Creative Writing Seminar/Class

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Busking: The Stage On the Streets (Second Draft of Creative Writing Piece)

Published August 5, 2011 by Aker

I still need to revise it some more according to my professor (he says I need to put more of myself in it as well as talk about the freaks part at the end throughout), but here is what I have so far. Tell me what you think:

Busking: The Stage on the Streets

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…” – William Shakespeare

It’s four o’clock, beginning of the afternoon rush as hoards of tourists exit out to Piccadilly Circus from the station. I ride the dull escalator towards the exit. Ads for the Wam Bam Burlesque Club, Captain America and L.A. Noire movies, Mamma Mia, Fela and Shrek shows, exhibits of the National Portrait Gallery and Kate Middleton’s wedding dress at Buckingham palace, masked the walls as I went up. Wearing a purple shirt and dark blue jeans that were noticeably too large for me, its bottoms stuffed into my black ankle-length boots, I kind of wanted to hide. I might have been just paranoid; no one was really looking at me. I hoped and yet deep down knowing someone would notice.

Passing the Lilly White sports store, I pulled out my journal and walked in the direction of the large crowd. Some, either worn-out from earlier walks or fatigued from the heat of riders packed in the trains of the underground tube with no air conditioning, found any available spot and squeezed themselves in underneath the black Eros statue. Others continued to walk down the street amongst the aged, white stone Victorian buildings, taking pictures of the ostentatious architecture with carvings of Greek gods. I passed by these frozen tourist attractions unimpressed. They were like large versions of paperweights; their purpose was mostly to hold a space.

Instead I found myself viewing the Samsung advertisements on loop on the immense screens above. On it, I watched commercials for Coco Cola, Samsung electronics, Mcdonald’s, Lycamobile and even one for the support of the Japanese earthquake relief fund. That last one seemed so out of place. My skeptical mind already thought of some profit motive behind it.

Unable to get a seat on the staircase of the statue, I looked around at the five roads connected by Piccadilly Circus – Regents, Piccadilly, Glasshouse, Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry—and tried to decide where to go amongst the commotion. I quickly crossed the street to see a crowd gathering at the front of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. A medium-sized group of people stood around the main entrance and I absorbed myself into the slowly growing mass.

“Hey, come and watch me do a magic trick,” summoned the street performer as more of the street crowd drew in closer to him. They stepped in close enough to see the upcoming show, but made sure to stand outside of the chain that circled around him on the ground.

The crowds in the streets are merciless in a different way than a regular theatre audience for they do not pay a ticket to come and watch. They can come and go as they please, so it takes an over-the-top personality to pull them in. Wearing a black bowler hat and his lean, wiry body in black slacks and a red shirt with the Ripley’s logo on it, the performer managed to show his enthusiasm through his craggily, wrinkly face.

Looking around the audience, he said, “Who wants to help me? You two guys in the front want to join me in doing this.”

Two stout men were singled out as the rest of us in the audience tried to avoid the performer’s pointing finger. They shrugged their shoulders and said, “yeah, sure,” in a somewhat lackadaisical manner.

As they stepped beyond the circular chain barrier, the performer asked the first man, dressed in a green Fred Flintstone shirt that said “Who’s Your Daddy” and an obvious protruding beer gut, for his name.

“David,” he replied. He turned to the next man, who was slightly slimmer and dressed in a blue plaid shirt and jeans, and he replied, “Peter.”

“Okay mates, let’s begin,” he said as he stood on the black, rectangular-shaped platform. “Hello everyone, my name is Tony Roberts, from Australia. I will be attempting to put my entire body through this tennis racket.” He held up an old, dingy white tennis racket with the hoop lacking the mesh of strings.

Tony took the racket and put his left arm and head through the hoop. He jokingly remarked, “It’s a boy,” as he contorted his body through the hoop and began to put his right arm through it as well. The audience let out a few reluctant laughs.

He waved at David to grab his hand and pull it through. For a second, Tony dropped to his knees and joked again, “I’m not gonna ask you to marry me. Although you do have lovely eyes and soft hands for a man.” The audience laughed a little louder.

