Monday, October 22, 2007

Process Paper G2-4/Goddard

Annotation #10: Kosinski (revised) and original annotation
Annotation #11: Paul Bowels
Annotation #12: John Gardner
Long Critical Paper revision and first draft
Chapter one From Color to Ansbach and first draft

Dear Kyle,

I hope all is well with you. Things here have changed significantly since the last packet. Looking at the dates, it’s been less than three weeks, but it feels like so much longer to me. Of all the packets, and all the work I’ve done so far in the program, I feel I’ve gown the most in these last few weeks. Generally speaking, I have had so much to thing about in this process of writing, revision, thinking and rethinking. I apologize about the size of this packet; I’ve sent you way more than the usual page allotment. However, I have sent you older drafts of everything for your reference.

In your last response, you asked about the stories of Paul Bowels and the John Gardner chapter on plotting. Well, I read them, and thank you for introducing me these two fine writers. I only read the three stories from Paul Bowels which you recommended: “Midnight Mass,” “The Husband,” and “The Little House.” I was so impressed by them, and baffled I had never heard of Paul Bowels before now. I understand why you suggested them, and I see why you like him. In my brief research of this writer, I discovered he was first a composer and later a writer. I have not heard any of his music, but I plan to when the semester has ended.

John Gardner, at least the chapter on plot was equally as impressive. I didn’t find it dense in the least. The usefulness of what it taught me is in my annotation. Again, once the dust settles a little I plan to read the whole text. Speaking of reading, I wrote down every title of all the novels and stories he alluded to in the chapter, and I daresay I have a pretty impressive preliminary bibliography for next semester.
The long critical paper. Yikes. I must admit, I was in a panic like no other a couple of weeks ago. A simple revision on this paper would not have been acceptable. After a few stressful days, I reread a few chapters in How to Write an Essay, the Sparknotes book I showed you during the residency. I cannot begin to explain the comfort and usefulness I have found in this how-to book. The how-to on revision was simply this: from the outside in- 1) organization of thoughts and arrangement of body paragraphs, 2) weak or illogical arguments and 3) ideas in the introduction and conclusion. Then they suggest focusing on the smaller issues: 1) sentence structure, 2) word choice, and 3) proofreading. Those guideline were exactly how I tackled the rewrite. It is a rewrite. I felt a little embarrassed about the first paper when I read it again, and I felt bad about wasting your time on that draft. However, I do trust in the process, and the second paper is much sounder. I narrowed the focus, I took a linear approach, and I let the flow of events stay solely with smaller aspects. I trust in this paper a thousand times more than the last.

The struggle to convey my critical thoughts on the page is diminishing everyday with practice, and with work. When I think about the critical aspects of this program, it really is the basis of building creative thoughts.

The creative work is moving along. I haven’t yet found the leaps and bounds with it as I have with the critical work. The John Gardner chapter helped out immensely. The concept that warrants conversation here is the use of exposition. In judging what to include as well as how to include it and where the next step is for me. Working from an initial situation and working from the climax backwards is worth thought with Carmichael. He’s doing a little of both, and I will be focusing on it more. In the first chapter of the revision, there are still a few places that need work, but it’s getting better.

Fortunately, I have the next three weeks to work on my story almost exclusively. I have focused mostly on my critical work so far this semester. The emphasis now is the creative work. Whatever happens in packet five, I hope is the foundation for my work in semester three. Do you have more words of advice for me now?

I had a strange thought about my story the other day, how different will it be if I wrote in it the third person rather than the first? I don’t know exactly how it will work. However, in the Gardner chapter he does say the exposition of events should be shown not told. I realize there is much more telling than showing. Structurally speaking, the third person would force me to examine the events in a completely different way. Well, it was only a thought.

