esquire Magazine:

In the winter of 7965, writer Gay Talese arrived in LosAngeles with an assignment from Esquire to profile Frank Sinatra. The legendary singer was approaching fifty, under the weather, out of softs, and unwilling to be interviewed. So Talese remained in L.A., hoping Sinatra might recover and reconsider, and he began talking to many of the people around Sinatra — his friends, his associates,his family, his countless hangers-on– and observing the man himself wherever he could. The result, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” ran in April 1966 and becameone of the most celebrated magazine sfories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism– a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction. The piece conjures a deeply rich portrait of one of the era’s most guarded figures and tells a larger story about entertainment, celebrity, and America itself.

It’s a damn good article that I thoroughly enjoyed  reading and writing my final class essay about, due in no small part to my interest in the “Rat Pack” already in place.  Then we also read another Talese piece, “High Notes.”  In this one he profiles Tony Bennett  through  observing him in a recording session with Lady Gaga.  That’s right, Lady Gaga.  Talese runs with the stars!  That ain’t a bad way to make a living!  Seriously though, it’s good writing.  It’s detailed, and he goes to great lengths to paint the scene.  You see what he sees.  He describes mannerisms, expressions, clothes, people, how they look, how they act.  Sinatra pulls out a “thick, but clean” wad of bills, and then calmly proceeds to lose six hundred dollars at blackjack.  Notice this difference: I simply said Sinatra calmly lost six hundred dollars.  Talese breaks it down…it was lost over several bets, and Talese details  eachbet, taking you a little deeper into the event.  That’s how I’d like to write.Writer Gay Talese at the Strand Bookstore, New...

So at this time I want to grow up to be like Talese.  I asked my instructor if she can assign me to write a profile on Beyonce and Jay-Z, and I can get to hang  around with them.  One of my classmates pointed out the potential problem with Jay-Z coming downstairs in the middle of the night to get something out of the fridge, and there I  am sitting on the couch jotting down whether he’s wearing Sean Jean label pajamas or his own label, and also asking him what Beyonce’s wearing in bed ’cause that’s all part of  the profile too, you see.

“You can’t call security on me!  I’m writing an essay on ya’ll for my homework!”  he shouted as a  very disturbed Jay-Z activated the alarm system.

Finally, Remember:  Nonfiction = THE TRUTH

While Talese represents the pinnacle of Creative Nonfiction, there exists the Ultimate Bad Example.  Does a  memoir titled “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey ring a bell?  The name Oprah Winfrey familiar?  Yep, he’s the guy that was busted for falsely claiming his material was a true story.  It’s either a memoir (truth) or it’s fiction, and unfortunately it was promoted as the former.  From what I’ve learned, assuming I learned it correctly, the CNF writers and critics are still doing some serious debating on the structure of the genre, particularly  in the area of how memory affects truth.  You can remember your  grandfather telling you about his first prom, but can you  remember the words verbatim, or just the gist of them?  Is it important to remember what he said, and not worry about what he was wearing?  Maybe it matters if you want to convey  his  being a sharp dresser, but if you can’t remember that detail should it stop you?  That’s the debate that’s left, as far as I can tell.  Just don’t make it up  it if he NEVER talked to you about his first prom. Other than that I hope I hope I’ve succeeded in sharing what I’ve learned.



Words: Spoken and Written

Candy Store

Candy Store (Photo credit: Bart Heird)

I’m at a point now where I’m eating every piece of candy I can get my hands on.  So before I get sick I need to step back a little and figure out how to pace myself ! I’m winding down my first set of classes, and am about to tackle the other dream deferred:  Voiceovers.  So it looks like I’ll have to change my current work pattern, but it’s a task I welcome!  I’m living with words,  growing in both the spoken and written form.

That Thing They Say About Life’s a Roller Coaster…

Kirnu, a steel roller coaster in Linnanmäki. S...

Ups and downs.  Peaks and valley’s.  Good days, bad days.  Yep, it’s a roller coaster all right.  No matter how much planning you do, life still has a way of dropping  something into your river, so your current either goes around it or over it but it is affected by it.  I am easily frustrated  (ok, too easily frustrated) by a succession of trials.  What’s  the adage… “death comes in three’s?” I kind of lose it when one hurdle follows another hurdle.  Oh  I deal with it, but I don’t like it, and there’s quite a few times I don’t handle  it well.  “First time is an accident.  Second time’s a coincidence.  Third time… it’s on!”  Give me  a minute to curse the garbage someone threw into my river (and a few choice words for the perpetrator  as well) and then I’m on to the task of cleaning it up.  Last few weekends were hijacked by my wrist and by something called Spring yard work.  Add to that I had to spend serious coin on a repair bill yesterday and then again today for another job (back to back… teeth on edge here) and my waters are seriously troubled.  This thing about wanting to control what happens…

As I keep reminding  myself I’ve already done enough bitching in the written word,  cussed out the AC and the sprinkler system very loudly in the spoken word  as I wrote the checks, I thought of a scene from one of my favorite movies, “Smokin’ Aces,” that can provide the image of the words.

If you haven’t seen the movie, the scene involves a bounty hunter who survived a shooting by a team of assassins looking for the same man. He’s found one of them.  I’m in that scene, as I’ve got my left wrist all wrapped up, and some of my plans have taken a few shots.  Love what the assassin says about “Fate”, but not to worry – I’d never shoot my way to a resolution, nor am I that pessimistic !!!  I’ve got deep roots on my spiritual side, deep enough that I  can enjoy this clip guilt-free about what he says about fate.

