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I got my MFA, now what?

Yesterday I walked across the stage and got my diploma, and now I am part of an elite crowd, I’m an MFA grad. For the past four years, I worked with other wannabe writers, workshopping stories, reading other writers, and revising and tightening manuscripts. I was lucky in that I had some of the best teachers out there – Janet Wondra, Priscilla Perkins, Kyle Beachy, Suzanne Scanlon, Chrisian TeBordo. Each instructor made an important impact in my writing, by both challenging me when I was going in the wrong direction and encouraging me when I was going in the right direction.

The other students I worked with were better writers than I. They were talented writers who had to write. It was in them. Me? I’m not a naturally gifted writer. I’m not a great writer. I’m a solid-to-decent writer who can write a great piece once in a while after a ton of work. That’s not to say that the other writers in the program weren’t hard workers, they were, but they were starting with a stronger base. But that isn’t new for me. School has never come naturally to me. I’m lucky in that I love school, and I love being in school, so I don’t mind the extra work it takes to catch me up to the other students.

A few years back, in a class about arrealism, I was assigned to write a writer’s manifesto. It was an interesting assignment because I never thought about a writer’s manifesto. I thought about why I was writing. I thought about my writing heroes – David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, Tina Fey – and I tried to understand why they started to write. What inspired them?

As a reader, I was always drawn toward humor. I love comedy. When writing, I wanted to make my readers laugh in the same way that Sedaris does. When we presented our manifestos to the class, other students had high minded reasons for going into writing, and name checked some literary greats. My inspiration? Madeline Kahn and Teri Garr. I wanted people to enjoy themselves when reading my work. While my classmates cited Austerlitz as their inspiration, I said Erma Bombeck.

Getting my MFA is definitely a bittersweet experience for me. I feel a sense of accomplishment, because I was able to juggle full-time work, a part-time job teaching, and going to grad school part time. It was a lot of work at times, and there were many overnight sessions of reading and annotating. But I love all of this. I love studying and going to school.

So, it’s a bit bitter that I’m done with my MFA work because it’s probably the last time I’ll be in school. I’ve identified myself as a student for a long time. And now that part of my life is over. Now, I have to compete with the more-talented members of this MFA gang for spots in literary anthologies, journals, or chapbooks.

For MFA, I had to write a thesis – mine was a book-length collection of essays. This past Tuesday, I participated in a reading, in which I read an excerpt of a story about my dad’s recent battle with cancer. The reception was positive. The people in the audience laughed and reacted warmly to my story. Predictably, the other writers were better: Matt Styne, Phyllis Lodge, and Chicago-area writer Jessica Anne were brilliant, each reaching the kind of creative high I can only dream of attaining. They’re just better. I don’t say this as a self-deprecating thing. It’s just honesty.

Right now, I got a couple things bubbling away. I’m writing some film pieces and am looking at other calls for papers. I’m also continually working out on paper (yeah, I write on paper first – I got stacks of legal pads) how I feel about Europe, the EU, Brexit, and London. Stuff keeps changing over there, so I feel like I’m never done.

Something sticks with me from the reading on Tuesday. We were introduced by the professors, and Christian TeBordo introduced me, and called my work sophisticated, which is a very generous and kind compliment. I always wanted to be called sophisticated. When I think of the word sophisticated, I think of Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, or Dorothy Parker. It’s nice company (I just realized that I inadvertently implied that Christian compared me to Wilde, Coward, and Parker – he didn’t, he’s not nuts).

So, now I’m hearing the faint dulcet tones of a PhD program calling me like a siren from a distance. I’m not naïve and know that a PhD can be an expensive albatross, and it isn’t a guarantee. But I like the idea of being a perpetual students (though I don’t like the idea of owning a perpetual student loan).

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Saying goodbye to a pet

I had to put my cat down this weekend. After 19 years of almost perfect health, she had a terrible weekend: she became dehydrated and her sodium and phosphate levels were so high, essentially her body was simply shutting down. On Thursday evening, she wandered around the apartment, loudly meowing and not touching her food. Also, she was weirdly clingly and would sit at my feet – something she never did up until then, because her friendly personality was marked by a healthy independence (that bordered on indifference). We took her to the vet on Friday, and all didn’t look lost. Her kidneys were okay, her heart rate was good – but it was her sodium and phosphate levels that were bad. The doctor injected a bubble of liquid to hydrate her and suggested hospitalization. We were hoping that we could avoid leaving her alone, so we took her home with some medication, hoping for better results. Saturday came along and nothing changed, so we checked her in and the doctor hooked her up to an IV. Sunday passed and we found out on Monday that her sodium level had actually gotten higher over the weekend, and there was really nothing that could be done.

