December 21st, 2011

Portfolio 3

Posted by julieengel in Uncategorized

Cover Letter/Retrospective Letter:

            During the past few weeks, we’ve been writing short fiction, including a long short story of our own choosing, and a short story based off work from class. I must say that writing fiction has been my favorite part of the class this entire semester. The idea that I could write my own story and it not be completely awful was an idea I never believed in, that is, until I began writing one for this class. The first comment I received on my story made me actually believe I could successfully write an enjoyable fiction piece. The commenter had said something to the effect that they can’t wait to read more, which was nice to hear. I love positive feedback, because it really helps restore faith in myself, but at the same time, I need negative feedback as well. The criticism from my peers helped when they would actually critique something and not just give positive comments. I found that sometimes the comments were vague and didn’t help improve my writing much, except for a few select comments, and mostly comments from the professor.

            As far as the process of writing the short fiction pieces, I really had trouble with deadlines. I’m a huge procrastinator, so I wait to the last minute to do everything, and then I realize how much it affects my work. I truly believe my best work is written when I’m under intense pressure, but not writing fiction. I’ve come to realize this over the past few weeks, and I’ve tried to get an early start on my work. Sometimes I would have absolutely no idea what to write, so I would just stare at my computer screen for an hour or two before giving up. Other times, I’d find myself pretty inspired and able to write for quite some time. A huge problem I have is that it takes me forever to write something because I go back and delete most of what I’ve just written. If I’m trying to finish a paragraph and I can’t do it, I start reading the entire story I’ve written so far, then try again. And by the time I know it, half my work is deleted and there’s a new story that I’m trying to make work with the overall piece, and my mind wants to explode. Nonetheless, I do enjoy writing fiction because once you read the final piece, you feel quite accomplished.

            Concerning the class as a whole this semester, it was by one of my favorite classes. When I signed up for creative writing, I figured we would be writing poetry and stories, but didn’t think too much about what exactly creative writing was besides that. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about creative writing, for example, I had never heard of hypertext in my entire life. Anyhow, I figured the class would be pretty easy for me because I’m an excellent writer when it comes to essays, but I was wrong. The class wasn’t easy, especially not when we had to write poetry, but it was definitely a great learning experience. It is rare for me to find a class in college useful for my future, but I found this class to be one of the few. We studied author’s works, noting what we could do in our own work, and what we shouldn’t do. I never thought I could accomplish writing poetry that avoided stereotypes, but with the help of this class drawing attention to this problem that many writers face, I did.

            Most of the assignments I felt were enjoyable, except for writing a poem following strict rules. When we first started out the blogs, the instructions on what exactly we were to write or how we were to write them were a little too vague to me. After reading others blogs and reading the comments, I sort of got the hang of it but was never really too sure if I was doing them correctly. Either way, I enjoyed writing the blogs because the topics were of our own choosing, and we could sway the reader in whatever direction we wanted with the right choice of words. As far as the poetry section of our course, it was an interesting part of our class but definitely not my favorite. Explicating poetry isn’t much fun for me, because I’d rather not analyze every word. For me, it takes away the fun in reading. I prefer to read novels or short stories, and I definitely prefer to write short stories. There is more room for error and more room to write about whatever it is I want to write about in short fiction.

            This class has made me believe that I can write more than just a great essay, I can write a book if I really wanted to. It has allowed me to set the goals higher for myself and give things a chance. I never thought people would like my writing but I was clearly wrong. As far as the push to get students to try to get published, that was an excellent idea. I never thought about trying to write a piece that could or would ever get published, but now I’m definitely going to try to. I don’t want to try to get my work from this class published because I don’t feel it is good enough yet. But, I feel like with everything I’ve learned in this class, I can write a much better novel than I ever wrote short fiction or poetry in this class. I intend to start writing a short novel over the winter break, which if I think is good enough, I will try to get published. If it weren’t for this class, I would definitely not be trying to accomplish such a high goal.

Short short story: This was written on a paper and passed around the class, and is now my topic for my short short story: “Girl looks for wolf in woods, girl runs into wolf, she’s an alcoholic and starts drinking, takes a cab home.”

