Monthly Archives: May 2016

Fact v. Nonfiction: The Martian

This semester I read The Martian by Andy Weir which was also a movie but the movie sucked and the book was amazing. Obviously, the plot was fiction, but both my friend and I ended up having to google if it actually happened when we got halfway through the book because it all just seemed so real. What made it seem so real was not the plot itself, but the realistic ways in which Mark Watney handled the isolation. When I read the back cover, and heard the plot of the movie, I was expecting some sort of life-changing journey through discovery and isolation like other famous works like the Revenant. What I got, however, was something so purely funny that it could only be true. The kind of humor in the book was so situational – such as being a space-pirate – that I could not imagine these kinds of jokes just being thought up at a desk.

I’m not sure how real the science is in the book, but it was explained in such depth and so often that I thought that there was no way this could be made up. The reason I actually got my hands on the book is because my mom read the first chapter and complained about it being a chemistry lesson. But it all made so much sense and there was even humor in the science, that again, I didn’t suspect anybody could have sat down and created a situation that required so much knowledge of science and a great sense of humor. In my experience, the two traits don’t coincide much.

What also made it seem so real was the pop-culture references, such as old disco music I didn’t recognize and old shows like Happy Days. I think especially these days with copyright lawsuits and the like, it’s rarer and rarer that we’re seeing brand names on tv, so I at least have associated real-life references to non-fiction. Putting the real world into the novel made it seem more realistic.

One element that made it more fictional was the change in point of view. The non-fiction-seeming parts were from Watney’s point o f view, as he did all the science. What drew me out of that realm, but was still well-written, were the portions of the story that switched to what was happening at NASA to bring him back home. Generally, non-fiction is told from one point of view. This is because everyone sees fact differently, and what might be fact to one person is made up to someone else who experienced the same thing. While that couldn’t really happen with such a fact-based, scientific novel, it still took me out of the main character’s head and reminding me that it wasn’t real.


Factual/Fictional Response to Jenny Lapekas’ “What Do You Wanna Talk About?”

On the website,, I decided to look into a collection they had called, “Re/Coded: a nonfiction anthology about our digital lives,’ as it related to the digital communication theme I explored in my last workshop piece. I decided to read “What Do You Wanna Talk About?” by Jenny Lapekas. That question always unsettles me in real-life, as it’s very unnatural way to get into a conversation about something, and often only leads to a skeptical debate that makes for a very unsatisfying conversation. I thought the title meant a conversation would occur with this said, but really it’s just something written on a site that hosts a chat room that the author visits.

She provides pieces of a digital conversation she has with a man in the chat room. Digital conversations have the advantage of easily being reproduced identically, when the author knows ahead of time that they will use it to write about it. This ironically increases skepticism for me. That the author knows that they will use the conversation, means the author’s side of the conversation isn’t natural. I would like to hear specifically when this isn’t the case.  I want to know that the author didn’t realize she/he would end up writing about the conversation. A person aware that they conversing only for a story, isn’t part of the story, but rather an interviewer, or someone conducting a sociology experiment. This piece doesn’t explicitly make that clear and I don’t like that. It’s fairly clear that it isn’t contrived at the end of the story, but it hurt me giving her credulity earlier.

In my last writing exercise, I took a lot of criticism for not having enough text speak or making the dialogue lazier, as some people text that way. However, the way two characters were texting were similar to how I talk with most of my friends. We talk with complete sentences, trying to be grammatically correct, and with no spelling errors. The only text speak I use are: :), lol and haha. And I only use these when I need something to have a more neutral or positive tone that I fear might not be conveyed. The two people in this piece were unlike me and my friends. I’m not sure what the percentages are between the two types of people, but now I really want to know.

The story of the relationship wasn’t successfully conveyed. A cute joke exchanged about The Wizard of Oz and several examples of the man complaining about younger women were they only examples we get of them bonding. There were no examples of one of them confiding and receiving an epithetical reciprocation. She tries justifying why the two need each other, rather explaining how they were becoming close. Sometimes people justify relationships that aren’t well-reciprocated, but then the story should be about that. It’s not a story about emotional interaction or lack-there-of.

