When I was in Salem last November I met a writer with whom I connected immediately. Amanda Orr. We had apparently exchanged a couple of words on a pre-conference group in which she called me a nerd. Not directly, because she’s too polite for that until she knows you in real life, but her response to something I had said put me into the “nerd category.” It was a compliment, and so I obliged her by feigning the obligatory indignance. Not to the full measure of Spencer in his Faerie Queene–Full of fiers fury, and indignant hate–but to a level that created in words one of those gawkish emoticons that would, if it could speak through its punctuated mouth, say: Moi? Are you calling me a nerd? Inane indignance at its finest, and in a foreign language, no less.
Over Christmas we exchanged gifts. Or rather I sent her children some books because that is what I do at Christmas, I send children books. Amanda sent Zuli Souza and me each a Christmas gift. (Actually, I received two gifts because I am at least twice Zuli’s height and width). Eventually, last night, I had to write a thank you note to her online because as I said in my digital thanks: In my mind, every day, I write you a thank you note from Madam Zuli and me on real paper with a real pen, and it’s put into a real envelope with a real stamp and put into a real post box. Every night I go to sleep and it remains a thank you note in my head.
A short story I began last year, when I joined a closed group on Facebook called Bradbury’s 52 (set up for writers to write a short story every week, because Ray Bradbury defied any writer to write 52 bad stories in a row), went nowhere. I had an initial impulse and idea for it but the prompt words did not resonate with me. They were brothel, teacher, and broom.
First of all, I don’t like writing to prompts. They immediately constrain my free flow of ideas and images. This is obviously not true for every writer. Many love prompts: to them, I say, “Go at ’em.” But these particular prompts were baldly unappealing to me.
However, there was something on the day I saw the prompts that I wanted to write about. (I have a feeling it had nothing to do with the prompts and everything to do with a close friend and his partner, with whom I had spent the previous evening, and whose relationship was on my mind.) I kept thinking about Auden’s Stop All the Clocks and began to write, attempting to use the prompt words, then stopped. I kept thinking I would get back to the story, that I would get over my loathing of the prompts, but I did not.
And then, today, I read an article on the front page of The New York Times, and I know how I want to write the story. My guides will be W.H. Auden the poet and Petroclus the Homerian warrior. This makes me happy. The goal of writing so many blog posts has been to attune myself to writing again after the long absence of it last year. I am not an every day kind of writer because I subscribe to the philosophy that sometimes you have to wait for the writing to come to you. But when your writing is out of shape, as mine is, you have to join the gym–which in my case, is my blog. It’s not my favourite kind of exercise–dancing is. But to get my words to dance, they need to become agile again.
I welcome my words to the Blog Gymnasium, and thank them for at least turning up, even though they are far from eloquent in their form.
Once I remembered that I’d forgotten to send thank you notes, the rest was a blur. Oi.
But I did manage to come back and focus. I think I said on Facebook that I’m no longer a fan of prompts. I used to be, but at some point they were helpful. Now they aren’t. As a teacher, I admit I do give writing prompts. I also tell my students they can ignore them if they wish. All I want them to do is write and the prompt is to give them a starting point. Nothing more. The writing’s the thing.