Tag Archives: Melanie Figueroa

Story Shots: Fall

The fall is a time of leaves changing colors, weather cooling down, harvest, pumpkin festivals, people going back to school, and so much more. Story Shots, our creative nonfiction series, has taken on this theme in our latest installment. Below we have four fall-themed pieces from different writers for your pleasure.


A List: We fall…

into bed.
and asleep.

in and out
of love.
into another’s arms.
in and out
of bad habits.
apart, and
together.

into debt.
onto hard times.
into a deep depression,
and on our knees.

down the rabbit hole,
like fall leaves;
ashes, ashes,
we all fall down.

– Nicole Embrey


As a child, I mainly remember triangle sandwiches at bible camp, but I also remember believing in the God of Israel as much as I believed the sun would come up each day. I was raised by a Christian, single mother and attended those camps at my grandma’s church every summer in an old logging town pared into mountains as green and buckled as elephant apples. The fundamentalist church preached a tough no-sin doctrine, and I pled for salvation at camp the summer before I turned fourteen, old enough to engage with an ancient text about God’s chosen people and a certain Israeli.

I entered the Bush administration wild with purpose. My love affair with Israel had begun.

Story Shots: Gloom

Story_Shots

The shorts below were written by some of our contributors for the month of June, which, as we know, is typically a month associated with gloom. But rather than focus on April showers and May flowers—the weather and nature that springs up this time of year—our contributors focused on the way gloom has seeped into their own lives.


The story of how I ended up naked on the internet seems a lot more complicated than it actually is. The truth is simple.

It started with a boy named Tyler. Six-foot, thin, baby-faced Tyler.

He was my first date since my breakup with a longterm boyfriend, who was completely his opposite. It was a big day, and I was really just looking for a hookup, and yes, women can say that, too.

But the night came and went, and I remained firmly unlaid. It was full of science and art and history and music and booze and food until 5 a.m. but not a look down my shirt, not a grab for my ring, not a tongue in my mouth, let alone anything else in my anything else.

I walked out of his apartment after the sun was up with a hug and some new music but completely bereft. What the hell? What man would rather have a friend more than a vagina? What was wrong with me? It must be because I’m…fat? Am I fat? Did he hate my thighs?

It was then that I missed my old boyfriend more than ever—my boyfriend who knew what he wanted, took charge, could fuck like a man, and called me the right names. And who always made me feel sexy as hell. Maybe I’d made a mistake in letting him go.

So I did what any 28-year-old, freshly graduated girl living in Gresham, Oregon and looking to win back some of her self esteem would do: I slapped a pic of my boobs on a site called ratemeplease.com and waited to be judged—obviously a classy choice, since the domain name had “please” in it.

The average scores of others were lots of threes and fours, and the highest on the hall of fame didn’t even hit 8, so I wasn’t expecting much.

But then my scores and private messages started pouring it by the hundreds, and before I knew it, I was #12 on the entire site out of thousands (not now, so don’t bother looking)—my highest achievement after my master’s degree.

And the messages, or “fan mail,” as I like to think of them, well, they included it all, some sweet and others nasty enough to get me pregnant just by reading them. The only thing they always left out were negative comments. I never got one.

There’s more to this Missy’s-naked-on-the-internet story (so much more), but the only relevant thing is how one rejection in June can devastate the usual confident woman, and apparently winning a boob competition is the way to respond. Also: Tyler missed out, and I’m a respectable 7.8.

–Missy Lacock

Story Shots: May Day

Story_Shots

May means different things to different people. In May, memorial day happens to honor people who have served this country through military service. May is a great time for weddings. May is when the flowers start blooming and the bees start pollinating. But May 1st is a different kind of day. May Day in America has a history surrounding worker’s rights. This month’s creative nonfiction post is an ode to May Day.


The FM radio broke about a year ago. I don’t know why. My car’s a 2001 Kia Spectra and it’s 2015. That’s probably why.

