Saturday, September 25, 2010

Crafting Cookies

I spent the majority of last weekend at the Salem Literary Festival, participating in workshops and feeling like a writer again. It was so fun. I LOVED my writing classes in college. The amount you learn in a workshop is invaluable, even if it's not your piece that is being workshopped (most of the time it isn't). Talking about specific words, word order, word choice, a nutshell, craft, is, believe it or not, fun. And inspiring. I'm such a dork.

The workshops I took at the festival were not specific to a piece, they were specific to a genre. But they were small and so informative, and by the end of the day my hand hurt and my head was know, in a really good way. In both workshops we did exercise after exercise, writing and sharing, writing and sharing. So I want to share here what I wrote last week...with the caveat that these were 10 minute exercises that I have not polished since scribbling them in a journal. But I'd love to hear which ones catch your curiosity, and decide if there are any here that I should pursue further.

Really. 10 minutes. I'm not kidding. Keep that in mind before you laugh. The exercise and goal are written at the top of each.

Random Word Throw Exercise: Started with “I haven’t been the same since…” were thrown the words Squid, Gelatinous, and “The phone rang” while writing.

I haven’t been the same since yesterday, when I decided to get a cup of coffee. He stood at the register, smirking, like I had a blob of grape jelly on my face. I actually reached up to check, my hand fluttering over my lips: my jelly, my nose: no hanging boogers, my hair: no bird poop. I looked quickly down at my chest to make sure I wasn’t exposing a nipple, and then glared back at his smirk. It didn’t change when he said:
“Excuse me? I asked.
“You’re not squid?”
“Ummmm…no.” I started to laugh but turned it into a cough because I didn’t want to insult the man. He clearly had mental problems.
“I’m sorry,” He said. “Can I get you something? I don’t recommend the coffee cake.” He pointed at a sagging frosted ring in the case. “It’s gelatinous.”
I laughed this time. “Just a cup of coffee,” I said, still smiling.
“I can do that.” He turned, and while pouring my cup he asked, “do you know Squid?”
“No.” I couldn’t handle the 5 seconds of awkward silence. “…Is squid a person?”
He turned, the smirk smacked back on his face like a red colorform. He placed the coffee in front of me. “Squid,” he said slowly, “is not a person. Squid…”
The phone rang shrilly and as he turned toward it his smirk melted. “I need to get that. $2.53 please.”
I took out 3 dollars, laid it on the counter and walked out, clinging to the coffee, warm and solid, with both hands.

"I remember" sentences

I remember the sound of the bullfrogs, vibrating in the heavy dark, as I tried, I tried, I tried to sleep.

I remember how he looked straight at me and said: Why can’t you just say you’re sorry?

I remember peeking past the curtain, feeling the cold rush at me through the glass, and seeing him walk steadily through the snow, axe over his shoulder, down to the frozen pond.

“The first time I heard X song, I was doing X” Exercise

The first time I heard Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, I was spying on my older sister, sitting curled up at the bottom of the stairs to her third-floor attic room. Just because she was older she got an entire floor as her room and the closet was so big it had two doors, but it also meant the only door she could shut was at the bottom of the stirs, and she couldn't hear me open it or hear me sit there for an hour or more, listening to her sing: “like a vir-her-her-her-gin…”
Sometimes I would creep up step by step, so I could hear her talk to Tommy, her greasy boyfriend with hair in his face, on the phone. They said I was like the hippo in Fantasia once. Well, Tommy did. My sister just laughed. Therefore, the spying was deserved.
“I’m so bored” she would tell him. "I miss you." She'd lie on the carpet with her legs up in the air, and sometimes I could see the tips of her toes on the wall and I would think how mad my mom would get if she saw that.
But here’s the truth. I didn’t know what a virgin was. I didn’t even put two and two together: "Gonna give you all my love boy. My fear is fading fast.” I didn’t understand enough to know what my sister was starting to feel, what singing those words meant to her. What I did know was that she lived in this brand new third floor world, high above me, full of mystery and longing, and sitting at the bottom of the stairs and listening was about as close as I could ever get.

Story in 54 words exercise: First sentence is 10 words, second sentence is 9 words, third sentence is 8 words, etc!

The grass is long enough to hide us almost completely. Hearing the loud count down, we sit, feeling small. The sunlight makes stripes on our faces. “Shhhh,” she whispers, “they can’t find us.” I smile under my sweaty hand. We huddle closer, feeling giddy. A bird flies overhead. I hear footsteps. Grass rustling. “Boo!”

