July 28, 2005

Creative Writing Class

Good morning, class. For today’s warmup exercise I’d like you to imagine a group of creative writing students, eager, idealistic, passionate, dedicated. Now let twenty years pass, and imagine where they are. Which one has made it to fame and fortune, and flies through the years from conference to conference, interview to interview, realizing somewhere in the middle that she has nothing more to say, no more stories to tell, but keeps going, book after diminishing book, because she doesn’t have the imagination to change? Which one is director of creative writing at an obscure college, and spends his life hiding his defeats from his colleagues and trying futilely to ride the coattails of the famous writers who visit the campus? Which one committed suicide? Which one married a man she doesn’t like, and has him build her a studio she can write in while the kids are in daycare, and tells her friends all about the progress she’s making on her book, and never writes a page she doesn’t tear up? Which one takes a job as editor of a trade magazine for arena managers, and drinks away his evenings trying to think of an idea for a novel that will get him out of there? Which one’s annual writing output consists of a chatty Christmas letter to her classmates, to which no one ever replies? Which one went off on a motorcycle in search of material and vanished into a desert village where he fixes flat tires and sets up satellite dishes and tells stories over a mesquite fire? Which one went to medical school and dreams of publishing a bestselling memoir of heroic doctoring, as he prescribes the same antibiotic ten times a day? Which one drives a truck hauling steel cylinders from coast to coast, and writes poems in his cab at rest stops and puts them on a website for three strangers? Which one made money investing, and sits in a houseboat on the Seine writing thrillers that never quite thrill? Which one manages a superstore and has no time to write anything except inventory sheets and sales reports and employee reviews? Which one is the partner of a famous author, and no closer to success because of it, and at breakfast every morning looks at him and thinks, “Why?” Which one teaches first grade and loves it, and laughs fondly when she remembers this class?

Take a moment before you begin to write, class. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and evenly. Feel the call within you. Feel the sacredness of what we are doing, and know that you will never give up. Let the beauty that is within you rise, let it emerge from its hiding places and rejoice in the cleansing light of language, the healing air of story. And now begin.