“How to Escape from a Leper Colony” Write Up by Henry, Meg, and Sydney

Summary Part 1: Henry

“How to Escape a Leper Colony” is a story about a young girl who is sent away from her home to a secluded island in the caribbean because she is a leper. This begins with her being dropped off on a dock by her mother. Not only is she traveling to the colony because she is a leper, but also because she must bury her father, who has died and will be buried on the island. She is taken by a volunteer in his boat to the island, where she is dropped off. After she arrives, a nun orders her to go bathe in the sea. After she is done bathing, she meets a young man named Lazaro. She and Lazaro talk, and she tells him it’s her father who’s being cremated the next day. Lazaro tells her that he has leprosy in his head.

Summary Part 2: Meg

Deepa describes the churches on the island, one Protestant and one Catholic, and how it is not considered all right to be Hindu. Her mom is Christian, but her dad is Hindu, so she knows a bit about both. For several nights, she sleeps in surgery. The nuns debate about where to put her, and end up putting her with an old African woman, who Deppa grew close to. She and Lazaro go on walks through the island, often to places where the lepers aren’t allowed to go. One day, he takes her to the nun’s burial ground. They discuss that they both want to be buried under graves, even though they will be cremated. They talk for awhile longer about God and the leper colony, causing Deepa to get very emotional. A few days later, Deepa goes into surgery where the doctor cuts away part of her arm that shows signs of leprosy. Two days after the surgery, Deepa and Lazaro go to watch a movie. Lazaro and Deepa then decide to make an altar to the Hindu goddess Kali, although they don’t tell people that. People assume that they are building a house for them to spend some time in together.

Summary Part 3: Sydney 

Deepa and Lazaro build a rough Hindu shrine which they call Kali. One night, they are caught sleeping by their Kali. Since the colony is very Christian, they get in huge trouble and a volunteer hits Kali with a torch. Deepa passes out and wakes up back in Tantie B’s hut, learning that she was hit in the face and knocked out. Deepa also finds out that Lazaro and the volunteer are missing. She goes to the beach and sees a nun’s dead body floating in the water. Later that day, other nuns commit suicide as well by jumping off the cliff and into the ocean. This gives the lepers an opportunity to escape by swimming away. Deepa walks into the water and presumably escapes, while Tantie B stays behind because she cannot swim.

Henry’s Analysis

This story has a very flowing and natural sequence of dialogue in it. The subject is very dark, but the story is able to remain uplifting and humorous. The imagery is vivid and powerful. Leprosy is a very visual disease, and Yanique effectively captures the misery of people who had it before proper modern medicine and healing techniques. There is a lot of discussion of religion and many religious allusions and symbols in the text.

Lazaro was not the name he was born with. He was given that name because he refused to die.

The main character has a lot of inner conflict and problems inside her own head. She’s there for the cremation of her father, but also there for the rest of her life, or at least until her leprosy goes away. There is a lot of talk about race in this story. Lazaro mentions that everybody on the island was Indian.

“You thinking wrong. Here we all Indian, no matter how much African we have in us.”

I can learn a lot from this story. The characters talk to each other in a free flowing and smooth manner. They sound like real people talking to each other. In some stories, characters talk to each other in a way that doesn’t sound entirely natural and flowing. It sounds instead like the author saying things for them. It can be difficult to make characters sound like they’re actually speaking to each other and to make sure that dialogue sounds like real world dialogue.

This story has lots of symbolism and metaphors hidden inside of it. They build an altar to Kali, who is the Hindu Goddess of destruction and fire. They reject the Christian message that the nuns have tried to put on them, and when they do, the nuns set fire to the altar. This is ironic, since the goddess is of destruction and fire anyways. The main character is burnt by these flames, which can be seen as a sacrifice to the goddess.

In conclusion, This story is rich with metaphors, symbolism, and vivid imagery. There is a lot to learn from the flowing dialogue, smooth storytelling and the imaginative characters and symbolism.  

Meg’s Analysis 

One major element of the story, and nearly any story, are the settings. The story begins with the protagonist, whose name we later find out is Deepa, sitting with her mother a relatively large town by the ocean. The town is large and bustling, with people all around shown by the quote,

Men crowded around a small stand that sold raw oysters. They dipped the shells in hot pepper sauce before slurping the meat down their throats. Women reached up for brightly colored buckets and brooms that hung on display. My mother and I rushed by, avoiding getting close to people.

Deepa has never seen anything like this before.

Then, a nun comes to take Deepa to Chacachacare, a leper colony, where the rest of the story takes place.

The boat sped off to the other, safer, healthy side of the island. I faced the intake house. It was a welcoming hue. Not the color of sores or withered limbs. The walls were blue, a mother’s color, and the trimmings were green, the color of life. I did not think I would be unhappy here.

Deepa’s first impression of Chacachacare is positive, and she believes it to be welcoming. Deepa goes to take a bath, and meets Lazaro on the beach. He tells her that

“Here we all Indian, no matter how much African we have in us.”

This is the first indication that Chacachacare isn’t as nice as Deepa thought when she first arrived. The Indian people are not treated very well, and everyone is given an amount of disrespect, although frequently through small things such as burning corpses rather than burying them, which is considered better. We find out later that Indian people are burnt instead of buried because some of them are Hindu, rather than Christian, and only Christians get buried under graves, although it is worth noting that even Christian Indians are burnt, because they are just assumed to be Hindu.

There were two churches. One for the Catholics, where the nuns joined us on Sundays, and one for the Protestants, who were thought of as exotic. There wasn’t any place for Hindus.

Hindus are seen as worse than Christians, as the leper colony is run, in part, by nuns. Throughout “How To Escape A Leper Colony”, religion is a very important part of the setting and the story, as it provides the major conflict of the story. At the end of the story, after Lazaro leaves and commits the crimes, the colony has lost all of their hope, driving them, in their desperation, into trying to swim for the mainland.

The second element that I tracked where some of the characters and their characterization.

Instead she kissed me on the mouth and made me promise not to eat the sweets

and,  

She a woman who works in the cane field. She does pray to Saint Ann to send her signs.