Saying goodbye to my cat is a strange experience because I have lots of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, she is my cat – my buddy – I called her “the little one” and she was with me for the majority of my life. On the other hand, I’m not an animal person per se, so the fact that she and I were close is surprising. To be honest before I had Miss Thing (another nickname for her), I was more of a dog person. But saying goodbye was rough because she was a presence in my apartment.

The animal hospital I visited was great, and when something sad happens, one always looks for silver linings. And I was luckier than most cat owners because my cloud didn’t just have a silver lining, it had a silver core. My cat was healthy for the whole of her 19 years on this planet. She was hardy and good-natured (if a bit standoffish) and retained her kittenish appearance and behavior for most of her 19 years. Other cat owners I know tell horror tales of aged and emaciated cats dragging themselves, incontinent and unaware. Though she wasn’t as sprightly and or zaftig as she was in her peak, in the last year, she still maintained a remarkable amount of her personality. I know I’m lucky in that I enjoyed having a healthy and happy cat for almost 19 years.

When thinking about sad events, I often go to weird/strange details. The day that I had to take her in to be put down, I was a bit of a wreck. I wanted to get the deed over with, I rushed out of the house in my uniform for rushing out of the house: oversize jogging pants, a crazy huge pink hoodie (with a campy silkscreen of a Life magazine cover on the front), a knitted hat to cover my undid hair, and my mangy pea coat that I bought from Old Navy in New York over ten years ago. Because the weather is shit at the moment, I wore snow boots, tracking in snow and mud into the waiting room. As I sat and waiting, a beautiful blond woman walked in with a massive white dog. The thing looked like a barrel. It was gorgeous and snow white – almost cartoon-like in its whiteness. I asked the woman what she named her dog and she said “Penny.” Penny was a husky-lab mix. She was passively friendly and slightly bored. She would wander as far as her leash allowed, but never seemed to settle on what focal point. She came up to me a few times, I gave her a pat on the head, she barely registered the pat, and walked away. I was sitting cross-legged on the bench, and in another circuit, Penny accidentally bumped into my food, gently hitting it with her head. On this pristine blanket of white fur I saw a smudgy black stain – it looked like I kicked her in the head (or that she went to church on Ash Wednesday). I quickly scooted over to Penny and started vigorously wiping her head, at the same time, squealing out affectionate baby talk, so that the owner didn’t see that I was basically cleaning her dog.

Her dog was fine and clean, and I struck up a conversation with the lady. It’s a bit awkward in waiting rooms because the small talk is confined to certain subject, but one can never discuss the reason for being in the waiting room. Her dog looked healthy, so I’m sure it was merely a checkup, but I didn’t want to pry. The woman asked if I had a dog or a cat, and I told her I had a cat. She asked me her name – I gave it to her, and she complimented me. She then asked what kind of cat was she – all this was happening while my cat was peacefully being put to sleep. My mind panicked because I felt her line of questioning would inevitably lead to “So why are you here?” Not only was I still raw from grief over losing my cat, but the last thing another pet owner wants to hear right before taking her dog in to see a doctor, is about euthanasia. I kept it very vague with my answers, making sure that I didn’t betray any sadness, and made sure to use only present-tense verbs. I changed the subject by commenting loudly on how rough it must be to keep a white dog so clean – especially in muddy weather. Thankfully, the woman was distracted by my comment and we started talking about that.

When it was time to leave, I left about 25 cans of cat food with the hospital, hoping that some non-profit may benefit from them (I bought them in bulk because they were really cheap). The receptionist was very sweet – she looked as grieved as I. In fact, when I spoke to the doctor in the morning, she sounded very upset. At that moment, I was glad because I found space for compassion for them. I’ll go home and grieve and it’ll be over until the next sad thing happens. For the two of them, grief is a normal part of the day, and a crappy part of their job description. I would hate to work with sick people, but I would also hate to work with sick animals because not only do you have to deal with the patients, but you also have to deal with the loved ones. I imagine that the poor doctor who had to share the bad news with me, had to repeat that message a few more times during the week. I’d find it draining. Yet, she was always compassionate, professional, and honest.

