“Shame” Write Up by Olivia Lopez-Parsons

Amy Monticello’s “Shame” tells the story of Amy, the narrator, and her struggles through college-life and adulthood. She describes all the “shameful” things she’s done: having sex with her roommate’s boyfriend, eventually moving in with said boyfriend, doing cocaine, etc. As all this is going on, the one constant thing that remains with her is her ex-roommate’s kitchen table. The kitchen table follows her through her difficulties as well as her marriage and her soon-to-be born child’s life.

I personally found the piece very compelling, in that we, the readers, are able to read through her struggles without all the BS. The author did a wonderful job not “sugarcoating” anything. She was straight to the point (“this happened then this then that)”, which I rather enjoyed. I feel that because she was so blunt, I was able to capture the purpose of the piece more clearly. The purpose was, as she stated, “what do we do with the things we know of ourselves, but cannot change?”; meaning, in her case, what would she do with all the shame she felt, knowing there was nothing she could do to change it? More literally, what would she do would the table, a symbol that further amplified her shame?

I found the irony in the piece absolutely fascinating and unfortunate. The fact that she would have to use the table, that had witnessed so many awful things, as an essential everyday item. Furthermore, this table would be around her child–a sweet, innocent human–and could even be given to her as a hand-me-down. This parallelled her experience with her father in which she still kept the paperwork from a court case he was in. She also brought up twice the idea of choking. Her anxiety caused her to “choke up,” both literally and figuratively. Figuratively as in not being able to move past certain memories, whether that be of her ex-boyfriend or her shameful experiences. These two cases of parallelism added the anxious feeling the author continually felt, and feels, throughout this time.

I also tracked the symbolism of the table. As I’ve mentioned, the table has gone around with her everywhere, witnessing all the trouble she’s gotten into. The table represents her shame, and the shame she feels she may one day pass down to her daughter. Although it wasn’t brought up heavily, the table is significant and makes the reader (or at least me) think about the objects they themselves feel connected to.

I hope that from her writing I can take away the need for brevity (how ironic). The short, straightforwardness of the piece made it that much more thought provoking. She summed up maybe a decade or so into a single page pulling in symbols, rhetoric, and a personal experience along the way. I can only hope I can move the reader as much as she did me.

“Woman Hollering Creek” Write Up by Izabella Sifuentes

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For my annotations on Sandra Cisneros’ story “Woman Hollering Creek,” I tracked four items–setting, physical objects/image, metaphors/similes, and point of view. However, I will only focus on two of them, those being “point of view” and the literary devices (primarily metaphors and similes). I chose to focus on these because of their impact on the story.

In the story, while mainly fixated on Cleófilas and her ‘new’ life, the point of view changes a couple of times. I found this to be an intriguing way to continue the story while providing another insight on the events that are unfolding. Aside from the view that describes Cleófilas in the regular third person, there are the ones that address a ‘you’ as if talking to the reader and one that goes to a completely different person. Despite the varying perspectives, it still focuses on Cleófilas and her story, moving the plot forward.

I found this to be interesting because it gave a look on how others saw Cleófilas and her circumstances. The point where the view changed the most dramatically was when the narrator became “Graciela.” This person is speaking to an acquaintance (referred to as “Felice”) and trying to convince them to help Cleófilas return home. From the phone call Graciela makes, we learn more of Cleófilas and her life, “Another one of those brides from across the border. And her family’s all in Mexico.” This POV ends with the friend ‘Felice’ agreeing to take Cleófilas to San Antonio. From there, it changes back to being more in Cleófilas’ mind.

Throughout the short story, the literary devices give further depth and emotion into the story. The men are labeled as being ‘dogs’ (“chasing their own tails before lying down to sleep, trying to find a way, a route, and out, and-finally-get some peace”) which includes her husband. She also describes him as “this rival, this keeper, this lord, this master, this husband till kingdom come” which shows how he is seen by her. He has a dominance over her, which is a major factor in why she does not leave even though she is miserable.

Cleófilas is shown to have been joyful after first getting married and heading off into what seemed to be a life that was just like in her novelas, “the first time as a newlywed…she had laughed.” Even though her relationship is souring and her husband is shown to act like an-pardon my language-extreme jerk to her, she “has to remind herself why she loves him when she changes the baby’s Pampers or when she mops the bathroom floor.” Cleófilas continues to try and look on the bright side, tries to keep imagining of the life she wishes she had. However, the situation gets worse, as he starts to harm her (and her baby) and others advise her that it would be best to leave.

