Your opinion please
Moms View Message Board: General Discussion: Archive November 2006:
Your opinion please
The following is something I wrote for my Creative Non-Fiction Writing Class. The exercise was to take an old photo and write about it. Please tell me truthfully what you think.
His face is broad and puffy, spreading his scowl even wider. His arms are crossed in a challenging stance. Skinny legs are firm and steady, as if braced against a charge. The tie around his neck is rumpled. Beside him stands his family. His father, holding baby sister Theresa, peers over his motherís right shoulder. She anchors the center with her second youngest, Bernie, balanced on her hip. Her middle son, Charles, stands to her right. The family stands tight, crowding one another in the shot except for him. He stands slightly off to the left apart and angry.
For years this photograph disturbed me. I thought I knew my father well, a gentle man, who rarely let his temper show, who loved his family above all else. I knew the time frame of itís taking. Within a year that baby sister would convulse and die before his eyes. Within another, he would lose his father, suddenly. The family would be destitute, and his mother left to face delivery of twin girls without her mate. But this was still the golden time, before the hardships and horror.
Finally, a surviving brother handed me the clue..... Mastoiditis. He told me that my father, his older brother, suffered with a severely infected mastoid, deep inside his ear. I knew my dad's ears were not so prominent on his adult features, as they seemed in this picture, but Iíd attributed it to a trick of lighting or angle of the shot. I imagine now, the daily pain he must have felt. Iím there with this little chap who is hurting, and being told to smile for the camera. My uncle also told me, that days after the picture, my father was hospitalized and the infection was surgically drained and treated. I can envision his fear. Hospitals were not the child friendly places they are now, and with three more at home, I doubt my grandmother could stay with him there.
His life was so hard. He grew up much too soon. As the oldest, he felt responsible for his fatherless family, while he himself was but a child. Later, he would confess to me his guilt at wanting to play as the other kids did. Instead, he labored at odd jobs he could find after school to supplement their meager existence.
So much of me aches to comfort the little boy in this photo. I want to make, at least this time in his life, carefree and joyous. He was always such a protector. I long to reverse the rolls for just a day, and ease his pain, as he often allayed mine, with gentle words and tender hugs.
I'm not sure what kind of a critique you are looking for, or if you've handed it in yet.
The message and feelings you are trying to convey are perfect...it's beautifully written in that manner and very heartfelt.
Grammatically there are a few tiny errors, structurally I might add some hypens or some dots '....' as pausers. And I would begin it with 'He stands apart--alone and angry.' and then you can still end it that way, too, with 'The family stands tight, crowding one another in the shot except for him. He stands apart.'
Your ending is beautiful and poignant.
Love the 'finally a surviving brother handed me the clue' part.
I think one other thing I would do is to remove the names of the other children. Let this just focus on your father. The other kids don't really come into play and their names are distracting. I LOVE your line about 'that baby sister would convulse', and your using her name up above detracts from this sentence, I think. I'd keep the siblings anonymous, just removing their names and keeping them as baby sister, second youngest, middle son.
Another thing I think that would make it even more powerful would be to take this sentence and alter it slightly like this: 'But this...this was the golden time...before the hardships and horror.
I also would make this slight change: 'His life was hard....so hard.'
Overall it's a very lovely piece and very well done. The changes I suggest are just indicative of the way that I write, and I'm a fan of '....' obviously. I post here using that method all the time, in fact!
I'm also a big fan of sentence fragments and run ons when done properly. When you know how to write, as you do, you can break all the rules very, very effectively.
Bea, you bring the photo to life with your words.
No criticism other than a point of realism. The mastoid is not deep inside the ear. It is actually the bony prominence behind the ear. Mastoiditis is indeed a very serious infection that can result in significant ear problems and even infection in the brain. Nice description of the pic, but I'd change the description of the mastoid to make it accurate.
I really like it. I've never thought of doing this with a picture. What a cool idea. Maybe snag onto what Kate said and add some elipses or other dramatic effects. I haven't had time to complete my thoughts but how about doing a theme thru the description, something like:
He stands alone...as a child suffering alone in a cloud of pain
He stands alone ...as a boy trying to be a man in his actions but still a boy at heart
He stands alone...as a man who blah blah
He stands alone...as a father, my father, who something something something
You could embellish each paragraph and add other visual and emotional wording.
Will you please post what you finally end up with? I would like to see it.