As David pulled his arm through, Tony commented,  “Give him a hand. He’s just a member of the crowd like you.” In the corner, a woman with shoulder-length blonde hair woman gasped in amazement that he fitted himself through the hoop. In a teasing manner, he replied, “Covering your mouth doesn’t stop your eyes from seeing, my dear.”

The audience clapped as he pushed the tennis racket down against his chest. “Don’t clap any louder, you might encourage the Americans. Come closer, so you don’t block the sidewalk.” I let the comment pass over my head, too involved in watching the show before me.

He then proceeded in telling David and Peter to pick up the chains on the ground and they began to wrap them around his torso, neck, arms, hands and the tennis racket. In order to cross the chain around him, David and Peter get very close and Tony continues in his bawdy wit. “Is this like Friday nights at your house,” and went on with a few utterances of “ooh.”

“Here we have two Englishmen tying up an Australian.” A few more laughs came out of the audience. Some members of the audience fidgeted within their cramped spots. A man in a black shirt and sunglasses bumped his elbow into my journal and turned around just enough to see me writing. He gave a quick quizzical look before turning back around to continue watching the show.

Tony asked Peter to open a bottle of water next to the platform and to pour some into his mouth. Then he asked Peter to stand on the platform holding the bottle of water over his head. “In the spirit of the late, great Houdini, I will attempt to escape from these locks under water,” he joked. Some more chuckles come from the audience.

As Peter stepped down, Tony asked the audience to do a countdown with him at the end of two minutes. No one answers as if blindsided. He had broken further through the imaginary fourth wall between himself and us.  The same fourth wall in the proscenium theatres in which audiences, trapped in their three-walled box seats, instantly separated themselves from the action on the stage. This audience wanted to be seen as one entity with no interaction at all with the man in front of them. But even the audience participates in the drama of the performance and Tony reaction made it clear to us.

“C’mon, you’re the only audience I got. When I ask a question, I expect a response,” he begged despairingly, “Don’t worry about any humiliation, that is my job.” He asked again for a countdown and the crowd responded finally with a slightly apathetic “yes.”

Tony began to wiggle and contort out on the chains, dislocating his fingers in order to pull his hands out. As he did this, he encouraged the audience to stay by yelling, “Five floors, 700 exhibits, after I pull myself free, please join me inside for a voucher to get discount ticket to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

With less than 30 seconds to spare, he pulled his hands free from the chains and pushed the tennis racket down to his feet. “Okay, follow me in for a free voucher.” Most of the crowd fled as soon as he finished. A free show is better than even a discounted one.

Yet I followed him in there to see what it was like in the “odditorium.” On the speakers, I could hear Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Shoop.” I giggled a little because the song choice appeared to be random. But this was Ripley’s; as its sign said, “Home of the Unbelievable.” As I picked up the black voucher with the white, orange and yellow logo of the exhibit and a picture of its entrance, I looked around to see a picture of a man with his eyeballs popping out of his socket. Turning to left, a screen showed an exhibition for Marilyn Monroe. Londoners seem to be in awe of her.

The generic tan wooden floors, the red, blue and green fluorescent light tubes on the ceiling, the reflective glass walls and the red carpets with the logo on them were off-putting despite the allure of the bizarre figures surrounding me. I could probably find most of them in a book or a Google search later on anyway.

I walked back outside, looking at the facade of the building, the London Pavilion, a former music hall and theatre, which was now covered in red Ripley’s awnings. It was a good fit for a museum displaying the oddities of life, joining other huge, ornate buildings that house the oddities of every culture. You can go as far as to even say making oddities of common items by putting them on display. From its origin, museums were private collections (loot from cultures all over the world) of wealthy families and made public probably to show off that wealth and rub it in the faces of the rest of us.

Walking down Coventry Street, I noticed several souvenir shops one after another. Before crossing the street again, I looked up to see another screen showing LG commercials and the colorful stars made of circles on the signs of the Trocadero in the distance. On the sidewalk curb, a man in his dirty blue hooded sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers played The Carpenter’s “Closer to You” with and orange and white street traffic cone like it was a trumpet. Several walked by not knowing whether to feel strange or be intrigued that he was using a traffic cone. And he didn’t let the surprised stares faze him (then again, he did look “high”). If only I had a camera, it could have gone on Youtube and have a million hits by now.

