Post traumatic post

So, children, what have we learned by Saturday’e2’80’99s efforts?

I learned that I can write through the panic. It’e2’80’99s nice to know that I still have the skill to zero in on what I’e2’80’99m doing and let the outside world fade. I could do this when I was first starting as a writer, when I would take my pad and pen, propping my artist’e2’80’99s clipboard against the wheel of the Volvo while my kids were at soccer practice or piano lessons. I’e2’80’99ve written during the five weeks and three days that my mother had plaster to her armpit on both wrists and needed my help every hour at least, which meant I had to turn the flow on and off both fast and often. I’e2’80’99ve written with construction projects going on around me, Skil saws and radios playing. And now I’e2’80’99ve written in an office with people dropping in and out to say ‘e2’80’9cIt’e2’80’99s going really well’e2’80’9d and ‘e2’80’9cYou’e2’80’99ve got to go down and see, they’e2’80’99re so quiet it feels like church.’e2’80’9d

There are many kinds of distraction, and now I’e2’80’99ve had that one.

I’e2’80’99ve learned that I can, not exactly turn off the editor, but I can put him into a box and ignore him. What I wrote on Saturday (which will remain up on the Santa Cruz Parks Department site for a while) is simply a first draft, the writer feeling her way into a story. It’e2’80’99s jerky, clumsy, directionless, and on the edge of bad, but it’e2’80’99s there, and I can work with it.

I’e2’80’99m hoping that by the end of June, I will have both completed and rewritten the story and will post both versions on my web site.

And I’e2’80’99m hoping that, more than mere curiosity, the finished project might be an interesting teaching tool, for would-be writers.

So, what did you think, those of you who watched it live? And more, what do you think, those of you who just read the story-to-date?

Is this of interest? Was it worth the effort, not only mine but the enormous effort of Kathy de Wild, who organized it all, and Michael, Maitreya, and Andrew, who got it running and kept it there?

[I’e2’80’99ll have more to say about the panel discussion with Jim Houston, Morton Marcus, and myself, but that’e2’80’99s a later post.]

I’e2’80’99d appreciate some feedback, suggestions, comments’e2’80’94not so much about the story, since I don’e2’80’99t know that you can say much about a rough first except, do finish it, but for the process itself.

And to everyone out there’e2’80’94thanks for your kindness and support leading up to this. It was appreciated.

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  1. L. Crampton, LAc on May 22, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    I was with patients and thus couldn’t stop to ‘watch’ and only read the draft as posted afterwards. It ‘feels’ very integral already, a progression building towards events and meaning that we care about. I would love to have seen the way the pieces were built and placed in the process.

  2. WDI on May 22, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    I, too, was unable to follow the work in progress. I was still interested, though, to read the final version in light of what I knew the prompts were and to see, even if dimly at times (the dimness being on my part, not yours!), how you wove what must have been very disparate ideas together into something that, as the previous poster wrote, “feels” very integral. I only wish I could have seen what you were thinking as you put the pieces together.

    I, too, will be very interested in seeing the final product and comparing it to the posted version. I definitely want to spend more time with the characters; I’m worried about Bee and very interested to find out about the Weird Man.

    If questions are appropriate, I’d love to know why/how you chose the narrator you did and how the other characters came to be around him.

    I also enjoyed the prompting process. I don’t know about anyone else, but I got a definite thrill and feeling of connection seeing a prompt I submitted (a duplicate, for all I know) show up. In fact, just thinking about and submitting prompts allowed me to feel that I was participating in something special — an activity I admire immensely and have no talent for whatsoever 🙂

    Thanks to you and everyone who made this possible!

  3. Sara on May 22, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    I too liked the prompt- it made me excited when my idea helped someone else’s. And I’m all for watching the creative process unfold before you.

  4. bani on May 22, 2006 at 7:42 pm

    I wasn’t able to watch it live either (because computer recently broke down yada yada had to reinstall everything yada lacking components), so I checked in on the drafts. I was rather awestruck at how complete the drafts were. I honestly didn’t expect them to be that good (okay, I know I’ve previously said I had every faith in you etc., but to be [i]completely[/i]honest…) I did expect more bumbling. It was really good, and I look forward to reading the finished version.

    Next time (oh, there will be a next time, won’t there?), I’m making sure my hubby helps me so I can watch the live feed!

  5. Don Rothman on May 22, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    Watching Laurie King Compose (May 20, 2006)

    We sit in a darkened room looking at a wall on which Laurie King’e2’80’99s words are projected. She is writing upstairs, in some other room, on her laptop. There is, as someone in charge explains, a delay.

    The women behind me complain that there is no audio. ‘e2’80’9cI could have done this at home,’e2’80’9d one says. They are among the first to leave.

