Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The First Time At The Saturday Afternoon Writer's Group

This is from a camping trip. I was up before anyone else, as is my wont, so I went off into the woods to look for something to draw and I found a lovely bay sapling. I just scanned it in in two sections and used the Automerge function in Photoshop to stitch the scans together and as you can see it worked like a dream. All of a sudden my large-scale pieces including my life drawing stuff are back in play. I have the option of drawing large and processing the images in the computer! This rocks! I really want to color some of my nudes, add a few layers of texture...

When I was working on the inked version of this someone looked over my shoulder and said, "Oh, that looks like it was so easy and natural to do."

Easy? EASY?!?

They had no idea how close to death they came in that moment.

So these are the exercises that I did in the writer's group on Saturday. As I said before, while I didn't feel at ease I felt like I got something out of the experience. What I produced ranged from typical oaf to stuff that's a lot more artsy than usual, including the first poem I've written in quite some time and another piece that's more-or-less a prose poem. But I must confess -- I'm scared of sensitive, delicate people. A vast loaf of vulgarity such as myself needs to be on constant guard in such company. I think I fucked up the balance of the universe, or at least the group, even though I toned myself down by about eighty per cent. And my back is freaking killing me -- that chair was deadly.

Still, I got a real kick out of the writing, both mine and that of the others. I love a creative challenge, especially if it's nice and fast -- I adore limits and deadlines. These are all unedited, just as I wrote them. Maybe after I accumulate a few more I'll make a chap-book out of them just for shits and giggles.

For the first exercise a bag of Halloween-related objects was passed around and we were given the chance to select one to inspire us. We were to write for twenty minutes. I picked a mask, which made me think of costumes, which brought a childhood memory to mind...

When I was a child, at Halloween my elementary school would have its students go home at lunch and change into their costumes. On returning, we would organize into a parade that would march around and around the playground and then we’d be judged on our costumes. I honestly can’t remember most of the prizes – there were quite a few different ones – because the only one I ever coveted was Most Original.
For years I tried to come up with something that would get me that crappy little gold-colored plastic cup. I felt as if I was owed this award due to my fundamental nature as a human being. It should have been mine. And until the sixth grade, it wasn’t.
Particularly galling was the year I spent well over a month making myself a Tyrannosaurus rex costume out of cardboard boxes. This was in the third grade, the year before Robert Bakker kick-started the hot-blooded dinosaur revolution with his article in Scientific American, so an upright Tyrannosaurus was still regarded as within the realm of possibility.
My costume was almost more an exoskeleton than an outfit; I didn’t wear it so much as operate it. I’d given it an elaborate skin pattern in green, yellow, and brown poster paints; it towered over even my father’s head, being nearly seven feet tall.
That year I was beaten by a garbage can.
I had to acknowledge the fairness of the decision; it was possibly the best costume I’d ever seen. It consisted of a trash can with the bottom cut out – and here’s the good part – it had a bundle of bamboo cleverly attached just off to one side. This kid wasn’t going as a trash can; he or she was going as the corner of a yard and was totally convincing in the role. You could sense the presence of a driveway, of the side of a house… This was art and I was shamed by the comparison with my own vulgar efforts.
I was so demoralized that the next year I went as Spock. The next I was a different spaceman, one of my own design that sprang from a cosmos of my own creation; nobody knew what the hell I was doing.
So in the sixth grade I gave up all my ambitions. I decided to have fun. I figured I’d go as a mummy. My mother was delighted; she was the kind of person who could really relish tearing up a bunch of bedsheets and safety-pinning the rags to a child.
And in the parade, as I walked those safety pins started to give way one at a time and the shredded sheets began to drag on the ground behind me. Other children trod on them, making me stumble and trip and make small bleats of anguish.
I won most original costume that year. For what the judges referred to as my portrayal of an accident victim.
That night, while trick or treating I decided to carry a lantern and go as Diogenes. I’d look at whoever answered the door and sigh heavily, shaking my head. Nobody got the joke but at least I knew what I was doing.

