Walter Mencken 2:08 p.m., Aug. 27
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Creative Writing Class – First Day
I wake up in the morning, and feel the familiar sensation. Dread. And I am nervous. How can I get out of this? Why did I sign up for this class? Having taken many classes over the years and being unable to finish them has been my albatross for years. Like most people, I share a fear of public speaking. Mine is certifiable.
Leaving the safety of the peninsula, I get in my car and drive. The magnificence that is San Diego flies by, barely noticed. The beaches, the palm trees, the debatable Mormon Church once mistaken as Disneyland by my young niece, they’re all a blur. I'm too in my head and my head demands that I vacate immediately. There simply isn't enough room for me there.
Here we are. The UCSD campus is a beautiful place. Surrounded by Torrey Pines, perched above La Jolla, it is utopia, even to the most privileged. I find the Extension section of the campus. So this is where they put us. The FEMA trailers.
I locate the classroom. There are two people waiting, friendly faces. Relaxing a bit, I meet Kay. She is talkative and intelligent, speaks of things over my head. I am a fraud. We bond, she is my safety person, and I know we will sit together.
Our instructor, Mr. Larson, has a knack for putting a class at ease. By avoiding the awkward introduce yourself and tell the class a bit about your self portion, I am grateful beyond words, and all but weep with relief. He hands out our syllabus. Comprehending the words participation, read and critique, discussions, reading aloud and I hope you will feel comfortable, I want to weep again.
Mr. Larson wants to know what we like to write and why. At first, I am frozen. The voice in my head pleads “please don’t call on me”. A few people venture a response, then silence. Again, the voice – “say something, you idiot. Participation is part of your grade. This is why you are here!!” Suddenly, heart pounding, I find my voice and proffer humorous essays. Others chime in. What just happened?
He gives us an assignment. “What keeps you from writing?” he asks. Then sage advice: “The pen is faster than the mind. Just write what comes to you”. I list my reasons and am done in 30 seconds. Others write flowing paragraphs, words coming to them, writing fast and furious, knowing they only have a few minutes to finish. I look at their work, then at mine. Five words vs. hundreds. I am scared, too aware of my inability. Even my pen is stupid.
What keeps me from writing is fear. Not fear of writing. Fear of sharing with strangers, of being critiqued by strangers. Critiqued becomes critical, then criticized. Standing up in front of them, my worst nightmare will come true. Is returning to class next week even an option?
Mr. Larson wants us to discuss our findings. With the adept skill of the experienced hostess, he pairs us off, away from our safety people. Joined with Kerry, we share our discoveries, then chat a bit about the narrative genre, the need to embellish, the poster child for over embellishment, Mr. James Frey. The room is lively, and we are having fun.
The class listens to Mr. Larson read Salvation by Langston Hughes, and I think Mr. Larson should read for NPR. Discussion ensues about the meaning of Salvation and I provide the possibility that young Mr. Hughes may have experienced alienation from his community. It is acknowledged and not discounted. I am elated.
We receive our homework assignment. Write about an event that is important to you and why. Things come to me slowly, such as my wedding day or leaving my job of 20 years. As Mr. Larson provides clues to assist us, I realize that important events are not just enormous things like graduations and weddings, but little things that shape us and help us grow. I can’t stop writing. There are so many.
A shift has occurred. I am enjoying myself. This isn’t about judging and criticizing; it is about bonding and sharing. Nobody is going to be mean to you, or think you are stupid. Although I am still nervous and self-conscience, I realize we share a commonality, and that is to learn to be better writers.
I go home and think for awhile. Because of my love of reading, I want to write. Being afraid of what others think has held me back from doing many things. This is the first class I have ever attended where the subject matter held my attention from the get go, because it is something that interests me. What a novel concept.
I know exactly what I will write about, and I know I will be back next week.