It’s a big week for our creative writing class. We submitted our literary magazine to the printing press; check out the cover image to the left. Additionally, our class blog is being featured on Comments4Kids.com this Friday, May 10th. #Comments4Kids, organized by William Chamberlain (@wmchamberlain), is an awesome site that features class sites and blogs from all over the world, encouraging authentic blogging with real, engaged audiences.
As I write this post, my creative writing students are ooohing and ahhing over the blog posts they are discovering on Comments4Kids.com. They’re reading posts from second graders, from fourth graders, from middle school students. They’re reading posts from the States, from England, from New Zealand. They’re sharing in collective amazement and camaraderie.
This is what creative writing class is like: take your worst day, one full of black clouds (both literal and figurative) and watch it transform into sunshine and rainbows (again, today that is literal as well as figurative).
Most often, I’d be saying that kind of statement with the drippings of sarcasm, but on a day like today, I couldn’t be more genuine. On days like today, that class does nothing short of save me from despair.
That’s what it’s like to walk into our class… Everyone is doing what they love, supporting each other, and creating new worlds with words. The collective hum of creativity bounces off of the walls as we write and type our way into new understandings of ourselves and each other.
Today, the students read and commented on blog posts they found on Comments4Kids.com. This is what they shared about what they’d read:
One student who practices karate and has a black belt was thrilled to read about a younger child who just got her yellow belt. Another student was touched by a little boy’s account of the fear he felt about his first day at school.
A third student was touched by a young environmentalist who wrote about the horrible way that people were treating the earth and all of the things that students could do to help. The students were amazed by the range of content and by reading about the lives of students all over the world.
At the end of class today, a student talked about all of us all doing something together and I said, “We’re not a cult.”
One of the students said, “Are you sure?”
Before I could respond, two other students answered, their voices in perfect synchronization as they said, “It seems like it to me.” Everyone standing around laughed.
I laughed, too. There are much worse things in the world. If only I’m always so lucky to be surrounded by such inspiring, brilliant people, I will count myself one of the most fortunate people in the world.
Check out our work on BroadwayAurorealis.weebly.com—there are links to each student’s individual blog posts as well as featured posts on the class blog.
We’re also selling literary magazines for $8 (including postage); if you’d like a copy, email me on the contact page or email our class and I can get your address to send you one. The awesome cover image above hints at what an amazing product the students have put together this year.
Lately I've been pondering when to open the door…
My latest revision is calling my name, and yet I can’t seem to get settled into working on it as part of the nanothon (check out the nanothon—happening right now!—at http://nanowrimo.org/en/breaking_news/its-marathon-day) until I write this post.
Sometimes the only way to learn is to do something too soon. To take a leap before you’re ready. Sometimes that’s the only way to leap. To stand there on the edge, shaking, would make the next step impossible.
I realized a bit late that I may have “opened the door” on my manuscript prematurely (thank you, Stephen King’s On Writing, for helping me figure that out). It’s taken me a while to figure that out, but now that I know, I’m working through that reality. It’s time to close that door again for a while.
I loved Laini Taylor’s post on April 9th about writing the wrong scene. The truth is that’s what I’m settling down into my chair to do today—I will write a lot of wrong scenes. At this point, the best thing that I can do to figure out the details of the world I’m spinning in my head is to write until those facts crystallize in my mind. As Laini says, “I am busy practicing the discipline that not every scene I write needs to end up in the book. You write to find the story.” Check out Laini’s post at: http://www.lainitaylor.com/2013/04/the-world-will-end-if-you-write-wrong.html. She finishes by highlighting the fact that despite all feelings to the contrary, the world will not, in fact, end, and better yet—some of the scenes might actually work out to be the right story after all.
That’s exactly where I am right now—writing the wrong scenes and feeling like the world (at least the one I’ve created, and my own personal one) might end. I’ve done all of the “easy” revisions, and I even reconstructed significant parts of the plot, which I considered challenging at the time, but I’m discovering that this is the truly challenging part.
It’s tricky to see—and, more so, to describe—the fringes of the world that glitters and dances in my mind. The edges are hazy like the periphery of my dreams.
Here’s to the haze and to believing that the world I see can come alive in the minds of others through the amazing power of words.
So I’m going to close the door for a while and meditate on the images dancing in my mind. I’ll flex my fingers, arch my back before hunching over my computer, and type my way into communicating the reality of this story’s world. Even if that involves writing a lot of wrong scenes before finding the right ones. Best wishes to all of you doing exactly the same thing right now! Comment and let me know how your journey is going.
