Friday, December 19, 2003
Well....that's all of them. Gotta say, wish I took more advantage of these blogs when I had the chance, but I think now I'll use it as more of a way to get things off my chest or just work things out that have been bothering me. It has been a fun semester everyone and I enjoyed reading everyone's work. Josh, thanks for your passion for writing and the effort you put into making us better people and writers. See you all around!
Junot Diaz, Drown
It has been a long time since I sat down to read a book and was uninterested in anything else besides finishing it, but that is exactly what happened as soon as I started reading Drown. Diaz writes about his home of DR, and then urban New Jersey with both honesty and affection. Sometimes brutal honesty and a painful affection. What is most remarkable is Diaz's sometimes objective look at some autobiographical moments that are in truth, tragic. He has obviously gone through a lot in his life, and his knowledge of the flip-side of the city that people rarely hear about is obvious. The barrios of NYC and New Jersey are filled with the forgotten or expelled, with nothing left to do but spend their days searching for a hit, or praying for an end. There were a number of times where I had to put the book down, both because of what he was actually describing, as well as memories it brought up that are as unpleasant as he depicts them to be. The reality of these sorts of places is that sickness and poverty are the normal course of life, and it takes a special type of person to rise above it all. Ignorance pervades the inner-cities, and it is this sense of not knowing any better that he is able to convey so effectively. Drown is a must read for anyone who has any interest at all as far as what is wrong with the U.S., as well as what problems people are able to overcome everyday. Well written and very powerful.
Julie Orrington Response
Well, it has been quite a while since this reading, but perhaps this puts me at a sort of advantage to respond to this reading, as now I can pick out the parts that really stuck with me. I remember right when the reading was over, the first thing I thought to myself was "Hm, that was pretty good I guess," but being the unreceptive person I am, the thing that stuck with me most was the way she spoke rather than the way she wrote. I was stunned to find that someone who writes so beautifully could speak so...what's the word...I don't know, unconfidently??? I mean, her sentences when she was just talking were filed with 'umms' and other place holders, and her delivery of the story was empty. But then I realized how much of an internal process writing really is. Julie may not be able to express orally everything that she feels, but on paper her words have a simple fluidity to them. They didn't seem forced at all, though when she spoke the words they sometimes did. I realized then how important delivery is as well to the feeling you are left with after a piece. Sure you can say "well, if you rely on the delivery then you can get away with a crappy piece getting applauded for an energetic reading," but a "reading" is an entirely different forum from just sitting in a quiet place and actually reading. A "reading" I think should take advantage of all the tools that are at your disposal, like many open-mic poets do. As I said, I think her piece was engaging, playful, and made me feel comfortable in a setting very foreign to me - I have almost no experience at all with Orthodox-Jewish communities, however her monotone presentation I think detracted from the otherwise quiet intensity of her story.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Week 13 entry - Blog Response
Ok, I am responding to a blog posted by Shana, that was a blog responding to one of Zach's blogs from earlier, which apparently was responding to another one of Shana's entries from way back, got it? It all goes back to that lovable debate over who we write for and who our ideal reader is. Shana really appreciated the fact that Zach was digging so deeply into her words because, as she says, "What else can a writer ask for, right?" I am not so sure. Sometimes, I most definitely agree and say that we should dig as deep as we can in order to find every last ounce of meaning we can uncover, only to find out that we haven't scratched the surface. That is the beauty of writing - you can write something with a very definite intention and have it taken in a million different ways. But that is also the frustration in writing - it seems like you can't just write something that has its intention right on the surface without it being too simple, or too easy, or just not worthwhile. Why do we feel like we have to hide our intentions behind a veil of a complicated story? Wouldn't it be refreshing to read something and just be like "Ok, well, here's what we're intended to think...here's what happens...done!" without all of the "well I think that he...no actually I took it as being...I'm not sure but..." and all the exchanges that follow. I may just be spitting out whatever my fingers feel like typing, but sometimes I wish that simplicity could be taken as just as relevant as something that is overly complicated, because just because we can't understand something doesn't make it good...it just makes it hard to understand. The quality comes from what it is that we ARE able to understand and relate to. Eh, what do I know.
