Wednesday, November 29, 2017

writing for real

I'm more than halfway through my 50 things before 50 quest and have only included a couple of mundane activities plus about half a dozen concerts, though my list of Things To Do during sabbatical is still overflowing with ideas I haven't yet started to pursue, mainly because they scare me.

One of those Big Plans was to "write more," by which I essentially meant "let other people who don't automatically like everything I do read my creative writing." So I entered the NYCMidnight Short Story Challenge - getting a $5 discount by posting an announcement on my Facebook page, which served two necessary purposes for me: saving money that I'm not making this year and publicly declaring my intention so I can't easily back out.

I am a little terrified; Eleanor Roosevelt would be proud.

As soon as I entered the contest (which doesn't start until January, thank baby Jesus), I vowed to establish the long-resolved-but-never-realized habit of writing something each morning. This is especially painful for a perfectionist, even a recovering one like I pretend to be; I am every day mentally apologizing to all of my past students for acting like free write activities are simple and fun.

My first two days were exercises in mild self-loathing and premonitions of spectacular failure, but today I consulted the Creative Writer's Notebook that my beautiful, talented, genius friend Lisa gifted me.
The prompt I chose was about "revealing character." I was given vague details - a traveling salesman, tall with a bad back from uncomfortable beds at cheap hotels, who is divorced and has two young children; I was instructed to use these facts and describe this person through actions and strong narration. I sighed, worried over it a minute, then took to writing (in pen, to keep myself from editing & revising as I wrote). Here is the draft I composed in half an hour this morning (with a tiny bit of editing as I transferred from notebook to laptop, because I'm a perfectionist/cheater):
___________________________

What must they think of me? A man who has spent his life driving around, trying to convince people to buy things they don't need, who sleeps in places that will never stop smelling like old ashtrays and dirty socks. This lingering odor has become part of me, their father, arriving on the porch seconds before I do so that when they hug my bent neck I can feel their reluctance to get too close; my children will always be the first ones to let go.

Each month when I make my way back to our dusty little town, I look forward to the moments around that first touch and imagine they will be different - their eyes will brighten this time, their hands will reach faster for me, their faces will nuzzle in close again like when they were babies.

I drive past the mile markers, noting each place with a mix of anticipation and shame. The bowling alley at the edge of town, only six miles to their neat little house, was the first place I kissed their mother and made her believe our lives would be different. The grocery store, somehow still standing in the middle of strip malls and supermarkets, blinking as stupidly as it had 20 years ago when I was the star clerk, a local celebrity, about to make everyone proud. The remains of the drive-in theater, rotting in an abandoned field of beige weeds, only one mile to go, shoving broken scenes of fumbling with buttons and snaps, unzipping in the back seat shadows, sweating and whispering and promising.
__________________________

Thoughts welcome.
Be kind but firm.

9 comments:

KL Crab said...

It's amazing. My dilemma comes with the last sentence, It flowed really well through to that point and then I felt disjointed a bit like I missed a connection (or that the jump was too far for me to grasp?) Not sure where to put my finger, just that I struggled right there in the last part of the final thoughts.

I wish I could write like this, but since I cannot I will joyfully read your words.

Gretel said...

I really enjoyed this - I had fun switching the first and second paragraphs to feel the difference in tone. He becomes tangible and the sensory detail is expressed very well.
The ending got a little weird for me, and I think if i had to put my finger on it, it was the sudden transition from sad-dad to wetdream dad that threw me for a loop. Nothing like those hometown memories, eh pops?

And also, in response to "I am every day mentally apologizing to all of my past students for acting like free write activities are simple and fun." L.O.L. :) You are excellent. Thank you.

Also also - please write more. You have such a gift with words and I'm excited for you to be sharing it.

Stephanie Spencer said...

Thank you, K.
I was trying to get at the shame part of memories and also thought I had another page in my notebook to keep writing, so yes it is an awkward transition & abrupt end.

You might surprise yourself with your writing abilities...try it and see. :)

Stephanie Spencer said...

Thanks so much, dear.
See my reply to K above - you both experienced my frantic grasping at a transition...glad the character otherwise cane to life. :)

Kathy Amen said...

If you can write like this, off the cuff (and I have no reason to believe that you actually cribbed this from some Pulizer-prize-winning story and passed it off as your own 8-) )...then, lady, you have nothing to feel terrified about. It's wonderful!

Stephanie Spencer said...

Oh wow, thanks!
I think my real concern is taking all my little pieces and making them a worthwhile longer read...we’ll see. :)

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Good for you to hack at it! That's a great start--the setting and character really throb with real details. Now I think I might track down that prompt for my Write Club kiddos...

Aaru Garg said...

Hi..
The information given by you is really very helpful.
Thanks for publishing this great stuff.
--
mPanchang
India's No.1 Astrology portal wishes Merry Christmas 2017

Stephanie Spencer said...

Thanks much. :) It’s the moving on part that’s daunting...I’ll have to start pulling stuff together soon!

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