I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the work of writing and those who do it as I look back on the past year. We have all decided to reserve our time and attention for some aspect of writing, and the writing reveals us to ourselves. I think it’s worthwhile to pause and reflect a bit, me as a teacher, and you as writers.
One thing I’ve seen this year is a new kind of efficiency has come into my work. The irony is, of course, that my work is only visible in my students’ and clients’ writing. However, this past year or so---despite the health oddities I’ve endured and the disorienting---to me at least---change of venue, I survey our little community with rare satisfaction.
Satisfaction because everyone who took a class improved. I’m not sure if that’s unprecedented, but it’s a statement I haven’t been able to make with absolute certainty until this December.
I’ve had several students this year who began as merely curious---could they write stories at all?---and despite a range of ages, educational backgrounds, reading habits, each one has begun writing interesting work. They’ve cast aside preconceptions and trusted their innate sense of story with excellent results in a variety of styles and voices.
I’ve also been lucky to attract other students who were already accomplished writers in other venues, some professional, some who had finished books. I’m happy to say that this cohort are now showing deepened understanding of both craft and creativity. I’ve been quite impressed by their willingness to attempt what I know are uncomfortable stratagems; they’ve had to trust that, over time, the new consciousness of craft will yield more engaging stories, and this is gradually what I’m seeing in their class work.
Finally, at least a half dozen writers who have been working with me on book-length projects are finishing and readying for market. That’s a lot of finishing. How amazing is it that any book is ever finished, let alone six or seven from this limited cohort? I’m proud and humbled by the talented and disciplined writers I’m privileged to work with.
And as noted in an earlier blog, with every month this autumn and continuing into the winter a student or an editorial client has published or gotten a second book deal or garnered some serious interest from a publishing potentate. Evidence? Please see Nicky Radcliffe’s Modern Love in the Times.
Holiday Entertainments you MUST SEE/HEAR/READ!
In the past week, I’ve realized that many writers whom I had regarded as quite literate, in fact were on a track to fail their Christmas literary ID quiz. They had no or only passing acquaintance with three of most excellent Christmas stories ever created. Yes, that may sound like hyperbole, but it’s a fact. So it’s my great privilege to introduce all three wonderful holiday tales to friends in need of New Year’s or anytime entertainment. They are briefish, delightful, witty and well told.
1. If you need an antidote to the memorized tropes of It’s a Wonderful Life, try a wry nostalgia-fest titled with deceptive simplicity: A Christmas Story. This 1983 movie is based on the memories of humorist and radio personality, Jean Shepherd, but it was not a hit on the big screen back in 83; however, since then, as it’s found its way on the television screen, answering the need for holiday “family” entertainment, and there, it’s subversive wit, and complicated yet authentic relationships have made it a classic. To my mind, it’s the second best Christmas movie ever, with It’s a Wonderful Life being the unassailable king, but ACS beats all over versions of Scrooge, Rudolf, or any other snowy or sentimental movies.
You can watch it for three bucks on YouTube HERE.
2. Next up for your ears only, David Sedaris, humorist supreme, tells the tale of his Christmas job at Macy’s for a couple winters long past. I won’t spoil it except to say that if you listen while driving, be prepared to pull over and laugh yourself silly. I’ve heard it a dozen times and it still cracks me up. OK, just one thing: at one point, Sedaris does a perfect Billie Holiday singing “Away in the Manger.” Ya gotta hear it. THIS LINK is to a longer version for those of you familiar with the 8 minute reading on NPR every year.
Lastly, another treat for ears, is Dylan Thomas reading his short memoir, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Listen at night if you can and savor the gorgeous imagery and the singing quality of the poet’s voice as you imagine a forgotten world, before electricity, before the motorcar …
Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors,...
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