Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's been a week since my last (first) post and though I've been thinking about writing almost constantly, I haven't actually written.  I spent the entirety of last Wednesday and Thursday at a workshop taught by Lynda Barry.  Based on her amazing and beautiful book, What it Is, the workshop was basically all writing -- moving my hand across sheet after sheet after sheet of loose leaf paper.  When I wasn't writing, I was making spirals on the page, circling and circling and circling my pen until I'd almost hypnotized myself.  Every exercise started with a list.  Number your page from one to ten.  Now think of ten walks you have taken, ten friends you have had, ten things you think of when you hear the word "lie."  We list quickly, stopping perhaps to worry out a name or a detail, not pausing too long and if the pause grows too uncomfortable, we return to the soothing spiral, or write the ABCs, anything at all to keep the pen in motion, the brain fluid and flexible, like water rolling over rocks.  Next, we take the list and pick one thing.  Think of that thing. Where are you?  What's in front of you? Behind? To the right? To the left?  What's further in front, further behind and so on and so on... By the time I began eight minutes of writing, I knew where I was in the world.  After eight minutes, Lynda would ask for readers.  In order to give the reader our ultimate respect, to leave them alone with their words, we bowed our head over our notebooks and drew spirals.  I heard the words of dozens of people, but I did not see their faces.  I heard their stories, but because I was not aloud to speak, these stories came at me in a different way.  I listened instead of thinking of something wonderful to say.  While we read, Lynda would crouch at our feet, listening, and when we were finished, she'd pop up and say, "Good, good!"  That's it.  That's all.  No questions about where the story was going, no requests for more information, no dissection of metaphor, symbol and simile.  Just "GOOD!"  

I am about to begin work on another draft of my memoir.  After a sending out to our first round of publishers and getting a pile of loving and enthusiastic rejections, I'm setting out to cut forty pages.  Before Lynda's class, I was a little daunted by this.  A little dejected by the rejection despite all the warm feelings. Now, though, I feel ready.  Lynda described the arc of the story as "having something, losing something and finding it again."  I had my father, I lost him to Alzheimer's and then I found him again in me.  When I think of my manuscript, I can think of at least forty pages that have absolutely nothing to do with that story.  I am ready to work.  "Good!  Good!"


Denise Emanuel Clemen said...

That's one heck of a breakthrough!

Elizabeth said...

Wow. This is a fantastic, inspiring post.