Monday, August 17, 2009

On Media: Old writing made new

The following is a blog I posted on Myspace (which I have quit almost entirely except for harvesting and revisiting old blogs such as this one) almost exactly one year ago. It's fun to see what I was up to this time last year and how some interests and projects pan out and others don't - it's also a startling view of my priorities and personal advancement.

In short: I need to get back to reading that book and doing the exercises. It's on the desk in my bedroom - apparently it was important enough to me to remain out of a box and within arm's reach during and after the move to our new house. That should tell me something: it's worth enough to me, even on a subconscious level, to keep nearby, so I should get back to it. Soon.

Right after I write these three feature pieces and one hard news piece for the paper this week.

Originally posted on August 10, 2008:

I've started this new book called "Fiction Writer's Workshop," and I'm really digging it. It includes exercises to get the creative juices flowing, and they're different, more thought-provoking than the other "starters" I've read and worked on. The first one I did today: "One page: According to Henry James, one writer wrote from a glimpse of a seminary students' dinner party. Write a scene of a story from a glimpse you have had of a group of people - in a cafe, in a zoo, on a train, or anywhere. Sketch the characters in their setting and let them interact. Do you find that you find that you know too little: Can you make up enough - or import from other experiences - to fill the empty canvas?"

This is what I came up with - more than a page, but I do tend to run a little long. It's not exactly what was suggested, and I'm not sure what's going on here, exactly, but I like it, for some reason. It feels edgy and comfortable to me, sort of like spending time with someone you loved long ago, and thoroughly enjoying yourself even though you know there is no future in it.


Alice nearly tripped over the kid in the stroller as she rounded the end of the long table, crowded with people. For an instant she saw herself sprawling headfirst over the stroller, tipping from it the sleeping child, and managing to catch herself with one hand on the edge of the table only to upset a basket half full of tortilla chips, the greasy white wax paper lining it fluttering to cover someone's half eaten enchilada dinner like a raincoat tossed over a puddle.

But she didn't trip, the child remained sleeping, the stroller tipped back on its back wheels like a recliner. The child's cheeks were flushed and somewhat sunken, his face a chalky muddle, and she wondered if he had a fever.

She rounded the table and when she turned to open the bathroom door with her ass she caught a glimpse of the young man at the end of the table, his shoulder pressed up against the faux-adobe wall, who was looking at her. Glaring at her, really, with the intense focus of someone attempting to call to her through ESP.

She paused, her fingers trailing along the door, groping for the knob. They slid along the long handle and twisted. It was locked. She was trapped.

The man blinked rapidly, now possibly attempting to relay his message through Morse code. She shook her head and closed her eyes, knowing his face without looking, hearing his message in her head without him speaking, knowing the heft and cadence, the long drawled vowels of his muddy bayou speech.

Alice was feverishly jerking the handle on the bathroom door. The woman inside yelled "Just a second, gawd."

"Baylor," called the woman at the end of the table, beside the feverish sleeping child in the stroller. "Baylor, isn't that Alice?"

Alice knocked her head against the door, her eyes closed, seeing the twist of Marla's mouth, her short neck straining as she squinted all the way down the table to Baylor, his shoulder against the wall and his black hair swinging down to cover his eyes.

Someone turned in his seat, Alice felt it without seeing, without moving.

"Alice?" Uncle Bob. "Alice, is that you?"

She had always hated how Uncle Bob stressed the first syllable of her name. She opened her eyes. Baylor's temple was pressed against the prickly pink wall. Mexican chic.

"Alice, why honey it is you," Aunt Geraldine. Or Gerry, as she preferred to be called. "Why honey, aren't you a sight for sore eyes. Baylor, look honey, it's Alice."

"I saw her, Momma," his voice so low Alice couldn't hear it through the din of the Thursday night Mariachi band as they swung into the low-celinged room where Baylor's family's table fairly dominated the space, sprawling in a tangle of hardened white cheese dip and scattered orange rice.

"Alice, honey, why'ont you come join us," called Momma. Or Big Momma. "We's just finishing up, but there's half a pitcher of margarita here, come on now."

"Momma," Baylor barked. "Momma, Alice don't drink any more."

Alice blushed to her hairline, the heat making the room sparkle. Her hand went slack on the bathroom door handle. Her eyes hurt around the edges.

"Lord, she looks like a scared animal," commented Uncle Bob. "Alice, come on over sit down, honey. It's been so long, come on now."

"Well, I hate to see all this here margarita go to waste," Gerry said, reaching for the pitcher across Maude and Lindsey, the unfortunate twins joined at the hip. "Might as well drink up."

"Might as well," Uncle Bob agreed, holding out his glass.

"Alice," Baylor said suddenly, as if he had only now glimpsed her. He struggled to scoot his chair away from the table, his bare chestnut arm scraping against the raised ragged stucco of the wall, his eyes on her, all over her.

The door behind Alice opened, and she tumbled backwards, into the emerging woman. The two of them fell in a tangle of arms and legs, the woman's wet hands snagging in Alice's hair. The woman broke Alice's fall with a whoosh of breath, and the bathroom door swung shut just as Baylor appeared on the other side.

Alice scrambled to her knees, crawled to the door and twisted the lock.

"What are you doing," the woman asked from beneath the white porcelain sink hanging from the wall.

Baylor's fist pounded on the door, rattling it on its hinges. "Alice, open up."

Alice glanced around. It was an open bathroom, no stalls, one toilet and a chair squatting in one corner, an afterthought. Above the chair, a small window. Alice crawled over to the chair, climbed up. The window opened without protest, and Alice hoisted herself up, hung her head out. The ground was a mere five feet down.

"What in the world," the woman breathed from the floor.

The windowsill scraped against Alice's bare stomach as she wriggled through. She allowed herself to fall, curling up against herself, to the ground. She was up and gone before the stunned woman inside could unlock the bathroom door.

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