Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Embarrafleeing and Writing Poorly

What a title. It's a rich, fascinating life I lead, and well worth your time. 

On the last Sunday in August, I went to UCLA to attend the Writers Faire. Despite the information on the website and the flyer I got in the mail, I didn't know what to expect there. I'm really glad I went, but I had a bit of a social anxiety moment right at the end there, found myself doing the activity a friend coined "embarrafleeing" - walking overly fast in an attempt to outrun having just made an idiot of yourself. I think that's why I haven't written here in a week. The responsible thing to do would be to make good art out of this, break it down and tell you in excruciating detail how much of a twit I felt, trying to explain my educational motives to the head of an MFA program while we both sweated in the sun, praying as I hurried to my car that he would never, ever remember me in any way or for any reason. Great practice for sketching a scene. But every time I opened a Compose window, I balked. And I'd rather write than not write, so, that's all I'll say about it for now. 

In the interests of posterity, or those who get here by Googling, amazingly smart and engaging people spoke and manned booths at the UCLA Extension Writers Faire, and it was a fine event to attend even though I had no real idea what I, or it, was about. I'm really looking forward to my class there, which starts in October. I had a short talk with my instructor-to-be about the Writers Program, and he was friendly and thoughtful and humble and helpful. It was great. (For the record, this guy started at UCLA Extension, and went on to a Stegner Fellowship and placing work in the New Yorker and other honors.) If you have an opportunity to go to the Faire and an interest in the Extension Writers' Program (or, really, getting a writing degree in the greater L.A. area), go. It'll help. 

Last week I started school at CSUN, and while it's been exhilarating and fun and bizarre in equal measures to sit in a classroom full of undergraduates, there isn't much there to write about, either. Both of my professors are enthusiastic and interesting and smart. I'm intimidated by the concepts and workload of the one class and itching to get at the material in the other. The library's really nice, and buying a Razor scooter to get around on campus was a far better idea than I could have guessed. 

I'm over the halfway point in Ulysses, and I'm thinking seriously of skipping most of the rest of it, listening to Molly Bloom's soliloquy, and walking away. I'm just not enjoying it at all. "Tiresome" is the adjective that best describes my opinion as I listen and listen and listen and listen to it. On the other hand, I think, I could just listen to the whole thing now and be done, earn the achievement of completing it, never have to get into it again. A book like this doesn't have the same rules as the rest of what I read, of giving up when I feel like it because life is too short. It's too Important to the Canon. Blech. 

On break from Ulysses, I read Jenny and the Jaws of Life, a book of short stories published in the 1980s by Jincy Willett, and I've never read a book like it. Go read it for yourself, and maybe you can tell me what went on in half the stories. When I wasn't slightly baffled, I was enraptured; never was I bored. Really a treasure. 

Writing news: I tried to write a particular story a couple of weeks ago, and this is what happened: 

I was in the wrong mode, trying to apply genre style to a literary idea, and I couldn't get my brain to switch back over. The tone was freaky and hyper and the dialogue was atrocious. So I'm going to give it another try in a couple of weeks, after Ulysses is over one way or the other, after I've settled into school. 

Additionally, I have one scene to rewrite in that dissection story, and then I think it'll be good to go. The subject matter of this story draws largely from my experience at Esalen, and there is nothing about it that really makes it pop, if you will. Most of my other lit stories are extreme in some way, involving death or sex or something, but this is just one woman's quiet crisis. 

Part of me wonders what on earth the point is of writing a story like this, where the stakes are so low that getting the reader to care is a dicey thing. But the other part of me says that, really, the balance of writers working today routinely ignore this question and get their work in excellent, prestigious markets. Because of style, because of quality, because of character. Those are things I think this story has. Not that I don't work hard to make those things exist in the more flashy stories, but that I always assume I need both to make a story good enough for professional consideration (and because it's just my tendency at present to write about sex and death). So it's been a worthwhile experience to set aside the special effects and concentrate on wordcraft to make a story pop off the page. We'll see if it worked. I have two markets in mind already. 

1 comment:

Maria said...

Ulysses? You MUST read the whole thing! Just make yourself do it. You will never regret it. The last bits are the best....