Tuesday, April 29, 2008


1. The beauty of a well-told story is that it can function on many levels: a story told to a child probably has a surface plot and the ability to entertain - this is why children like being told stories; at the same time, however, a well-crafted story typically has a secondary meaning that lies below the surface. Thus, a story can entertain, while at the same time communicating values or provoking thought.

2. Again, a well-told story has the ability to function on multiple levels. As children grow up into young adults, they usually become better equipped to understand the deeper and more complicated levels within a story. They are also able to understand and appreciate stories that are deeper and more complex. A well-crafted book can provoke deeper thought and provide insight into the why's and how's of the world.

3. Throughout history, books have served as an outlet for political and social concerns, as well as a tool for crafting a national identity. In the late 18th century, the German intellectual Johann Herder coined the term volksgeist, meaning "the genius of the people". Herder and other Europeans of the 18th and 19th centuries believed that the collective literature of a nation's common people is what ultimately determined that nation's spirit and identity. Through written works, writers are able to represent the concerns, beliefs, values, and attitude of the nation as a whole.

4. A well-written story should have, first of all, well-developed and well-conceptualized characters. The characters should exhibit versimilitude and should function similarly to a real person put in their situation might; characters should also have emotional depth and complexity (the degree of which depends on the length of the story). If characters are unbelievable or lacking in complexity, the reason why should be evident and understandable.

A high-caliber story should also have a clever and complex plot (again, the degree of which depends on the length of the story). The events at the center of the action should be interesting should propel the plot forward. If plot events are resolved too soon, the story will have nowhere to go; on the other hand, if the plot events are not resolved or drag on too long, readers will lose interest, the story will be ultimately unsatisfying, and the theme will probably be unclear.

A story of literary merit should also have a vividly depicted setting. If the reader cannot envision the place in which the plot events are occuring, he or she will likely feel alienated and estranged. It's important to create a world that is plausible - one that draws the reader in. The world in which the story is set should be rich and pictorial.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, a good story should effectively communicate an original theme. The story should have significance beyond the literal surface meaning that it communicates. Whether it provides insight, communicates values, conveys a social or political concern, the writing should establish something deeper than its literal plot.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Is Anything?

Cars drift in and out of this luxurious bubble, suspended above the city streets. Beautiful people drift in and out the cars, floating through time and space, elegant and divine. I'm shivering on the street, looking up at a high rise New York apartment, and I can't stop, even though the air possess the warmth of every beautiful June night. My foot finds the first step leading to the apartment door, and I allow myself to be drawn up, carried along with all the people. Someone hands me a martini glass, and I politely and casually accept the drink; I sip urbanely and eloquently, I drink with the elegance of all the wealth around me. A beautiful young women sits on a couch, alternately smoking a cigarette and sipping her highball. As the warmth of the stars falls through the window, it casts a soft luminescence across her and all the other people in the flat. This little bubble - this little world - is positively aglow.

The year is 1926, and it's a beautiful night. I've been in this city for the past few weeks, and I plan on staying for a while longer. When I find myself moved, I suppose I'll find somewhere else to take root - at least for a little while. I've never been comfortable with the idea of staying anywhere too long; I imagine myself as a transient image, flitting in and out of the still air of whatever glowing city possesses my soul at that particular moment. I see people, or things - anything really, anything that intrigues me - and I let it draw me up into... whatever it is. And then I stay there for awhile, soaking in the images and the vibrancy of my surroundings. And then I move on. My life is fleeting, but I don't mind the impermanence. After all, is anything really permanent?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

hello, how are you?

hello, how are you?

this fear of being what they are:

at least they are not out on the street, they
are careful to stay indoors, those
pasty mad who sit alone before their tv sets,
their lives full of canned, mutilated laughter.

their ideal neighborhood
of parked cars
of little green lawns
of little homes
the little doors that open and close
as their relatives visit
throughout the holidays
the doors closing
behind the dying who die so slowly
behind the dead who are still alive
in your quiet average neighborhood
of winding streets
of agony
of confusion
of horror
of fear
of ignorance.

a dog standing behind a fence.

a man silent at the window.

by Charles Bukowski

From the first time I read Post Office, I have loved Charles Bukowski. I am intrigued by his sardonic wit and blisteringly sharp eye for social criticisim. This poem in particular exemplifies the attributes of Bukowski's poetry that make him great.

Even the title, the seemingly simple question "how are you?", is brutally sarcastic. After reading the poem - a story of "dead" individuals, hiding from the agony and confusion of the real world, and thereby perpetuating the fear and ignorance in this world - we see a deeper layer to the question the title poses. By juxtaposing the simplicity and innocence of the title with the harsh accusations the poem expresses, Bukowski emphasises the sharp contrast between "their ideal neighborhood[s]" and the confused world they are hiding from.

The frequent appearance of anaphora in this poem helps craft an image of a dark and frightening world - an image central to Bukowski's message. His repetitive use of the word "of" allows him to effectively create a catalogue of attributes applying to the world as he perceives it. The catalogue seems all the more overwhelming and overbearing for the repetitive nature in which it is presented. Through his image of the "man silent at the window" and the "dog standing behind a fence", Bukowski emphasises the idea of people perpuating their own ignorance by hiding from the world in which they live.

Bukowski also treats the idea of "death" as a metaphor for the condition of the people whom he criticizes. For Bukowski, hiding from the darker aspects of life is a condition equivalent to dying; Bukowski accuses people of being trapped indoors, slave to the "canned, mutilated laughter" of their televisions.