KNX1070, a Southern Californian news radio program that ran on AM, was playing as I drove home. I had work until 5 p.m. I tell myself that work was the reason I didn’t go. I don’t tell myself even if I went, my busted hip and knee would have kept me from marching.

“Let’s go to your eye in the sky and get the latest on Traffic in L.A.” the male radio host said, over pronouncing every word through what sounded like a tight, forced smile.

“Well, there are a lot of freeway closures in L.A. today due to the march,” came the reply from the CBS News Helicopter.

“Thank you Denise. Are there a lot of people marching in L.A. today for the fight-for-fifteen movement?” The inflection of his voice was supposed to make him sound interested, but the over enthusiasm in his voice just made every question and statement that fell from his lips feel false.

“Oh gosh,” she started, “like 200 people are so. You can’t miss the flag they have. It’s a big flag. They’re leading the march with it.”

I texted my friend at the march asking how many people were there.

“About 1,000, maybe more” he replied.

Damn, Poetry’s Hard

In Adam Frank’s recent article on NPR, the writer compares poetry to physics. He begins his discussion with T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, which is 434 lines. In other words, it’s long. For some readers, that length provides something to hold onto a bit longer. An author might claim that more space allows for them to create greater meaning. But for some readers, longer poems can be daunting.

However, length isn’t the only thing that makes certain poems more difficult for some than others. Why someone may not “get” a poem can be for many reasons. In Frank’s article, the writer interviews John Beer, poet and professor at Portland State University. Beer had this to say about the subject:

There are, it seems, as many ways for a poem to be difficult as there are for it to be a poem at all. For most people, a lot of poetry written before the twentieth century will be a challenge: the vocabulary will often be unfamiliar, the syntax may be more complicated than we are accustomed to reading, and allusions, especially to classical learning, abound.

The “Harry Potter” Fan Theory That Changed Nothing

Where there are fandoms, there are fan theories. The Harry Potter world has a ton of them. The latest to gain attention is that the Dursleys were not just mean to Harry because they were bad people, but because they were under the affect of a Horcrux.

Specifically, they were under the affect of Harry, who is himself a Horcrux. Remember?

The theory started on Tumblr—because where else—where Graphic Nerdity wrote that the Dursleys were ordinary, perfectly respectable people before Harry was dropped off on their doorstep. She continues, “For the next decade it proceeded to warp their minds…The fact that they survived such prolonged horcrux exposure without delving into insanity or abandoning a helpless child only solidifies their place among the pantheon of noble and virtuous heroes in the Harry Potter universe.”

And, I suppose, on the surface the theory makes sense. Both Ron and Ginny become possessed when exposed to a Horcrux for a long period of time—Ron with the Slytherin locket and Ginny with Tom Riddle’s diary. The wizarding world had long since been surprised by the Dursley’s complete lack of familial love for Harry.

All this to say, yes, I felt it too. Reading the books, especially as a child myself, I wanted to understand the sort of people who’d keep a little boy in a closet under the stairs.

But while the Harry Potter universe does have a “pantheon of noble and virtuous heroes,” I don’t think the Dursleys are among them. Nor were they meant to be. Sometimes bad people just have to exist.

The universe Rowling created also has many evils, and while most of those belong to the magical world, there are plenty of evils that are very much human.

Story Shots: Shakespeare

Story_Shots

Today, in 1616, William Shakespeare, beloved playwright and poet, passed away. For the past 399 years, Shakespeare has continued to live through his work. An author, you see, can die twice. Once is his or her actual, physical death, and the second death is when no one reads nor remembers your work any longer. While Shakespeare has died once, he has yet to experience this second death. This blog isn’t about Shakespeare’s death, but rather is about his continued life through his works.


Sonnet 74

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead;
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.

– William Shakespeare


I am a rumor – a story. I just happen to be true.

I started one day in a Shakespeare course at Cal Poly Pomona.

They were paired up – the brightest and most talkative girl in the class – big in size and personality. And he was the handsome, fit, and quiet boy – quiet because he slept through most of the class.

