Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Fiction Winners

Maryland Functional Writing Test

Fiction - Second Place

Autumn Whitehurst

Fiction & Poetry Contest 2003

Master Documents The Unprocessed Words of the 2003 Fiction and Poetry Contest Winners

Boris Spassky's Last Gambit Fiction - First Place | By Damian L. Halstad

Maryland Functional Writing Test Fiction - Second Place | By Martha Shane

Tapioca Fiction - Third Place | By Betsy Boyd

Echocardiogram Poetry - First Place | By Leslie Thierman

A Promise Poetry - Second Place | By Cary Fentzloff

Empty the Chamber Poetry - Third Place | By Dean John Smith

By Martha Shane | Posted 7/2/2003

Name: Rebecca Longeberger
Grade: 11
Date: 1/8/03
Maryland Functional Writing Test

Part A. In the space below, please write an expository piece, describing how you would define "functional writing" and what functional writing means to you.

I am a functional writer. That is, I function, as a writer. Or, in any case, I am functional, and I am a writer. I have written functionally in the past. I am writing functionally now. I will write functionally in the future. (I have a strong command of tenses and do not abuse parentheses.) I understand that "this is a dependent clause." And "I understand" is an independent clause. And I never start a sentence with "and" unless I have to. There is one thing--the dash--which, I admit, is difficult to avoid overuse of. (I sometimes end sentences with prepositions--that's true.) But, (and I am very careful when starting a sentence with "but"), no one is perfect, and I can write functionally--most of the time dashes--are not a devastating--problem.

The truth is that my writing has been functional in numerous instances; these are best provided with examples from my life. (Note the (clear) (expository) (thesis) statement.) For example, at age 12, I had a pet snake. It liked to curl around my arm, I liked to feel its skin against my own. But the snake was always hungry--I knew because it jabbed its tongue in and out, like a fork stabbing air in the hope of connecting with a floating piece of Jell-O or roast beef. The snake liked to eat mice. I think it liked white mice the best. My brother had a white mouse. My mother did not always remember to buy white mice for my pet snake. Sometimes she bought other colors.

One day my mother and my brother were away from the house--they had driven to Connecticut, I think, to see about a plumbing system. (Note the (narrative) beginning the (new) paragraph the repetition (on) (a) (theme).) And I thought, well. Stop. Backtrack. Before the next narrative event, a brief expository comment to clarify for the reader: My brother's white mouse was dead. His friend, not-a-very-nice-friend, put Jack Daniel's in its water bottle, and it died. The white mouse was in the freezer. It was frosted over, just like the Popsicle's and vodka and sausages. Its tiny eyes were closed. Its (use of thesaurus) miniature, microscopic, petite paws were curled. Now, to resume the narrative events in chronological order. I took the white mouse out of the freezer and placed it in the microwave to thaw for my pet snake (which did not have a name. We did not name pets in my house.) I pressed the one-minute button on the microwave three times, and the microwave light came on, and I stared from a foot away, as the mouse exploded! exploded! in! the! microwave! If you have never seen a mouse explode in the microwave before, don't worry because it is not very different than when an (analogous) lasagna TV dinner explodes, or maybe an (analogous) marshmallow. The tiny pieces and the gooey parts go everywhere and stick and slide down the sides of the microwave--and there's just no cleaning it up.

Now, the part of this functional narrative, this example of functional writing by a functional writer, in which she will demonstrate how functional writing once did help her function. Well, I did not know what to do. For at least half of one hour, I was dysfunctional. Yes, "dys," a useful prefix. ("Pre," ironical, being a "prefix" itself.) Then, I took a notepad and a pen. I wrote the following:

(Note the (carefully) chosen and (unambiguous) indentation.)

Dear Mom and Howard,
I have absconded with the pet snake. In
attempting to provide sustenance for the
beast, for it was suffering, I have caused
a small catastrophe. You will find it in the
microwave. As the pet snake is still
hungry, we have determined that we must
leave this place in search of a better life.
Our resolution is unfaltering. Do not
worry, for some day we shall convene
Sincerely and respectfully,


I packed a duffel bag. Saltines for myself and the pet snake until we found some fresh white mice. Now, the truth is important in functional writing. Lying and distrust (embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, heroin dealing) are not the tools with which functional writing is crafted. They are not the foundation. So, here I will tell the truth (for which there is no synonym.) The functionality of this writing lasted only three days. At which point, it became dys-functional. (Note a (vocabulary) word (previously) (defined) (now) re(prefix)appears.) There were three functional days of eating saltines and drinking water from a park fountain, which smelled of burnt urine, and sleeping underneath the dinosaur-shaped jungle gym. But after three days a ranger picked up the pet snake and me and took us to the station, and there we were locked up. And then they took the pet snake away! And I never saw it again. I went home to Mom and Howard, who did not speak to me and who made me wash all the dishes in the sink for many nights all in a row.

