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  1. #1
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    Angry "My Hairy Life," writing sample by Jayne Mead

    On one of the first days in New York, I found myself wandering in the Lower East Side, a part of the city that had been formerly Jewish and that still contained remnants of its earlier incarnation. The streets teemed with small shops and merchants in one great cacophony of business being conducted noisily and openly. Most shops, their front doors ajar, revealed crammed, dark, cluttered spaces, where merchandise consumed every inch of space. The owners and hawkers gathered in front of their stores or stalls, stuff strewn over makeshift tables or hung on laundry lines within colorful tents. Elderly Jews were selling and buying all manner of things: leather goods, books, underwear, used clothing, sheets and towels, glass wear, dishes, tablecloths, ladies' garments, even freshly baked challas and fruit. I could hear Yiddish spoken everywhere. It was August, the streets were crowded, and body odors and perspiration mingled with the scent of tobbaco, urine, gasoline, bus fumes, fried foods. Manhattan, more tropical in August than any coastal sea town in the Bahamas, but devoid of sea breeze, was sweating humidity. The hot air, the steam rising through the ground vents, the thunder of a passing train down below, lent itself to a vision of Dante's inferno. At the same time, the city that never slept rock 'n' rolled, its heartbeat pounding, its arteries delivering oxygen, removing trash, open for business.

    I was in love with New York, with each cobblestone, each alley, each dusty tree. The entire landscape of skyscrapers made me feel safe, as if I were in a valley protected by rigid, concrete, indestructible mountains.

    I wanted to exchange my long-sleeved shirt for something light and summery, but as my arms needed bleaching, I was too embarrassed, full of pity and sorrow for myself. And then, in front of a cluttered hardware store, I saw two vendors, an elderly man and a younger one, possibly his son, engaged in an animated Yiddish conversation. I couldn'at make out what they were saying, but I knew from the few words that I did hear that they were arguing about Spinoza, the existence of God, and the nature of good and evil. I stopped in my tracks, mesmerized. The older man was clutching a prayer book, the younger one absorbed in a massive tome spread over his entire lap. They stopped talking and the older man looked at me informally and asked if I wanted anything. No, I didn't want anything they had for sale. I didn't need a faucet, or a screw, or a light bulb. I didn't need paint brushes, hooks, or cans of varnish. What I needed just then was to be one of them. I needed to move out of my skin-tight prison cell and enter their world of thought and contemplation. I needed to be the kind of person whose mind was not occupied only with daily minutiae but who was capable of reasoning; reflecting, and thinking, not out of necessity or narcissism, but out of inquisitiveness, a thirst for knowledge, and an appreciation of art. I was only twenty-two but growing increasingly apprehensive that I was allowing youthful idealism to slip through my fingers and to evaporate like boiling water.

    I had often thought of the larger picture, tried to imagine where I, a tiny organism in the whole scheme of things, in the unimaginably vast universe, could possibly fit in. Perhaps my own being, not larger or more significant than that of a bacteriun or an invisible germ, a living thing made up of only a few strands of DNA occuping space in my body, was a speck in some godly thing, a bacterium in a heavenly laboratory. Who knew? Perhaps I, and the whole universe, were nothing but a toy to an unimaginable mammoth child-god object that arranged and rearranged us at whim. His second would be our eternity.

