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piano man and the king of the world (pt.2)

by Hattable


A month ago, I hiked to the top of a rocky overlook in the Utah desert with some of my closest friends, in search of a prime stargazing spot. We arrived at the base of the hike well before sunset, planning to avoid a nighttime run-in with the spiky green cacti and steep cliffsides we'd grown accustomed to encountering in the region. It wasn't a long hike, but the countless natural stairs and twists up to our destination, on top of our fatigue from the day's previous hikes, made us feel like we'd just tackled our longest adventure yet. Dust kicked up beneath our feet as we climbed and lizards skittered to the safe confines of anywhere-but-near-us. Eventually, we crested the final hump of rock and looked out on the canyon below. The sun was setting by now, just in time for our arrival. We threw off our hiking bags, cracked out some trail mix and water, and prepared to reap the rewards of our journey.

As the sun drifted lazily behind the surrounding mountaintops, the light blue daytime sky melted into a sea of orange and pink. Gradually, darker hues of red and indigo crept in, before, ultimately, black. Pinpricks of white broke through the fresh blanket of darkness; distant stars and constellations twinkling to life above us. It was a view unattainable in the city sky we'd left behind, and every bit worth the trek to see. One of my friends pulled out his phone and put on Billy Joel's Piano Man, and the six of us watched the ocean of stars above, the music and our own voices echoing off the canyon walls around us. And there, I was home.

My friends and I had been on lots of trips together, and we have many more planned for the future, but something about this particular moment in time was unique. Maybe it was the feeling that, on top of that mountain and enveloped in darkness, we were the only people in the entire world. You could almost imagine there wasn't any more world beyond our mountaintop, that it was all void above and below, and at the center of the universe was our little group, laughing and joking and enjoying each others' company. People often reference “shouting into the void”, and up there we actually could.

I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD!

The voice rang out suddenly from off to our right, atop a separate mountain, shattering the atmosphere of tranquility and solitude for a moment.

“YES YOU ARE!” my friend Chris shouted back encouragingly.

I guess it's okay to share our slice of the void.

No one else out in the dark had any further declarations to offer, and the void was ours once more. The chattering picked back up, and the song had long ended. I tuned out the conversations for the most part, but the general gist was something like Rithy and Jose discussing girls, Erik and Luis talking about work, and Chris and I just watching the sky. Overhead, shooting stars zipped from one end of the sky to another in the blink of an eye. Growing up, I'd always thought shooting stars were incredibly rare, but I can't count how many we saw on that trip.

“So, anyone have any ghost stories to share?” Rithy asked after maybe the hundredth shooting star had come and gone.

“Aw, yeah, have you guys heard the one about--?”

“Nope, nope. We're not doing that up here!” I interrupted before Chris could even start.

Rithy's laugh echoed through the canyon below.

“Shut up, Jon, no one asked you,” Chris said, tossing his backpack at me.

I actually agree with Jon,” Erik, Chris's brother, chimed in.

“Okay, then. No stories. Sorry, Rithy.”

“Man, you guys are no fun,” Rithy said, waving a hand exasperatedly. “It is getting pretty dark, though,” he added after looking around.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “we should probably get outta here soon.”

Although we had an endless supply of stars above us, the main player was a thin crescent on the horizon that night and contributing almost nothing to the light situation.

It took a few moments before everyone else was up and ready to go, but soon enough the gang had strapped back on their backpacks, flipped on what few lights we had, and the trek back to camp began.

“So, uh, which way did we come from?”

“I think we came from that way,” I pointed off in one direction, “but-- oh, yeah, I took a different path, huh.”

“It's alright, I got it,” Rithy stepped ahead, pulled out his knife, and marched off into the dark, his headlamp bobbing with every step.

The rest of us fell in line; Luis with neither knife nor light, me with the weakest flashlight of the group, Jose behind with a small pocket knife, and Chris and Erik taking up the back, one knife and one light between them. Although we'd agreed no ghost stories, the hypothetical nightmare scenarios started up almost the moment we started walking, and there was no stopping them.

“What if we turn around and there's a seventh dude with us?”

“What if we shine the light on the ground and there's a puddle of blood?”

“What if we get back to the road and the car is gone?”

“Bro, what if we get back to the car and find ourselves dead in it?”

