Writing class homework from last week – show don’t tell.  The title Man Is Fear.

The phone’s vibration springs his eyes wide.  Gunshots in his dreams fade away as he lies corpse-still, the only movement in the room his eyelids blinking, once and then quickly three times.  The shutters on the windows have slapped an extra coat of darkness on the pre-dawn hour of his waking.   Hearing nothing, he stretches his right arm overhead slowly.  And then his left.  Never two at the same time – one must always be near his defense.  Rolling half-over to the right at the silent sticky pace of a snail he reaches his hand to the night stand for the reassuring touch of cool steel.

Placing one booted foot and then another, feather-light, beside the bed, he tests the worn wooden floor for creaks with a little weight at a time.  Jeans soaked from the night’s humidity cling soggy to his legs as they extend to standing.  Reaching tall he rises out of a bed as fully dressed as he, and casts  the light from the screen of his phone over to the corner for the suitcase.  The cold blue of his eyes cannot be seen but their gaze connects with the object, in its place in this room, identical to its place in the room of his last rest three hundred miles behind.  There had been five rooms in the last fifteen days for a few hours at a time.

Relief and disappointment flow in quick succession through the worry lines on his face.  It was a face full of valleys that once was handsome and carefree.  Now he avoids the dark mirror on the cheap bureau.  Dousing the light of the phone in the darkness of his jeans pocket he lets his skin adjust to being awake and runs a shaking hand through hair that has begun, in the last fifteen days, to show signs of gray.

The room, heavy with the scent of mothballs and sweat, is adorned with a window air condition unit and a small fridge with the sign “Minibar” in cracked adhesive letters.  He saw them the night before and can find them easily in the darkness.  The unit would have been far too loud for him to hear any of the sounds of the lodge and the alcohol would have dulled senses that overnight might have been needed to save his life.  But in the sticky  darkness of another restless dawn he reaches into the cool fridge and pulls out a finger.  The bulb inside has long needed a replacement and he is unable to read the label but it doesn’t matter.  It is the calm he is after.  And something to take the edge off this infernal shaking.

He throws the bottle mouth back with his head.  Deep breaths are sucked in as the liquid fire slides down his throat.  A slow count to ten.  Not enough he closes his eyes and counts another ten.  When they open again, his eyes register that the room has grayed slightly and shapes have begun to take form.  It is time to leave.

The night before he had walked to the desk, cash in hand.  The attendant had avoided looking at his hooded face and would not be able to answer any questions later.  He would be gone before sunrise in any case.  There were enough fifties handed over to buy some time, some silence, and a quick untraceable exit.

Taking that exit now, he transforms.  No longer stiff in slow motion, he is now a feral cat with the hair on the back of his neck standing on end.  Every sense comes alive as he takes in the dank smell of the corn-scented mist drifting toward the lodge.  Claws of light have scratched lines into the horizon across the street and over the fields.  Soon they will grip the lodge and already his form can be seen silently closing the door.  Mere seconds stand between him and the grasping light.

The car was chosen for speed and stealth, not for beauty.  He pours himself into the bucket seat without a sound, sinks the case in the hidden compartment beneath the floor and rests the weapon in its place.  Only now, as the starter turns over with a whisper, does he exhale.  Black tint on glass floods the interior with the airless blackness of a tomb.  But calm is shattered by the scream of a rooster in the grip of new light and his head crashes,  startled, against the ceiling of the car.  With an aching scalp and chills running up and down his spine he flings the stick into gear and tears out of the parking lot.

Another day will pass on the open road.  He will not stop to rest again until three hundred miles lies between him and this morning.

Writer Terror

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”   
— Flannery O’Connor

All weekend I have been battling with my writing class assignment.  The result has been that not one word has been written.  It promises to be a very intense piece of work (visceral is the word the instructor used) and I am likely going to have to work it and re-work it.  So far I have been writing light works for my blogs, little bites of my day.  It has been a forward-looking journey charting a new course through lands hitherto unknown and filled with optimism.