    Fearing my shallowness, I attempted to lay meaning in the context of the silliness in which I dwelt. I didn't believe in the supernatural or in magic. I didn't believe that religions, any of them, had answers that were not based on pure conjecture: They were all pretty much the same, offering hope and eternal life in order to make this life and its certain mortality bearable. But despite my admiration for intellectuals, musicians, artists, and writers, I didn't read the philosophers' treatises, did not sign up for adult education, and did not even have the patience to read a newspaper. I might have wanted to wax philosophical, but my all-consuming passion was the superficial nature of my skin. I concerned myself, not with finding the utimate meaning of life, poetry, or God, but with my cosmetic afflication. As a child I had loved to draw. People had said I had talent. I could easily duplicate in charcoal, pencil, or ink whatever image presented itself to me: a person's face, an imaginary young beauty in long lovely tresses and romantic clothing smiling at the viewer from an otherworldly distance, a still life of layer-chocolate torte resting on a delicate Worcester bone china dessert plate, elegant silver utensils formally placed on a white cloth napkin, and a crystal glass filled with dark red-purple wine behind the dessert, vying for attention. I had learned to paint in watercolors after I won a set at a birthday party of one of my second-grade classmates, the only time in my life that I won anything in a raffle. I loved art classes in elementary school, not only because they made me feel proud of myself, but because it was in those classes that I learned how to create depth in a drawing, how to take a blank page, and, with a few brush strokes, create distance, shape, mood, and color. Later I learned to use crayons, and much later to paint with oils on canvas or wood. But to my inner shame and regret, a palpable, almost physical pain would rip through my heart at the recollection of my early love of art and its later abandonment. I did not follow my bliss, nor did I make attempts to resurrect any talents I might have had or develop those that lay dormant. But I doodled--on napkings, on envelopes, on tabletops, wherever. People would say, "Maybe, after high school, you might go to art school and become a dress designer," but I had lost momentum. I came to focus on my hirsute body, my cosmetic flaws. In sober moments I would realize that I was throwing away gold in my quest for glitter, choosing trivia instead of Torah, cartoons instead of culture. But sobriety and reason had nothing to do with it. I was preoccupied with the absurd. I was preoccupied and crazed with my perceived and real disfiguremnt of my skin, the embarrassing body hair that in my head had assumed the proportion of a calamity. I, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, the child of the new land of Israel, knew nothing about perspective, was unable to laugh at the absurd.



  2. #2
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    I think this is quite good. It's like I said before - you have a talent for painting places and people. However, three problems hurt your writing, in my opinion: empty verbs, a list mannerism, and a couplet mannerism.

    Your empty verb problem is not serious, but it's there. Empty verbs are verbs used so often that they've lost virtually all impact in writing. They simply become dead wood and clutter writing. Use enough of them in your writing, and it becomes lifeless. Eliminate them as much as possible, and your writing gains new life. Here is a list:

    to be - be, being, been, am, is, was were
    to have - have, having, has, had
    to do - do, doing, done, did
    to take - take, taking, taken, took
    to make - make, making, made
    to go - go, goes, going, gone, went
    to see - see, seeing, seen, saw
    to look - look, looking, looked
    to use - use, used, using
    to get - get, got, getting, gotten
    to keep - keep, keeping, kept
    to seem – seem, seeming, seemed
    to want - want, wanted, wanting

    Use simple past tense, active voice.

    Much more serious is your list mannerism. A mannerism is something you do so often in your writing that it becomes noticeable, like a tick. You probably don't realize it, but you wrote several "lists" in this short piece. The occasional list is OK, but lots of them make the reader start to skim your writing instead of read it. They want to get past the list to the next piece of meat. You don't want that. You want them to read every word. Here's a list of your lists:

    revealed crammed, dark, cluttered spaces
    leather goods, books, underwear, used clothing, sheets and towels, glass wear, dishes, tablecloths, ladies' garments, even freshly baked challas and fruit.
    tobbaco, urine, gasoline, bus fumes, fried foods
    The hot air, the steam rising through the ground vents, the thunder of a passing train down below,
    delivering oxygen, removing trash, open for business
    charcoal, pencil, or ink
    a person's face, an imaginary young beauty in long lovely tresses and romantic clothing smiling at the viewer from an otherworldly distance, a still life of layer-chocolate torte resting on a delicate Worcester bone china dessert plate, elegant silver utensils formally placed on a white cloth napkin, and a crystal glass filled with dark red-purple wine behind the dessert,
    create distance, shape, mood, and color
    on napkings, on envelopes, on tabletops, wherever
    throwing away gold in my quest for glitter, choosing trivia instead of Torah, cartoons instead of culture
    each cobblestone, each alley, each dusty tree
    rigid, concrete, indestructible mountains
    Spinoza, the existence of God, and the nature of good and evil
    a faucet, or a screw, or a light bulb. I didn't need paint brushes, hooks, or cans of varnish.
    reasoning; reflecting, and thinking
    out of inquisitiveness, a thirst for knowledge, and an appreciation of art
    intellectuals, musicians, artists, and writers
    I didn't read the philosophers' treatises, did not sign up for adult education, and did not even have the patience to read a newspaper.
    life, poetry, or God,
    charcoal, pencil, or ink
    a person's face, an imaginary young beauty in long lovely tresses and romantic clothing smiling at the viewer from an otherworldly distance, a still life of layer-chocolate torte resting on a delicate Worcester bone china dessert plate, elegant silver utensils formally placed on a white cloth napkin, and a crystal glass filled with dark red-purple wine behind the dessert,
    create distance, shape, mood, and color
    on napkings, on envelopes, on tabletops, wherever
    throwing away gold in my quest for glitter, choosing trivia instead of Torah, cartoons instead of culture


    Pretty bad, huh? I'm not saying get rid of ALL the lists, but wouldn't you agree you need to cut it way, way back?

