Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bloggers Without Makeup

As queen of photoshop and needyvainego this is kinda hard.

Also bigbusyday no time to stop.

#BloggersWithoutMakeup

Jodie Ansted.

Here’s me. *sigh*

Advertisements

19 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

if hermione granger was a blogger…

Sometimes I’m a deadset wanker – no two ways about it. And posting up my uni essay may actually be one of the most wankerish things I have done of late. 🙂

But the bookish nerd dies hard and, needless to say if there had been teh interwebs around when I was a crazy moping high school student or a lonely undergraduate, I would have been posting up stuff like this left right and centre.

*sigh* silly me.

This blog post won’t be for everyone – in fact I think that my lovely friend and tweep @skippy_2 may be the only one who will read it. Although I know there are a few followers/friends/tweeps who take a passing interest in writing and its stylistic elements – so hopefully there’s something of interest here for you as well.

The subject for which this essay was submitted is called Creative Nonfiction and is part of my Masters in Social Science (Creative Writing specialisation). The question for this one was something like this:

“Choose two of the pieces of creative nonfiction from the course reader and discuss the narrative techniques they employ. What narrative features mark these works as creative nonfiction and how else would you define their genre (ie. memoir, travelogue, personal essay)? How are the themes of these pieces developed in narrative style and voice? To what effect?”

Oh, and btw I got a High Distinction for this essay. Lol. Otherwise it wouldn’t be here at all.

Creative Nonfiction Critical Essay

“In order for creative nonfiction to be creative nonfiction it must be framed and focused.”(Gutkind 2007, p.180) Lee Gutkind continues to define creative nonfiction as being comprised of, “story and information, style and substance, frame and focus.” (Gutkind 2007,p.180) ‘Framing’ is the organising by “time and shape” whereas ‘focus’ is organising by “meaning and content”. In Lee Stringer’s Grand Central Winter and Richard Ford’s Accommodations the authors employ frame and focus in their search for the embodiment of creative nonfiction – the desire to reveal an emotional truth through reflection upon a real-life event or events.

By utilising tools of narrative fiction, the creative nonfiction writer marks their work as distinct from simple reportage or recount. Structure is one such tool. Where recount generally creates a chronological rendering of the factual story, narrative looks at creating dramatic tension which renders it as narrative. In Grand Central Winter Stringer starts with an abrupt orientation: “What happened was I was digging around in my hole –there’s this long, narrow crawl space in Grand Central’s lower regions, of which few people are aware and into which I moved some time ago. It is strung with lights and there is a water spigot just outside the cubbyhole through which I enter.”(Stringer 1998, p.13) This introduction into Stringer’s world – understated and conversational – brings the reader immediately into the scene without requiring a more traditional set-up. The use of the present tense makes the action immediate. While sparse, the description is symbolic of the subject. Having established a tone of understated exposition he moves quickly to the fulcrum of the narrative. Digging for something to clean his pipe Stringer says, “I pull it out and it’s a pencil and it does the trick.” (Stringer 1998, p.14) This is the heart of the piece, the symbol of his eventual salvation – a fictional device which helps the full meaning of the narrative to be finally attained. Stringer’s narrative structure is further foreshadowed when he invokes the writing of Tenessee Williams: “It kind of comes in through the side door. I mean Williams will start talking about, say what it smells like to work in a factory, and before you know it, he’s going on about wanting to kill his father or something like that.” (Stringer 1998, p.16) Williams’ style informs Grand Central Winter from the abrupt structural orientation – an ‘in through the side door’ technique – which then gathers to the dramatic narrative turning point: his fevered writing of his first story. Ultimately the narrative moves forward until it reaches a traditional climax – being the moment when he and his friend bond over the story he has written – and onward to the resolution: “After that I did four things every day. Hustle up money, cop some stuff, beam up and write. And in the end I wound up dropping the other three.” (Stringer 1998, p.18) It is obvious that the framing and stylistic elements of Grand Central Winter are narrative features which mark it as creative nonfiction.