Writing good non-fiction requires recognizing important transition. The author transitions the relationship from a mundane chat room conversation to talking everyday on the phone, and then to meeting in real-life, with nothing tying these events together. In the end this story was nothing more than a poorly written case study, suggesting that one instance of a person transitioning into a pleasant first date ending with sex from a chat room, is somehow empirically significant.


Fact or Fiction: Hannibal Burress and Stand Up Comedy

Comedy and factual honesty have always had a love-hate relationship. On one hand, brutal honesty towards people or events in your life can lead to hilarious stand up routines, yet on the other hand, oftentimes a 100% factually honest retelling of an event will not be the funniest. In Hannibal Burress’ “Hannibal Takes Edinburgh”, a camera man follows Burress around Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, as he attempts (and succeeds) in doing 27 stand-up comedy shows in 27 days. Although the documentary functions well to document Burress’ mental stamina and fortitude (a show every day for a month is a challenge even for comedy legends, and by the end of the event Burress’ mental energy is clearly spent), it works just as well to showcase Burress’ comedy chops. Burress’ comedy routines are frequently stories from his life, and the contrast between following Burress through his trip to Scotland and watching him perform on stage had me asking questions about just how “true” his comedy routines are. One of his jokes goes like this:


Everyone in security, they get weirder and weirder man. When I fly out of New York, I hand em my ID and my boarding pass, they say “what’s your name, where’re you going?” C’mon dude, yall can do better than that. Sometimes I say a fake name just to see what they’ll do. I hand him my ID he says “what’s your name?”, I said “Michael”, he said “nope”, I said “Hannibal”, he said “enjoy your trip”. I guess America is all about second chances!


Just how honest is this? Is this joke a piece of fiction or nonfiction? It’s hard to say. We can almost guarantee that a similar process to the one Burress has described takes place at airport security lines. That much is not a large stretch of the imagination. But did this event actually take place? It’s kind of hard to picture a man on a security line giving an actual wrong name compared to the one on his ID, and walking away after getting it right on the second try. But who knows if it actually happened? I guess no one besides Burress and the security officer. I would think that what brings the humor to the joke is inherent in the questionable factuality of the joke itself. All the underlying information to the joke is true. Very true, and widely known information held by the public as “the case”. Yes, security is a hassle, and of course they could be trying harder. They only ask for a name! The set-up of the joke is undoubtedly non-fiction.

Or is it? How many of us know for certain that this IS the process when you step up to a security line? Is it just that a “fed-up” attitude towards the efforts of airport security is a common one? Could it be that Burress just emotionally checks in with the listener, so that the humor of the joke can rest on a bed that’s emotionally true, but factually shaky? I know I honestly wouldn’t be able to list the steps that security takes when they check a boarding pass and ID, even though I fly probably once a year on average. I can definitely say it’s a process I don’t enjoy, and in this, Burress taps into the emotional truth of the situation.

In my mind, the set-up of the joke can be labeled as “emotionally non-fiction” and “factually plausible”. But now for the joke itself- is there a chance Hannibal actually told the officer a wrong name, corrected himself, and walked away scot-free? It’s not so out of the ordinary, one might think, but at the same time I’m curious just how likely that is to happen. Does it matter if it didn’t happen? Obviously according to the humor of the situation, it’s funny whether it actually took place or not. “I guess America is a place of second chances!”

It’s unlikely that we will ever know for certain whether any given stand up routine is factually honest or not. What seems to matter more is whether it could be, and whether it emotionally strikes a chord with the viewer.

Fact or Fiction: ” I Had No Time to Hate…”

“I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity.
Nor had I time to love, but since
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.”

This is a nonfiction poem by Emily Dickinson. It can be interpreted to mean that the narrator will not hate because it is a waste of emotion. This is because when the narrator does not have enough time to hate anything because life is short. The next stanza is saying that she did not have time to love either. However, she might as well try. It is basically the narrator struggling with how life is short and she has chosen love over hate. This poem has a melancholy feel. It is a good thing that she didn’t have time to hate, however, she also did not have time to love. It ends on the sadder tone which leaves the reader feeling like that is what the author wants us to dwell on.

