“Selling Indulgence in Corporate Japan” Write Up by Abby Evans

I scoured the internet to find a good nonfiction piece to do my presentation on. At first, I picked a piece about the guy who hacked OKCupid to find his fiancee, an article which combined all of my main interests: computer hacking, romance, sketchy morals, and really smart people. The article itself, however, wasn’t “of literary merit,” so I moved on. The title “Selling Indulgence in Corporate Japan” [by Andy Couturier] felt intellectual, so I went for that after the OKCupid disappointment. It was the first creativenonfiction.com piece that didn’t feel so extra. By that I mean it wasn’t overly lyrical or overly sentimental, and, best of all, I didn’t really like the narrator on the first reading. I also dug the writing a lot. More on that later.

Alright, so this is a pretty interesting piece. It’s about the narrator’s time teaching English in Japan, and basically the whole thing investigates cultural differences between American and Japan, most significantly this idea of each person in Japan living in two different worlds. In the piece, he describes these two worlds as the world of work and the world of sweetness. That is, one part of a person’s life would be dedicated to contributing to the world’s second largest economy, and this would be a world of intense structure and formality, and is kind of this overwhelming, rule­driven world of work and corporations. And the other side is the world of sweetness, where places of “indulgence” are written into society to counteract this intense working world on the other side. This side of sweetness, the narrator says, is the side that allows for Japanese manga and “comfort women” and receptionists and even the narrator’s own job. Throughout the piece, the narrator struggles with his role in Japanese society, including his own perception of himself versus how he is being perceived by others. In the end, he determines that he, like the receptionists at the corporation where he works, is just another example of these “indulgences” that are necessarily to Japanese society. He realizes that his role isn’t as much to teach English as it is to create a space of acceptance, lightheartedness, and even fun for these corporate workers.

Throughout the piece, the narrator especially emphasizes the differences between Japanese culture and his own through the use of language. This is natural, as the narrator’s an English teacher. He talks about the difference between American and Japanese phrases, in particular the phrases in Japanese that denote humility, different levels of respect, politeness, etc. He shows these examples of customs that must be followed in Japan: humbling phrases that must be spoken at the end of conversations, and verbal exchanges of apologies and self­deprecation. In contrast, his English classroom is revealed as a place where these formalities are no longer necessary, as they are not present in the English language. Thus, his classroom becomes a place of indulgence, free from these rules. It’s a fascinating comparison and an effective motif.

The interesting thing is, the first time I read the piece, I didn’t particularly like the narrator. I feel differently now, but let me just analyze this real quick. On the first read, he felt very Piper Chapman­esque. He’s the American foreigner attempting to judge a culture based on his halfway knowledge of Japanese history. Every new observation he receives working as an English teacher at a Japanese corporation immediately becomes a cultural truism: an immediate reference point that he can continue to build cultural knowledge on top of, without regard for the accuracy of the new statement. When a man in his class mentions cherry blossoms, he immediately draws a conclusion about Japanese masculinity and sticks to it. Obviously, there’s his misguided attempt to teach one of the receptionists about feminism, informing her that she is oppressed. I think after several reads, though, I realized it doesn’t matter. Of course he’s not the authority on Japanese culture. This is his story, his creative nonfiction. It’s about his observations and his exploration of himself. And so with that view in mind, I could turn to the piece again. It turns out the piece is really this weird journey of empathy, where he was able to put himself in the shoes of all these different people he’s interacting with, and he can try to understand their culture. As a premise, that’s really, really interesting. This concept of finding one’s place in a foreign culture, reevaluating the things once seen as human truths, is incredibly gripping. That must be why I was so drawn to it as to email it to Rolater before I even finished it.

It’s a really great piece. It presents fascinating observations on Japanese culture from the point of view of an outsider, while also evaluating, in a way, American culture. By figuring out what parts of himself were cultural, he could better understand just base humans, I think. That’s what gives the piece that universal appeal that all pieces of writing strive for. And the narrator’s journey in self­perception was incredibly compelling, absolutely relatable. We all want to think of ourselves one way, and we see the things that we were raised with as true, so that struggle to empathize and understand while those understandings are being thrown away is powerful.

