Directions: I’ll be handing out some books, magazines, and newspapers in class today. Working in groups, come up with a Works Cited page for the set of sources you get. You also need to add the following electronic sources:
It’s time for your midterm conference. Please sign up for one of the many available slots below. At our conference, we will go over the following: a breakdown of your midterm grade; your strengths as an active learner in this class, ways you think you can improve; your Persuasive Argument essay, for which you should be prepared to outline your tentative thesis, your supporting claims, and an update on your research thus far.
These conferences will take place in my office, which is Dolan Hall, 442 Western Avenue, Albany, NY 12203. My office is Room #1, the first on the right as you walk in.
Tuesday, October 14
3pm Kaelyn D
3:30pm Kaitlyn B
6pm Kahlil D
6:30pm Michaela B
Wednesday October 15
11am Connor M
1:30pm Cali L
2pm Mardia W
4pm Stephen R
Thursday, October 16
10am Courtney B
10:30am Alyssa P
12:30pm Madison D
1pm Abby B
1:30pm Samantha P
Friday, October 17
1:30pm Aaron V
2pm Brittany L
2:30pm Julian L
Please note that a missed conference, or one you fail to schedule with me, counts as a missed class (i.e., one absence), and cannot be made up.
The following prompts all draw from and are inspired by Kiese Laymon’s essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and are written by students in the Fall 2014 graduate creative nonfiction class.
– On page 47, Laymon writes “I’m a walking regret, a truth-teller, a liar, a survivor, a frowning ellipsis, a witness, a dreamer, a teacher, a student, a failure, a joker, a writer whose eyes stay red, and I’m a child of this nation.” Come up with a list of descriptions that fit you (not all of them have to make sense, some of them can be contradictory) and write an essay about them. Include at least one thing you cannot actually be (a frowning ellipsis) and justify how you fit that description.
– Inspired by “Our Kind of Ridiculous.” On page 57, Kiese Laymon writes about his girlfriend’s friend recapping the abuse from police officers who falsely accused the author. “She nervously says ‘totally’ and ‘ridiculous’ a few more times,” writes Laymon, “She never says ‘afraid,’ ‘angry,’ ‘worried,’ ‘complicit,’ ‘tired,’ or ‘ashamed.'” Think about a time you had a misunderstanding with someone–anyone. It could be your parents, your lover, a friend, a teacher, the cops. Choose carefully and make sure it’s a disagreement that especially stung. Write about what was said during the most intense moments. Then write about what you wish was said. Try to make connections between this moment and other challenges you’ve faced in your lifetime.
– Inspired by “Prologue.” On page 18, Kiese Laymon imagines an exchange between his late Uncle Jimmy and his former self. Think about someone who has died and write about your own missed opportunities. What would you have said to that person if he/she were still alive? Write in the second person, as if you are writing a letter to the deceased. Imagine a conversation you could have had, and explain why that conversation never happened.
– Inspired by “Hip-Hop Stole My Southern Black Boy.” Think back on a hobby or interest that spanned a number of years in your lifetime. Was your participation a group effort or was it all about you? How were you introduced to the hobby? Where did you usually practice? Where do you stand now? Write about your journey. State how your interest in this hobby/activity has grown and changed over the years. How did your participation ultimately shape you?
– Based on “Kanye West and HaLester Myers are Better at their jobs…” Write an essay about a celebrity and how they had an impact on your life. Tell the story through the voice or perspective of another person: Your mother, your brother, or the kid that sat next to you in the third grade. Use the person telling the story to guide your experience with this celebrity.
– Based on “You are the Second Person.” Write an essay about a conversation you overhead. Speculate the history based on what you see and what you hear. Describe the person(s) in full and give quotes. Tell us where you are in your life and why you’re listening. How is it affecting you in this moment?
– Based on “Hip-Hop Stole My Southern Black Boy.” Write an essay based on a place and build a story around it. Make it a weird place. Try and steer clear of the simple places: bedroom, living room, classroom, whole towns, or vacation spots. Instead, give us a tree, a kayak, or a chair in your doctor’s office.
– Prompt inspired by Laymon’s “Prologue” (15). Write a letter to a dead relative. Find a way to connect the letter, and the relative, to your own life, your own fears, your own insecurities. Find a way to show how the dead relative represents something inherent within you, about you that you’ve just come to realize or accept about yourself. Apologize to the dead relative for never having a real conversation about these things and for never really getting to know all of the nuances of this relative.
– Prompt inspired by Laymon’s “Kanye West and HaLester Myers Are Better at Their Jobs…” (85). Find a connection between something happening to a family member or a friend and the release of a popular album. Both need to occur within the same month. How does the situation with a family member or friend connect thematically to the music? What are they both saying about this moment in time in our culture in America? Find correlations between the two and then add your own narrative thread to the mix. In other words, once you’ve established a connective thread between the family/friend narrative and the music, add a personal narrative thread from the same time period and find a way to connect your personal narrative thread to the greater thematic impression that you are making about the culture in America during this time period.
