I didn’t want to break into my tiny black moleskin journal yet (I’m saving it for my upcoming roadtrip to Colorado), so I pulled a graded assignment out of my backpack – smiling again at the number “100” – and flipped it over. On the page that was still clean, I wrote one heading up here and then another one halfway down: Strengths, Weaknesses.
My classmates had read my short story Songs She Wrote over the weekend and were now sharing their critiques. In it, I revisit the history of Christopher and I’s relationship but imagine it, for the first time ever, from his perspective, where I’m unstable, unreliable, crazy, and villainous.
Well, back in class this evening, peers complimented me first (that’s generally how the workshop begins) and then got down to the brass tacks.
- “Great progression… strong voice! It flowed really well.”
- “Writing from his POV made it really poignant.”
- “Your writing style is like poetry — like reading a diary or a memoir. It’s also kinda like a tape recorder… as if someone was just having a conversation.”
- “Your story had things in it for lots of people. Life is messy. The story showed how painful it was for him.”
- “Everything Jace writes, I can tell she wrote it. I love it.”
- “I got lost in the emotion.”
- “There was no concept of time… how many years passed? 20?”
- “I wanted to see more dialogue, less summary.”
- “What did he even learn?”
- “There were some missed opportunities; moments you could focus on developing…”
- “He remembers the good times so generally: making music, making food, making love. There’s never any detail there. Is he remembering their relationship as being better than it really was?”
- “I would suggest renaming it I Love You.”
- “I was confused through most of it.”
“Are you saying I should cut it down, extend it out…?” I asked one student, a boy named Chase. He’d just said something about the ending seeming off — about the story just not ending well.
“Just… do something different,” he said. So neither of us really knew what to do.
Another guy, one who’s been in several of my classes now, raised his hand. Mr. Braziel gave him the floor.
“I have a question for everyone in the room except Jace,” he said, smiling. Everyone laughed. “What did you guys think of the guy’s behavior?” he continued, looking around him.
“Like — he’s crazy,” he said, answering his own question. More laughs.
HE’S crazy? I thought to myself, wondering if he’d read the story correctly. I was the one who left him to have an identity crisis and then wanted him back when he didn’t want me anymore… how did this guy gather that HE’S the crazy one? While I was wondering all of this, he continued.
“No, really — I mean it. I mean, what guy takes all the same classes as his girlfriend because he doesn’t want guys talking to her? Offers to get a sex change? Knows exactly what kind of bread she’s getting at the bakery when they’ve been broken up? Like… it seems like he had a life and then met her and then she WAS his life. Does he do this with every girl?”
Everyone agreed that he was crazy — and that she was crazy, too — that both of them were. That their chemistry was there but that it just wasn’t the good kind.
“There’s just too much dysfunction there,” one girl said plainly, and it hit me — hard. By the end of class, nobody wanted them to end up together. And finally, suddenly, finally, neither did I.
As everyone passed their papers down in lines, each dogeared bunch an edited version of my own story, my hands disappeared underneath all of them. Mr. Braziel was asking me a question then as students were standing up, shouldering on their backpacks and grabbing their things off the table.
“So where do you think you will go with this?” He’d offered lots of ideas throughout the evening: rewrite the story from both persons’ perspectives; make it a story of the moment; detail why she stopped saying it; linger in the bakery, on the rosemary sourdough scene…
I looked back at him, and it took me a second to verbalize my answer because it was right then that I was realizing it.
“Honestly? I think I’m done with this subject.”
The class laughed really loudly this time, and I realized the comment had probably come off as sassy.
“No, really!” I laughed with them and smiled over at Mr. Braziel. “I mean that in the best way possible.”
What’s funny is I’ve been trying to get here for three years now. In the end, it wasn’t about me finding someone to date, or drinking red wine with orange juice, or doing yoga, or even writing furiously about every single thing I think and feel…
I think it was a bit of all of those things but this also: I just needed to keep going to class.