“Killing Me Softly” with His Words

Some notable sentences (at least for me) from Kiese Laymon’s piece, “How to: Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance”, even the title is great.

“Mama takes it personal when she realizes that I realize she is wrong.”

“I’m a waste of writing’s time.”

“I’m not the smartest boy in the world by a long shot, but even in my funk I know that easy remedies like eating your way out of sad, or fucking your way out of sad, or drinking your way out of sad, or smoking your way out of sad, or lying your way out of sad, or slanging your way out of sad, or robbing your way out of sad, or gambling your way out of sad, or shooting your way out of sad, are just slower, more acceptable ways for desperate folks, and especially paroled black boys in our country, to kill slowly ourselves and others close to us in America.”

“Some days, Gunn and I save each other’s lives just by telling and listening to each other’s odd-shaped truth.”

“I’m a walking regret, a truth-teller, a liar, a survivor, a frowning ellipsis, a witness, a dreamer, a teacher, a student, a joker, a writer whose eyes stay red, and I’m a child of this nation.”

“Lots of times, we’ve taken turns killing ourselves slowly, before trying to bring each other back to life.”

High Stakes

We did not have class on Friday to discuss the “stakes” of writing. So, I’m going to take a gander and assume that “stakes” means the risks that the writer took with the piece – but I am not exactly sure.  It’s either that or Buffy the Vampire Slayer holding a wooden pointed stick. I’m hoping for the latter but I’m gonna go with the first thought.

Today’s piece was The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders. It is a great piece that criticizes the media in the United States. I think the biggest stake that the author takes in this piece is putting himself out there by the nature of his arguments. The overarching theme is the media and how it makes us stupid, but the examples he uses may be considered controversial. Towards the beginning of the essay he talks about 9/11 and the war that followed. Saunders says on page four, “by this time our national discourse had been so degraded – our national language so dumbed down- that we were sitting ducks”.  I just think it’s funny because he’s calling everyone stupid and saying that we are all mere followers of the guy with the megaphone. I don’t necessarily disagree with him and do find it humorous, but more importantly I find it bold. The author makes very strong arguments throughout the essay and sets the “stakes” high. On top of all of us being stupid, Saunders also claims that because there is so much stupidity in the world we have become tolerant and accepting of this stupidity. Which again, I don’t necessarily disagree with his agrument but it is another bold statement setting the stakes even higher.

The author gives several reasons as to why this may be. He talks about the megaphone guy, that if someone talks loud enough and makes enough noise they will eventually be followed by others. Saunders also says that our world is profit focused and that we are willing to tell the truth but not enough to make the ratings suffer.  I definitely agree with this. Of course because we are all focused on the money and getting bills to make it rain, we do everything we can to “stay in the game”. One example that the writer used was his educated friend that has a job as a writer that writes mindless stories about Anna Nicole Smith and likes only to avoid delivering pizzas again. People are afraid of falling backwards, with the mentality “don’t hate the player, hate the game”.

How will I set up the stakes for my essay? I suppose by taking risks and putting my own opinion out there, even if it may not be the popular one. I hopefully will be able to give solid examples like Saunders to defend my points. His arguments are also clear and well-stated. This would be a valuable trait for my essay to have because it makes the work easier to understand and follow. Biggest thing though put the stakes high because, “if you aim for the moon and fail, at least you’re among the stars”, right? – or something cheesy like that.

Vocal Vowell

There is a whole lot of rule-breaking going in the Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates. First and foremost she starts the book off by basically saying that she learned nothing in history class in school. Instead, she learned the majority of her historical knowledge from watching American sitcoms and cartoons. She gives many examples including The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, Mr. Ed, and The Simpsons. My favorite was when she talked about an episode of The Happy Days in which she reveals that in reality, the Fonz was the person who gave us the great American tradition of Thanksgiving. I think that this is what sets her essay part from others because she applies “modern” examples to “old” history. The author uses the sitcoms and in another part she uses her real life experiences to relate it back to history. At one point she talks about the song “Ten Little Indians” and when she first realized what it actually meant. I think examples like those really stuck with the reader. Also, I just think it’s really cool because people always say that history repeats itself and everything is connected and this is made clear through her examples. I had some, “well whatd’ya know?!” moments, which is always nice.

I also enjoy her use of sarcasm and humor. It makes the topic of history, which at times can be dry and boring, interesting and fun. I liked the part when she was described the Massachusetts Bay Colony Official Seal. The seal shows a Native American sporting a loincloth and holding a bow and arrows, and it reads, “Come over and help us”. I never knew this before reading the essay and Vogel talks about how the seal has also been used throughout history since then. Her tone is super sarcastic and therefore fantastic. I like that the author does not seem afraid to hold back, she simply tells history as see views it and, at least for me, it does not come off as too much.

