I was going to write this blog about the retirement community of Chautauqua and as I was sitting there listening to Rita Dove read her newest book of poems, I realize this wasn’t right. And Rita kept looking up into the distance like she’s talking to Jesus, or clouds, or the dead and then I’m thinking about how cool the old timers were in my class today when they cheered me on to read. (In no way was I relating death and old people, although we all know our own mortality is inevitable…well this started out full of joy).
I’ve been avoiding reading my work in class. I don’t know why because I share my whole life with you people, and I have my poetry all over magazines of assorted flavors, but I just haven’t. I’ll use the old teenage model, “I just didn’t feel like it.”
But today, Monica, who happens to be our class assistant and was wearing a very Easter yellow, full-on, came up to give me a little pep talk so I’d start reading. I know two things about Monica; in another life she was a biologist and she’s quite fond of her hair because it’s her father’s hair and it’s full and lush. However, this nice woman, who still has a full head of brown hair, by the way, which mixes pleasantly with all the gray and white, headbands and scrunchies that fill my airy classroom, was kind enough to come up to me and coach me into reading. I honestly just haven’t felt like it (I can already hear my mother saying, “we’re you being shy? You’re magazine is in the top 10 most competitive in the Nation and you’re too shy to read a short diddy on the Disney Princesses hair to your new classmates?”) That’s my mother for you. But, I don’t think that was it. I just really enjoyed hearing everyone else read (minus the woman who gets the snarl frown on her face, with her thin Cruela Deville lips tightened like an old school, ruler-bearing, Catholic School Nun) but everyone else is quite talented. We have a sci-fi writer who blew me out of the water the other day with the beating of a headless angel’s wings, her shuttering, her preening. We have a woman who is writing about a Russian mail-order bride who creates friendship over tea with the other town outsider. There are stories about spinning ballerina’s topped off over velvet jewelry box stands. A woman who hates listening to annoying music and writing, and then a man who wrote about a “cool cat” that broke all of our hearts when it died at the end. Everyone is quite talented, and everyone is really encouraging. Including my instructor, Janice Eidus.
So why was I not reading?
Was it because I was intimidated by their writing? Am I shy? Probably a little bit of both of those, but really I wasn’t reading because I’ve found a flaw in my writing that I’m having a really hard time overcoming. Poetry has been my number one man for so long, him and his whimsical words, his precise choices, his good sex, and his rhyme scheme. Now that I’ve tried to start over in my fiction I find myself judging my cliche sentences. Even though just yesterday, Janice Eidus read from her novel and used the words “radiant and childlike” to describe the young girl’s face. To me that is over used and boring, but in fiction you have to sometimes just be simple. Just say what you mean, just point out the small facts. You can’t always have the exact right word, or the exact right metaphor. Sometimes fiction needs to be a little off, a little quirky, a little culturally relevant (in the way that cliche’s aren’t always frowned upon). My poetry is so tight, so … perfect, too perfect. So, in fiction, with all these boundaries that I can escape and where I don’t have to color in the lines, I’m feeling conflicted and ridiculous.
So, it’s that damn inner critic again. Lucky for me I have a teacher who prints out quotes with just the right things to say. And lucky for you, I’m going to share the quote from today for you, so everyone can shut that shoulder critic up and give him/her one swift flick in the knees. Mine is a her, she looks like Meryl Streep.
“It is important to separate the creator and the editor or internal censor when you practice writing, so that the creator has free space to breathe, explore, and express. If the editor is absolutely annoying and you have trouble differenctiating it from your creative voice, sit down whenever you need to and write what the ediotr is saying; give it full voice – “You are a jerk, who ever said you could write, I hate your work, you suck, I’m embarassed, you have nothing valuable to say, and besides you can’t spell…” Sound familiar?
The more clearly you know the editor, the better you can ignore it. After a while, like the jabbering of an old drunk fool, it becomes just prattle in the background. Don’t reinforce its power by listening to its empty words. If the voice says, “You are boring,” and you listen to it and stop your hand from writing, that reinforces and give credence to your editor. That voice knows that the term boring will stop you dead in your tracks, so you’ll hear yourself saying that a lot about your writing. Hear “you are boring” as distant white laundry flapping in the breeze. Eventually it will dry up and someone miles away will fold it and take it in. Meanwhile you will continue to write.” – Natalie Goldberg
So today, I’ve been working on silencing my Meryl Streep inner critic. And this is Meryl Streep in Mama Mia, who wears cool, paisley head scarves around her blonde hair and dances to the many songs her groupies echo throughout the movie. She’s way too cool for my writing.