[Unorthodox Space [And Use Of Capital Letters] To Denote A New Sub(prefix)Section]

Functional writing exists in a multiplicity of forms. There is: narrative, expository, labeling, list-making, angst-expelling, form-filling-out, insanity-avoiding, world-planning, day-planning, life-planning, science fiction, romance, fantasy, mystery, thriller functional writing. That is only a segment of the full list, begun at an arbitrary point and ended due to a failure of memory (which, being a function of my arbitrary brain, which is a function of my arbitrary self, is also arbitrary) to recall the other categories.

In my everyday life, I use functional writing because I label. (note the (smooth) transition from (the) general to (the) specific.) I am a functional labeler. I am a labeler whose function is writing--a writer for whom labeling is a function. However, this is not my only function as a functional writer. But writing is my primary physical function as a labeler. (I also pry open the packages of labels, peel them off wax paper, and smooth them onto jars.)

What do I write functionally on the labels? Well, here are some examples (which comprise one-third of the total, but accurately represent the whole):

Ben--Ski Shoppe--Dead Mother's pearl earring
Rami--library--Babe Ruth baseball card
Frank--Colorado--Disappearing ink
Lucas--Montana--Finger and formaldehyde (in Tupperware)

In order to re(prefix)member, I must label. (Transitional word) Thus the function of this writing may be reduced to one word--that is, "memory." I met Ben when I was using my brother Howard's metal detector to scout for change near the Ski Shoppe--this was three days after my defeated homecoming. Ben was on his cigarette break. Later we went to his apartment. [Omission of pertinent events so as to preserve this writer's functionality in functionally passing a test designed to test just that.] Afterward I said: "I feel so safe here, in your arms. What makes you feel safe?" He opened a drawer and removed a pearl earring. He said, "This belonged to my mother. She died when I was young. Since then, I have been alone. Oh, how alone. When I hold this earring, it makes me feel loved. If she did not love me, why was I born?" Then, before I left his apartment, I stole (stole!) the earring! I put it in a jar in my duffel bag, and, employing my skills as a functional writer, I labeled the jar. Ben--Ski Shoppe--Dead Mother's Pearl Earring! This item was included as it was the first time I used functional writing in labeling a jar of this genre.

In the spirit of full disclosure of the truth, which is compromised by the true truth--that my 12-year-old self must remain blurred by condensation on milk cartons and overlooked on junk-mail postcards, that Mom and Howard must not find out where I am, that even this brief stop represents a risk (that is, a failure)--I will admit this. That even after I stole Ben's Dead Mother's pearl earring, I remained in his apartment and slept-so-soundly in his bed. And when, late at night, he cried because his pearl earring was gone, because I had hid it in the center of the vortex of my rolled-up extra socks, I held his head and stroked his ear with my tiniest finger. Suffice it to say, I have not been home yet. Though the connections of this narrative may be tenuous, the functional reader should use their functioning imaginations to fill these gaps, which for me are of the utmost functionality--that is, they keep Mom, Howard, the police, park rangers, guidance counselors, truant officers, clinical psychologists, victims of my thefts--far-flung/remote i.e. distant from myself.

So, I include the second item ("Rami--library--Babe Ruth baseball card") because Rami was so boring that he was significant (as extremes of anything become significant, and the formerly significant then becomes boring.) (note the (swift) return to the point (of) (the) (essay) to the (current) example (at) (hand).) But Frank, who I met in Colorado when Rami the librarian took me there and I walked away, was interesting (use of thesaurus produces inaccurate synonyms; inclusion denotes disregard for their dysfunction) attractive motivating exciting fascinating attention-grabbing out of the ordinary remarkable worthy of note. [Omission of pertinent events so as to preserve this writer's functionality passing a test designed to test just that.] Afterward, I said: "I feel so safe here, in your arms. What makes your feel safe?" He opened a drawer and removed a vial of disappearing ink. He said, "This belonged to my mother. She dies when I was very young. Since then, I have been alone. Oh, how alone. When I hold this vial of disappearing ink, it makes me feel loved. If she did not love me, why was I born?" I thought silently, "It is like I have drawn this man with disappearing ink, and he is already beginning to fade." Then, before I left his apartment, I stole (stole!) the disappearing ink! I put it in a jar in my room, and I labeled the jar. Frank--Colorado--Disappearing ink!