These quotes embody most of the characterization that is given to the mother. She is a deeply religious woman who is also both loving and strict. She isn’t in the story for very long, but she does appear throughout the story in Deepa’s thoughts and flashbacks, and her actions in the past indirectly impact Deepa’s actions throughout the story, such as her implying to Deepa that she and her father would be buried under graves, but the mother was, overall clueless as to how poorly the Indians were treated, which, indirectly, contributed to Deepa and Lazaro’s rebellion later on in the story.

Another major character is Lazaro, although  

Lazaro was not the name he was born with. He was given that name because he refused to die.

The name Lazaro relates to the biblical figure, who is associated with rebirth. This name, and the characterization around it, suggests that he is tough, both physically and emotionally. Through the exposition in the beginning of the story, we learn that his mother was killed in front of him as a child. This shapes his character throughout the story, for better and for worse. He becomes attached to Deepa throughout the story, but, when they are found out, he becomes set on vengeance, no matter if he has to hurt himself and Deepa in order to achieve it.

Finally, and arguably, most importantly, Deepa begins the story with a sort of hope, which, throughout the story is crushed. She loses her faith that she would be buried under a grave instead of being burnt. She begins to wonder if her mother has moved on, and it is implied, abandoned her. She also is brave at the beginning, but she breaks down in front of Lazaro, about her mother and her situation. She eventually gets to the point where she doesn’t care that she is going against the church in her and Lazaro’s building of the statue of Kali.

It felt as though we were playing a game. But I knew it was not a game.

This shows that she had given up hope of being respected, and of surviving. At a different time, she said that she had given up hope of her being buried under a grave. The only hope she has left is in Lazaro, and once he disappears and begins wreaking havoc, she gives up even more. At the very end of the story, she seems to have some hope that the group could make it to the mainland, even though she knows in her heart that she will not survive.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would the author decide to describe Deepa’s first impressions of Chacachacare as generally positive and welcoming?
  2. Why does the author begin the story with a glimpse into Lazaro’s past and foreshadowing to his actions towards the end of the story?

Sydney’s Analysis

The first element I looked at was scene vs summary. Yanique uses a good balance of both, describing some parts of the story with extensive detail and imagery, but summarizes other parts with far less detail, only providing necessary information. For example, the very first line uses summary.

The nuns said that it was pardonable because of depression and stress. But these are words used when we want to forgive a crime but know we cannot.

Yanique doesn’t describe what exactly was pardonable, or what crime was committed. This builds suspense and foreshadows what happens later in the story. Summary is used frequently throughout the first part of the story, but the author begins to use scene more often when Deepa meets Lazaro.

We climbed down the hill to look at the burial site. The grounds were clean but sharp with ankle high grass. When we walked we made a swishing sound like waves. The stones over the graves were marked: Sister Marie, Lover of the Lord; Sister Margaret, Lover of the Word; Sister Ann, Lover of the poor and the wretched. We sat among the stones. Lazaro inspected my arm.

In this paragraph, Yanique uses scene to describe what the burial site looks like. While at the burial site, Deepa and Lazaro have a conversation about what they love, which is also scene. Another time scene is used is when Deepa and Lazaro build their Hindu shrine, named Kali.

Yanique clearly describes how they built her out of wood and put flowers at her feet. The biggest scene in the story occurs when the two friends are caught sleeping at the shrine. Not only do they get in trouble for worshipping another goddess at a Christian leper colony, but they also raise suspicions of fornicating, which was unacceptable.

The second element I tracked was the separation of lepers from society. In this story, the lepers are treated almost like prisoners instead of people.

The lepers sat in the front rows. The nuns sat in the very back, like chaperons.

Not only were they socially separated, but they were physically separated as well, with the lepers keeping to one side of the island. They had their own side of the fence, their own side of the beach.

Lazaro and I often went beyond the fence that kept the lepers to the leper side.

They had a physical fence separating them from the nuns and volunteers, and an ocean separating them from the rest of the world. Sometimes lepers are even treated as less than human.

Killing a young mother is not such a big thing if the mother is a leper, especially if she was a leper when she conceived.

Yanique states that killing a young mother who is a leper is not as bad as killing somebody who is not a leper. This goes to show that people thought of the lepers as being lesser.

Discussion questions:
1.) Why do you think Deepa has a grudge against Christianity?
2.) Do you think that the lepers were treated fairly?

“Residents of the Air” Write Up by Izabella Sifuentes

Sharma Shields’ “Residents of the Air” begins during the hottest summer on record, where wildfires force people stay indoors. In addition to this, houses begin to float. The first home to rise goes mostly unnoticed. After this, more and more houses congregate in the air, rising away from the ground and the smoke. People worry at first, but then are comforted as most of the resources they need join them up in the sky. People travel easily from building to building and their homes do not drift away. The fresh air has improved everyone’s health and they discover, by accident, if they fall they bounce right back up. For these reasons, the ‘residents of the air’ love their new lives, even if they still don’t know what caused them to ascend in the first place.

Below the floating homes, many people’s homes still have not risen. Naya Williams is one of those people, as she and her children are stuck on the surface. She doesn’t know the reason her house hasn’t risen, but she still feels guilty about it. Her friend advises her to stay positive, but Naya has difficulty doing that. Even so, she tries her best. She gets her children away from the defunct television, telling them to get creative. They begrudgingly comply, asking when their dad is coming home. Naya really can’t say, as his workplace rose with him in it. While he may not be living in paradise, Naya still would rather be up there than on the smoky, sulfurous surface. Her goal is to get her and her family out of danger, somehow. While her kids busy themselves with colors and cookies, Naya goes out for a walk. On her walk, she notices the many homes that have not risen either. She reaches the edge of a river and sits there for a while. Naya sees a stream of creatures fleeing from the forest and realizes the wildfire has reached her neighborhood. She runs back, warning people on the way. Naya, in the midst of her fear, is shocked at how many people were still stuck on the surface.

Up in the air, people are oblivious to the conditions below. The smoke of the wildfires obscures their view, so they can only hope that everything is alright. While a few people are unhappy, most get used to ignoring the goings on below them. They find it’s no use to worry about those on the surface, as the residents of the air can find they can’t return the way they came.

~~~

The chronic tension of this story is the ascension of select buildings and homes/Naya’s guilt and ‘negative thinking’. The acute tension is the impending danger of wildfires/Naya’s struggle to withstand & escape the surface.