So, that’s the workshop. I actually got some good writing today so things are going to pick up, but we all know what you really want to hear about is Chautauqua. So I have some funky little pictures since it’s such a private community if you don’t have a golden ticket in your hand.
Chautauqua has been great for me. It’s like being on a deserted island where you’re the youngest person you see all day, and all you have to do with your time is listen to the memories of older, wiser folks who may be graying, waltzing with a cane, or just shuffling quietly through the library stacks in their knee socks. Plus, who doesn’t like being one of the most attractive people on the street? Yes, I’m totally being serious, snobby and out of line. I’ve been wearing dresses, and all the earrings I never wear at home because they’re “for a special occasion…” We all do it, we save things in the back corners of our closet for picnics, or dates where the boy may actually pay and not look at feminism as an excuse to get out of it. And then we never wear them, because how much easier is it to not shave your armpits and just wear that t-shirt, sans deodorant and those jeans, sans shaved legs and be lazy. SO EASY. So, I’ve been dressing up. I’ve quite enjoyed being looked at as I walk down the cobbled road, and I have a new fascination with bikes and baskets. There will be pictures to explain.
At first, I was mesmerized by the giant dollhouses everywhere like a neighborhood of retired Barbies and Kens gone off on permanent vacations. Then I was mesmerized by the kids playing improv on the lawn, the fountains with children sprouting water from their mouths, the lawn ornaments, Rita Dove (swoon), and now knowing so many people over 50 (like my mother, hah!) who can write, REALLY fascinating fiction.
And then in the middle of the week, I was distraught. I wasn’t writing what I wanted and I was in competitive mode which hasn’t happened for a while (since I deleted my facebook) and so these jealous feelings were really frustrating for me. Then, I thought I didn’t fit in, in my class because I was reminded of how much I don’t know, and that age is more than just a number. So many worries to leave me high and dry out on the clothes line of censorship.
But now, coming on my last day, I feel like e-mailing all those sweet people in my class and telling them thank you for giving me a pep rally after I read. Thank you for stopping me in the bathroom when I was wearing my Charlie Brown “A Little Dirty” t-shirt and explaining how you made mud pies with your mother’s tins. Thank you for holding the door open, how simple a gesture, with so much meaning. Thank you for the cookies, and the violin playing at the Baptist House even though I was scared, and sweating, and worrying that they’d find me out as a Catholic and take back the peanut butter wonder cookies. But who would do that really? Thanks bias, thanks ignorance, thanks ego-centrism.
Some things I’ve been blessed to experience this week:
- A totally encouraging fiction instructor who has given me numerous exercises to work off of, and has been a cheerleader for every person in the class.
- A judge is in my fiction workshop (writing mindful fiction) and I just though this was cool. As in a judge, in a robe, with a hammer than she can clobber onto a stand where she sits and judges people.
- In the early morning of Chautauqua, the teenagers sell newspapers all over the grounds. One plain jane will be standing on the main fountain yelling her tunes. One freckle-faced boy is digging in his pockets for change. And almost all of them are yelling cute diddy’s to sell papers to the Chautauqua congregation. ”Chautauqua Daily, Full of Knowledge, Get your Daily, Send me to College.” That’s probably my favorite one, but there are more and I had fun thinking of one’s I would have personally used. I hear it everyday, when I sit on the library stoop and wait for it to open. I like to sit there because I can watch the bus pick up the really young children, with their weighted back-pack hunching their shoulders over, and their parents yelling through the closed windows and waving, thanking God that they finally get a break.
- Lawn ornaments. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know I really love gnomes and most flamingos that are sticked into lawns. Chautauqua is full of it.
So, here I am. Ready for my last day, and ready to actually produce something for optional homework that blows my teacher right out of her Jewish Virginity (this doesn’t make since, she has a child of eight, but she wrote a book called, “The Last Jewish Virgin” and I really just wanted to write, “Jewish virginity” for some reason and couldn’t stop myself.
Now for pictures:
Have a good evening, and keep at your writing. I know I need to hear this more often than not.