For the next piece a photograph taken by a friend of the woman running the group. It showed a mound of dirt with boulder at the far end, the reddish color of the soil and stones making me think it had been taken somewhere on Mount Diablo. The shadow of an oak tree formed an intricate pattern across the composition. It looked like a giant's grave to me and with twenty minutes to write I didn't want to go wandering around mentally.

One thing that was interesting: Everyone in the group liked my 'spilled ink' simile for the shadows but I thought it was a weak link, being the only word that calls human civilization to mind.

The stone man lies dead and dreaming, the shadows of the trees crawling across his body like spilled ink. He waits, lifeless but for the lichen and moss, the tufts of grass that have taken root in the hollows of his body, and he dreams.
He feels the steady pull of the Earth spinning toward dawn, the spin of heavy fire at the Earth’s core. Seasons are as fleeting and permanent as the cries of the birds; days flicker by and he closes his unseeing eyes against the strobe of their passage. The seasons wear at him, hot and cold and hot and cold and he feels himself falling apart, grains of sand and rough pebbles shed one by one.
And he dreams.
The sand washes downhill into the stream, the pebbles are worn smooth, the trees grow, shed leaves in a constant shower that pulses with the heartbeat of the seasons until no more leaves come and their bare trunks are overgrown by the shoots from their last acorns and the stone man dreams of the day he will rise, boulders gritting against one another, brush the leaves aside and walk out of the shadows and into the mountains rising higher and higher until the superficial world of life is behind him, until he is surrounded by rock, raw and naked, and there under nothing but the sky, over nothing but the earth, he will take his rest.
The stone man lies dead and dreaming.

For the next piece we took fifteen minutes. Carla gave us a list of words and we were to choose one to write from. Three out of five people picked 'sandwich' as their word, which seems perfectly reasonable to me.

I’m haunted by a sandwich that has never been made. For nearly a year now during the times when an opening appears in my overcrowded noggin – and I’m hungry – this succulent phantom on a roll has flooded my senses, real as my boots and intimate as the taste of my tongue. The sandwich comes from Alabama and China and Vietnam and Texas, places I have never been, places I want to eat.
I would start with a slab of uncured pork belly and I’d marinate it in soy and molasses and garlic and black pepper and five spice powder, redolent of cinnamon and star anise. Then I’d smoke it for hours as the fat drips down into the water pan and the pork shrinks and darkens and the flavors of hickory and mesquite insinuate themselves into what I’ve heard described as the five layers of delight – skin and fat and meat and fat and meat.
Then I’d take a banh mi roll, a Vietnamese baguette made soft and yielding by the addition of rice flour to the dough, and layer on slices of cucumber, orange and white slivers of carrot and daikon marinated in sweet rice vinegar, sprigs of waxy cilantro and jalepeno sliced into rings, rings of green with white-hot cores studded with seeds.
Then the pork belly, a dense red smoke ring infusing it half an inch under the sweet-spicy crust, sliced not too thick but still thick enough to taste of smoked and seasoned grease against the dry raw burn of the jalepeno and the tart peppery daikon.
When my mind bites into my sandwich the roll parts cleanly and gently under my teeth and each time I chew the flavor changes as the roots and seeds and leaves and flesh give up their flavors as they’re ground between my teeth…
And then I snap out of it and drop back to earth, return to the task of the moment – a class, a picture, a paragraph, a conversation – and promise myself that when I get home I’m going to go to the phone book, make some calls and find out where I can buy banh mi rolls and a slab of raw pork belly.

The last exercise was a five-minute piece. We were shown another photograph, this one of a neatly groomed man in a disheveled state. It was a close-up showing his face partially concealed by his hand. There was a sense of worry and despair to his expression and I got an oh-got-I-fucked-up vibe off it. When we read these out loud the only other man in the group said, "So you're married, right?"

Don’t lie to her unless you really believe it.
Don’t compliment the parts of her she doesn’t like.
Don’t like any part too much.
Don’t answer any question containing the word fat.
Don’t answer any question concerning any other woman.
Don’t smoke pot in the house.
Don’t smoke cigarettes in the house.
Don’t take a second trip to the liquor store.
Just keep your goddamned mouth shut
and be sweet, sweet, sweet.

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