Week 12 entry - Ideal Reader
I'm not sure if I can come up with an "ideal reader," as that would mean that there is some type of person out there who will take my writing a certain way - the way it is supposed to be taken, and there simply is no certain way to take any piece of writing really. Actually, maybe my ideal reader is one who knows nothing about what I am writing about, so that they read the story with no preconceptions of me, my subject matter, my setting, and simply take the words on paper for the story they tell and nothing more, no pretext, no forewarning. But then again, maybe I want my readers who come from a similar experience to be able to connect more intimately with the subject matter I write, maybe I write first for myself, and second for those who understand why I am writing what I write. Maybe I want to add little inside jokes that only certain people will get and others will label as "unclear," "extraneous," or "unneeded." Maybe I want to write something that gets read around the world by every human on the planet some how and have every one of them say "I got it," and laugh because I know there is only one person walking the earth who "gets it," and she has never even read it. Maybe I want my reader to talk to me about it afterwards and try and see what I was thinking, or maybe I just want them to read it, then forget about it right afterwards, but maybe I want them to remember reading "something" that resonates with them when they decide they too want to write about "something." Maybe I want my reader to be critical, maybe I just want them to humor my inadequacies and say, "Wow, Brian, that was amazing," and then laugh about how the whole piece was just way too confusing to be any good. Maybe I want my ideal reader to take it upon themselves to figure out that confusion and see what's going on beneath the frenzy. Maybe I want people to read this and go "Oh, that was nice," or maybe I just want people to skip my piece and leave my thoughts to just me.
Week 11 entry - Respond to a story - Robert Hass "A Story About the Body"
This was the kind of story that takes on a new meaning every time you read it. The first time, I thought this woman just was not happy with his rejection of her and resorted to some sort of sick and downright weird payback by putting the bowl of rose pedals and bees at his door. Then, as I read it more times, I began to think that maybe this bowl is her way of expressing herself somehow, that perhaps nothing is exactly what it seems and you need to be ready to accept both the good and bad parts of a person. It was sort of a strange little story to begin with as it was hard to imagine what one of these artists colonies would look like - I pictured just some sort of generic forest with log cabins here and there and picnic tables, but it would obviously be more than that since they were coming from a concert. I started to then look at him and what sort of person he was. At first, it seemed as though appearances were not too important to him as he was young while she was almost 60 - all that was important to him was finding a kindred spirit. But then, it says that he enjoyed "watching" her, so there is some sort of eroticism involved here. As a painter, she would be making smooth brush strokes along the canvas, and perhaps it was this elegance he was attracted to. My mind can't really get very far with a thought about this piece as there is not much to work with, yet so much that I can't stop thinking about it. She is extremely direct ("I think you would like to have me. I would like that too...") which could pertain to her status as an artist - finding absolute honesty within herself and outwardly expressing it. As I said, I really am not sure what to think of this piece at all, yet I am extremely fascinated by it and its ability to cover so much ground in such a short amount of space.
Week 10 entry - Create a character.
Sure, it was a '71 Dodge Dart, but it was HIS '71 Dodge Dart that he bought with HIS $320. No insurance, no registration, just him, the slime-like green that covered the interior and exterior, and the open road...and those damn stop signs. 5...10...13...19...24...27...STOP! Almost to 30, but that 3-speed automatic transmission from the good folks at Chrysler just don't feel like 30mph is a safe speed for a cardboard box with wheels to be going in between stop signs on a residential street. There was the schoolyard - there was where he'd make his mark. Pump up the bass, blast the volume...play. "BZZZRRRR RRRRRUUUUFFFFF" Turn the bass down...no change. Lower the volume...it becomes somewhat recognizable. Although still struggling to get the radio to play a somewhat decipherable song, the loud annoying sound was enough to get everyone's attention in the yard. Boys stopped playing ball, girls stopped talking to each other, and everyone watched him struggle for a good 2 minutes to parallel park this tank of an automobile only to have the back right wheel on the curb and half of the hood sticking out into the street. The license plates read "ROAD DOG;" fake unregistered plates he swiped from his dad's basement. The door closed with a creak, but he confidently walked around the back of the car and squeezed through the narrow space between his bumper and the car behind him. He tossed the keys up in the air...then accidentally dropped them to the floor; the jingling sound was muffled by the laughter. He went inside the park and leaned against the fence, just waiting for the throngs of people that were sure to approach him and beg for a ride...but they never came. He waited longer, but nobody gave him a second look. What the hell do I have to do to get some around here? he wondered, and then she came. "Nice whip, can I get a ride home." He did it...$320 and now everyone would know what a stud he was. "Sure." Like a true gentleman, he opened the door for her, then ran around to let himself in. This is it, he thought, once she hears this baby purr she's all mine. Crank crank crank. He smiled at her and she smiled back. Crank crank crank. No no no, not now. Crank crank crank crank crank. He gripped the steering wheel tightly and starred straight ahead. "Yo, you can ride on my handlebars, I'll take you home." And with that, she left. Handlebars? God...some people just have no class.