Whiskey in the Woods

            When I was about 20 years old, I ran away to live in the woods. I’m not sure why I felt it was such a grand idea, but for me, anything was better than living with my psychotic parents. All of the fights were over money, whether my dad was with another women, or if my mother was with another man. There was so much nonsense I couldn’t deal with, and so I left. In nature, there are no problems relating to money or cheating. Animals were so much more simple, and seemed to live much happier lives than us humans. They do not seek out pleasure from sex, they simply want to recreate. They don’t need money, they just need to find their next meal and a place to live. If humans were forced to live like animals, on instinct alone, the entire population would probably be decreased to nothing.

            So I left home with the grand idea that I should try to live like an animal, surviving off my instincts. I had no idea what I was in for, but I must say, I packed quite well. I had a tent set up in the middle of the woods near a stream, with a sleeping bag and pillow inside. I had two lanterns, a bunch of batteries, three boxes of matches, a pot, a pan, and some fishing gear. I carried several knifes on me, just in case I needed to gut a fish or defend myself in the unlikely event that something awful would happen.. The woods were filled with animals, so I didn’t bring any food with me. The smartest thing I packed was two jugs of whiskey, because I was surely going to grow bored of the solitude. I lived in the woods for several months in complete peace, and barely drank my whiskey at all. It was an amazing experience, let me tell you. The animals kept to themselves for the most part, but not the wolves. The wolves were very protective of me, and would even sleep around my tent. People portray them as vicious animals, but give them a little bit of water, whiskey, and fish, and they’ll be your best friend.

            Eventually I grew bored of being alone, and began to miss my old, petty human life. Upon my return, my parents and friends decided to throw me a party.  My friends and family were so happy that I was home, but I just didn’t feel at home anymore. It was weird because I had experienced so much life, so much of a different way of life, than these people. They had no idea what it was like to not go shopping every weekend, or to not be conned into buying everything seen on billboards. They had no idea what it was like to be just a regular human, to be one with nature. From then on in, my life revolved around getting drunk. It was the only way I felt like I could relate to others, because god knows that if I was sober, I might want to hang myself and others.

            So I became the ultimate party queen, the most social person, but only when I had whiskey by my side to guide the way. My best friend Karl and I were the life of every party, and could drink anyone under the table. Whiskey became my favorite commodity, and bars became my favorite places to go. Eventually my family and friends started voicing their concerns to me that I was beginning to drink too much. My response was usually, “No, I drink too little.” Everyone says I’m an alcoholic but who are they to judge? So what if I drink once or twice a week? Doesn’t everyone need to get drunk?  My friends go out with me to get drunk all the time, yet I’m the only one who needs to give myself up to a higher being and start going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Well I guess that’s just how it goes. I’m the one who gets too smashed and ends up doing something completely reckless. I’m that chick whose fallen down the stairs, went home with some jerk off, and woke up on someone’s front lawn. It’s an accident most of the time, you see, cause I love my liquor, but I never count drinks. Some of the smarter folk I guess keep track, but I’d rather take my chances. You could say I live life on the wild side, since that’s the only way I’ve ever known. Who needs rules and authority? I’m for chaos and complete anarchy.

            I’ve always felt that chaos and living free from authority would be the best way to live, which was also a reason why I left to live in the woods. Once you get a taste of freedom, sort of like whiskey, you just can’t stop at some, you must have it all. And so I called up Karl, the only person at this point who didn’t disregard me as some obnoxious alcohol, and we made plans to get a bottle of whiskey and find my old tent in the woods.

            Karl and I walked with our whiskey, half empty in hand, stumbling over rocks and fallen tree branches. We eventually found my tent by the time the bottle was finished, and decided we should drink the jugs of whiskey I had left behind. As walked to the side of the tent where the zip-up door was, there was a midnight black wolf standing there, staring intensely at us. Karl was a bit frightened, as anyone but me would be, and he froze. I recognized this wolf, he was one of the wolves that had protected my tent when I lived in the woods. I went inside the tent as Karl still stood stiff as a board, and came out with some whiskey, water, and a fishing rod. I poured some water and whiskey out for the wolf, and began to fix my fishing rod. Karl stood in amazement as the wolf licked up the liquor and water as I walked to the stream to catch a fish. When I came back and gave the fish to the wolf, Karl couldn’t speak a word even still. It was clear to me that the other wolves had been killed, whether by human or man, I could not tell. All I knew was that this poor wolf was all alone, and I couldn’t bear to see it that way.

