make it plagrsim free assigment of pefa arts and culture in canada about 8 to 10 pagesMy Flash Fiction Reading Process: A Journey
Through Mark Anthony Jarman’s Silver Mine
Hello dear PEFA students,
Thank you to you all for your thoughtful reflections on the Franklin
Carmichael painting, A Northern Silver Mine (1930). This is the first image
in our text, The Group of Seven Reimagined, if you don’t count the cover. It
is a beginning point for the series of twenty-one ekphrastic pairings of
paintings and short stories.
When I’m learning a new thing, I find it helpful to have a model or case
study to follow. Maybe some of you feel the same way. It’s possible that
many of you, particularly those with lots of literature study background,
might be able to leap right in and do a story analysis with the skills you
already have. But it can also be interesting to see different ways of
learning, so I’m going to share with you my step by step approach to Mark
Anthony Jarman’s story, Silver Mine, inspired by the Carmichael painting.
Get out your text and do a quick review of both the painting and the story
before you read on. Keep your text at hand, so you can follow along with
me. (If you text is still in transit, these pages were sent to you in PDF form
and I’ll attach them again to this week’s module.)
It was a good challenge for me to think deliberately about what I do when I
look at a piece of fiction. I’m inviting you into my thinking process here, in a
sort of slow-motion way. I’m saying: come on in, look over my shoulder
while I befriend this work of fictional art, inspired by a work of visual art.
Here are the steps I followed over a three-day period.
The first day I looked at the Carmichael painting, made some notes and
then read the Jarman story aloud, numbered the paragraphs, and made
some more notes. (Maybe 1½ hours total.)
The second day I reviewed and typed out details from my handwritten
notes and thought carefully about the paragraph-by-paragraph construction
of the story. That took about 5 hours, but they flew by, because I had
something to work from and I was engaged with the process.
I took another swipe at editing this on Sunday morning (1 hr). I’m a big fan
of working in stages. It is sad but true that you can return multiple times to
a working draft and still find things to fix. Embrace that process and give
yourself rewards. (I find that the Halloween candy now in stock at Costco
has been very helpful.)
Start by reviewing the painting.
I look at the lines and forms and colours, and the principles of repetition,
balance, juxtaposition, focal point, and embedded narrative. I’m going to
leave my notes as bullet points so you can see the sequence of my
thoughts. You all went to the next step by organizing your thoughts into a
full, cohesive paragraph for last week’s Reflection on the Carmichael
painting. To build a paragraph, I’d have to think about my sequence of
ideas and make some adjustments (What is the order of importance? What
is redundant?) to polish my response into a unified paragraph. I am
allowing myself to be a bit informal here, as if I’m talking to you in person. I
allow this level of informality and first-person voice in your work, too.
I was careful to do these notes before I read your Reflection Assignment
paragraphs (that’s Sunday’s marking work for me!) so I could be sure I
wasn’t cheating and using your great impressions.
There’s only one “first time” encounter with a work of art, when it’s just the
two of you, without the guiding energies of someone else’s interpretation.
So here I go, looking at Carmichael’s 1930 oil on canvas, A Northern
• Carmichael uses cool colours, with an uneven band of blue hills
in the foreground, a paler-blue river meandering through the
horizontal middle of the composition and a smooth hill in
shades of green, tilting to the right of the frame.
• A blue sky with radiating clouds in white creates a horizontal
band across the top of the frame, above the horizon.
• I see a lot of repeated triangle shapes in the pointy hills and
brown rectangular shapes in the little houses on the distant hill.
• For me, the dark tower that juts up in the lower centre is the
focal point, standing out with its brown-black hue and vertical
push upward. The cluster of other dark buildings nearby guide
my eye upward to the blue-roofed point of the tallest structure.
• Because I’ve seen the title of the work, I am guessing that
those dark towers are mine shafts and I’m looking at a place of
past (or present?) silver mining industry.
• The way they stand up is a bit scary and intrusive in the
landscape, but I’m not sure if my feelings are connected to the
colour or the shape of the mine shafts. Maybe both? Maybe it’s
the contrast of the perpendicular straightness of the tower,
versus the angled lines of the hills?
• I don’t see any people here. There is evidence of habitation,
and the houses scattered on the far hill look kind of cozy, but
the feeling I get is of great stillness.
The sky looks like a summer sky, but the cool colours below
chill the mood down.