Accommodations by Richard Ford, begins in a remarkably similar fashion to Grand Central Winter. Abrupt, almost staccato introduction in the present tense: “I am in bed. It is one o’clock in the morning. I am eleven years old, and in a room inside my grandfather’s hotel.”(Ford 1995, p.114) The present tense creates immediacy and draws the reader quickly into the narrative world. Ford then uses snatched dialogue and scattered imagery to evoke a child’s perception. Descriptive devices such as “the orchid smell”; “the elevator grate drawn back” and “a second woman’s voice far away… a car horn blows.” (Ford 1995, p.114) create a sense of mystery and things half-seen which becomes a motif in this piece. But, after this similarity in narrative introduction, Accommodations veers into markedly different stylistic territory from Stringer’s piece. Ford reverts to the past tense after his introduction and gives some lucidly detailed descriptions such as: “Little Rock was a mealy, low-rise town on a slow river and the hotel was the toniest, plushest place in town. And still it was blowsy…” When it comes to the depiction of character Ford purposefully places himself in the background – “I simply stood alongside that for a while in my young life – neither behind the scenes nor in front.” (Ford 1995, p.119) – giving the spotlight to his grandfather and those who people his world. Paul Mills says, “It can be fruitful and interesting to explore personal narratives within a group or community, showing contrasting perspectives, shared perceptions, difference and coincidence.” (Mills 2005, p.37) This seems to be Ford’s approach and symbolic of his themes. In this way he almost writes himself out of the narrative, subjugated for the most part beneath the more strongly painted portraits of the other characters. “Employees, guests, ‘The Permanents’ (old bachelors, old shopkeepers, old married couples in cheap rooms with no better homes to hold onto) lobby lizards – older men with baffling nicknames like Spider, Goldie, Ish…” (Ford 1995, p.115)  The narrative function of evoking a sense of place and character is therefore imperative to the purpose of the piece. In a world of constant change Ford says, “To live in a hotel promotes a cool two-mindedness: one is both steady and in a sea that passes with tides.” (Ford 1995, p.114)  This observation underscores the thematic questions about permanence. Structurally Ford’s piece finds its narrative complication in the tension behind this boy’s recollections and his almost absent personality. There is also a hint of dramatic complication when he says, “If my grandfather lost his job – always the backstage scare story – we lost it all.” (Ford 1995, p.118)  Ultimately his theme is that, “every little thing is life”, and that questions of permanence are almost irrelevant. Thus this ‘floating life’ – the life where ‘everything counts’- becomes important and reflected in his seemingly unstructured yet purposeful series of events. The structure now mirrors the theme. As Gutkind says, “In order for scenes to fit together (in creative nonfiction), they must reflect the same or similar focuses.” (Gutkind 2007, p. 180) This is exactly what Ford has done in Accommodations.

Just as framing marks out the realm of creative nonfiction so necessarily must ‘focus’ or theme. Grand Central Winter is a redemptive, epiphanous and self-reflexive story of the writer’s journey out of drug addiction and into the writing life. The sparse, almost detached descriptive approach to the story pre-empts the moment of salvation when, digging for an implement with which to clean his crack pipe Stringer finds a pencil. With deceptive nonchalance he says, “The good thing about carrying a pencil is that it’s a pencil.” (Stringer 1998, p.14) The impact of this statement is layered retrospectively with the narrative turning point which comes later: “It dawns on me that it’s a pencil. I mean, it’s got a lead in it and all, and you can write with the thing.” (Stringer 1998, p.14) Ultimately this pencil leads to the redemptive moment which parallels Stringer’s earlier descriptions of his drug use. “I’m scribbling like a maniac; heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, hands trembling. I’m so excited I almost crap on myself. It’s just like taking a hit.” (Stringer 1998, p.15) The pencil, at first a part of his despair, becomes a narrative symbol of his salvation.