Anyhow, I hope packet number four is an improvement. I look forward to all criticism and comments.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Pertinent Points of “Plotting” (Annotation G2-12/Goddard)

Aristotle described plot with three main parts, a beginning, middle and end. John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction chapter on plotting expands on Aristotle’s model. Three pertinent points of plotting are: the three ways a writer works to develop a story, patterns of exposition and the Fichtean Curve for the episodic rhythm of the novel.
According to Gardner:
The writer works in one of three ways, sometimes two or more at once: he borrows some traditional story or action drawn form life; he works backwards from his climax; or he works forward from an initial situation, (Gardner 165).
It must be nearly impossible to use a single one of these methods, as the each is flat by itself. A linear story from the first situation to the last or the last to the first would appear to have no contour, like driving across Nevada in the night. Using this analogy, the road is relatively flat, and the night is dark. Although there are road signs to look at, as well as lines in the road, the story is simply, it was a dark, dark night, and the miles from one edge of Nevada to the next number over 400. Likewise, developing a story with a traditional or life forming experience, the drive across Nevada takes a different turn. While in Nevada, a general stop at The Griddle in Elko is well worth the time off the road, there are always interesting folks there and the breakfasts are the breakfasts road trips are made for.
Working with more than one of these, the same drive across Nevada starting at the initial situation (or with end in mind) and drawing from experiences, the story is more than the rather monotonous landscapes, wide expanses of road and includes more than the just the travel quips of good breakfasts. Ascertaining the initial situation or the climatic end augmented by the traditional story or life forming events makes the story less predictable, more believable, and more readable.
In the development of the story and the plot itself the use of exposition wisely keeps the flow going.
If the plot is to elegant, not sloppy and inefficient, then for the ensuing action the reader must know the full set of causes and (essentially) nothing else; that is, no important information in the exposition should be irrevelant to the action that ensues, (Gardner 186).
Back in Nevada, exposition of the character driving from west to east (or east to west) has to have a reason for the drive, or the stop in Elko, and all background information given by the writer is for the development of the plot or current action and nothing else is needed.
Lastly, the Fichtean Curve, the wow moment, reveals the climax quickly and efficiently. Knowing where to start in the drive across Nevada is just as important as the place to end the drive, after that wow moment. Perhaps with the example, the entire drive across Nevada need only be the few miles before Elko until a few miles on the other side, rather than the 410 miles across along I-80. The Fichtean Curve, however, doesn’t have to be one single incident. There can be as many of these such wow moments in smaller versions in each chapter, or in each situation; hence, making a rhythm of episodes into the grander scheme of the larger story.
Knowing the rules of story construction and methods of plotting makes the story, or novel a more engaging read rather than a simple beginning, middle, and end.

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paul Bowles Mix of Cultures (Annotation G2-11/Goddard)

The mix of cultures in Paul Bowles “Midnight Mass,” “The Husband,” and “The Little House” develop conflict almost instantly. These stories, set in Morocco are observant of the mix of people who are part of the culture of this Northern African country. The conflicts the characters get involved with are quickly established, not easily resolved and linger long after the words of the story end.
In “Midnight Mass,” conflicts begin at the onset. A Frenchman has returned to Tangier to the house of his childhood. Eight years after the death of his mother, the man returns to the house to find it in deplorable condition. Having his plans of spending the Christmas holiday thwarted by the disrepair of the house he telegraphs his wife telling her the house is not fit for the holiday festivities. Instantly he tries to get the house repaired. Knowing it is Christmas time, a Christian holiday, he employs Moroccans to begin work. “It was Ramadan; they worked without speaking, feeling their hunger and thirst in silence,” (Bowles 421).
He invites a French woman, Madame Dervaux for drinks on Christmas Eve. She invites “interesting people” and the evening is an awkward one. He becomes relieved when they all want to leave the party for midnight mass, a Catholic tradition. “Three Moslems, one Hindu and one atheist, all running off to Midnight Mass? Ridiculous, no?” (Bowles 425)
Of the three stories, “Midnight Mass” is the most blatantly obvious clash of cultures. “The Husband” also makes use of two varying cultures to develop conflict. Abdallah, the husband lives in a two-room house with his wife. “Long ago the woman had set a pattern of their life by going out to work as a maid in Nazarene houses,” (Bowles 513). The exposition of the first few sentences it is understood that the couple is poor, the son lives with an Englishman for whom he is a gardener. The husband doesn’t work, and the wife, as a maid works for Nazarene people. The Nazarene people, Christians, presumably, are better off, as the wife tends to steal articles from their houses. The couple sells the stolen goods to supplement their livelihood. Over time, a change in the wife occurs when she develops the taste of the Nazarene people, and wants to keep the things she steals. Later, after the husband becomes estranged a stolen set of silver spoons drives the events of the rest of the story.
The conflict in the third story, “The Little House” also alludes to the Moslem/Nazarene mix within the town, but it is not the central conflict. The culture conflict lies with the two women of the story, Fatoma, the wife and Lalla Aїcha, the mother. Fatoma being a modern town dweller is embarrassed by the traditional dress her mother-in-law, a traditional woman from a remote village. “It filled her with shame to walk in the street beside a tottering old woman in a haїk,” (Bowles 529). Whereas the conflict between these women is partly the modern versus the traditional, most of their trouble is simply the two live together in a little house. Rather than simply using the jealous of two women who would be inclined to fight over household supremacy, Bowles overlays the difficulties with the complexity of their respective generations.
In the brevity of these stories, all conflicts the characters endure have the added tension of culture. All characters have their motivations, and desires, to color them in the guise of cultural lenses make their conflicts more intense, and less obviously resolved.