Bukowski is using an evidently sarcastic and ironic tone, immediately cemented in the innocence of his title juxtaposed with the darker nature of his poem. He maintains the sardonic quality to his tone by continuing to juxtapose images with positive connotations against images with negative connotions: the "ideal neighborhood" with its "parked cars", "little green lawns", etc., in contrast with "the dead" and "the dying", the "winding streets", "agony", "confusion", etc. By identifying an ironic discrepancy he perceives between "ideal" neighborhoods and the agonistic world, Bukowski sardonically calls for a heightened awareness of reality.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I was born in a small house in a small town in the South. I opened my eyes, and I saw nothing, only darkness. I cried out for something that I had no words for, and it held me and comforted me. I felt safe. I knew where I belonged, and I felt like I could wrap my hands around it and call it my own. I felt like I could take it with me, or rather, it could take me with it. At this juncture in time, I became acquainted with a feeling that I would learn to call "home". They told me it was a place, but I knew better - I knew it was a feeling. I stopped crying and I went to sleep.

I grew older and went to school, and I found my home in books. Numbers frustrated me, grammar bored me, social studies bored me - I was always either frustrated or bored. Things either came intuitively, in which case I couldn't understand why we were studying it, or else I just couldn't wrap my head around what the teacher wrote on the chalk board. Other times, I just couldn't make myself care about it. I wanted nothing to do with anything - anything, that is, except my books.

School houses were small, one-room buildings back then, but I could still usually manage to hide in the back and just read. Sometimes, when I didn't feel like reading I would dip my pen in the ink well and draw pictures that I could see in my head. Eventually, I combined my two interests and began writing stories and illustrating them. I wrote, and I drew, and it contented me. I grew older, and I felt more and more at home with my hobby.

As I grew older and more mature, I came to understand the value of an education. Although I wasn't particularly interested, I began to pay attention in math, and I began to pay attention in social studies. I wasn't particularly interested in either, but I excelled in both. Still, I felt at home in my books and my drawings. After some thought, I came to understand what I had known all along: home isn't a place, but a feeling. I knew were my home was, and so that's where I decided I would live.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Michael as a Reader; Michael as a Writer.

I've been reading for a long time, and writing for about as long. From a young age, I've been interested in books. My third grade teacher held a meeting with myself and my mother about my reading during her class; I was never particularly interested in whatever was going on, and I always felt that my time would be better spent immersed in a good book.

Of course with age has come maturity, and I now have a better grasp of the value education; still, I do love a good book. In particular, I'm drawn toward dystopian fiction. I love Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. It's hard for me to choose a specific book and label it as my favorite, but, if forced to, I think I would choose Huxley's Brave New World. I also enjoy music that deals with similar themes: The Arcade Fire's Neon Bible and Radiohead's OK Computer and Kid A are all favorite albums of mine.

Aside from dystopian fiction, I really enjoy writing from the Romantic period, particularly Nathaniel Hawthorne - it's probably due to him that my writing tends to be so verbose. I also love Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Shaw, and Murakami, just to name a few. It would take an extensive list to cover all my favorite authors, but that may give you an idea of what I enjoy.

When I write outside of class, I tend to write poetry, specifically song lyrics. I write music somewhere in the vein of Conor Oberst, Bob Dylan, Belle and Sebastian, or The Decemberists - or some combination thereof. I also occasionally write non-music-oriented poetry, as well as short narratives and prose. I enjoy writing, and I do it relatively frequently.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Persisting Over Mountains, Rivers, Fields, Vallies, and Time.

Many great works of literature derive their greatness from their ability to depict life in a certain era. In Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain brilliantly painted a portrait of life for a small town, southern, white boy in the early twentieth century; August Wilson created a series of ten plays, each one tied to a specific time period; the beat authors and poets - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg,
William S. Burroughs, etc. - all helped to chisel out a distinct niche for the counterculture of their decade. While all these literary works can be considered great, the thing that truly makes them enduring - the thing that keeps them from being cast into obsolescence by their ties to the antiquated past - is their ability to communicate a universal message. A piece of literary work can be tied to a specific era, but in order to transcend the time barrier and remain loved for centuries to come, the piece must explore issues and questions that will extend past the time of the author. Walt Whitman dealt with the idea of a universal oversoul; he believed that all people, regardless of their geographic or chronological location, are tied together by simple pleasures and timeless themes, which will persist until the end of time. While few people have had to deal with the duplicity of Injun Joe, almost everyone can relate to Tom Sawyer's childish curiosity, boyhood bravery, and impecable sense of adventure. Time transcendent topics such as these have the ability to make a work last forever.


In today's world, especially at the high school level, many people lack empathy. The ability to understand and respect other people's actions and beliefs is an ability that develops slowly (if at all) as a person gains maturity and experience. It is easy for us to look at the problems in our own lives and feel sorry for ourselves; however, applying that experience to others and then using this consideration as an opportunity for growth is something that does not come as naturally. Although most ten-year-olds do not have the emotional maturity to feel truly empathetic toward other human beings, I do not think that it is unreasonable to believe that empathy may start to develop at such an early age. If I had to give advice to a ten-year-old, I would urge him or her to try to see the world from someone else's point of view - to understand why people do what they do. It's often hard to grasp the motivation behind people's actions, but I think that considering such things in everything I see or read - fiction or otherwise - can help to make me a better person.