Category Archives: Uncategorized

Response to “Discomfort Food” by Maggie Downs

On the website, littlefiction.com, I decided to look into a collection they had called, “Nonfiction: a nonfiction anthology about food and life,” as in my last exercise, I want to create a theme of emotionally connecting to music, but I don’t think I was particularly successful. Food like music, elicits of variety of response, and come to a person randomly or by choice. I was hoping to find something that figured out how to do this in a better way than I did. I choose the story “Discomfort Food,” by Maggie Downs, for its intriguing title playing on a common expression. In this story, the narrator’s mother, who is terrible, but well-meaning cook, dies, and his house is stuffed to the brim with delicious food, that lasts for weeks, from relatives and neighbors showing condolence. The strange irony in this is never addressed. As a result of his mother’s death, the narrator finds himself in situation of which was always deprived of before. I don’t know how significant it would’ve been for the author to say something like, “I’d rather eat dry chicken the rest of my life than have lost my mother,” but it’s weirder to set up it up in the exposition, where he complains about his mother’s cooking and then not coming back to it.
An incredible list of food items is given, replete with details about how each was carefully made. The narrator doesn’t describe eating any of these pieces. They sound very good, but no character in the story is there to enjoy it and I found that disappointing.

The piece was mostly about losing his mother the parts about food were very extraneous. I felt like the piece was written to be submitted for this category. The title and was only address were he talks about not feeling hungry, feeling that the food won’t be comforting. It would have been much more poignant to talk about trying to eat and not being able to. The piece takes place over several weeks, so we know he didn’t completely not eat. In the end this piece was more eulogy than anything else, though I wanted to see more details about his relationship to his mom, but rather we are given a lot of detach biographical information. It’s a sad and touching piece, but more needs to be developed, and maybe the food could be taken out completely. I didn’t get what I was looking for and felt mislead. This is a problem for creating a category and asking for submissions. People might distort their writing unnaturally. It’s harder to fit a specific category like this and have it be non-fiction. I feel like it’s not unrealistic to ask someone to talk about their love and connection to food, or to ask someone to tell a story that involves food on the ways, but to ask one to tell a story that is heavily based around food, and reveals a truth about another facet of life, is a little too ambitious. This category might have done well to open up to fiction as well as non-fiction.

(http://littlefiction.com/beta/Nomfiction_MaggieDowns.html)

Response to “Care” by Craig Santos Perez

After reading the poem “Care” by Craig Santos Perez on poets.org, I was struck by its sharp and concise language and word choice. This poem has roots in non-fiction, mainly because it deals with real life human emotions, and incorporates struggles that could easily be attributed to a real life scenario. The poem also names actual places in the world to establish a contrast between two vastly different settings. Both the island of O’ahu in Hawaii and the country of Syria are mentioned, in contrast with one another, while at the same time connecting them through the introspection of the speaker in the poem. The speaker of the poem poses the all-encompassing “what if” scenario of the safety of his surroundings becoming similar to the current day conditions in Syria. The tension in the poem comes from the presumed commentary of the turmoil in the entire Middle East region, specifically Syria, of which the media and the world has shifted the focal point to over the past year or two, because of the instability in the country.

The effectiveness of the poem comes from the fact that Perez focuses on concrete and not abstract diction. The narrative is clear, and it does not rely on “lofty” ideals that are sometimes presented in hypothetical scenarios. However, this is not to say that the poem does not touch on the issue of human existence and other philosophical ideas. Although the “drought” in the piece is grounded through the reference to Halaby pepper fields, this is used as standing point to comment on “the drought of humanity.” Through the “drought of humanity” line, we are able to recognize the shift in theme of the poem, from the speaker and his daughter, to the human race as a whole. The poem is in a sense an optimistic pleading for compassion among all humans, most especially those who are the most violent, a call to world peace, without sounding cliché. At the same time the main theme of the poem shifts, so too does the tone of it. The violent depictions of soldiers and terrorists are replaced by words like hope and refuge, which changes the dark tone, to light.

There is some interesting word play in the poem, where “Flames, nails, and shrapnel” are proposed to be “barreling” towards the speaker, regardless of the fact that it’s hypothetical. The use of the verb barreling, draws a connection to the noun barrel, which could be an allusion to oil barrels, and the unrest that has been caused over the control of oil in the Middle East. This speaks to the clever nature of the poem, and is something that makes you really. I think the purpose of this poem is to make us think, to engage the reader to consider the less fortunate, and sympathize with people who have to survive in very harsh living conditions. These are things that as an American I have the privilege of not having to worry about, too often in this country we too easily ignore the plight of others around the world.