I loved my cat. I’m glad that she’s not suffering and I’m glad she was only sick for a short while. I’m glad I have almost two decades of memories of her because they’re good memories. I’m also glad I met the people who worked at the animal hospital. It’s great to see folks who are committed to their work and to their clients. A few years back I worked in a foreign mission, and part of my job – an unsavory part – was visiting morgues. I visited a city morgue once and was struck by how clean and organized the place was – but more importantly, the employees – all of them – were dedicated professionals, who loved and cared about every person that came into their office. Some of that resonated with me at the animal hospital because it’s not an easy job to tell a little kid that his best buddy’s going to die, or an elderly retiree that his only companion is going to die. But the folks at the animal hospital do that awful, unenviable job every day, and somehow manage to remain humane. I don’t believe in god or angels, but I do believe that there are people on this earth who are “special” – touched by a grace or goodness – doctors, teachers, clergy, social workers. I met a few of those touched people this past weekend.

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My Writing Process Blog Tour…

A friend of mine forwarded me the questions for the Writing Process Blog Tour – I’m a bit late on it (like five months late) but I thought my readers would be interested in seeing how/why I write.

The rule of the “game” is I’m supposed to forward or nominate other bloggers/writers, but I don’t like doing that because it feels like a chain letter, so instead, I just emailed some folks privately and let them know about this great/neat idea (of which – as always – I’m two steps behind).

Question #1: What are you working on?

At the moment – nothing, I’m ashamed to admit. I  just finished a semester in grad school (I’m in an MFA creative writing program – all A’s, so far!), so I’m a bit written out at the moment. I submitted a proposal for a conference on social justice – so if I get into that, I’ll be working on a paper about Hanif Kureishi’s view of Thatcher-era London. I’m also taking a screenwriting class next semester, so I’ve been toying with some ideas for that. Other than that, I haven’t done any writing of my own, and I’ve been bad about the blog because life got very busy (new job, holidays, relatives visiting, etc). Once things settle, I’ll probably try to do some more writing – I wanted to do something Jane Austen-inspired because I’ve had Pride and Prejudice and Emma on my mind a lot lately. I also am planning on putting together some stories about my month in London (I used some of it for some short story assignments in my naturalism class). I’m also hoping to do something larger with my black diaspora in the UK interest.

Question #2: How does your voice differ with others of its genre?

I don’t know if I write in any defined “genre” – I don’t like to write sci-fi or mysteries – not because I dislike the genres, but because I’m not good at following structure or “rules.” I guess one could call my stuff critical essays or pop culture essays as well as creative nonfiction. How is my voice different? Don’t know because I’m still finding my voice. I do think some of my experiences/identities (immigrant, feminist, queer, Anglophile, worked in the nonprofit sector, educator, etc) find their way into my work. I also try – even if I’m writing fluff – to include some aspect of social justice. I read a lot, so it’s difficult to identify my voice because often I feel that it’s a pastiche of all my diverse influences (Julia Child, David Sedaris, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, etc.). This is a good question – I think I should answer it in about 50 years.

Question #3: Why do I write what I do?

This is easy – because I can’t write anything else. I’m no good at sci-fi, mystery, horror – I’ve tried them all, believe me. I like creative nonfiction because the story is already there, it’s just a question of telling it. I’m good at telling stories – people in parties love to ask me to recount some silly adventure I was in – and I’ve always looked at creative nonfiction as just simply telling stories to friends, but in print. My black diaspora in the UK work is part of a larger project I worked on when getting my MA in English literature. I was interested in that topic because my favorite aspect of London – as well as all of Western Europe – is its multiculturalism. I think that the EU will emerge as a major superpower only when it understands and uses its cultural diversity to its advantage, instead of trying to fight it or suppress it.

Question #4: How does your writing process work?

That depends on what kind of writing I’m doing. If it’s academic, then I need lots of time to research, write drafts, outline, map, and plan. If it’s personal/creative nonfiction, I’m more lenient and don’t need a rigid structure. I’ll often work from home, but I’m happy to drag my laptop to Starbucks and park myself at a table for a few hours. One thing I need is music though – I have to have it. And I can only write to film scores – Christophe Beck, Rachel Portman, and Thomas Newman are my go-to’s for when I’m writing. With Beck, I often turn to the soundtrack for Under the Tuscan Sun, which is a great Diane Lane movie about a beautiful middle-aged woman who chucks it all and moves to Tuscany. Thomas Newman’s soundtrack to Angels in America is great, too – very inspiring. I can’t listen to vocal music because the lyrics and the voice will often distract me.