    Above the first sentences that King has written is an explanation of what is happening. This morning’e2’80’99s Santa Cruz Sentinel has explained that the event is part of an all-day book fair. Laurie King has been named Santa Cruz County Arts Commission Artist of the Year, and she wants to reveal a writer’e2’80’99s process instead of offering a more conventional performance.

    We watch the wall the way Moses may have awaited God’e2’80’99s writing chiseled into stone tablets. There is something primitive here despite our apparent comfort with the technology that makes a writer who is relatively close by seem as though she could be in outer space beaming words back to Earth. At the same time, we are closer to her than we have ever been, inside the private space in which she composes. Some people feel close; others cannot connect and wish that she were right there on the small stage that holds the projector. I recall that some zoos have displayed caged humans from time to time, and I imagine a zoo that houses poets, short story writers, novelists with the appropriate Latin nameplates and short descriptive ethnographic essays adorning the enclosures. We are visitors, eavesdroppers, not yet participants.

    The lines appear, sometimes a paragraph at a time, sometimes just a sentence. We don’e2’80’99t know which ones will stay and which will be withdrawn, maybe before we’e2’80’99ve finished reading them.

    Because this comes in spurts, everyone in the room stares at the wall, wanting to get the news’e2’80’94to experience the outpouring, however, it resembles the lurching of a car whose clutch is going. I know this rhythm from my own writing.

    I seem to be the only one with a moving pen. It amuses me, since I’e2’80’99m used to writing in groups, having taught writing for 36 years and led institutes on writing for teachers. I wonder what the others are doing with their hands.

    This is different from being read to, the way a child is put to bed with a story. This is being written to, except that we’e2’80’99re anonymous and Laurie King, like the wizard of Oz, is somewhere behind a curtain, on another floor.

    I notice that I’e2’80’99m free to write because the rhythm of her writing is slow enough to provide space for me. But I am still, after 15 minutes, the only one writing among 20 people. One woman just starts to write on a steno pad. She sits next to me.

    As the words continue to appear on the wall, with 30 seconds or a minute separating installments, I keep writing, as though it is the right thing to do in this place. I think about three decades of asking groups of people to write as we explore ways to improve our teaching. I imagine that the people here (almost all women) know Laurie King’e2’80’99s books, as my wife does, reading them as they appear in the public libraries with welcome regularity.

    A third of the original 20 people have left already’e2’80’94lacking the patience, I assume, to sustain polite attention. I have my own writing, so why leave? Others whisper, as though someone of great importance is speaking, and silence must prevail in her presence. The sound of the projector’e2’80’99s fan provides the only ambient noise.

    Every once in a while sentences on the wall disappear. She must be re-reading, then deleting what she wants to abandon. I look up from my writing to discover a whole paragraph gone.

    I adjust to her words now, knowing that this is a first draft, which I cannot get attached to. But I am attached to my own first words, and they lure me away from hers.

    As sentences appear, some people laugh’e2’80’94responding to something they appear to find familiar,

    More people leave, but more come in. There are 15 people here now after 30 minutes.

    We are sitting in rows, sort of the way we do at movie theaters. Three more people, teachers, leave.

    This is a form of communion, mostly with Laurie King, for those familiar with her work. For some it is a conversation starter. For me, a way to write.

    Three more people leave. A mother and two elementary school children come in, look at the screen, and don’e2’80’99t even sit down. There are ten people here at 11:35.

    Outside this room vendors are selling food and books. Somewhere in the building a celebration of children’e2’80’99s writing may be taking place. I’e2’80’99m not sure.

    I know, however, that it takes a special attitude to sit in this room watching words appear on the wall, seconds after they are being composed. I know that today some people are hoping to see Barry Bonds hit his 714th homerun, and they are paying attention as those in this room are to something that happens only once.

    The organizer comes in to announce that a storyteller, my wife’e2’80’99s ex-principal, I suspect, is about to perform in the adjacent room or outside. One person leaves. I realize that listening to someone tell me a story would be much easier than reading Laurie King’e2’80’99s first draft, but I would have to abandon my own writing if I left.

    The people who go have had enough. Maybe 30 minutes, 15 minutes, is the most that anyone can expect to follow a first draft, especially, I think, if one isn’e2’80’99t also composing. If one doesn’e2’80’99t have a purpose or a point of view, this witnessing of another’e2’80’99s creative process seems not to hold people’e2’80’99s attention for very long. Or maybe 15-30 minutes is very long against everything else? I have no way to judge.

    Technology makes this possible. Perhaps hundreds of people are watching the same thing on their home computers through webcasting.

