This is what it is like for me on this Thursday morning sitting and waiting around–without coffee–for my 930am class:
I have come to the idea that I my process is so completely erratic and unpredictable and I wonder if I can sustain a long narrative without forgetting beginning points and narrative threads. Here I find myself on Ch 20 of the Cornbread Project and in the middle of teaching 6 classes–yes, 6 classes–and I find myself forgetting what the intro and 1st chapter were about. I find myself rereading not for proofing but for characters names and threads–consistencies in the narrative. I thought I was like Ray Carver in his book of essays Fires–I thought I didn’t have the head for longer narrative and that my sensibilities leaned towards the sprint.
And I have never been one like Stephen King who condones and offers sitting and writing for hours on end every day of the week sequestered away so one can write. But today and only today as I think about photocopies and page numbers and discussion points/ideas and logisitical bologna, well today I feel that I could almost walk away and be satisfied simply to have 5 consecutive hours or so to sit and write and finish the damn manuscript as I do have some substantive thought on plot and direction for characters. I mean I have these imaginary and partly real people in my laptop and I want to finish their stories. As I get older the more and more I understand in writing and in myself the more I wish I could be like some tenured people here and ‘not come in on thursdays’!
I first heard of failure as it relates to writing from my old writing teacher and mentor Will Hochman . And I don’t mean he failed me or told me I was a failure. No, he was tough on me but kind and nurtured his students from draft to draft. Never had composition with him but rather lit courses and creative writing–poetry and fiction. He gave me Richard Hugo and gave me Donald Hall. He saw something in me I did not see in myself at the time.
Later he got me a gig as a writing center tutor getting paid to work with writing–getting paid to work with students. This led to teaching community college courses, led to a career and an obsessive compulsive view of fiction and poetry. Will helped make the failed writer I am today. As much as Huerfano County and Pueblo County. I mean he helped me appreciate failure in writing. To appreciate the long, dificult process of writing. This is something I try to instill in my students. This is the kindness I always try to find for my students.
Here is a note from his website (stolen without permission–Sorry, Will):
Accept humanity’s flaws as what it means to be you. Sometimes how we write ourselves is all about the heuristic of failure.
In other words, writing is about empathy and humanity. And I recognize how dificult that is. Can I teach empathy in 16 weeks? I can surely lead the way–or try. I suppose you will need to ask my students about that because my students feel 16 weeks of a semester as too brief of a time to complete a significant change in literacy skill. They say I push too hard–like all students complaining. And I can only suggest it is enough time to craft at least 4 writing assignments. But mostly I try to instill the care for writing–the care for drafting. That same appreciation of learning from failure. From understanding what makes writing bad and what makes writing effective. To understand literary quality not as a critic but as a human–with empathy and hope. And that is not a failure.
But at the end of a term like here in school in the last week of classes we are talking quite a bit about revision and escaping from the failed document. To improve academic non-fictive spaces and I think of Will. I think of how I have become a mentor or someone who passes-on this idea of failure–a success in my view. The idea to see things where they can begin and not always where they are stopping off–to steal from Salinger. Oh, Will didn’t give me Salinger but he gave me more of Salinger.
If you know anything about me, you know I love coffee. And I guess it didn’t begin in the Northwest or in Oregon sepcifically. Perhaps all those fishing trips as a young moco and all those thermoses of coffee got me. Or maybe the first expresso drinks I was introduced to at Colorado State and then later in Riverside, CA at the Pie Store with the Tia. And then later in graduate school the expresso coffee became fuel to stay up and get the work done. And also the drinks became the tool to connect with other writers.
The first Sunday began when Kim and Stine–fellow failed writers–asked me to meet them on a Sunday morning to talk about writing and talk about our shared workshop and lit classes. Rowan was there too with a few other writers I believe–my memory is cloudy. But the core by the end of the term was me, Rowan, Stine and Kim. They helped me in such powerful ways I can’t explain. But their felowship and collaboration and commiseration was so important for me and my creative process. I see that now. But I don’t mean to sentimentalize those sessions but I do see just how important those relationships were. But I miss the sharing of sensibilities and aesthetics–the rhetoric.
Instead of Americanos or skinny lattes I developed relationships with the strongest practical readers and practical writers I have since been trying to reproduce. In fact, I want to put together an online writing group and call it something like Failed Writers.org or some such title. I’d love to try and recreate some of those Sunday meetings even though we have all split up and let work and real lives take us away from Second Street. But at least I would love us to spend a few hours a month posting thoughts on writing or books or complaints on writing and books in general. I guess I am just not satisfied with random phone calls and social networking in place of actual connection. And I guess it is my fault for moving away but I needed to teach and pay my bills.
Anway, I had such fond memories of those Sundays with my fellow grad students I stole a mug from the Allan Bros coffee shop on Second Street. Sorry, Allan Brothers. Anyway, a few days before I left I just wanted a piece of the place. I could have bought one but taking the cup from my last writing group session seemed like the right thing to do.