~~~

I am fascinated by the rising of the houses, the absurdity of it as well as its strange selectiveness. It makes you wonder, as characters do in the story, why would someone not be able to rise too?

In this story, I first highlighted the descriptions of the two different living spaces: the floating haven and the wildfire-plagued surface. These two places are vastly different in appearance and in how they affect the characters, so it’s important to note the ways in which these locations differ. The floating haven, where the residents of the air live, is described as a place where “the air was fresh and everyone had everything they needed, and few people worried about the precariousness of the situation”—a place full of blue skies and bouncy clouds. This idyllic imagery is why this place could be compared to heaven. However, it is not without its flaws. Naya’s husband tells her that, just like her, he is suffering too. There is rationing of water and no way to escape, as one resident of the air finds out in the end. While this may not seem particularly awful, there is also the fact that “their homes rose higher everyday. The sun glowed stronger, the stars shone brighter.” This could be a hopeful line, but not if one remembers that items that ascended so much that “they disappeared, and the residents assumed they disintegrated in the heat of the atmosphere.” Yikes. So is the surface any better? Well…the surface is a place that is full of wildfires, making it “sepia tinted, reeking of burnt flesh”, full of “hollow concrete bones” and “sulfurous air.” A place that makes the reader understand why most residents of the air don’t resist their ascension too much. The only way to escape the surface is if one’s house rises, but there isn’t any more hope for that happening. Even if it did, how much safer would people be up in the air? Hm…

The second element I highlighted in this story are the similes because: 1) I think they’re great 2) they provide more perspective on the characters use them 3) they provide more details to make the two locations distinct. All of the similes in the beginning of the story are whimsical and joyful, as they describe the ascension of the houses and the place they arrive at. The houses are “like balloons released one after another during a parade”, which allows the children of the sky to “[bounce] through the sky now like trapeze artists, little plump gods all their own.” What fun! Now, the first ‘negative’ simile describes the surface, but it is said by the residents of the air:

Barely visible beneath the belt of heavy smoke, a few dozen houses remained locked to the earth, and it felt to the residents of the air like a death sentence.

This comparison is very fitting and gives insight into how grateful they must be that their houses rose. It also sets up how the surface is no place that ‘positivity’ can flourish. The surface (and what it holds) is not compared to anything pleasant. Naya’s children are not little happy gods, they have “coughed and sputtered and stopped asking to go outside. They hung crookedly in front of the television set like clothes pinned to a wire” and look at Naya “like large, angry crows.” Later on, as she runs home, Naya sees women who have “exploded from their dwellings, shouting, and unfolded alongside of her like paper dolls, fragile and identical in their own terror.” These are comparisons that Naya gives, which goes along with her pessimistic/’cautious pragmatist’ way of thinking. The story characterizes Naya through these similes, as it is clear she struggles with ‘thinking positively’—a method that is supposed to help her and her family get out of the smoky, burning surface but only serves to make her feel guiltier.

~~~

For my own writing, I could try and include similes or metaphors that really give the reader insight into what kind of person the narrator/character is.

My writing exercise is: Write a story in which you have a factor/event that creates a division, literal or more metaphorical, in the world. It’s up to you whether you specifically mention (or just hint to) the reason as to why this division happens. Does the factor/event happen gradually or all at once? Who or what does it affect?

~~~

Questions:

  • What does the story’s event (of houses rising and stuff) allow itself to be a metaphor for?
  • Does the story specifically say/hint to the reason only some houses rise? (bonus: is Sue’s theory true?)
  • According to the story, is either place really, absolutely better/safer than the other? (bonus: Which one do you think is a better place to be & why?)

 

 

“The Husband Stitch” Write Up by Niara Pelton

Summary

“The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado follows a woman with a mysterious ribbon around her neck growing up. The story starts off at a party. The narrator is young and meets a handsome young man that she begins a relationship with. She matures sexually, opening herself up to him physically and growing closer to him romantically. Her only rule is that he can’t touch her ribbon. At first, he’s merely curious but brushes it off. They get married and begin a life together; however, as the story and the relationship progress, he becomes more curious in spite of her acquiescence to him.

She continues to try to make him happy and they continue to grow in prosperity. They have a son, which relieves the narrator who was afraid of having a girl with a ribbon. Initially the son respects her boundaries with her ribbon. As they gain more, her husband begins to feel more entitled, demanding access to her ribbon, accusing her of having secrets; he continues to push her boundaries to the point of pulling at the ribbon; however, he doesn’t undo it.

At one point the narrator attends an art class and meets another woman with a ribbon. She’s so excited to meet someone else like her, but after her husband pressures her to talk about it and twists it for his own pleasure she feels too guilty to return to the class and her new friend.

Her son adopts his father’s attitude of pushing boundaries with her ribbon. He gets upset with her, but eventually he forgives her and moves past it more readily than his father.

In the end, her husband presses too far. She allows him to untie the ribbon. He is reverent as he does, but then her head falls to the ground, as she realizes that even though he is a good man, she’s still lonely and alone.

Tensions: The chronic tension is the narrator’s ribbon. The chronic tension is her husband’s fascination, obsession, and eventual removal of it.

Analysis

The author did an amazing job of harnessing time, conveying multiple decades of development masterfully using narrative structure. The structure of the piece-with the loose narrative form-allowed the writer to fit years, possibly even decades into the story. Readers got to see the character grow. The author made use of the narrative structure, jumping easily throughout time, to show the vivid transitions and development in the characters. We can see the narrator’s evolution from childhood to young womanhood.

As a grown  woman,  I  would  have  said  to  my  father  that  there  are  true  things  in  this  world  only  observed  by  a  single  set  of  eyes.  As a girl,  I  consented  to  his  account  of  the  story,  and  laughed  when  he  scooped  me  from  the  chair  to  kiss  me  and  send  me  on  my  way.

She also conveys the evolution of their relationship through time, compressing years of events easily with the narrative voice and reveals, once again, how the character is evolving. She focuses on the important details in short bursts and allows the reader to fill in the years in between which provides a really engaging reader experience.

When  he  comes  home  each  day,  my  husband  has  a  list  in  his  mind  of  things  he  desires  from  me,  and  I  am  willing  to  provide  them  and  more.  –  I  am  the  luckiest  man  alive,  he  says,  running  his  hands  across  my  stomach.  In  the  mornings,  he  kisses  me  and  fondles  me  and  sometimes  takes  me  before  his  coffee  and  toast.  He  goes  to  work  with  a  spring  in  his  step.  He  comes  home  with  one  promotion,  and  then  another.  More  money  for  my  family,  he  says.  More  money  for  our  happiness.

