“Sea Oak” Write Up by Casey Edeiken

Everything that fuels the off kilter nature of the world:

There was a ton of product placement in this story, which I found to be a little off putting; however, in line with Saunders. The product placement and the words used to describe places and things were so simplistic that it clued me into the average consumerism of the people in this world (i.e. the scene where Min and Jade are actually paying attention to the phone sex commercials). Another thing that clued me into the inherent “off-ness” of the world was the morbidity of all the tv shows. Everything they seemed to watch seemed to be something about unlikely, unfair, or untimely deaths. That was really, actually incredibly off putting because what kind of society actually watches this sort of thing? To me that really clued me in that something not only bad was going to happen (foreshadowing of Bernie), but wholistically just how fucked up society had become within this story.

Theme of “nice guys finish last”:

Okay, so this point is best demonstrated through examples:

  1. Bernie: Bernie lived her whole life as a good person and didn’t get anything; in fact, she was so vehemently optimistic that the people in her life didn’t even appreciate her. They complained that she was too optimistic, but when she came back she was a tyrant who actively realized her life had literally amounted to nothing.
  2. The narrator: He’s stuck in a state of poverty with his idiotic family for whatever reason. His state of poverty cannot be improved by him following the rules of his work (no showing his cock, no kissing people) and he’s uncomfortable with breaking those rules, but it’s only when he begins defying those rules that he’s able to adequately provide for the babies and the girls.
  3. Every minor character that is a horrible person has some sort of great reward for their awful demeanor.
    1. Freddie: He’s a gigantic asshole to the kids, but he lives in a sufficiently better neighborhood. He’s also judgemental about the kids.
    2. Len: He’s a total creep that looks down people’s shirts and wants to sleep with his assistants, but he’s better off than the people that work for him.

Literally every good person in this book ends up in a total state of debacle. It’s almost comical how true to the theme everything in this book is.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” Write Up by Grace Lytle


The first lines of Raymond Carver’s story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” are already interesting, since they introduce Mel McGinnis, who is talking. He’s a cardiologist, and so “sometimes that gives him the right.” Straight away, we as the readers are left with the questions: Why does being a cardiologist give him the right to speak, and what is he speaking about?

Anyway, for the next couple of pages, the author introduces the other three characters, who are Laura, Terri, and Nick. Terri is Mel’s second wife, whereas Nick and Laura are newly married. The pairs are talking about love, which is something Mel seems to always have on his mind, according to Terri. Mel talks about love like he’s an expert on it, like it’s a concrete thing he can grasp and master. The entire story is Mel talking with the other three, sharing his personal truths about love, and telling stories relating to this.

I find this story interesting for a number of reasons, the first being that it is so realistic and human. I say that about most things I read, and maybe that’s because I prefer to read things that actually have the possibility of happening. The constant concern for Mel’s sobriety in Terri’s voice and Laura’s bewilderment and Nick’s observant tendencies are all very organic, and I find that incredibly interesting. Another reason I enjoy this story so much is because it isn’t a bunch of teenagers sitting around, drinking illegal alcohol and talking about love. The characters are adults, well into their lives and careers, who know a thing or two about love. Mel is very clearly speaking from experience, and Terri is countering with her own experiences. Finally, the last reason I like this story so much is the small bits of setting and characterization details placed here and there in order to transition scenes. For reference, when the group moves outside after toasting to “true love,” the author writes that the characters “grinned at each other like children who had agreed on something forbidden,” which is a brilliant way to describe them. Another detail I admired that shows the passage of time and the setting of the sun is “the sunshine inside the room was different now, changing, getting thinner.” I didn’t know how to describe the look and feel of late afternoon-early evening light before this, but I find this detail to be ridiculously accurate while also sounding really nice.

While reading this story, I felt sad, simply put. Really, I was upset. I was a mixture of intense negative emotions as I read Mel McGinnis talk about love. By the end, they’re all drunk and depressed, and I felt sort of the same way, minus the actual drinking. I think that the reason I felt this was partly due to the author’s writing style, and partly due to Mel’s beliefs on love. I think that he’s exhausted and morose and he conveys that with what he says, in turn projecting those feelings on the reader.

