Tuesday, December 2, 2008

on majoring in creative writing in the mid-to-late 90s ...

everyone is more complicated than me.

no one wants to read poetry about always going to homecoming with the wrong guy. or short stories where the protagonist's inner demon is a midnight curfew. i have spent the past 18 years wearing solid color shirts with collars, pants without patch-pockets. not drinking, not smoking, no weed. one hickey, though.

even at st. thomas, more upper-echelon boarding school than university, i see that majoring in creative writing has an edge that i don't. and that "well, my mom says i write like erma bombeck" is a bad way to try to relate to my classmates.

stace's hair grows wild, prairie grass or a gift plant unwilling to die. her clothes are a collection of things, like she strolled through her cluttered apartment picking up items and randomly putting them on her body with no consideration for their function, color, or seasonal appropriateness.


a leg warmer.
an earring.
this headband.
a half-shirt.
a sweater.
a scarf.
these shoes.

she is the best writer in our class, by far. her first poem is just a collection of sensory words about riding the city bus. it doesn't rhyme as much as it sounds like it does; her first short story is about a woman who works as a phone sex operator.

dan is post-secondary. a 17-year-old kid in baggie jeans. red hair and a bloated pasty face that is prone to acne. he writes poems about anna, always about anna. they dated for a few weeks a few years ago, and now his love for anna lives in a bucket with a hole in the bottom, he writes.

dan and i are friends. i write a poem about the way his faded gap jeans dangle from his hips, which they do. it's like they are wet. he visits my dorm room and makes me listen to the song "running to stand still." he tells me this is how he feels.

"what's with you and that kid?" my roommate asks me later.
"nothing," i say. "i just really like this song."


we have a mom in our class. a nontraditional student with no ticks in her cursive who has a hallmark way with words. she knows a ton about birds.


whit always sounds like she has a cold. when she uses the word "pastoral" i forget to look it up in the dictionary. she gets out of workshopping her stuff one afternoon by saying she ran out of money to pay for copies for the class. when i try this, it doesn't work.


kath has a cleft palate. it doesn't affect her writing at all.


we have a few rules about writing that go beyond anything suggested by houghton-mifflin:

no "and then i woke up" endings
no "and then everyone died" endings
no defending a piece of writing with "but that's really what happened!"


one of the women in my writing class has a nike swoosh tattoo on the back of her neck. i notice it during my j-term step aerobics class. the under part of her hair is shaved, with a curtain of long hair covering it. when she wears a pony tail, it's like a cap. i can't figure her out: she is literally a cheerleader in black lipstick who writes short stories about suicide sponsored by nike.

there is a pre-law student taking this class as an elective. his face is wind-tanned and hard. he seems like the kind of guy who's mom wears a $20,000 christmas tree pendant at party on new year's eve. a family party where, afterward, he'll accuse his wife of getting drunk and flirting with his brother. he will probably hate his dad until his dad dies, then he'll buy something expensive. he's got an east-coast accent that makes all of his stories about drug-fueled hallucinations and road trips as easy-on-the-ears as a white noise machines from sharper image.

the pre-law student isn't half as interesting in our christian marriage class.


our professor begins hosting classes in the basement of the english department. providing us with tea served in styrofoam cups with hot water from the coffee maker. she is a published poet from a family of writers that includes a sister who is about as famous as a writer can get.

aside from stace, our professor doesn't seem to really like any of us. when she writes HA! in green ink in the margins of my portfolio, it doesn't feel genuine. i, however, find her fascinating: long, free flowing hair, giant earrings, she's a little messy. she looks like a mother's best friend: the one who keeps protest signs in the trunk, has never lived in one place for more than eight months and uses endearing names for kids, like "hey, you little rugrat."


the soccer player, as i hope his diploma recognizes, is the first attractive male in history to take an upper-level creative writing class at st. thomas. his blond hair is feathered; it looks like the top of a cupcake. for weeks, he never contributes his stories for workshop. i feel like his translator between the thrift-store junkies, closet cutters and someone who may include the phrase "shots on goal" in his work. i'm no stranger to having my last name embroidered on a purple nylon jacket with UST written on the back.

finally. finally the soccer player brings a story to class, passes out copies and begins reading aloud. the gist: a suburban soccer star with a tyrannical father can't deal with the burden that comes with talent. he waits until the last sentence to shoot himself in the mouth.


in my final act as a creative writing major, i write a short story called "the writing group" that is published in the university's literary magazine. [i'm on staff]. the fictional class consists of a happy couple writing love poetry back and forth; a kid who carries an empty guitar case, doodles van halen logos, and instead of writing claims to be tapping into another creative medium; a dark dark poet who writes of dead animals and the romance of halloween. a hippyish professor, with dangling earrings, propped up on a radiator listening.

at a reading in the st. thomas library, one of the other english department professors laughs and laughs and laughs as i read. real HA's without green ink. he's apparently met some of these people.


years later, i ran into my writing professor in front of my rental on fairview ave. she was with her husband walking the greyhounds they adopted. i was a week from graduation.

"you and daniel were always just writing poems about each other," she said.
"no," i said. "nothing ever happened there."


Beret said...

I think I took a World Politics class with some of these same people.

When I went back to college I was the Mom in the class. I always sat in front and smelled like Johnson's baby lotion.

Running to Stand Still is one of my all time favorite songs.

CDP said...

I love love love these posts.

Kristabella said...

I don't know what else to say besides I think you're awesome.

I should probably not have skipped and/or slept through most of my classes in college. Think of the material!

Krupskaya said...

I love this post.

futbol said...

ditto, ditto

Bethy said...

Majored in English, MFA coursework in creative writing. Definitely some interesting characters in those classes...why do most of the professors hold such contempt for modern (anything after the WWI poets) works? When we went around the room listing our favorite authors, there was a collective gasp when I said Stephen King. What? I like the way he writes people...

Gebadia Smith said...

People always have the most interesting stories..