I’ve been especially self-conscious lately, and I’ve barely written anything on here because of my constant over-evaluation. Well, that and a job that allows little time for anything other than itself. I’ll start typing away then slap myself, and stop. I’m not paying attention to clumsy construction, my newly formed critic will tell me, or unwanted abstraction or an inappropriate and unknowing use of the passive voice or sentences beginning with infinite-verb phrases or scansion, for God’s sake, or a sentence that is as incomprehensible as this one. Or worse, I’ll slavishly continue in a constipated, paint-by-numbers fashion that will render my canvas as interesting as the coloring book of a kid who stays within the lines.
It’s when I let my fingers fly, whether the pen soars in my hand or there’s a blur on the keyboard, I can really make my words travel beyond the constraints of rules. Sweet delusion tells me that. In the workshop, CM gives us very short exercises. They’re almost aerobic, really. She will cue a minor note or direction then she sets the egg timer. Once the sand runs out, pens are down, and we read the results from our feverish writer’s cramp.
Sometimes I look and just shake my head. Themes, characters, or an occasional motif will emerge. I know why they’ve been born on my page, and I understand I need to explore them, dig deeper, and continue to relinquish control. Oh, there’s the Willy Loman ploy you like so much, Terry, or the sudden danger barely averted scheme. You sure can write someone who’s feeling grumpy, can’t you, Terry? Or how about that sad person you write, the one who lost everything. He certainly seems to visit your writing a lot, even if he’s sometimes dressed as an old woman or a baby. Are you sure, Terry, you want to write about a neurotic woman again?
Here are a few raw, unedited examples – emphasis on the raw. The first assignment was to create a crabby waitress and her customers in an exercise of dialogue. (We were given three minutes and I’m afraid I fell short on the dialogue part.) The second one was to create a character seeing the Washington Monument for the first time. (Two minutes, this time, and I drew on a character I had seen in Philly.)
They’re crudely written but they were fun to write, or rather, they had fun writing themselves.
-- Denise knew when she walked over to the table, she was going to interrupt their moony-eyed conversation, but what the hell did she care? She had to turn over the table or Larry, the chief waiter, would be all over her ass.
“Hi, would you like to hear our specials?” Denise waited but the couple didn’t come up for air. The woman was prattling on and on about her job, a job that no doubt didn't have varicose veins in its future, Denise thought, and Denise waited to be noticed. Hello? Beat. Beat.
“I’m sorry, would you like to hear about the specials this evening?” Whatever sweetness was in her voice barely masked her tired irritation.
“Um. Okay. Sure,” the man said, taking up the menu for the first time. Denise went into her auto-pilot and the couple went into auto- zone-out. The exercise completed, the woman scrunched her face like she just smelled something bad, and Denise wondered how this guy could possibly want to wake up to that.
“Give me a minute. You go first,” the woman said.
“I think,” he dragged out that word to three syllables and Denise rolled her eyes so hard, it made her headache worse. “How about…” he started again only to trail off and stare back at the menu. Denise thought they deserved one another.
“Do you need some more time?” --
-- Claire has seen the damned thing in books and movies her whole life but she wasn’t prepared at how tall it was now that she was standing at its base. Her hands on her hips, she harrumphed and took her place in line with the rest of the tourists, waiting for the elevator to go to the top. Her niece cautioned her that she might be cold but Claire wasn’t going to let her niece or some dumb weatherman tell her she couldn’t wear her red, white, and blue sequined halter top in the capital of her own nation. It turns out her niece had been right, Claire thought, as she rubbed her paper thin skinned arms for some warmth but she’d be damned if she’d let her niece know the better. --