Sunday, June 15, 2008

I Made It Here!

Day One (ish) at Kenyon Review Writer's Workshop

I've made it this far. Got down here with no problems and gorgeous weather. Seriously, this country is beautiful in mid to late June. I've got oodles of pictures on my phone already but I forgot the cord to get them off of my phone to share with you. I'll have to do a "photo tour" when I get back.

Met the other people in my group and sat for my first workshop/class today. We're not really working over people's writing in these workshops but we're reading to find what the value is. We're working very closely with prompts to produce small pieces that can then be used as teaching tools. Really, I think it is so much more effective learning this way. Because you go and try it, and then you are introduced to the big picture concept that you're looking at and then you get to hear examples of how each person managed to balance the prompt and the narrative as well as see how the concept you're focusing on for the class plays into it (or distracts, or messes you up or enhances the whole thing silently to WOW! status).

Today was about form. The assignment we were given last night (shortly after arriving -- and yes we were the only ones to be assigned homework on such short notice) was as follows:

  1. Write a story in exactly 26 sentences.
  2. The first sentence will start with the letter A, the second with the letter B, and so on through the entire alphabet.
  3. One sentence must be exactly 100 words long.
  4. One sentence must be exactly one word long.
  5. Play with punctuation as much as you need to make it work.
  6. Paragraph breaks may be placed at your discretion.

I challenge any- and everyone to do the same prompt. Either leave it in the comments section for me or post it on your own blog and drop me a link in the comments because I'm curious to see more of these "now infamous Alphabet exercises." Why now imfamous? Because last year Ron Carlson came to Kenyon as an instructor and brought this exercise with him for the same purpose (a lesson in form for fiction writers) and during the participant readings at least four people read theirs.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes! It sounds simple but is harder than it looks.

For satisfying your curiosity (not saying that this was the creme of the crop) my fiction response:

As preparation for leaving my father, my mother would iron. Because she could not leave with unpressed slacks. Clothes were whisked from the basket, piece by piece, while my mother rattled off the offenses against her. During this time my father’s shirts were never touched, that’s how I knew she was serious, how I knew this complaining was different from the every day complaining she did. Even dresses she didn’t wear anymore were ironed along with her slacks and collared shirts, each one pressed and hung on a hanger.

Frantic as I was to make her stay, I didn’t realize until years later that she never packed a single garment into a bag or a suitcase. Given my age at the time I doubt I would have even figured out what was going on if she hadn’t walked into my room and announced it to me.

How it started between them each time I never knew, but it always ended the same way.

“I’m leaving; you can live with your father.”

Just that.

Knowing nothing else but her, I would trail her to her room, watch her iron and beg her to stay.

Lighting does it for me sometimes: if there’s a room with just one lamp on and the night trying to creep in through the cracks and the windows I remember the ironing; I remember the crying; I remember trying to take up as small a space on the carpet as I could because I equated smallness with something that made me more livable, likable; that if I was compact and appropriately remorseful that she would take it back and say she was staying, or if she insisted that she was going that she would at least take me with her.

Maybe, in retrospect, her leaving my father wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.
Now when I must iron, I iron by daylight. Only when in desperation, or because of Peter’s forgetfulness, will I iron after dark. Perhaps it’s stupid of me to be afraid of it, but I think I am.

Quixotic dreams have me telling Peter about it, have me elaborating to him about how I want things to be better in my life than they were in hers; he would tell me that he understood, and he really would, and he’d prove it by always remembering to take his damn shirts to the drycleaner.

Reciprocal sharing would then occur.


There are better things to waste my time thinking about, so instead I wonder what happened to her, what her reason was. Under what circumstances did she crack to that point? Verbalizing the departure, but never making good on the threat. When you think about it the other way it’s easy to see why she stayed. Xenophobia, fear of change, and money.

Yet, why the declaration, why the pale room, why drag me into it?

Zoom forward to the present and I know I’ll leave Peter, I’m just waiting for a good enough reason.

Highly Recommended