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Writing Class – Week 1 – Description of a Person

December 2, 2021

I haven’t posted anything here in while, not because I haven’t been writing, but because I’ve been writing for a different goal. I put a brief pause on my weekly creative writing stories to take a legitimate writing class online through the UCLA extension program. The class focuses on showing emotion in writing and is six weeks long. Each week consists of a “lecture” concerning a different emotion in writing or a way to incorporate emotions more fully into a piece of writing. There are reading assignments designed to analyze different emotions and practices in writing by others, and then each week is capped off by a writing assignment of about 600 words. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to get feedback from other students and the professor, and I’ve learned a ton, so I thought I’d share some of the pieces I’ve written for the class. Some of them are fictional, whereas others are nonfiction with only a skew of fiction.

Week one’s assignment was to describe a person from childhood with as much sensory detail as possible. Here’s what I wrote:

I make sure only my head emerges into the roaring sky as the wood under me cascades into the trough of a wave. Our plunge is immediately followed by frigid salty spray that whips around the sides of the dodger, into the cockpit and directly into my father’s upturned face. The salt stings my nostrils, but my father recovers almost immediately, wiping his thick tortoise-like glasses.

In the shadows I can see my father’s hands, knuckle white, on the wheel. They’re confident in their grip despite the shredded cuticles and abrasions I know hide in every crevice. My father’s hands are covered in patches of pinks and browns and beiges, puckered scars and freckles. They are rough and calloused, like a pebbled beach, and they move in disjointed twitches after a long day of overuse.

I can barely hear the soft squeaking of impervious foul weather gear as my father sways in rhythm with each swell. He sets his shoulders back, opens up his chest and positions his feet slightly wider than shoulder width. His knees are supple, never losing his balance. My father enunciates his words to be understood over the wind and his directions to my mother on the foredeck are forceful and exasperated. When my father spies me, his voice melts into sweetness like an ice cream cone on a hot day.

“Hey sweetheart. Are you okay?” Before I can tell him that I’m scared, he continues. “Do daddy a favor and go back to sleep. We’ll be there when you wake up. You can put on a movie down below.” I consider him, but I’m not content until he offers what I’ve been hoping for. “And you can have marshmallows for breakfast.”

I awake to ear-splitting clangs of rigging slapping the mast. Ropes thud from the deck above. I hear my father’s furious rough voice.

“Karen, get the sails up NOW.”

“I just put them down. Make up your goddamn mind,” my mother spits back.

“The engine died. Get them up now or we’ll run into the reef.”

An eternity later, after hearing the anchor chain rumbling through the hull and plunking into the water, I emerge on deck like a butterfly into a new world. The sun is gracing us with a new day, warming up the forest green cushions in the cockpit and making me squint. Despite the early hour I can see my father sprawled on the cushions, his back digging into hard fiberglass with his arms spread-eagle and propped up on the long backrest. He’d look a bit like Jesus on the cross if he were upright. His muscles are limp and his face is slack, but in the daylight I can see worry lines carved in his brow.

My father has a finger of scotch in a clear plastic tumbler clutched in one hand. As I creep toward him, the deep rumble of snoring assaults my ears and the tension in my muscles relax. My mother grins and hands me a sand-encrusted tube of sunscreen. I clamber over my father like a jungle gym, but he doesn’t stir. I rub watery white across his pockmarked forehead, covering the worry lines, and then move to his rapidly reddening nose. The smell of coconut and sunshine can’t mask my father. He invades my nose with sweat and salt and iron as white fades invisible.

My father wakes himself moments later with a sharp snorting sound and smiles. His smile shows off crooked teeth as he spies me across the cockpit stuffing my face with marshmallows.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Yael Kisel permalink
    December 3, 2021 6:54 am

    I’m guessing a lot of this is based on memory and I’m willing to bet a lot that that marshmallow part is! ☺️

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