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In Night at the Fiestas, main protagonist Frances struggles with who she is and what she wishes to become.  As the story begins, she is a sixteen year old overprotected and modest young women who yearns for more. She is not satisfied by her surroundings, herself, or her family. One could say she is a little ashamed.

On the bus ride to Santa Fe to partake in the Night at the Fiestas, Frances attempts to read her book and ignore her overly friendly father–the bus driver. She wants little to do with his conversation and interaction with others. She even moves her seat to be further away from him and his unwarranted disruptions. Slightly agitated, she continues to read until she begins speaking with a mysterious man who claims to be a painter. The interaction which involves flirting, and probably a little lying, leaves her unmoored.

Eager as she is to get to the Night at the Fiestas, to become someone new, someone different. She is aware that she is continually uncomfortable. This discomfort does not waver throughout the festivities  or conversation with her fast- paced cousin Nancy.  It instead moves her inward to reflect on who she thinks she is and who she thinks she wants to be.

This startles her and warrants a realization all its own.

Don’t grow up too fast. Don’t be adverse to change or routine. Use your discernment.

 

No, Lila remembered. He had not. Instead he gathered their things awkwardly in his arms, as if he were going to run off with them, leaving her standing alone and embarrassed. She had grown panicked then, standing in the checkout line. She had been afraid of being deserted. That part she did not share with Donnelle.

This paragraph from the short story “Opportunity” by Belle Boggs is an interesting snippet of this story. Here we see Lila describing this moment in such a depth, but not over wording her emotions. The choice in words, at the right moment, gives the emotional depth, but still carries the story along without prolonging the emotional monologue that a lot of writers do.

As someone who is not extremely familiar with the transition process, much less how they affect a family, I found this short story very intriguing and insightful, despite it being fiction. The confusion our main character, Melinda, goes through only adds to this experience.

Melinda wondered if Jonas would have ever made this decision without the therapist leading him there. Another woman, she thought, might be angry with the therapist, angry with Jonas for having a fake heart attack when he was supposed to be working and for taking an early retirement and having something as inconvenient as the mind of a woman inside the body of a man. Surely she would be angry.” Pg 102

I think the conflict here is extremely valuable to the story; isn’t this what any woman in her shoes would be thinking? She isn’t sure how to respond to this situation, though she mentions at least twice how nice it would be to be someone’s “partner” instead of someone’s “wife”. The sentence “Surely she would be angry.” is a clear indication that she knows how most women would react; probably very similarly to her vulgar sister who made a comment about not wanting her husband, Roland, “getting his thing chopped off”. But Melinda doesn’t feel that way. She seems almost excited about the changes in her husband, noticing the newer, softer skin and sweeter smell of him. In the last sentence, when they are at the egg art exhibit, she decides she likes the “idea of the surprise inside the egg, something special and hidden and fine, something to make you catch your breath.” (Pg 112) I believe, personally, she is making metaphor of her husband’s transition to a woman and  the pleasant changes and surprises it could hold for their family.

 

Belle Boggs writes about how one’s unfortunate family history can influence the decisions one makes in life. In Boggs’ story “Homecoming,” Marcus, the main character, comes from a family where both of his parents are in jail. Tiff, Marcus’s aunt whom he lives with when both of his parents are sent to jail, ends up stashing cocaine in her refrigerator, and causes her husband to go to jail, because, ultimately, it is his cocaine.

Marcus has high expectations of himself despite certain limitations that might hold him back: the lack of having a car and sending money to his mother. Marcus is described as being a “good boy” (131) and a “solid B student.” (131) When he begins to sell drugs for money with his friend Wally, he understand that what he is doing is wrong, and has set specific limitations to what he is willing to do in order to make money

“…if we get some more stuff. We could get some pills, some coke, maybe some heroin.” 

Marcus thought about Skinny, what he’d said about being a junkie. “I don’t want to deal heroin,” he said quietly.

It almost seems inevitable that Marcus, a good student and athlete, will make the same decisions his family does, which will shatter the vision of himself that he wishes to accomplish. Boggs’ references to Marcus’s family throughout the story indicate that although Marcus has a lot going for him, he will never be able to escape from his past, which is formed through bad life decisions and habits. The reader is already able to see the outcome of Marcus’s decisions when he is at the homecoming dance with his girlfriend, Tasha. “Some people he told to take just one; others he dealt to silently, accepting their praise stone-faced and serious.” (164) The reader can tell that, at some point, Marcus will be caught and punished for selling drugs at his school, and his actions– influenced by his family members, will lead him down the same path as his parents.