    Last is your couplet mannerism, and it's pretty bad too. A couplet is two nouns, adjectives, or phrases connected by "and", "or", or a comma. I call it habitual clarification, lol. Your piece is riddled with them. Look:

    shops and merchants
    noisily and openly
    selling and buying
    body odors and perspiration
    light and summery
    pity and sorrow
    an elderly man and a younger one
    thought and contemplation
    necessity or narcissism
    not larger or more significant
    a bacteriun or an invisible germ
    a speck in some godly thing, a bacterium in a heavenly laboratory
    in the supernatural or in magic
    religions, any of them
    hope and eternal life
    this life and its certain mortality
    canvas or wood
    shame and regret
    a palpable, almost physical
    my early love of art and its later abandonment
    my hirsute body, my cosmetic flaws
    sobriety and reason
    preoccupied and crazed
    perceived and real
    the daughter of Holocaust survivors, the child of the new land of Israel
    knew nothing about perspective, was unable to laugh at the absurd


    Again, I'm not saying eliminate them all, but sheesh....lol. Choose one word that says what you want to say a use it in place of a couplet.

    You also have typos, but you said you already knew that.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 03-29-2013 at 04:51 AM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Ooops...I see I somehow repeated some of your lists, lol. No clue how that happened. Well, the critique still stands.

  4. #4
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    What happened to all my replies. They seem to disappear.

  5. #5
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    Response

    One day I'm going to have to sit down and figure out this site. In the meantime, for the sake of expediency, I have barely read the instructions. I wrote a piece in writer's craft and got a response from John Oberon that really clarifed things for me. I wrote thank you for exerting time, effort, motivation, compassion (oops, just time, lol). I had never heard of mannerisms and it good to know what they are. I think I enternalized writers I had admired plus my poetry way of writing Thanks, Jayne

  6. #6
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    I missed a few more couplets:

    owners and hawkers
    stores or stalls
    strewn over makeshift tables or hung on laundry lines


    I also missed a list:

    It was August, the streets were crowded, and body odors and perspiration mingled...

    In that sentence, you actually wrote a list within a list. You're a list prodigy, lol.

    Your writing is poetic...it has a natural rhythm. That's why I didn't edit your writing as I typically do others - it would destroy that indescribable "something", the art in your writing. Here, I'll give the first paragraph a shot, but you really need to edit it. You need to write it your way without all the empty verbs, lists, and couplets. Changes appear in red.

    During my first days in New York, I wandered in the Lower East Side, a formerly Jewish part of the city that still clung to remnants of that past. The streets teemed with small shops and merchants in one great cacophony of business conducted in the open air. Most shops, their front doors ajar, revealed rooms crammed with merchandise. Hawkers shouted and beckoned in front of stuff strewn over makeshift tables or hung on laundry lines within colorful tents. Elderly Jews traded in everything from underwear to freshly baked challas and fruit, and I heard Yiddish everywhere. It was a sultry August, and body odor mingled with the stink of tobbaco, urine, and exhaust fumes in the crowded streets. Manhattan, more tropical in August than any other jungle, sweated humidity. The hot air, the steam rising through the ground vents, the thunder of a subway passing below, lent itself to a vision of Dante's inferno. But the city that never slept rock 'n' rolled, its heart pounding and open for business.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 04-01-2013 at 04:47 AM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Sheesh, missed another couplet: in the whole scheme of things, in the unimaginably vast universe.

    And I miscopied one of the couplets in my original list. an elderly man and a younger one is not the couplet. It should be two vendors, an elderly man and a younger one.

    But you get the idea, I'm sure, lol. If you're at all confused about what a couplet is, just let me know, and I'll try to explain it more clearly.

    Man, I'm starting to get old. My eyes aren't as good as they used to be, lol.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 04-01-2013 at 06:05 AM.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Oberon View Post
    I think this is quite good. It's like I said before - you have a talent for painting places and people. However, three problems hurt your writing, in my opinion: empty verbs, a list mannerism, and a couplet mannerism.