He had all of the lines, literally. He was Henry V and she was Catherine – his French speaking princess. Only, she didn’t speak French. But Catherine did in eight lines of the scene they were assigned.

Henry V had issues remembering his long-winded speeches. It might have been because they were so long. It was most likely because he had put off practicing them until the day of the scene.

Catherine had issues remembering how to say things in French. She tried to write the lines down on her hand, but she realized she also had issues reading French. French, overall, was the issue for the princess of France.

Henry V and Catherine, while never having practiced the scene completely through together, did have one agreement though – they would end their production of Henry V right before Henry’s line “Catherine, you have witchcraft in your lips.”

Catherine was happy with that plan. Henry V had a surprise.

This is where the rumor was born. This was how I was made.

Henry V pulled the teacher aside before class and begged to use his copy of Shakespeare’s play to remember his words.

Catherine declined and tried to read her horribly scribbled French lines off of her hand.

Henry V and Catherine both forgot about Catherine’s maid, Alice. An Alice was pulled out of the audience and stuck into the scene.

Alice didn’t know her words either nor any of the staging. She assumed there would be staging. Henry V and Catherine never really got that far.

Alice was standing between Catherine and Henry when the dreaded line was said “Catherine, you have witchcraft in your lips.”

Catherine’s eyes opened wide and a slight look of horror swept across her face as Henry pushed aside Alice and took Catherine in his arms.

Henry V pulled Catherine close. His hand touched her cheek.

His thumb found itself over her lips, so when his lips approached, they were both kissing his thumb.

The class gasped.

Catherine exhaled.

Henry V thought himself clever.

Overall, the performance was awful. The Bard was probably rolling over in his grave.

The teacher gave Henry V and Catherine a solid B.

And now everyone remembers me as that time that one girl got kissed in Dr. Aaron’s Shakespeare class.

– Amanda Riggle


Are There Too Many Books Out There?

Writers, for me, are philosophers. And anthropologists. They search for meaning, and they observe and report.

Writers are smart. They have to be in order to survive, in order to create something worth surviving.

But quite frankly, there’s a lot of bad writing out there. Technology gives anyone with a computer access to a word processor. Anyone with enough time on their hands can sit down and start typing. Anyone with enough money can call up an editor, who can rip their work apart and build it back up.

I struggle with the flooded marketplace. There are simply too many books out there, many not worth reading.

A friend once told me, “I think most people think they have at least one great story inside them.” As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Forbes estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year (nearly half of those are self-published).

Writing initiatives, like National Novel Writing Month, seem to purport the idea that “anyone can write” if they only just pushed themselves, if they only just set aside the time. I have quite a few friends, people working in publishing, that have participated in NaNoWriMo. And when I ask each of them where these novels exist now, I get told that the manuscript is in a drawer or a trash bin—wherever it is, the answer is always the same: it wasn’t very good.

My point, I suppose, is that both readers and aspiring writers need to remember what it is that drew them to books in the first place. The goal of writing shouldn’t be to hit a word count—to write 50,000 in thirty days. The goal of writing shouldn’t even be to leave your mark on the world. Because I get it, really I do. Life is short, but art lasts. The goal of writing should be, in my opinion, to give readers something of value.

In a recent interview with Guernica, agent Chris Parris-Lamb, of The Gernet Company, stated that this problem is actually the most common one he sees. On the manuscripts in his slush pile? “I just wish I read more submissions where it felt like the author had taken great care with it, had spent a lot of time on it, and had a better idea—or any idea at all—of the books they saw their own as being in conversation with, as well as how theirs was unique. Most submissions I see feel like someone checking ‘write a novel’ off their bucket list.”

Literary Paraphernalia: Bookish Socks & Sweaters

I hear it’s pretty cold out there. Though most of our contributors are based on the West Coast, we do feel a pang of empathy for all of you readers dealing with this:

Seriously, what is this blasphemy?

