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An update from the eighth Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday June 5, plus some of the output published below

Memory—fragmentary, incomplete, unreliable, contradictory, a key to explaining the present or future.

"For me, there has been no difference in remembering something and creating something. When I wrote my fictional novels they always had a starting point of something real. Those images that are not real are exactly the same strength and power of the real ones and the line between them is completely blurred. When I write something, I can’t remember in the end if this is a memory or if it’s not – I’m talking about fiction. So for me it’s the same thing." -Karl Ove Knausgaard

This week, we began workshop with a light analysis of a few tenth century Chinese landscape paintings, thinking about the techniques at play, how they made us feel, and the words we may use to describe them. After a few minutes of thought, we connected how these paintings, specifically their relatively barren space, the emphasis on blank space over detail, and an inability to tell what's what, enacted the function of memory. Most important to our discussion of memory in this week's workshop was the fact that memory, often times, is in fact creation, as brought up in the quote by contemporary writer Karl Ove Knausgaard above. Jumping off from this concept, we moved towards a discussion of memory in the films The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick (a conflation of memory of the past and memory of the future) and Citizen Kane. We watched two clips from Citizen Kane, from the beginning and the ending, in order to show how Kane's memory before death, that of him sledding, represented a key to understanding his character and the tragic function of memory. The next segment of the workshop was devoted to a discussion of artwork, beginning with a few landscape paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in which the details were not cast in great focus, another function of memory in art. We then took a prolonged look at two surrealist paintings: Magritte's Memory, and Dali's The Persistence of Memory, both of which seemed to portray the obfuscation of memory. The final segment of the workshop focused on literature, more specifically the tradition of the "I remember" text, beginning with an excerpt from Joe Brainard's memoir I Remember, and ending with Mary Ruefle's essay "I Remember."

The Challenge: Write your own "I Remember" piece. You may write it as fiction or nonfiction, as poem, short story, or essay.

The Participants: Josh, Georgia, Emma, Harine, Svitra, Simran, Sinan, Sophie, Sena, Liam, Anya, Madeline, Zhilin, Isolde, Noa, Joy, Olivia, Alice, Samantha

Portrait of Isolde Knowles
Isolde Knowles, 9
New York, NY

I Remember

Isolde Knowles, 9

I remember the days when dragons and phoenixes swarmed the sky.
I remember the days when giants shook the ground.
I remember the days when mermaids splashed in their ponds.
I remember the days when ghouls and ghosts haunted the night.
I remember the days when I fell asleep listening to goblins and imps crackling.
I remember waking up to find it was all a dream.

Svitra Rajkumar, 13,
(Fremont, CA)


Svitra Rajkumar, 13

Puffs of Jenna’s breath clouded her vision as she rushed down the road. It was a frosty winter day in Mridaria, and the bustling streets were crowded with multicolored gowns. The cozy smell of nutmeg fit the winter mood perfectly. It was her best friend's birthday, and Jenna needed to get there quickly, although the crowd wasn’t letting her through so easily.

Winter in Mridaria was usually not that cold, considering that it was near the coast, but today delicate snowflakes were drifting down from the sky. The dark, paved roads were covered in a blanket of snow. Citizens had tried to clear them in vain; the snow was overpowering. Jenna weaved through the barrier of people, careful not to be noticed. Jenna worked at a part-time job that required a lot of stealth, so she was a master at being furtive.

She stopped to check the time, but the impatient Mridarians kept moving. A lady in a silky red gown knocked Jenna over, in an attempt to get to Charlotte’s Jewels, a very popular jewelry shop. Unfortunately, they were having a Black Friday sale today.

“Ouch!” Jenna cried out in pain, picking herself off the snow. Her calf had hit a sharp stone on the ground and was now sporting a large gash.

Ugh! Now I’ll be late!

She looked up to see people staring at her. The Mridarians were awful gossipers. Sure enough, she could see many of them whispering to each other. Ignoring all this she turned around to yell at the woman who had bumped into her, but her silky red gown was no longer in sight.

“This is the worst day ever!” Jenna grumbled while looking around for her watch, which had fallen off when she was shoved onto the ground.

Ah! There it is! She picked up the watch that was now cold and wet, and stuck it into her coat pocket. Jenna looked up and began to move forward, but tall horse legs blocked her path.

“Hello Miss, you look like you need a ride,” an amused voice chuckled.