Another important comparison is between Cleófilas and the creek. The interest (“how could  Cleófilas explain to a woman like this why the name Woman Hollering fascinated her”) she has of ‘La Gritona’ could be because of how she feels-her growing desperation, sorrow, and longing to go back home and escape the life she is living. She relates the creek to the legend of ‘La Llorona’ (the weeping woman) and how it has “a voice all its own, all day and all night calling in its high, silver voice.”  Even at the very end, she is compared to the creek, “it was gurgling out of her own throat, a long ribbon of laughter, like water.”

Like in this short story, we could experiment with alternating point of view, especially the one that seemed to be someone else’s commentary on the main character’s situation. I admired many other things in the story, but most particularly the way the creek and Cleófilas were connected and the importance of that creek in the story (hence the title). Also, how her yearning is portrayed through her primarily through her thoughts (like her interest in the creek and novelas). Sandra Cisneros utilized these methods well and created a story that evokes strong emotions and gives us an insight into a life that could very well exist.

“Ten Days in a Mad-House” Write Up by Olivia Elmers

Much of the impact of Nellie Bly’s Ten Days In a Mad-House has been negated by time, since in the century and a quarter since the article’s publication the conditions Bly reported on have been drastically improved upon and are no longer as extreme of a problem.  But while the contents have become archaic, the shock and anger Bly felt when writing the piece are just as obvious to modern readers as they would have been to people in 1887.  It’s survived as well as it has not for the news it was originally published to spread, but rather for how much of herself and her era Bly poured into it: in other words, it’s become a character-driven work despite beginning as plot-driven.

In the first chapter alone, it’s possible to pick up Bly’s opinion of herself, the public view and curiosity towards asylums, the prevalence of religion in daily life, common customs, and Bly’s social circle.  I don’t generally read much nonfiction outside of schoolwork, so clearly I’m not the most accurate judge of this, but out of the stories (and even articles and reviews and rants specifically written to share information about their authors’ opinions) I have read, nothing comes even close to the amount of information Bly casually hands out about herself.  Most of the time it seems like you have to dig through boatloads of symbolism and imagery and apparently random sidenotes that on the seventh read-through turn out to actually be the piece’s keystones to get an idea of what the author felt about the topical issue at the time of the story’s setting, but from just the first few paragraphs in Mad-House one can piece together Bly’s social status, general personality, etc.  It’s honestly a little uncomfortable to read.

Tying into that is the way she dumps in information about events from later on in the article without even considering holding back.  In fact, the last two paragraphs are nothing more or less than a full, complete summary of the entire point of the article; this in the first chapter, before she even begins recounting anything of what actually happened.

The main lesson I took away from her article is that good writing does not have to be deep or subtle or lyrical; and that the content of a story, if fascinating enough, can carry just as much of the weight as manipulation of grammatical mechanics and other such traditional elements of literary style.  

“Landscape with Flatiron” Write Up by Audrey Deigaard

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In the short story “Landscape with Flatiron” by Haruki Murakami, we begin with the main character, Junko, recieving a call from her acquaintance, Miyake, inviting her and her friend Keisuke to come do a bonfire on the beach. The collection this short story is from is set just after the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which inevitably creates the clearly somber and hopeless tone of the story.

Another way the Kobe earthquake makes its way into the story was through each of the characters’ personalities. Starting with Junko, who is perhaps the most obvious of the three, Junko’s feeling of emptiness and her want to give up is especially clear when she described reading “To Build a Fire.” Miyake’s personality shows a similar feeling, especially when he describes how he knows that he’s going to die a slow death of suffocation while trapped inside a refridgerator. Lastly, another example is when Keisuke says

“The trouble is, I don’t have a damn thing to do with anything fifty thousand years ago—or fifty thousand years from now, either. Nothing. Zip. What’s important is now. Who knows when the world is going end? Who can think about the future? The only thing that matters is whether I can get my stomach full right now and get it up right now. Right?”

All of these feelings were common after the disaster in Kobe, as many people felt hopeless and skeptical of whether life would ever return to how it used to be.