Then, the fourth item on the list--Lucas. (Note the adherence to (strict) (nondivergent) (tangent-free) chronology.) The goal of a functional writer is to create a functional reader. Thus, the functional writer creates a pattern of repetition. But if this repetition were varied, then the reader might become dysfunctional! (and/or) Freak! Out! However, here the functionality of the writing--that is, the avoidance of variation--corresponds with the truth--that is, that which has no synonym. In short: Lucas . . . [Omission] . . . Afterward, said: "I feel so safe" . . . opened . . . finger and formaldehyde in Tupperware . . . said, "mother . . . died . . . I young . . . Oh . . . alone . . . finger in formaldehyde . . . feel loved . . . why . . . born?" . . . (stole!) . . . labeled! . . . finger! . . . formaldehyde! Tupperware!

One challenge of functional writing is to create a functional reader (through repe-repe-through repe-tiotion). If a functional writer has characters, a functional writer has motives for these characters, just as: if a functional writer has (analogous) mayonnaise, a functional writer has (analogous) bread, though writing functionally requires neither bread nor mayonnaise. As a character, my motivation will now be revealed. I am lonely because my pet snake was taken away at the age of 12, Mom and Howard did not speak to me, they made me wash all the dishes in the sink for many [many=3] nights [before I departed, but] all in a row. What I am looking for (when what I have found is disappearing ink pearl earring Babe Ruth finger formaldehyde) is the pet snake that never had a name.

And now the state of Maryland to which I came after Frank abandoned me at pet store in Colorado, after I left Lucas because I could not safely hide the finger, after John, after Jonathan, after Seaweed, after Mark, after Jones and Adam and Leopold (who offered to buy me a pet snake, but kicked me out when he found his Dead Mother's Cashmere Sweater missing.) So Maryland, where, walking through a suburban neighborhood, I came upon (this) school, called Avery High School, when I began to think: where are pet snakes (except for pet stores with villainous security guards zoos with monstrous little children that scream when you slide your hand through the bars wildlife reservations maybe in Cameroon)? And (and!) I realized in biology classrooms! In public schools! Now, this was not purely selfish, for I would save this hypothetical snake from a life of groping and throttling by sneer-faced high-school students. (I thought of starfish in the children's section of aquariums, the section where living things can be held and prodded by eager, chubby hands. I thought: those starfish, out of all the sea-dwelling starfish in the world, had the Most Horrible Luck. More horrible than someone born into a family with Fatal Familial Insomnia, or a middle-aged woman who contracts Anaplastic Carcinoma, the rarest from of thyroid cancer, or a bicyclist who is killed by a plummeting Blimp.)

My hypothetical snake might have slightly better luck than those starfish, but only marginally so. Therefore, I walked into Avery High School and headed down the empty hallway, looking for the showerheads that mark the science wing, and instead I saw a policeman! He was wearing dark sunglasses, but I knew he was suspicious (and, after all, I was carrying an enormous duffel bag that sloshed as the formaldehyde-and-finger filled jar bounced along) so I ducked into the nearest [nearest=two steps] classroom. The teacher said to me, "You are late. See me after class." But she handed me an exam anyway and continued down the row. The exam read, "Maryland Functional Writing Test. Part A. In the space below, please write an expository piece, describing how you would define "functional writing" and what functional writing means to you." Hence I began.

As all functional things move in perfect circles (because they must continue forever, even if not longer being observed), every piece of functional writing moves in a circle, and now head has met tail with the currently hypothetical, but soon- (as soon as I sign my name to this essay, sprint out the door, find the science wing, perform the rescue operation) to-be-real pet snake (which also incidentally or, perhaps, symbolically can form a circle and has both a head and a tail). And because this circle is complete (though it will continue forever unobserved), this writing is functional. And thus I, as the writer behind this (or, perhaps, ahead of) this writing, must therefore be functional--that is, a functional writer. A writer who functions, and, in functioning, writes!

Part B. In the space below, please write a step-by-step explanation of how to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.

Related stories

Fiction Winners archives

More Stories

And the winners are... (12/2/2009)
City Paper's 11th annual Fiction and 10th annual Poetry Contest

An Airline Ticket to Romantic Places (12/2/2009)
First Place

What Was Janie Looking At? (12/2/2009)
Second Place

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter