I recently joined a fiction-writing class at the Gotham Writers Workshop. We just had our second class today. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for over eight years, ever since I moved to NYC. They have these distinctive yellow boxes with newsprint catalogs full of all the courses they offer. I’d always pick up the catalogs and leaf through wistfully, But I never took a class, first because my schedule was so erratic, and secondly because they are expensive. But since my gigging schedule is pretty empty over the next 8 weeks, I bit the bullet and joined a class. I wanted to take Fiction Writing II, but they strongly suggested I. It was a great decision, for while I had good instincts about writing, I was missing some basics. I’ve already learned a lot over the past week about how to put a story together.
I wrote two short stories in high school. One was about a young theology student returning home to his small town and, a little too full of himself and his fancy learning, spouting off at the mouth and generally acting like an ass. A humble country preacher and two elderly women at a church pig-pickin’ teach him a lesson in humility. I wish I could remember exactly what happened. I do remember a pig head grinning at the young theology student, a motif which I believe I stole from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. That was pretty brazen but maybe I altered it so it wasn’t obvious.
The other short story was taken from reality and was about my Grandmother shaving the face of her older half-sister, Ruby. I remember accompanying my Grandmother Hazel over to Aunt Ruby’s and sitting dutifully, if a bit terror-stricken, while she shaved her. While I could not wait to escape the proceedings, I also realized it was a beautiful act of devotion and love. It was a good story. I entered one of those short stories — I can’t remember which — in a state-wide fiction contest and won ..something. I can’t remember. Third place? It’s foggy. My prize was a certificate and a red paperback Roget’s Thesaurus which I used up until very recently.
Last week, the writing instructor asked if anyone wanted to bring in a short story for next week and I said I did. I think she meant who has a short story already written, not who wants to spend the next week writing a new story. But that’s pretty much what I did. I had a 500-word vignette and I turned it into a 3500-word short story. I think it’s pretty good and I’ve been alternately excited and panic stricken over the past few days trying to finish it and make something decent out of it. Some of the passages seem really good to me, and some read clunky. Forced. Like I’m in ninth grade stealing from Lord of the Flies again. Maybe I’ll put a conch in there.
And there’s always the attendant fear. Am I good enough? Will she (the instructor) like me? Will the students like me? Or not me, but the stuff I am presenting, which seems one and the same. These are the same things I hold at bay every time I play a show or go on a date or send a booking email (what if they see way down there to the real me and hate it?). Fear. It’s fear in danger of becoming self-pity. The way I’ve found to deal with it is to surrender it to God, to ask God to take it away and replace it with trust, love, service, and gratitude (gratitude’s a good antidote for most ills). God’s seen the real me, God is in the real me, and I’m in him. It’s in him that I’m home. Got to keep bringing myself home, remembering that I am home.
I printed up 14 copies of the story to my instructor and classmates who are going to mark it up and critique it next week. I’ll keep you posted.