Rithy suddenly shouted out from the head of the party and my blood went cold for a second.

“What's wrong?” Luis asked, coming up right behind him.

“There was a goddamn TARANTULA. It ran over my foot and crawled into that hole! Oh my god,” he said, clutching his chest.”

Laughter rippled through the group from everyone but Rithy, and we continued on. Before long we reached the car again and all piled in, conversation about Goatman and Bigfoot and other cryptids now far less frightening.

The drive back to camp was uneventful for the most part, filled with conversation about movies and tarantulas and the sick deer we'd seen wandering around our camp the last couple of days. Just whatever random topic came to anyone's mind could be thrown out and a whole conversation would unravel from it. And that, in a way, is also home. I said that my friends and I had been on trips together before, and while that's true, it was never this combination of friends. In fact, this was the first time a good chunk of us had ever hung out together outside of work. And yet there were no clashing personalities, everyone got along perfectly. It felt like we'd all known each other for years. Like the six of us, in this old Jeep flying down the winding road back to camp, who could make conversation out of anything and work together to climb down a mountain at midnight and appreciate the night sky in silence, belonged together.

And that's home.

*

A/N: I pulled an all-nighter to finish this before class at 10:15AM (I work overnight and knew that if I fell asleep I wouldn't wake up in time to write it before class) and I got it submitted by 7:35AM, but then I fell asleep and slept through class like an idiot. We were supposed to be doing peer reviews during class, but since I missed it, I didn't receive any feedback, sooo posting this here pls help my final draft is due Monday. Also sorry for any spelling errors or anything of that nature - when I write sleep deprived I tend to think my writing is totally fine and then later read it and it's just riddled with mistakes. Hopefully this isn't that bad - haven't proofread it yet because I've gotta get going to work soon. Just never ends huh.


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Sat Sep 18, 2021 4:57 pm
SpiritedWolfe wrote a review...



Hi again, Hatt! Sorry for the delay, but I wanted to get this review to your before your revisions were due ^^

I'm actually a bit surprised at the direction you ended up taking this piece. There was a little bit less emphasis on that moment watching the stars and more on the dynamic of your friends, which I actually think speaks more to the point you're trying to make. It's actually a really nice contrast between the first part of the whimsical, picturesque moment under the stars, and then the descend back to reality (literally), which showed the dynamic between you and your friends.

Although, I do agree with Que's point about the song in the beginning. There's a lot of set up for getting to the top of the mountain, watching the sky, and having this music playing in the background. It's even in the title! But what exactly is the purpose of the song? While I'm sure that most people are familiar with the song and its general idea, maybe incorporating it a little bit more, like maybe some meaningful lyrics, some emotions it provoked, would be helpful to emphasize its importance? Like Que said, it's in the title after all! But I did like the moment of hearing someone else calling out over the mountains, because it was a nice comedic moment, but also helps you transition into the actual focus of your essay, the people.

I think Que also covered most of the flow/editing comments, because most of what I would've said, she also covered. I did want to reiterate that I think the flow of this piece is still great, since it's clearly written in your voice. It comes across conversational and personal, which does well to get us to understand why this feels like "home". It's comfortable and casual ^^

“Man, you guys are no fun,” Rithy said, waving a hand exasperatedly. “It is getting pretty dark, though,” he added after looking around.


A quick suggestion, though, is that this feels like a kind of fast transition. I did enjoy the fast pace back and forth of the dialogue before this, since it emphasizes your later point that you all mesh well together, but it felt like it moved on a little too fast? My suggestion might be to frame this like a snippet, something that happens in the middle of the stargazing, like there are the two contrasting worlds of nature and your friends and they blend well together, if that makes sense. And then after another second or two, then you all collectively decide to walk back? Rather than just an abrupt, "well, my suggestion didn't work, let's go back" type of feeling? I don't know if this makes sense, so feel free to ask for clarification haha.

If you're still looking for another piece to add too, it feels like the second half (outside of the concluding paragraph), focuses a lot on the group and its dynamic. This is totally valid since it's the center of the piece, but it also feels like you, as the narrator, fade to the background a bit. I think the piece might also benefit from adding a little bit more emotion, or emotional language during the action instead of retrospectively. Like, do you chime in with your own "nightmare scenario", spurred on by the energy of others? Do you laugh a little bit louder at the tarantula than you normally would have? Do your limbs feel heavy from sleep, but you're carried on by the footsteps of your friends in front of you? Maybe just a few more personal details to keep us connected to you, so that when you introspect at the end, it transitions a bit smoother.