Richard Ford’s thematic focus concerns the definition of home, and the permanence and reality of life. His piece is interesting in that it reads as nostalgia but in fact has at its heart not so much a longing (as is nostalgia’s hallmark) but a questioning borne from his experiences. “How permanent is real life?” (Ford 1995, p.119) he wonders at the conclusion. This questioning stance originates from the intrinsically transient nature of the lives he observed as a child: “The place was a hollow place, like any home, in which things went on, a setting where situations developed and ended.” Ultimately the theme of permanence and transience is symbolised by the detailed rendering of life within his grandfather’s hotel.

While these two pieces have stylistic, structural and thematic differences the claim to emotional truth must necessarily unite them as creative nonfiction. Stringer’s emotional truth comes through his raw and understated description. When he says, “I take a hit and have a pleasurable half hour of sweaty trembling panic that at any second someone or something is going to jump out of the dark,” (Stringer 1998, p.14), the ironic tension between the pleasure and the panic rings with authenticity. In Ford’s Accommodations the claim to truth comes through the lovingly rendered descriptions and evocation of place and character. The ultimate expression of the truth behind these representations comes when the narrator says of his grandfather, “I could think different of him now, see him through new eyes, revise history, take a narrower latter-day view. But why?” (Ford 1995, p.116) The reader is alerted to the author’s intention to represent – as much as possible – things as they really were, seeming almost at pains not to interpret too much. This method of recollection suits his theme of the importance of the ordinary; articulated when he says: “To make regular life seem regular need not always be to bleach the strong colours out. But just for a time it can help. When you look for what’s unique and also true of life, you’re lucky to find less than you imagined.” (Ford 1995, p.119)

Creative nonfiction is marked by the emotional truth distilled from reflection upon real events rendered through the application of narrative techniques. Grand Central Winter and Accommodations both use such techniques in order to ultimately express the central theme of their reflections. And it is perhaps in a shared technique that they each find their quintessential expression: the invocation of a rhetorical question in the second person. Stringer says: “What can I tell you? It was one of those moments.” By virtue of its simplicity this is an incredibly moving representation of his salvation. Ford similarly addresses his reader – encouraging them to reflect alongside him: “Everything counts. What else do you need to know?” By insisting that the reader engage with the writer, the narrative itself and the emotional truth, creative nonfiction – such as the pieces discussed here – achieves its ultimate function.

Bibliography

Ford, R. (1995). Accommodations. Best American Essays 1995. J. Kincaid and R. Atwan. New York, Houghton Mifflin.

Gutkind, L. (2007). Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Creative Nonfiction But Were Too Naive or Uninformed to Ask. The Handbook of Creative Writing. S. Earnshaw. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Mills, P. (2005). The Routledge Creative Writing Handbook. Oxon, Routledge.

Stringer, L. (1998). Grand Central Winter: Stories From the Street. New York, Seven Stories Press.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized, uni, writing

let’s talk about sex

I was chatting to one of my lovely tweeps the other day (that would be @LizK_is) and she showed me a couple of posts she had put on her blog when her kids first started asking about sex.

Don’t we all have one of those stories? I had this one published about eighteen months ago. It’s funny how things change. Nowadays, my nine-year-old daughter still squirms whenever sex is mentioned. Especially given my overbearing insistence on asking if she has any questions. Anything at all??? Don’t you want to know something??

But no. She just gives me a look which is all, just-shut-up-now-mum. This is sad. Cos when she was little she was much more, shall we say, curious. As you will see.

Let’s Talk About Sex

I hate to misquote Alfred Tennyson, but it is indeed spring it appears my young man’s thoughts have turned to…. sex. By ‘young man’ I mean my six-year-old son, Levi and by ‘sex’ I mean…well, who knows really?

It all began last week when Levi sidled up to me and said, “Mummy, Ella said a bad word in the library today.” Ella is a sweet girl in Levi’s class – outgoing, bright and popular – I couldn’t imagine a bad word issuing from her innocent lips. So I asked Levi what the ‘bad’ word was.

I like to give my kids the chance to say ‘bad’ words in a safe environment – ‘safe’ meaning that they won’t get in trouble. I think it helps to demystify swearing for them, they get to try the words out without fear of punishment.