Bowles, Paul. The Stories of Paul Bowles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, INC, 2001.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tommy Wilhelm’s Day of Reckoning (Annotation G2-15)

“Oh, this was a day of reckoning,” (Bellow 103). Tommy Wilhelm has found himself, by early afternoon in a brokerage office with Dr. Tamkin, a man who has convinced him of the easy money to be made in the commodities market. Lard is down, rye is steadily climbing up, but the fear of losing on these commodities is close to the surface for Tommy Wilhelm. As he watches the last of his money falling with the points of lard he asks himself how he got there, and realizes that today is the day he looks at the truth. Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day is a few hour glimpse into Tommy Wilhelm’s day of reckoning.
The truth Wilhelm seeks is the alienation he feels. This alienation and his present situation came as a series of events over a long period of time. Neglecting to pursue college and medicine like his father, his failed Hollywood career, the loss of his long-term job with Rojax Corporation, the death of his mother, being estranged from his sister, his wife and his two sons and his girlfriend, Wilhelm finds himself living in a resident hotel, the same hotel as his father. The dwindling money from his brokerage account and his bills coming due add to the stress of the day.
The novella’s time line begins with Tommy Wilhelm in the elevator from his room in the hotel to the dinning room where he generally eats breakfast with his father. He is critical of his appearance, but confident because he wears a hat and smokes a cigar, implying he has to wear a disguise. “When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow,” (Bellow 7). The story ends with him crying at the funeral of a stranger some time shortly after lunch. “He, alone of all the people in the chapel, was sobbing. No one knew who he was,” (Bellow 125). In the short relationship the reader has with Wilhelm, Bellow has created a character who is easy to pity. However, in light of the American dream, one of financial success, money equates to wellbeing and status. Wilhelm discovers his lack of direction, his lack of money and his utter loneliness as the reader learns about Wilhelm. However, the difference is simply that the reader realizes much earlier that this is the day of reckoning for Wilhelm.
Bellow, using Wilhelm hits on so many points of modern life, especially in a post World War II world. Wilhelm had been a clerk in the Army participating in the Pacific Theater, and had come home to get an adequate job as a salesman. In the hotel on his morning of reckoning, Wilhelm eats breakfast with his father and another resident, both of whom had been successful men in their prime. In the conversation, Wilhelm feels his life has not been a success because unlike the old men, he has no wealth to show for it.
Monetary wealth aside, he is searching for something in his life, and desperately trying to find reassurance. Dr Tamkin offers such hopefulness, and convinces Wilhelm to look to the commodities market to earn a living. Ultimately, Tamkin looses the last of Wilhelm’s money, and with it the last of his hope. In Tamkin’s “seize the day” speech in the brokerage office Wilhelm is unable to leave the past behind. It was a day of reckoning indeed, and the day ends with a tearful fit in the midst of strangers. In his tears, Wilhelm doesn’t exactly come to terms with the past, nor with his future, but he heroically reaches the emotion fulfilling the reckoning.