Sorry if this was a bit all over the place, haha. But do let me know if you have questions or would like clarification!

Happy writing ^^
~ Wolfe




Hattable says...


Heya, Wolfe! Thanks for getting around to this. I've still got a day and a half so plenty of time! Gonna actually print out what I have so I can go over it and annotate or whatever during downtime at work today lol

As I mentioned to Que about the song being in the title, it really has no purpose, I just kinda threw a title out there and I might give it an entirely new one altogether, but I agree with your guys' points about the song needing a bit more presence if it's to be mentioned at all. I'll try and see what I can do about that.

I think I kind of get what you mean in the bit about how we quickly decide to go back? I think I made it so fast because 1) tired but 2) I felt like I was lingering on the interaction too much and that it was veering from the essay prompt a little. I've still yet to proofread it myself so I'm sure it'll be an easy fix when I actually read through it, though.

Also great note on theee me fading into the background! I hadn't noticed that when I was writing. I'll see what I can do. I definitely had some of my own "nightmare scenarios" so I might emphasize one of them as being mine (I think the goatman or "we turn and there's a seventh dude" were mine actually, lol)

I'll have to listen to the song again and see if any lyrics stand out as having some sort of connection to the piece overall. It was mainly included just because it was actually turned on, but uhhh yee - if you have any suggestions lmk??

Thanks again for all the help with this essay thus far! If the final draft is much different from this, I might post it as well!

- Hatt



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Thu Sep 16, 2021 10:13 pm
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Que wrote a review...



Hey Hatt!

It's been a while, but I really wanted to review your piece today. I'm not sure what you're most looking for feedback on before you turn it in, but hopefully this helps in some way.

A month ago, I hiked to the top of a rocky overlook in the Utah desert with some of my closest friends, in search of a prime stargazing spot. We arrived at the base of the hike well before sunset, planning to avoid a nighttime run-in with the spiky green cacti and steep cliffsides we'd grown accustomed to encountering in the region. It wasn't a long hike, but the countless natural stairs and twists up to our destination, on top of our fatigue from the day's previous hikes, made us feel like we'd just tackled our longest adventure yet. Dust kicked up beneath our feet as we climbed and lizards skittered to the safe confines of anywhere-but-near-us. Eventually, we crested the final hump of rock and looked out on the canyon below. The sun was setting by now, just in time for our arrival. We threw off our hiking bags, cracked out some trail mix and water, and prepared to reap the rewards of our journey.

This is a really nice intro! I love how simple phrases like "grown accustomed to encountering" indicate more than they seem to, like how the region is (or at least was) unfamiliar but is now becoming known. As well as "previous hikes" and "longest adventure yet" hinting at the history of similar excursions. Some little things that felt a little off to me were "base of the hike" (trailhead might be easier here?) and "the day's previous hikes" (I think that "previous day's hikes" is the way that I've usually heard it). Also, you say "made us feel like we'd just tackled..." before they get to the top of the hike, so maybe it might be more in keeping with the narrative to go with "made us feel like we were tackling."

As the sun drifted lazily behind the surrounding mountaintops, the light blue daytime sky melted into a sea of orange and pink. Gradually, darker hues of red and indigo crept in, before, ultimately, black.

I love the way you describe the colors transitioning here as the sun sets, it's a really nice, slow image. One thing that I might like a little more of, either here or in the previous paragraph, might be a little more detailed description. I don't exactly mean more, but maybe just more pointed? I'm somewhat familiar with Utah, and I know there are a lot of different landscapes; for example, Arches or the Moab area is full of smooth planes of rock and of course the arches, everything is an orange color, whereas Zion is a lot more expansive, with big canyons, and Bryce I think I remember as being a lot lighter, not so much red rock as the others, and much more winding and sandy as well as rock. I know this isn't your main point, and you do have imagery to show us that there is desert, mountains, sand, and cacti, but it might be cool to just have a few more specific images as well if you have a little space. (I think "natural stairs" in the first paragraph was a really good description of this type! It revealed a lot with few words)

One of my friends pulled out his phone and put on Billy Joel's Piano Man, and the six of us watched the ocean of stars above, the music and our own voices echoing off the canyon walls around us. And there, I was home.