    Your empty verb problem is not serious, but it's there. Empty verbs are verbs used so often that they've lost virtually all impact in writing. They simply become dead wood and clutter writing. Use enough of them in your writing, and it becomes lifeless. Eliminate them as much as possible, and your writing gains new life. Here is a list:

    to be - be, being, been, am, is, was were
    to have - have, having, has, had
    to do - do, doing, done, did
    to take - take, taking, taken, took
    to make - make, making, made
    to go - go, goes, going, gone, went
    to see - see, seeing, seen, saw
    to look - look, looking, looked
    to use - use, used, using
    to get - get, got, getting, gotten
    to keep - keep, keeping, kept
    to seem seem, seeming, seemed
    to want - want, wanted, wanting

    Use simple past tense, active voice.

    Much more serious is your list mannerism. A mannerism is something you do so often in your writing that it becomes noticeable, like a tick. You probably don't realize it, but you wrote several "lists" in this short piece. The occasional list is OK, but lots of them make the reader start to skim your writing instead of read it. They want to get past the list to the next piece of meat. You don't want that. You want them to read every word. Here's a list of your lists:

    revealed crammed, dark, cluttered spaces
    leather goods, books, underwear, used clothing, sheets and towels, glass wear, dishes, tablecloths, ladies' garments, even freshly baked challas and fruit.
    tobbaco, urine, gasoline, bus fumes, fried foods
    The hot air, the steam rising through the ground vents, the thunder of a passing train down below,
    delivering oxygen, removing trash, open for business
    charcoal, pencil, or ink
    a person's face, an imaginary young beauty in long lovely tresses and romantic clothing smiling at the viewer from an otherworldly distance, a still life of layer-chocolate torte resting on a delicate Worcester bone china dessert plate, elegant silver utensils formally placed on a white cloth napkin, and a crystal glass filled with dark red-purple wine behind the dessert,
    create distance, shape, mood, and color
    on napkings, on envelopes, on tabletops, wherever
    throwing away gold in my quest for glitter, choosing trivia instead of Torah, cartoons instead of culture
    each cobblestone, each alley, each dusty tree
    rigid, concrete, indestructible mountains
    Spinoza, the existence of God, and the nature of good and evil
    a faucet, or a screw, or a light bulb. I didn't need paint brushes, hooks, or cans of varnish.
    reasoning; reflecting, and thinking
    out of inquisitiveness, a thirst for knowledge, and an appreciation of art
    intellectuals, musicians, artists, and writers
    I didn't read the philosophers' treatises, did not sign up for adult education, and did not even have the patience to read a newspaper.
    life, poetry, or God,
    charcoal, pencil, or ink
    a person's face, an imaginary young beauty in long lovely tresses and romantic clothing smiling at the viewer from an otherworldly distance, a still life of layer-chocolate torte resting on a delicate Worcester bone china dessert plate, elegant silver utensils formally placed on a white cloth napkin, and a crystal glass filled with dark red-purple wine behind the dessert,
    create distance, shape, mood, and color
    on napkings, on envelopes, on tabletops, wherever
    throwing away gold in my quest for glitter, choosing trivia instead of Torah, cartoons instead of culture


    Pretty bad, huh? I'm not saying get rid of ALL the lists, but wouldn't you agree you need to cut it way, way back?

    Last is your couplet mannerism, and it's pretty bad too. A couplet is two nouns, adjectives, or phrases connected by "and", "or", or a comma. I call it habitual clarification, lol. Your piece is riddled with them. Look:

    shops and merchants
    noisily and openly
    selling and buying
    body odors and perspiration
    light and summery
    pity and sorrow
    an elderly man and a younger one
    thought and contemplation
    necessity or narcissism
    not larger or more significant
    a bacteriun or an invisible germ
    a speck in some godly thing, a bacterium in a heavenly laboratory
    in the supernatural or in magic
    religions, any of them
    hope and eternal life
    this life and its certain mortality
    canvas or wood
    shame and regret
    a palpable, almost physical
    my early love of art and its later abandonment
    my hirsute body, my cosmetic flaws
    sobriety and reason
    preoccupied and crazed
    perceived and real
    the daughter of Holocaust survivors, the child of the new land of Israel
    knew nothing about perspective, was unable to laugh at the absurd


    Again, I'm not saying eliminate them all, but sheesh....lol. Choose one word that says what you want to say a use it in place of a couplet.

    You also have typos, but you said you already knew that.
    Thanks for this advice John. I am really going to take your empty verbs list into consideration for my writing. I think that once I do this, I might have a new lease on writing!

  9. #9
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Eliminating empty verbs as possible and replacing them with good, strong verbs lends vibrancy to your writing. You'll notice a difference for sure.

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