I’m absolutely going to be imitating styles from this story in my own writing. I adore pieces written like this, mostly dialogue and when there are details, they’re so in-depth and accurate and beautiful. I like the phrases I mentioned earlier, but I also really enjoy the first two lines:

MY friend Mel McGinnis was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right.

This line reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it,” which is another one of my favorite lines. I like the simplicity of lines like this, I like that they say exactly what the story is going to be about in two sentences or even less. I find that I usually drag out what I’m trying to say in opening lines, so lines like this are what I’m going to strive for.

“The Little Girl at the Door” Write Up by Bethany Erickson

In “The Little Girl at the Door” by Joe Mackall, the author recalls a memory of his grandchild while threading in personal narrative and self-reflection. In the story there is a grandfather, the narrator, and he is obsessed with protecting his grandchild from a poor child. The family that the child comes from is not very well to do and lives on very little. Their house “screams of too much activity and not enough care.” The narrator personifies the house by saying it screams. He uses this technique to portray to the reader how alive the house is with too many people. The narrator makes it sound like the house itself is a living, breathing thing that bustles with activity. The reader gets an image of this house as being almost a nasty creature. The fact that the family has poor living conditions irks the man. He seems obsessed with their poverty and doesn’t want his grandchild tainted with it. The reader infers from this information that the narrator is a loving man. He cares for his granddaughter and wants what is best for her. But this information is a double-edged sword. We also pick up that he is slightly racist and prejudiced. It’s up for the reader to decide if this makes him a good man or not. Leaving this question up for the reader to decide makes the story feel like a puzzle. The reader has to figure out the man’s character. This makes the reader feel smart and that they are reading for a purpose. At one point in his life the old man was poor. The narrator explains:

The house is unkept and neglected. The whole place reminds me more than a little of where I grew up.

That’s another reason why he’s so fascinated with his neighbor’s situation. The man knows what it’s like to be poor and in their shoes. We trust the narrator because we know he has been in their situation. This is a very bold statement by the author. There is no metaphor or hidden meaning. His views are very clear to the reader and are laid out in a way as to make the reader know the man’s position quite easily. He describes his grandchild as naïve by saying, “Ellie likes everybody.” He states this almost like a reprimand to Ellie. He wants her to not be so naïve. But he expects this of a child. Ellie is a kid. She is pure and hasn’t experienced the harshness of the world like he has. He is protective of her because of her pureness. He even thinks about what boys would do to his grandchild. The narrator explains,

I imagine the little girl and Ellie walking around the neighborhood in a few years, acting bored, smoking cigarettes, being pursued by boys I know all too well, romantic young boys lured by the hum of dusk, boys bruised by a world they don’t understand, boys eager to bruise back.

The reader learns more about this character because of this wild hypothetical he dreams up. He wants his grandchild to live a life that is trouble free. He understands that if she hangs out with the poor child then she will be led down a road of destruction. The narrator experiences inner turmoil. He wants to protect his granddaughter but also realizes that to assume the worst of the poor child is wrong. The narrator states,

I turn from her gaze, holding tight my anger and fear, but mostly my shame, watching my granddaughter and the little girl at the door run smiling through dappled grass.

The narrator realizes his faults. He tried to hide it, is even ashamed of his hatred. The narrator explains,

I watch her through my reflection in the window, and I see us both clearly—someone to love, someone to fear.

The narrator realizes that he is as much to fear as the poor little girl because of his vile hatred. He is likable because he does have good qualities, such as being kind and loving, but his good qualities are tainted by his prejudice. This major juxtaposition of qualities leaves the reader confused. It is up to them to decide if the man is good or not. The author leaves this decision up to the reader to bring the story open to different interpretations. This causes argument about the story, which makes it interesting and exciting.

“Second Language” Write Up by Eva Kramer

One aspect that I found intriguing in Kristine S. Ervin’s “Second Language” was her form. It’s very broken and choppy as far as how it looks on the page. It begins with the first sentence. You aren’t exactly sure how to read it. It isn’t until you finish the entire story that when you go back to the first sentence it makes sense. As well, she doesn’t use normal punctuation to dictate when someone is speaking, etc., you have to infer from the context.

