Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Coffee, Winery, Grand Theft Auto...

Good Evening to all five of my registered fans (who may or may not actually read this) and those of you who hover mysteriously in the shadows of the World Wide Web! ...I have got to stop writing this stuff at midnight.

Today was unique in several ways, not the least being that I actually got to have coffee and sat around for the first hour of the day with my earbuds in listening to (and taking notes on) a Write Question NPR interview from May 3rd with Barry Lopez that Sandra assigned us for workshop. Unique, because I never listen to my iPod in the morning, and I was taking notes on an interview that I have downloaded as a podcast and am retaining on my iDevice so that, in future, I can listen to it again. So, I asked my befogged brain, why notes? To which my befogged brain did not reply. So, todays date and my entire 'notes' section in the back of my day planner is filled with notes on the rather fascinating interview on the responsibility of a writer to the public. A link for the interview can be found here: http://www.mtpr.net/program_info/2012-05-03-541. There should be links for any and all parties who may find the interview interesting, and appeal to any level of computer savvy.

Christine Sneed was the 9 a.m. Craft talk. She spoke to us about the usefulness of the trip narrative. She noted that many students' writing sort of comes out like a half-compressed accordion--not enough air to really make it sound good, yet not enough pressure on the parts that really matter. She advised us to put our characters in motion. We don't need to plot out the characters' plans as carefully as a trip to Disneyland--no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader--but getting the characters out of their houses and into new territory can really open the story and sort of define where the story might go. A trip story gives a setting which draws the writer in, and gives up interesting details. Trip-based stories allow one to write stories about a place that has made an impression on the writer. She gave some examples: "Dry Rain" by Pete Fromm, "The Girl on a Plane" by Gaitskill, "Ice" by Lily Tuck, and "Issues I dealt with in Therapy" by Matthew Clam.
She told us to end on an image, not on an abstraction in order to keep interest down to the last sentence.
She also noted that the Greek word for infinity=their word for mess. I forget exactly what she further related that to, but the thought still seems poignant. I'm sure I'll remember it tomorrow.

Workshop was, again, amazing. This time, Sandra turned to me and said that, now that she's praised my poetry, she's going to really tear it apart. The piece I had up today got rather shredded, and I was encouraged to approach it from the standpoint of a meditation, instead of a narrative scene. She is going to look up examples of meditative poetry so I can sort of piece together a form out of it, and then rewrite the piece with better, more focused perspective. It was really nice to not get just "trim this, nice lines, etc". Not that that's not nice to get in workshop, but I liked that she wanted to pry it apart and find the real heart of it.

Lunch was followed by the talk my roommates dragged me to which was, yes, the talk on romantic scenes. And when I say romantic, I'm being G rated. You can go ahead and fill in the rest. To be fair, it was a mostly tasteful, humerous, and straightforward look at how to create those scenes carefully, and with consideration for the reader, the subject matter, the characters, and the overall storyline. If it's not necessary, don't do it! If it is absolutely necessary, don't shy away from it. If you're working on it, don't be cliche and disgusting about it. There are plenty of ways to write those sorts of scenes tastefully. I don't forsee using any of the information from the talk anytime soon, but it really was well done.

Peter Sears taught a class on whether or not to use meter in poetry, or free verse, or verse libre, or just using rhythm/cadence, etc. Most of the salient points can be found in the third chapter of 'Best Words, Best Order' by Stephen Dobyns. Still, it was nice to get a refresher. He also provided us with some writing prompts, and I got a strange but interesting first draft of a poem out of the mix. Afterward, when I sat down for one of the graduate readings and a couple of people said they had no idea what we had just talked about in class, I went through and tried to explain it. Hopefully I did all right. I don't have a lot of hope for my future as a teacher.

The graduate readings were, as usual, pretty amazing. I had been in workshop with one of the students twice, and I must say her reading astonished me, as the poems she presented were SO different from the ones I had seen. It reminded me how unpolished and open the work we turn in for workshop really is. Which is encouraging, since I still don't really know how to make the revisions I need to...

Tonight was the night for the winery trip, so we all packed on to bus # 579 and two others, and hi-yo'd off to Elk Cove Winery. There was a cloud front off on the horizon, but it didn't make it rain. Despite the wind, the scenery was just gorgeous. There was, of course, wine, and some snacks laid out--meat, crackers, fruit cheese, really yummy vegan (what th') mint chocolate chip cookies. They were sooooo good. As was the reading. Ann Hood and Craig Lesley got up and read two amazing pieces that managed to touch every emotion of 90 percent of people in the crowd. Ann Hood's piece was sad, but mingled with a lot of hope. Lesley's bit of memoir had us mostly in uproarious laughter. It was a great night. Afterward, a few of us went out to stand on the winery's deck and look out over the rows of vines near sunset. It was clouded over so we couldn't actually see the sunset, but even the cloud cover cast a nice ambiance over the scene, and it made the green seem so much more vibrant. Just gorgeous.

We came back to our room when we got home, and watched a couple monty python / Fry and Laurie pieces and settled in for some serious homework. And, a little while later, we heard an engine rev outside. LOUDly outside. I looked up at my roommate and we both looked toward the window right about the same moment as a siren kicked on. Then another one and another one, then two more, then another, (all these were dodge magnums), then the white crown vic arrived, and all these cars were surrounding a white truck with its four-ways on out in front of our dorm. We heard the cops yelling at another car farther up and out of sight to get the door open, for the driver to step out of the vehicle, to open the door, to drop her purse, to put her hands in the air, and the radio in the background rolling out details that the subject had been pulled over, that the subject wasn't complying, still wasn't complying. The three of us went out of our room down one of the halls to where we had a pristine view of them leading the handcuffed lady over to the grass and helping her take a seat. EMS pulled up then, the little fire truck. My roommates decided that would be a good time to go out and have a cigarette, so I followed them out onto the concrete in front of the dorms where a few other students were gathered and watching. By the time we got out there, the lady had been put in one of the squad cars, and a kid had hopped out of the white truck, received keys from the officers, got in the car, and left. Then the truck left. When we got outside, the ambulance arrived. We met up with a couple of other people farther down the sidewalk and watched them finishing up. Although we went back in before they left. Down on the sidewalk, one of the guys was daring his wife to go talk to one of the officers and kick off a Forest Grove spinoff of 'Castle'. For seven bucks, she wouldn't go for it. No harm in trying, right?

Sandra has the first talk tomorrow, so I had better go get some shut-eye so I'll be all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. ...Or at least less cranky and scattered. Have a great night, all!

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