Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fish Out of Water

Yesterday and today, I attended the KY Women's Writers' Conference. My first writers' conference ever. I'm really glad I attended, though the experience was not exactly what I expected. 

First of all, I was plunged into a sea of literary writers. What's a literary writer, you might ask? If you can write 500 words about a toothpick, then you might be a literary writer. They have a gift of taking the mundane and expanding on it, fishing  huge, deep meanings out of a shallow puddle on the street. It's really rather amazing.

And not me. In case you didn't notice, my style is pretty straightforward. Oh, there's meaning to it. But my writing doesn't INSIST on a meaning. Instead, a reader of mine might glean a theme or two afterwards. I'm not sure I'm literary material. Not quite on that celestial wavelength. Too plugged in to technology, maybe. Not aloof enough. Which was another thing...

The atmosphere was one of aloofness, for the most part. I have to take my shyness into consideration here, but I got this feeling that everyone was sizing everyone else up. There were moments of chattiness here and there, but it seemed like an odd, self-absorbed bunch on the whole. Plus, to my disappointment, there were few incentives. We had the workshops, a giant canvas tote bag (with but a few measly pieces of paper in it), coffee and carby offerings for breakfast. But no door prizes, no all-day coffee, no snacks, no water, apart from a few random bottles I saw on tables here and there. I wasn't sure if those were for the speakers, for the participants, for Santa Claus or what, so I didn't touch them. One of my workshop mates did share chocolate with us today, for which I am eternally grateful. She's my hero.

At a few points, mind you, I felt tempted to tuck my tail and run. I even considered leaving early today, but at the lunch break, I drove out through the horse farms around Lexington, talking myself into staying. A few things changed my mind. 

For one, I befriended another mom. Her background was a little different from mine, but I find that when one becomes a full-time mom, you instantly join this commonality of motherhood . We understand each other. It's like before the tower of Babel--where everyone spoke the same language. We're comparing struggles and nodding in agreement, completely annoying the heck out of all the non-child-bearing professionals around us. 
I loved it. 

The other thing was the writing exercise I shared in this morning's workshop. The facilitator (an astounding literary essayist) didn't rave about it like some of the other pieces. And I don't blame her. Like I said, I'm a pretty straightforward writer. The meaning's there, but it doesn't need an excavation crew. Anyway, the story I read evoked quite a bit of laughter. Always good. I love humor. And another mom writer said it brought tears to her eyes. That alone was worth the time spent writing it! Anytime I can evoke emotion in someone with what I write, I consider that a success. 

So, the bottom line is: 

1. I am not a literary genius.

2. That's ok.

3. I want to do it again.

So, for kicks and giggles, I'll share today's writing exercise. This is a darn long post already (aren't you glad I added pictures?). But, this particular very short piece mirrors the flash fiction story I wrote last year called Buyer's Remorse, in which a mom is thinking about the choices she made, regretting them and coming to an acceptance in the end. 

In this piece, our prompt was to take a character that is the opposite of ourselves and have them narrate a dream they had. It was a practice in writing in a different persona. Well, I took my alter ego (PhD, childless, rich, etc) and had her speaking to her therapist about a recurring dream that just happens to be about a morning stuck in MY life. I'm entitling it Choices. Feel free to comment. It's short. 

             It’s the same dream, Dr. Marley. Why do you insist I relate it to you every week? Lunesta isn’t working. Can’t I try Ambien?
            Fine. Since I’m paying for the whole hour anyway, here goes.         
            As soon as I close my eyes, I’m standing in that godforsaken kitchen. The entire world outside is buried in fog, but it doesn’t matter. It’s dime-a-dozen suburbia, a far cry from our Manhattan townhouse.
            Right on cue, the two girls tear through the room, shrieking at each other about some lead-laden Chinese toy. I try to listen and empathize and initiate a negotiation. Are they deaf?
            I resort to something completely prehistoric. “Shut up!”
            They look at me like I just got my doctorate yesterday and demand breakfast. So I squat and tiptoe, searching through every cabinet, but a preservative infestation stares back at me.
            “Don’t you have anything organic?”
            “Give us PopTarts!” they demand.
            Before I can argue about the processed carbs, Rick walks in.
            I want to yell at him, “Remember how we agreed on not having children? Look at you in your business casual Polo. And me—my hands are so dry, my hair unkempt, and I think this flannel nightmare is pajamas.”
            I’ve been reduced to nothing, but their existence seems to hinge on me, and I don’t want it. Those girls, the little temptresses, come around the counter and hug me. Their eyes sparkle like a Twilight vampire, but they’re hazel like my mother’s. My arms rise of their own accord and wrap around their warm shoulders.
            Rick smiles one of those crinkly smiles like in our college days. And that’s always when the boy runs in. He’s a clone of his father. Three, maybe four—he launches himself into Rick’s arms, and they laugh. It’s contagious.
            And that’s it. I wake up. Yeah, it was a real Norman Rockwell scene.  Are we done now?


  1. A workshop without all day snacks and drinks? I've never heard of such a thing. They obviously have their priorities completely screwed up.

    Loved the clip. I have my business casual Polo every morning too!


  2. Rather you than me Mysti. Entering a room full of pretentious literary snobs, who turn up their noses whenever they encounter a real writer like you and I - no thank you. Folk like that delude themselves into believing that 'common folk' should know their place. Well too hell with them say I! Thankfully these days they are in the minority due to their snobbishness. :D

  3. That aloofness you describe brought back memories of university, when I utterly failed to befriend anyone in the Fine Arts clique. I studied mathematics, but thought - naively - that my own painting gave us something in common. Not a bit of it. Those pretentious twits were the kind who rave over a blank white canvas, or a pile of house bricks on the floor of the Tate.

    I agree with Jack Eason. This sounds like a very small, self-selecting group who only want to interact with other like-minded, equally self-absorbed, snobs.

    It sounds like maybe you picked the wrong writers' conference to start off with. I'm pretty sure they're not all like that. Glad you weren't completely put off by the experience.

  4. I think you made the correct decision to keep attending. It's good to have a representation from non-literary writers. As you said, sometimes aloofness can be mistaken for shyness. Whether it was or not, the bottom line is that novel writing encompasses many categories and it would have been a disservice to have (self) eliminated yours.

    It's also good for any author to meet potential readers, and to get the experience of being in front of people. Heck, if you peaked one person's interest in Mysti Parker, and/or A Ranger's Tale, that's a successful day.

    One other thought, I heard someone who teaches an MFA program on creative writing say, "The only people who read literary pieces are college professors and their students."

    BTW your blog on the workshop was not only entertaining, but dare I say it, literary?

  5. Loved the short! Now I want Pop-Tarts, too. Yeah, maybe those other writers were just shy. I've been accused of being uppity once or twice, but really I was just mad I had to get out of my pajamas. Or maybe those other writers really are pretentious meanies.

  6. Thank you all for the comments.

    Louis, wash your mouth out with soap! ;) I may have soaked up a big word or two while I was there. I'll just add them to my arsenal of witty, rambling blog posts and mom-centered flash fiction.

    To be fair, no one was ever mean or rude. The literary types just wouldn't talk to me unless I initiated a conversation. Which, of course, is challenging for me.

    But, I would like to attend more conferences and hope to see even more genres represented. I did glean quite a bit of information, and every public event pushes me further into the big, scary world. Which is where I need to return to if I ever want to sell anything I write.

  7. I attended a conference last May and will be attending another in October, Mysti. My very first was filled with non-social writers, but the speakers were animated and gave me so much coming away from it all. I loved it.

    Can't wait for the one in October!


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