Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Assignment 1

Did I tell you I signed up for an online travel writing course? I don't think so. Well, I did and it started last week. The course is through The Learning Exchange and the online classroom features lessons, supplementary reading material suggestions, quizzes, weekly assignments, and an online discussion board where classmates can share and critique one another's work.

I just finished the first assignment last night and thought it would be a good test of my chops to post it here for your honest review and critique. Yes, I said honest. The purpose of this course is to flex my creative writing skills (vs. my ranting ones that I use here without refinement) and get better, so there is no point in providing me with platitudes if you're going to comment.

So, here goes...

First, the assignment (so you know what you're measuring me against)

In 50 to 300 words, describe your favorite place on the planet. Choose a place you really love. Write about your hometown or about the region where you live. You can write about the place where you took your last vacation. You can be informational or inspirational. You can be as flowery in the description as you choose. However, you may not use the words: Pretty, attractive, good, nice, beautiful, lovely, or other wishy-washy descriptive words. Further you may NOT use: very, really, especially, quite, or incredible.


Now, my little ditty...

They’re decorated in bright checkers of red, green, and orange, assaulting your eyes under the glare of fluorescent lights. No AC means the air inside is heavy and choking with the smell of sweat in the summer. During the winter, hot air pumps out of floor-level vents, making that roll-neck sweater seem too close for comfort.

It’s often so quiet inside that opening a packet of crisps grabs the attention of everyone within a ten foot radius. Even when crowded, the only sound is the background percussion of russled papers, yawns, sneezes, and coughs, all timed to the boppedy-bop beat of the tracks.

They run on a schedule nobody even bothers to understand, they’re expensive, they’re often delayed by strike or bomb-threat but, to me, they’re a rite of passage back into the place I call home.

I was born and raised just 11 miles east of London, just like my parents, grandparents, and their parents before them. As a child, Mum and I would jump on the London Underground for our twice yearly shopping trips to Oxford and Regent Streets or summer outings to palaces, castles, monuments, and museums. As a teenager I trekked-in daily to attend lectures at The University of the Arts. Whenever I get on the ‘tube’, it always just seems like yesterday that I was cramming myself into the first available seat during rush hour, photocopied text book pages and highlighter in hand, and using the 90 minute journey as a my study hall.

For me, stepping onto the London Underground is like putting on a pair of your favorite sweat pants before settling down in front of the tv – you just can’t relax and feel ‘at home’ until you do it.

Edited to add...

This was my instructor's comment on my first article:

I am chuckling, this was fabulous prose. I know what you mean about slipping on the sweat pants feel of travel. I feel that way getting on an airplane. I immediately relax and sometimes fall asleep--no matter what time of day. The jets start and I'm tired. Loved your writing, Michelle. Eva



e said...

I'm not clear on which is the submission. The italicized one or the one under the underground symbol? The italicized one was meh, it lacked your voice, and I forgot it as soon as I read it. The one after the logo I really liked because that's you and your experience, I was right there with you. It sounds like that's the one you submitted, but then what's the first part?

TravelVixen said...

For clarification: All that is italicized is mine. Before and after the London Underground logo.

TravelVixen said...

Copied from email exchange:


Ah, ok. I was a little confused b/c of the italics and the different styles. I for one love your travel writing when you do it as you, you can really capture your experience and put your reader right there. I was disappointed that you didn't finish the Belize posts, they were awesome. so I'm already biased to the second part. The first part was artsy and cryptic (I really didn't know what you were describing for most of it), but if I was reading travel writing to choose where to go and how to travel, or while I'm travelling, I would want the second part. The first part might work better as part of a creative writing exercise.

Of course, keep in mind that as a reader I have a preference against artsy and cryptic, for the most part I find that kind of writing distances me from the writer and the experience. So my reaction to the first part is certainly nothing more than an opinion. And as you well know, opinions are like assholes, everybody's got one!

You know, I've been toying with the idea of taking a writing workshop myself, and I had just decided to do it when you put up your post! I don't know which one to take yet, however, and have not even gotten around to researching them. Any thoughts as to where to start?

TravelVixen said...

Ms e.

Well, in that you felt the way you did about the first part - cryptic, didn't know what I was refering to, more of an "artsy" description - then it did what I intended it to do. Obviously, I have no control over whether or not someone likes that but I appreciate and respect your opinion.

My goal was to approach the exercise from a different angle than everyone else, who was writing about beautiful landscapes, beaches, architecture etc... I wanted people to think, "Huh? Ugly? Hot? Crowded? THIS is her favorite place? What the heck?" My goal was to show that your favorite place in the world can come from what you feel inside, vs. what you experience externally - even if that place is ugly, smelly, and uncomfortable! So the first part, to me at least, was essential both in style and function, in providing the juxtaposition between feelings and aesthetics.

Not a justification to change your mind (can't make you like the color blue if you don't like it) but just to explain where I was going. It's hard in 300 words.

Mala said...

The first part was more interesting to me. That style of writing from you was new to me and I loved the mystery of it all. The second part was very you and something I'm used to. I think this class will be a lot of fun.

Urban Koda said...

I'd have to agree with the others, the first part was very cryptic/mysterious. Knowing that you were writing about your favorite place held my interest though - I'm not sure it would have, had I not started with that in mind though.

The sweat pant analogy was pure gold!!

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