Sunday, June 30, 2019

On Writing...

Thanks to a kind friend, I had the chance to participate in a writing workshop and think about my fiction writing for the first time in a really long time. The workshop combined illustration and creative writing, and by the end of the day, we had the starts to several stories and a pile of illustrations we'd drawn.

Two panels from a 4-panel comic
I've never been able to stand having my writing read aloud. When I wrote one-act plays in college, I had to leave the theater when my plays were being performed, and when I was asked to do a reading of my prize-winning short story, I could only manage to read the final paragraph to the expectant audience. Yesterday was no different. I suspect most everyone else read aloud over the course of the day, but I just couldn't do it. Seems we grow as people in some ways and not so much in others.

All of our writing was based on the prompts we were given, and we were told to start each story with "I am....." (which goes against every instinct I have). In the time allotted for each prompt, we could produce just a few paragraphs at most. Below is a sampling of what I wrote during the workshop.

The prompt was a photo with this sign and the phrase "I wish you wouldn't have mentioned that." This is what I wrote:
   I am driving through a desolate stretch of eastern Nebraska in February. The man I've picked up looks down as we pass a sign that says, "Hitchhikers may be escaped inmates."
   "Shit," I think to myself, "figures."
   "So, what's waiting for you in Seattle?" I ask, pretending not to see the sign or his reaction.
   He doesn't seem to hear me at first, but then comes to life. "My daughter."
   I'm silent then. I figure the questions tumbling through my head are ones I shouldn't ask. Maybe he doesn't know the answers to them, or, worse, maybe the answers are too hard to face. I weigh my options--if he's an escaped inmate, I should keep things light.
   "I have a daughter, too," I say finally, even though I am single and hate kids.
The prompt for this one was simply "substitute:"
I am sitting at the kitchen table late at night writing and rewriting an email to Mrs. M. Though she's been my son's teacher for weeks, it only now occurs to me that I need to reach out to her directly. The house is quiet, the kids long silenced by the deep sleep that follows the meltdowns and the chaos that come with dinner, and breakfast, and playtime, and homework, and just about every waking moment in a house with autism. 
The fridge hums quietly behind me, and I'm surprised to find I miss the drip, drip, drip of the faucet that kept me company for so many late nights the first five years of our lives in this house. Sometimes fixing things leads to more loss...
The prompt for this one was "stitches":
I am staring at the wall, my back to him so I don't have to think about the 100+ staples that look like a zipper holding him together from the base of his neck to the tip of his tailbone. If it came unzipped, would his insides spill out? I know the answer to this question, and yet, it plagues me. The human body isn't meant to be split open this way. When I turn, I can hardly see him across the room since the rented hospital bed sits pressed against and lower than the queen size bed we haven't shared for weeks now. The pattern of his breathing tells me he's awake, even though he's silent, eyes closed. 
It occurs to me that I need to learn something from all of these spine surgeries and the seemingly interminable post-op recoveries. But, mostly I've learned that I hate stitches and staples and drains, and I worry that my hate for those things is morphing into a hatred for him. 
The prompt for this one was "cars":
I am sitting in my driveway waiting for Jeff to get in. He needs a ride to town but thinks he might be too tall for my tiny car. I wonder why in the hell he's in Japan, then. I also wonder why I've left work and come to meet him when I could be on my bike riding away from him, from this town, from myself. Even now, I don't know how I ended up here in this small mountain village where everyone knows my name; knows my habits; knows what I bought at the grocery last week; probably knows what I ate for breakfast and even what I'll eat for dinner, though I don't yet know that myself, yet. 
Before the car that is too small for Jeff, I biked and bussed everywhere--no train in this forgotten hamlet. But, the bus is stressful on these mountain passes. On winding one-lane roads with no shoulder, it's easy to find yourself playing chicken with a bus. Much harder is backing your way down the hill...
A portrait of myself as grapes.

Needless to say, I didn't finish any of these stories, and I am not sure I will. Still, it was good to spend a day thinking about writing (though the drawing part was much harder). It reminded me of the ways in which putting things onto paper (or the screen) helps me process, even if it has nothing to do with what's happening, even if it's total fiction. As we head into a couple of months of surgeries and travel and who knows what else, I especially appreciate these reminders.

Here's a link to a future date of the workshop.  Hopefully you can catch it somewhere!

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