Panic: At the Word-Processor

A few weeks ago, I was whining at Lance about how much I envied him pursuing his dream and real talent of creative writing (He is at the {undergrad} Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Seriously,) his having time all alone to think and write (while I was drowning in messy, whiny, basic-needs-of-first-world-children chaos), his taking the chance to do what he really loved (rather than what would get him a job – which is what I [erroneously] chose when I had the same opportunity…), basically just having a pity party about how wonderful those hopes seem when contrasted to the life of a 30-something housewife with no real skills or future. He countered by offering to send me to a writer’s workshop (something I have been hoping and looking for) that started in Decorah in literally sixteen hours from the moment I found out about it. I have no idea how he found that with such good timing. I’d been looking for one for 8 or 9 months.

[Granted, I had been thinking “workshop” like Pentecostals/Charismatics think “Retreat”: take a three-day, two-night weekend at a ‘place’ to listen to a couple of subject-related speakers, relax, and let your mind work while you do a couple of fun but relaxing things (or not) and hang out in your cabin/room/wherever, with scheduled times to do some relevant activities and talk about certain writing topics, then share at the end….]

Obviously, I have no idea what a writing workshop is, really. I panicked a little bit, but the next morning when he asked me if I was still serious, I said “Yes.” He signed me up as a Christmas gift…

And I did it. I drove from the new house to Decorah through the aftermath of the worst storm of the winter (so far – fingers crossed, I know) and showed up late and with trepidation, but showed up nevertheless.

The instructor, Amy Weldon, has captured my heart. She is enthusiastic, eloquent, intelligent, and clearly loves her art. I’m fairly certain that I could listen to her ramble about almost any subject and be entertained. None of the books that she has recommended have actually arrived from Amazon yet, but if her recommendations and quotes are any indication, they’re worth the wait.

Our first “assignment” on the first day of the class, I took for an assignment, and did as I would have for a college class, with the associated agonizing, formatting I knew, last-minute informal peer critique, and ultimate hopes for praise. (And to be honest – expectations of praise – because teachers have mostly told me that I’m an excellent writer, over the years. Except for the nursing teachers, who thought I was too editorial… Though that was a long-while ago.)

At the end of the second class, when it hadn’t been mentioned again, I asked about the “assignment”… And discovered to my embarrassment that it hadn’t been an assignment so much as a suggestion for practice. I said “If you would, please,” when the instructor asked if I’d like her to read it anyway, just to see how she would comment about my sort of sub-par effort. (Remember the last-minute-frenzy business…)

The third week, I got my assignment thrown back at me (teasingly, not chidingly) with a little bit of admonishment that the assignments were suggestions… This  after a two-hour class about plot structure and story line that highlighted to me that the piece I had handed in may have been somewhat decent for my mom to read, and probably loosely fit the criteria of the original assignment, but was in no way a ‘story’.  It was a serious ego bust, but helpful in recognizing that: this is no longer community college, where managing to put a coherent sentence together is praised, nor science-focused college: where following rote is expected and editorializing is discouraged. This is a condensed and/or watered-down class for grown-ups who are doing it for fun, by a serious and seriously talented teacher who either loves her art so much that she can’t contain it, or really, really needs the extra $15 per student that it might garner after the host fees.

Whatever the underlying reason, I was (and am) awed and intimidated.

Tonight, my babysitting schedule fell in on itself through my own lack of foresight, so I couldn’t attend. I’m disappointed in myself, but not really surprised… It happens. Mostly just panicking, because the assignment was sent out this evening via e-mail for next week: “In workshop next week, everyone will bring 2 to 3 clean typed copies of a piece with a beginning, middle, and end, formatted for maximum ease of reading in 12-point, Times New Roman font, double-spaced with 1-inch margins. Bring at least 2 clean copies to trade with classmates and one for me IF you would like me to read and offer feedback during class.” How could I possibly turn down the chance for feedback from someone who knows what she’s talking about? And at the same time, how could I turn in anything less than the best thing I’ve ever written?

Augh! The conflict here is clear! The “writer” has no story –  the class desires story. The teacher expects story. The writer desperately wants to please herself, the teacher she admires, the class she doesn’t want to look foolish in front of, the friend who inspired the conflict, and the one to two readers who look at her blog. What will she do?!

Seriously… What will she do? I mean, what will I do? I’m pretty good at talking about what happened to and around me in a given day, and imagining things that might happen in other people’s story-lines… A story with a beginning, middle, and end that is all my own ideas? What is that? Even if I decide to be lazy (I mean autobiographical), nothing I’ve ever done has had a clear beginning, middle and end, or would be interesting enough to read as a “short story”.

Urgh. Crisis!

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