My  son  is  a  good  baby.  He  grows  and  grows.  We  never  have  another  child,  though  not  for  lack  of  trying.  I  suspect  that  Little  One  did  so  much  ruinous  damage  inside  of  me  that  my  body  couldn’t  house  another.

The author’s characterization of the narrator’s role and opinions as a female work really well to create a strong theme. In the beginning the author effectively shows her assertiveness in the way she thinks and approaches situations boldly, feeling completely in control of her own life, even when defying tradition. She actively decides and orchestrates her first romantic moment, her first kiss, her sexuality, and her marriage. She is proactive and assertive in each of those events, effectively showing her strength and zeal and independence.

In  the  beginning,  I  know  I  want  him  before  he  does.  This  isn’t  how  things  are  done,  but  this  is  how  I  am  going  to  do  them.

I  have  always  wanted  to  choose  my  moment,  and  this  is  the  moment  I  choose.

–  Tell  me  about  your  ribbon,  he  says.
–  There  is  nothing  to  tell.  It’s  my  ribbon.
–  May  I  touch  it?
–  No.
–  I  want  to  touch  it,  he  says.
–  No.

The author shows that strength leaking away, characterizing each of those moments through her changed actions and thoughts. The contrast in characterization gives a stark message. She does whatever her husband asks of her, no longer taking charge of her own desires, but taking on his. She also is gradually less assertive about the ribbon, which leads to the sad ending.

When  he  comes  home  each  day,  my  husband  has  a  list  in  his  mind  of  things  he  desires  from  me,  and  I  am  willing  to  provide  them  and  more.

The  next  day,  our  son  touches  my  throat  and  asks  about  my  ribbon.  He  tries  to  pull  at  it.  And  though  it  pains  me,  I  have  to  make  it  forbidden  to  him.  When  he  reaches  for  it,  I  shake  a  can  full  of  pennies.  It  crashes  discordantly,  and  he  withdraws  and  weeps.  Something  is  lost  between  us,  and  I  never  find  it  again.

Resolve  runs  out  of  me.  I  touch  the  ribbon.  I  look  at  the  face  of  my  husband,  the  beginning  and  end  of  his  desires  all  etched  there.

The husband’s lack of characterization, other than his growing sense of entitlement also progresses the theme. We don’t see his point of view; we just see how he thinks he is entitled to every part of his wife.

The author uses characterization so well that she never has to name the characters. She describes their traits so well that it is unnecessary and she doesn’t bother with unnecessary traits. She doesn’t mince actions; every action of each character conveys something that is essential to the character development as pertains to theme and it’s effective in a short story, because she writes characters that are engaging, without leaving anything out. The evolution of the characters and how their attitudes are shown by their actions makes them engaging because their openness makes them easy to follow.

The way that the author uses point of view gives an in depth perspective that vividly portrays the character’s emotions in a natural way and endears her to readers. She is straightforward and honest and vulnerable and relatable. She is openly conveying the tumultuous time of growing up and falling in love. Her vulnerability compels readers to see how everything will turn out for her. And as we watch it play out we can see all her fears and thoughts in between that couldn’t be portrayed in other narrative forms.

She took a simple, short, tall tale, and made it her own, imbuing the story with her purpose and bringing the characters to life against a more modern backdrop. She did great with how she colored in her own details while remaining true to the outline and bringing it up recurrently throughout the story. Being able to write within the framework of another story can be engaging because of the familiarity; however, she also made it exciting because of the vivid characters that pulled readers along.

Writing Exercise

A writing exercise inspired by this story would be to take the details of an old folk tale or myth or legend. Fill in the details and set it to a modern background. Also, I loved how the narrator told part of the story by vividly weaving in other stories, so another exercise would be to intersperse another story into the story you’re writing to convey the story you want to tell.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think the stories conveyed and why do you think the narrator used them?
  • How do you think the story would have been enhanced by adding in the husband’s perspective?
  • How do you think the character could have been written more assertively?
  • How do you think the son’s behavior-his adoption of his father’s coldness and his forgiveness-adds a layer to the story?
  • How did each of the characters contribute to the theme?
  • How did the narrator’s passiveness affect the theme?
  • Do you think the ending could have been stronger by ending it somewhere else?

 

“Stress Management” Write Up by Laura Mercado

SUMMARY of “Stress Management” by Glenn L Diaz

At the call desk, the main character recounts about how employees immediately know when supervisors begin to listen in on the phone calls. The audio becomes echo-y and ruins the phone calls for everyone, even Karen, a woman who purposely feminizes her voice in order to lure men to buy whatever she’s selling. It’s revealed through more of the internal monologue that most of the employees had liberal art degrees, and this was the only place work was available. An example of a normal day is given, emphasizing the monotony of daily life with that of the job itself. Something different happened that day, however- that night, their supervisor Brock alerted the team that they were to be evaluated for call flow compliance. No one was working, instead being distracted on computers, except for Mitch. As a result, a software block thing like HISD’s *sigh* would be installed on everyone’s computer. No one’s happy about this, and then it’s revealed they all have mandated Stress Management talk/therapy, too, and even less people are happy about that. Cut again to the unnamed character’s internal monologue; they look back fondly on their graduating days, when they were younger and freer, and compare it to the “dull and unchallenging” life of now. The working hours are in the night, so they think about how their sister company in India is working at the same time as they are. They gossip about the latest American Idol contestant, a Hawaiian resident named Jasmine. The bump into Mitch there, who drops cake and acts really embarrassing, so the group half-unwillingly waves back.  They talk and go back inside after their lunch break ends; they’re almost there when Philip shares a method to not have to talk phone calls, thus giving the department some freedom for the four hours left in the shift. Mitch is the only one working after lunch, with the rest of them adopting the new technique. Finally, the shift ends and Brock proceeds to give the Stress Management talk; the PowerPoint fails for a moment before going back to working. It seems to be a few hours of slow nothingness, and everyone struggles to not fall asleep. Mitch asks a question, and Brock goes off on a philosophical tangent no one quite grasps. Cut to some time later; Jasmine makes it to round 3 on American Idol, Mitch arrives late to work, and Philip lends her a 100$ bill. They go to McDonalds’s, and gossip some more. Lunch break is over, and Brock tells them to go back to work. A bit after they begin to answer calls again, Brock’s supervisor passes down information about 1/3 of the calls made from the center were to American Idol (this was Philip’s workaround). The company lost a load of money and the initial source of the calls was undetectable so, as a punishment, everyone’s lunch would get cut down from one hour to half an hour until the guilty party was ratted out. The day continues as normal until the last two hours of the shift; Mitch had directed an angry customer at Brock, who yelled at the VIP customer thinking it was Mitch. Mitch retaliated by quitting right after the phone call was finished, citing harassment in the workplace once Brock made it clear leaving would not be easy. Mitch turns to leave, her stuff already packed, as Brock rushes the rest of the employees to get back to work because their lunch break ended 7 minutes ago. The go back to work, put on their headsets, and listen for the next caller’s “beep.”