• The upper band of clouds radiating out at the top of the painting
widens my view and feels like a spiritual lift-off point, as if I’m
opening into an even brighter sky beyond the frame of the
• A second focal point for me lies in the distant point on the
horizon on the left where two tributaries of a river meet and flow
into the distance. I like the pull of the perspective here and the
interesting motion created by the different hues of beige-brown
in the swirling water, repeating the colours in the foreground in
• The visual rhythm of the painting comes from the movement of
lines that seem to cross in diagonal patterns, tilting to the right.
• There is asymmetrical weighting here, with the green hill filling
the right of the frame, but it is balanced by the pull of the river to
the left, and the intriguing bright blue V of the distant horizon,
just around a curve in the river.
• What is the embedded narrative here? I’m thinking about where
my vantage point is: am I looking from high up on another hill?
This is sort of a god-like view that I am being given. I’m high
above the mine-shaft towers.
• Is this a place of active life still, but everyone is asleep? Or is
this a ghost town?
• The aesthetic beauty of the composition comes from the
remarkable layering of cool colours.
• The emotional power for me comes from the dark tower
(menace?) contrasting with the opening sky at the top
*Note that my experience of the painting is evolving while I write down my
notes. The questions are a vital part of the process. I want my experience
of the painting to “open up” at this stage; I don’t want to finalize anything.
I try to start with more objective observations about what I see optically and
then move into more psychological and personal territory, allowing the
movement of my eye around the painting to guide me. I let my mind play
with the thoughts and feelings that drift by, trying not to cancel or edit my
The next step here is to read the story out loud.
Because this is flash fiction (under 500 words) there is time for this! I am
attaching a sound file to this week’s work.
I feel the story differently by saying the words aloud. I’m not worried about
understanding it in any conclusive way; at this point, I’m feeling how the
words sound coming from my mouth. What are the speech rhythms like?
I do a lot of reading aloud these days to wee children, so I’m used to doing
this. If reading aloud is a new thing for you, it may help to imagine you are
a radio announcer doing a CBC radio fiction show. And you’re famous for
your excellent, mesmerizing voice! If it feels totally weird to read it to
yourself, then phone (or Skype or WhatsApp) someone and say that you
need them to be your audience.
Those of you who have family back home in other countries: your family
might be very interested in supplying you with “audience” energy and
helping you with your studies from a distance.
After reading the Jarman story aloud, these are my notes:
• The present tense voice makes this feel urgent.
• There are two times (past and present) that are being
• The narrator is in a plane. I don’t know why he’s in that
• I say” he” – why? Is that an assumption rooted in historical
ideas about mining and warfare: maybe showing my cultural
and gender bias?
• I’m not sure when this story is happening.
• The “urgent” feeling I get while I read it aloud is connected to
the tragic death of a brother and other men, maybe in the same
accident or in several accidents over a period of time.
• There is another “urgent” feeling connected to the woman
actively giving birth in the flying floatplane. In the middle of the
story, I’m not sure if the baby is going to live or die.
• Jarman uses pronouns that don’t embrace the idea of a fully
developed human. He says, “that one” and “it” and never
shares the sex of the baby.
• There’s another voice in the story: the voice of the pilot. When I
come on his line, near the top of page 11, I instinctively make a
new character voice for him when I read it aloud, just me
hanging out in my living room, no one listening but me to
myself. The dramatic impulse to make characters sound unique
is a strong one. It’s called the mimetic impulse.
• As I’m reading aloud, I am seeing many different images in my
imagination. Some of them feel sad, some feel exciting, and
some feel very unexpected and sort of shocking.
• I ask myself, to whom is this narrator telling his story? Is it to
himself, as he processes this lived experience?
• There are people with cameras that seem to come into the
narrator’s mind a couple of times but those feel like a flashback
to another time. The people holding the cameras are not fully
• The rhythms of speech seem to lap like waves of water, with
sentences slowed down sometimes with commas.
• Short sentences (and short paragraphs) act as pivot points in
• There is lots of figurative language: many similes and
• Some images stand out to me that seem very surprising in this
context: “pale elephant scraped down to white fat and bone,”
“blueberry yogurt,” “horse with a wet colt.”
• The phrase, “they were one thing and became another” is like a
musical refrain in the story. It is said twice: once about the dead
miners (including the narrator’s brother) and once about the
baby born in flight.