What now?! Jenna looked up, and to her surprise, a boy sat high on top of a white horse waved to her. She recognized that voice, and the crest on the horse’s saddle gave it away.

Jenna was standing in front of the heir of Mridaria, the king’s son, and Mariel’s older brother.

* * *

Before she could figure out what she was doing, Jenna found herself inside the warm palace, sitting on an oversized chair that smelled like her grandmother.

What am I doing here?! How did I get exactly where I needed to be? She racked her brain and thought back to the last thirty minutes with the heir. Being with the heir added many risks to Jenna’s situation, but he would be more suspicious if she fled away from him.

30 minutes ago . . .

“Ouch, that looks painful!” Dev Solon had winced but his hazel eyes twinkled with amusement. Jenna had rolled her own blue eyes but grimaced as she climbed onto the leathery saddle. The soft skin of the palace horse comforted her aching legs. She hadn’t realized how long she was walking.

“Mariel’s been expecting you.” Dev had proclaimed while guiding the horse through the crowded street.

“Oh...” Jenna had replied lamely. She really wanted to avoid talking about Mariel. Jenna had been hired to become friends with Mariel, who was very sweet and forgiving, especially in comparison to Jenna’s hot temper and shrewdness. They were complete opposites, so no one could have predicted that a princess would be best friends with a common merchant’s daughter. Strangely enough, Mariel had found Jenna exciting and fun to be with, while to Jenna, Mariel was just a step in her mission. However, after spending more and more time with Mariel, Jenna enjoyed her company and saw her as a friend. But lately, Mariel had been acting peculiarly. There’s no way she suspects me, right?

A sudden whoosh of wind brought Jenna back to the present, as she found herself staring at The Solon Palace. Of course, she’d visited the Solons various times, but every time still gave her an uncomfortable feeling. A feeling of guilt masked by fear clouded her mind.

* * *

Jenna tapped her foot impatiently on the pristine tiled floor. She was waiting for the maids to come with bandages, but knowing them they would take hours just walking over to get them. The maids here were exceptionally talkative, but she couldn’t afford to wait. Just being in the palace made her a vulnerable target.

Just then, the large ebony door swung open. “Finally!” Jenna exclaimed, pushing herself off the cushiony chair, and standing on the floor. Instead of seeing the maids in front of her, Mariel stood in the doorway.

This shouldn’t have taken Jenna by surprise, considering that the two girls were best friends. But, Jenna was hiding something, something big, and Mariel was the biggest threat to her secret. But why would she deliberately walk into the palace where she knew Mariel would be?

Because Mariel had something she needed, the last step in her plan, and today was the only day where Jenna could get it. After this, it would all be over, and they would leave her out of this.

She took a shaky breath, “M-Mariel! Happy birthday.” Mariel looked at her oddly, and Jenna’s heart stopped in fear. Everything is riding on me today, I have to do this right.

“Thanks!” Mariel’s face contorted into a grin, then she looked at Jenna’s wounded leg. “Oh my! I’ll go get the maids right away. Stay here.” Mariel’s golden gown swished into the hallway.

Jenna waited until the princess had left, and bolted the opposite way. She needed all the time she could get for this mission.

Jenna tiptoed across the hallway, careful not to make a sound. At this point, many would wonder. why she was doing this behind her best friend’s back. Why would she be doing this at all?

When Jenna was born, her family was struggling financially. They would take any job offer they could get. Once she got older, a group of assassins called the Haribos raised up as a threat to Mridaria. All the villagers were scared to death, so everyone stayed inside. It was a dark period of fear in the town. One night, the Haribos approached Jenna’s family and asked them to give Jenna to them. They would pay the family 100 Myros per day. The offer was like a blessing for the family, so they quickly signed a contract. Once Jenna’s part in the mission was complete she would be able to return to her normal life. All she needed to do was create a fake friendship with the princess of Mridaria, so she would trust Jenna, then murder the king and the heir behind her back.

But, Jenna got herself in too deep. She got too attached to Mariel until the fake friendship wasn’t fake at all. If she could do this without Mariel realizing it was her, then they could still be friends.

* * *

Jenna had shut down the alarms, and her heart was pounding from the intensity. Her plan was to poison the food with rattlesnake venom. It was the safest way to make sure no one suspected her. She peeked at the kitchen entrance from behind a wall and saw that it was all clear.

Then, Jenna rushed to the entrance, swung the metal doors open, and saw multiple guards waiting. The guards’ backs were turned so they didn’t see her, but she was still startled. Why are they here? It's almost as if they knew I was coming!