***

Acute tension: office problems, specifically dealing with the bureaucracy of the call center.

Chronic tension: no one knows what to stand up for/ what to do with their lives

***

A couple unconventional things drew me to this story. First of all, it starts off with a three-paragraph internal monologue, rather than being in scene. We’re thrown into this new story with new characters and new plot, which already can be pretty confusing, but Diaz takes it one step further with throwing us into the speaker’s mind, as well. Usually, when I see this attempted, the author cannot pull it off- before reading a story, I  weigh the amount of attention and energy I will have to put into the piece in order to semi-decipher what is going on, and will end up picking a different piece if getting “into” the story resembles any sort of maze, and I’m kind of sure the majority of readers to the same- but Diaz’s mastery of “weaving” drew me in.

So, what do I mean by this “weaving” thing? “Stress Management” has a perfect ratio of exposition to plot, which is commonly intertwined in the same paragraph, constantly giving us real-time updates as to what is physically, plot-wise going on in the piece; but also what is being set up to occur behind the piece. In other words, the chronic and acute tension are spatially woven together to the point where it all feels like one mega-system. I recognize that this concept of fluidity is a basic idea in writing, but honestly, I have a hard time reading stories where both tensions seem to flow into and complement each other; this piece stood out to me with the ease that it is accomplished. I believe it is because the theme it itself explores deals with the concept of “weaving,” so the piece’s physical form of weaving the two conflicts into same paragraphs and sentences is elevated in effectiveness when it works to emphasize the topic it speaks about.

So what about this “topic” I speak of? In my highlights, I tracked mentions of American customs/ideas, Philippine customs/ideas, and the meeting point between these two topics, most commonly in the form of an interaction. (Before we proceed, disclaimer: I’m latina, not in any way Filipina, so apologies to the 103.3 million people I may be insulting if I get a cultural aspect wrong; no harm or misrepresentation was in any way meant. Now continuing.) The very first example of this happens a mere 1/3 of the page in, with our first observance of the Filipinx, unnamed main character.

 ‘Thank you for calling US-Tel Consumer Services. My name is– ’

‘Hello?’ the American on the line would say, already outraged.

Already, we have a clear we vs they; phone operators are usually not the most respected, stuck dealing with cranky and usually self-entitled customers. The employees must shut their mouths and stick to reading a script which consists of mostly

…thank(ing) our callers for calling us, introduc(ing) ourselves with made-up names and convey(ing) a most ardent desire to help them, in all the ways we could, and more.

The phone operators in the story also seem to mostly be primarily from the Philippines. On the other hand, the Americans in the piece never seem to have to filter themselves. They are the ones in positions of power, whether they’re the customers or the direct supervisors. Additionally, the Philippine culture originally appears to be the one suffering the most “damage” from the phone operating job; it is revealed the main character and their coworkers must

…step[] into the shower just as the chicken adobo for dinner had started to settle in our stomachs, leaving the house as the parade of primetime telenovelas began…

A side-effect of this job is their being deprived of the intimate aspects of their culture. As the piece evolves, however, so do the freedoms of the Filipinx characters. The coworkers go out for tapsilog and sisig rather than eat at McDonald’s, for example, a change they gladly welcome. Even with all this, however, there seems to be one place the main character can never go: the courtyard dubbed the Lung Centre where Americans, British, Canadians, or Aussies hang out. Eventually, at the point in the plot where the staff’s lunch time gets shortened from an hour to 30 minutes, some of the staff suggest a protest of sorts. The only person to ultimately rebel is Mitch, earlier described as someone who would “cozy up” to those who’d hang out at the Lung Centre, as well as portrayed as a disgrace to Filipinos everywhere as she stumbles through the market.

Through this, Mitch represents the ultimate intermediary between the cultures; she is the weaving of America with the Philippines personified. Once this is taken into account, it is not surprising to note that although Mitch is not the narrator, she is the main character, having gone through the greatest character change than anyone else. Paralleling Jasmine’s, a Hawaiian (never specified if Native Hawaiian or Hawaiian), victory at American Idol reaffirms that yes, Polynesian culture is a prevailing part of the US. As Jasmine reaffirmed the audience’s view of Hawaii as being a part of the US, or the “American” part of American Idol, Mitch’s actions of standing up for the lessened lunch break and taking back power places her on a rank with that of Americans like the company’s customers and her supervisor, thus distinguishing her once and for all from the lower-power positions of her fellow Filipinx immigrants.

***

Writing assignment:

First, flush out a character. What would be their go-to poem? Favorite comfort food? Are they a cat person, dog person, or allergic to both? Second, pick an injustice/important issue you would like to convey in a piece. Now combine the two- the injustice should not define your created character, but instead serve as the character’s motivation to perform a specific action.

***

Questions:

What did y’all think of the irony of everyone smoking in the Lung Centre?

Were the employees right in not protesting the cut lunch time? This came as a consequence of other things being done apart from answering phone calls; do y’all sympathize more with the phone operators, or the company and their loss of money?

The stress management PowerPoint/lecture itself is only a small portion of the piece; what did y’all think of its use as a title?

Was this a single-read story to most of you, or did it take a few reads to fully understand/capture everything? What elements made it a single or multiple-read piece?