 

Belle Boggs “Jonas”

This short story was very interesting to me because I haven’t come upon many short stories about the transgender transition process and how it affects a family. It is not something that is relatable to most people. Boggs does a great job of keeping the reader engaged and interested in a story that most people can’t relate to, but find intriguing and different. Today’s society needs stories like these in order to help encourage a progressive and accepting world. Melinda wasn’t focused on the huge changes that were happening in her life, but rather how she can support what makes her partner happy. Every couple in the world can stand to take that type of advice. I also appreciated that the story didn’t completely resolve itself. Melinda’s daughter, Jessica, was still very upset and not on speaking terms with Jonas (Joan). Jonas was also in the beginning stages of feeling comfortable with the changes happening to his body. These aspects of the story are what really makes it feel real.

Belle Boggs story “Election Day” is a short story that continues the story “Imperial Chrysanthemum”. It is about a woman named Cutie and her caretaker Lauretta. Cutie is going to vote in the election. There is a depressing theme to the story. Cutie is thinking about her old age and how repetitive the years of her life have been. Seeing people come and go living in the houses near her and going to vote in the election every year she can. Things get worse when she finds out Lauretta is leaving her to move on with her life. Seeing someone much younger than her able to move on with her life and do new things would make her feel even worse about herself. She is constantly in shame of her shaking hands and unable body. “She likes the dark privacy there, no one to see her hand shake as she practices her name first in the air before committing it to paper. Cora Tyler Young, she writes finally in the space for governor” (boggs 178).

Cora Tyler Young, better known as “Cutie”, is struggling. She has been struggling and stubborn for a long time. At eighty four,  simple tasks take immense amounts of effort and she needs help. As stubborn as she is, help doesn’t come easy. Especially not from her closest relatives– her son and his wife– who seem to not want anything to do with her.

She is stuck in her ways and relies heavily on Loretta– her nurse. Loretta and Cutie’s relationship is an intricate back in forth of like and tolerance. They are both stuck at a crossroads in life where they’re trying to get by, set in their ways and attempting  to handle the intersectionality of womanhood and their current society. Though, it is through very different lenses.  

Cutie, an elderly and wealthy white woman, evokes strong feelings with whoever she interacts. Including Loretta. She often spouts prejudiced statements, acts rude when she is grateful, and has an overall air of “better than”.  While Loretta, in trying to get by, deals with it. She is always respectful and tolerant.

On election day where Cutie is taken to vote, Loretta puts in her month’s notice. She is leaving and it frightens Cutie. Sends her straight into a tailspin of self reflection. Whether young or old, Cutie admits to herself that she has always been this way; ” she has been delicate in her moods her whole life.(Boggs,174)”

She is reflective of the years that have passed, of her behavior, and her life’s outcome. She does not recognize what she has become.  She is not satisfied.  She seems to wonder what life would be like had she chosen and behaved differently. In a way, she is ready for change and yet, she continues to see herself as waiting for it to happen to her.

 

I found it very interesting that Boggs decided to write this story as a continuation of sorts of her short story “Imperial Chrysanthemum” from earlier in Mattaponi Queen. I also liked how Boggs switched the point of view of this story (this story is told from Cutie’s point of view whereas “Imperial Chrysanthemum” is told from Loretta’s point of view). After reading this story, my view/opinion of Cutie’s character changed. Before reading “Election Day” and having only read “Imperial Chrysanthemum”, I thought Cutie was a stubborn, bossy, pain in the rear old lady who had absolutely nothing to do with her life aside from giving her nurse and family a hard time. However, after reading this story, I found that Cutie is a just a lonely old lady who really does care but who puts on airs to hide how she truly feels.

What I think is most interesting about this story is the portrayal of change. Since we’ve last seen the characters of Cutie and Loretta, little has changed between them. Cutie’s character is still as stubborn as ever, still set in her usual way of doing things; she is still hesitant to accept Loretta’s help, and she refuses to miss out on election day. She is happy to see that the area around her is virtually the same as ever, too, and she is content to have everything stay the same, all the time—the same routine, the same faces, the same places. Loretta, however, still desires change for herself—time to herself, away from the routine of her job. Their respective behavior mirrors that of real life individuals: where older people tend to be content with things staying the way they have always been, the young tend to thrive on change and the excitement it brings. There is something comforting in seeing these respective views portrayed in these two characters; it makes them feel so much more real, much more human. It makes the ending all that more heartbreaking to see that, while change for one individual (Loretta) can be something freeing, it can be completely shattering for another (Cutie).