Levi came even closer. “She said…,” he leaned in for emphasis and whispered reverently, “sex”.

Considering the fact that I was anticipating a rather more shocking euphemism for that exact word, I almost laughed out loud. I was momentarily fazed but then I had a sort of mini-epiphany where I figured, here is a chance for Levi to avoid a future of sexual repression and years on a sex therapist’s couch.

“Sex isn’t really a bad word,” I began in my most earnest, ‘good mother’ voice. “It’s just not a word that kids need to use.” Emboldened by my liberalness Levi forged on, this time much more loudly. “She said she did it with her boyfriend – and he’s ten!”

This time I suffered a sort of psychological whiplash as the broad mind I had so prided myself on retracted instantaneously. I quickly glossed over the comment with some lame platitude about kids who make up stories, and moved abruptly on.

After I had recovered from my shock I felt I had missed a golden opportunity to talk about sex with my kids so, a little while later when we were all relaxing I said to Levi, “Remember what you told me that Ella said before?”

“That she did sex with her boyfriend?” he said eagerly.

“Yes. Do you know what she’s talking about.”

The innocence in his eyes confirmed his sheepish, “No.” He was obviously clueless as to what ‘sex’ might be.

But, in the background, I noticed a squirming seven-year-old girl – my daughter to be precise. Not wanting to let the same opportunity slip through my fingers twice in one day I turned to Indiana and said, “Do you know what she was talking about?” My darling simply blushed and said, “sort of” in a soft voice. It was at this moment that I went into schoolmarm mode. “Well, does anyone have any questions?” Ben 10 was on TV so Levi’s response was a short, sharp “no” while Indy shook her head and went back to her colouring-in.

I must admit I was a little startled by Indy’s obvious understanding of the topic and her accompanying embarrassment so later, when we were alone, I brought it up again – much to her chagrin. “So,” I soldiered in, “When we were talking about sex before I wondered if you had any questions.” She gave a little shake of her head. “Well, do they talk about it at school?” At this point I meant the teachers. “The boys always do!” she replied. Ah, so even at the age of seven.

“But what about your teachers? Do they teach you about it?”

“Well, you see a movie in Year 5… and everybody laughs.” She was obviously well-versed in playground folklore.

“Do you want to ask me anything?”

“No,” she said, but her unspoken subtext was deafening, “please Mum, just stop talking.”

Now I don’t know where this reticence has come from because Indy was conversant with the facts of life (well a version anyway) at quite an early age. It all started when she asked the usual ‘where do babies come from?’ question when she was about four. Luke and I saw fit to use a story about how the daddy has a seed which he puts inside the mummy where it grows into a baby – just like a tree.

Both kids accepted this version of events which was a relief because I had heard a story about a mum who had told her little one a similar story only to be asked, “But how does Daddy get the seed in? Does he have a magic wand?” Well, yes, he’d like to think so!

So we rested on our laurels – as we so often do – until a few months later when I fell pregnant with our third child, Sienna. Excited to share our news with the kids we told them that Mummy had a baby in her belly that would be their new little brother or sister.

“But how did it get there?” four-year-old Indy wanted to know.

“Well, sweetheart,” I explained patiently, convinced I’d already done the hard yards, “Remember how we told you the story about how the daddy puts a seed in the mummy and it grows into a baby? Well that’s what Daddy did to Mummy.”

“Oh,” she said, her crestfallen face accompanied by a tone of frustration and dismay, “I wanted to watch!”

Speechless doesn’t even come close.

How do you talk to your kids about sex? Have you had any embarrassing moments during the ‘sex talk’?

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

and the winners are…

Holy f*&% I am not equipped for this hi-tech venture. However I did manage – after discovering a bloody spammer in the works – to draw the winners. As above board as I could possibly manage without men in suits looking over my shoulders.

So here’s the *thing*:

PLEASE NOTE: The top three numbers in the random integer draw are the winners. 🙂 You know I love you @mrgrumpystephen but jesus you make things difficult sometimes. 🙂

Kylie Ladd Giveaway

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized