Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creative Nonfiction with Valley Haggard

My life and Valley's seem to intersect quite often these days.  For instance, tomorrow she and I are teaching a class called Body Shop, culled from our experience collaborating on Artists and Writers (which is still showing at Randolph Macon College through April 1).  (There are still a couple of spaces available if you get a wild hair and decide you want to come!  2-5:30 tomorrow, at my studio.  Email me to let me know you're coming or for info!)

I'm also taking a writing class with Valley called Creative Nonfiction.  She's an amazing teacher.  I love the way the class is set up - she gives us something to read - about a page or two about writing.  We each read a paragraph or so out loud, then she gives us a prompt and sets us to writing for 10 minutes.  Free writing, not picking the pen up for the entire 10 minutes.  The prompts are things like "Right now I'm ..." (we start the day with that one each time) or each sentence has to begin with "I remember..."  or "Write about a piece of clothing."  Having such open prompts and only 10 minutes cuts loose a part of my brain which is otherwise constrained by convention and grammar rules and expectations of perfection.  It's fabulous to let my pen run away with my brain and take over. 

At the end of the ten minutes, we read what we wrote out loud.  Sometimes it is quite raw.  It seems like my writing tends to go directly to raw intense places inside me most of the time.  But I let it because that's what's there, and that's who I am, and anything else would be tripe and not worth the paper I was writing it on.  I may as well mine the deep dark wells as anything else.  Though I do feel a bit shy about sharing sometimes.

That's where Valley comes in.  She set up the class so that there's very, very little cross talk.  She comments right away on what we've read, always saying something validating.  She has a knack for summarizing what we've written and for phrasing it in the most wonderful light.  I always feel quite brilliant after she's told me what she heard from me.  And I think we probably all do.  She's amazing that way. 

We have three rounds of reading and writing each day.  I leave feeling exhausted - in a good way - and energized and wanting to write more.  I end up feeling like I have so much to say, and I like the way I'm saying it there.  It feels vital and full of life.  It's quite exciting.

Here's something I wrote last week. The prompt was "A day/event/moment 10 years ago - write about it in great detail".

Rolled out of bed, 9:45 Saturday morning.  Made my way downstairs to put a raisin cinnamon bagel in the toaster then sloughed slowly back upstairs to change out of my warm sleepy pajamas into fresh artfully jazzy pants, from the pajama section of Kohl's, a sleeveless T, a long sleeved loose-fitting, silky blouse, and a warm loose sweatshirt over it all.  I heard the bagel pop while pulling the Naples sweatshirt with the graphic shark over my head, figured I'd have to give it another bit in the toaster when I got downstairs, preferring to finish dressing rather than have to descend the stairs another round.

Pulled on socks, funky purple to match the lavender and purple striped cotton pj pants with the drawstring.  Tennis shoes tied tightly finished the casual-looking, carefully considered ensemble, perfect for my 10:30 date.

Bagel warm but not hot got another minute's toasting while I poured a large 12 ounce glass of cold milk in my favorite cobalt blue glass, just large enough to satisfy my liquid cravings while I ate the butter-drenched halves of the bagel, warm with plump juicy raisings that popped so agreeably in my mouth.

I put on my purple 1985 winter jacket then loaded the bagel on a plate, hoping it wouldn't slide off or get too cool on my way to the car, grasped the milk in my favored cobalt blue glass,then hiked my purse onto my shoulder and headed out the door, pulling the door closed behind me as the first slice of bagel slid onto the bricks of my front stoop.  Shoot.  Leaned down, picked it up, milk sloshed.

I secured the errant bagel between my teeth and headed for the car, salivating as I went, wanting the crispy crunch of toasted buttered cinnamon raisin bagel, raisin softly melting in my wet juicy mouth.

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