Week 5 entry - Favorite piece of music.
Music is a huge part of my personality and life, and as a grow older and expand myself to incorporate aspects of life that I had not experienced, so too did I expand my horizons of the music that I listened to. I started out listening primarily to hip-hop music (which must be obvious by now), however now my favorite artists span from the likes of Mos Def to Edgar Winter, 2 Pac to Sting, and The Notorious B.I.G. to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I don't have one particular favorite song/artist, just certain tunes that catch my ear at certain times...recently I've been feeling "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I guess I'll write about them. I'm not a die-hard RHCP fan or anything, in fact I don't own any of their CDs, I just download some of their songs and happen to like most of them. This song starts out, "Sometimes I feel like I don't have a partner / Sometimes I feel like my only friend / is the city I live in, the City of Angels..." and then goes on to talk about how he and the city cry together. When I first heard this song many years ago, these words did not have nearly as much meaning as they do now. Now, I kind of relate to his moment of insanity because of some sort of event that led to depression, anger, etc. You're not really told WHY he is feeling this way, just the fact that he is, and the results of it. What also resonates is the characterization of his city of Los Angeles, as the city of New York is constantly given a personality in music, writing, and film. I connected with his feelings of solitude despite being surrounded by millions, and also with the strange phenomenon that seems to occur when you are in an extreme mood in the city. Perhaps it is all in my head, but when I am feeling particularly down, it almost seems as if the city itself is watching as well as playing some sort of active role, whether it is making me feel better, worse, or just different. It sounds kind of silly but I guess living in a place like New York City forces you to develop a sort of relationship with it - a love/hate relationship as there are times when you hate the city and the things that happen in it and the hardship that your fellow New Yorkers and you have to endure, but then you realize that you wouldn't trade it all for anything. When he actually starts singing about being under the bridge, there is some indication of self-inflicted pain, even suicide. Everyone has, or someday will, go through a really bad situation that will alter your whole perspective on the world. When that time comes, and goes, the feeling that you had will never escape your memories, and never again will you ever want to experience that. Here, he is talking about this feeling that was allowing him to hurt himself, and after he snapped out of it, he says "And I don't ever wanna feel like I did that day." The great thing about music is that there usually isn't a full picture painted in every song, which allows you to take it however you wish and apply it to any situation that fits.
Week 3 entry - 2 Favorite pieces response (living and dead)
Though I debated a long time over what pieces I would use for this entry, and whether I would stick with the assignment to actually use a living and a dead, I decided to go with Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison - two of the most important book anyone will ever read about American history and culture. At first glance, the similar themes behind the books are obvious - racism, location, companionship - but this does not mean that the connections are any less vivid or interesting to explore. We're asked to write about the space in between our two selections, and the first sort of space that exists here is time period, both of when it was written and when it takes place. Twain's classic tale was first published in 1884 and takes place during a similar era, while Morrison's novel was published in 1970 and is set in the early 1930s. The time between these two works is roughly 50 years, and this is evidenced by the world that Morrison portrays, which is remarkably different due to the monumental events that occurred between those periods, yet disappointingly the same when it comes to the mindset of many of the characters since we are dealing with many members of the same generation and their children in these books, and perhaps their grandchildren as well. What this means is that the mentality of the slave owners found in Huckleberry Finn directly affects the behavior of whites in The Bluest Eye. Both books also paint a vivid picture of the youth at the time, with Twain using a (somewhat) admirable young white boy whose morals lead him to help a runaway slave escape, and Morrison telling the story of a young black girl who has grown up in a world that has contempt for her simply because of her skin color, leading her to imagine herself as an entirely different person just to find some sort of happiness and acceptance (even if the acceptance is coming from an imaginary friend). The role of the family is also explored in both books, and more specifically, the consequences of the times as shown through abusive/alcoholic fathers. In all, these two works make a successful attempt at depicting an everyday human condition that existed back in those days from two different points-of-view.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Monday, November 03, 2003