I enjoyed reading Belle Boggs short story, “Opportunity”. The story of a young school principle is very relatable. Many of the settings mentioned in the story, places like Richmond, Kings Dominion, and the Hampton Roads Tunnel are recognizable even though I have only lived in Virginia for a short period of time. The story pays careful attention to detail and you can learn a lot about the characters from the small stories about them within the short story. It continually goes back in time to when Lila was with her ex boyfriend Byron while continuing on with the story in the present about Lila’s father, her issue with organizing a career fair and a new love interest. The dialect of the characters fits well with their characteristics and background. The ending keeps the reader thinking and looking back to see how it relates to the story.

Write a story in which the first sentence of the story begins with one of the phrases below and the last sentence begins with another of the phrases:

In the middle school library, …
In the dim light of the garage,…
Inside the bakery,…
In the hospital waiting room,…
In the distance along the river bank,…
In the lobby of the Red Roof Inn,…
At the reptile house at the zoo,…
In the museum cafeteria,…
In the small closet,…
Up in the air,…

Also, one of the pictures below should serve as the location for one of the scenes in the story. Place the story in the FICTION Exercise 3 folder on Google Drive by Sunday, November 5, at midnight.

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Belle Boggs short story “Opportunity,” is about a woman who lives in Virginia and is figuring her way out in life. like the title suggest it shows how there are many opportunities that are available to the main character and she has to pick which opportunities are best for her. At the beginning of the story she has trouble finding people to come to a career fair and present for her because there are not many jobs in her town. But by the end she finds more people and has many people helping her. Throughout the story she goes on a few dates and meets a man but she is still unsure about what exactly she wants to do with her life.

When I am feeling nice I think about me and Cutie doing something with the money, going to South Carolina to the beach for the winter maybe, or taking a trip to Italy, away from all these fools. On my meaner days I go to the drawer at Tamara’s. I like the cold, briny taste of a silver spoon in my mouth.

In Belle Boggs ‘Imperial Chrysanthemum,’ Loretta’s voice shines through with her subtle, yet noticeable, sass. The way in which she handles the demeaning situation of being Cutie’s nurse, is both comical and understandably draining. She helps this woman with everything in her life, but she is not in desperate need of a nurse. To top it all off, the intricate history Loretta and her family have with the Young’s makes for an interesting relationship between Loretta and Cutie, yet they do not speak of it. In the paragraph above, the relationship is seen as sometimes caring and other times revengeful. It can also been seen that the voice of Loretta is strong and present in this paragraph with the word choice when describing wanting to get away from those ‘fools.’

Belle Boggs’ “Imperial Chrysanthemum” is a wonderful and thought provoking short story, all of its characters unique and their own. Boggs’ use of dialogue and internal thought give our narrarator, Loretta, a distinct voice and personality. This includes her conflict with Cutie, who always seem to be looking down on her caretaker.

Loretta, Cutie said, would not know what to do with silver asparagus tongs or cucumber forks. She feeds me colored food. (Pg. 32)

Mrs. Young goes on to say on the next page that

Loretta…has a pension. (Pg. 33)

These comments seem snide and especially racist in way of Loretta, a woman who, though she doesn’t want to, takes care of Cutie, who seems to always fight her; whether it be getting out of the car deciding what they want to do the next day. Cutie does, however, seem redeemed, a least a little bit, when Loretta mentions the way she says her name.

Sometimes when she says my name it has a melody, almost like singing. Lo-ret-ta. It is one of the things that keeps me from hating her.

Though these “things” aren’t so explicitly mentioned again, it seems to me that Loretta cares for Cutie, in her own way, despite what the older woman did to her family. Their relationship is an Imperial Chrysanthemum; both being a pain in the ass to the other until they have their rare, shining silver moment of calm.

 

Once again, Belle Boggs gives us a great example of what a solid short story looks like. What I loved most about this was the ending. Or, really, how she didn’t end it. We’ve discussed, in class, how we need to not give the reader exactly what they’re reading. Don’t tell them exactly what’s going on, rather show them and let them get there themselves. It’s more powerful if you can make a point without explicitly telling the reader what your point is. And I feel like the idea seems so simple but I struggle with it nearly every time I sit down to write, so I definitely appreciate the chance to see it well executed. And I’m curious how long it took her to be able to do an ending so well.

This story has a clear voice from the beginning. Not only that, but each character that you come into contact with has their own specific voice. Boggs does such a great job at giving very direct details, such as

Cutie’s two rooms are the kitchen and the sunroom, where she has her daybed and her desk and two sitting chairs. There’s a ceiling fan and a little table where I serve her a cold lunch, Monday through Friday, and an early hot supper (31).

but also subtle details that really add to the depth of the story, such as

I never had any babies, but that was not my choice. And besides, I was always focused (33).