 

“Unwrapped” Write Up by Brittany Sanchez

Unwrapped” by Dina Honour is a long piece about a boy Honour once knew in college. The piece is composed of flashbacks of a presentation the boy, Joshua, gave in class, her memories of him in high school, her time with friends, and her reflection on Joshua’s teachings. The most compelling thing about this piece is Joshua. We start off with descriptions of him as lifeless and odd-looking. He has a long scar around his eye and does a college presentation on wrapping a present. He’s intriguing and we want to know more about him. Honour gives us what we want.

She uses dialogue, repetition, elaboration, speculation, and the motif of eyes to tell Joshua’s story. The repetition and elaboration of certain ideas make emphasize Honour’s feelings about him. Honour didn’t know him and she admits it multiple times. She elaborates so that there’s always extra. She wants to emphasize that there is always more than one or two options. There’s always a choice. She speculates about who Joshua was because she doesn’t know. She wants to imagine a backstory for him so she can feel better about not getting to know him. The speculation represents the guilt she feels for Joshua’s death.

We feel embarrassed for him. Guilty. She couldn’t do anything to help him and neither could we. We just see the aftereffects. We had an inkling about where this was going and it was confirmed. Her purpose is to remind us to leave room for mistakes, to not be too hard on ourselves. We can learn that a story doesn’t have to be completely in scene. It can be focused on one central scene, and go off into descriptions and a different scene to make the central scene stronger.

In reference to writing, she shows that you can have multiple purposes that form one main idea. It works if they all can be connected. Honour proves with this piece that anything can be a story, even if you think it has no significance. If you tie it back to something important further down the line, it’s a compelling story. She started off with a boy wrapping a present and ended up with a hard hitting message about mistakes.

“The Hippies” Write Up by Dante Rose

The article “The Hippies” by Hunter S. Thompson is an extremely captivating meditation on a culture that once existed and the purpose it served (or didn’t) at the time. Throughout the article Hunter S. Thompson repeatedly states the Beat Generation directly leads into the Hippie Generation and the two movements share many parallels. He also states his opinions on the Hippie movement, both negative and positive and isn’t biased or condescending, he just told it how it was, he really paints clear and vivid picture here, and by using direct quotes from two polar opposite sides of the spectrum allows the reader to naturally form their own opinion (if one hadn’t already previously had an opinion on the matter). The pacing and style of this article is crafted masterfully and his wit and critical thinking and reflection are what really drives the piece and elevates it to such a high level. Everything he says ends up tying together in flawless cohesion. The way he talks about hippies isn’t making them out to be some kind of caricatures, it’s all laid out very human and very true. It’s great because Hunter S. Thompson was a prominent counterculture icon, yet he constantly criticized and questioned movements he was widely perceived to be involved in heavily. The world needed him to offer a different perspective and really think critically of what they’re doing and what they believe. He was actually really fucking smart and people just try to put him in this little box and be like: “oh was that that guy that like did all those drugs and shit?” No one really talks about how great of a writer he was, and this piece is a prime example of to how elegantly he could manipulate the human language and come at you with some thought provoking and revolutionary ideas.

“Dentists Without Borders” Write Up by Thomas Graham

David Sedaris is an essayist who writes from personal experience. In this piece, however, he had more of a point than his other pieces perhaps have; and this point was well chosen because it pertains to something that effects all of us, which makes it more interesting to the reader so that we have more of an investment and interest in his story. Sedaris begins “Dentists Without Borders” with his antithesis about government healthcare plans; how the main argument with American healthcare was its effectiveness, claiming that European and Canadian healthcare systems were extremely unsatisfactory, to say the least. However, Sedaris refutes that argument with an anecdote about his life in Paris, where the healthcare was genuinely phenomenal.

There is a flip side to this serious note on healthcare; Sedaris seems to love to entertain; and I personally think he’s a very funny man, but that’s just my opinion, as well as the opinion of millions of other readers. This entertainment comes from his personality and his portrayal of other characters, or at least that is what I chose to track as I read “Dentists Without Borders.”

Firstly, Sedaris’ personality shines through with his exaggeration. He states that people seem to believe that Canadian healthcare is “genocide” and that European healthcare patients “languish on cots waiting for aspirin to be invented.” This can only be seen as exaggeration. As an American, I don’t think that Europeans wait for aspirin to be reinvented. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate that Sedaris is trying to be funny, and at least in my mind he certainly succeeds. Additionally, Sedaris states that he wishes for his medical tests to have more gravity so that “for [his] fifty dollars, [he] wants to leave the doctor’s office in tears.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to cry at the doctor’s office. I’d rather be assured that I’m healthy. Therefore we know that once again Sedaris is joshing us, and once again we cannot help but laugh, at least a little.

