Instructor Feedback by Madari Pendás
“Instructor Feedback,” Madari Pendás’s sharp, concise meditation on criticism, exemplifies the ways in which flash fiction allows the writer to use form in order to create a resonant and relatable experience for the reader. Written in the hermit-crab style, the piece begins in the brusque, guarded, authoritative voice of a teacher providing feedback to a presumably novice student. The first line, “Thank you for your submission,” is a phrase that is all too familiar to any reader who has experienced the vulnerability of offering their creative work for evaluation. The narrative voice is at first purely instructive; however, over the course of the piece, Pendás subtly and skillfully wields the voice of the narrative to reveal the inner state, the insights, perhaps even the insecurities, of the speaker—the instructor—thus asking the reader to think about who is seeing and who is being seen. In her craft essay, Pendás states her aim “to explore whether truth could exist independent of delivery and tone.” Here, in under five hundred words, we find a world of truth to ponder. —CRAFT
Thank you for your submission. We must begin with the lines—far too restated in this piece. Like I’ve mentioned before, a good artist looks more at their subject than at the paper. Think about what your mind is naturally trying to do, which is assume—you’ve once again assumed proportions, ratios, and space. Legs are three and a half to four heads long. Arms are three heads. Hands are as long as the face. This is basic. The fingers are too thick and lack nuance (remember fingers can bend at three axes, again basic). There is a dearth of fine details. Where is the illusion of light? Illusion of depth? Illusion of texture? In the world of this subject there must be no sun or moon or lamps or stars. He must eternally suffer from seasonal depression. I wonder now if I have been too kind or too polite, and your work has stagnated because of me. This is beyond lines. What mood is to be felt here? A good artist can make someone retch or double over. The technical can be mastered, and I see you’ve maintained the line of the spine. But what am I to feel here? There is no curiosity as to what the man is about to write or draw (is it you?) and carries no weight of a long-lived life—the depressed shoulders, the cramps and strained tendons of overworked hands, the crook or plumb of a weltered back, dirt or crumbs of grime on the boots (is he working? is this his one moment where he can relax?), how has the gravity of sweat weighed his shirt to his chest, clumped his hair, made his arms carry heavy? If this is his one free moment—a respite from the field or site or cubicle—why is he spending it on a paper? I get no sense of a life lived before the page. Perhaps that’s to be expected from a young artist, who has little of life to bring to their work. Is this you? Think of how life shows on one’s body. Crow’s feet, those deep folds and ridges; a gaze that settles low; cutting creases from the brow from too many scowls; an askance glance; narrowed eyes that have learned to hurt before others can do so; a seared red chest from grease burns, that tender flesh that yellows at the touch; a body that’s expanded and contracted, famine and feast, chin pudge or hollows in their cheeks; hair that has thinned or blanched or receded. Concentrate. Try. Really look. A good artist is a seismograph, rendering the rhythms of a thing alive. You are not creating from nothing. You are not even creating. You are rendering. You are telling me that you are capable of looking at someone and seeing the burden of life even on a single thumbnail.
MADARI PENDÁS is a Latin-American writer, translator, and painter. She is the author of Crossing the Hyphen (Tolsun Books, 2022). Her work has appeared in PANK Magazine, Sinister Wisdom, and more. Pendás has received awards from the Academy of American Poets and Florida International University, as well as two Pushcart nominations.
Featured image by USGS courtesy of Unsplash