No one else out in the dark had any further declarations to offer, and the void was ours once more. The chattering picked back up, and the song had long ended.

I just wanted to talk about the song really quick -- by this second quote, I had sort of forgotten that there had been a song in the first place since that image had come and gone so quickly. Since the song is featured in your title, I think I was expecting a little bit more of an emphasis on it. I'm not sure if it really needs to be emphasized, but I'm curious as to why it's important here and part of the title! It's right next to the statement of "I was home" in that first paragraph, so if it's part of the circumstances that create this home, then I think that could maybe be made a little clearer. But yeah just a small note that I had expected a little more to come from this image!

Maybe it was the feeling that, on top of that mountain and enveloped in darkness, we were the only people in the entire world. You could almost imagine there wasn't any more world beyond our mountaintop, that it was all void above and below, and at the center of the universe was our little group, laughing and joking and enjoying each others' company. People often reference “shouting into the void”, and up there we actually could.

“I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD!”

The voice rang out suddenly from off to our right, atop a separate mountain, shattering the atmosphere of tranquility and solitude for a moment.

“YES YOU ARE!” my friend Chris shouted back encouragingly.

I guess it's okay to share our slice of the void.

I absolutely love this part. :) Communing with the void, discovering you're not entirely alone, discovering that this is okay. aahh I just think something about this imagery intertwined with the dialogue, and the simple honesty of the moment is just perfect.

I tuned out the conversations for the most part, but the general gist was something like Rithy and Jose discussing girls, Erik and Luis talking about work, and Chris and I just watching the sky. Overhead, shooting stars zipped from one end of the sky to another in the blink of an eye. Growing up, I'd always thought shooting stars were incredibly rare, but I can't count how many we saw on that trip.

Two little things here -- first, I think the "general gist" line took a minute to absorb. Maybe you could shorten it up to something like, "I tuned out the conversations of Rithy and Jose discussing girls, Erik..." This would put a little more emphasis on the shooting stars, I think. And the second thing is that maybe you want to link the shooting stars to something else? I was mostly thinking of what you had about not seeing stars from the city earlier, and that could be a cool image to tie in here as to why shooting stars aren't seen as much. Or, maybe tied more closely to how special this moment with friends is, that the shooting stars augment? (I think I just confused myself, but basically the shooting stars could be tied to other points in the narrative if you want to make a connection there)

Although we had an endless supply of stars above us, the main player was a thin crescent on the horizon that night and contributing almost nothing to the light situation.

Okay this is super picky, but maybe include "moon" after crescent? I got what you meant without it, but I think the lack confused me a little bit, especially with the "light situation" which was a little strange in wording. I think it should work fine, though!

“It's alright, I got it,” Rithy stepped ahead, pulled out his knife, and marched off into the dark, his headlamp bobbing with every step.

The rest of us fell in line; Luis with neither knife nor light, me with the weakest flashlight of the group, Jose behind with a small pocket knife, and Chris and Erik taking up the back, one knife and one light between them. Although we'd agreed no ghost stories, the hypothetical nightmare scenarios started up almost the moment we started walking, and there was no stopping them.

...why do they take out knives? o_o Flashlights made sense, but are the knives to stave off the the fears generated by these "nightmare scenarios"? It doesn't quite mesh with my idea of trying to navigate potentially rocky terrain in the darkness. But I love your description of how fears tend to crop up in the darkness, even among friends, and then are dispelled.

“There was a goddamn TARANTULA. It ran over my foot and crawled into that hole! Oh my god,” he said, clutching his chest.”

In case you didn't catch this -- extra quotation mark at the end here! Love this dialogue, though. :)

The drive back to camp was uneventful for the most part, filled with conversation about movies and tarantulas and the sick deer we'd seen wandering around our camp the last couple of days. Just whatever random topic came to anyone's mind could be thrown out and a whole conversation would unravel from it.

I'm not sure you need the word "uneventful"? You could still characterize it in some way, but I feel like calling it out as "uneventful" even as you describe some conversation that happened seems a little funky. But I love the word "unravel" to describe how the conversation wanders! It's a nice description.