Bellow, Saul. Seize the Day. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1966.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Flecther as Character in American Buffalo (Annotation G2-14/Goddard)

The plan to steal a coin, and the relationship between the conspirers consume the dialogue in David Mamet’s play, American Buffalo. The entire story takes place in one location, Don’s Resale Shop, and represented by three characters: Don, Bob and Teach. Fletcher, the fourth character never makes an appearance on the stage, or on the page, but is referred to by the other characters. Impressively, the development of Fletcher comes only in the words of others, making him a valuable character despite his absence.
As the play opens, in Don’s Resale Shop, Don and Bob, his assistant, are talking about street smarts and the privy practices of poker. Fletcher makes his first appearance in the initial dialog as Don tells Bob: “Now, Fletcher is a standup guy” (Mamet 4). In the description of Fletcher, Don tells Bob as well as the reader how Fletcher, with only a nickel in his pocket can take a town “by the balls” and own it by nightfall. This reverence of Fletcher continues through the description of the card game of the night before. Don’s feelings are clear early on about his friend Fletcher, and he urges Bob to model himself on Fletcher.
Teacher, the third visible character appears early in the Resale Shop as an aggressive misogynist, he enters the scene angry about a recent conversation with Ruthie and Grace. After taking offense to something one of them said to him, Teach retells the situation to Bob and Don. Very telling about his character, Teach is the kind of guy who believes he has friends and that these friends like him. However, if he is the kind of person to be angry over trivial matters and talk ill of friends behind their backs, he is not trustworthy as a person or character. Knowing his feelings early on about Ruthie and Grace, it is only a matter of time before his feelings about everyone come out. Teach seems to want to exert control over Don, and has an instant distrust of Bob.
As Teach inserts himself in the plan to lift a coin from a collector, a job Don and Bob were already mired in, Teach tries to come across as an expert in such thefts. As Don loses patients and control with Teach, he suggests they should include Fletcher in the job. At this suggestion, Teach realizes the split of the coin theft profit gets smaller for each with more participants and he tries to slander Fletcher. In the slander, Teach brings up the card game from the night before, and tries to make Don believe Fletcher is not the card player that Don once thought he was. Teach makes a very believable argument that Fletcher is in league with Ruthie and Grace, suggesting that the three of them cheated both Don and Teach out of money. Retelling events from the card game Teach tries to assert control by eliminating Fletcher from Don’s plan to steal the coin.
Questions of Fletcher’s character arise with the opposition of Teach and Don: Don believes Fletcher to be a standup guy and Teach calls him a cheater. As the time comes near to execute the plan, Don and Teach are still in disagreement over Fletcher’s inclusion, and they both wait for him to arrive. As the play closes, the entrance of Fletcher never happens. Bob relieves the tension by telling Teach and Don about Fletcher being hospitalized after a mugging.

Mamet, David. American Buffalo. New York: Grove Press, 1976.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Symbolism in Mrożek’s “The Elephant” (Annotation G2-13/Goddard)

Mrożek uses an elephant as symbol of success and prosperity in his story “The Elephant”.
The zoological garden in a Polish provincial town is missing an elephant in its collection of animals. The importance of the regal beast is simply the status of the zoo and the people of the town. However, the cost of such an animal is more than the provincial town can afford and they wait patiently for an allocation of either funds or the elephant itself from Warsaw. The Director of the zoo, sensitive to the laborers of his country, sends a letter to Warsaw explaining another, more economical means of acquiring an elephant. He suggests the elephant should be manufactured of rubber, hence eliminating the cost of a real elephant. The order the rubber elephant is a façade to keep the appearance of wealth and prosperity.
To keep the operation covert, two keepers are assigned the task of inflating the elephant at night when there is no visitor at the zoo. A sign is painted explaining that this particular elephant is particularly sluggish to avoid suspicion that the animal may not be real.
This elephant, filled with gas by the two lazy zookeeper is unveiled on the 22nd of July, the anniversary of the liberation. The day of its unveiling is symbolic in itself, and as the zoo fills with schoolchildren and eager animal lovers, Mrożek chooses wisely a scene of conscientious students and their teacher to describe the scene. “The weight of a fully grown elephant is between none and thirteen thousand pounds,” (Mrożek 101). “At that moment the elephant shuddered and rose in the air. For a few seconds it swayed just above the ground, but a gust of wind blew is upward until its mighty silhouette was against the sky,” (Mrożek 101). As the elephant flies away, the crowd of schoolchildren stand horrified at the sight. The long awaited elephant flies out of the zoo. With the flight of the elephant, the façade of success is broken. The day of liberation celebration creates the rise of questions, namely how can a fully-grown elephant of nine to thirteen hundred pounds float away on the slightest breeze?
The real humor in the situation is the despair of the last the last paragraph of the story: “The schoolchildren who had witnessed the scene in the zoo soon started neglecting their studies and turned into hooligans. It is reported that they drink liquor and break windows. And they no longer believe in elephants” (Mrożek 101).
If the elephant symbolizes the wealth and wellbeing of a community, a town, or the country as a whole and it is a false one, a façade, such a scene can only bring the reality of life home, especially to children.