            The wolf laid down by my feet for a few minutes, and I began to rub his back. I had begun to explain to Karl that after living here in harmony with the animals for so long, they eventually began my family. I would give them water and food, and even let them into my tent if the weather was bad. Although we didn’t speak the same language or whatever language it is that animals speak, there was a mutual love and understanding. Karl thought I was crazy and belligerently drunk by this time, but once we started walking towards the main road with the wolf at our side, he understood. Once we got to the main road, Karl flagged down a cab that was passing by. As Karl and I got into the cab, and as soon as I kissed the wolf, everything went black. As I slowly opened my eyes, I looked around to see Karl sitting next to my bed. “You tell the craziest stories in your sleep. Wolves? Really? You’re such a dreamer. Go back to sleep.” said Karl.

Long short story:

Witches in Northumberland

Being the newcomer in town is an uncomfortable and awkward feeling, yet there’s something comforting about being an outsider. People are always intrigued by the mysterious new person, and God knows I could use some normal friends right now. They start with small talk and personal questions like, “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “What kind of music are you into?” But it always comes down to, “Why’d you move here?” and “Where is your family from?” Nothing is easier than fooling them with smoothly delivered lies and an innocent smile, but am I a fool for thinking it wise? I yearn to have normal friends with typical problems in their average lives, but I am strange girl, with peculiar problems in my extraordinary life.
            My sister Diana and I have been traveling throughout England since our Mum died. Our lives have been put on hold because fate had other plans for us. You see, Mum wasn’t your average soccer Mum, she was a clever and powerful witch. Before Mum died, she gave us her thick brown book, battered and tatty from being passed down through the years. She explained, “This book holds great knowledge, and with that, great power. The history of our people, of your family, lies within the frayed pages of this book. You’ve read the stories and studied the spells, now you must prepare to join the circle. Go to England; Use the book and talisman to guide you.” After Mum died, Diana and I set off to England to find the others that would complete our circle, and so it goes.
            It’s been three months since Diana and I have ventured from Salem to our journey throughout England. The longest we’ve stayed in one place has varied from several days to several weeks, but never do we have any permanent stability. Most of our time is spent using the talisman and spell book to guide us to local covens and witches. Mum said the talisman would light up when the connection between myself, Diana, and a witch that is meant to join our circle have met. So far, Diana and I have yet to see the glorious gleaming green gem illuminate, but our hopes are still high. Though the witches we’ve met have not been the witches we need to complete our circle, they have helped strengthen our magic. Diana and I together have learned to draw energy and power from the forces of nature surrounding us, which has helped guide us to Breconshire.
            Our hostel in Blackburn, Lancashire is packed with runaway teenagers and low budget tourists, most of whom cleared out for the day. Diana and I ventured off into town as well, searching for some Wiccan stores to purchase a few candles, incense, and oils from. As we strolled down Main Street, a small black house with candles in each and every window came into view. The house caught my attention from the corner of my eye, and was located on a shady dead end block just to the right of us. We walked down the eerie block towards the house which had a wonderful and resplendent store sign that read, “House of Enchantments.” Before we reached the top of the stairs, the door crept open and a soft, friendly voice invited us in.
            The store was lit only by candles places strategically on various bookshelves, tables, and on the wooden floor. Incense filled the air with intense aromatic pleasures, both lavender and vanilla scents. Gems and stones decorated the glass shelves alongside talismans and other tools which my eyes have yet to see. As I wandered towards the back of the store, I was greeted by a  woman with a soft, velvet voice who was already acquainted with my sister. And then I saw it. The talisman was illuminated, glimmering its glorious green color in our eyes. We finally found one.

            I opened my mouth to speak but was quickly silenced by Diana. “Lucie, I’d like to introduce you to Florence, our newest circle member,” said Diana. She reached out and shook my hand with an oddly firm grip. “It’s great to finally meet you, Florence,” I said, “We’ve been all over this country looking or our 3rd circle member, and here you are So, how ’bout it?” “I’ve been waiting for your arrival. Your mother told my brother Scott and I you’d be coming to join us. We have much work to do,” said Florence. “You knew our Mum? Why wouldn’t she have just told us how to find you then?” I asked. “Your Mum, you see, was also my mother. She had adopted myself and Scott off to her half sister the moment we were born. She was only 18 years old, and couldn’t take care of us. And she didn’t tell you how to find us because she wanted to push both of you to strengthen your powers and test your skills before meeting us,” said Florence.
            Diana and I glanced at each other in awe of the bomb Florence just dropped. Our Mum had two other children, twins, and never told us about them, yet they knew about us. Why had she not told us? “Your Mum never told you about us because she feared for your safety. Our father was turned into a vampire and has since sought after the blood of his children and their mother. Your mother wasn’t killed by random, it was our father. We’ve been on the run, but we can’t run forever. We need your help,” said Florence. This was too much to take in at once. Why would our mother have children, not tell us about them, then send us off to find them so we are put in danger?  Family is family, even if they are your half siblings, and even if you feel like you were dragged into something you’d rather not be a part of, you have to back them up. I figured the best part about Florence being our sister is that she’s clearly stacked with magical items from the store, so that at least gives us an advantage.

            “So what now? Where do we even start?” I asked.           Florence conjured a map with a flick of the wrist, and pointed out the path we must take through the woods to Scott’s residence. “First, we need to get to Scott’s safely, then come back and prepare to cast the circle. There are many spells we must memorize, and we must be ready for action at any moment,” said Florence. The funniest part of all this is that I had no idea that our mother had another lover who was a vampire. I didn’t believe they even existed! Clearly, Diana didn’t either.
            Diana was pail white, stiff as a board, and didn’t bat a lash for a good minute. She looked as if she might faint, and surely I looked just as mortified. How we were to pull off these spells that we’d never even heard of before? “He is coming after all of us. With the power of four in the circle, we can call the corners and drawn upon the powers of the elements. We can defeat my father but it will not be without difficulty,” said Florence. Within seconds, Diana and my suitcase appeared in front of us. Florence had her suitcase in hand, as well as her bag filled with potions and spell books. “Let us waste no more time,” said Florence. And like that we were driving off to find brother Scott in the hopes to completing our circle and completing our mission impossible.

            Our ride to Northumberland was most unlike any car ride I had ever taken in my life. Florence had taken great precautions prior to our travel, including several protection spells to ensure a safe ride. The protection spells were by far the most important, but absolutely not the most interesting. Florence, Diana, and I together had cast an extension spell to make our long car ride to Northumberland as comfortable as it could be. If any normal bloke hopped in the car, they would probably faint immediately. The car appeared from the outside as a typical four door sedan, but once inside, this car was far from typical. The car was the size of an apartment, maybe even bigger than the one I used to call home. There were two cozy white couches, several bookshelves packed with spell books, oils, candles, and chests, as well as a bright blue bathroom, four beds built into the walls, and a rather small kitchen area. Diana and I had never seen such powerful magic, nor had we ever dreamed of having the ability to produce it ourselves.

            For the first few hours of our ride, Diana and I were trying to locate Florence and Scott’s father, our mother’s murderer, by using a map of England and the talisman. The talisman would light up every once in a while, and like a magnet would be drawn to the area on the map where he was. He had been traveling throughout Cumbria, which is right between Lancashire and Northumberland. We would have to go around Cumbria to get to Scott without being caught, which was going to take up a great deal of time, and Florence didn’t think we should have to.  As we whizzed through traffic, Florence explained, “I have cast protection spells on each of us as well as this car, but they can only do so much. If we are to get to Northumberland without being traced, we mustn’t look like ourselves. Father will be looking for us, but he certainly won’t notice us if we can pull off the invisibility spell.” Before she even she spoke the last word, Diana had already taken out Mum’s book and was eagerly searching for this spell.

            We had the power of three now, which made us a threat to Florence’s father. “I have found a spell, but it requires a great deal of work. We must also conjure up a potion to ensure that we remain invisible, and I’m not sure we have the ingredients required,” said Diana. “You’d be surprised what I have in this car. I’ve been running for a while now, so as you can imagine, I am prepared,” Florence said, “So what exactly do we need?” Looking on with Diana, the ingredients list read: One drop of blood and one strand of hair from who wants to become invisible, two petals from the Narcissus flower, a drop of Orgorl oil, and vampire dust. After Diana read the list to Florence, Florence simply laughed. “My dear sisters, do not fret. Everything on the list can be found in the blue chest over there.” said Florence, pointing to a most dazzling deep sea blue colored chest. With the chest now on my lap, I said, “Aperio amarium,” and like that, the chest opened. Inside were all sorts of ingredients used for spells, but most importantly, the ingredients needed to help us. Looking throughout the chest, I quickly found the Orgorl oil and Narcissus flower, but the vampire dust seemed to be missing. “You’re wondering where the vampire dust is, Lucie, aren’t you?” Florence said. Shaking my head yes, I couldn’t figure out where she was going with this.”I’ve put the only vampire dust I have left into a small container, and look, Lucie, here it is. I forget that I’ve started wearing it around my neck. I can’t risk losing one of the most powerful and hard to come by ingredients,” Florence said.

            Florence tapped some vampire dust out of the tiny bottle into our cauldron as Diana put the orgorl oil and pedals from the Narcissus flower. Now it was time for us to each give a  drop of blood and a strand of hair, so we all pricked our fingers and plucked hair without hesitation. After about five minutes of stirring the potion, it was time for us to drink ourselves invisible. Florence emptied the potion into three bottles, and gave us each one with a precaution, “We need this potion to last us until we get to Scott.. A sip of it will assure your invisibility but for so long, so be sure sip some every hour. We cannot risk being seen.” And on that note, we clanked our bottles together and took a swig each. As I looked around at Diana and Florence, I truly thought we had failed because I could see both of them quite clearly. Looking past them and into the mirror then looking back at our circle, my worries were put to an end. “Relax, Lucie. We can see each other but other people can’t see us. Here, take this mirror and carry it in your pocket. If you ever have a doubt that the potion is still working, just look for your reflection and you’ll know what to do from there,” said Florence.

            As we sped down the highway about half way through Cumbria, several chills passed throughout my body. Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out just what. Right as I was about to speak, the tires screeched, and the car came to a sudden halt. A man had been hit and left for dead on the open road, and would’ve been pummeled again if Diana hadn’t seen them. Florence, who was woken from her nap by the sudden stop, ran to the front of the car. “What happened?! Is everyone okay?!” she cried. “It’s a hit and run! We have to go help him. We can’t just leave a man in the middle of the road!” said Diana. “Oh my God,” said Florence fearfully, “He’s here. We have to leave and we have to leave NOW. That’s not a dead man, that’s my father! Quick, the both of you, get over here.” Florence murmured a few words and with the flick of her wand, we were outside of the car. Her father was in the car within seconds, tearing it apart to find any clues as to where we had went, but we didn’t stay around to watch. It was clear that we were never going to make it to Northumberland without a fight, and so we did what any witch in our situation would do, we cracked open Mum’s thick brown spell book.

            With a tap of the wand, the book opened up directly to a page with a picture of a deathly pale yet devilishly handsome man. We all looked up at each other awestruck, for we knew exactly who this man was. Mum must’ve created this before her death. She must’ve known what was going to happen, or at least knew we were possibly in danger. The page was all about vampires, but there were many side notes about her murderer and ex-lover. The details about their love and relationship made me want to vomit, yet at the same time it was comforting to know he wasn’t always a killer. Regardless of the past, the man killed my mother, and wants to kill the rest of her children. After studying witchcraft for so long, I’ve always strayed from the darker magic. I never thought my life would come down to learning how to kill a vampire, because quite honestly, I never thought they existed. But there it was, all the spells and ingredients for potions to help us through this ridiculous situation at hand.

            The power of three wasn’t enough to kill a vampire, and there was no way we would get to Scott in time. And then Diana saw it. “Look here, look at what Mum left us. It’s a summoning spell,” Diana said, “We can use to it summon the power of our dead ancestors.” Florence became exuberant  and her face lit up with a huge smile. “I’ve never tried it. This is one of the rarest and most powerful spells. If we pull this off…” said Florence as her voice faded into nothingness. Within seconds, Florence’s face was pale white and she wasn’t smiling. The talisman was glowing green, which meant we were far too close to the vampire. “We must begin immediately. No matter what happens, do not stop the chant,” ordered Florence.

            Diana, Florence, and I quickly called the three corners and joined hands. As we began to chant “Da nobis virtutem mortuis,” the winds began to pick up. There were leaves flying everywhere, and it started to rain quite heavily, but we never stopped chanting. The rain slowly came to a halt and the winds died down. Looking around, I didn’t see anything physically different about any of us, but I certainly felt different. I felt at peace with life, and at peace with death. The power our ancestors gave to us was overwhelming, on top of the immense knowledge given to us as well. As Diana began to speak, I noticed that her lips weren’t moving, and that she wasn’t talking to anyone in particular. Florence and I stared at her for a second, then it clicked. We could hear each other’s thoughts without speaking. “This is incredible. We already have an advantage over..” Florence began to speak but was cut off quickly.

            “Well, Florence, it’s been too long, don’t you think? Is that anyway to greet your father?” said the vampire. Before Florence could open her mouth to speak, her father had grabbed her by the throat, and she was dangling in the air. With her eyes wide, staring intensely at us, we knew what to do. Florence’s thoughts were still with us, and she knew that if he were preoccupied with her, this was the only shot to kill him. Diana and I quickly and discreetly drank more of our invisibility potion. “Look in my bag, Lucie. There’s a wooden knife. Take it and run it straight through his heart,” Florence said, “But before you do, we must chant the spell to kill him. Repeat after me, “Destruere mortuum ambulantem.”

            As we chanted aloud, the vampire looked around worriedly. He dropped Florence from his death grip and started to yell, “YOU WITCHES THINK YOU CAN OVERPOWER ME? I AM THE GREATEST OF CREATURES. I HAVE THE MOST ACCUTE OF SENSES. GIVE IT YOUR BEST…” Before he could finish, I had stabbed him right through the heart. As he fell to the floor, Florence yelled, “in inferno ardere!” Her father’s corpse went up in flames, and laid burning on the ground, piece by piece. Once everything had turned to ash, we were certain he was finally dead. We were finally free.

            Hand in hand, we ventured back to the main road.  “Where do we go from here?” asked Diana, “I mean, do we stay in England or go back home?” Looking up at the night sky, the stars shone brighter than ever.  And as certain as I’d ever been about something, I replied, “This is our fate. I think it’s time we stopped running from it.”

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  1.    jenny abeles said,

    on December 31st, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Hi Julie. It’s nice to hear that so much of what we covered was helpful for you. Maybe I was aware that you were struggling a bit with the poetry component, but you did every assignment in good spirit, experimenting and trying it out, and I give you much credit for that. I am particularly pleased to hear of your increased confidence—go after that novel! You’re a perceptive, hard-working young woman and if you want to write a novel, I think you can. As per one of your comments, I am very concerned right now with how to make English curriculum more relevant and useful to life as it is lived, so any further comments you have on that subject, now or after pondering for a while, are appreciated. According to my records, you have two absences, wch brings your grade to an A-. Your work and your attitude this semester have been excellent, however.

    I like your “Whiskey in the Woods” story—it raises many issues that I struggle with myself, mainly that ancient philosophical question, “What is the right way to live, to be human?” Like you (it seems), I have enormous empathy for the critters of this world that seem to end up on the sides of our roads in mangled, bloody heaps entirely too often, and I have my own “they’re killing the wolves” story that I’d like to try to publish. Did you read Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang when you were a kid? Man, those books stuck with me, and I think they’re just as affecting to read them now. It’s very, very easy to become disgusted with humanity, and I think that stories of this kind, that critique our way of life, that pose alternatives, that help us to question our assumptions and see the value in things we have dismissed are extremely important. Writing such stories is a way of expressing hope that we can be better.

    With your witch story, you hit on another subject very close to my heart—did I already tell you that I teach a course on witchcraft here at Queens? You’ve done much creative writing and re-writing here, and have begun to develop some characters that could certainly sustain interest through the course of a novel. Sisterhood is a powerful theme, as is the experience of being orphaned and trying to discover one’s personal power in the world. This could be the prototype for that novel you are planning…

    I’ve enjoyed your writing this semester, Julie, and want to encourage you to keep fighting the good fight, with OWS, with your writing, and everything else.

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