    As I think about what Laurie King is writing, I realize that this is an invitation to pay attention to her imagination’e2’80’94to how she invests the house in her story with a personality. I notice that an image she uses’e2’80’94a house with teeth’e2’80’94disappears as she revises. Or perhaps I have missed it? I am disappointed since I really like that image, and I wonder why she jettisons it. I also wonder if she will find it again.

    She is pausing to re-read. She corrects ‘e2’80’9cpeeing’e2’80’9d to make it ‘e2’80’9cpeeling.’e2’80’9d Ten people here at 11:55.

    When she describes the narrator’e2’80’99s aversion to touching dusty books, she revises by embellishing: ‘e2’80’9cIf I so much as touched them, they would fall to pieces’e2’80’9d emerges from a much simpler original sentence.

    I wonder, an hour into this, if she is going to stop. I wonder if her imagination, her body, her energy, are fatigued. I am curious about how my rhythms compare to hers. Just as I wonder, Laurie King writes ‘e2’80’9c[five minute break].’e2’80’9d It is noon. Is this an accident?

    During the break, the one person who doesn’e2’80’99t leave talks to me. We noticed the same line’e2’80’94the house with teeth’e2’80’94and liked it, but she didn’e2’80’99t think King had deleted it, while I did. She asks if I’e2’80’99ve been writing King’e2’80’99s entire text down. I smile and say no.

    There are eight people here at 12:15.

    The pauses between Laurie King’e2’80’99s additions and subtractions control the pace of our reading. They do more, too. They prompt us to imagine where she is going’e2’80’94what we want’e2’80’94whether we are hooked yet.

    It occurs to me at 12:20, as King writes about a huge fireplace, ladies doing needlework, a bearded man, to wonder if she is ‘e2’80’9chaunted’e2’80’9d by her readers today because they are witnesses to her composing, not consumers of a published book?

    The story she is writing is about an occult presence’e2’80’94a house that appears to light its own fire, to fry onions and spice’e2’80’94and I wonder if our presence or conversation (however hushed and unavailable to her) is the story’e2’80’99s backdrop? I am wondering if she is writing with us in mind, but I immediately am embarrassed by the question.

    The cursor blinks, as we await the rest of the sentence or the next paragraph. It marks time with a regular beat’e2’80’94the meter of composition’e2’80’94a way to measure imagination. It keeps our attention the way an EKG machine beside the bed of an unconscious person signals life and is redolent with potential meaning.

    Seven people here at 12:30.

    By writing in our presence–in a virtual way, at least’e2’80’94does Laurie King feel more impetus to persist?

    At 12:50, while the delayed text is still appearing on the wall, she appears in the room. She seems to be admiring the words. Once the text ends with ‘e2’80’9cto be continued,’e2’80’9d she invites our conversation.

    She tells us that the story has been promised’e2’80’94so she knows she has to get it done. She sees value in giving people access to the composing process, explaining that she first wrote when she was 35 years old and thought that writing just appeared in complete form. This experiment has emerged from her own late revelation. She tells us that in this first draft she is looking for a voice and a way to know the characters. She anticipates that this story will return to the power of names, where it begins, but not until it has evolved further. She hopes to finish the story by the end of June, six weeks from now.

    We applaud when she is done answering our questions. I am exhausted and stimulated at the same time. I have been writing with one eye on her writing; reading as I write, writing as I read.

    Standing in the driveway in front of a makeshift hotdog stand, three teachers find each other. We talk for a few moments about Laurie King’e2’80’99s haunted house and the possibility that our presence was a kind of haunting of her writing process. There is no reason to think that we have played any role in her writing, just as it is unlikely that the witnesses to Barry Bonds’e2’80’99s 714th homerun contributed to his tying Babe Ruth’e2’80’99s record. But despite the humility that such a lesson imparts, I feel as though my writing and hers occupied the same space, even if only for two hours.

  6. KB on May 23, 2006 at 1:32 am

    I watched every minute of it (and thank you, by the way, for taking a break!!) and was enthralled. I guess because I’m just beginning I was very curious to see how you work. I enjoy your work so much and always feel it is so well thought out. I was so relieved to see that you just lay it all out and (after reading this post we’re responding to) will self-edit later. I’ve been encouraged to do that and struggle with it.

    Thank you so much and thanks to everyone who put it together. It was a great use of a couple of hours!


  7. Trix on May 23, 2006 at 2:06 am

    I too read the posted draft, since 3am on a Sunday morning my time was a little too demanding for even my level of devotion.

    It IS evidently a first draft, but I want to read the end of the story. I want to hear about the house and what happens to the characters.

    And really, it’s the ultimate aim of any story, the desire to finish it. And that aim has certainly been achieved. 🙂

  8. Emma on May 24, 2006 at 9:18 am

    Thank-you for the summary, Don! It sounded like a very different, but interesting, experience!

    And congratulations on such an unusual and brave demonstration, Laurie!

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