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Book in a month – mea culpa edition

I know I have been behind in my book in a month – I’m on Day 4 (even though it looks like book in a month will be book in a month and a half) –

On day 4, Schmidt instructs her readers to create character sketches –

I’m having second thoughts about my story, but I’m going to try to push through – the idea was a funny story of Polish immigrants.

So the idea of the character story sketch worksheet is that you create the worksheet to create a back story for the character – you don’t necessarily have to use the story for the novel. Some of the entries will be empty, as I’m still working on the stories.

Character Story Sketch:
Story Title: Being Sick of London
Character Name: Paul Koswolski
Age: 26
Ethnicity: White
Height: 5’8″
Weight: 180 lbs
Hair: brown
Eyes: brown
Education: postgraduate college
Residence: a bedsit in London
Job: a graduate student, freelance writer
Archetype: quirky nerd (if I’m understanding archetype)
Birth Sign: Gemini
Religion: Atheist

Style of Dress: eccentric – mixes vintage/thrift store clothing with choice expensive clothes, if he can afford it – i.e. he’ll wear Target jeans and find a fun, 70’s dress shirt at a thrift store, but will use an expensive sweater from Express.

Distinguishing Marks: somewhat overweight, wears glasses

Favorite Things:
Music: very gay music – Kylie, Diana Ross, Madonna, but also has a strange eccentric taste –
Food: Greasy sleeze Chinese
Color: black and yellow
Pastime: reading, writing, shopping
Entertainment: concerts, museums, movies

Just the facts:
Children: none
Pets: a cat, Nico (named after the Velvet Underground singer)
Hobbies: he collects esoteric CD’s – he’s trying to collect as many CD’s from Prince proteges as possible.
Family Secrets:
Worst Fear: crashing in an airplane, which is why he dopes himself before he flies
Greatest Hope: to become a world-famous novelist/writer
Skills: He can write, cook
Prized Possession: His crazy collection of books
Vulnerability: His weakness for food – he’s an overeater
Regrets:
General Outlook: Very positive outlook on life  – sees life in a funny way.

Going Deeper:
Describe the first impression this character makes: For strangers, he can come off as shy, until he gets to know the person better – this can make some people think he’s aloof or uninterested, which is a mistake.
Describe how and why other characters view this character: Others who know him see him as being kind, funny, but also a bit of a pushover – he doesn’t like to disappoint people, which can sometimes make him a doormat in others’ eyes.
Describe what this character needs to learn by the end of the story:
Describe how you will foreshadow this ending in the story’s beginnings:

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Book in a Month: Week 1: The Outline and Act I: Day 3

So for day 3, I’m supposed to write out an outline for my book – this is interesting, since when I’ve tried to write before, I’d do the outline the first day, but now that I have a few scenes, it may make it easier for me to do this outline – what I wrote the other day will hopefully be good for the first part of the book – or maybe the first chapter, depending on how much will be written.

It’s funny because I never tried writing like this before – like it’s school, and I’ve got assignments. Before, I just wrote – I gotta say, that this kind of structure is a bit difficult to follow and it feels a bit counterintuitive, but I’ve committed to this, and I want to see this through – ‘sides, I also want to be able to say I’ve finished my novel, even if it’s no good.

At-a-Glance Outline

Title: I don’t have one  yet – I wasn’t sure what to call it, possibly a pun on Polish, Poland – I’ll update this bit probably when I think of something.

Act I:
Briefly describe what happens in Act I from the initial story hook to the turning point: What happens in Act I, is that the protagonist, Michael and his mother Jolene, move to the US from Poland, and move in with his grandmother, Irena. Irena’s lived in the US for about 10 years, so she’s a bit more savvy about US customs, though because of her age and the insular nature of the Polish community, she hasn’t learned English, and has been able to thrive despite not assimilating. So Michael is enrolled into kindergarten, and has to learn about the ways of his friends, despite his mother’s insistance that he does not forget his Polish background. He makes friends and begins to chafe at what he sees as his provincial family customs and continually tries to abandon his Polish background and move toward becoming a “real” American. Act I will last probably until junior high – where at that point, he’s successfully assimilated himself, and has been able to lose his accent and become really American. His world is a bit thrown, because in 6th grade he assigned Jacek, a newly arrived Polish immigrant, whom Michael takes under his wing.

