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“Every work of literature has a situation and a story,” Vivian Gornick writes. “The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.”
This assignment–part immersion writing, part hard journalism, part personal essay–works from a premise: put yourself in a situation, and find your story.
Sit down in a public place within Albany city limits for one hour. This place must be other than The College of Saint Rose campus.
Examples: Restaurant, drinking establishment, bus stop, café, pizza place, food court, mall, hardware store, bookstore. Take note of the name of the place and its street address (more about that later).
Bring a notebook. Take notes if you want, but do not fill out the form until after your one-hour sit-down.
Do not answer your cellphone, PDA, or use your computer during this period. No text messaging, Twitter updating, or any other digital method of communicating or updating during this time period.
Do not initiate any human or animal interaction. If someone comes up to you and starts a conversation, that’s fine, but end your talk politely by saying you are studying.
Take pictures or video, or record your voice narrating something, before or afterwards. Use your phone’s camera, or a real camera. Either is fine.
Right after you are finished your one-hour sit-down, go somewhere else and complete the first of this assignment. Fill out the top four items as you would filling out a form, then write down your notes.
Name of Place Visited:
Date, Time of Day:
Notes (in no particular order):
Physical surroundings. Where are you? Is there an official name for this place, or would you have a nickname for this place? What or who is next door? What neighborhood is it—is it a rough neighborhood, a fancy one? Does it have a significance to you, or is it a random spot? Are you comfortable? Did you become more comfortable during this hour? Does your surroundings remind you of anything in your past? Why or why not?
People-watch. Are you alone, or are there other people near you? Are they customers, pedestrians, passers-by? Can you overhear people talk? What are they saying? What is the tone of the conversation? Are people coming up and talking to you? Are they looking at you? Describe people in detail: Age, gender, clothes, ethnicity, social class, their gestures, tones of voice. Do any of the people you are observing remind you of yourself or other people? Why or why not?
Use your senses. Take an inventory using your senses of sight, touch, smell, and sound. What colors do you see around you? Are your surroundings bright—is it day or night? Is it cold? Are you warm? Pick up an object that’s near you—a rock, a menu, a tree branch—and describe it in detail. What does it feel like? Use your sense of smell—can you smell food, gasoline, people, animals, flowers? Finally, listen to the sounds—not just what people are saying, but the sounds. Can you hear machines, birds, buses, music? Does using any of these senses remind you of some memory in your own life, a movie, or some event?
These are your notes for the next stage of your assignment, which you will use your notes and your experience to write a piece of nonfiction that integrates into your One-Hour Sit-Down Field Trip. Your piece does not need to be about your Field Trip in a primary way; rather, it serves as the setting for whatever it is you want to write about, perhaps even a foil for what is going on in your head.
Word count: The final product will be no fewer than 900 words and no more than 1100. Your rough draft, then, should be no fewer than 900 and no longer than 2000 words.
Other editorial requirements:
Title/Headline: You must give a title this piece.
Subhead/Dek: You must write a subheading in the body of your piece, preferably a full sentence.
We will post completed, edited assignments online, after we go through them in class.
One question I will be asking you of all of the pieces, and I expect you to address this in writing for each as well, is to try to answer one or all of these questions: What is the real story here?
Put another way: Which detail or observation seems to rise to the top and can act as a dominant theme, or through-line?
How would you describe the writer’s persona presented here? For example, is it
sarcastic, solemn, silly, urbane, witty, curious?
What is the most interesting or compelling aspect of the writerly persona?
Are there any ways to present this persona in a more cohesive way in revision?
Conversely, are there any ways to downplay or cut out passages that get in the
way of the story, the dominant theme, or the writerly persona?
Does the writer observations made in the piece? Do they share answers with the reader?