This is said to be a nonfiction poem. It has qualities that express emotion and portray how the author feels. This is an element of nonfiction. Everything said in this poem is a fact. For example, the line “The grave would hinder me, and life was not so ample” can not be interpreted to be false because time is not ample. This is a fact. Every line is either a fact about life or an opinion/emotion. That is why this poem is nonfiction.

Fact or Fiction: A Cipher in the Snow

The short story “Cipher in the Snow” is a nonfiction story about a student who dies and how a teacher copes with it. I first heard it in one of my education classes. The moral of the story is how this child slipped through the cracks of the education system. The boy died and all he had to show for it was his straight D’s and his lack of involvement in any clubs or sports. He was never a part of anything, he did not have any friends and he was always quiet. The teacher who wrote this was listed as his favorite teacher and he hadn’t even spoken to the student in two years. The teacher was heartbroken and after this event he taught for this student. He told every one of his new students that they will not come out of that classroom feeling like a zero. His main goal was to make every student feel like they mattered.

This story is said to be completely nonfiction. However, there were a few things that made it seem unbelievable. For instance, everything happens to line up perfectly. The student

’s favorite teacher just so happens to be behind the bus when the boy stumbles out of it and collapses to the ground. The teacher happens to be there for his moment of death. The same teacher is also asked to deliver the news because the student’s family doesn’t have a phone. I did not find this believable either. When the teacher got to the house, the family did not care that their son had died. The mother was upset but not the normal reaction of a mother. She stopped cooking and the stepfather insensitively told her to keep cooking because he needs to get to work. He went on to call her late son dumb for failing to say he wasn’t feeling well. He made fun of him for being so quiet. The stepfather continued to talk horribly about this child who just died to his mother. I read the piece as fiction because of these parts that made it seem fake.

However, the elements of nonfiction in this piece are what make it stand out. This piece would not have as much value if it were fiction. It holds a moral lesson.The lesson was basically to make sure each child knows they are special and each student feels valued in your classroom. If this were known as a fiction, the morality of the piece would be less believable and taken less seriously. The reader takes the lesson seriously because they think this event actually took place. This subject revolving the death of a young child is serious and that fact that it actually happened bring out the sympathy in readers.

Another element to take into consideration is when this piece is set. This was said to happen in the 1970s. Today’s day in age, the school system values the individual more. In the 1970s, it is likely that a student may fall through the cracks due to parents that did not care.

Pueblo Laguna Stories

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Storyteller

To label the book Storyteller “fiction” would be wrong, but it would also be wrong to call it nonfiction, poetry, essays, memoir, or history. There is a collective truth to these terms in that there is a little bit of each in the Pueblo Laguna author’s book which combines the hummah-hah oral stories her Aunt Susie passed down to her with photographs of the important storytellers in her life from her childhood, historical context, Silko’s own fiction and poetry both fiction and nonfiction. In refusing to be labeled as any one literary form, the book comments on questions of identity and belonging. Storyteller also brings up questions about why we as humans write, read, and tell stories at all, ultimately deciding that we communicate by story for survival. The Pueblo Laguna people believe that telling stories is how elders share their practical wisdom in memorable ways with the younger generation.


The book’s incredible continuity preserves the literary language used by her familial influences on her storytelling to reinterpret old myths into a contemporary setting and tackle a more modern survival, as in the short story “Yellow Woman.” This one was told to her by her grandfather, and while maintaining the distinctive poetic diction of his version, Silko creates her own take on the myth where the fantastical being from the old way of life encounters a modern woman who knows the story and refuses to acknowledge that she is a part of it. In the old story, the woman is kidnapped by a mysterious creature and never seen again, but Silko’s Yellow Woman is a reluctant protagonist who goes with the creature willingly to get away from her unsatisfying marital life, eventually returning from the mountain adventure claiming she was kidnapped as an excuse for her disappearance.


The book is a great source for the recent history of the Pueblo Laguna people, splicing the memoir with historical context which explains why she was forbidden from learning the Laguna language. Silko remembers when children like herself were discriminated against for relating to their cultural identity, and so in order to keep her safe, Silko’s family would not teach her their language. The nonfiction memoir and history blends together to further mirror the stories of old by fusing narrative with educational survival guides.


