Thursday, December 5, 2013

Punk Princess in Training

Years ago, when I was in grad-school, I took a fiction class with Kate Green. It was filled with my new cohort and some other people and I was very insecure about my ability to write fiction, but I had to take it for my degree and it ended up that I loved it. It turns out Kate Green had so much influence on the way I teach now. I wouldn't say that Kate Green taught the way I do now. She tried harder to meet the confines of traditional creative writing instruction where you focus on craft and things that people believe are teachable. But in her class there were these Jungian exercises that she gave out. My first experience of a teacher that played with your subconscious in writing and wasn't all rational and heavy-handed. And in the process she gave us an exercise to find our muse. I discovered that my muse was a pair of wings. Actually in my muse-box first was this cozy comforter that I recognized from my grandma's house. This red and brown flannel thing that my sisters and I always fought over and when I she said I could lift it out, I swung it out of the box and around my shoulders, but mid swing she said it transformed to something else. Wings. All of a sudden, instead of the cozy cocoon of a blanket that had been around my whole entire life, I had these white feathered angel wings attached to my shoulder blades. Huge. Cold. I was cold and terribly uncomfortable. They were heavy on my shoulder blades and I immediately had a back ache. These were my muse. 

At the time, I only guessed what it meant. And I didn't like it much. And I didn't heed my subconscious' instruction. I was in grad school. With a whole bunch of people that were meant to be there. Their birthright was to write and I got in because some mistake in fate. I was unworthy. So I spent my time trying to fit in. I believed the experts, that there was an expert thing I could learn, and then I would be without reservation, the expert and have a right to be in the program with everyone else. 

What were the wings really trying to tell me? I knew they meant I should fly. But I decided to interpret that as my pen was meant to fly. That my words were too few and I should push past and write many. But I couldn't. I wasn't interested in the meaningless crap that came out when my pen did what it should. What if I had considered what they really meant? The muse told me to examine my habits, my comforts, my beliefs and find my wings in those things. But because I was deathly afraid of what I would find, I did what I thought was expected of me. Writing more was what I thought I should do. And learning to fit in and be the expert was also what I thought I should do. If only back then I admitted I didn't belong. That I was a fake, a phony, I had no idea what I was doing. Then I could have taken that hand-out (admission to grad school) and made the most of it. Then I wouldn't have shrank back from opportunity, undeserving, and instead jumped off into space discovering that what the experts thought of me really didn't matter because I had wings. If only I had understood that not belonging was my material, that I had never belonged anywhere in this whole world and that was the whole point of writing. That was the only important thing I had to say, and it was perhaps the only thing that the world needed to hear from me. 

In grad school, the creative writing classes I taught to undergrads fit the mold too, teaching the things that I thought could be taught. Craft. The words and the way they fit together. Structure and repetition. Metaphor and simile. Blah. Blah. But I included some odd ball assignments in there. Visually represent your creative piece. That assignment was my favorite. Half the class would stare at me dumbly, the other half recognized their souls and went to town.

Now my students mostly choose me because of the odd ball. I figure that's my job, what I was meant to do, strip away the flannel comforters of writing and show us writers that it's fun to fly, but the only way to do it is by experiencing the scary, uncomfortable and terribly dangerous act of dismantling everything you understand about yourself and trusting the wings will be there when you need them.

Come to the studio and we can learn to fly side by side if you want (you'll be happy to know, I shoveled the steps.)

Class next Wednesday! It might already be full, email me to find out.