Archive for the ‘Andre Dubus III’ Tag
I’m back. And I have ten minutes before my kids get home from school. But I’ll take it, because between Thanksgiving travels and upcoming Christmas travels things have been a little crazy around here. Impossible, really. Impossible because life is so busy, and impossible because my kids are so HYPER. But it is snowing outside today, the world is beautiful, and I am cranking Christmas music nonstop.
While I’ve been absent from my blog, I have been working on my young adult novel (no – there are no vampires). I’m so close to the end that it is both thrilling and terrifying. Thrilling because it is turning out so much better than I ever could have planned. Terrifying because I have so much hope and anguish tied up in it. It is precious to me!
I started this book way too many years ago to honestly confess, but here is a clue: The second semester of my senior year in college I was workshopping with Andre Dubus III. He was trying to get us to open ourselves up to our own creative potential – to unlock the imagination and let it take our writing places we might never go without it. I had been trying all semester to script flat stories where I made my characters say things or symbolize things that I wanted to communicate, and it wasn’t working. By the time Spring Break arrived, I had nothing.
I was married my senior year of college, but my husband was busy at a high-intensity consulting boutique and couldn’t take any time off during my break, so I bought a ticket to Italy and went alone. I spent the week quietly traversing the crooked, busy streets of Florence, hiking through the terraced hills of Cinque Terre, and eating tons of food with my friends in Padova. On my return flight to Boston, I had nothing.
So I closed my eyes, used every effort to block out the very loud tour group seated around me, and tried to lose myself to my imagination. In my mind a scene opened up. It was an outdoor Italian market. There was a fruit stand, full of ripe oranges. And then a girl appeared. She reached her hand out toward the oranges, took one, and ran out of the market, disappearing down the crooked alleys. That was my idea. I couldn’t believe it. My imagination had given me a shop-lifter. But I decided to trust it, and here I am, a decade later, finishing up a story that is just so beautiful to me I can hardly stand it.
Thinking about it on my way home from the preschool drop-off this morning I realized that there were three crucial components that initiated this long, laborious, rewarding process. The first was the deadline. I have come to be very grateful for deadlines. The second was the imagination. I had to take the risk of letting my creative side have precedence, even if just for a moment, before I could do anything real or resounding with my writing. The third was the focus. The willingness to trust the creative part of me and pursue it. Years later I find the same three things to be absolutely necessary to me accomplishing anything: deadlines, imagination, and focus.
The kids are home now, looking for mom. Which brings me to this admission: my deadlines are always flexible, my imagination is most active in the shower, and my focus runs in short, madly sprinting spurts!
Writing is something that I do compulsively. It is how I bring order to my own little corner of the universe, how I connect to what I am inspired by but don’t always understand. It has always been that way for me. But if it hadn’t been for a workshopping experience with Andre Dubus III ten years ago, I might never have had the courage to call myself a writer.
It all started my senior year of college, sitting at a long table with a dozen other undergraduates, all of us looking as wet and scared as newly-hatched chicks. Oh, I think we were each doing our best to look like the proverbial fox in the hen house, but we were all just chickens. And if one or two of us were better than the next person at playing otherwise, the illusion didn’t last long.
The problem was that the Creative Writing Department at my college was ridiculously small. Each semester 500 or more students applied for some fifty spots in small writing classes, which could be anything from poetry to personal essay. I had been trying for three years to get into a fiction writing workshop. So maybe I was feeling a little insecure. So maybe I was the one with the biggest fox-grin on my face that day.
Until our instructor, the magnificent Andre Dubus III, joined us at the table, shuffling a bundle of loose papers in front of him. He glanced up at us casually, and then annihilated us all by telling us, “The reason I picked you for this class is you all sounded the most desperate.”
I wasn’t offended or even embarrassed. He was right. I was desperate. And somehow acknowledging that is what gave me the confidence to put myself out there — to begin to try and master something as incomprehensibly hard and incalculably rewarding as writing. As the course continued I learned that the ability to be terrifyingly honest was a trademark of Dubus’. He would challenge us to go deeper, push harder. At times it made my stomach lurch with fear.
Last week I was going through some old files and found the notes from a one on one critique I had with him at the end of the course. His advice to me was just as inspiring and terrifying as ever. ’Surrender more’. ’Trust the imagination more’. ‘Don’t think about it. Dream.’