My Creative Writing Portfolio circa 1996
Curious, I went digging for what remains of the creative writing class I took in college.1 Have I ever made a worse mistake in my life?2 Would that that file had been scattered across the Midwest by the tornado! But it wasn’t, and now you get to have a taste.
Because I had declared myself a “fiction writer,” I was required to write several stories. One features a student so ambitious, so ruthless he will sabotage his friend in a job interview. Another examines the tragedy of a bank heist shootout. The third—well, I’m not really sure what it’s about, it’s that excruciating. It features boys, an old woman, and a divorce. This excerpt from it and features a gem of a conflict and its resolution:
The only time the old lady went outside her house was to protect her yard. When Tim and Jonathan rode their bikes past her house she’d run out with a broom over her head swatting at them until they rode to safety on the other side of the street. They thought she was crazy. So one evening they decided to ask her. She answered the door when they rang the bell.
“Excuse us ma’am, but we were wondering—that is, we wanted to know—if you are crazy,” Tim said.
Jonathan added, “Well, you see, you always chase us away when we don’t do anything to you but ride our bikes next to your yard, and well, we just wanted to know.”
She looked at them as if she’d never seen them before. Then she said, “Well, boys, I guess I am crazy. At least, that’s what I’ve been deciding for the last five years.”
So Tim and Jonathan thanked her, and turned around to leave.
“Boys,” the old woman said, “would you like to come in for some cake? My name’s Bonnie MacCready.”
She never chased them again.
The poems in the portfolio are equally magical. At least one is chock full of lovesick timidity borrowed wholesale from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Two rail against poetic conventions such as left-justified lines (seriously). And then there’s this parenthesis-rich example of Christian environmental symbolism (or symbolist environmental Christianity):
The Metaphor of the Sleeping Earth and the Parasites That Live on It
The world’s small.
It glides through space
Tossing, turning, holding its quilted covers
Tight over its abdomen.
Grow, eat, survive
Until their eyes are closed.
(The world is peopled, too.
The absolute miracle of
Such a small world
That gives them life.
Their eyes are closed long
Before they’re closed.
Those who people are statues,
Believing themselves unique, alone.
Crafted, not by others’ hands, but
By erosion. They ask themselves,
“Why should I cherish this place
When I can profit from all its innards?”
Statues crumble, littering the earth,
And the only one who notices
They’re made from the same
Stone is the one who dug the
Foundations for such a
But the best of all is this
homage to plot summary of Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam:
Yeah, I’m a Woody Allen Fan3
Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund filled the screen
As Allan watched. Airplane lights and rain
And fog gave Ilsa’s face a sheen,
Revealing wet eyes, beaming pain.
On the runway Blaine never broke his heart
As he told her fortune. He gave her the way
For her to stay with her husband.
She wanted to stay but, “Maybe not today…”
Allan’s friends rushed to his aid.
They supported him well.
They told him to date.
“…maybe not tomorrow, but soon,” said Rick.
He loved her but knew her husband
Needed her more. Then
He said (as the theater cries),
“We’ll always have Paris.”
Allan’s success with women
Floundered. Then Linda loved
Him, not as a Bogart imitation,
But as himself.
And when Allan conferred
On the runway with her
he told her to go with her husband.
She complied; Allan and Bogey
Walked ‘til the end of the film Allan was in.
1 The textbooks were Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction (3rd ed.) and Robert Wallace’s Writing Poems (3rd ed.). I remember both texts as flyovers of writing styles: formal tools for depicting character and plot; definitions, with examples, of how to expand one’s poetic repertoire. JTB, who took the class that same semester, might remember it differently, but I think the best one-line description of the class is “Try this on for size.” And perhaps that’s a good one-liner for most creative writing courses.
2 I shouldn’t have been in the class. I was immature, of course. Had I waited even a year, I might have gotten more from the class than I did. I was also undisciplined, and unfortunately, my notes show little evidence that teaching discipline was a priority. Even the description of journals on the syllabus misses the chance to point out that one should write every day. In retrospect, discipline was the most important thing I needed to learn then, and I wager I wasn’t the only student in the class who needed it.
3 Actual title!