With that one small sentence, Boggs gives away a whole new side to the narrator. Boggs does this throughout the story, and I think it makes the characters’ personalities stand out more.

 

In Imperial Chrysanthemum, the main protagonist, Loretta, struggles with ideas of self and justice. Throughout the story, Lorreta works for Cutie Young– running errands, checking vitals, keeping her company– as a mean to an end. The end being a boat called the Mattaponi Queen. While working for Cutie, Loretta struggles with ideas of justice and how it effects her experience as a whole. Her older sister Ruth has a checkered history with Cutie and this knowledge finds its way into Loretta’s everday interactions with her. On many days she is patient and caring, if not a little inwardly agitated. On others she is full of bitterness; maybe bitter about the subtle micro agressions Cutie throws her way or maybe carrying the bitterness her older sister held towards Cutie.

She is consistently reminded of her oscilliating feelings toward Cutie and her experiences with those Cutie has impacted. Her niece Tamara is the alleged daughter of  Cutie’s son Horace. Thinking of her sister Ruth; how she was treated, how she must have felt to have nothing for herself– not even her child. And thinking of Cutie who in old age, while stubburon, never really causes her any real trouble, creates inner conflict.

There is unfairness in Loretta’s experience as a woman of color. Unfairness in what she carries and how she is expected to behave. This affects the way she percieves justice and her self.  She seems to ask over and over again what the differnce between comeuppance– small victories in this case, maybe not even her own- and revenge is. Is their justice?

It always shocks me how dynamic the characters Boggs creates are, specially for such short stories. To create such a strong image of who a character is and their importance to the role of the story in such a limited number of pages is truly an art form that I aspire to obtain someday. You have been telling our class all semester that when we are writing to not lay everything out for the reader, that we need to let them come to their own conclusions at certain times, and that is exactly what Boggs did with this piece. She ended the story without a true, traditional conclusion/wrap up paragraph and let the audience come up with their own ending based on what they personally “saw” when reading this story. I think that this story especially really was a great example of what you have been saying, and I plan to use this as a guide for the next story I write, and see if I can execute it as flawlessly as she does here.

I enjoyed reading this story due to the way I could clearly visualize the characters and picture how they live their lives. Boggs does a wonderful job of making each character have a distinct personality, and gives each of them a clear voice. She also describes the actions of the characters in great detail; “She presses her pink, wrinkled thumb into the concave surface of the spoon and closes her eyes as if that spoon could tell us where to find its mate.” (32) I also love the subtle details she gives to the reader, such as when the narrator says, “I never had any babies, but that was not my choice. And besides, I was always focused.” (33) This small detail gives so much more information to the reader than if it had been left out. From that point on, the reader no longer thinks of the narrator in the same way.

I know a boat can’ t tell you anything you don’t want to know. All it says is get away, get away.

The narrator is always surrounded by people in this story– her family members and Mrs. Cutie. Loretta, the narrator, is a quiet woman who keeps her emotions bottled up, and contrasts to the other characters of the story who are very outspoken. She longs for the moments where she can have some piece of mind, and relax in silence.

A circumstance that begins and ends this story is the fact that Mrs. Cutie’s precious silverware goes missing. No one knows where it has gone, although Loretta seems to hint at the idea that her great-niece’s husband might have stolen it. This said, Loretta doesn’t tell the sheriff that her family has been there because she secretly knows they have stolen the silverware.

I think the ending of this story is charming, in a way, in how the narrator describes how she “gets Cutie back” for being so mean, even if she doesn’t outright say it. “On my meaner days I go to the drawer at Tamara’s. I like the cold, briny taste of a silver spoon in my mouth.” (46)

 

I really liked the recurrence of “imperial chrysanthemum” throughout this piece. Not only is it an appropriately fitting title for this piece, it is also the main focus of this story (it is the distinctive pattern on Cutie’s antique and highly valuable silverware collection). The pattern and the silverware are referenced throughout this short story, and its significance is made known to the reader as the story progresses. Boggs is very descriptive and uses lots of imagery when describing Cutie’s house, Cutie’s mannerisms and nuances, and the narrator’s boat (the Mattaponi Queen). I was surprised at the end of the story when the reader finds out that after all the trouble Cutie and the narrator went to to try to find the silverware, Cutie gives in and ends up just taking the money for the stolen silverware. I liked how Boggs included the detail that Cutie never cashes the check-she keeps it hidden away under a jar on her dresser. I like how this final scene captures Cutie’s essence and stubbornness one last time before the end of the story and leaves the reader feeling surprised, understanding, and sympathetic towards Cutie.

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