Ria Spark's Grumblings and Musings
Essay Response 8
Oct. 23, 2006
Response: “On Writing Zion” by Maureen Stanton
I thought that this essay had good flow to it.
Unlike her “Zion” piece, which was a creative nonfiction
piece, “On Writing Zion” was more like an essay.
Nonetheless, Stanton kept the piece interesting and it
transitioned well. I liked her use of the foreign
language metaphor (pg. 489) to describe how the Stonecoast
workshop affected her. It painted a clear picture in my
mind on how she must have felt suddenly understanding
something that was a mystery to her before. Three things
she mentioned in her essay stuck out to me. First, she
said that her “mind is constantly tugged back to [her
writing] subject whenever it is not engaged,” and this
happens especially when she is trying to sleep. This
experience is exactly what I go. I’ll get my best writing
ideas while I’m lying in bed, and often I’ll sculpt out a
whole story in my mind. The only problem is that I’m
usually too lazy to then get out of bed and then write it
down. Second, in writing “Zion,” she experiments with
different types of tenses to see if the piece benefits
from being written in the past or in the present tense.
When I write a piece, I will write in the tense that first
comes to mind when I start writing and will never really
question whether the piece would be better written in
another tense. This is something I will keep in mind in
the future. And thirdly, in writing “Zion,” Stanton says
that coming back to the piece a decade later and swimming
through dozens of rewrites over the years benefited the
piece in many ways. Most especially, she observes
that “some passages are verbatim from the original draft.
But the difference lies in telling phrases, observations,
and reflections, which give the narrative facts a
luminescence that only distance and learning can yield.”
My dad tells me that the summer of 1959 stands out
far clearer in his childhood memory than any other. That
was the summer of Joe, the spider monkey from hell. Joe
was a pet that my dad’s older brother Eric bought from the
shifty neighbors on the corner. He was jet black, with
glassy blue eyes and a fang-filled smirk. He was also
extremely smart and, according to my dad, would play
cunning games to try to lure peoples’ body parts into that
fang-filled mouth. My dad and the neighborhood kids were
all terrified of Joe; heck, even Eric, who was responsible
for the monkey, was somewhat scared of him. When not in
his cage, Joe was kept on a 10-foot leash tied to a stake
in the backyard.
One day that summer my dad, eight years old at the
time, was playing a massive game of tag with fifteen or so
of the neighborhood kids. Deciding to hide in his
backyard, my dad slipped through the fence and raced
behind the house. Meanwhile, Joe was on his stake. Well,
at least Joe was supposed to be on his stake. That day
there was only a stake and a gnawed rope. Horrified and
repeating the ominous words, “Joe’s on the loose,” over
and over again, my dad quickly scrambled himself into the
protection of the house. Suddenly he started hearing
screams from outside. Racing to the front door, he peered
through the screen and witnessed a scene he tells me he’ll
never forget in all of its perverse hilarity and horror.
Joe, completely agitated by discovering too many
people to munch on, was frantically chasing the tag-game
kids but never really succeeding in getting anyone because
he couldn’t choose a favorite target. Meanwhile, everyone
was running around left and right, screaming, jumping over
fences and trying to climb trees to escape the rampaging
monkey and its snapping jaws. Some kids were asking where
Eric was and telling others to go find him so that he
could get his evil monkey. But this turned out to be
actually pointless, since Eric himself was hiding two
doors down behind a screen door also.
Meanwhile amidst all this scramble and chaos,
eleven-year-old Bobby Haran from across the street, a
plump and gentle boy, a true animal-lover to the core,
came out from behind his books in his house to see what
all the commotion was about. Walking outside, he saw Joe
in the street and immediately tried to get the monkey to
come to him. “Come here, Joe, come on, it’s all right,”
he coaxed. “That’s a good boy,” he said, as Joe
cautiously walked up to him. Bobby grabbed him up and
hugged him, petting his back and murmuring gentle words in
his ear to calm him down.
Bobby’s words and caresses seemed to do the trick
because Joe became motionless and appeared tranquil in
Bobby’s arms. And the monkey’s sudden stillness seemed to
calm everyone else down too. The kids watched with awe as
Bobby walked with Joe across the street back to my dad’s
But remember when I said Joe liked playing games?
Suddenly my dad saw Joe swish his head around and sink his
fangs into Bobby’s cheek.
Now, what’s the first thing anyone would do when
faced with sudden pain from a surprise attack of the thing
in one’s arms? Why, just let go and get that thing away
from you, pronto. And that’s exactly what Bobby did.
Only, Joe apparently wasn’t done tasting Haran meat, and
so clung on to Bobby’s face even harder. Thus, Joe was
left dangling from Bobby’s cheek solely by his fangs, and
the horrifying sight of blood and a cheek-hanging monkey
sent everyone running and screaming again like lunatics.
Finally, finally, Joe unhooked his fangs and dropped to
the ground. While Bobby held his soaking face and cowered
on the ground, Joe licked his red mouth and turned to face
the neighborhood at large, carousing with his mischievous
eye for new cheeks on which to take a bloody swing.