ENGL 302A: Exercise 2 “Ether Tree Maintenance”

February 4th, 2011

Prompt: “Write a short character sketch (it may be from life), focusing on how your character makes a living.  Put your character in a working situation and let us know by a combination of direct and indirect methods what that work is, how well he or she does it, what it looks like, smells like, and [how] the character feels about it.”–Janet Burroway, Imaginative Writing

Peter received his task from Max on a slip of paper pushed across the flat stone they used for a table in the Labor & Commission tent.  “Be careful,” the extensively freckled man warned him, before gesturing for the next in line to come forward.  Peter thanked him and wished him a good day before turning away, chipper than he had been when he woke up this morning.  If Max was issuing caution, the assignment must be something good.  He inspected the parchment as he walked down the dirt path, lantern in one hand, paying only enough attention to the rest of the world to evade collision as the town woke up and attended to their duties.

Co-ordinates and the order, “Fix it,” were his only clue.  It was plenty.  He adjusted his direction, making for the supply building, nodding and exchanging hellos with those he passed.

Jenna greeted him with the barest nod of acknowledgement, more concerned with snapping her gum and the latest news, which she spread across the wooden counter, following the words on the paper with a slow-moving finger.

“Anything new,” he asked, sidling up opposite her.

She flicked the page at him, picked it up.  “Get your own.”

Peter tsked, giving her half a smile and a wink.  “Don’t be cruel to the heart that’s true, pretty girl.”  He propped an elbow on the counter and gave her the widest, most innocent eyes he could make around the newspaper she held up like a barrier.  “Why’s it all the pretty ones can get away with bein’ so mean to the boys that fancy their sweet, soft hearts?”

Jenna dropped the paper with a heavy sigh and rolled her eyes, but a smile peeked about the corners of her mouth.  “Oh, shut it, you.  What you want, Petey,” she drawled.

His grin was broad, but soon exchanged for a frown of concentration as they got down to business.  Despite Jenna’s frequently brusque attitude, she was a mother hen to the people she took a liking to, and rarely let someone go into the field without a good argument to take far more than they reasonably needed in precautionary items.  It was worth any extra flattery to get the most recent tech Research & Development shipped to her but she held onto like a badger with a brick of honey.

He strapped on a utility belt, slung a tech pack loaded with instruments he may or may not need but Jenna wouldn’t let him leave without onto his back, set the co-ordinates into the navigator and headed out into the darkness the swallowed up the world beyond his town.

To live beneath the Atlas City Plate was to live in a world of darkness and ruin and servitude.  Peter knew this as clearly as he knew his dirty, unwashed face in the mirror above his washbasin.  He didn’t know this simply because he had been told as much by his elders and betters. Waking up morning after morning in the same darkness he went to sleep with, watching his parents labor in the ether factories, bending in subservience to the Altanian patrols–it was enough.  When he’d come of age and went with the others to the top…

Peter still remembered climbing, endless climbing, to reach the surface of the Plate.  It was entirely forbidden for any of them to go to Atlas itself, a caveat he’d not understood until climbing out of their sewer system and into the street of the Ether City.  The moonlight blinded him.  The buildings were tall, reaching toward a topless sky, not squat and ruined.  The air had been fresh, and when he descended to the place he’d been born, it was like stepping into a prisoner’s cage.  They had not been able to stay long, out of fear of discovery, but Peter knew the experience would be impossible to forget.

“Ether pumps the blood of this city, and we work the ether factories.  That’s why we can’t go to Atlas.  If all of us knew the truth, that would be the end of them,” Max had said.  No one would work beneath the Plate if they knew what the moon looked like.

“Why don’t they bring the factories up top?” He’d asked.

Max had shaken his head. “The ether is down deep in the earth, thousands of times deeper than the deepest hole you could ever dig, even if you spent your lifetime doing it.  They don’t know any other way to get it.  Remember, there was ether before there was Atlas.  No one knows how it was originally discovered.  We don’t even understand the technology in the factories.  They were created long before us, and remain as mysterious.”