• When I say the final line of the story aloud, I feel a bit choked
up with emotion: “Two sides to each twisting valley and I drift in
slumber knowing I was a horse with a wet colt and I dried the
fluid while the company wiped green hillsides clean.” It’s a
weird sentence: not grammatically correct, fragmented by the
opening image of the twisting valley’s two sides, and then
shifting into present tense “slumber”. Is the narrator dozing midflight or dreaming later that night? Note the absence of
punctuation: that the images pile up on each other one after
another, linked by “and” without any break. This seems to fit the
• Jarman uses past tense for “dried the fluid” (he wiped the blood
and mucus off the born child) and then uses past tense again
as the company (that must mean the Mining Company?) “wiped
green hillsides clean.” Some of the positive energy of the saved
child gets transferred to the landscape. This is an unexpected
shift. Maybe Jarman is challenging the binary of good/bad,
life/death? Suggesting that it all is related? Not sure about this.
• Random thought. Maybe my emotional connection comes from
thinking what it would be like to have helped a child be born in a
• This story feels like it is about the narrator, the pilot (barely) and
the emerging baby, and equally about the ghosts of the dead,
buried miners below.
• How odd that the mother giving birth has such little active
presence in the story! She is the “expectant mother” who
“radioed in to be picked up” but (surprisingly) the writer doesn’t
narrate the actual stages of birth, or give us any images of the
mother beyond her “rippling contractions” and “broken water.”
Nor does he let us hear her voice. This is intriguing. It’s not a
flaw in the story, just a particular choice – and my next thought
is…why did Jarman do that? What is the impact of that choice?
• We also don’t know if it’s a girl or boy baby. Some human
presences stay in a mysterious limbo space: both the ones
buried in the ground of the mine shafts and the new babe in the
• Another writer might have made this all about the birth: think of
episodes of adventure/rescue/ medical television shows!
Instead, Jarman’s story distances us from the obvious points of
human drama and focuses the story on other images: the
imaginary zone of a horse and new-born colt, and the memory
of a mining disaster charged with personal loss.
• This kind of compression is a hallmark of flash fiction, making
selective slices of reality stack up against each other like lines
in a poem. There is less room for transitions, and more delight
Now it’s time for close analysis with pen on paper.
I do this from long-time habit and because I feel physically connected to my
thoughts that way. It feels loose and sketchy and fun to do it this way,
maybe the way math-experts whip through Sudoku puzzles, or the way
crossword puzzle-solvers feel the excitement of the mental process.
I’m attaching a copy of my rough notes so you can see what they look like.
Scratchy and personal, right? Just for me. I feel a bit exposed sharing them
with you, but I want you to see that a response to a work of art goes in
stages. I’m charting my journey through the story, making friends with it.
I number the paragraphs in the story. I break the story into sections by
paragraph, to see how it’s built: taking it apart to put it back together.
Whenever there is a new indentation, that’s a new paragraph, even if it’s
just a one-sentence one. There are 10 paragraphs in total. Because this is
a “beautiful” book, I can’t bring myself to mark it up with pen – but I DO
number the paragraphs with pencil, knowing I can erase those marks later.
(I could also scan these two pages and print them out so I could scribble on
a separate copy of the text.)
When you number the paragraphs, you see structural patterns: for
example, I see how the two paragraphs (para 4 and para 5, describing the
birth of the baby, are shorter than any of the other paragraphs on that
page. Note also how the one-line paragraph (para 7 on page 11) stands out
by itself with lots of white space around it?
Anything that breaks up a pattern creates emphasis. The white space
makes the reading-mind stop for a second, giving the image time to “land”
or register. There is a visual part to the reading experience that is about
positive and negative space on the page.
When I write my notes on paper, I’m trying to chart shifts in mood and
image. I’m also trying to be attentive to patterns and find a narrative line.
Each paragraph is a separate unit, advancing the experience of the
Para 1. Establishes point of view from the air. There is “rising energy” from
the float plane going up, opposed by the image of the men “going down in a
rusty cage.” I see a tension in this dialectic of up and down: two opposing
forces, juxtaposed together.
There are little cognitive bumps in this first paragraph for me: the repeated
7’s at the beginning of a sentence, the word “ochre,” the French phrase
“mal de terre” (bad earth?) confuse me for a moment.
I’m also puzzled by the reference to a dead brother followed by the plural
“they” in “they were one thing and became another.” How many people
have died? Was it all at the same time?
These questions resolve in the denseness of this whopper of a sentence:
“Trapped in the crooked halls of slopes and drifts, they were one thing and
became another, pinned to the face, no resurrection from a rock burst, a
choke slinger, a percussion drill.”