One of the objects that is referenced and repeated the most often in Murakami’s short story is fire, which I believe is intended to represent community and family. This is shown clearly when Murakami says

Junko never said much in the presence of the fire. She hardly moved. The flames accepted all things in silence, drank them in, understood, and forgave. A family, a real family, was probably like this, she thought.

Also, in the story, the bonfire is what brings together the three characters, as both Miyake and Junko confess that they each felt some form of connection while watching the fire; Junko thinks of it as what a family might feel like while Miyake experiences “this deep, quiet kind of feeling.” Also, both characters agreed to die at the end, but decided to wait until the fire went out,  so that they could “keep it company.”

One part of this story that I would really love to include in my own writing is the incorporation of a real-life event and somehow using the feeling and emotions induced by that event to influence the tone of my writing. Also, another thing I really liked from this piece was the use of one single reoccuring symbolic object throughout the story.

“Mother’s Helper” Write Up by Bailey Ashworth

I came across Catherine Lacey’s “Mother’s Helper: A Shocking Thing I Learned After Giving Up My Eggs” while looking for information on how to sell my chickens’ eggs. Obviously this article was not what I was looking for, and it was strange to know that Google had automatically assumed that by “eggs” I meant the ones that I was producing myself, but the title was so obviously click bait that I couldn’t resist.

Catherine Lacey structures her piece very chronologically so that when you pull open your browser she’s right there with you, hitting you with the juicy opening paragraph to ensure that you actually want to figure out how and why her hook came into being. Her choice to go chronologically and take a straightforward approach was a smart one for such an involved and broad topic. When she discovers new information, we discover new information. When we start wondering if she’ll say yes or no, she makes a decision. When we remember the boyfriend, she tells us he’s gone. She allows us to follow along on her journey so that we don’t get lost in her attempts to tackle big questions in a short time.

Unlike many of the pieces we’ve read on websites such as Brevity, Lacey uses literary devices sparingly, opting to instead rely on her own writing style and story to be enough to keep readers interested. She does, however, use imagery and snarky metaphors at very effective moments. She compares the way the doctor asking her questions reacts to her the way one might to

…a sunroof on a car you might buy or a washer-dryer in a potential apartment. Grad school is a leather interior, a pool in the backyard.

Her humor almost always comes at the end of a paragraph or idea as a version of relief for the readers, but many times those reliefs are merely superficial. For instance, that same quote has an underlying tone of parried insult; to be regarded as only a grouping of optimal genes is an uncomfortable but necessary evil for the narrator. This decision to leave a subject just introduced and not analyzed fully is very intriguing. Lacey presented us with a concept that could have easily taken up a full page of her inner struggle to comprehend, and yet she chooses to instead thinly disguise it in a simile to give the reader the chance to decide whether or not they want to dive further into that conflict.

Another interesting tactic she makes use of is small diction related cues. Through tracking the recurrence of possessive adjectives, references to money, and family, you see how she slowly bleeds her topics together so family makes frequent appearances and then slowly fades out while money begins to emerge so you as a reader don’t question her shift from questioning the role of herself as a parent to struggling with trying to justify the people who would pay the amount of money they are for a kid. Because both are such large and controversial topics, it would have been easy for Lacey to go on long tangents, but instead she demonstrates a conscious and clever control over how much of her own opinions she allows into the piece and the length at which she speaks of it.

Overall, despite the daunting length of this article and the seemingly shallow topic it covers, Lacey proves herself to be adept at brilliant brevity. With precise and measured information, she manages to relate exactly what she experienced and how she felt without forcing the reader to feel exactly what she was. Her piece stands to be a wonderful example of leaving the audience room to question their stances and her decisions for themselves.

“The Eye of Argon” Write Up by Olivia Elmers

Summary: In Jim Theis’ “The Eye of Argon,” two soldiers (or mercenaries) confront a barbarian in a barren sward.  It becomes quickly apparent from there that the barbarian, Grignr, is a faux-eloquent psychopath possessed of anger issues and probably necrophilia: he enthusiastically cuts down the soldiers (or mercenaries), taunts them while gazing lustfully at their writhing forms, and rides off on one’s horse, leaving the one not immediately killed to die slowly and painfully on his own.