It looks more poetic than the traditional story format of Non-Fiction. However, it works to her advantage. Because of how it’s presented I found the piece incredibly confusing the first time I read it but I wanted to read it again. It drew me in. So I did, I reread it and reread it until it made sense. Each time I read it I found a new aspect I hadn’t considered the first time. That’s what I find powerful about this piece. She weaves meaning where you might not see it upon first look. Like the significance of the detachment from the word “mommy” or “mom”. She only calls her mom “mother”, which her family hates. But it shows how the detachment is easier for her to deal with. Making the death impersonal is how Ervin survives. And she doesn’t blatantly say that. Sometimes subtlety is the better choice for introducing information to the reader.

“The Death of A Government Clerk” Write Up by Ty Gates


The first paragraph of Anton Chekhov’s “The Death of A Government Clerk” is interesting and unexpected. The language that’s used and the way it’s written gives this casual feeling to it. It almost feels as if the author is just having a conversation with you. It’s an interesting way to set the tone for the story, and I found myself intrigued by the tone the author chose for this story, considering the title. My theory on why the author chose this tone is because it’s strikingly different from what you would expect. The title is foreboding, but the tone is almost joyful and lighthearted. It makes the story sound like a joke.

The plot arc in this story is an odd one. For instance, if we go back to the beginning. The conflict is introduced almost immediately. There is almost no exposition, it just jumps right into the conflict and rising action. I thought the conflict itself was strange. Usually, the conflicts that we would consider “story worthy” are much larger, but this one is pretty much just an awkward moment gone haywire. One thing I thought was odd was how important it was for Ivan to apologize. It was like that was all that mattered in the world. It seems odd, because in our world, one might not even acknowledge that it had happened. I have two ideas. The first is that Ivan will be punished for not apologizing, but when he sees that the general is not in his department, he’s relieved, as if the general can’t touch him for that. The second is that this society is so driven by honor that if Ivan hadn’t apologized, he would be marked. Maybe it is very strict with its rules about when you “splatter” someone. Any theories?

I also think it’s interesting that the author makes almost no effort to tell us anything about Ivan except for the fact that he is sorry for sneezing on the general’s head. It adds to the casual tone and makes the main character seem almost unimportant. Maybe Ivan’s position in the government isn’t important. This would explain the dismissive way the general treats Ivan, as if he’s a lesser member of the government. However, when Ivan realizes that he splattered on the general, he doesn’t explain him as a superior. He doesn’t even show him as an equal. He just is.

The ending is just as striking as the beginning. The way that the author builds up the story makes this accident seem earth-shattering. Ivan tries again and again to apologize to this man, and each time he’s blown off. Every time he gets blown off, Ivan becomes more and more desperate, until the climax when the general tells him to go away. After Ivan has resolved not to write a letter to the general, it ends abruptly. The man goes home and dies. It’s matter of fact and sudden. When the author is talking directly to the reader in the beginning of the piece about the conflict being introduced with “but suddenly,” the reader is lulled into a sense of security. Then the end is the more sudden thing. A sneeze isn’t exactly sudden. You can feel it building up. But the way, or lack of way, that the author explains his death is most definitely sudden.

Something that we can incorporate into our writing is the use of tone to almost play with the reader’s expectations. Using techniques like casually breaking the story to speak to the reader directly can help turn tone in the way the author wants, if done well. It directly sets up a sort of feeling with the story. Along with that, the use of casual language, especially in this piece, can make the story feel like it’s being told word of mouth or even as a joke. I think integrating an acute awareness of our tone and the way we create that can help us steer the story and the reader in the directions we want.

“Miriam” Write Up by Audrey Mills

“Miriam” by Truman Capote (1945)


Let’s start from the beginning. The first paragraph introduces the character of Mrs. H.T. Miller, and establishes her lonely, mundane life. She seems not to have any particular purpose or direction apart from her routine, and has become a shell. Her routine is all that is left of her. When she decides to go see the movie, she is breaking apart from the routine in a spontaneous act, which sparks the horrifying turn her life takes.