And that, in a way, is also home. I said that my friends and I had been on trips together before, and while that's true, it was never this combination of friends. In fact, this was the first time a good chunk of us had ever hung out together outside of work. And yet there were no clashing personalities, everyone got along perfectly. It felt like we'd all known each other for years. Like the six of us, in this old Jeep flying down the winding road back to camp, who could make conversation out of anything and work together to climb down a mountain at midnight and appreciate the night sky in silence, belonged together.

And that's home.

The whole "I said" bit, as well as "and while that's true" felt a little jarring. I'm not exactly sure how you could smooth it out, since it's very honest and open. Maybe you could try stating the "first time a good chunk of us had ever hung out together" part without the lead in? I'm not sure how that would work, so you're probably good as is, but I wanted to let you know that it felt a little less strong to me. BUT I love this ending! The emphasis on home is evident and it feels like you've successfully tied together both the group of friends and the experiences in nature, even though that place may not physically be home to any of them.

I think that overall, you have a really nice narrative!! The feelings of friendship, adventure, and general acceptance of/pleasure in life are themes that come through really well (as well as the overarching idea of home of course!). I think that if you're going to revise, I would really work on making it shine -- making your already nice images a little stronger and cutting back any extra clunky words, especially because this is short. Make sure that everything you include is working towards your goals here.

It was really just a lovely read though, it felt like the story didn't need to go anywhere other than it went, and the characters were all doing whatever they needed to. I guess I mean that there's a sense of fulfillment, perhaps? rather than any unmet expectations. You did a nice job with this, I hope you get a good grade on this. :) Let me know if you have any questions!

-Q




Hattable says...


Hey Que! Thanks so much for the review, your feedback was great. I'm gonna start this off with "Oh Wow That's What I Get For Writing On Zero Sleep" and then we can continue. (I'm actually really glad there's enough to positively comment on, considering I haven't written much in a couple years, lol)

Trailhead is the perfect word, thank you! I totally forgot that one and I'll be fixing that immediately. Also, the spot I was in was Zion actually!! The reason for a lack of description in, like, the location itself and focusing more on the sky/sunset is because while I have pictures and whatnot, I don't really remember the scenery much? Or, like, I'm not sure how to describe it without rambling too much. I have a lot more practice writing sunsets so that came easily and didn't take up too much space. I'll try and look it over again, though, when I've had more sleep.

As for the "day's previous hikes" bit - I agree that it felt weird. Your suggestion of "previous day's hikes", though, reads to me like it's referring to hikes from. well. previous days? lol - I'm sure there's a clearer way to word that- I'll check it out.

"General gist" and moon comments are good points, I'll fix those, your suggestion for fixing the part where I tune out the conversation works great. Also the whole reason I included the title of the song in the title of the essay issss... there was no point really, I just thought I needed a title already and threw that together//it's what I titled the first post here on yewis and that one was only the first two paragraphs, so the song wasn't as easily lost I guess (though in that case the king of the word part didn't make sense 'cause it wasn't mentioned??) I might give it a whole new title altogether, but I'll see what I can do about making the song more present

You're also right that the knives are kind of random in this, BUT that's what happened!! - I'll see about making their introduction more smooth, lol. It was because of all the spooky scenarios being tossed around, and my friends were like "well if a dude jumps out at us what're we gonna do, huh?" so I'll try and make that more evident.

Describing the talkative car ride as "uneventful" was,,, idk why I did that, nice looking out lol - Also glad "unravel" was the right word! I feel like I've overused it lately but I honestly have no idea how many times it even appears in this piece.

I also agree with cutting out the "I said" and "while that's true" bits - at this point I was just letting my hands type and trying to reach the word count, so there's a lot of extra fodder that the essay be better off without. (I'm also just horribly over-wordy in general, as you can tell by this reply, oops)

OH yeah and the shooting star portion - I'll try and connect that to things more as well. The idea of making more comparisons/contrasts to the city night sky is A

Thanks again for the review! I'll be back to check up on these notes and brush up my draft uhhhh soon - gotta head to work now : ((

- Hatt



Que says...


Thanks for the detailed comments!! <3 <3 This is actually really really good for zero sleep. c: Also Zion is gorgeous! It's been a few years but <3 You've got thiissssss




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