Another point of Sedaris’ personality is revealed through his own thoughts and opinions. In the story, Sedaris becomes worried that a benign fatty tumor is really serious cancer. I know we’ve all had that feeling. Where there’s a slight discoloration on our upper lip and we automatically think it’s cancer, just like George from Seinfeld. This makes the piece a little more relatable to a wider audience, because we all know the feeling of when we think we have cancer even though it’s really nothing malignant. Also it’s a little funny to see in someone else the reactions we have to certain things, something slightly satirical. At another point in the piece, Sedaris questions if he saw “a diploma on his wall,” referring to his doctor whose first name might be “Doctor.” This sort of paranoia is a little more grounded because there’s been an unlicensed doctor taking care of him, and that’s the sort of thing that undermines his argument a little. Therefore, one might argue that his argument is more about the success of France’s dental healthcare and not just medical healthcare, but that’s left open to the reader, because you could also argue that Sedaris is alive today, so who can say that European healthcare is all that bad after all?

Finally, Sedaris establishes humor through his interpretation of other people. He gives his doctor something of a blasé attitude, for example his doctor says, “I don’t know. Why don’t trees touch the sky” in response to Sedaris asking him if his tumor will grow much bigger. That isn’t something you would want to hear from your doctor, but the way Sedaris presents it makes it humorous. Sedaris also gives his periodontist’s assistant Dr. Barras an interesting attitude. When Sedaris complains about the gaps in his teeth, Dr. Barras tells him he just has “Good-time teeth.” Dr. Barras kind of brushes him off, while normally in an American facility the doctor might try to take care of that because they would get paid more. But in Europe the medical profession seems to be a bit more carefree. This plays right into Sedaris’ hands. He tells us what people think about European healthcare, and he even gives it some validity, but by the end Sedaris tells us that he wants to go back to his doctors even if he doesn’t need anything done. Yes, medical professionals in Europe might not be as professional as they are in America, but they still get the job done without you having to pay $300, and their attitudes are fun.

In conclusion, there are many things to be gleaned from this fantastic piece. First we learned that a nonfiction piece can have a political point and that we shouldn’t be afraid to speak our minds based on our own opinions and stories, so long as they’re truly founded and aren’t just for the sake of chaos. Then we learned the importance of characterization and its key role in creating an interest for the reader. A plot can be interesting, but a lot of the time it’s the character that makes the story. If this piece were written by some journalist it might not be so interesting, but with Sedaris’ personality in it the story became extremely interesting and a good read. Additionally we learned how to properly balance the serious point of the story and the jocular way in which it is submitted to us. Finally, we learned that this sort of interesting story makes it have the capacity to make more change. Why would a person read a story if it’s uninteresting? Therefore any story that’s trying to make a point about society should be interesting, and that way people will want to read it and might take heed.

“The Same Story” Write Up by Jackson Wagner

I really loved the contrasting ideas Suzanne Roberts used in “The Same Story.” I also felt like her way of describing people, even just referring to them as “miss goody two shoes” or “my on-again off-again,” gave the reader a very clear picture of who these people are in reference to her story. Without even going into in depth descriptions of what these people were like, I felt I had a good sense of them by the end of the story. She was able to portray her “on-again off-again” as a messed up individual just by describing his actions and the conversations they had together.

I also loved her pointing out the meanings of mistake and where it came from. At first I thought it was a strange and an unrelated addition to her story, flavor text, as it were. I later realized upon reading it again, that those meanings helped show how her understanding of what had happened evolved and changed. I would like to implement her use of outside information similar to her mistake idea in my own writing as I felt it really added a level of depth to the story. She also worked it in smoothly, to where it didn’t feel like it had been abruptly thrown in.

I also really liked how she portrayed the other woman and how she left it unclear as to which one she was. I personally think she was the goody-two shoes, however, she left it vague enough to where the reader can come to his own conclusion. This overarching question had me thinking throughout the entire story and is something I would really like to mimic in my own writing, especially in more serious pieces, as I felt it gave the reader something to take away from the story and to think more on. This, in my mind, ensures that the story told is not lost in the ether of the reader’s poor memory.

This story also helped me realize that creative non-fiction can include a great deal of the writer’s train of thought. This makes it much easier to write about personal stories, as you’re able to add your own take on the experience, thus adding depth to an otherwise mediocre story.

“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.

“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.