Writing classes and swamps
First off, for anyone who has taken a writing workshop or wants to take a writing workshop or is a writer or just wants to laugh, may I suggest Jincy Willet’s novel The Writing Class? I peed my panties within the first 10 pages. Hilarious, and a great mood lifter for my depressed inner artist.
I finished my literal writing class this week and I’m sad to see it end. What a zany group of people whose superlative writing skills humbled me. We spent the last class eating enough sugary treats to send a herd of six-year-olds into tasmanian-devil-like hyperactivity, and took breaks between the gorging to do yoga poses. There wasn’t a lot of talk about writing, it was just a party of sorts. A way to say good-bye to each other, after baring our writing souls to one another for three months.
Our little gaggle of writers was like The Breakfast Club. But instead of jocks, princesses, brains, basket-cases (besides me) and criminals, we had the the hilariously sarcastic I’ll-give-David-Sedaris-a-run-for-his-money-one-day writers (for an example, PLEASE read this gem written by one of my classmates); the serious, pensive writers who wrote gorgeous dialogue or mind-blowing descriptions (or both, which made me insanely jealous); poet-like novelists whose work demanded to be read aloud and those writers who took the stereotypical narrative and threw it upside down on its head; writers of layered prose chock full of similes and metaphors, and the minimalist writers whose economy of words made my jaw drop in awe. And our instructor — a young, recent MFA graduate — created such a relaxed, loose, raise-your-freak-flag-and-you-won’t-be-judged environment. I owe him a lot for getting me to write again and encouraging me, even though some weeks I brought some truly shitty stuff to class. Thank you, Mark.
I have to admit, though, I feel raw post-class for a couple of reasons. I can sit here and write about mental illness and breakups and vaginas without a second thought — safe within a somewhat anonymous blog persona. But…when forced to read my fiction face-to-face in front of a group of artists who are going to offer feedback, I am terrified. Well, rather, was terrified. The band-aid has been ripped off, however, not without some pain.
Now I’ll read to anyone who will listen: my therapist, my friends, my sister, my dog. Once I’m officially unemployed, I’m thinking I may set up a Lucy van Pelt-type booth that advertises that “The reader is in” (instead of the psychiatrist is in). And I’d charge way more than 5 cents a read. Maybe a buck or two. It scares me that I’m so open to sharing and, let’s face it, criticism. But between job hunts and asshole exes, my skin has toughened. Whereas it used to be about a millimeter thick, I think it’s grown to about a half an inch; I’m hoping for a full inch by the end of this summer.
I also feel raw and exposed for another reason: the personalized letter my instructor gave to me at the end of our last class (everyone received a personalized note) left me feeling conflicted and, initially, confused. Yet now I think I get it. Anyway, here’s an excerpt:
“You are a good voice. Your writing fills a place in the heart that needs to be filled. There is a lost anger that is tired of being lost in your writing. Once someone told me about a writer and what they told me reminded me of your writing, but I’ve forgotten exactly what they said so instead of telling you what they said I will tell you about a man named Bob who lived in a swamp and did not know why he lived in the swamp even though he didn’t know that there was anything else in the world except swamps because he had lived his whole life in a swamp. I don’t mean any of these words as discouragement…I can hear your voice working out the the ideas of the world in the voice of your characters. This is natural and a healthy garden to grow. I can feel your desire as a writer is to leave the swamp even though the swamp is a good place.”
There’s more, but that’s the gist of it. I have read and reread it, trying to glean the message within the message that will produce the key that will unlock the door that will lead me out of the swamp. And now I understand: I am in a swamp, which can be good some of the time, but I can’t always stay in the swamp. Swamp = Limbo. I can revisit the swamp, but I need to travel elsewhere, too. I also know that my anger gets lost in my prose. I’m afraid to show strong, honest emotion — and sometimes anger — in my writing, and I cover up my true feelings with humor and sarcasm. Sometimes it feels like I’m performing for an audience (including my parents) who I’d rather entertain than offend (or dare I say, be honest). Well, fuck it. It’s time to find my authentic voice and it’s time to take a vacation from the swamp, both in my writing life and personal life. The choice is mine, where do I go when I leave the swamp? I’m not sure, but stay tuned.