– Prompt inspired by Laymon’s “You Are the Second Person” (127). Write about yourself in the second person. Everything that you do should be framed around writing to yourself in second-person point of view. Like Laymon, see if you can center the narrative around your writing experience and the frustration you feel when your writing is critiqued or just not understood. Really trudge through the emotions of sharing work with other people (in his case, it’s his editor, but it can be a teacher, a workshop group, etc) and examine your own role in how the work can be misunderstood and how it can be better. End the piece on a high note that pays attention to the work of writing and gives a hint of praise or appreciation for just doing it every day, head down, writing.
– In his title essay, Laymon has a powerful line on page 47 where he identifies himself as many things—“I’m a walking regret, a truth-teller, a liar, a survivor, a frowning ellipsis, a witness, a dreamer, a teacher, a student, a failure, a joker, a writer whose eyes stay red, and I’m a child of this nation.” Write an essay that begins with a line like this one. State at least seven different identities for yourself, some simple (teacher, student) and others that go a step further (a writer whose eyes stay red). In the essay, explore different situations that led you to identify yourself in these ways.
– Write an essay in which you explore your awareness of how you’ve benefited from your position of privilege—whether it’s race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, ability, etc.
Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” song. Opening line: “Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?”
On The Colbert Report, Vampire Weekend debate the Oxford comma here. Debate begins at 2:45 mark.
The ‘Someone who you used to be close’ Prompt
Write about someone who you used to be close to but have grown away from. List at least twenty memories from when you were close to this person. Each memory should fill one short paragraph and be written in second-person as if you are talking to the person. Each paragraph must include a common word or phrase. Write three short paragraphs at the end stating how the relationship has changed.
The ‘Recent awkward experiences’ Prompt
Write about recent awkward experiences you have had with adults. Use stories about children to show the similarities between youth and adults. Show the ways the adults have stayed the same and how they have changed.
The ‘Place you lived or worked previously’ Prompt
Write about a place you lived or worked previously. Show how your feelings of the environment connect to the sexual relationships you were involved in at the time.
Inspired by Caldwell’s “That Was Called Love” (37) essay:
Pick a time period in your life when a roommate moved in or you developed a new friendship that took up much of your time and life. Write about some seemingly inconsequential days spent with this person and give as many specific details as you can. (Think about how Caldwell refers to the moments when she fell in love with you/ that person.) Use specific addresses for the occurrences as subtitles. Don’t use names! Use first person “I” when writing about your own actions, second person “you” when referring to the actions of the roommate/friend, and plural “we” for shared experiences. No names: just I, you, we, or a friend or a roommate.
Inspired by Caldwell’s “The Shit You Say” (135) essay:
Write an essay about a lover/partner/husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend and begin 90% of your sentences with “You say” referring to that person, and of course, the think he or she has said. Always refer to the person in the second person. Write about specific things this person said. Use at least one serious encounter and one silly encounter. Separate the two encounters and then write a paragraph that combines the two. Consider how Caldwell uses a line of dialogue from this person as her final line of the essay.
Inspired by Caldwell’s “True Love” (155) essay:
Caldwell’s material is very risqué, to say the least, but she also includes a few lovely essays about her relationship with children that give a different dimension to the collection. Write about a time when you had a startling revelation about life through the eyes of a child and perhaps because of your relationship with the child. Use dialogue to show the innocence and imagination of the child and to juxtapose how adults sometimes forget what is really important. Include that moment with the child where you realize something crucial about life. For Caldwell, it’s that “Duh” reaction from Henri before he says what he and Caldwell have—True Love. Reflect on this moment toward the end just like Caldwell does at the end of the essay when she reflects about how she has progressed as a person, maybe because of this relationship with Henri. Try to find important or poignant words spoken by the child to use as your title like Caldwell.
The Girlfriend Prompt
This prompt comes after reading Chloe Caldwell’s “Girlfriend” on page 75 of Legs Get Led Astray. Caldwell often writes in the second person POV, which makes readers feel as though they’re looking at a letter she has written to someone who’s influenced her life.
To complete this assignment, start by thinking of someone you were once close to, but have drifted apart from. Who stands between you and this person? If there isn’t a person to blame, then ask yourself what caused the rift in your relationship. Was it a specific event? Once you’ve identified the catalyst, lead with it. For example, Caldwell opens with “You have a girlfriend now, but…” By starting with this, she tells readers exactly who/what stands between her and this person from the past.
Next, identify a timeframe. When was your relationship active? When was the last time you remember spending time with ____ in a meaningful way? Caldwell’s timeframe spans eleven years, from age eleven through age twenty-one.
Once you’ve identified the timeframe, pick a memory from each week, month, or year of your relationship. Make each memory a paragraph in your piece. Caldwell begins each paragraph with “You have a girlfriend now, but…” You, too, should consider starting each paragraph the same way you opened the piece.