From Stephen King's On Writing: "The most important [discovery] is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
The book 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma came out this week (March 21st), and in honor of the release, writers are posting about what haunted them at 17. I came across Nina LaCour’s post here, http://distraction99.com/2013/03/22/nina-lacour-haunted-at-17/, but there are quite a few blogs linked at the bottom of that post, including Nova Ren Suma's own post (http://distraction99.com/2013/03/21/17-gone-and-what-haunted-me-at-17/), all of which include posts about being haunted at 17. This caused me to ponder my own haunting.
During my 17th year, I transformed from a teen thoroughly involved in all of the trappings of high school into an almost adult suddenly aware of the larger world. I was haunted by the discovery that the larger world was spinning at a dizzyingly fast speed, and I suddenly launched into that world, desperate to catch up with it and make myself part of it.
The first part of my seventeenth year, I was a junior in high school and I could not be more involved in that tiny world. But I felt that world collapsing inward on me, and I began to pull away. During that summer, I finally scraped together enough money after years of babysitting to buy a car (along with my parents’ support and contribution, since I was still a bit short): I paid $3,500 for a 1984 Mercury Cougar with 41,000 miles on the speedometer. That car, whom I named Talula (“Talula, Talula, I don’t want to lose you… But you must be worth losing to be worth something…” from Tori Amos's own "Talula"), changed my life. I was really into Tori Amos in those days, and I was also terrified that Talula would collapse and die at any moment, which would end my reign of freedom. I sang to her frequently while caressing her dashboard, though to be honest, with my terrible voice, I’m not sure if that affection helped or hindered. It was a legitimate fear—I was stranded and desperately checking and filling fluids on a relatively frequent basis.
With Talula, I discovered freedom. I got my first real job waiting tables, and I discovered what it was like to have spending money. I loved waiting tables because it actually paid to be good at your job. I worked really hard, and in a way that has never been true in my jobs since then, I was rewarded for that effort by making more money. I continued to perform well at school, but I missed out on most of the senior scene. I joint-enrolled (which meant that I actually went to a local college, since dual credit at the high school did not exist), so most of my days consisted of a brief stint at the high school (from 7:00 to 10:30—yes, we really did start then, though I was late more often than not), a trip over to the university, and then another journey to work, where I often closed the restaurant. I spent late nights unwinding from work and watching the Late, Late Show with my dad, who never slept.
The car and the job changed me. I was haunted by the larger world and desperate to be part of it. I suddenly realized that my life was on a pathway that I wasn’t sure I liked. My relationship with my then long-term boyfriend dissolved, which was undoubtedly my fault, and impressed no one I knew, especially my mother (since he was perfect and charming and I was impulsive and ungrateful). I saved enough money to take a study abroad trip with the university to France… which involved a lot of adventure and a new, terrifying haunting--a story for another day.
I’m proud to say that Talula survived with me for seven years (through college and on all of my roadtrips, including the summer I worked in Cape Cod and drove all the way from GA and back home). When I moved to Japan, I took her to Carmax, and the man came in after carefully calculating her worth. He looked at me straight-faced and offered me $25 for the car. I cannot repeat in polite conversation my objections to his insult, but needless to say, I did not leave her there.
I found her a nice home with a man who ran a scrap yard. He was thrilled because the A/C actually worked (by that point, my dad and I had disconnected the heater coil and salvaged the A/C, which was a good thing, since by then the only automatic feature of the car, the windows, had ceased to roll down). With new tires and functioning air-conditioning, Talula would be saved from the scrap heap and would become his new car. I like to think of her still there, queen of the scrap metal yard, carrying on her important business.
The luxuries and tortures of my job at the Cooker and the classes at the university, along with the trip to France all came later, when I was 18 and on the way to college and the elusive notion of “real life.” At 17, I was awkward and alone, different from my friends and on the fringe of everything—life at the high school, life in the real world. I was haunted by the urgent feeling that I was missing something. It wasn’t until many years later (perhaps only now, in these past few months of writing) that I discovered that in my hurry, I was missing myself. It’s taken me a long time and many, many miles to begin to find that self.
Writing this now, all of these years later, I find myself missing Talula like a long lost friend. I drive a Prius now, which is a phenomenal car and much more predictable and stable, but I’ve never been able to name it or even determine its gender. It’s a car—a damn good one—but it is nothing more. Talula was a friend and fellow adventurer. These days, I’m haunted by her and the memories she held.
The fear that haunted me most at 17, as articulated by Alanis Morissette: “Why is it such work to stay conscious and so easy to get stuck, and not the other way around?” That fear, of getting stuck, haunts me still, much in the same way that I was afraid of getting stuck on the side of the road with Talula.
"that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have..."
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.