Oh, language warning!!!

Smokin’ Aces (10/10) Movie CLIP – The Way of the World (2006) HD

By the way, I think a good actor is one whom you can’t  recognize from movie to movie.  The assassin is Chris Pine, playing one of the Tremor Brothers.  He also starred with Denzel Washington in “Unstoppable” and was Captain Kirk in the latest Star Trek movie.

So, it’s continuing on my journey!  Don’t want to leave the impression it’s all frustration!  Words and music are my anchor, and good friends are my crew mates.  I was only too happy to give up some writing time to go the ACC basketball championship game a few weeks ago, and I’m blessed to get a chance to attend the Elite Eight game this weekend courtesy one of my best friends.  

So those were detours in my journey I had absolutely no problem taking!  I just wish those types could be back-to-back-to-back, but wishing that’s only being human, and what happens, occasionally or back-to-back, is only … life.  All this candy, but I can’t eat it all at one time… bad as I want to!

Have a Blessed Week!!

“So, as I was saying…”

Alright, enough already with this wrist thing!

I feel like I’m so far behind!!!  Writing is NOT a contact sport, so I’ll just man up and get back on track – work on  a couple of posts and redesign this site.  There’s also a neat little software tool I’ve never used before that I want to try to incorporate as well.  Tried practicing it  yesterday but discovered I can’t do it while wearing this wrist splint, plus I need to find documentation on it, unfortunately not provided.  Anyway, it’s added to my task list.

I’m a month into my writing and voiceover classes now and I think I’ve settled into my work pattern.  I’ll do a separate post for that part of my life.  One thing I have discovered is that I can’t deviate from Friday’s being post days, but I want to be careful and not fining myself posting just to be posting.  I’d like to have you, my visitor, come away having discovered something about me, my writing journey, my voiceover quest, everything.  I like what the singer Tony Bennett had to say about constantly practicing his scales everyday, even though he’s in his 80’s:

‘The first day you don’t do the scales, you know. The second day, the musicians know. The third day, the audience knows.”

So I want to be careful and not just post to satisfy my own arbitrary deadline.  I want the slope going up, not a flat line.  I also want to start applying what I’m learning in my writing classes to this blog.  This is my journal, public by my choice, so I  choose to make this the archive of my growth.

Now, for a major vent:

“My cursor is a gremlin, and it’s killing me!”

Cursor crt

I don’t consider myself the best typist, but what’s happening lately with me and the keyboards is draining me absolutely crazy.  When I do get a little roll going I just type away, trying to get all that thought out before it disappears.  I look up at the screen and my words are all over the place.  Let me show you what happened during one of my free writing sessions:

i really enjoy this, and i don’t want to to worry and i don’t w now the cursor has jumped again and this is really driving me crazy really driving me crazy now i am typing in blue satrting here to se where the cursor starts jumping and you can see where my furstration comes in I’m not going to look at hthe screen i am just going to be typing… pleas lord be with all… help all, feeling so good and flying so high please don’t let me fail in this..  and ll i want to do is be happy doinow i see what happened here..i was typing and then i hit backspace and it jumped to this spot!!! so blue was where i was before this crap happenedeng something because ei enjoy it i hope it is not wrong of me to ask this of you i hope you don’t think i’m not staying

The typos I can take, but somehow, someway,  the cursor jumps UP. I know I hit either backspace or return, so why does it jump up?  Of course,slowing down might make a difference, but I want to be in control. I  will tell the cursor where to go and when to go there!!!!  I know where the words are supposed to go!  This is a computer, it operates in bits-per-second, the signals move from the keyboard to the cpu to the screen at the speed of electricity, so it should be able to keep up with me!
filedesc in auto-corection and I’ve had to revamp a lot of paragraphs!!  That’s a feature I need to remember to turn off!.  Mis-typing “as well as” becomes “swell”.
And no, I am NOT going to write it on paper first.  See the previous statement about control.  I have to confess one of my instructors did point out that transposing from paper to computer provides an opportunity to edit as you type, and maybe catch something or add something.  Sorry, I want control.  I’ve edited wild cursor movement several times while typing this post, and I think I am taking my time.
There, now I feel better!

Journey Interrupted

CAUTION:  Writing can be hazardous to your health!!

Well, I was not able to post last Friday, the schedule I want to use,  because I developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  I tried to deal with the pain (ignore) all week until finally Friday morning I went to the clinic.  So along with the pills and a wrist splint came the advice to give my wrist a few days rest.   I only gave it about a day and a half.

My New Friend - Wrist Stablizer

My New Friend - Wrist Stablizer (Photo credit: pchow98)

Domino effect: that pushed back any work I planned to do over the weekend on my homework..  One of the things that can really frustrate me is losing a head start.  I can devote  a whole blog post to the time I almost missed a flight due to an accident shutting down  the highway… turning an hour’s grace into a  mad dash through the airport. Next domino:  when I started homework I ended up spending more time than necessary writing because now I’m coming downhill towards the deadline with no brakes.  I lost any chance for a nice, leisurely  pace.

The next domino: crap’s hurting again.  So I’m going  to really stop this weekend, I’ve got homework due Thursday. I see a pattern developing here.

Good news is I’ve got a lot of stuff to talk about out… in my head!  I also really want to apply what I’m learning to this spot as well.  Also, there’s a little gimmick I want to start trying.  And oh yes, I am still having a ball!!!

So I’m looking forward to unloading next week.  I better stop now!!