I come from Queens, New York, which is one of the five boros of New York City (to those of you who are perhaps not familiar with the city at all, it is not comprised of just "Manhattan"). More specifically, I am actually pretty close to the border between Queens and Long Island, and my particular town (county, district, I don't know what to call it) of Floral Park actually extends to both sides of the border. Although there are some noticeable visual differences such as street numbers on my side as opposed to street names in Long Island, and a clear border defined by the change in color of the asphalt road, the biggest difference is actually the groups that come from either side. There tend to be a lot of arguments between groups from the Queens side and groups from the Long Island side for one reason or another, and I'm not positive what the reasoning behind it is. My little area of Queens is actually surrounded by borders, besides just the Long Island one that I mentioned. If I walk just a few minutes down Hillside Avenue, the scenery changes dramatically. After Floral Park, it is Bellerose, then Queens Village, Hollis, and then finally Jamaica. All of these different areas are within a short walking distance of each other, so everyone in these different areas knows about the other neighborhoods as well. Queens is not what people would think of when they think of New York City. It is mostly houses, townhouses, smaller apartment buildings, as well as a number of public housing units and co-ops as well, depending on the area. The people who live here are very mixed, however as you get closer to Jamaica, the gradual change becomes more predominantly black. I don't know much about the history of where I'm from other than the recent hip-hop history from my neighborhood. Russell Simmons (founder of Def Jam) grew up on Hillside Avenue a few blocks before Jamaica starts, LL Cool J grew up about a ten minute drive or so from my house, Ja Rule actually went to my junior highschool (but that isn't something we like to brag about) and grew up on Jamaica Avenue, along with 50 Cent. Those are the bigger names that people would know, however hip-hop has had a very significant impact on my entire neighborhood, and most obviously on the entire city. Almost everyone dresses in very urban clothes, with loose fitting jeans and shirts and various other items such as baseball caps, chains, headbands, etc. You'll hear rap music being blasted out of cars or houses much more than any other genre, and the slang that everyone uses all stems from hip-hop. It is very hard to paint a clear picture of my neighborhood as it is probably not what people are picturing just because of peoples preconceptions of what New York City is and what an urban environment is supposed to look like, however it is very much an important part of NYC culture and, as with people from all of the respective boros, people from Queens are very proud of that fact and let everyone around know that as often as possible.
Monday, October 20, 2003
My assignments have not really leaned towards prose nor poetry, but before this class it was a most definite rare occasion that I dabbled in anything other than a normal story or essay. Poetry seems like a much more internal type of writing, whereas prose may be much more adept at describing the actual happenings of the world. Emotions tend to be the focus of a lot of poems - trying to find the right combination and placement of very specific words in order to convey to the reader the feeling that the writer may be experiencing. This is done more ways than not by describing an event in such a specific way that the reader is reminded of the way they feel when going through a similar thing. Perhaps this is because, as my previous entry says as well, emotions are an almost impossible thing to explain in words - you just feel them. So when a poet writes about the feeling he gets every time the object of his affection looks at him, he may be more prone to talk about flowers blooming in the springtime or the cool breeze of the ocean, or something like that, than simply describing the events that are taking place, ie - she looked at me and I felt funny. Where that event may hold just a small space in a piece of prose, albeit a very important piece that the author may go into detail describing, it is rare that a writer will do an entire piece on the brief moment. Contrastingly, a poet could write a number of poems on that one second of his life in an unending search for the perfect compilation of nouns, verbs, and adjectives to express that exact and unique feeling.
I have to say that T.S. Eliot's criticism on Hamlet was quite interesting, especially when one considers how highly regarded Shakespeare is for his ability to communicate the vast range of human emotions effectively. Eliot's notion of the "objective correlative" is an interesting idea, that is, a feeling which is either very difficult to express or downright impossible because of its complexity, however I feel as though it makes emotions to exact of an idea. What I mean is that Eliot may be too quick to label specific emotions, such as love, hate, sadness, joy, sorrow, regret, etc, when in fact people normally feel many emotions simultaneously all the time. His beef with Shakespeare was that he was trying to portray emotions felt by Hamlet which he himself did not even understand, and that it showed in his writings. However, how can anyone truly understand the emotions felt by the characters in many of his plays, which gets to my point - one does not need to have an understanding of an emotion, and I don't think we ever do have an understanding of any emotion. For example, everybody and their mother writes about "love," but when asked what love is, have you ever met somebody who doesn't smile and look to the sky for the right words to describe it? Or when asked to ponder "what is it to be sad," there is definition which we go by. We simply feel something. So who is Eliot to blame Shakespeare for writing about emotions which he himself does not even understand, after all, we writers have just been bull shitting our ways into fame since people started caring about what we had to say.