Across the street, I went into Cool Britannia, the biggest souvenir shop in Piccadilly Circus. Inside was a dimly lit, red decorated store that had enough merchandise for a window shopper’s paradise. Bags, mugs, flags, posters, trinkets, plates, teddy bears, sweatshirts, shirts, decorated license plates, postcards, calendars and anything else you could think of was in there. As I went down the stairs to the basement, I briefly had to stop behind a mother and daughter who were gawking at the silver and gold suit of armor and the red telephone booth on the landing. Downstairs, I saw more of the same stuff. I soon became bored with the place after fifteen minutes and was slightly irritated when I saw a whole section dedicated to Guinness products, especially when I saw a plate item that said, “Black is Beautiful,” but with a picture of cups of beer at the bottom. I thought, “Thank you Guinness for the co-opting.” I made my way for the door.

After I left, I walked towards the Criterion Restaurant with its turquoise and blue marquee. In front of it, a tin man stood there dressed in a silver suit, and gold hat, vest and shoes. Like a pantomime, he said no words, only waiting for tourist to flock to him for pictures as he stood on his silver trunk. I stood there watching a young girl with her black hair tied back in a ponytail and in pink dress, staring him down with a callous look and he stared at her back. She then ran off and he shrugged his shoulders as if he expected that kind of behavior. A teenage boy stepped up on the trunk for a picture and the tin man quickly pulled out a toy silver gun holding it up to the boy’s neck. Catching on to the gag, the boy grabbed his neck and jokingly, the tin man pointed his gun to the boy’s crotch and back up to his neck. I wondered if he did that out of sheer boredom standing there everyday. He has to do something to keep himself going. But the picture was taken and the small crowd around him, including myself, dispersed.

I walked in the direction of the Eros statue and found another crowd surrounding three young, white Eastern European men (I could tell from their accents) on a small black and white checkered dance floor. “If you see something like I break my leg, don’t call the ambulance,” said one in ankle breaker shirt with a half-star underneath the words. “…And if you like the show, please pay for your tickets in the buckets below.”

The three men, the other two in a Funky Poser’s monkey shirt and a musical notes shirt, started break-dancing to a 90s techno song that I barely remember except for the “ooh la la,” part. While one did the various acrobatic movies, the other two tried to get the audience excited by clapping. As soon as the song finished, most of the crowd rushed away avoiding having to put any monetary amount into the light green, blue and pink buckets. The three men, however, were not disheartened as a few offered to give them some change, and just like the others before them, they left the location to continue onto the next willing audience.

I chose to stand in a corner of the window area of the Criterion Theatre, next to the Eros statue. The posters for the play, 39 Steps, based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, covered the front walls of the theatre.  As I continued writing in my journal, I notice two dark-haired men stare at me as they walked by. I guess they thought I looked strange. I should be used to the stares by now; I don’t look like the average black woman, let alone the average woman in London, not even in America. But I still couldn’t resist giving a snarled look at them and watching them hastily turn away. It’s refreshing to think of yourself as the observer observing others who in turn are observing you and our reactions to each other. Whether in the audience or in front of them, I am on display just like any other.

When I turned to the left, I saw a young, fresh-faced man standing near me in front of the doorway. His conspicuous manner of dress, a black top hat, dark gray jeans, gray shirt and suspenders, did not match his naïve and nervous as he placed his unicycle on his black duffle bag. Not knowing what to do, he took out a translucent Fushigi ball and began to glide it between his hands. I stood there awkwardly wondering if he knew my attention was on him. Gazing at the ball, he smiled as if he was lost in his own world and ignored everyone around him. The streets and its people were all seen in the reflection of the ball as if he held the world between his fingers.