Wow. Lots to unpack there. I feel the accumulated loss! And the echo of
the drama of accidents, and then the sadness of “trapped” “pinned to the
face” and “no resurrection” making it feel like this is unresolved trauma and
grief. I like how the three different kinds of accident are linked by the
phrases at the end of the sentence. I’m starting to think that the loss of the
brother (unnamed) is one of many losses. There is the Shadow of Death
below in the valley.
Para 2. This one seems to take aim against capitalism and greed. Words
like “rich,” “sparkling,” “love,” all have positive connotations (ideas) that are
slammed by the next round of destructive words: “denude,” “vanishing,”
“drained,” “ closed,” “erased,” “ denuded,” “ flensed,” “stripped,” “scraped
down.” I think I know what “flensed” means but I look it up anyways: it is
“strip (skin or fat) from a carcass” (Oxford dictionary). Yuck.
The paragraph closes with a short sentence: “Then the veins were easy”
which makes me think that we are talking about mining the veins of silver in
the hill, but part of my mind is still stuck on the “pale elephant scraped
down to white fat and bone.” It’s hard to feel neutral about mining, when
that metaphor of the hill as a flensed elephant is sitting there, larger than
Para 3. Now I remember I’m in a floatplane with the narrator. Wow, this is
quite the creepy paragraph. Within two layered sentences, we view the sky
in a way that links it to bacon lard (fat again, like the fat stripped away from
the elephant hills?), we think of the clouds as “ghostly fingers stretching
into heavens” (remember my thought on those clouds from looking at the
Carmichael painting?) and we learn (shocker!) that a birth is in process.
Images focus on wetness: “wet new passenger” and “woman’s water has
broken.” The baby “seeks escape” and is “a child climbing to us.” This
reminds me of the up/down tension again and echoes the image of the
miners locked in the ‘bad earth,” unable to escape.
Jarman is repeatedly juxtaposing two things: birth and death. There also is
now some new energy around the idea of a birth channel that is both in the
mother and in the mine. This paragraph has a lot of visceral imagery: blood
and guts and sinews. It is “of the body.”
Para 4. This is a one-sentence paragraph, narrating the birth of a child, but
in a way that seems deathly (“purple,” “as from a mine,” limbs not moving,”
“not breathing,”) — wow, lots of negative energy here. Then the weird twist
of the “blueberry yogurt.” It takes me a second to connect that to the
visceral fluids of birth. It’s an oddly upbeat image, maybe because I like
yogurt? But also, yucky, right? And worrying, since it doesn’t look good for
Para 5. The next uttered sentence confirms my worst worries, then is
quickly reversed by descriptions of actions: the child’s throat opening, the
wrapping of the child in a spare white t-shirt, the reference to what a horse
with a colt would do. I’m puzzled by the shift to the mine again in the last
sentence of the paragraph: why is this here? This is an abrupt shift, as
though I am following the stream of consciousness of the narrator, while he
is actively helping the baby. His thought of the licking tongue of the horse
(mouth) links to the “mouth” of the mine, where reporters (my guess) waited
in vain for news of rescued miners. That’s jumping back to the worries of
the past and the dead brother. The oddness of this shift also seems true to
me: in mid-crisis, my mind sometimes flies around to other images, even
while my body is focused on urgent tasks.
Para 6. A new shift here. This is an expository (giving background
information) kind of paragraph. Now we are told stuff that helps us put the
pieces together. This plane has come deliberately to “extract” (a mining
term) the mother who is in an emergency medical situation.
I wonder for a moment if the narrator is a doctor? Why else would he be in
Just as we had 7 and 7 in paragraph 1, we have 1000 and 1000 repeated,
referring to the rains and the lakes. It makes it seem like a magic spell.
Then we have a reminder of the action at hand, the wiping away of “strange
yogurt.” This is followed by the second statement of metamorphosis, of
something turning into something else. (It was one thing and became
another.) This time, it’s a positive spin on the idea, since the baby seemed
lifeless, and now is OK. It was a fetus inside the mother, and now is a little
colt-like living being. Yeah! That’s hopeful!
Para 7. One line, spoken. In the voice of the narrator. He expresses some
of the victory feeling of the last paragraph. He speaks for me!
Para 8. Now we have dialogue, and the first spoken words by the pilot, who
says this is not the first time this has happened. He puts the miracle into
the context of other rescues, other miracles. He does it in a way with
numbers: “Real rare to take off with six and land with seven.” Jarman
seems to like numbers.
Para 9. Another backstory, expository sentence. It’s short and to the point,
highlighting a difference in two stories, the brother dead in the mine below,
and the narrator’s history at war. Two different paths.
