Monday, February 6, 2012

Incessantly Written Down: Experience

On occasion, I get to relive Intro to Creative Writing. It's a workshop where the narrator is reacting to the feedback of classmates. There is a reference to the story that has been written, shared and then gravely misunderstood by classmates and instructor alike. In this Intro to Creative Writing, it's really l'esprit de l'escalier, or stairway wit. It's the replay of “what I should have said...” The occasions when I relive this Intro to Creative Writing happens during my shifts at Umbrella Factory Magazine. When I read this sort of story I know two things about the writer: this writer is probably still a student and this writer lacks experience. Not writing experience, but rather life experience.

I was no different than these writers when I was younger. I never wrote about my Creative Writing Workshop experiences, I never had to. My intention when I started college was not to be a writer. I wanted to be a botanist. I have been known to write about botany and botanists. Sherbert Magazine was kind enough to publish “The Krebs Cycle” which is my favorite such botanist story. Who cares about botany? It could be just as trite and predictable as a writer writing about the creative writing workshop or about writer's block, but something tells me it's a little more universal. Yet, this is not about the process of writing, and this is not about a limited scope of life experience. This is about living, seeing, doing and writing about other things, things that we consider life.
I have always thought of human beings as lustful creatures. Adam Smith does not disagree with this statement. I believe that we are all lustful, and it's the objects of our lusts that define us. Some people are lustful when it comes to money and material things. Some people want loved ones or ones to consider loved. Some lust for education. Some travel. Others experience. I fall into the latter.
When I think about my life and my way of living life it comes to this, I have been around. I've lived in many places both in the states and abroad. Germany, Portugal, Mexico City, Portland, Denver, New Orleans, Tucson, San Francisco, Vermont and British Columbia make their way into settings for stories and novels. Having an intimate knowledge of these places because I lived in these places does aid in my writing. Some of these place I lived in so long ago that it's just my memory of them and the way I felt at that time that gives me the setting.
I write about picture framers, artists; busboys, bartenders; shipping clerks, soldiers; summer camp staff, suit and tie executives. I write about bank tellers and bank robbers. I like to consider day laborers and transients. I write about professions I know, and some that I don't. Yet, all of the professions that pop up in my stories are jobs that I once had, jobs people I knew once had and jobs I've always wanted to have. I don't write about being a student, and I don't write about being a teacher and I don't write about being a writer. It just seems too easy and too predictable. Writing about a midnight to dawn truck lumper is more interesting.
The USPS remains one of my favorite organizations. It breaks my heart that it may become obsolete during our lifetime. It also makes me sad that letters of the handwritten sort has grown close to extinction. When I think of all the letters and people I've swapped letters with over the years it reminds me of addresses I once had. As far as this conversation of experience goes, I think the walls and halls of our residences creep into our words too. Apartments and houses I once called home now enter into the homes of my characters, the walls of these residences become the confines within stories.
Jobs. Cities and homes of previous residences. Familiar places from former lives. These are the markers of wealth for life experience and for the fodder of stories. But what about the young writers who submit their stairway wit as short stories?
There is, of course, no real answer to this. To gain experience is to live experience. If we know that we have to work, for instance, why not work to gain writer's experience rather than simply work history? Think about this: what do you want from a job? The money is a given. But what about the not so tangible things? From a job I want to learn something, I want to do something to enhance my CV or make a great barroom story. By barroom story, I simply mean story. I think for young writers, work and coworkers will build a pretty good repertoire of anecdotes. I think traveling does this too. I think picking up and moving might do it. It's life. Live it. And in this desire to write, this compulsion to write, this need to write, what better way to build good fiction than to collect all the experiences life has to offer?

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