Silko’s own fiction prose and poetry is featured in the book next to the traditional stories, with no distinction as to which is which. Her poetry and prose comments on sexuality, abortion and spirituality with the same grace as the wise tellers who taught Silko the stories about talking animals and gods. The idea behind the Pueblo Laguna storytelling is a versatility that each teller brings, changing the details slightly but always remembering exactly how the original goes, and Silko’s work meshes alongside those stories in total harmony.
Storyteller might defy literary form but ultimately it serves as an archive and tribute to her culture, her people’s history, family history and personal experiences.

Revived 18th Century Epistolary Novel

Hannah W. Foster’s The Coquette.

This epistolary novel anonymously published in 1797 and claimed later is based on a the factual death of Elizabeth Whitman which was sensationalized as a cautionary tale about the fatal consequences for women who have premarital sex.The real life person died in a tavern while giving birth to a stillborn, and was used as an example of what happens to women who do not behave. Hannah W. Foster introduces the novel as “founded in fact”  in this fictionalized account with several overlapping truths.

In the novel, Eliza Whitman becomes Eliza Wharton, the recently almost-widowed daughter of a priest, grieving her late fiance and regaining what freedoms she enjoyed before their engagement. Her musings on marriage as capture, on identity, and female friendship have given way for contemporary critics to interpret the recently revived novel as feminist text. The novel makes some serious claims about the danger of societal gender roles for men and women through the letters narrated by multiple men and women. The book contains many of the same scenes told through the eyes of different people including the Eliza’s villainous suitors, allowing readers to understand the real danger to Eliza’s well being was not one she ever had control over.

The letters also function to humanize Eliza as a fully feeling and complicated human being with motives and a conscience, not the immoral sinner the newspapers made her out to be after her death. This story represents factual fiction because it stays so close to the events and personalities of Elizabeth Whitman’s history. The fictionalized aspects come from the added characters and their accounts of interacting with Eliza, moving the plot along, and filling in the spaces between the key events leading to Eliza’s downfall. There is also an added pressure of the mother character representing the old widow Eliza could become, and the younger friends who do not understand her resistance to marriage.

In reading historical literature we do have to remember that it is only fiction, not hard evidence of the lifestyle from the time and region, yet The Coquette brings an indisputable authenticity to letters that it reads as a nonfiction account. However, the pacing of the book suffers at the hands of accuracy. The book spans a little over a year and includes the full length of Eliza’s pregnancy, during which not much happens.

Often when reading, there is little to no opportunity to ever truly determine authorial intent behind a piece, but the anonymous nature of the text and the revealing introduction gives some insight as to why the author chose to write the novel. There is such a noble intent by the author to make Whitman’s story heard fairly, and there seems to be a feminist solidarity in the act of writing and researching this novel. I found the criticisms of the novel to be more entertaining than the novel itself; it is quite dated and hard to get through, but the story and the history behind its conception is truly fascinating.

Fact and Fiction in David Geary’s “Lovelock’s Dream Run”

Lovelock’s oak, given to him by Hitler himself, is the opening image in the play, Lovelock’s Dream Run, by David Geary. Jack Lovelock, who won the 1939 Berlin Olympics, is held in high esteem by Howard, a young boy at a prestigious boys’ school in New Zealand. In order to get to know his idol better, Howard assumes the personas of several people in Lovelock’s time, but he discovers that his hero is not all what he seems to be. While taking on the personas of these two people, he assumes their personalities and thus, assumes Lovelock’s. In order for Howard to assume these personas, the play constantly switches from present to past, to give a deeper insight on both Lovelock and Howard. However, another reason why the play switches to the past is partly to follow the momentous occasion of Lovelock’s win, but to unveil Howard’s fantasy dream and expose the unfortunate reality that Lovelock isn’t the perfect hero Howard thought him to be. The use of juxtaposition of these different moments in time, as well as different people in the past, to reveal the contrast between Howard’s dream and the reality.

A major aspect of the play is the different time settings of the two main characters, past and present. Howard is enrolled at a New Zealand boys’ school while the events with Lovelock take place in the past, in the 1930s. Besides juxtaposing different events in time, Geary also juxtaposes symbolic imaging and different personas. Geary uses the oak tree given to Lovelock by Hitler to symbolize Lovelock’s courage and honor during the games in the beginning of the play. However, through the course of the play, as readers learn more and more about the true character of Lovelock, that symbolism changes. At the end of the play, the oak is cut down, symbolizing Lovelock’s fall as a hero. Geary juxtaposes the two different symbolic meanings of the oak to uncover the truth. Geary also utilizes different personas in Lovelock’s time to contrast Howard’s fantasy and Lovelock’s true character. He uses Leni Riefenstahl to support Howard’s image of the track star, and then Jean Batten to reveal the true characteristic of Lovelock.