“Puppy” Write Up by Elise, Adele, and Emma H

Summary of “Puppy” by George Saunders, Part 1: Elise

Marie is the mother of two kids, Abbie and Josh. She treats them with love, possibly so much so that they’re spoiled- not that she’ll admit it. With a “Family Plan” in mind, she packs her two kids into her car. While driving past cornfields that remind her of a mythical “haunted house,” she thinks about her children and all she’s done for them and, more importantly, how she’s a much better and cheerier mother than her own mom was. She’s going to pick up a puppy for the kids, to teach them responsibility.

Meanwhile, Callie awaits their arrival while priding herself on the care of her child, Bo. Bo is a hyper child whose medication makes him cranky, so she’s fixed him up in the backyard so that he won’t escape and get himself killed. She assures herself that she’ll let him run free when he gets older.

Summary Part 2

The narrator remembers a time when Bo didn’t take his medication. It leads her to think about how she didn’t need to put too much focus on Bo. It gave the narrator/mom the opportunity to think more about the puppy. She talks about where the puppy came from and how the kids are taking care it, compared to all the other pets. She also, while thinking about the puppy, had to think about getting rid of the puppy. Then, the memory jumps to when Abbie saw the puppy and wanted it. Abbie tried to get her mom to agree to keeping the puppy. Then, the memory shifts to the mom talking about something that happened in her mother’s closet. The memory was forced to the front of her mind after seeing a boy running down the street.

Marie decides to not buy the puppy from Callie, the woman who has it, after finding her house in such a state of disarray and seeing who I assume is Callie’s deranged son, Bo, tied up in the yard.  Abbie is upset because she had really wanted the dog, but Josh knows why they aren’t taking it, after seeing Bo as well, and says something to Abbie to calm her down. Callie tries to convince them to take the dog, but Marie refuses, not wanting to be part of the situation. She longs to tell Bo with a look that his life may not always be like this, it can become wonderful, just like hers had. But she dismisses this thought, thinking it nonsense that people share words through looks, and what isn’t nonsense would be to call someone in Child Welfare who would come and take Bo away from Callie.

Summary Part 3

The point of view changes and Callie calls out to Bo that she will be back soon and disappears into the cornfield. She sets the puppy down in the middle of the cornfield, and leaves it there to die, so that Jimmy, who I assume is her partner, won’t have to kill it, which upsets him and the children. She decides to tell Jimmy that Marie had bought the puppy and give him money of her own to trick him into believing it. She refuses to think of the dog on her walk home, and instead thinks about how her life will be when things become easier moneywise. She wants to go to school and buy decent shoes, so she can become slimmer, even though she knows she’ll never be completely skinny. Which to Callie is fine because Jimmy likes her the way that she is, and she feels the same about him. Which to Callie is what love is. Loving someone for the way they are and helping them improve. Like with Bo, who Callie loves, despite his lesser qualities.

Elise’s Analysis

I find this story to be effective and fun to read due to a large amount of sensory details and scene, as well as how both mothers show their love to their children – they do say- or rather think- this outright, but it is first described very well with the actions and decisions Marie and Callie make.

The story is divided into four parts- the first is Marie’s point of view, the second is Callie’s, and then it repeats again after they meet. Marie is a mother trying to do for her kids what her mother never did to her. She uses the cornfields she drives past as a base for “fond” memories as she thinks back to how she bought a game for her son and stayed up all night reading the manual so that she could better talk to him, and how they got all these different pets for the kids. And she compares this to how her mom left her in a blizzard for two hours, and how she locked her in a closet “while entertaining a literal ditchdigger in the parlor” (Saunders, 3).

Meanwhile, Callie has a different experience with her own kid, Bo. She clearly loves him very much, despite his hyperactivity (possibly ADHD, though the story doesn’t specify so it’s hard to tell). But she keeps him locked up in the backyard, tethered to a tree. However, she doesn’t seem to do this because she “hates” him. She truly believes that this is for his own good.

This idea of making this person’s villainous act something that could be argued to be done out of love is something I wish to learn to incorporate into my stories. You know what she’s doing is wrong, but, at the same time, you know she loves her son. She doesn’t make him take his medication, because

The meds made him grind his teeth and his fist would suddenly pound down. He’d broken plates that way, and once a glass tabletop and got four stitches in his wrist (Saunders, 4-5).

She doesn’t want her son angry all the time, she doesn’t want him to get hurt. And she does give him the medicine when he needs it. She’s just certain that he doesn’t need it today.

One may argue that she needs some sort of medication just as much as Bo; she’s not being rational. But either way, there’s a sort of ambiguity about her. You don’t exactly chastise Marie for calling CPS, but you know that Callie doesn’t feel the same way about her son as Marie’s mother did about her. Or perhaps, Marie’s mother loved her just as much, and we simply don’t see that because we’re seeing Marie’s side of the story. Perhaps, if we were given Bo’s perspective, we would feel the same about Callie. “When I was little,” Bo would say, “my mom chained me to a tree in the backyard.” And we would pity him and despise his mother. Perhaps this whole story is simply a view on perspective, and how children view their parents in a different light than how parents view themselves.

To connect this to a personal matter, I despise my mom. She always talked about how I was so smart and talented- and she still does. But I don’t believe her anymore, because deep down, I say “well, if I was so smart and great and you loved me so much, why didn’t you care enough to feed us and not let us get lost on the edge of town?” And I know that this isn’t fair. I don’t know much about my mom- I didn’t learn until recently that she was on medication for some sort of mental disorder (and I don’t even know what it is, because how do you ask your mom about her mental health?) even before moving in with my dad. And I guess it isn’t really her fault.

But I bet she tells the story much differently anyways. She already tells me that I don’t know what happened. Once we had to eat graham crackers for dinner. We always had to make our own dinner, and I think we were out of macaroni and cheese. And I mentioned this at some point to her or my stepmom or somebody. And my mom told me that she let us eat crackers for dinner because she thought it was cute.

And of course, that’s bull, but the whole purpose of this was to provide an example. I remember that time in my life much differently than my mother does. But it doesn’t matter, because everything’s already over. She has two more kids, she never bothers to visit, and I only see her when we happen to visit her mother’s house.

Discussion:

  1. How does Marie relate the child chained to the tree to her own experiences as a child? Do you think she saw her own mother in Callie?
  2. Is Callie truly a bad guy, or does she love her son, and simply not know what to do for him?

