Notes from a writing workshop

I’m thinking that it’s harder to write in the summer. And I say “summer” because this part of the world leaped from ridiculously towering snow drifts to flip flop and tank top weather within a one week span. But it’s so hard to write when there is green grass to walk on and bottles of white wine to drink and no one feels like burrowing anymore and even those squirrels at the park were eating potato chips out of your hand this balmy, beautiful Thursday evening in Montreal. What makes it a little more difficult is that for the past 8 weeks I’ve been taking a writing workshop lead by Mikhail Iossel and there’s nothing like a weekly workshop to get you in the habit of writing, or at least actively thinking about writing. It ended yesterday and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll carry the habit into the sunny season. Resolution.

Anyway, during class I would half-hazardly jot down phrases or book titles that Mikhail would mention, and I thought it would be interesting to compile them in one blog post. Sometimes I’m not exactly sure what I meant by the scribble.

Mar 5 / 08
“A Lie That Tells the Truth” – John Dufresne
“What If” Ann Bernays and Pamela Painter
axis of chronology
a writer’s interest in their own writing is contagious, i.e. if you’re bored writing, the reader will be even more bored reading
do things on purpose and make sure the reader knows this
the reader shouldn’t be smarter than the writer
Donald Barthelme – 40 Stories, 60 Stories
constraints on writing “cigarettes” – limiting choices makes writing easier and generates unintended meanings
“Every Hunter Wants to Know” – mushroom hunt story!! [Note: This is a story Mikhail wrote that stems from being a child in Russia and doing some yearly mushroom hunt; this week I was obsessed with the act of mushroom foraging after finishing "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and thought it was serendipitous]
cut, don’t add

Mar 12 / 08
Molloy vs. Godot
Boris Pasternak- Russian poet
(I guess I didn’t take many notes this class)

March 19
Make a questionnaire for a character
Consider point of view as a camera
“Fat” Raymond Carver
chiaroscuro [Note - I think I just realized I really like the sound of this word]
Annie Hall’s original title [Note - It was "Anhedonia", which is the inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable life events]
“Reunion”, “Angel on the Bridge” – Cheever
atmospherics [again, just words I decided I liked]
The Magic Barrel – Malamud

March 26
My story got workshopped so most of my notes are about that, but there’s also this:
bats who keep talking to remind themselves they’re alive [I don't remember the context]
Flann O Brien [Note - Just a few days earlier my friend Molly had been telling me about him, and since then his name has been popping up everywhere]
Phillipe Algao (Logos and Chronos) [Note - I think I really butchered this guy's name because I can't seem to google the right info about him]

April 3, 2008
Borges, “The Aleph”
“Separation of Starlight” Sorentino
Amy Bender short stories
Evelyn Waugh
George Saunders

April 9, 2008
If you do something on purpose, do it twice
an unreliable narrator: when the reader knows more about the narrator than the narrator herself
movies by Tarkovsky – Mirror, Solaris (not the remake)

April 16, 2008
You need an abundance of realistic details to make magic realism work
nostalgia is sadness
Sorentino (again)
The Art of the Personal Essay
“Signs and Symbols”

April 23, 2008
I didn’t take many notes this class because one of my stories was workshopped and it was the last class, so it was mostly a lot of talking.

So, 8 weeks of class condensed into offhand scribbles.

The only way to be quiet / is to be quick

Timely: The New Yorker published an article about Frank O’Hara’s “Selected Poems” (which I mentioned in the last entry).

His poems, so full of names and places and events, are exquisite ledgers for the tallying of reality. They all attempt to move the vital but fleeting items in Column A—sandwiches and torsos, lunch hours and late nights—into Column B, where works of art stand, “strong as rocks,” against the ravages of mortality. The attempt to move people from Column A to Column B is called “elegy,” and, while every poet tries it, few have done so with the illusion of real-time improvisation that makes O’Hara’s poems so risky and so satisfying.