A few summers ago I was lucky enough to be accepted into the U.P. writing project. I learned a lot and loved the experience. The main thing I learned was that writing begets more writing. Just like anything else, if one doesn’t write, it gets harder to write. If you don’t use it, you lose it. I’m full of trite adages. I could keep going, but for your sake I won’t.
At any rate, I got to spend several weeks concentrating on writing and I wrote amongst a group of peers. A group of peers who also fancied themselves amateur writers. What was good about that is that I think I held my own with them. At least if I didn’t, they didn’t tell me. Either way, same effect. I gained a little confidence.
Then came the culminating night. The final UPWP retreat. We all had to write one more piece for the retreat, share it in a small group to know what did or didn’t work about it and do with it what we amateur writers do. Sometimes at that point we let the idea go away or sometimes we realize the idea needs to steep in the back of our brains until it is ready for consumption.
I had often gotten some raised eyebrows for the types of things I wrote. Apparently stories about cute cuddly woodland creatures getting their comeuppance ( http://wedgesnotebook.blogspot.com /search?q=children%27s+story ) were mildly amusing to some, but no one really wanted to admit it. I remember always being startled at how shocked some were by what I penned. I mean had these people never read Poe? Never picked up a Stephen King novel? Alfred Hitchcock? What I had been doing…to call it a pale comparison would be an injustice to any of them. My stuff wasn’t good enough nor lethal enough to deserve being called a pale comparison.
So I eventually tried to keep my writing as ….what’s the opposite of off-color?….I kept my writing as on-color as possible which mystified me a little bit. I mean the one thing I have always wanted to accomplish is to write what I want to write. The UPWP was my first chance to write for adults and not have to fear admonition from a college professor.
So for the final writing, I decided, to let it go a little. I wrote a true recounting of a night at a strip club in the middle of nowhere. The strippers’ bus had apparently broken down and the club was stripper free that night. Or I should say the club was professional stripper free. Hilarity ensued, culminating in varied attempts to earn free drinks by dancing ourselves, a frostbitten ball sack (not mine for which I thank the sweet baby Jesus), and an afterbar party where a random four year old walked into a room with porn playing on the television and apparently the only people horrified by that were me and my buddy.
So there were definitely events there that were story worthy, but I knew I had totally missed the mark in writing it. Far and away it was the worst piece I had written for UPWP. I knew my story was very one dimensional and I was trying to figure out why my voice hadn’t come through and why the story didn’t work. At all. I mean, not a whit. When I read the story out loud at UPWP, I didn’t get any help.
No one told me that perhaps there were two short stories there. No one said I should perhaps write from a different point of view. No one said that the horror of the afterbar porn scenario was just too dark to go hand in hand with all the preceding Animal House type events up to that point of the story…nothing. They were just appalled that I had put these things on paper.
By the end of the evening I was hearing whispers of people being worried that I may have lost my sanity. I hadn’t even known my sanity’s leash had been so frayed that people were worried about it becoming lost. Between you and me, I have never lost my sanity. I’ve just misplaced it from time to time. I almost always find it again right away. Usually under the couch cushion.
What were they all so bothered by? Not every genre is everyone’s cup of tea. Were they worried my lost sanity was going to run amok through the retreat? Were they worried it was going to trample over all the other stories brought to the retreat? All those pretty little stories about crunchy autumn leaves and poems about their grandmother’s penchant for crosstitch, and touching stories of their daughter’s first lost tooth and all of them, all of them, all of them at the mercy of an adult writing for other adults. Infecting everyone with the idea that not all stories are happy. Spreading adult thoughts like rabies throughout every page of every participant?
I was so horrified about adults being so politically-correctly-crippled that either they were either horrified that I had engaged in such hedonistic behavior or they felt that in order to fit in, they had to pretend to be horrified by it. I found the whole gig so unsettling in that I realized I had totally underestimated how people willingly limit their points of view. I had vastly missed the mark in guessing just how much of a wall people had built between their honest selves and society in an effort to convince the world they don’t have dark, dirty, inane, shameful, naughty, violent thoughts. They had covered everything that was interesting about themselves in a hypoallergenic plastic sheen like the covers your weird aunt puts on all her furniture. I knew then it was the time for the UPWP and myself to part ways.
I thank them for their help, but I knew I could no longer be part of it. Perhaps someday again, I can find a writing group to be a part of. A place where if I want to write a story that is a cross between David Sedaris and David Lynch I can do so without being suspected of being Charles Manson with a word processor.
Sometimes, just for fun, I imagine what would have happened if I had introduced myself to the UPWP as a writer of equine erotica. In my mind’s eye I see them calling the men in the white coats and having me hauled away so that they could finish their pinots respectfully. They could finish their conversations about the weather; maybe swap a recipe or two and at the end they could all get in their Subarus and drive back home and forget I had ever existed.