Describe the setup: The conflict will arise from Michael’s continuously picking up customs from his friends at school, and he eventually shrugs off his mother’s traditions. The conflict will also highlight the helplessness Jolene will feel because Michael’s primarily influence will be his American school and his friends, and she sees her Polish cultural influence slipping.

Describe the mood or tone created: Even though the topic of immigrant assimilation is very serious – this is a funny story – the mood will be lightened by real-examples of how Michael runs into comic foibles that arise from misunderstandings and cultural gaps. There will be some more serious and pathos-filled scenes, but mostly, Michael’s outlook on the world is smart alecky and he views his predicament with a healthy dose of humor – again, this is an autobiographical novel, so that’s the way I approached the kinds of issues my “foreign-ness” caused.

Identify the hook/incident – in 6th grade, Jacek arrives from Poland and Michael has a sort of ephiphany about abandoning his Polish heritage, when he tries to help Jacek assimilate, but Jacek has no interest in losing his Polish identity, much to the delight and admiration of Jolene. Jacek, in fact, while a really nice person, views Michael’s adopted American identity with wariness and some contempt. Michael begins to question the wisdom behind getting rid of Polish identity wholesale.

Identify the first turning point: the turning point would be during Michael’s “lessons” for Jacek, where Jacek starts to question everything Michael shows him.

Identify what is at stake – Michael’s connection to both his family and friends – both really important to him. If he goes to far in the way of his Polish heritage, his friends will be left out, but if he completely forgets his Polish background he’ll alienate himself from his family. The question remains can he balance it or is he doomed to choose?

Protagonist’s Introduction: We meet Michael at his grandmother’s kitchen, trying, unsuccessfully, to eat a banana. We can see simultaneously the hilarious/sad way that Michael goes through life, trying to learn about a new way of life.
Protagonist’s Motiviation: To be accepted by his American peers. To be loved.
Details to Remember: Michael doesn’t allow for himself to dissolve into self-pity. He also loves to learn, and studying is the way he “figures” out something – whenever he runs into a problem, he tries to find out how he can “study” his way through it, and feels lost, if there’s no way to “study” his way out of a problem.

Supporting Character 1: Jolene, Michael’s mother – very cool lady – she’s unhappy with how quickly Michael is wanting to forget his Polish character, but because she believes Michael’s a smart kid, she lets him decide for himself. Also she’s overworked and dealing with her own assimialtion issues and a language gap.

Supporting Character 2: Irena, Michael’s grandmother – another supportive character for Michael – she spoils Michael and wants to make everything easier for him – Jolene doesn’t want that for Michael – she believes in the value of hard work, and thinks Michael will prevail.

Unusual Supporting Character: Terry, Jolene’s best friend from work – a concierge at her hotel, who moonlights as a drag queen – he will figure importantly later in the story.

Setting: Irena’s home, the school, Terry’s house, Paula’s house, Steven’s house, various outside locations.

Props: props aren’t that important, though the banana in the first scene is crucial, as is the Halloween costume in the Halloween episode, as well as Terry’s drag paraphanalia.

Time Period: the time period starts in 1986, and will end in contemporary times, 2010-2011.

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Book in a Month: Week 1: The Outline and Act I: Day 2

So day 2 was supposed to be yesterday, but because of quitting my job, interviewing for another and getting dinner ready (my own arros con pollo – recipe to follow), I wasn’t able to post my second day writing posting.

So in Schmidt’s book, Book in a Month, Day 2 is for Objectives. Day 1 was for the main conflict – as a helpful poster let me know, the conflict I included wasn’t enough, yet…

The jist of my book essentially is a Polish-version of The Joy Luck Club only without angst and tragedy. So I guess what I’m talking about is The Joy Luck Club  on laughing gas.

She includes a “scene card” with: characters, setting, mood/tone, scene objective. I wrote a couple chapters for a writing class in college – I’ll be expanding some of them and putting them into the book. A note is that a lot of these episodes actually happened. This should be the basis for the first chapter.

There is one change I’m making in the book from day 1 – the main character will be a kindergartner, not a 1st grader.