Grignr heads to the city of Gorzom.  He finds the seediest establishment in the city and starts to get cozy with a prostitute there, but he’s interrupted by a soldier who claims to have paid for her first; outraged by this offense, Grignr kills him and promptly gets arrested by the soldier’s buddies.  He’s taken to the prince, tries to kill the prince, fails to kill the prince, and is sentenced to a stay in the dungeons and then life labor in the mines.  He mopes around in the dungeons for somewhere between ten minutes and ten years, gets into the most epic fight scene in the story against a man-eating rat the size of a labrador, and immediately returns to moping.

Meanwhile, a group of shamans are preparing to sacrifice the prostitute from earlier to a statue of their god, Argon.  The god has one eye, represented by a scarlet emerald with interesting plumbing.  At first the prostitute is too terrified to fight back, but suddenly in vicious detail she kicks one of the shamans in the groin hard enough to rupture his testicle.  The other shamans beat her up for this.

Back on Grignr’s side, the hero is hauled out of the dungeons by another two soldiers.  He kills one with the rat’s sharpened pelvic bone, kills the other one also, loots their corpses, wanders off aimlessly, stumbles over a meticulously described trap in a tomb, stumbles across the shamans’ ritual, kills or maims all the shamans who don’t inexplicably suffer epileptic fits first, and rescues the woman.  Also he takes the jewel out of Argon’s statue, since the statue itself is too big to steal.  The epileptic shaman recovers, tries to kill them, and is caught in the trap from earlier.  Grignr and Carthena, the prostitute, continue on, but stumble across the prince and his advisor (who Grignr killed earlier) having a pleasant stroll through the slimy underground passages.  Grignr kills the advisor again while Carthena burns the prince to death with a torch.

Grignr and Carthena make it aboveground, whereupon the scarlet emerald turns into some kind of leech monster that latches itself onto Grignr’s leg.  He burns it to death with a torch, and it becomes just a red blotch upon the earth, “blotching things up.”

Rather than beating a zombie horse and going after everything bad about Argon, I’m going to talk about what it does right.

Namely, that it’s one of the best writing guides ever published.  Every error it’s possible to commit in fiction can be found somewhere in its pages—cliches, unsympathetic protagonists, unrepentant thesaurus abuse, awful pacing, lack of closure (regardless of which ending you’re going by), idiotic and non-menacing villains, anticlimactic climaxes, poor attempts at edginess, descriptions in all the wrong places, and anything else it’s possible to do wrong.

Also, for all the rest of Argon‘s unoriginality, it does happen to be probably the only story in existence where a minor villain survives an encounter with the protagonist by going through an epileptic seizure beforehand, and where the one character to succeed in putting up an actual fight against the protagonist is a giant rat presumably capable of teleporting through walls.

“La Mayonette” Write Up by Catherine Anderson

Behind Lily Tuck’s simple, direct fiction style in “La Mayonette” is an interesting method to show character development using a static object. To describe this I coined the phrase “acute bloody potato.”

All throughout the story we are shown the strange, poorly hung wallpaper of a woman’s profile with red hair. From the get-go the character is unnerved, describing it as inappropriate and disturbing. As the story progresses we are shown that the woman on the wall makes her way into the narrator’s dreams, causing her to become a little more self-aware as the piece progresses. She starts worrying and wondering about her two sons and Francine’s girls getting along, her youngest son’s happiness after he breaks his arm.  Nearing the end of the piece, she is pushed over the edge after dealing with her son’s injury, and snaps. She reacts by throwing her shoes one at a time at the walls. She also tells us that her husband and her have been intimate less frequently, and that when they do, she thinks of Didier, and blames the one hundred and seventy two faces on the walls. At the very end, as she is leaving La Mayonette, there is an anticlimactic resolution to this conflict the narrator has created with herself; she kisses one of the faces on the wall. The change in her is difficult to see, and you have to really read between the lines and impose a lot on the character, which I think makes the story “interactive” if you will.

A good lesson to use and learn from this story is to let your character be shaped by the surrounding objects. Whether it be a particular sofa, or a trinket from a vacation, each object can hold influence on your character. The fun part is deciding whether it really shows up in their thought process (like in La Mayonette, we see her become a little more neurotic, self-aware, self-analytical) or in their behavior. Or both, those things frequently go hand in hand.