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Final Project for my Beginning Writers' Workshop

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“What is this place?” I asked my extraterrestrial Visitor.


The two of us gazed down on the expanse below. Through a combination of electrochemical and pheromone signals emanating from the Visitor, I was able to understand when it spoke to my mind: Look. The planet above which we hovered was swarming with shuffling creatures.


We call this the Null World, the Visitor said.


The beings upon it looked so familiar, although I didn’t know why. They were of various shapes and sizes - tall, short, spindly, round - yet based upon the same blank template. They ambled past each other heedlessly, either not knowing or caring that others were nearby. I noticed two things right away: they were hooked to at least one portable object, and parts of their faces were oddly misshapen.


Their noses are the first to atrophy, said the Visitor, followed by their ears. Their tongues, which were once so useful for the formation of words, now only help them to swallow. Their devices keep them alive.


“Devices?” I asked, feeling queasy. I didn’t want to know what they were, but some part of me already did.


“Maybe try and communicate with one of them,” I said. “Telepathically, like you’re doing with me.”


The Visitor widened its two black, gleaming eyes, until they morphed into one that spanned the bridge of its tubelike nose. I saw it focus upon one of the figures below, and the image grew ever clearer. The creature himself - a bald-headed male - was intensely focused upon the flat screen that he carried. Two seconds passed, then five, then ten. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck tingle as my galactic guide attempted to reach the creature’s mind. Apparently, this telepathy did not only affect its potential recipient.


Nevertheless, the male did not react. He simply moved on, leaning in closer to his beloved techwear.


The Visitor drooped its head: I said “Hello”. After hesitating, it let its one eye separate into two again.


We looked at the creatures once more. Despite all of their aimless shuffling, their fingers fluttered with manic purpose. They mashed and swiped their thumbs against screens that only they could see, and bobbed their heads to musical vibrations they could only sense - not hear. I shut my eyes tightly against the scene.


“What’s wrong with them?” I asked. “Why don’t they notice each other, or even themselves? Huh?”


They fear death, and seek to escape it by uploading as much information as they can through their technology. Unfortunately, what they’re actually doing is downloading themselves onto these devices. They want to live forever, and in pursuing such a goal, they die.


This paradox was too much to bear. I kept my eyes shut, shaking my head over and over. It couldn’t be.


It is, my companion replied, and that’s why I’ve come for you.


The Visitor soothed my mind, and the Null World - Earth - disappeared.

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As it turns out, machievelli, the teacher thought this piece sucked:


You’ve written a piece about how our electronic Internet gear can isolate us from each other and also result in a diminished life. You show this by using an extraterrestrial Visitor who takes the narrator to a planet where the creatures have lost contact with each other and have become blank templates. The Visitor offers a final reason for this near the end: In seeking eternal life through their devices, the creatures have lost themselves.


I have a couple of problems with this idea as a storyline. First I had to chuckle since there is a fine irony to using this as a theme when you are taking an online course that you have been such an active participant in. But more seriously, the message and basic idea here is a bit too predictable. As soon as you move from vague wording like creatures, template, portable object, and make it clear that these are humans (bald-headed male) using screens and keyboards, we get the message. Your thought is that electronics with Internet connections are bad for human beings. We spend too much time with our screens and not enough time doing other things like interacting face-to-face, smelling the roses, and listening to the birds. That means that half way through, we already know the ending, and it’s one we’ve heard before. While there is value in your message, it’s become a cliche. Your next step as a writer is to move beyond what is predictable and find a way to give us ideas that we cannot predict and haven’t already heard.


You write well! The language is your ally, and you have no trouble using it. You’re smart and educated. Because you have all these things going for you, I want to push you further. You need to take the next step and use an issue like the one you pose in your piece and examine it without resorting to the easy answers. There is good and bad in our fascination with electronic devices and connections. Your job as a creative writer is to push past what we expect and have heard to a new approach, a new idea, a new combination of all the parts of this issue.


I honor the creativity of using the Visitor and the phrase, Null World. You open up a world of possibilities with this position of telepathic overview and commentary. Now you need to take the next step and surprise us. Get us thinking in new ways. I’m sure you can do this.


I want to kick my computer all the way to Mars right now.

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