There are many references to snow throughout the story, and I have several theories on what it means. It represents her mental state, falling thicker and thicker as tension and conflict build. It is also similar to Miriam, as they both symbolize loneliness and isolation. Miriam even looks like snow, leading me to believe that they are connected. The story is all about escalation: the snow is building, the tension is building, Miriam’s torturous behavior is building, causing Mrs. Miller’s woes to build.

Miriam can be interpreted in many different ways, and each way changes the meaning of everything in the story. She could be the ghost of Miller’s childhood? A part of Miller that she doesn’t want to see? Is she real at all? Is she a figment of Miller’s imagination as she becomes more senile? Is she a combination of these elements? What we know for sure is that she is a personification of her loneliness. Also, it’s a tiny detail, but her plum coat symbolizes wealth, so it is inferred that everything she asks Mrs. Miller for is not out of need.

Miriam first meets Mrs. Miller by asking, and at the movie theater she seems to be testing her out, seeing if she will be the next good person to move on to. Her requests grow more and more, showing Miller’s growing isolation and declining sanity.

The old man carrying packages that Mrs. Miller sees is the man from her dream, and that is where she recognized him from. He also seems to be Miriam’s former host before Mrs. Miller, the old man that she refers to. Another theory is that he could be Miller’s dead husband. She could be imagining him completely, having perhaps forgotten what her husband looked like, or projecting her husband onto a stranger who is Miriam’s host. This idea is possible, but I do not think it is likely.

The end is a fascinating part of the story, and Miriam hiding in the drawer means that she could or could not be a real person even if the neighbors did not see her. Mrs. Miller is ironically forced to reach out to her neighbors for help, but they cannot find Miriam (in a metaphorical sense, see or understand her loneliness). It points to further tension and conflict, suggesting that Miriam, imaginary or not, will never leave Mrs. Miller until her death.

The author uses several elements in this piece, most noticeably: indirect characterization, symbolism, and mystery. He characterized Miriam and Mrs. Miller mostly by their actions and appearances, to let us know from the outside what was going on beneath the surface. For symbolism, the biggest example is that Miriam and the snow symbolized loneliness and isolation. Capote also incorporated what I am calling mystery, or leaving out overdone explanations or a resolution to let us interpret what is going on for ourselves. We can see Miriam and who she is in a number of ways, and I believe that was his intention, allowing us to figure out a lot of the story for ourselves as well as the meaning or message, which is different for everyone. This ties in to trusting in the intelligence of your reader. We can take these qualities: indirect characterization, symbolism, and mystery, and incorporate them into our own work to create a deeper piece with a more versatile meaning.

“Standing By” Write Up by Allie Elkhadem

David Sedaris is a highly acclaimed humorist who uses his own life as fodder for his story; so, it was no surprise that in “Standing By” Sedaris retells experiences of his at airports with the purpose to entertain people. He is able to achieve humor with by creating a comedic, conversational tone by using vulgarities and including questions. However, Sedaris sole intention was not just to entertain. He also wanted to raise a question about the nature of humans: are humans mostly mean? Sedaris uses a combination of references to politics and history, rhetorical questions, and anecdotes to reveal his question at the end of the essay.

Throughout the piece Sedaris uses an abundance and variety of profanities from “fart” to “mothafocka.” The use of profanities makes the piece feel believable as well as relatable. Most people that have been to airports have endured some type of horrible experience, and most likely there were many other people speaking without filters around them (or they themselves were the initiator). The word choice mirrors the angry, conversational tone overheard at airports. Additionally, profanities add a certain level of both shock value and humor to the piece. One of the funniest moments of the piece was when Sedaris just turned to the old grandmother and said in reference to the shirt with mothafocka “what gets me is that they couldn’t even spell” it right, and he continues saying “I mean, what kind of example is that setting for our young people?”

Additionally, Sedaris includes questions to add initially to the conversational tone (and often humor) but also to add to his conversation about the nature of humans. Many of the questions in the piece are used to make for realistic dialogue. For example, the grandmother simply asks “what?” in one of her pieces of dialogue. Questions are also used as mechanisms for humor, like when the flight attendants explain “crop dusting” through the metaphor of a squished water bottle. Then towards the end of the piece, questions are used to spur the dialogue about the way humans react at airports. He explicitly shares this with the question, “But what if this is who we truly are, and the airport’s just a forum that allows us to be our real selves”? Sedaris wants us to think deeply about the essence of humanity with the anecdotes he has included.

