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Thursday, December 10

December 10, 2015

Violence: Today we began with this piece of twaddle about the late Michael Brown. We did this to represent the narrative peddled in the wake of the Ferguson tragedy — that Brown was an innocent, a victim of forces beyond his control.

Of course, we now know that wasn’t so. At least, let’s be fair, we know that Brown was no doe-eyed, soon-to-be-college-freshman. He certainly didn’t deserve his fate, but the reality of his life and actions were a long way from this hopeful profile.

We brought this up — and I do not, let’s be clear, mean to directly compare Bigger Thomas to Michael Brown — to illustrate the difficult truth of Book Two in Native Son: that while Bigger may well have been a victim, to some extent, of societal forces, he is also a rapist and cold-blooded murderer. The author could have taken the easy way out and not had Bigger kill Bessie. Instead, he forces us to confront an ugly reality: that Bigger, having tasted the freedom that killing Mary brought him (and we mean freedom in the sense that he was in charge of his own destiny, as he says himself, for the very first time), is not going to let Bessie or anyone else take that freedom away.

In fact — and even more disturbingly — it is killing that actually provides that freedom. “In all of his life,” Wright tells us, “these two murders were the most meaningful things that had ever happened to him…Never in his life had he had the chance to live out the consequences of his actions; never had his will been so free as in this night and day of fear and murder and flight.” In other words, “(h)e was living, truly and deeply” for the very first time. Killing set him free from his prison.

That’s the author telling you directly, folks. If you’re going to accept Bigger’s violence, he’s going to make you accept all of it. It’s not a very pleasant proposition, and it ought to disturb us all; the realist/naturalist in Wright evidently demanded it.

On Tuesday, we’ll look at Book Three. I asked you to answer (in written form) the following question: Is it possible for someone to fulfill their destiny — to become who they are truly meant to become — through violence?

Radio: Today we read an essay by Jay Abumrad (from RadioLab) and listened to the excerpt of the show he referenced in the text. Then we talked. Everyone was in class, so I will not recap all of our discussion here, just the big points:

  • Their general process is:
    • Initial concept development
    • Research
    • Interviews
    • Outline
    • Improvised conversation (recorded)
    • Writing
      • Pick out best bits of improvised conversation center writing around
      • Write actual script to connect the dots
      • “Write” by using materials gathered (interviews and other sounds)
      • Music selection
    • Record written narration
    • Edit it all together
    • TA-DA, IT’S A SHOW.
  • Music – use it in good ways. Don’t be over-manipulative; use it as punctuation, use to highlight and sculpt the atmosphere.
  • Strike a balance between explanation and experience/show and tell.

We listened to some examples of final projects from previous years. There are some things that are worth noting:

  • Music choice REALLY matters. I would suggest talking about music early – maybe pick a song (as a group) that you think represents the atmosphere and tone you want to strike with your show. Use this as a reference for choosing other music for your compiled show.
  • When quality shifts from segment to segment, it really sticks out. Pay attention to sound quality from the beginning – make sure that the audio you get in interviews is good, check in with one another, and make sure that you’re all using the same recording practices (in interviews, narration, etc).
  • An individual segment might be awesome, but if it’s bookended with sub-par narration, it loses some of its shine. Figuring out what kind of narration and sound you’re going to use at the beginning, end, and between segments is important. It’s one of the last things you’ll probably end up doing… so make sure you give yourselves enough time at the end to make it good. And start talking about it now.

Tuesday will be a work day. It would be in your best interests if everyone in your group did something in advance of Tuesday so that you can actually make good use of your time.

Siren: Today you worked on January copy (due Dec. 22) and we talked about the importance of headlines. Especially headlines that, like, demand that your readers know some things beforehand.

I made this handy PowerPoint to clear up any questions:


Style: Today we talked about Jesse Eisenberg. Here’s the board:


It would make the most sense to use the common structure found in these pieces – they are written with a strong POV, using only narration/thought or dialogue.

Your pieces are due on Tuesday as usual.

If you are a grade-watcher: There is now a place in the gradebook for your readings. If you hit 8 readings, I will plug in 80/80. If you do more than 8 readings, the extra credit will be added at the END of the semester.

Middle School: 

Survey: Poetry: Today we began by trying to clear up lingering questions about whether The Donald is still running for president. I tried to speak to you about this issue in your native tongue:


Then I gave back your final formal poems, with comments — very good, overall — and gave you a handout about epistolary poetry. That is, poetry in the form of a letter (a term that is usually extended to cover diary entries). Remember that there are two reasons for the continued popularity of this form: it’s familiar (everyone has sent a letter and received one, and we know that “Dear —-” normally means a letter is about to begin), and we like to eavesdrop (even if we understand that reading an epistolary poem isn’t the same as actually reading one of their letters).

We read the Terrance Hayes poem “MJ Fan Letter,” and while we didn’t subject it to a line-by-line analysis, we did comment on the general structure. The poet appears to be using the vehicle of a fan letter (to a person he presumably doesn’t know but feels some kinship with — “Cousin”) to relate a deeply personal experience. This isn’t that much different from a commonly observed phenomenon: we’re often more likely to share secrets with strangers than with those close to us.

I assigned you a “fan letter” poem, in which you will choose a recipient (somewhat widely-known, if not world-famous) and use the letter to divulge some personal situation. (PLEASE NOTE: In keeping with what we have discussed all semester about the “I” in poetry not signalling default autobiography, this revelation should be treated as fictional, even if it’s based on a true story. This is NOT in any way an effort to encourage anyone to share deep, dark, unsettling details. Anyone who tells you that is the key to good poetry or good writing is doing you a grave disservice.)

These “fan letter” poems are due on Tuesday, Dec. 22, the day before break.

We also got volunteers for Day One of notecard final presentations next week. These people will present on Tuesday, Dec. 15 (not necessarily in this order):

LeRoy, Bocek, Koscinski, Smith, Kashuba, Soto, Williams

Everyone else presents on Thursday, Dec. 17. If you’re absent Tuesday, you go Thursday.

Survey: Fiction: First, Assignment #3 was collected along with your character development notecards. If you did not hand your story in for some reason, get it to me ASAP. Tomorrow would be best, if you care about your grade.

We talked about A Rose for Emily and what the actual order of events was (or might have been). This was a good conversation – thanks for participating.

I handed out a sheet that summarizes the ideas that we’ve been dealing with over the past couple of classes: Fiction 12.7.15 – Story vs Plot Handout ARFE. Keep this around – it might be helpful when studying for the final.

Prompt 11 was handed out: Fiction 12.9.15 – Prompt 11, plot and story. This is due on Monday.

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