Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Smile of Accomplishment (Jennifer Butts)


Night descends upon the city. The moon rises higher and higher as if trying to get a better look upon the city's inhabitants. As night creeps on, there are still people out and about. Men sneaking behind their wives' backs, even some women sleeping around being unfaithful to their husbands. None of this is new to the moon, for she has risen night after night. She has seen many a betrayal, and often the fights that ensue. She has seen mothers tending their children, who can't sleep because of nightmares. The moon is rising, watching over her domain. Nothing seems out of place; everything is as it should be. But then something catches her eye. It is a mother, wandering about her kitchen, seeming to fret over her children.

Intrigued, the moon focuses on this one house. The woman inside has prepared a pitcher of milk and a plate of food for her children. Nothing particularly strange, until the bottle of sleeping pills is seen beside the pitcher. The woman has a handful of them, debating whether or not to put them in the milk. Drawing closer, the woman can be heard muttering to herself, arguing with herself about what should be done with her children.

"Should I take them with me?" the woman says. "I deserve death, it is all I want from my life now. I simply want to be released of the burden that has become my existence. But my children? They are young, with many years ahead. Perhaps they will find joy in a world where I found only sadness. But will they? Without a mother, will they be able to grow up and function in society? Perhaps it would be better if I just ended it for them tonight. It wouldn't be difficult, just give them sleeping pills in their milk, and when they have fallen asleep, keep them by the oven, letting them breathe the gas that will claim their mother's life. No! I can't. I will leave that up to my children. I cannot kill them. Taking my own life is one thing, taking my children's lives is murder. I will leave them the milk and food, and I will depart this world hoping that my children find more joy than I ever did."

The moon watches overhead. She watches the woman carefully set out the milk and plate of food for her children. Watches as the woman reenters the kitchen, placing a towel at the base of the door, taking great care to seal the crack as tightly as possible. The moon watches as she places her head inside, the smile of accomplishment on her face as she breathes deeply. She keeps sucking in the poisonous gas. Slowly but surely, soon the breathing is slow and calm. Her back rising ever so slowly and gently. All too soon, the breathing stops. The moon continues on her way now. Nothing more to see. The woman's family will find her, and bury her in the ground. This is nothing new to the moon, for she has seen much death. She has been watching over people since the beginning of their existence, suicide is nothing new.


Jennifer wrote this short piece in response to an essay question on a test:

Using the title “The Smile of Accomplishment,” rewrite Sylvia Plath’s poem “Edge” as a short story.

For your story, you should NOT create your own story, but simply rewrite Plath’s poem in story form. You may add details, of course, but they must be plausible within the parameters of the original poem and what you know about Plath’s life and death. NOTE: I am not looking at your creative writing ability here. I am looking at how you can extrapolate the future outcome of a character’s life based on textual clues offered in her current reality.


Interestingly, before setting pen to her exam booklet, Jennifer jotted down some notes on the poem Edge:

Lines 1-4:

Write from first person p.o.v.(I).

Smiles as she places her head in the oven, awaiting death to claim her, ending the misery.

Lines 5-8

Walked through life for 30 years. At 10, lost her father. At 20, failed to end her life. Not this time. Too much misery to go on. Melancholy consumed her life; no happiness to be found. She will not fail.

Line 8 ("We have come so far,/") was underlined, with this notation: 30 years, 20 w/o father. Line 8 ("it is over.") also underlined, with this notation: suicide/death

Lines 9-12

Should I take my children? Wouldn't be hard, just lock the door, a smidgen of sedative in the milk. I would feel no pain, but do they deserve it?

Lines 15-16

Turns on the gas, breathes deeply, inhaling the sickly sweet gas. She smiles...(top).

Lines 17-20

The moon, a silent onlooker. She has already seen much death. What is one more?


In order to fulfill the essay requirements for an exam (75 minutes total), Jennifer has written a fine derivative short story based on a poem; however, based on what I have seen here, I'm willing to bet that she could write her own original stories and do a very good job, indeed.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature--Spring 2008

Posted with permission

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Supporting Characters from "The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner"

For an in-class point-of-view exercise on Alan Sillitoe's "The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner," I gave students the following instructions:

You already know protagonist Smith's take on life, but what about supporting characters? We are about to find out, for each group will assume a first-person ("I") character point-of-view of a supporting character and write a one-page passage.

Your first-person passage must be supported by textual clues; thus, you can't just write any old thing and claim success. Your "guess" must have a basis in fact. Also, don't quote original dialogue from the novella; the idea is to understand the nuances of the text by creating LIKELY opinions of and ORIGINAL text from your character. Besides, nabbing existing text is the lazy way out, and I want you to stretch your intellectual capabilities.

----------Group 1: Smith's father

----------Group 2: Governor at Borstal

----------Group 3: The copper

----------Group 4: Mam

----------Group 5: Mam's "fancy-man"

Students read their passages in class.

Also, they were asked to designate a representative from their groups to post their passages in the comment section of this blog.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Creative Response to "No Name Woman" (Nichol Fake)

Alexis was sitting in the nursery of her church on Sunday morning. As she was watching the children play as she had every week for the last nine years she began to think back to her junior year in high school. She thought back to her friend Jessica. It was weird because over the years she rarely thought about those days. Jessica was such a distant memory it was almost as if she never knew her, but that day watching those kids and their reaction when their parents came to pick them up just hit her that day.

It was their junior year Jessica and Alexis were best friends. They had been joined at the hips since first grade. But as the year went on and Jessica began dating Brandon her time for Alexis seemed to be less and less. As the school year when on Alexis began to notice little changes in Jessica. Then a few months before school would be over she noticed that Jessica had been missing school a lot and when she was there she seemed to always be sick and going to the bathroom a lot. When she confronted Jessica she said it was just the flu. Then a few weeks later she noticed Jessica had not been to school in days, and the other kids in school were starting to talk. The rumor was that Jessica was pregnant and that she would not be back to school.

Alexis knew that in the small town they lived in, a girl being pregnant or even having sex before being married was looked down upon, especially when the girl was so young. In fact, this was the first time it had ever happened in their town. Alexis knew she had to found out the truth. She tried calling Jessica all weekend but her parents just kept saying she was not home and Alexis was too afraid to tell her parents why she needed to talk to Jessica so bad. So Monday Alexis decided she had to confront Brandon in school and find out what was going on. He told her that it was none of her business and that he had broke up with Jessica awhile ago.

Alexis knew the rumor had to be true. She was scared for her friend; she could only imagine what must be going through her head and what she was going through at home. She decided to stop by Jessica’s on her way home that day. When she arrived at Jessica’s she noticed that her car was not there and when her mother answered the door she said Jessica had gone to stay with her grandparents for awhile. Alexis asked her why and she just said “she needed to get away from this town and the people.” She continued to tell her that Jessica would be getting her GED while at her grandmother’s and they were not sure when and if she would be coming back.

All night Alexis kept replaying the day in her head. None of it made sense. If Jessica was going through all of this why didn’t she come to her? Why didn’t she let her try to help her through it all? She didn’t know what she could do, if anything. But she wanted to be there for her friend.

It was about a year later when Alexis got an email from Jessica. She was so surprised and a little upset that it took her so long to get in touch. But once she read the email she just felt sad for her friend. The email read:

Hi Alexis. I am sorry it has taken me so long to get in touch with you. As I am sure you have heard I had to leave school last year because I was pregnant. I just could not face the town and what they were saying about me. I could not stand looking at my parents and seeing nothing but disappointment on their faces and knowing I was the cause of it. They told me that I had to get rid of the baby, that there was no way I could keep the baby. They made sure I knew that if I kept the baby they would have nothing to do with me or the baby. They made sure I knew there was no way that I could ever take care of my child or give him/her the life they deserved. After listening to this every night I started to believe them. I felt like the only thing I could do was to have an abortion. So I told them I would move to my grandmother's, get my GED while I was there and have the abortion. I have to be honest; when I first got here I was hoping that my grandmother would not agree with them. That maybe by some chance she would not feel that I was some kind of embarrassment, that maybe she would help me to make a decision that was based on my feelings and not the opinions and feelings of others. But she felt the same. That a girl my age having a child and not being married was one of the worst sins a person could commit. So I finally gave in and put my feelings aside and went to the clinic here. I was not showing yet so no one in the town knew of my “condition” and still don’t. I was able to get my GED and I am starting my new life here. I work full time and I am attending the local community college. I moved out of my grandmother’s recently because even though I did what everyone wanted I could tell they had not forgotten and would not forgive me. I found a small apartment and I am doing well. I wanted to come to you in the beginning but I knew that you would be supportive and that would make it even harder for me to ignore the voice in my heart telling me to keep the baby. So I just had to distance myself from everything. I hope that you can understand. I know that you are not a supporter of abortion but hope that you can find it in your heart to someday forgive me for going through with it. I am sorry I was not a good friend to you and I pushed our friendship aside when Brandon and I got together.

Alexis found herself in tears as she finished reading the email and she was unsure what to write back. So she simply replied, “Jess, I hope you know that I would have been there for you. And I could never hold what you have been through against you. I am glad to hear you are doing better now. Keep in touch.”

That was the last time she had any communication with Jessica until that Sunday after church. Alexis was driving home from church with her own son in the back seat. As she looked back at him and thought about the other kids in the nursery it made her think about how her life would be if she had been in Jessica’s shoes. She thought about all the amazing times she had with her son and the wonderful feeling that motherhood gave her and it broke her heart to know that Jessica missed out on all of that because of the way people reacted to her when she was pregnant. So she sent Jessica another email to try and see how she was doing, but she never heard back from her. It was as if Jessica had just disappeared again.


Nicol Fake decided to respond to Maxine Hong Kingston's "No Name Woman," a non-fiction excerpt from The Woman Warrior (1976). Nicol decided to borrow an incident from this assigned work to write a piece (story) of her own.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature--Spring 2008

Posted with the author's permission.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Modern Girl: A Rewritten Work (Chelsea Rosenberger)

Never wash the colors with the whites; don’t throw your jeans in the dryer if you don’t want them to shrink; bleach is for whites only; don’t let the dishwasher make you lazy; keep a clean house, but not so clean that company feels unwanted; don’t lay in your bed without showering; wash your sheets every two weeks; if you use conditioner everyday it will make your hair look particularly greasy; always wash your hands before you eat; this is how you get blood out of a shirt; this is how you set the table; this is how you set up a doctors appointment; this is how you make Nanny’s infamous pound cake; this is how you get rid of ringworm—soak a penny in vinegar until it turns green, then tape it to the ringworm; this is how you keep a straight face when all you want to do is laugh; this is how you say “I love you” to a friend; this is how you say “I love you” to a lover; but I’m too young to be in love; tables are for glasses, not for asses; never put your feet up on the table—no one wants their food tasting like a foot; when wearing a dress, cross your legs, unless you want everyone to see your panties; always wear panties with a skirt or dress because if you don’t, you’re asking for it; don’t pour salt on a slug or feed a bird Alka-Seltzer; this is how you speak to a man; this is how a man should speak to you; this is how to cover your cough; this is how you check eggs to make sure they aren’t cracked; but what if they’re all cracked?; you mean to tell me you’re going to be the kind of woman who can’t find a good egg?


(Chelsea Rosenberger says, "I rewrote [Jamaica Kincaid's] 'Girl' because when I read the poem, I immediately pictured all of the little bits of advice my mother has shared with me over the years.")


LIT160 Introduction to Literature--Spring 2008

Posted with permission.

Poetic Response to "Hills Like White Elephants" (Meghan Daly)

Simple he says,
But what is simple?
He says it’s easy,
But how would he know?
A life in my hands,
And he says it’s simple.

The choice should be easy
Do I want it or no?

He says we’ll be happy,
But how does he know?
If I keep it he says that he’ll stay,
But I don’t believe him,
For if he would stay
He wouldn’t be trying
Trying so hard to get me to do this

Simple he says,
But what is simple?
Easy he says,
But how would he know?

The choice should be easy.
Do I want it or no?


Meghan says, "I did this from the point of view of the girl [Jig]. I figured that she is probably going through a lot trying to figure out whether or not she truly wants to abort the baby or if she wants to keep it. I also felt like the guy was saying anything to keep her happy while still trying to get her to go through with the abortion. I tried to incorporate that into my short poem when I said, 'If I keep it he says that he’ll stay,/ but I don’t believe him,/ for if he would stay he wouldn’t be trying,/ trying so hard to get me to do this.' I just felt like the girl needed more of a voice than the original author gave her so I wrote her this."


LIT160 Introduction to Literature--Spring 2008

Posted with permission.