With his references to politics and history, Sedaris furthers his argument about the idea that airports allow for the trueness of humans to be revealed. Without paying attention, it is easy to miss how many references to both politics and history Sedaris weaves into his piece. This gentle weaving allows for the piece to both have the conversational tone while leading up to his final statement about the humanity. Sedaris makes tensions and separates people into “we and they” by bringing up political alignments. Additionally Sedaris makes a more obvious argument about the more “evil” side of people by referencing Hitler. His personal reactions also factor into how we view the situation and the people surrounding him.

From this piece, we can learn the importance of slow release of information. By gradually making references to history and politics while still keeping with the conversational tone, Sedaris is able to both entertain and making people think about the nature of humans. Humor has an important place in writing and the same goes for creative nonfiction; humor allows the author to grab the reader’s attention and is then able to make the reader ponder.

“Arkansas Chicken Apocalypse” Write Up by Olivia Cardenas

In “Arkansas Chicken Apocalypse,” by Micah Dean Hicks, it is evident that all humans are controlled by money. This obsession with making profit often motivates people to behave thoughtlessly. Because life is an endless cycle of “clocking in and clocking out,” this pattern and mindset accompanies us “into the grave.” By constantly mentioning money/death and providing detailed descriptions of the fallen chickens, Hicks creates a compelling plot with an important moral payoff.

The detailed description of the dead chickens creates an emotional investment in the immediate action while preparing one for the closing of the story. Hicks explains that he and the other children “threw the chickens at one another…prodded them with their fingers” while others “ate the dead chickens.” He then goes on to describe that the meat “smelled like deli odor mixed with cigarettes” and made the children feel ill. The graphic description of the cleanup scene highlights the darkness of the situation. Most individuals would not agree to such a disturbing task, but these children are all in desperate need of money. This motivates them to arrive and act inappropriately, objectifying the chickens as “footballs” and “meat” instead of addressing the loss of life. It is evident that money in this instance has pushed these children into an unhealthy position. But this is not where the story ends. Hicks’ main goal is not to just recount a horrific childhood memory.

He goes on to use pointed word-choice to highlight the importance of death and money. The words used evoke the idea that death surrounds him. There is “dead grass,” “dead ground,” “dead chickens,” and death “welded to his shoes.” We are repeatedly reminded that death is one of the central elements of this story; all humans die eventually and continue to work even when they arrive at their grave. Word choice also emphasizes the power of money in the story’s plot. The author repeatedly mentions being paid. By emphasizing this idea, it becomes clear that money is controlling the speaker’s motivations. Hicks alerts the reader to pay attention subconsciously to these themes and this allows a moral argument to be made in the conclusion. Because these ideas have been referenced so explicitly throughout, the ending falls into place.

Hicks has mastered the idea of an inevitable yet surprising ending. The piece does not attempt to provide any morals or broader ideas until the end of story. To do it before would feel undeserved. But because we are alerted to central ideas and the brutal ways in which the chickens were treated, we have a moral investment. We need an explanation as to how these teenagers could treat the bodies of living things with such little care. What motivates them to act in this way? Imagery and word choice guide us to this question. All the details included serve a very specific purpose. This story also does more than just entertain the reader by describing a disturbing situation. It uses that information to create an important moral argument. Non-fiction is effective when it takes the writer’s personal experiences and adds a message or idea that can be of value to others. Hicks achieves this in “Arkansas Chicken Apocalypse.”

“Strong Men” Write Up by Zoe Vastakis

Summary of Hope Edelman’s “Strong Men”:

There is a group of loud dirty men all in a room together at an AA meeting who talk about what led them to hit “rock bottom”. The speaker, Hope, recalls how in New York, there is a man who is on his third scotch by this time. He has a son who is focusing on school so that he can get away from his father like his sisters did. She then states that she is the youngest and only woman in the room and is treated as if she is fragile by those in said room with her. She now comes to these meetings because the meetings she attended for sons and daughters of alcoholics was filled with old people complaining about how their lives became miserable due to their horrible upbringings. She then introduces herself to the group, by her full name, before informing us that her father never checks up on her but the men in the meetings are always lending a helping hand for her. She then declares that she isn’t an alcoholic, only to be met with denial from those around her. The men continue to check on her to make sure she doesn’t drink and the speaker lets them.

Acute Tension- she goes to AA meetings although she’s not an alcoholic.

Chronic Tension-her father is an alcoholic who hasn’t hit rock bottom and the speaker just wants a sense of hope that he will get better.

The author at first seems unreliable because she is at AA meetings and mentions that she occasionally parties and drinks too much, but claims to not be an alcoholic. However, after reading further into the piece, (or just rereading it because you skimmed over a large portion of important stuff) you realize that she is indeed a reliable source. Such as, when the other men introduce themselves, they use the first letter of their names to do so, but when she introduces herself to the group, she addresses the group with her full name, and not just the H. Also, she states that “the other group, the ones for sons and daughters of alcoholics, turned into a place where forty- and fifty-year-olds sit cross-legged on a tile floor reliving their childhood traumas in endless repetitive loops. I needed something more hopeful to cling to.” That was supposed to be a group where she dealt with her issues and gained a sense of hope that her father would hit rock bottom soon and be able to pull himself out, but that wasn’t happening so she went to visit men who had done that in order to gain hope, and that she herself is not an alcoholic.

The writer first describes the men in the group as dirty and dingy, and makes the reader pity them, but when she describes that they are beautiful, the reader is intrigued by why she thinks this and feels the urge to continue reading. After talking about the men for a bit, she injects the section about the man in New York and his children. The reader doesn’t have enough information to know that this is about her father. After she gives us a small insight into her life, she retreats and takes us back into the meeting, before leaving again to explain to us why she is at that meeting due to the fact that she gave reasons why the other men were there: their rock bottoms. And because she doesn’t have a rock bottom, she just says why she felt compelled to go to the meetings. She then reiterates how she thinks they are beautiful so that we don’t forget just how greatly she thinks of these men and how she admires them before easing us into how she claims to not be an alcoholic, but she doesn’t mind that they don’t believe her because they give her a sense of paternal protection that she has never received from her father because he has yet to hit rock bottom.

The author allows us to use our senses of speculation by slowly adding bits and pieces about her father. They are so few that if you didn’t pay a lot of attention you wouldn’t really catch them. Such as how she says her father doesn’t call to check on her and “her drinking problem” but the men in the AA meeting do. He doesn’t do this because if he calls attention to her “problem” then he would also have to point his out as well so he pretends like she doesn’t have her issues and that he doesn’t have his.

Lit Crit Gets Personal

Nonfictional Techniques tracked:
-Combining literary analysis with personal essay
-Developing a theme
-Characterizing through contrast
-Imagining reality


Maura Roosevelt begins developing the theme of alienation in the title of her piece, “Stranger in a Freaky Land: Reading Miranda July in Los Angeles,” a play on the name of one of the most popular science fiction novels of all time, Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, in which a human who’s been raised on Mars returns to Earth. Roosevelt, if you can’t tell from her name, is an east coast transplant to whom the actions of Californians are foreign and often bizarre. Reading LA native Miranda July’s recent novel The First Bad Man (2015) helps her to interpret the (re)actions she witnesses around her and the implications of those (re)actions (i.e., the things she cannot witness directly). The narrative arc of the piece culminates in her coming to a decision based on her novel-mediated processing of these observations.

The narrator begins by describing the circumstances (marriage) that have brought her to LA from NYC, her running through her neighborhood there, where gates are ubiquitous (a concrete symbol of one of her themes, the division of public and private spheres), and the job she’s taken at a “structurally beautiful” elite private high school, where everyone tells her how much she’s going to like it, a stark contrast to the attitude evinced by her former NYC employers. She then jump cuts to a description of July’s novel, specifically how the reader gets to be let in on the secret that its protagonist “is weirder than she appears on the surface.” Roosevelt doesn’t engage in the literary analysis of a traditional book review—rather, she focuses on one particular aspect of the novel that’s important to the theme that’s important to the larger personal story she’s telling: that its characters don’t “intrude on one another’s affairs,” a habit that she contrasts with that of her own East Coast family. Here the narrator uses the tactic of describing a hypothetical situation:

After reading this scene I made my slow and uneventful morning commute down the 101 to the high school, and tried to picture a scenario where my own East Coast mother would encounter such a situation. My Boston-born mother is full of laughter, red hair, and angry ambition that all three of her daughters have inherited with pride. There is no imagined world where she’s not dragging me out by the collar and shoving me into the rumbling car right beside her.