Mrożek, Slawomir. “The Elephant.” Trans. Konrad Syrop. Sudden Fiction International. Ed. Robert Shapard and James Thomas. New York: WW Norton, 1989. 98-101.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Process Paper G2-3/Goddard


Annotation #7: Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley
Annotation #8: Kotzwinle’s The Exile
Annotation #9: Colette’s “The Other Wife”

Second Short Critical Paper Revision

Creative Work: The Upstairs Room, Pea Plants and Ants, The Yellow Suit

Dear Kyle,

Thank you for sending play-reading as a pleasure. It’s good to learn something, and it was especially interesting to think about George Bernard Shaw using character descriptions to enhance a reader’s interpretation of characters. I tried to apply it to the reading of Mamet’s play and found a deeper comprehension of the dialogue. I’ve read it now three times, and I wonder if I would have to see the play three times to get it? It makes me wonder if I am more of a visual learner. Anyhow, thank you, and please expect my annotation on the play in packet number four.

I also tried your vivid image in each sentence exercise. I’m using it more for prewriting, the stuff I do in my notebooks when I’m just getting started. It’s useful as an exercise, and thanks for sharing it with me.

Before I get further, packet number three was perhaps the most difficult packet this semester. I’m not sure why that’s the case, but here goes:

My annotations were fun to write. Somewhere along the path, I’ve really come to enjoy these annotations. I may have gotten over the stress of something clever to think about as I read these novels and stories, or I’ve just gotten used to thinking a little differently. The Talented Mr. Ripley gave me insight into a different form of third person narration, which I have discussed in the annotation. The Kotzwinkle novel, I loved, still lingers on in my thoughts. The juxtaposition of two different times, places, and characters was fantastic. I am hooked on Kotzwinkle. Lastly, “The Other Wife” said more in a few pages than some writers say in an entire novel. I feel I growing sophistication in my reading. Oddly, what I’m reading seems to be getting more intense.

The second short critical paper revision went well. I took all your critiques. I also found a few spelling errors neither of us caught the first time. In reading the paper again after all these weeks, I really did see it with fresh eyes. As with the annotations, I’m really getting off on the revision and critical thought in these papers. What happened to me?

My creative work… here’s where the shift has come. I felt like all the work I've done on this story last semester was fresh, exciting, inspired. I no longer feel that way. “Soles of Locomotives,” is as you described it in the last response letter. I spent a little time trying to revise it, and to no avail. It took too long to get Carmichael from the station to home, and it’s taking too long for him to do many things. I don’t know why this is the case. Slow, boring, yuck!

In a way I’m treating these little chapters like vignettes, because they feel more like sketches than sovereign pieces of the whole. As funny as this may sound, I’m only sending you a fraction of what I’ve written, partly because of the page limitation within each packet. I counted the pages today of all I’ve written so far, and I have well over 200 pages, and yet I really don’t see a story emerging. We spoke last semester of issues of structure, and those issues have become real problems for me. I’ve been writing on this thing nearly everyday. As an analogy, maybe I’m bringing building materials to a work site, and instead of actually building something, I’m just stock piling material. I don’t know. I’m not at my wits end yet, but I’m really struggling over where to go from here. This part of process should be less menacing than it is I’m sure. Do you have any advice for me?

That said I have included all new material in this packet. My plan is this, I have two more packets this semester, and I hope to start getting some revisions and cohesions going for packets four and five.

The preliminaries for packet number four are going well. I’ve been thinking of the long critical paper. The revision is proving to be more of a pleasure than the assembly of the first draft was. I believe this paper is the first on of its size and content I’ve ever attempted. I’m sure I wrote papers like that during my undergraduate course work, but I just can’t remember. Anyhow, please look forward to the revision.

I’m also working on potential places to do my teaching practicum. Admittedly, the practicum was the most terrifying aspect of this program for me. As I look into it, I’m more curious than terrified. I know we won’t be working together next semester when I’m getting this facet finished, but I would like to ask you about your experience. Where did you do yours? Who did you get support from, other Goddard students, or some other institution?