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Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021

Thank you so much (for both your kind words and your constructive criticism)!

The point was intended to be about pollution and I appreciate you pointing out that it wasn't strong/clear enough-- that's something I want to work on. In the same vein, the narrator's intention with the garbage fished out of the creek would be to throw it out so it isn't litter, but I agree I don't really make that clear, especially since they call it "treasures" and say that they don't see it as unnatural. This is one of a few pieces that I've written inspired by various Superfund sites in New Jersey. The specific one in question,, is not as serious as some of the other ones I've written about on the Passaic River, or the American Cyanamid site (here are some cool photos) near where I grew up. It was both a major fear and inspiration to me as a kid.

I also really like all the suggestions you made about the oak, both avoiding the "I characterized him" and making sure that I continue to use "he" and not "it". That and the gimmick of the chemical names not being necessary throughout the whole piece-- I was on and off about that myself, whether I should keep them in just that one paragraph or leave them in the whole piece, but now that I have a second opinion it makes sense to take the extras out.

Will make changes based on this and consider the ideas you describe here in my future writing-- I appreciate you taking the time to write this. :)

Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021

Hello! My name is Cal. I've been a Slate Star Codex reader for years and read LessWrong occasionally, but just made an account for the first time today.

I would love some advice on improving my fiction writing. Writing short-form fiction has been a major hobby of mine for my entire life (really, starting at age 7 or 8), but I don't think I'm particularly good at it, I just enjoy it a lot and enjoy reading other amateurs' fiction as well. I've never tried to get anything published anywhere as I don't think it's at that level of quality.

Here is the smallest one of my stories. I would be incredibly appreciative of constructive criticism.

“Drainage ditch” is too vulgar a term for the narrow creek that ran through the fenced off little park twenty yards behind the last condo before we left.

It was good to be near it. I think all running water is like that, even that small amount of it-- at the narrowest part a child could jump across, and I did, when I was eight or nine and we lived another few streets down from the place.

My grandma called it a “babbling brook.” This is still how I think of it: the water running fast enough at the narrow parts that it made the pleasant sound you can hear recorded on relaxation CDs buried in the bottom of a box in your storage closet.

Where the stream widened at the end of the park, though, it pooled shallow and near-stagnant among a patch of cattails and other wet reedy plants. There was always garbage in the water. I never thought of it as dirty, only invasive. It was just as much a part of the environment as the fauna: here was the forsythia (Forsythia suspensa), and the juniper trees (Juniperus virginiana), and here the empty half-liter soda bottle (polyethylene terephthalate).

And that time I ran back to what I knew as home, along the sidewalk that flanked Blue Spring and then the asphalt, and cut through the grassy hill behind the townhouses to get to the one that was mine. (The back door would have been closer, but we did not use that door.)

The beads of granular lawn herbicide (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, 3,6-dichloro-2-methoxybenzoic acid) embedded in the soles of my shoes meant that I was to leave them outside today on the porch.

In my sock feet I went inside only to get a Shoprite bag (HDPE) to stuff in my pocket to bring back with me, and back on the porch I put my shoes on one at a time without untying them.

The stick that I used to fish the empty cigarette box (LDPE and paper) from the water had only recently snapped from the pin oak (Quercus palustris) that stood tall above this park. The park he now stood in, of course, was neither public nor more than an acre and a half; he judged that harshly.

I characterized him alternately as watching over the goings-on in this neighborhood with a silent protectiveness and as too old and tired to see the scrubby pines and patches of clover as anything but pathetically little consolation for what used to be here. 

He had been here before they had put these houses up, I was sure of it. The townhome I lived in as a child was built in 2001. The last one I lived in before I left the state was built in 1992, and failing in dozens of small insidious ways that pooled in the sump much faster than the pathetic battery backups (lead dioxide, sulfuric acid) stacked in the basement closet could handle. Security theater was unconvincing to the driving weight of the water. 

The pin oak, which I would guess had stood there since the 1960s, would stand for fifty years more unless someone came to destroy it. He did watch, I knew, as the condos in the long gray buildings across the street settled down to piecemeal destroy themselves.

I took the cigarette box in my ungloved hand from the end of my fishing-stick and put them in the bag and then I did not think about what my mother’s reaction might be. I often thought of it before I did things; that day I did not.

And hence I filled the bag with invasive treasures: three-quarters of a faded water bottle label (polypropylene), an empty chip bag (oriented polypropylene), a small chunk of styrofoam (polystyrene). 

I pulled the bag into a tight knot at the top, and down from my small fingertips to my elbow ran the freed little rivulet of water (water, trichloroethylene, 1,1-dichloroethene).