The scene is fiction, but the characters in it are real. Hence, we have creative nonfiction.

While traditional literary analysis would eschew discussion of the author’s personality and would focus on the work, the next jump cut takes us to a scene in which the narrator sees July read from her novel. The behavior of the crowd provides the narrator another opportunity to contrast West Coast and East. Here in the West people are “noticeably absent of tense and competitive energy,” the opposite of how they are in Manhattan. The narrator describes July as funny and endearing, providing a quote from July that embodies her (Roosevelt’s) theme: July says her book, which has a black cover with pink pages, is dressed in drag, while the narrator muses that this metaphor is backward: a drag queen wears the pizazz on the outside, while the book with the pink pages has its “pizazz” hidden inside its black cover. This inside-outside relation mirrors the larger thematic public-private one. July, the Californian, has misrepresented something that actually embodies the private sphere as public. Like the physical book itself, the protagonist of the novel, a freak on the inside, embodies an inverted drag queen. The narrator believes if she can understand this protagonist, she might be able to understand the ethos of LA.

Next, Roosevelt continues drawing her dichotomy between East and West Coast, public and private, by contrasting the work of Miranda July to that of her friend, Lena Dunham, a New Yorker. Their books are “wildly different” not only in content (fiction vs. autobiographical nonfiction) but in style, specifically how honest they are. Characters in both books confront violence, but only in the East Coaster’s are the implications of this violence confronted directly. Here, again, Roosevelt paints a hypothetical situation with real players:

I imagine July reading Dunham’s book while slurping a smoothie in the sun, surrounded by potted cacti. She appreciates what her friend is doing on the page, and yet— she acknowledges before jumping into her late-morning mediation sesh— her own Californian soul would never be that forthright.

Now, after these two sections that have described July’s novel and July herself, we return to the personal narrative the narrator began in the first section, about working at the private high school. She wants to discuss “culturally significant” events (the Ferguson riots and UVA rape accusations) with her students, but after witnessing the other staff’s reactions to a diversity training the school held, she knows she “would be bringing them up alone.” The attitudes of the old white men that dominate the department are that “‘These problems simply don’t exist anymore.’”

The final section returns to the narrator running through neighborhoods, peering in windows, except now she imagines that in those houses are the obstinate white men from her department, that they are like July’s protagonist, secret freaks behind closed doors. She then writes an email to her boss at the high school, quitting her teaching job, and concludes the essay with her boss’s reply:

“…I won’t ask you to explain yourself. This is clearly your own private decision.”

Here the narrator is asked directly to participate in the Californian ethos of privacy that the school has been indirectly asking her to participate in. Her boss is, ironically, inviting her to remain private about the fact that the school’s attitudes about privacy have alienated her and driven her to quit.

The dichotomy the narrator sets up is relatively simple: the difference between East Coast and West Coast attitudes is that between being public and private. People often espouse how laid back West Coasters are, and complain about the rudeness of East Coasters. Roosevelt reveals the larger implications of these cultural attitudes. Forthright East Coasters are not private about themselves are often rude and grouchy, while private Californians are sunny and friendly—but this is a façade. West Coasters aren’t really more laid back, it would seem; they’re just hiding their true selves while New Yorkers are public about who they really are. While most of us would be inclined to like nice people over rude ones, Californians’ need to maintain a sunny façade (nicely embodied by the structurally beautiful private high school whose staff believes problems don’t exist anymore), means that problems will go unacknowledged, destroying the possibility for productive change. Reading July helps the narrator comprehend the existence of this systemic problem, leading her to her decision to quit, a meaningful step toward the change her colleagues refuse. California has not seduced this New Yorker into acting like everything is okay when it’s not.