Somewhere between Nimble Thimble and Slide Rule, you will find the group photo of the Wilson High School club called Scripters in the 1956 yearbook. I do not appear because I was out sick the day they took the pictures, but I was a member.
If you look closely you will see John Leonard, second from the right, who became the editor of the New York Times Book Review, along with writing for every prestigious publication in America. That’s the kind of quality our little group harbored and encouraged. Scripters was the most exclusive club on campus, even more so than any uppity sorority or fraternity which thrived amidst and in spite of the academic culture. You didn’t just sign up as if it were Future Farmers of America or even the Philosophy Club. You had to be “asked out” before becoming a member and have your scribblings read and reviewed. I felt privileged to belong.
Yesterday I attended the Lake Region Writer’s Network annual conference in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. I was privileged to attend.
Will Weaver, author of “Red Earth, White Earth,” “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” and “Memory Boy” (to name a few) was the keynote speaker and also hosted a workshop entitled “How to Make Your Stories Live and Breathe.” And he does.
There were authors selling their books, information on publishing and all things linguistic, highlights of literary events. And there were writers, writers, writers. “What do you write?” “Are you in a writing group.” “Oh, here’s my blog address.” “Are you going to the open mic reading?” “Have you read…?” “Have you heard…?”
It was difficult to decide which groups to attend. “Why Writer’s Need an Author’s Platform” (Linda Lein) or Memoir (Leon Ogroske). “Roadside Poetry” (Paul Carney) or “Point of View” (Ann Schwalboski). All in all there were 18 choices and only four time slots.
My favorite and lucky choice was a workshop entitled “The Art of Description” led by Barry Lane, author of “Walk in their Dust” and “It’s Uphill Most of the Way Down.” I particularly enjoyed his exercise involving the five senses. We were told to use two minutes writing quickly about a scene that represents the Fall season from the standpoint of sight. Then using two minute intervals, rewrite the paragraph from the perspective of sound, then touch, then smell and finally, taste. We ended the exercise by doing a final quick edit, again in two minutes, writing the paragraph using all five senses together.
Here’s my example: (with apologies, but no first-quick-draft excuses)
SIGHT: My backyard is looking naked, embarrassed by the open patches through the trees and shrubs, allowing scattered peeks into life across the street, into the river, denuded of foliage and lush cover which normally envelopes our yard.
SOUND: As I walk across the yard my feet crunch, crack, crunch on dead fallen leaves – surprisingly sharp, overriding even the traffic hum along the street. Woodpeckers squawk and the sprinkler swishes.
TOUCH: I reach down into the pile of newly raked leaves and try to scoop them up into the slick plastic bag. They are sharp and biting against my chilled hands and the early snow flurry has left them sticky and damp.
SMELL: There is an emanation of deep earth, plants at their last gasp, as they reach the end of the growing season. Fetid, old, ready to enhance the compost pile.
TASTE: I pull the spent annuals out of the soil, knocking the dirt from their root ball as I go, and some flies into my mouth. I choke and cough on the earthy filament that coats my throat, tasting silt and sludge.
COMPOSITE: The backyard looks naked, open patches between the towering trees and once dense shrubs. I crunch across the grass, crushing the leaves which litter the lawn, then stoop and scoop them into the slick plastic bag. They cut and bit into my chilled hands, bits of filament flies up and coats my throat, tasting of silt and sludge. The leaves settle into the musky compost, to be returned to earth.
Okay, not publishable. But a good exercise. Now you try.
After the conference a number of us met at The Spot, a local wine and panini bar which holds “open mic” music and readings. That was the intent, but we ending up sitting around two pulled together tables in the back room, talking and talking of – writing. I felt especially priviledged.