Standing here, miles away from town, Peter wondered what the Atlanians would do if they knew about the natural reserves of ether, like the one he’d been tasked to fix.  It loomed, a beacon in the darkness, hidden by the empty buildings surrounding it.  Rare, beautiful, luminous:  An Ether Tree.

The trunk was a mix of rotted, wasting wood and a heavy complement of plastic-sheathed metal; once it had stood perfectly perpendicular, suspending wires from one of its kind to the next.  Now it was wrapped in a serpentine network of translucent tubing containing natural, nonmanufactured ether, and leaned precariously to one side.  The wires hung limp, or not at all; some had long since broken off and fallen to the ground.  They belonged to a rusted past.  Peter was here to fix the present.

“What’s wrong with you, huh?  You look pretty enough for a party to me,” he said.  He approached it with caution at first, aware that the situation might be a trap set by Atlanians who had finally discovered his people’s secrets, but soon arrived at the Ether Tree’s control box without incident. Peter sighed as he opened the box’s back panel, where a mass of wires confronted him.  At least it wasn’t covered in dust or dirt, a sure sign of neglect by their engineering patrols.  Peter squatted and pulled the tech pack over his shoulders and in front of him.  Time to get to work.

ENGL 302: “In the Garden” & the Writing Process

February 2nd, 2011

I’d like to share on this blog some of my writing process.  When I went to write the short piece “In the Garden” for ENGL302, I was having a hard time visualizing the location.  Since I did not want the reader to feel as if the surroundings were “floaty”, I realized that I would need to know exactly where they were myself.  I’m also trying to be a better artist–I’m terrible at it–so I thought it would be a real help to sketch out the area.  Below, you can see what I created.  It ultimately aided me greatly when I went to write the exercise (not that the exercise was a standout).

Sketch for "In the Garden"

I found that creating supplemental pieces like this are immensely useful last semester, when I had to use Inform7 for my Electronic Literature course (taught by Professor Zach Whalen).

It’s also interesting to compare what I sketched & what was written.  Everything is a draft until the submitted work.

Trollin’ the Community

January 25th, 2011

Interesting blogs around the UMWBlogs.org community:  (Go check them out yourself.  And don’t forget to leave comments!)

  • Ludo Ergo Sum http://ludoergosum.umwblogs.org/ — “Shannon is an English major with a minor in Computer Science at the University of Mary Washington.  This blog was created as a part of her ENGL 202 course requirements.”  Thus far, she’s got a handful of posts up, including a vid!cast review of World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Cataclysm.
  • Dickinson and H.D. — Check out this post:  “Defacing Books! and Illustrated Letters“.  Who would  have thought Ms. Emily Dickinson would be the kinda girl to chop up books?
  • Shaheen’s Superfluous Blog — Shaheen writes about a favorite (but hidden) site on UMW’s campus:  “EM Wash“.

ENGL 302: Exercise 1 “In the Garden” & Thoughts

January 21st, 2011

As I’m taking Introduction to Creative Writing (ENGL302) this semester, and trying to use this blog for more things, I thought I would share some of the work I’ve been doing.  After all, I am planning on being a writer and I want to get exposure as well as thoughtful critique by anyone interested in doing so.

This week, Professor Rochelle asked for us to create a 1-2 page response to our choice of prompts.

I went through pre-writing and draft work, but it was no more than two minutes after I churned what would be my official reply that I felt the desire to completely rework it.  This was surprising to me, because I typically feel good about what I produce and turn in, but I think it’s a sign that I’m growing as a writer.

The prompt:  Describe a garden as seen by a man or woman whose significant other has just dumped him or her.  Do not mention the man or the woman, the significant other, or the dumping.

