Type of Document Thesis Author Boyer, Sabrina Leigh URN etd-07162004-165510 Title Walking the Dead Degree Master of Arts Department English, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Virgil Suarez Committee Chair Elizabeth Stuckey-French Committee Member Maxine Montgomery Committee Member Keywords
- Heart Attacks
- Heart Transplants
- Shark Stasis
Date of Defense 2004-04-22 Availability unrestricted AbstractThe topic of my master’s thesis is a long time coming. Since entering the graduate program, even attending Florida State University as an undergraduate and taking my first writing workshop my sophomore year, I have been writing, essentially, about the same topic in different forms. The subject is my father. The first story I wrote was about a girl who wanted the life of her neighbor because her own life was not perfect. It was real. It had flaws. The father in that first piece of fiction was my father. He had a heart attack. He was living past his prospective expiration date. He was, expired milk. I was eighteen when my father’s life and death was called into question, and I had just finished my first semester of college. To me, at the time, I was a grown up, a woman finally in college, finally able to do what I wanted. And then he had a heart attack, a series of heart attacks actually, and what I thought was in the future was now in the past. Everything changed from that moment on. My thesis begins here. At that moment. That moment has redefined and given meaning to what my life has been for the last five years.
The second story I wrote for my first writing workshop was about an older girl, in her teens, attending college and working through neurotic, paranoid, delusions of what her life was supposed to be, what her life was, and how she was functioning in the hours following her father’s heart attack, and her group therapy session. Again, the theme was death, health, the essential organ that beats in the center of the body, pumping blood and building walls. Spreading cells.
From here, I’d begun several stories but not finished them, brainstormed topics and ideas, but never flushed them out. I wrote down phrases and sentences, blurbs of words that might have led to something else. And then I took a poetry workshop from Barbara Hamby. And I wrote poetry, and it came easily, at first, memories and tales I remembered from childhood popping up in my poems, my father, the divorce when I was three, my parents second marriage at the courthouse, the all white apartment he rented for six months and the girls playing double-dutch on the street outside. My poems were about our lunches together, me waiting for him to die. But he just kept on going like an energizer bunny, a broken clock still right twice a day, a bird with a broken wing.
My third complete story was not about him at all, but about me, in an alternate reality, a different version of me, somewhere, in college, living alone, not having to worry about any of the problems here, in this reality.
My fourth story was about a family dealing with a father’s heart transplant and his recovery, and the parallel events of the first two years, and the last two years. And the fifth, a complete departure. I was tired of the subject of hearts. And I tried to branch out. But what I found was that he wasn’t going away, and I couldn’t get him out of my head, out of my unconscious, long enough to go a different route. He was still there. And then he died the end of my first year as a graduate student. So, he set up camp in my head, and I haven’t really been able to write about anything else since he passed away.
It seemed that fate would step in then in the form of Wendy Bishop in the summer of 2003 when I took her writing non-fiction workshop. It was the first time I had ever really paid any attention to something that wasn’t short story or fiction technique oriented, and after a few grueling workshops up to the point, I found that it was creative non-fiction was a refreshing change. It was perfect timing. It had only been two months since my father died, and what I was finding was that Wendy was teaching me techniques to let my feelings out in a way that didn’t quite require all of the rules that I was so used to in fiction technique. Like some of the writers we read, I felt free for the first time to really write about anything I wanted to the way that I wanted to. Wendy’s prompts in class led me down into memories that I hadn’t thought about in a long while, some memories that I forgot I’d had. In any case, I knew that my thesis would take on a non-fiction format after reading Maureen Stanton’s short fiction piece “Zion.” Hers is a story of her boyfriend with terminal cancer and the surreal experiences that led up to his eventual death. I was truly blown away after reading her piece because it read so much like lyrical fiction that I had encountered before in other short stories. Never did I imagine that the same lyrical and poetic technique could be applied to writing non-fiction, and so I set out to try and discover and learn what this “creative” part of non-fiction really meant. I learned that creative was synonymous with flexible and encompassed all sorts of writing techniques that are deemed “creative.”
Stanton’s story really spoke to me because it was also a story about a terminal illness, and her technique and style was the kind of narrative non-fiction that I wanted to use to try and tell the story of my father and its affect and aftermath on me and the rest of my family.
So I began to compile the prompts and exercises done in Wendy’s class into an essay about the powerful absence of my father in our family of four. Later, over the break before the fall semester of 2003, I began to read some non-fiction. I picked up Alice Sebold’s Lucky, and, after taking in her complete and total honesty and lack of sentimentality, I knew that the style of Maureen Stanton and the style of Alice Sebold was the format that I wanted to use for my thesis. I knew that I wanted freedom for showing and telling, and didn’t want to be limited by the rules that usually accompany a novel or short story.
My work in comparison with theirs is similar in that they all deal with some kind of trauma or traumatic event that, from that point on, dictates how the world is seen and taken in forever. Also, in relation to these texts I’ve mentioned, it will explore the creativity of non-fiction and play with white space, scene and exposition; I won’t be too caught up in the showing and not telling, and I won’t be afraid to interject my thoughts onto the page like Sebold and Stanton does. I want my piece of narrative non-fiction to have poetic and lyrical elements as well as technique from story and novel writing, but also having the freedom to experiment and redefine some of these preconceived notions of what is right and not right when telling a story.
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