Vowell uses a lot of quotes and references, which is good because it makes her seem like she actually knows what she talking about. I’m no history buff, so for all I know she could have been making up that episode about Pilgrim Fonzie on The Happy Days and I would never know. But the fact that she uses quotes and references to back up her work makes me not question her, and I can happily envision the Fonz in a pilgrim outfit with little difficulty.

Another rule that I think the author breaks in this essay is the traditional essay flow. This essay flows, but it is not a clear path. It’s more like your windy country crick. I feel as though she uses the same references a lot and pulls from many different sources at different times. I don’t know…it just feels really jumpy to me. As a reader the jumps kept me on my toes, but I think I would have enjoyed even more of her great examples. I don’t know if I would aim to use this type of flow in my own essay, but I can still appreciate the creativity. We need to shake things up and break the rules everyone once in a while or else all our essays be would be boring and fun-sucking.

The Price Is Exact

I read TV’s Crowning Moment of Awesome by Chris Jones in Esquire magazine. The essay was really interesting. I think one of the things that made the essay so great was that is about The Price is Right -seriously, though. It is the longest running game show in history and it’s an American tradition. If you’re home sick from school or you’re taking a personal day from work – what do you do? You watch The Price Is Right, that’s what you do! Choosing this topic for an essay in Esquire was interesting because it’s something that every American knows and can relate to.

Along with the topic, the essay itself flows very well. It starts out with a detailed description of Terry Kniess and his typical American home. Everything seems completely normal. You read the description of his t-shirt that he wore the day of the “crowning moment”. You also learn about the couple’s beloved dog that sadly passed away. It all seems so normal, but then you get to the part about how Terry is kind of a math genius and can count cards and basically hustle casinos. It then becomes apparent that is not your typical story. I also love the part when it all suddenly becomes dramatic with introduction of Ted Slauson. Which contestant is lying!? The world may never know. The descriptions in the essay are vivid and enjoyable as well; you can easily picture yourself there.

Also, the length of the piece was appropriate. I have to admit that I have trouble getting through long essays, even if they are well written and interesting. I think this length was just right and I wasn’t fidgeting halfway through waiting for it all to be over. This is something that I hope to transfer to my essay for other antsy readers like myself.

I think the users of Longform likely enjoyed the creativity and flow of this essay. It’s about a historic moment on the longest running TV show of all time that was completely overlooked. The flow of the essay is smooth and overall it is very well written. It also made Drew Carey look like an ass, which is something that we can all appreciate.

Consider This…

First and foremost, I’d like to begin this post by saying that I am a proud vegetarian. I don’t mean that in a boastful or condescending way, though it likely feeds into what one of my steak-eating, rib-devouring, and seafood-loving friends says about vegetarians. His line is something like, “How can you tell if someone is a vegetarian or not? – They’ll tell you”. What I mean by starting off the post in that way is that because I’m a vegetarian Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace really resonated with me. I was surprised and happy to learn that a non-vegetarian was taking a stance for animal rights on the rather unusual platform of Gourmet Magazine.

The essay is written very well. I enjoyed the points that the author brought up, but mostly I appreciated his honesty. Wallace’s honesty and willingness to see the other side is what really sold the work for me. On page seven the author disputes his own beliefs and biases, willingly admits that he is not a vegetarian, and that he could be preaching a double standard. But he clearly puts all of this out in the open, and I feel this strengthens his argument because he addresses the other side ahead of time.  

There are many strong aspects of Wallace’s essay but one that is done extraordinary well is the layout of the piece. The author is writing for a gourmet culinary art magazine in which the readers are expecting an article on how wonderful they will likely find the Maine Lobster Fest with its World’s Largest Lobster Cooker. Instead, Wallace decides to tackle the other side and write about how the readers may not find the MLF wonderful at all. He starts the essay by painting a mental picture of the festival with just a smidge of disapproval and the reader begins to understand that this essay may not be a raving review. The author then moves into the description of the lobster and the history of its consumption. The history is quite interesting and it is clear to the reader that the author has done a lot of research. He goes on to talk about how the Maine natives don’t seem so keen on the festival, and talks about the aged “hippy” PETA protesters presence there. Wallace then starts to dip into his main argument and talks about pain and how humans, animals, and debatably lobsters feel it. Next comes the part about cooking which the readers of Gourmet Magazine would likely be the most interested in. But again, this is not the typical Gourmet essay and Wallace very vividly describes the ways in which lobsters can suffer when “prepared” or cooked. He ends the essay with several thought-provoking questions, which I imagine (well, I hope) left a large impact on the Gourmet readers.  

I thought that the essay flowed very well, and each point that the author brought up seemed relevant and tied in with pervious points. This made the essay easy to understand, easy to read, and impressionable. As I stated before, along with the flow, the authors willingness to admit his own biases and areas that he was not an expert validated his argument in my eyes.

On a personal note – I hope that the essay really made the readers of Gourmet, the attendees of the festival, and everyone think and actually “consider the lobster”.