The good news is that with weather like that, there’s plenty of time to get some reading done. And shopping, of the online variety. Below are some bookish socks and sweaters to help keep you warm.

Got My Number Two Socks

To The Lighthouse Pullover

Throwback Thursday: How to Make Grammar a Habit

The other night, while brainstorming ideas for upcoming posts, a few other contributors here at The Poetics Project and I began discussing–well ranting, really–about the importance of grammar, which eventually led here:

 “I hate when people mess up grammar when texting for me. I have to send a text that says, ‘That grammatical error was due to the text not being composed by me. I thought you should know.'” – Allison Bellows

“If my boyfriend texts someone for me while I’m driving, I get mad when he forgets a comma.” – Melanie Figueroa (Me)

Now, at this point, some of you may be tilting your head and thinking to yourself, “That’s just ridiculous.” And you’re probably right, but at least let me defend myself and my fellow grammar nazis.

I can’t remember a single grammar lesson from my K-12 days. I’m sure I had them, but so much of the English I speak and write every day was just sort of instinctively imbedded in my brain. I didn’t will it to happen; it just did. I imagine that’s how it is for most people and their native tongue. In high school, the only time my teachers mentioned grammar was after several students made the same mistakes on our papers. It was the same for most of my college career as well. When a few students appeared to have a problem understanding the proper use of a comma, the lessons on run-on sentences, comma splices, subjects, and verbs would begin. But these lessons were abrupt; they didn’t stay with you.

It wasn’t until my senior year at a university that I actually took a English grammar course. After researching the requirements of different types of English majors, I realized that grammar wasn’t even a requirement for most of them, which was pretty depressing, actually. Even though I am pretty sure my professor was the devil himself (he had a thing for public humiliation and torture), I learned more in those few months in his class than I did in my entire life about grammar. My professor was a bit radical in the way he taught the subject. Despite the fact that he had worked at my university for almost thirty years, he had never taught a class on grammar. He hated the typical grammar books with slews of exercises to be assigned for homework each night, and he fundamentally believed that in order to really understand and retain grammar,  you had to use it, properly, every day. By this I mean that he believed if his students were to learn they had to write–not simply complete drills. He also believed in always speaking using proper English grammar. He was quite emphatic when he insisted that if we were to enter a job interview and say something like, “My sister and me–” instead of “My sister and I–” they would laugh us out of their office.

Everyday Inspiration

I don’t like to make generalizations, but let’s face it, book lovers and writers tend to be an introverted bunch of people. We like to live vicariously through our stories—which is good because as much as I like reading about the zombie apocalypse, I’d rather not live it.

As far as writers go, most of the ones I know tend to fall on one side of the same coin. They are either, like me, of the get-out-there-and-experience-shit variety—because what better way to write about it? Or, they tend to be of the aforementioned introverted type. The classic writer, locked away in his room typing away.

But it’s important, regardless of what kind of writer you are, to get out there and experience life because inspiration can strike in the strangest of places. Here are just a few tips how:

Take Public Transportation

I have a few poems and short stories that have been inspired by a trip on the bus or train. Buses and other forms of public transit tend to be places where you can find all types of people and personalities. You can be sitting next to someone who’s homeless or someone who owns their own company.

Sometimes, being so close to strangers leads to some pretty memorable experiences.

One time, on my way to the Greyhound station downtown, a couple boarded the MAX together. The woman was swaying and slurring her words. It was 7 a.m. She was saying goodbye to the man she was with, but she wouldn’t leave, no matter how many times he asked her. The lights on the doors flickered. “The doors are closing,” a woman’s voice said on the loud speaker. But each time the door attempted to shut, it was stopped by the woman’s large bottom and wide hips. She swatted at the door like it was a fly.

It was a little funny and sad. And when she started yelling and another man on board started yelling back, a tiny part of me was even afraid. But then it ended. And I wrote it down. An anecdote in a larger story.

Walk Through the City