Deep Observation Assignment: Eleven Examples
He stumbles, clumsily, onto the dirty subway car. His sleeves are rolled up and he’s clutching a cloth bag to his chest. The man situates himself next to a sticky rail beside a tired-looking Latina woman and her small son, and grips the unwashed pole just as the train sets into motion, staggering back one or two steps. It’s hot on the subway and he, having lived in New York since he was seventeen, knows better than to drag his heavy coat along with him for the ride. He rocks back and forth on his feet, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, discontent with the anticipation for his next transfer, three subway stops away. He’s late already and he still has two more transfers to make. Gathering all of his items into one arm, he reaches for his phone with the other, and upon seeing the number of missed calls present on the cracked screen of his mobile, puts the phone back into his pocket without opening it.
His partner, Nick, would have been much more on top of this than he would. Nick was thorough and organized about everything, the kind of person who wrote a list before going to the store and calling twice to confirm evening plans. Nick was especially thorough today, one might even say unreasonably so, because his mother was coming to visit. Having dated Nick for five years and knowing exactly how anxiety-inducing his parents are, he couldn’t seem to really blame his partner. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his mother-in-law, but at times she could be slightly overwhelming. Like last Christmas, when she knitted them each rainbow scarves, and then decided it would be appropriate to place a smaller scarf wrapped around an adoption brochure at the bottom of the gift box. Or, two Thanksgivings ago when she rooted through their cabinets, collected all of their cigarettes and left sticks of chalk in the crisp Marlboro boxes. When Nick next went to light one up after that he had been so drunk that he didn’t realize he had drawn out chalk until thirty seconds of holding it between his teeth.
These antics on occasion proved to be annoying, but the main thing that bothered him about Nick’s mother was the degree of frivolity with which she regarded their relationship. Nick is one of three, junior to two habitually drunk sisters. Nick’s mother regarded both of his, admittedly bland, sisters as valid candidates for marriage and a serious life, whereas she regarded Nick as kind of a fun accessory to the family that could bring boyfriends to holidays. When he and Nick brought up having a wedding one night at a dinner she had invited herself to, she laughed and asked why they couldn’t just have a party. In addition to this, she bought into every single gay stereotype she could. Unsatisfied with her wardrobe, she one day dragged Nick into a Macy’s for some sort of revamping act. Nick is a lawyer who plays Jeopardy and reads Reader’s Digest and has no love for shopping, and frankly, he thought she would probably need some sort of miracle worker to fix even a single outfit of hers. She signed Nick up for salsa dancing classes with her for Christmas one year, and then the year after she took him to a Broadway show. Nick went on and on about how he hated each, but the idea of his partner salsa dancing with his mother was too disturbing to process so mostly he just tuned Nick out. He had always secretly blamed Glee and Modern Family for perpetuating those kinds of things.
As the train reared to a stop, he clutched tightly to the cloth bag and gripped the metal pole closest to him. She was overwhelming, but Nick’s mother had never referred to him as Nick’s “friend” or “roommate” and that said something, he was sure. As the subway doors open he quickly steps off, ignoring the sixth consecutive buzz from his pocket in less than thirty minutes.
- Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
- Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
- How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
- Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
- Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
- Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
- How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
- How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
- Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
- Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
- Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?