Thanks to the Supreme Court, we now have one form of equality on the books: marriage equality. But the battle for equality doesn’t stop there. While marriage is a great start, there are many battles left to fight such as racial equality, income equality, and, of course, gender equality. With that in mind, we present our creative nonfiction stories around …
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 …
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. (more…)
We here at The Poetics Project regularly partake in the Creative Nonfiction genre with our monthly Story Shots posts. I have a lot of fun with the genre, but I know that many people struggle with creative nonfiction.
Specifically, how much is creative and how much is nonfiction? Where does the line blur and creativity starts taking a nonfiction piece into the realm of fiction?
There are no solid boundaries nor are there any set percentages, e.g. 25% of your story must be “creative” while the other 75% must be nonfiction to obtain the label creative nonfiction. Essentially, the creative part of creative nonfiction refers to how the story is told and the nonfiction part of the creative nonfiction refers to the subject matter of the piece.
Can you make up dialog? No, but if you don’t remember the exact words spoken but can approximate them, that’s fine (in my book – others may disagree). Can you change names, dates, and locations of a creative nonfiction piece to distance the people involved from the story? I think you can, as long as everything else in your story is true.
In other words, use your best judgement when it comes to how much “creative” and how much “nonfiction” goes into your creative nonfiction. If you started out writing a creative nonfiction story about an experience you had in high school and it suddenly becomes an epic fantasy-romance, it’s probably no longer creative nonfiction. Lots of fiction is based on true and real events, but once enough of that story is manipulated, it’s no longer nonfiction and crosses into the realm of fiction.
But you don’t need to add a ton of fiction into your creative nonfiction to make it interesting. There are some very basic tricks you can use in creative nonfiction, as well as in other literary forms, to make your story creative without sacrificing the nonfiction part of your story. Here’s a quick list of 5 tips to help make your creative nonfiction really pop.
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.
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.
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
J.K. Rowling said, over a Twitter interview, that Harry Potter was rejected “loads” before it was accepted by a publisher. And, after that story was published, J.K. Rowling not only became one of the most popular authors of her time, but one of the wealthiest as well. What’s the moral of this story? We all get rejected, but it’s what we do with our rejections that makes us who we are.
No one likes rejection letters.
You know the ones: “Your work was one among many excellent submissions, unfortunately…”
However, have you ever been on the other side of the editing table? If you have, you know the task of an editor is arduous and exhausting. And maybe somewhere along the hundredth rejection you decide on, you start to forget that these are writers your dealing with behind the blind submission numbers.
My mistake during this process was using my position as an editor for a literary journal to my own advantage: getting to listen in on the discussion process about my piece. I submitted my own work, which I knew would not be sent to me or my group of editors, but would be sent to another group I worked with for consideration.
Once blinded and given a number, it was handed out. I decided to find my submission’s number and locate the group it was assigned to.
I sat close to them as I eavesdropped on their deliberation, but this did not last long.
“So what did we think?”
“Mediocre at best.”
Suddenly, the passive rejection letter didn’t sound so bad.
– Nicole Neitzke
“Everybody gets rejected straight out of their bachelor’s degree,” Professor Powers, soon to be Dr. Powers, said.
I got the first rejection January 31st, 2015. It was from USC – the school I had been able to visit and speak with professors at. I didn’t take that as a great sign.
I was applying for my Ph.D. in Early Modern English, with an emphasis in critical theory, namely performance theory, and digital humanities.
I was applying so I could one day teach and share my enthusiasm for Shakespeare.
“If you want to teach Shakespeare,” my friend and former professor yet again continued offering much needed insight and advice, “you’re going to have to do lit. If you do rhetoric they won’t ever let you teach literature, especially not Shakespeare.”
Other rejections soon followed. On February 6th, 2015, UCLA rejected my graduate application. Ten days later, Cornell sent a rejection. Three days after that, UC Santa Barbra rejected me as well. UC Santa Barbara had a professor there that had, kindly, sent her regrets at my rejection.
“In my graduate program at the University of Iowa, only one student of the thirty was straight out of their undergraduate degree. Only myself and one other student of the thirty were two years out. It’s really competitive. They want to know you’re a serious student. They don’t want to waste their time on English majors who are just continuing school because they don’t know what else to do,” Professor Powers continued.
UC Santa Cruz rejected me February 27th and the University of Pennsylvania rejected me March 10th. I was getting numb to the rejections by now. My last hope was UC Davis.
Love is an interesting concept. I’m not sure I quiet grasp it – especially romantic love. All of a sudden, we stop being a “me” and we start being a “we.” What’s one is the other’s. Thoughts and feelings and decisions and plans start becoming a topic of discussion rather than a choice you just make. Love is about union. About sharing. About belonging to one another. But is it ever really possibly to posses another person? Little chalky candy hearts proclaim it is – “BE MINE!” they shout as loud as any candy has ever shouted. “Be Mine” is the theme of the holiday, and the theme of our stories.
Dollar store chocolates. On sale dollar store chocolates. We put on a movie.
“Raspberry. Eww. Do you want it?”
“No. Want my coconut?”
“I guess. What’s this one?” She points at a dark round one.
“I don’t know, I haven’t tried it yet.” I take a bite. “It’s gross too.”
“If I ever get a boyfriend, he’s going to buy me expensive chocolates. And teddy bears. I want roses, too. He’s going to be so romantic.”
“Okay.” She has this idealized version of a man that doesn’t exist. She always spouts off this long fictional list of what her one-day, long-awaited boyfriend will have.
He’ll be emo.
He’ll be rich.
He’ll hate his parents, like she does.
He’ll give creamy kisses.
He’ll want to marry her right away.
He’ll take care of her.
He’ll be a little nutty.
He’ll teach her how to drive.
He’ll wear eyeliner.
He’ll listen to Green Day.
No, now he’ll listen to Fall Out Boy.
He’ll be sweet.
He’ll be romantic.
He’ll take charge.
He’ll be dark.
He’ll always text her back.
He’ll visit her at work with surprise lunches.
He’ll get her flowers to brighten her day.
He’ll pick her up from school when she gets out of class early and won’t make her wait.
He’ll want 2.5 kids.
He’ll worship capitalism.
He’ll be milky and smooth.
He’ll spoil her.
He’ll love her.
He’ll understand her every need.
He’ll be a little crunchy.
He’ll melt in her hand.
He’ll watch all of her reality T.V. shows.
He’ll tell her she’s perfect.
She wants all of these things in one person. She is unforgiving. She is unrelenting. She insists he will be hers. This mythical creature is both beautiful and horrible. No man can live up to this image. But what do I know? Whenever I doubt her monstrosity of man, this is the question I’m greeted with.
Her list grows every year. She’s 20. She’s my sister. Right now she doesn’t have him, she only has me. So we get dollar store chocolates and we watch movies and I listen and I don’t agree. I just nod my head and try another chocolate.
“This one is toffee. It’s crunchy. It’s good.”
– Amanda Riggle
She kneaded my abdomen. “How long have you been experiencing pain?” I was clay.
“A few weeks.”
She peeled off her gloves like fruit rinds, all elbows and moles.
“How often? After meals? After exercising?”
“Most mornings. I usually feel nauseous riding the bus to campus.”
Her face changed, as if she recognized the word in Hangman, gaps in its teeth. “Is there a possibility you’re pregnant?”
The exam room leaped to life, pulsing and yellow. “That I’m what?” But I didn’t want her to say it again. “No.”
“Are you sexually active?”
“Well, yes.” My heart sprinted. “But we practice safe sex.” Dirty and safe.
“Let’s do a pregnancy test. I’ll put in a lab order.” She sat in front of the computer.
I was levitating, suspended in midair.
I have a very negative view of resolutions. I see them as promises we make ourselves that never work out. We make these promises because of cultural pressures to be better, or different, or new, but really, we are what we are, aren’t we? And if we want to change, a resolution isn’t going to be the motivating factor that does it. This is just my personal perspective, though. Our writer’s have other opinions.
It was the end of a particular nasty year, crammed with failure, transition, and plain bad luck. If I ever needed a year of salvation, this shiny 2011 was it. Farewell procrastination and debt—welcome gym and flossing! Tonight was my conversion to the real new Missy. I celebrated by buying another goldfish.
I have an affection for goldfish despite their lidless eyes, floating strings, and general refusal to stay alive. My room was never complete without that shimmering drop of gold. Each unlucky fish, however, became the next white belly tossed about by the bubbles from my air filter within two weeks. The day I flounced home with Ivan floating grumpily in his bag, I was resolute: This one was staying alive, damnit.
When two weeks came and went, my future with Ivan seemed promising. Although he wobbled his fat body away from my every friendly gesture and seemed bored as hell, Ivan was healthy. I fed him, cleaned his tank, and infused his water with oxygen and the best of intentions. Then one day before the three-week mark, my fish was suddenly a chunk of orange floating upside down, his magnificent fantail wilted.
I accepted defeat. I sanitized my one-fish-tank for good, zip-locked the purple rocks, bid all my wasted fish names goodbye, and locked the mess in the attic, weary. I had wanted to check each goal from my list; I had wanted to enjoy a happy life with Ivan; I had wanted to be a proud, accomplished, content version of myself. Trust a goldfish to put you in your place.
I don’t know why I saved that fish gear. Maybe I’m just secretly afraid I will never try again and this time succeed.
– Missy Lacock
She was just a girl in my class in summer school. I guess we were friends. I didn’t really like her all that much, but she was dating one of my friends from school so I had always been nice to her.
She was at my house. We didn’t have any plans. It was a slumber party with just two people. It was December 31st, 1999. Y2K was the great fear of the day, and we spent the night listening to rock music on KROQ and DJ’s crack jokes about the end of the digital world.
We were 16 years old and in my parent’s house, so there was no alcohol to speak of. We were eating chips and drinking Coke. My house had always been a Coke house, despite my personal like of Sprite and Pepsi. I wasn’t in command or control, so Coke it was.
“Sean isn’t very big,” she started to comment. Sean was my friend. I really didn’t want to hear about his dick size.
“Did you want to watch a movie or something?” I awkwardly tried to change the subject.
“And he’s about this thick,” she continued, holding up two of her small fingers.
Sometimes the most terrifying thing isn’t what you hear, but what you don’t hear. Silence can be tranquil and peaceful, but often what breaks that silence isn’t something we wish to be greeted with. For October’s Story Shots, we asked our writers to tackle silence and this is what they came up with.
“I don’t think it’s natural.”
“Let me see,” the doctor said in a heavy accent as she pulled her chair close to me. I had small ear tubes or something, which made me prone to ear infections all of my life. If I got any sort of cold or sinus infection, an ear infection wasn’t far behind.
“I think there’s a blockage,” she said as the warmth of the light made my ear slightly uncomfortable. I sat there in jeans and a t-shirt on the doctor’s table while my little sister sat in the room with me. I didn’t want her to be afraid of doctors, so I took her into simple examinations like this with me. I thought it was good to teach her not to be afraid by showing her not to be afraid.
“I think it’s just my inner ear being swollen,” I offered. This wasn’t my usual doctor. I had an HMO—Kaiser Permanente, so really, I never had a usual doctor. I had whoever was on at the time at whatever hospital I happened to stop at.
“No no no, it’s a waxy buildup,” she insisted.
I hesitated, “I’ve never had that before, but I’ve had ear infections all of my life. I have small tubes and I get them frequently when sick.”
“Trust me” she said as she fetched a long blue plastic stick with a loop at the end. “I’m just going to pull this wax right out and your hearing will be fine again.”
She had me sit still while she fished around my ear with the long blue noose until she hooked what she wanted.
“I don’t think that’s wax; I can feel that,” I said as she yanked.
Blood started to pour out of my ear.
“Oh!” she exclaimed as she got up to fetch something to catch all of the blood.
My sister recoiled and started to cry, “Manda!”
“Fucking shit,” was all I could say as I felt the warmth of the blood from my ripped eardrum sliding down my neck.
The doctor pressed some cotton to my neck and then left the room. Another doctor came in to look at my ear.
“It’ll just need to heal. Here’s a prescription for amoxicillin for your ear.” He handed me a piece of paper. The thing I wanted in the first place instead of the bloody and ripped ear drum.
The silence in my left ear lasted for months as it healed. It never fully recovered due to some scarring from the ripping itself. And, to boot, my sister was now terrified of doctors. And, to be honest, so was I little, now that they had ruined my dreams of being a recording engineer.
How could I mix music if I couldn’t hear it?
– Amanda Riggle
The headboard presses at the back of my skull as I close my eyes and sink into it. For a while, it’s just me, alone in my basement bedroom. I imagine my brother sleeping across the hall, his arms stretched out. The hair on his forehead slick with sweat—the musty scent that is teenage boy in the air, sticking to his sheets. And my mother, in the room above me, face-down on her king-sized bed, her thin hair a halo, her deep snores a lullaby. My sister and her newborn son in my old room. His body rigid. “Relax,” his brain screams, but his muscles don’t listen.
My body screams “sleep,” but my mind won’t listen. In the darkness, I begin to hear voices—muffled, but familiar. I open my eyes and walk to the door. I open it, peer around the corner. Left to right. Right to left. The house is dark and silent, but in the distance, a man laughs. His voice is raspy and high. I quietly close the door.
“Matt,” I call, but there’s no answer. Padding back across my bedroom, back to the bed, I dig my knees into the mattress, lean over, and draw back the curtains. Outside my window is a sea of black, but a woman stares back at me. Her short, brown hair curls away from her face, round and grey as the moon. I lean closer, pressing my skin against the cool pane until she disappears. I squint, trying to make out the landscape of our backyard, the weeds overtaking the flowerbed, the glow of the street lamps lining the freeway behind our fence. The window pane vibrates as a semi passes. The thin walls shake. My world is blue, and there’s no one it.
Back in bed, I reach for the phone on the nightstand. I dial his number with shaky fingers.
“Are you here?” I ask.
“I’m at home,” Matt answers.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where the line between fiction and nonfiction exists—specifically creative nonfiction. When we read a textbook or a biography of some dead president or washed-up celebrity, we expect what we’re reading to be factual. For it to have actually happened. And if the names change (more than likely to protect someone’s identity) we are accepting of that. But with creative nonfiction, when stories read more like novels, when, you think, there’s no way they can possibly remember each of these experiences with as much detail as they’ve just conjured, it’s easy to forget that this “story” was actually someone’s life.
In case you have no clue what creative nonfiction is (I wouldn’t blame you), Lee Gutkind, the founder of Creative Nonfiction Magazine, has said it’s “true stories well told.” That’s the most succinct definition you’ll find. It’s not made up. It’s fact. But the telling of those facts reads like fiction. There’s dialouge. Description. A narrative arc. But as Gutkind reminds us, there is still a cardinal rule present in creative nonfiction and that rule is that the author can’t make “stuff” up.
So that’s the line then, I suppose. Only it’s more complicated than that (of course it is). In a piece the journalist Roy Peter Clark wrote for Gutkind’s magazine, he says, “To make things more complicated, scholars have demonstrated the essential fictive nature of all memory. The way we remember things is not necessarily the way they were. This makes memoir, by definition, a problematic form in which reality and imagination blur.”