 

Fact vs Fiction 1Q84

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is a novel that at first glance seems to not concern itself with whether its events are fact or fiction; and to be fair, the novel is written with magical fantasy elements included. But to lump 1Q84 into “fiction” or “nonfiction” would do it a disservice. It stands wholly on it’s own, and in my mind, a uniquely defies genre in its fantasy. Spoilers ahead!

Murakami saves the magic of the novel for a surprise twist that occurs at exactly the halfway point through this 800+ page novel. The first half of the book succeeds massively in realistic descriptions of the characters, their backgrounds, and their physical surroundings. For the first 400 pages, for the most part Murakami has written realistic fiction. It’s this dedication to real world Tokyo that lets the magic feel magical. In 1Q84 it is the fact that makes the fiction.

Maybe this is obvious, and the case for all types of magical realist literature. But personally, the introduction of magic into 1Q84 blew my fucking mind. Murakami does so well in writing his realistic fiction that when the magical realism kicks in, it doesn’t really feel like magic. You join the characters in feeling like reality itself has taken a total shift. In the novel the main characters find out that the world they live in, and the world everyone lives in, is actually being written by a select few powerful storytellers, who determine the thoughts motivations and actions of all the people around them. The most shocking part lies in the fact the characters we follow, that is, the characters the novel is focalized around, are not the storytellers. They are side characters, taking action based on the wills of these powerful other people, and feeling their motivations change as the story goes on. These characters are aware of their own transformations, and for the reader to watch a character they have grown close to over hundreds of pages suddenly start to lose their individuality to some other character in the story is pretty disconcerting. More than disconcerting- we’ve followed a thought pattern for chapters on chapters that all of a sudden is aware it’s changing due to the influence of another character in the story.

The relationship between fact and fiction in 1Q84 is symbiotic. The facts enhance the fiction, and the fiction enhances the facts. By grounding us in a very very real world, listing specific subway stations in Tokyo, giving the characters very real internal monologues with hopes and dreams and anxieties, and by avoiding tropes of all sorts, Murakami successfully convinces us this reality exists. Of course it does- it looks just like our own, doesn’t it? In this way 1Q84’s form reflects its content. The characters also believe their world to be real and free of magic, until they are proven wrong. The magic also makes the characters feel more factual, in that they react to the world changing around them in realistic and believable ways. By all measures, this is a real world that has suddenly been flipped upside down, on the reader and the main characters.

Fact v. Nonfiction: Redeployment

I think that people who have never been to war have certain preconceptions and attitudes about it. For example, I think that if we read stories about a veteran having PTSD, we are automatically inclined to believe it as nonfiction because in our heads, all veterans have PTSD and it’s not really something to accuse as being false. When we read that poem about a PTSD episode at Home Depot or Lowes, I don’t think many people argued that it was fiction. I did because it seemed a little cliche and contrived, but that just might be because of my experience reading books that go more in depth on these issues, one of which was Redeployment by Phil Klay

Redeployment by Phil Klay was a collection of short stories that felt so much like non-fiction. The main reason this felt so real to me is because of the various conflicts that we don’t realize happen, but we don’t see because Hollywood doesn’t think these entertaining enough for the screen. For example, there was a story where one of the soldiers got shot in the head with a sniper round. His helmet prevented it from piercing, but the force of the projectile was enough to cause serious cranial damage, knocking him out cold. He awakens safe after an ensuing firefight, and is told by other members of the platoon that the Sergeant had spent his own life saving the main character’s. What his platoon members leave out, however, is that when he got knocked out, he fell behind cover that kept him safe from the shooting. The Sergeant had lost his life saving a life that didn’t need saving. This made me believe that the stories were real because this is something that would so feasibly happen, but we don’t hear about it because we idolize the soldiers overseas, so downplaying their deaths to make it seem like an awkward situation would seem disrespectful to their service. Still, the story may have been fiction, but based on real-life events that weren’t released.

What also made it seem nonfiction is that the collection of stories didn’t seem to have a consistent theme. It seems that war movies now have the same themes of love or family or camaraderie or how hellish war is. These stories, however, seemed to only want to tell a story, as I feel most nonfiction pieces do. Nonfiction pieces I feel exist to get someone’s story out in the open, while fiction has some sort of agenda. This agenda for war movies is usually to inspire young adults to enlist. These stories, however, followed men in the war, men at home after the war, and one boring one where the main character never saw any action, but finds a girlfriend who assumed he did while he’s in law school. The stories like this one are more about people than about soldiers. Nonfiction tends to humanize people (see: Mein Kampf), while fiction tends to create cliche humanoids, and the people in these stories were humanized from the rushes of adrenaline to the monotony of rating girls at a bar.

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, littlefiction.com, 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.

(https://www.inkshares.com/books/what-do-you-wanna-talk-about–6003/book_segments/what-do-you-wanna-talk-about-)

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.