Once you’ve written a paragraph for each memory on the timeline, include a paragraph recapping the entire relationship: a snapshot, if you will. What things did this person often say or do? How did this person show that he/she cared about you? What is special about this person? Consider starting each sentence or memory the same way you started the piece, but do not give each memory its own paragraph, and do not feel obligated to mention where the memory fits on the timeline. This paragraph should end with a note about what the estranged friend/lover/relative is doing now.
Include one last paragraph that ruminates on the person or event that caused the rift between you and the estranged friend/lover/relative. This paragraph may be as short as four sentences. Try to distill your thoughts about the change into short sentences. Try to begin each sentence the same way you opened the piece.
The Expectations Prompt
This prompt comes after reading “My Mother Wanted To Be Betty Boop” on page 48 of Chloe Caldwell’s Legs Get Led Astray.
Start by thinking of someone who has attempted to shape you in several different ways throughout your life. Though this is likely a parent or caretaker, it could also be a friend, lover, or close relative. In the “Betty Boop” piece, Caldwell writes about her mother.
In Caldwell’s piece, she mentions a few of her mother’s expectations for her, but mentions several of the mother’s expectations for herself. The ratio in the piece is 3:9. Try to maintain this ratio in your own piece by remembering what your friend/lover/relative expected of you, but more importantly, what that person expected of him/herself.
Begin each paragraph with “ _____wanted.” After you state what your friend/lover/relative wanted, reflect on his/her desire to fulfill that expectation. Caldwell begins by stating that her mother wanted to be a dancer. She goes on to remember moments when she and her mother danced together. Include yourself in _____’s expectations as much as possible—even when the expectations mostly concern your friend/lover/relative.
When you discuss what _____ expected of you, make sure you adhere to the rule that you must start each paragraph with “_____ wanted.” Caldwell does this by using the phrases “My mother wanted me to…” or “My mother wanted her daughter to…”
After at least twelve paragraphs that begin this way, you are allowed to break the rule. Caldwell breaks the rule by using the phrases “ ____says that” and “____ told me.” Think of a few tid bits of advice you’ve heard from this friend/lover/relative that could fit into this mold.
Finally, give your readers an image of this friend/lover/relative. Caldwell does this by including a few paragraphs made up of sentence fragments. These paragraphs should sound like somewhat of a list. Begin each sentence fragment with the tag for your friend/lover/relative. The first paragraph should be about places he/she often went. Try to relate these destinations to the expectations you’ve recounted above. The next paragraph should state a few important items this person owned. Where were these items kept? Remember that these items should relate to the expectations above. The final paragraph should state a few actions or activities this person often did/does. For example, Caldwell writes, “My mother: Standing at the counter reading the newspaper and eating pretzel rods” (51). Remember that like the other two paragraphs, the final paragraph regarding actions/activities should relate to the expectations you’ve listed at the beginning of the piece.
The Location Prompt
This prompt comes after reading Chloe Caldwell’s “Underground” on page 131 in Legs Get Led Astray.
Think of a place where you’ve had several poignant experiences, including some with the same person—preferably an estranged friend/lover/relative. The place you choose may be broad enough to have sub-locations, or may simply be one definite location. Caldwell’s location is the subway, meaning she has the option to discuss different trains within the subway system. Perhaps you could choose something like “France,” and discuss several different cities within the country. Perhaps you could choose something more limited like “my bed.”
Think of several anecdotes attached to this location. Make a paragraph for each. Begin each paragraph by stating the location. For example, Caldwell writes, “On the G train…” or “On the L train…” Discuss each anecdote in the present tense.
Some of the anecdotes should tell of experiences you’ve had alone in that place, and some should tell of experiences you’ve had with the estranged friend/lover/relative. End the piece with an experience (or cluster of experiences) that occurred after the friend/lover/relative exited your life. If you’re looking for a ratio to abide by, then consider Caldwell’s Us:Me ratio, which is 19:10.
Before the semester*:
Friday, November 7; 9am-11:00am (room to be announced)
Bring draft of resume, cover letters. Explanation of requirements of class (rubric). Review of internships available.
Friday November 21; 9am-11:00am Albertus 112
With the Fall 2014 students; Albertus 112
Bring draft of resume, cover letters. Explanation of requirements of class (rubric). Review of internships available.
Friday December 12; 9am-11:00am (room to be announced)
Final resume and Draft Cover Letter Draft Due; editing in class. Mock Interviews.
*If you cannot make any of these meetings, it is student’s responsibility to present alternate days and times as soon as possible, before the Spring 2015 semester ends.
During the semester:
Friday, January 16 9am-11am; Albertus 112
Friday, March 13 9am-11am; Albertus 112
Friday, April 24 9am-11am; Albertus 112
Attendance will be taken for mandatory meetings. Adjust your internship and work schedule accordingly, as you would any other class.