Adele’s Analysis 

The conflict of the story was giving the puppy away. The narrator didn’t know if the person she was giving the puppy away to would even come. And with that she also didn’t know if she even wanted to give the puppy away. Hence why the line

Now all she had to worry about was the pup.

This line first introduces the story’s conflict. The children all want to keep the puppy. One of the children specifically says that she would care for the puppy completely.

The setting of the story was constantly changing because she kept thinking of her memories and previous experiences. The main setting of the story was the cornfield, where the mother was remembering each and everything.

The story kept me interested to see what would happen next by continuously switching from memory to memory. I, as a reader, was incredibly curious to see where the story would go next. What was going to happen to the puppy?

I did get very confused about the story at a lot of times because of the jumps in time, but as a whole, I enjoyed that the story was constantly trying to keep you interested by leaping around. It completely depends on the reader and their interpretation.

One important key note about the story that I might take into my own writing is the series of flashbacks. “PUPPY” had a lot of memories that were placed into the story in a way that they formed the story. The story also is mainly the thoughts of the mother/narrator. Their thoughts and memories are what form the story and what form the plot. Her fears of getting rid of the puppy make it so that the reader has something to be interested in. Less complicated plots or incidents makes the story more relatable and less like a soap opera.

  1. Why would the writer choose to make the majority of the story entirely flashbacks?

  2. What are some ways that this piece can relate to the average person?

  3. Do you think the writer expressed the point they wanted to express in this story?

Emma H’s Analysis

What I can learn from this story about writing and how to write my own stories is how to incorporate memories and flashbacks into a story, so they fit into the plot properly and relevantly in a way that furthers the storyline and helps the reader understand the stories characters better. In the story Puppy, the mother Marie talks constantly about her children, and about her family life. She believes that she isn’t spoiling her children but instead loving them, as she had never been loved. She relates experience that she has had with her family and ones that she had with her parents and you can very easily see why she protects and loves her children the way she does. You understand her pain and shock at seeing that child tied up in the yard and feel her being launched into her own childhood, where she too had been locked up and neglected. So, while you can understand the reason that the Author had included these memories of her childhood, memories can become deeper things, more than just background for a character. Without the memories in the story Puppy, the reader would just assume that Marie had been disturbed at the state of Callie’s home and Bo, who is tied up in the yard. Readers could have been confused as to why Callie left it in the cornfield to die and why Marie didn’t take the dog in the first place, for isn’t our instinctual reaction to something small and defenseless in a toxic situation to immediately take it away from that place? With these memories, one understands why Marie “was not going to contribute to a situation like this in even the smallest way.” The dog would have reminded her of her past home life, of a time when she was incredibly unhappy. And Callie had to leave the dog out in the cornfield to die or else her partner Jimmy would have to drown it, something that brings him great displeasure, because the animal was an extra that they didn’t need. Memories are better way to introduce information without just putting it out there for the reader find, no work involved. This way the text doesn’t become dull to the person reading.

As for plot, I learned that it’s alright to not always have a happy ending. In almost every story you read there’s some sort of conflict or sadness sprinkled in, but most stories end on a happy or at least optimistic note. Good plot should always have some sort of tragedy, but rarely do stories end with it. Callie must leave the puppy to die, Abbie doesn’t get the dog she wanted, Marie is still haunted by her past, and Bo is still chained up in the yard. It’s important that we as Authors realize tragedy in our stories because it’s just as, if not more present in our society, but isn’t as recognized.

Questions:

How can an author use memories to further a story?

Do you think what Callie did was justifyed?

A Whole New Meaning to Self Care: On Kaj Tanaka’s “My Younger Self”

A presentation by Angelica Atkins

Summary: In Kaj Tanaka’s “My Younger Self,” the older self (OS) tells us that his younger self (YS) cleans the house when he feels like it, and then the two get drunk to celebrate and trash the house again. The older self takes care of the younger self through washing the dishes. The older self is ashamed of the younger self, but the younger self looks up to the older. The OS enrolls the YS in Tae Kwon Do, but the YS gets too cocky and annoying so the OS stops it. Next, the OS enrolls the YS in community college. The OS tells the YS that if he’d stayed in school, he’d be making more money; the YS tells the OS he likes him the way he is, and they both get drunk. The OS is disturbed by his younger self and so drinks for the next week. That Saturday, the YS has had 5 beers and the OS cautions him against drinking so heavily, for the OS’s sake. The YS doesn’t listen, but the OS understands. The community college doesn’t work, which the OS understands. The YS stays home and smokes weed and drinks and sometimes goes out. Next, the OS orders books from Amazon.com, hoping to get his YS interested in business, which is what he’s interested in. His YS doesn’t like any of them. The YS still stays around the house, and the OS can tell that the YS “feels superior” to him. He then tells the YS that he will become the OS in a few years. The OS is laid off from his job for not showing up, and the YS says it’ll be fine. The OS asks him, since that is his future self, whether he likes what he sees. The YS says he used to, but doesn’t anymore. The OS thinks of murdering his YS at night, but loses the energy. The YS finally has an idea: marry a rich white woman and all the financial problems will be solved. The OS grudgingly goes along with this idea. Going to expensive places, the YS burns through all the OS’s money and savings quickly. The YS wants to go back to Tae Kwon Do, while the older one wants to be an accountant. The YS then leaves, taking all of the OS’s credit cards and emptying all his bank accounts. The OS is left with nothing, except the certainty that the YS will become him soon. The OS lives each day out of spite.

Acute and Chronic: Chronic tension is the Older Self wanting to fix himself, Acute is the Younger Self’s growing resentment and departure from the Older Self.

Highlights: Remember whenever a well-meaning teacher is like “if you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?” and then you realize that your younger self would probably ignore what you say anyway? Well, that’s pretty much this story in a nutshell. I loved reading it. I mean, like, you hate yourself, but then you also hate your younger self (or at least this older self does). But what if you could actively interact with each other? I’ll now focus on what I took as the chronic tension: the older self hating the younger self and trying to ‘fix’ him. It’s first shown when the older self says

I put my younger self on an exercise regimen to offset all the beer he drinks. He knows it is for his own good. I enroll him in Tae Kwon Do because I always wanted to be a black belt.

