Aside: When last you tuned in, I was awaiting Brother while staring at the sublime shade of blue that perfectly complements my fake Monet painting. Here it is just for Melissa Scholes Young, who wants pictures:
Now, back to the metaphor: Writing groups can make or break a piece. Choose wisely.
Aside: I should be quoting some famous researcher here whom I studied during Northern Virginia Writing Project’s Summer Institute in 2002. Believe me, there is ample research, but I can’t drag my lazy ass down to my teaching files to look up names and quotes for these writing giants. Apologies to Bill McCabe, one of the instructors, and Pete Pazmino, esteemed editor for Journal of the Virginia Writing Project. They tried.
In truth, I learned just as much from my writing group at the summer institute. A woman in my cohort, whom I’ll call Bonita, latched onto my father issues and adopted them. For her, responding to my writing was less about craft and more about content.
Aside: I no longer feel the need to recount my power struggles with my father on the printed page. This has nothing to do with his recent inheritance. First, I exhausted that topic before I wrote anything saleable. Second, I became a parent with my own power struggles. Also, Bonita readily admitted to tripping on acid during much of her young adulthood, so cross that off your list of qualities to look for in writing group members.
Another group member, whom I’ll call Nick Maneno since that’s his name, taught me far more. I read aloud a piece that identified three classifications for married women: dual income no kids (D.I.N.K.s), minivan mamas, and cocktail hostesses. The piece elicited considerable laughter, yet Nick saw kernels of greater things to come: “I want you to focus on that moment when two minivan mamas lock eyes in the germ pit and explode that.” Potent advice. It’s what Jessica Rapisarda knew when she wrote that great piece about the runaway turd for LYTM DC 14 and suspended excrement mid-roll while she recounted a moment from her childhood that rendered me farklempt.
Aside: Yes, I did just shamelessly tag two different people in that paragraph in hopes that they’ll read. It’s called social media, people. For those of you reading the home improvement storyline, pay attention now and stop looking at the photo.
Brother and Brother’s Helper arrived early Thursday morning with tools and apologies. Brother pulled out his stain samples for the banister, matched the color, took notes, and then got to work on the details. I positioned myself at the kitchen table to write. Brother produced an unfinished oak spindle to match the missing one. Brother and Brother’s Helper took turns sawing portions off the top, attempting to wedge it into place, and returning to the swirling blade in my garage. Likewise with the bullnose tread for the top step and the piece of veneer they placed over the plywood on our landing. I lost count of their trips, but noted that they’d tracked in considerable debris.
Deputy and his posse arrived ready to prime and paint. While they set up, I inspected Brother’s carpentry efforts. The staircase’s appearance looked better, but the banister itself still twerked a bit like Miley Cyrus. Brother sighed and scratched his head. Sensing his dread, I went in for the kill: “Head Honcho said it’d be no problem,” I mentioned with a tone of sarcasm. Exploiting this sibling rivalry worked; when Brother was done nailing and screwing metal into that newel and volute (thanks, Wikipedia) that sucker didn’t budge.
Aside: I’m going to get literary now, so expect fewer references to pop culture and design terminology, but don’t bust out the MLA handbook.
We use the phrase “a fresh set of eyes” when referring to readers. It goes far beyond that. You need a fearless mechanic. I once disassembled my mother’s sewing machine, removed an errant thread, and reassembled the bad boy. Likewise, my memoir manuscript originally followed strict chronological order of events until I noted that the tone was inconsistent. There had to be some anchor story to explain the ambivalence I had about growing up as a non-Mormon in Utah. Out came a pair of scissors that I used to cut 200 pages into 24 segments. A present-day story line emerged, a banister to secure all of those individual spindles.
The manuscript was as close to perfect as I could achieve alone when I handed it off to Melissa Scholes Young last summer. She got out her saw, along with Brother’s array of metal pieces, a nail gun, some caulk, and sandpaper, and went to work. The result is a much sturdier, elegant memoir. Nonetheless, I am ready to hand this most recent incarnation over to yet another reader for advice.
I am hopeful that the scissors are safe in the drawer for this round. As for my home project, Deputy painted the stair treads and risers Navajo White as I had instructed, and left Thursday evening. Friday morning, he covered the Navajo White with a coat of White 914 because I changed my mind about the color. That afternoon, he packed up his drop clothes, painter’s tape, and brushes, and left with his posse making vague promises to return after our carpet runner is installed.
Aside: Dust will irritate your eyes and fumes from the stain striper will scar your lung tissue even with all of the windows open. If you are like me, you will subject yourself to this for ten days because you really can’t visualize the outcome and must stumble along blindly keeping your options open.
Aside to the Aside: Say tuned. The carpet is ordered, but the installation is not yet scheduled. It could be a few weeks. In the meantime, feel free to tune back in next Friday for something Off the Page. I’ll try to keep it under 1,000 words.