On Tuesday night, around 15 classmates critiqued a short story of mine (ten pages long). I called it “Checking into Checking Out”, and it detailed the possible last day of Zee’s life — Zee being a suicidal cashier who is (not) recovering from a bad breakup. The reader watches and listens as Zee rings up items at The Food Hole — a free-trade, free-range, all-organic, blah blah blah grocer — and deals with your stereotypical clientele: royal and entitled jackasses of white privilege.
In the first draft of my story, I killed her off, but my professor (who previewed my original draft) challenged me: “Take Zee out of the box you put her in, and ditch the narrator.”
So I revised the ending by killing death itself off and inserting a halo-holding hipster who took the girl out for ice cream. It was a vomit-y ending, and I totally got called out on it.
“I mean, why do that?” one classmate asked, looking right at me. “Why have her reason to not commit suicide be some dumb guy, riding in to save the day?”
Holy shit, I thought to myself, gazing back at her. The truth of what she’d said literally struck me. I was dumbfounded.
I did that… I — a feminist who REALLY DOES BELIEVE that we make ourselves happy and that other people can’t and that romantic relationships can’t — I WROTE that!
Along with this classmate’s wake-up call (which was VERY appreciated), every other student had valuable advice and pointers to offer as well, and I ended up leaving class with a page full of notes — barely legible phrases that read: consider placement; less parenthesis and italics, sub w/dashes and commas; develop your characters so that they’re likable; keep your narrator neutral so s/he contrasts w/characters; make your audience feel empathetic; have your character change (for better or worse); intrinsic changes are powerful — manifest these; allow other characters to change your character; some things exist only in your brain, so make sure you share them w/your reader; balance weaknesses with strengths; balance the tangible with the intangible; balance dialogue with thoughts with description with action; think: outside, inside, outside; and – I underlined this one – keep authentic endings!
I’m not going to share my short story here, BUT I would like to share two short journal entries that I drafted last weekend for my creative writing class. The assignment was to select (2) urban spaces and then observe them on separate days, focusing on setting and your sensory experience of it. I chose Red Cat (Saturday AM/favorite couch spot) and Saturn (Sunday AM/a bench outside), and I like how they turned out.
Thick spoonfuls of cheddar grits are relocating from bowl to plate. She raises one of these spoonfuls to her lips, and I notice that a tiny, orange thread is connecting the isolated, elevated round from its plated congregation below; hanging on, or at least trying to.
She takes the spoon into her mouth slowly; I can see the rouge painted onto her thin lips, the wrinkle lines encircling her mouth, and the silver chain resting against her neck (which is probably leaving temporary indentations in her leathery skin).
Several feet away, three pairs of shoes seem to be holding a conversation among themselves: Converse, Nike, Nike. Their owners have positioned their chairs in a sort of triangle; they face each other, chew on fingernails, pick at bejeweled earlobes, and bite down on bottom lips. Behind the thoughts they choose to verbalize, what are they thinking about? They seem comfortable — confident with themselves and their current company — but none of them really look happy.
An iPhone drops to the floor with a dull thud, causing the shoes to scatter.
In the background, the many voices in this room interweave and, sometimes, collide with one another. As disjointed and strangely pitched as their collective noise sounds, they provide a constant, even droning that’s somehow reassuring.
But the industrial coffee machine — black and chrome, classic — produces my favorite sound: a metal churning; a perfectly-pitched whirring. The air in the room smells sweet, like caramel syrup; salty, like this here cup of Gouda grits; and even a little spicy, like the sweetly-bitter Ecuadorian cortado swirling in the white mug that is sitting on the brown table. I asked the person to top it off with whipped cream, making the beverage equal parts adult-like and fun.
A young woman in a mustard-yellow shirt heard the barista call her name out a few seconds ago; she took her coffee from him and exited the cafe, but I was able to read the words on her shirt before she disappeared:
“Wake up and smell the coffee.”
The green turf totally looks like grass, so I’m hoping my German Shepherd doesn’t pee on it.
Little white tables line the brick wall on one side and the short chrome fence on the other. So, to be clear, there are brick and metal borders with pretty white fences staged in-between.
The tables offer chairs that are orange-orange, orange like a tangerine, but I’m sitting on a bench, because it’s situated the furthest away from everyone else.
One couple is seated at a table nearby, on my right; a familiar couple. My best friend used to attend recovery meetings with the one guy. I remember my best friend telling me about these men’s relationship; how it quickly blossomed and then slowly decayed. But here they are now; chatting over empty bowls of cereal — an iced coffee on one end of the table, a latte on the other. I lower my gaze, see a heel touching a toe, and smile.
My best friend is inside of the cafe right now, ordering a caramel vanilla latte for me and, likely, a traditional, boring, and flavorless coffee for himself.
My German Shepherd who – weighed down with stress – panted heavily moments ago has now surrendered to her new surroundings, compliantly lowering her hefty body down onto the green turf. She’s listening to the train sound down the street, the car doors closing across the street, the sneakers slapping against the pavement on the other side of this fence, and the cool kid music that’s lazily trickling down to both pairs of our ears from the speaker up in the corner.
No pee yet.
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