Jenna backed away slowly and ran back to the main room as fast as she could. Her head was spinning with questions, but she had to think of a plan B first. Another way to get to the kitchen? No...there isn’t one. Oh! I can offer to take the food from the maids and deliver it myself! I’ll poison it on my way. This idea was much more inefficient than the previous one because Jenna would be the prime suspect... unless she framed the cook by putting the venom in the kitchen. But the kitchen is guarded!

Every idea Jenna had led back to the guards, and why they were there. Jenna sighed and realized she had taken a wrong turn. She reversed her direction and began running again.

Then it hit her. She knows. Mariel knows that I’m part of the Haribos. Dev knows, the King knows... This was all a setup. Dev was supposed to take me to the palace because they suspected I would make a move. Maybe the lady who shoved me was part of it, too. They have guards everywhere because they expected me to attempt murder. But what gave it away? 

Jenna had no time to think about the answer because in front of her was none other than the royal family: Dev, Alastar, Gertrude, and Mariel. Dev’s usual grin was replaced with a steely glare, and Mariel’s eyes were filled with tears. Guards popped up behind Jenna and dragged her away. “I can no longer consider you a friend,” Mariel whispered softly, but these were the words that echoed through Jenna’s skull every day and every night.

* * *

It has been three weeks since Jenna was admitted to the dungeons. Three weeks since anyone had come to visit her (besides guards). Yet her only regret was not telling Mariel the whole story. So when Jenna heard a familiar voice, she was ecstatic.

“Jenna? Jenna, it's me!” the voice hissed.  Jenna opened her eyes and saw Mariel’s chestnut brown locks framing her heart-shaped face.

“Mariel?” Jenna questioned weakly.

“Yes it's me, I’m going to get straight to the point. Why did you...do what you did?” She asked in a commanding voice, the strongest Jenna had ever heard her speak.

“I was put in a situation where this was the best thing I could do...” Jenna said and explained her situation.

When she was done Mariel had tears in her eyes. “Why didn’t you ask us for help? If you needed the money I could have done something.”

Jenna shook her head. She hated feeling like she was part of a charity program.

“So all of those moments we had together were fake?” Mariel asked, anxious to hear the answer.

“No, I-I got too attached and it became a real friendship,” Jenna replied.

“It was always a real friendship.”

Sena Pollock, 14,
(Madison, WI)

A History of Me and Ghosts

Sena Pollock, 14

I remember when I was little I had an imaginary friend named Car. I remember she was a ghost and lived in the kitchen closet. Funny how a ghost lived in the kitchen closet. I had another imaginary friend named Street. His big sister was named Carrot and she had orange skin and green hair from eating too many carrots. I remember I had an imaginary big sister named Curtain who had been adopted to Mars. I remember saying “The good ghosts are covered in glitter and the bad ghosts are covered in poop”.

I remember dreaming about a toy bird drowning and for the longest time I thought it was real, and the most embarrassing thing ever. I remember being scared of the curtains upstairs and how things always seemed to fall off the shelves in the upstairs bathroom when no one was in it. I remember leaving things on my windowsill for the ghosts to take. I remember when my friend and I crossed the street when we weren’t supposed to because we thought that a slide was his mom. I remember how the grown-ups came running and there were so many of them. I remember telling my little sister and saying “ And the moral of the story is never wander off”.

I remember when I said I was going to a reunion with Street and the ghosts. I remember how by then I knew it wasn't real. I remember how I was always so scared of ghosts and ghost stories, but at the same time, how they were my favorite things. I remember how I dressed up as a ghost to my friend’s Star Wars party and everybody thought I was Princess Leia. I remember how I told my friend that I was going to grow up and be a cow when I was thirteen and ate grass to prove it. I remember how a family friend told me that if you looked in a mirror and said “ Bloody Mary” three times and didn't scream, she would appear in the mirror. We always screamed at the last minute. I remember when I lied about being homeschooled because I worried that people would think I spent all my time goofing off if I told them the truth. I remember jumping on the couch with my best friend chanting “We’re not afraid of a-ny-thing! Not even monsters, not even ghosts! Not even toast! Everybody’s afraid of toast!” Then we would jump off the couch and roll around on the floor laughing. I remember the laughter felt fake after the first time. I remember something else but I forget it before I can write it down. I remember when I heard a noise in my grandmother’s basement and thought it was my grandfather’s ghost playing the tuba.

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