The draw of the mystery genre does not lie entirely in leaving the reader wondering "what next?" because all good stories should have that effect on the reader. Instead, mysteries give us very specific clues as to what is about to transpire. While it is true that most stories, whether in a book, on film, or through word of mouth, give some sort of indication of what is yet to pass, a true "mystery" delivers these clues in such a specific way that the reader, or viewer, or listener, can formulate their own theories of what is going to happen, all of which are feasible and equally valid. Taking an example from film, in Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects we are given hints as to who the real Keyser Soze is, or rather, whether or not he actually exists. What is most attractive about this particular script, however, is that the film forces you to have an opinion as far as who is responsible for what, who is working for who, etc, but in the end, it completely surprises everyone by throwing in a very extreme twist (I don't want to ruin it for those who haven't seen it yet) which is not in any way "coming out of nowhere" or really feasible in the context of the story. Instead, it simply delivers one of the best surprise endings ever, which a mystery is more capable, and in my opinion more deserving, to do than any other type of genre. Any story can have a "blow you away" ending, but a mystery encourages you to continually guess at what that ending may be, and then gives you a sort of satisfaction at the end, whether you were right or wrong in your various hypotheses. This is not to say that a mystery is all about the ending. In fact, the journey is what makes the culmination so important. If the reader does not care how the story turns out, then that ending which the author is working so hard to deliver with an explosion will be nothing more than a fizzle, followed by a "oh, well, I guess that was kind of cool." Perhaps this is why your stereotypical mystery, the ones with P.I.'s finishing a flask of whiskey in their office on a dark and stormy night when a vixen in a scarlet dress comes walking in, blah blah blah, have such colorful characters and cliff-hanger situations. The technique of the mystery is the 'pull' the reader along to the end, so when we can hardly wait to see what sort of twist the next page has to offer, we are more than willing to play along.
Monday, October 06, 2003
“You taste like cookies.”
“You taste like fruit punch,” I answered.
My first kiss. The knot that was getting tighter and tighter in my stomach was finally becoming undone, and coherent sentences once again resided in my mind. Her simple observation of the lingering taste of the chocolate chip cookie I ate during lunch eased all the muscles in my body, and invoked my honest and innocent response.
“So that’s what it feels like…”
The smile that beamed from my face must have said it all, not to mention the completely unneeded wipe of my mouth as we rejoined our friends downstairs. Those ten seconds that we shared, though completely insignificant to the undertakings of the rest of the world, were at the time, the most cherished ten seconds of my life. Nothing could fell me that day – I was Atlas and the weight of the world would seem like nothing with the strength that circulated through my twelve-year old body. All because of a kiss.
When we broke up a week later, I thought that never again would I ever feel that sensation again. I was Samson, and my hair had just been cleaved. But then I learned, as children do, that these earth-shattering moments in our lives are, in the long run, just a miniscule event to chuckle about later on down the road. What I am only realizing now, however, is that the feeling that I had that day was more significant than perhaps I would ever realize. That feeling of sharing something so beautiful, and so fresh, with another human being.
Perhaps that is our obsession with this notion of love. Rare is it that one writes a “love story” about their enjoyment of this emotion. Instead, it is more common for one to tell about their heart-break, or their yearning for that certain someone – they are seeking that feeling of connectedness with the object of their desires. Why would someone write about how great love is…they should be with that person enjoying that greatness every moment they possibly can. Instead, love is left to those who know it only through tragedy, through heart-break, through despair, or perhaps the saddest there is – those who have never known love at all.
Sunday, October 05, 2003
Writing for me is a kind of spontaneous thing. An idea can just hit me from out of nowhere, sometimes when I'm just daydreaming in class (but definitely not in this class, of course), when I'm just walking around campus or at home, or strangely enough, a lot of times they come to me when I'm taking a shower. When these ideas do finally come upon me, it is really important that I write down as much as I can about them before the freshness of the idea fades. Then at some point, after I've brainstormed enough or gotten down as much as I can, I'll begin the actual final writing process. This is usually more for when I'm working on a screenplay more than anything. For a poem or other story of some kind, I'll usually just sit in front of my computer or piece of paper for a moment, and then just let whatever happens happen. I don't do an enormous amount of pre-planning prior to a piece, but I am definitely not opposed to editing the piece afterwards. Writing is a sort of stress reliever to me at times too, but those pieces are usually not the ones I am as quick to share with others, save a few close friends perhaps. There is just something about expressing exactly what it is that you want to say, even if nobody is going to know that you're expressing it but yourself. The actual process is a very internal one, and it truly is great when one is able to clearly state exactly what they are or were thinking.