The next sentence: “At a pier, cameras wait” confuses me for a moment.
Am I back in the moment of the reporters waiting for survivors from the
mine accident or is this NOW, and there are reporters waiting to take
pictures of the new-born child? I don’t know the answer.
The present tense makes me think this is NOW. The last sentence of the
paragraph narrates action: the gentle landing of the plane, the “favourite
part” of the narrator. Does this help confirm that he flies a lot? That he may
be an emergency doctor?
Para 10. Closing in on the end of this piece. How is Jarman going to put
these pieces together? The first sentence is descriptive, but in a way that
brings religion into the language: “hoist towers rise like wooden temples.”
There is refreshing energy in the reference to a the “fountain” at the centre
of the earth.
I love the surprise of the next sentence, with its anatomical energy: “The
two-sided brain translates, celebrates.” This makes me think again of the
brain, and psychological process, and maybe spiritual process, too. The left
brain is logical, the right brain, creative. We humans use both parts, and we
make many fast transitions unconsciously.
Finally, we are here again with that stretched-out, dreamy sentence that
evokes the landscape, the process of sleep, the action of horse licking a
newborn colt to life, the narrator’s action of cleaning off the new body and
the final image of the green hillsides also “wiped…clean.”
Now having gone through this step-by-step dance, I’m feeling that this is an
uplifting closing image, somehow reconciling the death energy of the
history of the mine (denuded landscape, trapped miners) with the
successful “extraction” of the little baby.
How do I put all these pieces together?
Is Jarman saying, in an original new way, that life and death co-exist? That
the miracle of a birth also can have dark echoes of death because the act
of birth is precarious, and yet that makes it even more wondrous?
Another thematic angle is this: a landscape can hold both the energy of the
past and the present simultaneously. There is dynamic tension here. Life is
a powerful force: the horse licking the new-born colt and the narrator wiping
the new-born child each act instinctively.
I think some more about who this narrator is, and I reject my hypothesis
that he is a doctor, because his words to the pilot, “This must be a first”
sound like they come from someone who is new to this experience, not a
seasoned, well-trained expert. I think this man was born here in the valley
and instead of working (and dying?) in the mine like his brother, he went
away to war. And now he is back home. With his memories and the “blueberry yogurt” on his hands.
I don’t know which war, so I still am not sure about the time frame for the
story, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Ultimately, I don’t know why he is in
the plane either. Those are mysteries I just must sit with. But his
receptiveness to all the immediate, powerful energy of his experience is
what sticks with me. He sees the landscape in a very charged, dynamic
In minor-key counterpoint to the “celebration” energy in the story, I feel a
point of sympathetic connection to the narrator’s grief for his lost brother. I
also feel some grief for the environment, for this natural landscape ravished
by capitalist greed.
The celebration of the victory of this saved little life feels earned. I think for
a minute what this experience would feel like: if I was the one up in the
plane, if I had to be the one assisting a mid-air birth, would I be up to it? I
have a little buzz of adrenaline from vicariously experiencing this story. As
a woman who has had babies, I also think of what that would have been
like for the shadowy mother figure. She haunts me a bit. I want to know her
“It was one thing and became another” is a powerful and resonant line. It
Time to look again at the Carmichael painting.
This last step rounds out the experience and tests the psychological impact
of the ekphrastic pairing. When I go back to the original Carmichael
painting, I am now carrying the weight of the Jarman story, which imposes
itself on my reading of the artwork.
I remember my first thoughts about the point of view being high up, and
now that idea fits with the possibility of the view from a floatplane. My early
thoughts of this being an abandoned ghost town, maybe don’t fit anymore,
unless I focus on the idea of the ghostly dead miners below those blue,
I remember the feeling of menace I had in association with the dark central
tower. It’s not the upward motion that is significant now, but the idea of
what lies below the earth. It is a marker of death.
Last of all, the clouds in the upper band seem fully inhabited by the idea of
the “fingers stretching into heavens” and have a spiritual dimension for me
that aligns with the relief energy of a risky birth, a new soul launched into
the natural world.
Jarman’s narrative is not the only way to read the Carmichael painting.
Another writer would take us on another, totally different kind of journey.
Yet I feel a connection now to the painting that invests it with new energy.
I am changed by seeing these two works together, the painting and the
story in partnership. Some of my thoughts are going to simmer on when I
talk about this process with family, take a walk later today, or drift off to
Thanks for sharing this journey with me.
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