Day Four’s morning lecture was “Lyric Poetry and the Problem of Time” by David Baker which I had hoped to attend, but I still had workshop comments to complete before we met at 10AM so I skipped.
When our workshop met, we continued the excellent work from the prior meeting. The level of work continued to be quite high and again it was a pleasure to workshop. Ursula gave us an interesting two-part writing exercise which I will share:
Part One: Write about someone who has made you really, really uncomfortable, angry, unsettled or disgusted. Describe how they made you feel, then as you write, slowly make it more about them and less about your reaction to them.
Part Two: Write a scene in which you take your earliest childhood memory and give it to that character you have just described. It will help you to feel more empathy for the character and see him/her as a human being.
Important Twist: If you are woman, write about a man. If you are a man, write about a woman.
She also quoted Faulkner as saying that the act of writing fiction can be described in three parts: 1-Experience, 2-Imagination, and 3-“Where the hell did that come from?” (I really loved this.)
After lunch, I attended a craft workshop on voice, also run by Ursula Hegi. (I can’t get enough.) I almost skipped this craft class and attended a different one because–after the morning fiction workshop exercise–I had reason to suspect that it would be more writing exercises and less lecture and after five days on the mountain I was feeling sort of “thinked out.” But I had signed up and reserved myself a space and so I decided it wouldn’t be fair of me to skip. And, sure enough, it was all exercise. It was valuable, though, if exhausting on a day when I felt as if I were swimming through pea soup. Here was the exercise:
We arranged ourselves into groups of about six or seven writers. Then she told us to all agree on an emotionally charged situation to write about. After much deliberation (seven fiction writers trying to collaborate was like herding cats). We finally settled on the funeral of a young man who had broken his neck diving into too shallow water. (Other groups had an older man coming out at a family Thanksgiving dinner, an older man being sent to a nursing home, and a December-August romance announced to the children of an older gentleman.)
Then, within each group, we were asked to write a short narrative scene from various points of view. If you were a man, your character needed to be a woman and vice versa. And each character had a different point of view from which to tell the story. We used a collective voice (we), a second-person voice (you), a limited third person voice (he, she), an unreliable narrator, the dead person, and I was the funeral director in third person. After the exercise we read them out loud and it was fascinating to hear how the same story sounded from all the different angles.
After dinner, which was not served by the waiters, as they had the night off, there was an amazing reading by Linda Bierds and Randall Keenan. Linda’s poetry was amazing and all had a common thread of being told from the voice of various scientists from history, so it made for a very cohesive reading. There were poems either from the voices of, or about: Gregor Mendel, Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Watson and Crick, and others. I really enjoyed it.
Then Randall Keenan delivered a fantastic reading / performance from a great short story titled “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” which, in one of those utterly bizarre coincidences of real life that you could never write into fiction and make believable, I had been singing all afternoon. I very rarely sing out loud in public, but I had been serenading the entire social staff prior to the reading, so it was kind of a weird moment when he said his story title and it mirrored the music in my head. But his reading was amazing.
The staff reading was tonight, and it was wonderful, although I freely admit to a particular prejudice. After the reading, we congregated at Treman (the faculty / fellow lounge) and had drinks, built a fire in the fireplace, and sat around talking about literature and life. These are some of my favorite moments at Bread Loaf, but I was hitting the mid-conference wall and so went to bed at about 11PM.