In order to become closer with Lovelock, Howard becomes a few of the important figures in that time, such as Leni Riefenstahl or Jean Batten. He dresses like them and uses the journal entries he found in Lovelock’s journal to create the moments immortalized in Lovelock’s journal.

Under the guise of Leni Riefenstahl, Howard recreates a photoshoot between the Nazi filmmaker and Lovelock. In this scene, Riefenstahl promotes Hitler’s regime, comparing the ancient Greek Olympians to Hitler’s “master race”. Howard assumes Lovelock does not respect Hitler, since he refused to recognize Hitler at the march past. Howard, in assuming the persona of Leni Riefenstahl as well as believing his own idealized fantasy, believes that Lovelock is strong in standing up against adversity. Riefenstahl’s character was a means to show Howard that Lovelock would not accept how Hitler ruled. She symbolized the Nazi ideals of fascism and cruelty, especially when she calls Germany “the master race. Riefenstahl was a foil to Lovelock, and made him seem larger than life, which appealed to Howard’s idealized fantasy.

Howard travels to the National Library to read more of Lovelock’s diaries and adopts the persona of Jean Batten, New Zealand’s own Amelia Earhart, to determine the true nature of Lovelock’s sexuality. In these entries, Lovelock does not appear to be humble or polite, in fact, he cuts off many of his interviewers, asking for “no speeches” and appears rude, abrupt, and cold, which is the complete opposite of what Howard expected. This is where Howard’s idealized fantasy and the unfortunate reality collide. Instead of being averse towards Hitler’s regime, Lovelock speaks of the Nazis with “kindness”. He “liked” the Nazis and appreciated fascism where the youths were “drilled and controlled”. In fact, he said fascism was a “fresh outlook”. Lovelock speaks of Jesse Owens, an American track runner as well as an Olympic medalist, and says that even though Owens and every other black man may have the “physique and temperament,” they still do not have the “highly developed brain” to succeed in life. Lovelock degrades Owens as a “deficiency” compared to white superiors.

Juxtaposition is what ties the play together. Geary utilized this literary technique to contrast Howard’s fantasy and the real Lovelock, through the use of different events, personas, and symbolism. Geary gives his piece a nonfiction aspect by using real places, such as Howard’s school, and the Berlin Olympic, however the piece is truly fiction because of the jumps through time. Another reason why this piece is fiction is because Geary assumes the character of Lovelock. Lovelock was a real person, however Geary gives us his own personal take on Lovelocks inner thoughts, actions, and feelings, despite never knowing the man.

Response to Father, Father, Holy Ghost

After reading Victoria Fryer’s “Father, Father, Holy Ghost” on, I tried to think about what made it such a strong piece. The title for one speaks to the many figurative meanings at work here. The father, can relate either to the narrator’s father, the narrator’s grandfather, or as an allusion to a higher power, the Christian manifestation of god, who is sometimes referred to as “The Father.” The narrator is someone who has been seeking answers her whole life, as prefaced by the reference to watching Unsolved Mysteries as a kid, in hopes of there being “a mystery solved, an answer finally granted.”

What speaks to the substance of the piece is the narrator’s unending search for her biological father. He is such an absent figure in her life, that as a child, she comes to question how she even knows the word “dad.” The problem lies not only in his absence, but that there are little traces of him around. Although being given up by her father and mother at birth, she does not go through an adoption agency, orphanage, or foster home; she is taken in by her grandparents. She finds a family tree of her father’s side of the family that is empty and only leads to more confusion with branches that lead to nowhere and no answers granted. As she grows older, she re-establishes connection with her mother, and comes to find out that she has been in contact with him. Again she is left to her imagination, as she is not able to directly speak with him, nor does he grant her request of sending a picture of himself. I believe the intention to include this was to draw a parallel as to how this story is relatable to religion, the idea of faith being the thing that gives power to your doubts and gives reason to the injustices done to you. In part, her lack of trust in an “almighty father” stems from the fact that she was so heavily disappointed in her own father.