Dialogue Exercise: You can use a maximum of 5 non-dialogue sentences.

“There isn’t anything left to say.”
“That is crap and you know it.”
“Well I don’t have anything left to say.”
“That’s because you’re been talking for an hour. And you haven’t listened.”
“I don’t really want to.”
“Did I ask if you wanted to? In the very least, you owe me one listen.”
“One listen? That’s not even correct English.”
“You’re a shithead.”
She took a deep breath. “What you just spent the last hour telling me is a really nice way of trying to justify your actions.”
“That wasn’t really a compliment.”
“—Shut up, it’s my turn. Really. I mean, really? What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t really matter what you think your story should be. Here is the truth: you did this. You did this. It’s your fault. It will always be your fault….And I am no longer your sister.”
“That’s impossible.”
She took another deep breath. “What you think is crazy.”
“That may be.”
“That is.”
She got up, stepped out of the pew and walked down the aisle, the casket silent and alone at the other end.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cookie Dough. Forever.

I sat quietly on my back deck, in the shade, pen poised, with a brand new journal in front of me. And nothing happened. Well, that's not completely true. There were several birds that flew by, and I thought about the out of control bushes I need to prune. But the first page is still blank, because I sat there, completely intimidated with the first blank page of a brand new journal, even though I have a trunk full of finished journals in my basement. Who said I was any good at this, anyway?

So I stopped thinking and went inside to watch last week's episode of Mad Men. And as I watched the well-dressed, well-conceived, well-endowed, and well-written women on that show, it hit me. Women.

I spent the majority of this long, blissful weekend with girlfriends. Friends that I've had for years, and friends that I've had a few months. When I made my weekend plans, I was excited to see these friends, but I didn't realize how much I needed to see these friends, until I was with them. I think most people know what I mean: the talking, the wine, the laughter, the cookies and the cookie dough, the shopping, the laughter, the talking, the wine, and the laughter. There is a part of the female soul that glows after time with her friends.

I just finished a book this week called The Girls From Ames. It's a journalistic view of 11 female friends, now in their 50s, who literally grew up together. It wasn't phenomenal, but it was thought-provoking and nostalgic and made me feel equal amounts happy that I have some amazing girlfriends and ashamed that I don't have 10 female friends with whom I have yearly reunions. This book talked about how women live longer when they have close girlfriends, and, when diagnosed with life-threatening diseases, women actually heal faster and heal more often when they have close female friends. It certainly made me think about the women I love, the friendships I have, and the friendships I wish were different.

What I don't think the book captured very well is how difficult it can be when women who are so close start to feel dissonant; how difficult it is when a friendship, for whatever reason, is no longer the kind of friendship it was. I know I've shed as many tears over certain friendships as I have over romantic relationships in my life. And I think that is because there really is that part of a woman's soul--that part of my soul--that grows and shines and dreams because of and with her friends.

And what The Girls From Ames touched on, and what I've recently learned, is how friendships with women change as you become an adult. Time is so precious when there is so much else to be responsible for: your job, your home, your marriage, the family you are creating, and the family you came from. It is so hard to find the time to spend with your girlfriends and those friendships can sometimes suffer for it. But what is so amazing to me is how, despite all those distractions and responsibilities, I can call my friends I haven't spoken to for weeks and, spend the entire conversation being immensely grateful that it feels like we spoke the hour before. There is an understanding between us that life is busy and life is also really, really hard, and because of that and through that, we'll be there for each other.

Obviously not every friendship works like that, and those are the ones I did shed tears over and sometimes still do. Sometimes there are people I want to call but it's just too hard to dig through the emotional crap as out of control as the bushes in my yard that need to be pruned. I'm sure “better people” would say it’s worth it, that they would dig through, and sit on the phone, or across the table, and nod and smile and listen and emote. And sometimes it truly is worth it. But I'm also going to be brutally honest and say what those “better people” would not: when I have one hour to myself every day, and during that hour I am commuting, I would rather call one of the friends who isn't going to judge me for not calling the week before.

So this weekend was special. I saw four different girlfriends, each a different degree of important to me, and I'm definitely glowing brighter because of it. From eating cookie dough to buying new journals to sitting on the beach collecting different colors of sea glass, I valued every second of it. And while we may not be as well-dressed, or well-endowed as the women on Mad Men, we are certainly just as, if not more, well-conceived. Partly because there is that one thing the Mad Men writers missed—women don’t just cut each other down. They make each other glow. And the best friends do so without even realizing it. They do it by being who they are, and by understanding that who we are is all we can be.