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.