Below are several pieces (out of dozens) from my students about the class:
the workaday world, with its problems unfurled,
(Maddening so, ‘til I yell, like a jerk, “STOP!”)
Seems to ease down and pause, and I’m happy because
I am part of Adair Lara’s Workshop!
Saturdays, half past one, with my writing all done,
It is then that all doubts, if they lurk, drop.
‘Cuz when I climb those stairs, throw away all my cares;
I’m with friends in Adair Lara’s Workshop!
I may be out of breath, out of shape half to death,
After reaching the attic on Scott Street.
But that big yellow house soothes me so I don’t grouse,
And I’d be sad if told we could not meet.
Come with me, therefore, as I walk through the door
Of this Saturday place that’s so wondrous,
You’ll be lit like a taper to put pen to paper,
And be met with a love that’s so thund’rous
You’ll walk through that door, and keep coming for more,
So your muse can be freed up and happy.
And you’ll understand why we are all really high
On a woman about whom we’re sappy!
First let’s look ‘round the circle of people whose work’ll
Just thrill you no end, that I’ll swear with you.
After hearing their writing, so smart and exciting
You’ll be asking what else can they share with you!
Then there’s Jessica Ainsworth who”s weaving a train’s worth of knitted goods as she regales
With stories of blues, murder, drumming and Sus-
An’s obsession with hot Cuban males!
Next is Rachel so smart, who gets right to the heart
With such sweetness, her book ‘ll be heaven!
Touching scenes, Roy and Mama; we’re hooked on the drama,
Wond’ring will she get past age eleven?
from downstairs there’s a smell
Of some fabulous recipe cooking,
‘Cuz the sweet husband of the teacher we love’s
Down there busy (he’s also good looking!)
Gifted Jason McGonagle, ever laconic’ll
Sit list’ning, week after week.
Now his writing’s terrific, every moment specific,
We’re so moved that we hardly can speak!
Then of course, there’s our Jan, no one funnier than,
With her stories of Beach Blanket Babylon!
Wide-eyed teacher by day, the Catholic way,
Furred La Bamba, by night, she is fab-y-lon!
And finally there’s me, sitting snug as can be
At my place on the very last cushion,
Never sure if my writing is all that exciting
Nonetheless, despite all, I keep pushin’!
WRITING CLASS JOURNAL
Writing class with Adair begins tomorrow. I’m so thrilled. I’ve written my first piece for class. I call it “Grocery List.”
Well. That’s it. Hope she likes it. I can’t wait to write morel
First class was terrific. Love her squirrel slippers. Love her haircut. Didn’t have to read, (hank God. One of the other students. Eileen, read her piece. Similar to mine but about 100 times better. She wrote about pineapple, and anchovies. Anchovies, for God’s sake! Why didn’t 11lrink of that? My piece is stupid and boring. I’ll never be a writer.
Got back Adair’s critique of my piece. She crossed out ” Sudafed`: says it belongs in a different piece. But I think she liked it! She wrote, “Good detail, has possibilities. Expand on your theme and emphasize first person’ Maybe l can do this after ail!
Next assignment is on memory and imagination. Here’s what I wrote:
THE GROCERY STORE
It was a summer afternoon in Bethesda, Maryland, and I was about 5 years old and had long, brown hair, and it was about 80 degrees. My mother took me shopping with her to Safeway, which was air-conditioned_ Right in the middle of the aisle with the vegetables, my mother exclaimed, “Damn! I’ve forgotten the list”
In a soft, shy voice J whispered into her ear, “Eggs. Bananas. Milk, bread, paper towels.” When we got home, she yelled at Inc for not reminding her to get Diet Coke and cheese. It was still about 80 degrees. T never forgot it.
I’m so proud. I read my piece in class, and they seemed to love it. Except 1 :forgot to have an angle and epiphany. And it was kind of over-written and trite. But Adair said it was very moving and had strong images. She loved the part about the heat.
The weeks are flying by. Forgot to write in my journal because I’m so busy writing other stuff. We’ve learned all about angles_ and set-up, and epiphanies, and I think I’ve really got it now. This week we wrote a “topical piece”. Here’s mine:
JESSICA AND ME
Jessica Dubrow’s plane crashed. They say it may have been overloaded with supplies. Which reminds me of the time I went to the grocery, and they put everything in one bag. It was very heavy. The bag ripped on the way out to the parking lot. I stood there looking at the mess: broken eggs spilling over crushed bananas, cans of Diet Coke rolling away on the asphalt, the waxed carton of milk leaking all over everything_
I realized, that moment in the parking lot, that if we lighten our loads we have a better chance of making it to our destination, which in this case was my car. J think Jessica would know exactly what I mean.
I’m an utter failure. My writing partner liked the topical piece, but she likes everything. Adair said my epiphany was a little thin. Maybe [ should give up this first-person thing and write poetry. I’m going to try redoing my earlier woe, since this week we’re doing rewrites. I couldn’t think up a new piece to save my life.
Success at last! Adair loved it, my writing partner loved it, and the class loved it. Here’s my rewrite:
THE SHOPPING LIST by Stacy Appel
Farm fresh eggs. Bananas, slightly green. Low-fat milk. Rye bread A six-pack of Diet Coke. Brie. I needed these things. A lot.
Not bad, if I do say so myself I took out the bit about the paper towels, even (though I really liked it. It didn’t seem to frt. I’ll use it later, in some other piece. I love writing
Growing Pains at 50
It took years of loss and upheaval to show me who I am.
I didn’t expect to be uncoupled at 50. I imagined my husband and me, celebrating our twentieth, looking remarkably like the couples I used to see in ads for diamond anniversary rings, side by side on the redwood bench in our garden. We would nibble on apples from a tree that we planted when the kids were still in diapers, gaze into each other’s eyes, and murmur “I would marry you all over again” as the sun set in blazing colors before us. But there will be no snuggling on a bench or homegrown apples, because I lost both the house and the husband after my divorce three years ago.
Shortly after I became single again, I met a man and fell in love. I considered myself lucky to find someone so soon after the end of my marriage. I wouldn’t have to endure a long stretch, or possibly lifetime, of frustration and loneliness. My boyfriend had a custody arrangement with his ex-wife that was highly subject to change at the last minute. One night as I sat on the couch and fumed because he was a few hours late, I realized that I had to find a hobby. Then I glanced at a brochure from a local book store that arrived in the mail that day and read about an upcoming class on writing a memoir. The class would meet for six Thursday nights. I remembered an offhanded comment a friend made at the nadir of my divorce. “You should write a book,” she said. The next day I signed up.
I arrived for the first class and looked around me. Some people held manuscripts to their chests and looked worried that if they let go of them for a second, someone would reach over and steal them. Others boasted to their neighbors about their years in writing groups and the agents they knew through friends. I don’t belong here, I thought, the only writing I know how to do is dry prose for government reports on Medicare. I didn’t know anything about writing groups or agents. Then the teacher breezed in, laptop and papers tucked under one arm, a broad smile on her freckled face. She hopped on the edge of the table in front, ran her fingers through her thick red hair, and began.
She threw a lot at us that first night–the difference between memoir and autobiography, the importance of a good story, why the main character has to be a flawed human pursuing a central goal or desire. She talked about borrowing liberally from fiction writers–creating great characters and writing juicy dialogue. I didn’t know what any of it meant, but I knew I had a story to tell, and that I had flaws aplenty, especially when the story took place.
After the second class, the teacher asked us to list the 10 pivotal moments in our story, describe each one, and send it to her for review. I labored over each little paragraph like it was a miniature thesis and hungered for some sign in the margin that I was in the right
Lemesh, My Turn, 415-250-0705
place. She obliged me. When she handed back the assignments at the next class and I saw “wonderful image” scrawled next to a sentence in the second paragraph, I practically levitated in class. From then on, I was hooked.
I hurried to complete every assignment, sent it to the teacher a day or two after class, and waited breathlessly for some snippet of approval or wisdom. Sometimes I nailed a concept without knowing how I did it. “You’ve got it here. This is dialogue with subtext,” she wrote next to two lines of dialogue wedged between tedious paragraphs about my old kitchen, down to the grout. I wrote more dialogue, and eventually it got easier and better. I read memoir after memoir to understand the craft and learn from those who mastered it.
After the class ended, I met with the teacher at her kitchen table, and she pulled six more pivotal moments out of me and told me to go home, review the handouts and examples from class, and create scenes based on them. Six months later I had 60 pages and wanted to quit because it was so hard, and the writing was so bad. She told me what to fix and said, “You’re already a writer. You’re just becoming a better one.” That remark made me race home and spend hours in front of the computer just writing more. Last summer, my clumsy first efforts ripened into a 200-page manuscript, and with more help from my teacher, I will revise it, finish it, and write a book proposal. Then I will look for an agent.
Although my writing progressed, my relationship didn’t. My boyfriend and I reached an impasse that we couldn’t resolve and broke up. It happened quietly at his house, on a Saturday morning, when he avoided me and I asked him whether he wanted me to leave. He looked down at his feet and said yes. I drove off. When I came home, I sought solace at my computer, where I recorded every detail about our last morning together and saved the memory on my hard drive. The words flowed first, then the tears. The end of the relationship brought the usual heartache, pain and regret, but it also brought something else that I didn’t expect—material. I am a writer after all.
A funny do-it-yourself epiphany kit from Linda Kilby:
From List A, one from List B and one from List C
One day while patting my dog Skip
I bit into the lemon cookie
When I came back to the garden the mushrooms had grown HUGE and
4 As the mugger ran away into the dark night
5 When I staggered to my feet, twisted bike on the ground
6 The last thing I remember is counting back from 100 When I awoke
7 When he took his last breath his eyes opened and
8 My grandma took the chocolate only from me because
it was apparent that I
4 I knew that
5 it was clear to me for the first time
6 I had known it before but only now really tasted the knowledge that
7 it hit me like a thunderbolt
life IS like “Dibbs in Search of Self”!
a Woman of a Certain Age should be wary of hair past her shoulders
when in doubt, stir the sauce
4 if you see a bird you can’t recognize, just say with quiet
“It’s a finch,” and it most likely will be
5 you will immediately calm down if you remove your shoes and socks
and walk barefoot
6 Things always look better after a long tub with a trashy novel
7 When you drink Diet Mountain Dew, people judge you. Pay no mind
8 Inventing the “back fat bra” would make me a millionaire