Not so my writing class homework.  This promises to be a visit to the murky swamps of my memories.  And I admit it freely here – I am intimidated.  The assignment for this week is that I take a childhood memory and re-write it in the voice of my childhood.  Three pages.

Writing about the past is something I have never practiced.  Not about my past anyway.  I don’t mind brief visits to other people’s ponds.  But much like I don’t like the idea of going to a psychologist to dig through the silt and make a new decision on what happened in the past I have a strong resistance to sifting through on my own for sources of fiction.

You would swear I had skeletons in my closet!

A big part of what scares me is the burden of protecting the people in my life from the magnifying glass.  It scares me to have to examine each character closely and make a decision on them.  It scares me to show the decision I have made to them.  They lived in my life un-rehearsed, un-varnished and would never have guessed when I was growing up alongside them that one day I would open my veins and bleed out my secrets, which are shared secrets and therefore their secrets, through a pen.  The rye words exchanged, the events we pushed into the past in order to still be able to relate today, the wrongs we have worked hard to forget and survive.

I struggled to identify a childhood memory that wasn’t in some way tainted by one of these secrets.  The drama that belonged to the adults affected how we children would be allowed to relate – where we went, who came over, what could and could not be discussed with whom.  In the end I found some untainted memories in our neighbourhood, things shared with my brother and our friends, but most of them I had to really fight through the mire to get to.

Without even beginning to write I see how enormous an impression adults leave on children.  A theme for the story of my life.  The fears and the fierce love of our protectors and the way they fought for us or over us during the days of our childhood – the prickly hedge that kept us sheltered from the world.

Having already admitted to my commitment phobia, I am going to apply my own advice to this problem.  I have a problem – I am terrified of writing for this class.  My goal is to complete every assignment from the heart for this class.  And you, the reader of my blog, I ask to hold me accountable.  If by Friday each week for the next five weeks I haven’t mentioned it, this means I am avoiding it.  Please kick my rear into gear.

Writing Found a Home

I was late and sat in the back.  My first writing class.  But I was hooked before I even sat down!  Twenty men and women of various ages and backgrounds were in the room where the collection of Art and Manga books call home in our local Books & Books.  They were rapt, listening to the instructor, eloquent as a feather, laying the framework for our six weeks together.

Tingles danced over my arms as I reached into my bag for my diary.  I was engaged, caught up in her reverence and passion for a thing she clearly loves.  She talked on writerly habits, having a writer’s journal, writing daily for at least fifteen minutes, reading like a writer.  She expressed in words several of the things I have learned since sitting down and committing to this blog.  Like the extraordinary gems of material hidden in the ordinariness of our own lives.  Like the way a writer thinks, examining the event of the day or the moving moment and creating words to recreate this picture to someone else.

We were given a class exercise – to write a paragraph each on three childhood memories – and the silence was broken only by the odd chuckle and the dizzy rush of pens.  I smiled down at my book feeling like a little girl again on the first day I realized that I could read.  I had cracked the code!  Found a new world to explore.  Once again I am in that moment.

This class will change my life.

And I won’t be alone.  The excitement in the room was like the 22nd person – hard and defined by bones covered in flesh.  The questions asked and experiences shared came as though from one massive tank of thought.  I learned something that will stay with me forever.  There is a community of writers.  Everywhere.  Watching, observing and loving the moment enough to write it.  Even here in my home town.  People like me who shut down a part of their day to spend with a pen and paper or notepad or laptop to pour themselves out for a moment.  There are people who take the colours of life and recreate them more brilliantly in black and white.  Others are fluent in my language.

This morning I have my blog to commit to and my homework to do.  I am praying for the time to do it all – both mean a lot to me.  And so I am giving fair warning – much of the frilly bits of my life will be cut for a time to make space for this thing that promises to take over, to bring a new chapter of meaning and a whole new purpose.

Onward with the Journey!