Soon, others began to stop at look at him and the ball, which seemed to float between his hands. For moment, gravity did not exist as he started sliding the ball upon his arms. I knew there was a simple explanation for why the ball did that but I chose not to think of reality at that time, only the magic of the moment. A boy with shoulder-length curly blond hair asked the “magician” how he does the trick. With the ball, he steps forward and bends down to let the boy examine the ball to see if maybe there was a puppet’s string attached to it. Even a man in his yellow soccer shirt had to stop to gaze in amazement. He seemed to be the most genuine, pure-hearted one of all the performers that day.

“Are we all freaks just looking for a stage?” I said this to myself as I turned to head into the Piccadilly Circus tube station. Going down the escalator, I approached guitar player singing R.E.M.’s “Man On the Moon” in a deep, coarse voice. As I passed him, I could still faintly hear him down the hall leading to the train. Another thought came to mind. I remembered that Joe Strummer from the Clash was a busker, a street performer, like all them. I wondered if any of them would leave the streets of Piccadilly one day to the calling of a bigger stage. Would I ever want to do the same? Maybe the real fun lies somewhere on those street corners where you close enough to those who choose to stop and be part of the show.


The Jubilee Continues…

Published August 3, 2011 by Aker

Today in class was music day (Songs about London!) and besides watching some of the movie, Sid and Nancy, starring Gary Oldman, we listened to a lot of music. Here is some of what we heard:

The Smiths – London

Misfits- London Dungeon

Madness- The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Donovan- Sunny Goodge Street

Pulp- Mile End (This is where our university actually is!)

Sex Pistols- God Save the Queen

The Clash – London Calling (The song from which our class is named and we do live by the river, the East end where most of the poor people use to live)

The Clash- Guns of Brixton (About the Riots in Brixton in 1980)

Sinead O’ Connor – Black Boys on Mopeds (Also about Brixton riots, two boys were gunned down while riding mopeds)

Blur- London Loves

The Clash – London’s Burning (based on the nursery rhyme, London Bridge is Falling Down)

Adele – Hometown Glory

“…A Little Ejaculation of Impatience”

Published July 26, 2011 by Aker

The above quote is from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Empty House.” It is one of the several readings we had for this class and the line is how I have been feeling about this class lately. Three hour classes are not usually my style and this one drags on. Don’t get me wrong, Morgan, as we call him in class, instead of the more formal Professor Schulz or Professor, is an interesting character. He has tousled dirty blond hair, blue eyes and every other day wears a baggy orange pants, all of which makes him look like a surfer dude. He has a background in the military and went to West Point, but gave it up for his true passion in English and writing. Morgan knows a lot of information about books, movies, history and the process of writing (five W’s, five senses, time/situation/space,etc.) that is really helpful because I want to know how to effectively write long stories. He has introduced us to a wide range of stories, novels, books, authors, new ways of thinking about works that are now part of mainstream culture, such as Harry Potter, Dracula, V for Vendetta and to questioning everything, including ourselves. To top it off, he is actually funny and is not afraid to mock us and our cultural norms in a non-offensive way.

However, at times it is hard to connect to all that he is saying and sitting in class with him for three hours can be overwhelming and tiring, including the tiredness from touring around the city from the previous night and doing the readings. I understand most of what he says, but it is a lot to digest. Also, Morgan seems pompous in his deepness sometimes, as if he is claiming to know everything while at the same time stating he knows nothing. Moreover, he shows his privileges as a white, middle-class man at the strangest points. For example, a group of Jewish female students are in the class and he stated they were from Israel or declaring that the four African-American women, including myself, in the class were connected because we wrote about water and our mothers, our race and our names start with an S. He looks for something deeper in something that is just a coincidence or brings up a characteristic about us that has little to do with the conversation. Now I am in a conflicted space where I want to stay in London, but I also want this class to end or ease up a little. Maybe when this is over and I can reflect, I will appreciate it all more, but for now, while I am in the midst of it, I am getting antsy.

If I Could Save Time In A Bottle….

Published July 24, 2011 by Aker

The classic struggle and balancing act between being a tourer and tourist, and the obligation of being a student in a stuffy classroom and wanting to explore a new city. This is where I stand right now and it is exhausting. London has so much to see and I have so little time to see most of them, especially with a three-hour class five days a week and walking around London, which is tiring. But I will persevere… Did I mention that there is SO much to do in London.

