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Today is brought to you by green tea and Placebo and Placebo (Hah! It's young Brian and old Brian!).
***

I have heard and read that people can process what they learned at Clarion and Clarion West for a least a year afterward.

I completely believe this.

I just had a revelation.  I think. =)

During week six, our instructor was Chuck Palahniuk.  He was wonderful -- kind, gentle, loving.  And he truly does believe you are a special and unique snowflake, unlike anyone else.  I adored him.  He's a beautiful, beautiful man.  And he has a lovely speaking voice.  (And, as you read on, you'll realize I've been lazy here and haven't followed Chuck's lesson I discuss below.  We'll have to cope; I'm in a hurry.)

One lesson he tried to teach us, which is not only useful for minimalist fiction (of which Chuck is a practitioner) but for all fiction, is the concept of specifics.  I may not be calling it the right term (I'd have to double check my CW notes), but let's run with that.

Chuck would say that a writer telling the reader that a character is 6' 5" doesn't tell anything.  It's not specific.  Telling the reader that someone weighs 135 pounds doesn't say anything.  Telling the reader that someone was 36 means nothing at all.  But when one adds context and fits the character's qualities and characteristics in with their life and the rest of the character's lives, suddenly so much more meaning can be implied and inferred. 

From Amy Hempel's "The Harvest":

"The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me. "

In this one opening line Hempel tells the reader so much about what is to come in the rest of the story.  The section "The year I began to say vahz instead of vase," tells the reader a huge amount about the character, so much more so than if she'd said, "The year I turned thirty-two...". 

Just chew on that for a bit.

During his week, Chuck kept telling us that one of our classmates, Kristin, was pretty (and she is) because she has two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth.  Several of us responded with, "What the hell does that mean?  Of course she does." 

But today I realized I think it's about specifics.  I could be wrong, and I hope my classmates call me on it if I am (and I'll tell you if they do), but I think he was trying to say, "Be specific.  Be detailed.  Kristin looks like most other folks; most folks have two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth, but Kristin is pretty because she has her two eyes, her two ears, her nose, her mouth.  Show the reader what that means for Kristin, show the reader what this means for the other characters.  Tell the reader about the year Kristin started calling a vase a vahz.

I'm still processing.  This is really starting to make sense to me.  Does this make sense to anyone else?

***
  This is the text of Hempel's "The Harvest".  One could spend a lot of time dissecting this story.  Hempel is brilliant.

albionidaho: (Default)
The more I get back into my normal life after Clarion West I'm discovering that I've forgotten some skills I've been using for the past twenty-some years. So far, I've forgotten how to cook and how to read music. Okay, so I haven't completely forgotten how to cook, but as of week two I was starting to become pretty clueless and it's not as intuitive as it used to be, and whatever I make doesn't come out as it used to. I also haven't completely forgotten how to read music, but I've sat down a few times to play the piano (as it's the instrument I'm most comfortable with), and am having a hard time remembering what a lot of the notes correspond to, particularly in terms of the bass cleff. I'm considering picking up the guitar and seeing if that's any better.

I only played the piano once whilst at Clarion West (which was probably stupid of me to not play more, but who had time?... and anymore making music is a very personal thing for me anyway...) and that was at the very beginning. So, I'll have to listen to someone play Debussy for a while instead of really playing it myself. But I'm going to continue to work on the cooking thing and the music thing. I'm determined both will come back.

During Week 4, Connie Willis talked to us about memory and learning and how it's possible to "forget" skills when information is being transferred from short term to long term memory. I figure that I learned so much and am processing so much intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically that my brain forgot certain things I do all the time. Or used to do all the time, pre-Clarion West.
albionidaho: (Default)
And the readjustment continues.

Things that have helped:

1) Having people that needed me here (i.e. my children)/having things that need to be done.
2) Roaming and adventuring (as much as one does when one is a mother and may or may not have a six-year-old with her) through different parts of Southern and Southeastern, Idaho, and going to those places that help center me. I went to the closest rez, for example.
3) Reflection/Introspection (which, thankfully, has usually been one of my strengths).
4) Being with people I could be completely honest with.
5) My friends and family who have been worried, for perhaps the first time ever, and have reached out to me and loved me, no matter what. Some have listened and some have given great advice, and some have been honest back, which was incredibly helpful, as well.
6) Actively maintaining contact with classmates. I've had some wonderful e-mail and phone conversations.
7) Making plans: For the hour, for the day, for the week, for my writing, for my family, for myself, and to see classmates again. I need to make some actual, concrete plans to see some of them.
8) Loving other people when they need it.
9) Taking care of myself physically.
10) Katie and Zane (the dog and cat).
11) All the raspberries on the canes in my backyard.

I'm used to being independent and taking care of myself. I tend to prefer it this way, as a general rule. But sometimes there comes a time when it's okay to let others look out for me, too. And here we are.
albionidaho: (Default)
I took the kids to the park last night. There was a little girl there with pale bleached hair, gray eyes, and a kitten named Shadow. While my kids were brachiating and throwing themselves down on the grass, I sat watching and thinking. I sat there trying to center myself. To focus. To breathe. To try to grasp some idea of how to take all the disparate aspects of myself and to unify them into one whole once again.

I'm not the woman who left for Clarion West, and it's a hard road to navigate.

I'm all about being unified and whole.

Read more... )

The girl handed me her cat that she'd just gotten that day. I took it, and pet it while she told me about it, how she got it from the pound, and how her other cat had disappeared and was probably dead. (There is an age where children are so matter of fact about death.) We talked about her cat, and I stroked its head and back. And for that one moment everything so simple and so clear.

There were moments like that at Clarion West, seemingly small moments when I was writing or in class, or moments when I was with a classmate and everything was simple, easy, illuminated, and I felt alive and whole. In those moments I could focus and breathe and there were insights there about who I am and where I'm going, who I want to be and what I will do with myself.

Everything else aside, the writing is going to rock.

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January 2012

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