Scene 1
Characters: Irena, the grandmother, Michael, the protagonist, who is 5.
Setting: Irena’s kitchen. Irena is serving food to Michael – because he and his mom were poor in Poland, he’s never had certain foods, that Irena, living in the US for a good ten years, takes for granted. She tries to feed Michael a banana, which he’s never even seen or heard of. He doesn’t know how to eat the banana, so he tries to chomp through the peel, not understanding the proper way to eat a banana.
Mood/Tone: the mood/tone is chatty and humorous – though there is some pathos/poignance involved as well because the mistake he makes in eating the banana is because of his family’s poverty.
Scene objective: I want it to set the tone for the whole book – the story of Michael’s journey in the US is one step forward, but two steps back. He is game for trying new things, and wanting to participate in the new culture, but at the same time, because it’s all new to him, he can fumble – and this is true even at home.

Scene 2
Characters: Michael, Mrs Feldstein, 1st grade teacher, Paula, Steven and various kindergartners.
Setting: Mrs Feldstein’s classroom. It’s Michael’s first day at school – he’s never been in a classroom with English-speakers (or a classroom at all), and he only speaks Polish, so he’s having trouble. He sees the some of the other kids crying, but because he’s a bit clueless at what’s happening, he’s not scared, only bewildered. Mrs. Feldstein is very kind, but a bit nonplussed at what to do with him as he cannot speak a word of English. He does see Paula and Steven for the first time – they show little acts of kindness to him as they sense his feelings of confusion.
Mood/tone: the mood is a bit confusing and a bit scary – Michael’s thrown into a situation that’s completely foreign to him.
Scene Objective: to introduce the readers to the world that Michael lives in outside the comfort of his home with his mom and his grandmother.

Scene 3
Characters: Michael, various kindergarteners
Setting: the school cafeteria – Michael brings his lunch and he pulls out what his grandmother packed for him – including a banana, which he wisely peels. He then sees what people brought – very American lunches – PB&J sandwiches, Cheetos, Doritos, cheese and crackers, Capri Sun, etc; he has a very ethnic lunch of tongue sandwiches on black rye bread, a thermos of tea, and a baggie of hardboiled eggs. He gets a rise from the other students who find the lunch – and its strong smells reprehensible. Steve, who speaks a bit of Polish because of his grandpa, sits next to him with Paula and they gently try to teach him the ‘right’ kind of lunch to make. Paula even offers to write him a list.
Scene objective: to introduce Steve and Paula – two supporting characters, who will be important in the story – they will be Michael’s best friends.

Scene 4
Character: Michael, Paula, Steven
Setting: Michael’s first Halloween – the holiday is explained to Michael – he’s never heard of it, and has a trouble understanding it – he goes home and explains the holiday to his mom – because they are so late, his mother fashions a costume from her closet.
Mood/Tone: funny, humorous –
Scene ojbective: to show how “cool” Michael’s mom and be.

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Book in a Month: Week 1: The Outline and Act I: Day 1

So, on Day 1, Dr Schmidt instructs us to write a one-sentence summary of the book we want to write. So here goes:

“A Polish-American guy struggles with his Polish background and family while living and identifying as an American.”

Now that I have a one-sentence summary, I have to work on something called the “Story Idea Map.”

So the Main Story Idea: The main story is of a guy, Michael, who came to the US as a young child, and was raised by a single Polish woman. She raises Michael to be aware of his Polish background, however, Michael goes to school as a kid and wants to assimilate with his American peers – he has his grandmother who takes care of him, who has foibles and Polish idiosyncracies (i.e. very ethnic lunches that he has to take to school). Michael’s hoping that he’s accepted by his new American classmates and that he won’t be looked at as weird or different – very difficult for someone who’s mother speaks broken English.

The hook: His issues with trying to be American and bringing his American influences back home to his mom, who views all this with ambivalence and wariness.

Act 1 Turning Point: The turning point of Act 1 is Michael is invited to sleep-over with a bunch of kids, at the insistence of a well-meaning mom, and the differences make him such an outsider that he decides he’ll do what he can to become a real American.

The Stakes: the stakes are Michael’s feeling of acceptance and normalcy. Also at stake is his peer group’s acceptance of Michael.

Major Characters: Michael, the main character; Jolene, his mother; Irena, his grandmother; Mrs Feldstein, his 1st grade teacher who tries to welcome him; Paula, one of his best friends; Steven, his other best friend.

Minor Characters: There will be added friends of Jolene who will factor later into the story.

Setting: Michael’s apartment, the school, Irena’s house, Paula’s house, Steven’s house.

Props: Props -most notably when Michael brings his lunch to school and how different it looks from the American school lunches.

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