Here, the older self is projecting his own aspirations onto his younger self. The older self isn’t quite fixing the younger self yet, but making him better and fulfilling the older self’s dreams. The effects of this are explained later, when the older self says that

With any luck he will get laid more than I did, and then I will have those memories later on.

So if the younger self learns a skill or has a memorable experience, ultimately the older self will benefit without having done any of the work at present. Though he doesn’t see it, the older self and younger self are the same in the respect that they don’t want to do any work to better themselves, though the older self’s only ways of fixing himself are through suggesting activities to the younger self. The irony is strong here. The pattern of the older self suggesting things to the younger self and the younger self resisting continues through tae kwon do, community college, and amazon books. But here is where the older self fails. He loses his job, and his standing in the younger self’s eyes. Now he has to give way to the younger self’s attempt at bettering himself, which ends in disaster. The older self’s self-hatred led to an interesting train of thought for me: if you had this easy way to better yourself, would you? By convincing your younger self to do (anything), you are changing your own future.

The other thing I highlighted was the older self understanding the younger self, which adds to the cyclical tone of the piece. The older self hates himself, but at the same time, understands where his younger self is coming from because he used to be his younger self. This understanding allows the younger self to get the better of the older self, since the older self thinks he understands the younger self’s actions because he used to be the younger self. But here is where the disconnect happens: the younger and the older self have become different, because the older self has made all these mistakes. The younger self knows that the older self lost his job and is a failure, and now his desire is not to end up that way.

What I could use for my own writing: The concept for this story is what drew me. Making self-hatred into an active trait, a why for what someone does, was something I hadn’t seen done that often. I want to incorporate what could be seen as passive traits into active ones.

Writing prompt: Create an element in your story that is technically impossible but not explained. It should be a central element of the plot.

Questions:

Is the older self right to guide his younger self?

Was the younger self right to leave?

Could the older self change his own future?

 

“Three Hermits” Write Up by Edward Clarke

Three Hermits” by Leo Tolstoy begins with a brief description of the setting. A bishop is sailing towards a monastery on a ship laden with merchants, fishermen, and pilgrims, also headed toward that monastery. The journey has been calm and a fisherman is telling several others of an island close by on which three hermits live destitute, having dedicated their lives to God. He asks the captain of the ship to change course, so he may go see these hermits and because he is a bishop, the captain obliges. Upon arriving on the island, the bishop meets three men, all scantily dressed and living in a mud hut; one older, one younger, and one taller. He learns that, while they fiercely pray, they know little of any Biblical canon and teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, which they find very difficult. They practice this prayer until night falls and the younger one has the entirety of the prayer memorized. Then, the Bishop returns to the boat and the pilgrims go to sleep. However, the Bishop soon sees the three hermits gliding across the water faster than the boat, and the pilgrims awake and crowd close to the Bishop. Once the hermits have come close to the ship, they tell the Bishop that they have totally forgotten the prayer he taught, and they beg him to teach it again. The bishop bows low to the hermits and tells them their own prayer will do, and so the hermits leave back across the ocean.

This is objectively the best short story ever written. Oceans, bishops, and hermits are the holy trinity when it comes to fiction writing, and Tolstoy utilized each effectively and adeptly in this piece, to convey his own religious views. In terms of my highlights, I focused on Christian themes and overtly tranquil language. I shall begin with Christianity. The biblical allusions and illustrations pepper the piece thoroughly, appearing in every aspect of the story, from the characters to the dialogue and the minute descriptions. The hermits are, of course, a representation of the biblical three-face God; the eldest, angriest hermit who wears the cassock being the wrathful old testament God, the younger, kinder hermit in peasant clothes being new-testament Jesus, and the one with the white beard and white eyebrows reminiscent of a spectral cloth is the holy ghost. Tolstoy says this story is a popular folk tale from the Volga region of Russia, but the story fits his own religious beliefs a too much for me to totally believe this. Tolstoy’s ideologies were incredibly controversial in his time, drawing from Quaker and asceticism, rejecting both the church and the state as a purveyor of divine truth, instead believing that all true piousness belonged solely to the poor, especially those who were poor by choice, as the hermits of the story were. He believed that God was omnipresent, existing in the surroundings of every-day life, and the diction of the story reflected that belief, with lines such as “his face is as bright as an angel’s from heaven”, serving to illustrate this belief. After his death, the Tolstoy Bible was published, a collection of passages that shaped Tolstoy’s ideologies and his writings influenced such figures as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Henry David Thoreau. I believe it is these strong beliefs that simmer just beneath the surface of this piece that make it so fascinating, though the curious plot of miraculous hermits is what keeps the reader reading.

The stark tranquility also serves to further Tolstoy’s idea of salvation; the divinity lies with those who shirk wealth, and with this divinity comes utter peace. This, too, is evident through the diction of the piece, even in the midst of the strange and surreal climax of the story. When the bishop sees “the three hermits running upon the water, all gleaming white, their grey beards shining, and approaching the ship as quickly as though it were not morning”, he registers little shock, while the helmsmen, who believed the hermits to be false and inexistent just that morning, is terrified. The calmness reverberates similarly through the landscape of the piece, focusing primarily upon the ocean, which is often in the bible related with  God for its power and grace. In Psalms 89:9, Ethan the Ezrahite states to God that, “You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them”. In the story, there are no waves, no storms, no fickle oceanic winds, for God has already stilled the sea for the Christians on the boat, as well as the hermits. Throughout the piece, the sea is described as, “rippling in the moonlight” or the gentle rays of sun. In the eyes of Tolstoy, this ever-present tranquility comes hand-in-hand with God and peaceful faith, both of which are blatantly evident to the reader in this story and allows it to function as both a story and an ars poetica.

The Chronic and Acute tensions in this piece are, respectively, the Bishop’s belief in his own religious superiority, and his discovery of the miraculous hermits and I want to try to write a story like this one, where the tensions, while present, are simply not as important as the ideals and the plot. My writing exercise is to isolate one’s core belief system and write a story in which you feel these beliefs are encapsulated, though not explicitly stated.

QUESTION TIME

  1. Because this piece is so different from contemporary short stories, did you see it more as a folk tale? Is there a difference?
  2. Has the piece aged well? Or does it feel outdated and archaic?
  3. Do you feel Tolstoy’s message was too heavy-handed?