Tuesday, the Tower of London:

Not much to say about it, but it does reinforce the fact that London is a very stony city. We went into two towers, the White Tower and the Bloody tower, before we were bored and decided to leave. I guess the history of the place as a tower for torturing and killing prisoners as well as the seat of power for the monarchy did not quite connect with us. However the Thames River walk did and I actually wrote my first piece for class on a staircase at the beginning of the walk along the Thames that led directly into the river. It may become a full piece of work by the end of this study abroad trip.

Wednesday: British Museum

The museum is huge! I went last week, but our professor wanted us to go again and it is still immense the second time around. Actually walking around with a journal in the museum, I noticed how many of the visitors were taking pictures of the artifacts and artwork in the exhibitions instead of actually looking at them and enjoying the experience. After a while, I was slightly annoyed by them and tried to get away from every person who was taking a picture…oh no, I am becoming more deep! haha.

Thursday: Dicken’s house and pub

Charles Dickens lived in a nice house. I stood next to the seat and desk where he wrote his last words, looked at the funny sketches on the walls, and saw his dingy looking washroom and wine cellar. Then we went to his favorite pub, The Lamb, for a few minutes but I didn’t get a drink (paper due next day, ugh!).




Friday: Ferry ride on the Thames to Greenwich

To the land where modern Time was invented! Wondering why London is five hours ahead of New York, blame this place! We traveled on the City Cruises’ River Red Rover ferry ride on which we heard stories of pirates, pubs and prolific novelists (Dickens again). Then we took a walk up the large hill to the observatory and maritime museum, but instead of going in, I decided to go around the park and take notes in my journal. I recorded a lot about animals that day; I may have notes for a new Animal Farm, hehe.

Saturday: Camden Market

I think I may have fond the perfect flea market for me! This market has so many things: food, clothes, bags, records, posters, shoes, CDs, DVDs, accessories, etc. I was so tempted to buy everything. But as you have heard yesterday, my day was dampened by the death of Amy Winehouse, who lived in Camden. So, we were basically in the same area as her when she passed. RIP.

London Bridge

Sunday: Thames Walk

This may have been the longest walk of my life! I started by going back to the staircase at the beginning of the Thames Walk and the waters had receded to the point that you could see the whole staircase and there was a small sandy beach. Then I went to the London Bridge, which looks like a pieces of cardboard in comparison to the Tower Bridge. Why is there a song about it! I walked across it where I saw an immense view of the Tower Bridge, Tower of London and ships. After, I walked back and went to the Monument of the Great Fire of London. Stupidly, I decided to climb all 311 narrow steps to the top and almost passed out at the top. When I got out, I gasped for breath looking for an open store to buy a drink and also to look for the London Stone, which was embedded in a building and I almost missed it (not worth the trouble to find). Then I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral and sat in the garden. The next stop was the Museum of London, where I went through the history of London compacted into several exhibitions. I liked the Changing London exhibition best because that was the only one I could relate to (Yay, Brixton!) Finally, I went on a long walkway to the Barbican Center, where my journey ended near the fountains by it. Now I am back in my room feeling dead with sores on my feet. So time for a nice warm shower, a book to read and bed. Bye.

Becoming a Better Writer 101

Published July 15, 2011 by Aker

“Show, don’t tell.”

We just had our first official class today after our on-site orientation last night. I am still suffering from jet lag. I had a headache, took a three-hour afternoon nap, had trouble going to sleep and waking up and my body still aches. But I will push through because I think I will actually enjoy this course in addition to exploring London. This neighborhood and London has a rich history. We are staying in East London, which was comparable to New York City in the 70s before it became the slightly gentrified part of the city it is now. The university is next to part of the Regents Canal that leads directly into Hyde’s Park. Maybe I can use this as inspiration for my first piece. So far, I am using the cemetery that the university was built around for inspiration for my first practice piece based on Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” 

So, what did I hear in class today. Basically, using our five senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and taste) and the five W’s (who, what, where, when, and why) to do a great descriptive pieces. Nouns, verbs and only a little bit of adjectives (avoid adverbs) make description come alive. So, I am off to do some observing tonight. Cheers!