I don’t blog very often, really, though I keep three, theoretically — one blog focused on business, one on fitness, and this, the miscellaneous.
This, where I’ll post (at least) one writing exercise from each lesson in Sarah Selecky’s seven-part writing e-course, though — more posts than are now set to public.
This, from Lesson 1, Freewriting.
The assignment: a ten-minute free-write beginning with the phrase, “I remember”.
The task, to focus on the small and exact. I’m not sure I’ve done that, my writing, after decades of private diary writing, is thinkingthinkingthinking, all abstraction.
Conscious, now, of this failing in my fiction, I’m working on the felt rather than the intellectual, showing rather than telling.
This, a third truth and two-thirds fiction, is what I wrote for the lesson-1 practice exercise*:
I remember her disgust, how she snapped the clean sheet through the air, how she snapped the corners over the four of my mattress, the four of the earth, north and west, east and south. Can you change it, she said, her voice a flat note in response to my trilling, my laugh. I’d thought she was joking, teasing me about the tiny porcelain figure, a Victorian woman in lace, photographed holding her head in her hands. Literally, in her hands. Decapitated. But in a comported way, compartmentalized. It was beautiful, I thought, my desktop. It oriented something unspeakable in me, when it came to me, friends like Mandy. Like, you only want part of me, the part composed, dressed and superficial, that you think of as whole. But, I want to stick my neck out. I want to offer you my head, thoughts, and memories, and who I am naked. Snap: the sheets. Snap: her rejection. Snap: these cutting words through my neck. I don’t want to see it, she said. It’s ugly, and, really, kind of scary. I don’t know how you can like that, she gestured toward my computer, where, now, instead of a Shary Boyle sculpture, there was a David Hockney screensaver, a man naked except for his socks, joyfully, I thought, gyrating his hips inside a scribbled hula hoop. My ex, who I was again having sex with, hated the doodle. Turn it off, he said, in my bed. Turn it off she said, stretched on my mattress. I did. I turned it off, compartmentalized myself. Comported. And, though there were people in my bed, women, men, I felt so fucking alone again.
*It’s rough, yes; it’s just ten minutes of stream-of-consciousness.
—Meister Eckhart, thirteenth century mystic
I shot hoops in the high school gym listening to this song while Bush Sr. attacked Iraq, January 17, 1991.
The caterpillar and the butterfly, I recently read, share only DNA: in the cocoon the caterpillar becomes goo, completely disintegrates, then regenerates almost wholly, to emerge gorgeous, wet, alighted. Whether my experience is analogous can’t be known just yet, but in my own goopiness I’m open only to what makes me feel elated, as though I too could soon take flight. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” Mary Oliver urges in a poem, “Wild Geese”, that chokes the breath out of me, so violent is my response reading it today.
As a teenager, a soft animal, I so loved poetry, plays, novels, essays. I loved Mr. Sherry’s English classes. I even went on snow days — once, buses cancelled, John O’Leary and I were directed by Mr. Sherry to do a staged reading of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (John assigned the part of George and I, Martha). I loved Mr. Sherry’s lectures deconstructing Harper’s Magazine essays by Barbara Ehrenreich to teach the craft of elegant composition, the art of eloquent argument: how to create, how to be excellent. I can barely recall all I studied in university – except for what I learned in an art history elective – but I can remember almost every of Mr. Sherry’s assignments: being cast as a lawyer trying Shakespearean characters for crimes of passion; being given a line of poetry (Oh that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?) with the instruction to read every author on the syllabus until I found this sentence in context (Andrea del Sarto) and learned who’d written it (Robert Browning). And I did so very many more English assignments than most of my classmates, a ‘punishment’: I was ever late for class, ever picking another presentation topic, a slip of paper scrawled with an assignment, from ‘Pandora’s Box’. Late. On time to give a presentation. Late. On time: presentation. Late. On time: yet another five-minute presentation to be given right after the bell. It was thus in grade nine, grade eleven, in all my OAC English classes.
My love of English, of reading, of writing abides still, fifteen years after I graduated from high school: a photo of kids tutored at 826 Michigan, in cardboard robot costumes and lurching mechanistically on Liberty Street in Ann Arbor, makes me burst into tears. If I lived in Windsor, I’d be there all the time, I tell my boyfriend. I’d volunteer. I don’t know what I have to teach, ‘cause I still have so much to do and to learn, but I’d really love that.
For now, though, I don’t do other than Nancy-Drew the visceral clues, article bursts of tears and sudden breathlessness, the best tests I know of a person’s unscientific DNA, the stuff they’re made of and for. I don’t know how any of this ‘research’, the facts of my reactions, might be crafted into a life, but perhaps it’ll be a little akin composing an essay like Barbara Ehrenreich.
Older than Jesus* and as blasphemous as The Beatles, today is my thirty-fourth birthday. And today I woke in a rage. She hates her life and what she’s done with it, Neil Young sang, my lament. But this is it, I diary on the bus southing down Mount Pleasant. Though I could name names, blame, as my mother taunted, When you point your finger, four fingers are pointed back at you. Now in my mid-thirties, I can’t renege on my responsibility to change those circumstances I despise, can’t blame others for my unhappiness. So, this is my birthday gift to myself: by my thirty-fifth, three hundred and fifty-six days from this, I will have changed the circumstances today I detest.
(In parentheses, a note to those who would point out how much I’ve already accomplished: It’s true I’ve changed much in the last years, even in short months, but the more I change the more I must — the more joyous, challenging, meaningful work I do the more I must to integrate these capacities into every facet of my existence, make them definitive of a life well-lived. It’s the split between this and that, at essence.)
*Apologies to the religious, but I couldn’t resist given my birthday is days before Christ’s death and resurrection, Easter celebrations in twenty-eleven.