There was a distinct beauty in the arboretum’s flower garden that did not fade.  There were huddling, top-heavy cones of lavender that did not wilt.  Matured, fist-sized roses in pinks and yellows and virgin whites brushed petals with lady’s breath in the gentle breeze, but would not shrivel.  Even the sun, though in its final fits of burnished gold and muted reds, refused to turn to ash; Apollo drove his steed toward night, but the sky did not blacken early.

The world should be cracked, crumbling—different.

It was not.

The brick path, sanguine in color, wound north and disappeared for a moment behind a mighty sculpture of a marble nude examining a single chiseled rose resting in his lifeless palm before returning, completing a u-shape.  Boxwoods (declared so by the miniature signs placed by them) prevented visitors tramping from one side of the footpath to the other.  The shrubbery was an arm’s length thick and half a man’s height, ending now and again to make way for a flower pot or piece of art.  Amidst the greater labyrinth the gardeners had coaxed and nourished from the ground, this was but a small loop, a diversion from the more fantastic exhibitions hidden further within, and thus it was mostly desolate.

The psychic keen should have brought every woman to the path, should have pierced the heart of every chest that swelled beneath a fair face, but only a harried mother existed here, one hand keeping a cell phone to her ear and the other swatting at her dallying boy, and she spared not even a glance for the plants.  Her orange skin and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses covered nothing but a corpse; she snatched her son’s hand from the caress of a daffodil, as oblivious to the single desire of Narcissus the aches of her sex; when the world should have been reeling with the howling of agony, it heard nothing.  The garden remained, and the woman and son disappeared around the bend.

It was not a moment later before a low murmur of voices from the south announced new arrivals:  An Asian man and woman, old and worn, appearing wrinkled like raisins spent a lifetime baking beneath a prairie sun.  They tottered, bodies close and fingers interlaced and it was as clear as the matching rings on their fingers or the folds in their skin that they had seen many years, and they had seen them together.  Fog clouded the woman’s dark irises. Her gaze was void.  The man, his head tilted down to her ear, talking low but constant was surely her world.

But it was she who paused and lifted her head, nose pointed to the low-hanging dogwood blossom just inches from her ear while her husband blinked.  She raised weathered palms, cupping it with such gentleness that it could have been crystal, and bent the star-shaped flower to her face.  The woman inhaled deeply, chest rising—once, twice, great lungfuls of scent without sight!—then took her lover’s hand and continued their walk.

[Photos] UMW in Winter

January 20th, 2011

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“That Little Devil”: A Preface

November 11th, 2010

“Leelzebub” was born on an innocuous day from the mouth of a bookstore coworker who cleverly ran together my name and that of a well-known devil.   The nickname didn’t stick, but I never forgot it, and soon began using it as an online handle in many places:  Not only did it appeal to my sense of creativity and wordplay, but no one else in the world seemed to be using it.  I could register as Leelzebub without needing to add on a string of inane numbers to indicate a distinction between myself and a user of the same name.  I relished its uniqueness, its individualism.

A member of the Net Generation, the Internet has played a significant part in my life.  My first memory of computers is signing on to Prodigy (wiki article) with my father’s ID and being fascinated by the ability to check my horoscope (Virgo!).  In writing this article, I emailed my dad, curious about the specs of our first PC, which he told my mom would be “the last computer we’ll ever need to buy”, on account of it being considered a powerful piece of machinery.  He replied thus: “The first real desktop we bought was a ‘286’ w/40 mb of hard drive and 1 mb of RAM….hard to believe!”  As of November 2010, my Dell Studio 1555 laptop sports a 451 GB hard drive, and 4 GB of RAM, and I know this astounding piece of plastics and metals will be a dinosaur five years from now.

What lives on is the data we generate, floating on the ether between one user and the next.  This data–blog entries, Google docs, tweets, Facebook updates–reflects our passions, our dislikes, the simple minutiae of our life.  This site is my personal addition to the collective and growing consciousness of the world, though it does not strive to be a confessional, but rather a hub for my intellectual pursuits and more intelligent moments of thought.

Let’s begin.


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