Fryer effectively uses an informal style of writing, both to play on the feeling of being a child and having a child’s like view on the frustration and disappointment in trying, but failing to have a meaningful connection to the people that brought her into the world. Fryer uses a mixed-perspective at times, with insertions such as an introspective question addressed to the reader saying “Who could say no to that?” on the subject of “being saved” (religiously).

I read this story as being creative non-fiction because of the organization of the piece, constantly switching the narrative between different ages of the narrator. Its themes reflected the nature of someone on a journey to find answers about themselves, which lead me to believe that it has roots in non-fiction, although some of the anecdotes and flashback dialogue could have easily been driven by a fictitious representation of real life events. Naming specific places and tagging them, such as the reference to upstate New York, and the father presumably residing in Rochester, lead me to believe that it held some significance to the author, with some connection to her real life, regardless if this is true account of events in her life.

As I side note, I also happen to find it particularly interesting when a writer presents an objective, outside viewpoint of my hometown, Rochester, from someone who is not from New York. It was a pleasant surprise to me while I came upon it during my reading of the story, and it was incredibly interesting being that it was referenced with a cloud of mystery hanging over it. This was mainly because of the question of whether or not it’s possible for them to be able to drive there, as if it may be an unreachable fantasy world, or fictionalized city.

Factual/Fictional quality of “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold

In Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” the sea transitions to a place of eternal unhappiness, ultimately mirroring the desolation and downfall of the human existence.  The speaker’s mindset in the poem quickly transitions from a sense of optimism to a complete loss of faith in the world; this ultimately pairs with the relationship between the sea and human emotion.

The waves of the sea are very uncertain in the way they move, resembling the uncertainty of humans’ actions which bring the world to its ultimate failure.  As the poem begins, the speaker describes the waves as calm and tranquil.  However, very early in the poem the speaker’s perspective on the sea changes abruptly to something quite pessimistic; the sea suddenly becomes dark, vast and sad.  The speaker continuously advocates in each stanza how drastically the world is moving into terrible times. With each line, he advocates the discontent he feels with the world around him.  It might be said that the poem is completely desolate; however, even though his consciousness of reality around him is very dark, it is also sensible and unforgettable in regards to the transition the human race is going through.

The world in his eyes has transitioned into a faithless place that is unprotected from any wrath that may ensue, something worse than ever before. In this poem, the speaker also advocates that, like the woefulness the sea brings that seems to stay prominent, that sadness in humanity is the only perpetual aspect that humans experience; everything else is merely temporary.

The poem portrays the eminence of sadness, emphasizing the fact that happiness does not exist any longer in Dover Beach.  The theme of sadness and hardship resides under any remotely uplifting piece of the poem, slowly engulfing the happiness until it is completely gone. The speaker has completely given up on the world around him, allowing no incentive to proceed happily in the world.

The imagery of the poem not only reveals that the loss of belief and happiness are merely unfortunate, but it also conveys the void that it left behind.  The speaker does not talk about the misfortunes of the world sulking about what has changed.  There is a sense of concern for where the world is heading, as well as a feeling of disappointment in the ignorance of humanity altogether. The comparison to the tremulous, roaring, crashing waves now relates to the mayhem and destruction occurring all around them. The curtain has lifted and revealed the true ghastliness of the world they live in.

I think this entire piece is very factual in the perspective of someone who has no faith in the world. Every aspect of the setting and ideas that are formed are completely plausible and understandable in regards to someone watching a place they once loved turn into a place that no longer holds that significance anymore.

The speaker relates the unhappiness of humankind to the motion of the sea—unpredictable yet prevailing. Even with the aspect of love in the poem, the components of misery, fear, suffering, and faithlessness navigate the story in its entirety.  The flux of emotions in humans end up staying with a quality of negativity that, in the end, reigns over the world that was once faithful and happy.  The speaker’s steady perspective on the failure of the world is what drives this poem forward in such a pressing manner.  With all of the darkness and overall faithlessness, it truly discloses the horrors of humankind and the surrounding world.