I am making progress as a writer. I force myself to be observant. I write daily. I've learned to revise. I'm aware of every little error. I wince when publishing a hurried weblog entry.
Despite my improvement, I have a lot to learn.
I'm taking Advanced Fiction Writing at Clackamas Community College again this term. (This is the fifth time in a decade, and the second time in a year.) Our class met for the first time on Wednesday night. Many of us are returning students; we liked Rick's technique enough to take the class from him again.
Rick has selected new textbooks this term. Instead of a traditional writing manual, we're reading from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, the first chapter of which impressed me. (I like the authors' example of revising a bit from The Great Gatsby to make it stronger.) Our fiction anthology — previously the wonderful Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction — has been replaced by Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Really Short Stories.
How short is really short? Try this gem:
This little book is fantastic. And intimidating. Here is a story from the book's editor (a story made more poignant by the knowledge that it is written from experience; Stern would not live to see the book's publication):
Housewife by Amy Hempel
She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting," French film, French film."
What a challenge! Many of my weblog entries might fall into the category of short short fiction were I to show more restraint. But, for the life of me, I cannot write this well.
Morning News by Jerome Stern
I get bad news in the morning and faint. Lying on tile, I think about death and see the tombstone my wife and I saw twenty years ago in the hilly colonial cemetery in North Carolina: Peace at last. I wonder, where is fear? The doctor, embarrassed, picks me up off the floor and I stagger to my car. What do people do next?
I pick up my wife. I look at my wife. I think how much harder it would be for me if she were this sick. I remember the folk tale that once seemed so strange to me, of the peasant wife beating her dying husband for abandoning her. For years, people have speculated on what they would do if they only had a week, a month, a year to live. Feast or fast? I feel a failure of imagination. I should want something fantastic — a final meal atop the Eiffel Tower. Maybe I missed something not being brought up in a religion that would haunt me now with an operatic final confrontation between good and evil — I try to imagine myself a Puritan fearful of damnation, a saint awaiting glory.
But I have never been able to take seriously my earnestly mystical students, their belief that they were heading to join the ringing of the eternal spheres. So my wife and I drive to the giant discount warehouse. We sit on the floor like children and, in five minutes, pick out a 60-inch television, the largest set in the whole God damn store.
Here's the short short story we discussed in class:
If, when I die, I can write this well, I will die a happy man.
The Paring Knife by Michael Oppenheimer
I found a knife under the refrigerator while the woman I love and I were cleaning our house. It was a small paring knife that we lost many years before and had forgotten about. I showed the knife to the woman I love and she said, "Oh. Where did you find it?" After I told her, she put the knife on the table and then went into the next room and continued to clean. While I cleaned the kitchen floor, I remembered something that happened four years before that explained how the knife had gotten under the refrigerator.
We had eaten a large dinner and had drunk many glasses of wine. We turned all the lights out, took our clothing off, and went to bed. We thought we would make love, but something happened and we had an argument while making love. We had never experienced such a thing. We both became extremely angry. I said some very hurtful things to the woman I love. She kicked at me in bed and I got out and went into the kitchen. I fumbled for a chair and sat down. I wanted to rest my arms on the table and then rest my head in my arms, but I felt the dirty dishes on the table and they were in the way. I became incensed. I swept everything that was on the table onto the floor. The noise was tremendous, but then the room was very quiet and I suddenly felt sad. I thought I had destroyed everything. I began to cry. The woman I love came into the kitchen and asked if I was all right. I said, "Yes." She turned the light on and we looked at the kitchen floor. Nothing much was broken, but the floor was very messy. We both laughed and then went back to bed and made love. The next morning we cleaned up the mess, but obviously overlooked the knife.
I was about to ask the woman I love if she remembered that incident when she came in from the next room and without saying a word, picked up the knife from the table and slid it back under the refrigerator.
Here are some exercises, if you're interested. (These are for you; they're not class assignments.)
Exercise one: In "The Paring Knife", what does the ending mean? Why does the woman slide the knife back under the refrigerator? (The class seemed divided on the significance of this act.)
Exercise two: Write a short short story of your own and share it with us. (It must be shorter than 500 words; it's best to keep it in the neighborhood of 250 words.)
I'll post my short short story later.
On this day at foldedspace.org
2003 — Crouching Tiger [part one] In which I sing the praises of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and begin to tell the story of how Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai met.
2002 — Renice I came home from work today and napped. I didn't wake up until Kris got home. Then I weaseled out of going to the gym. Again.