Tonight was the fourth and final class of my second go in Gish’s “Writing Short Stories” course, and it was most enjoyable because each classmate got to take some time to both talk about why they wrote the story they ended up writing for class, and sharing portions from those stories. And there were some very interesting and compelling stories that came from this group.
There was one story that really touched me, and I thought it interesting, because while it was adequately written but nominally punctuated, and at times a little confusing, we as a class had critiqued a piece from the author a week ago that was all over the place, and I, usually quiet, made a number of structural suggestions to try and help her straighten that contorted effort out.
This author had brought in a different piece this week, and it was short- no more than 4 pages in length. But boy, it grabbed me.
It was the story of a middle-aged woman back in the late 60’s who had an appointment to meet a friend for lunch in a cafe on one of the main streets in downtown Chicago. The author began the story saying it was one of the most extraordinary days of that character’s life. What ensued as the protagonist sat in the diner waiting for her friend was remarkable- it was a day in which the Pope had come to the city, an this woman had a window seat to the processional that was headed toward the downtown church he was hosted by. She saw hundreds, then thousands, then ten thousands of people of all races and sizes and ages fall into this walk that she experienced as an extreme display of human love. And in her hours observing this river of human compassion and devotion, she was thrown back into her childhood, back to a day when as a young girl, she was taken and dropped off at an orphanage by parents who couldn’t take care of her. One of the lines in her story was her remembering finishing each Sunday night after going to church sitting on the steps outside of the sanctuary looking down the road of her town, hoping to see her parents would arrive to claim her as theirs again.
You could tell as she read the main segments of her manuscript that the story was a deeply personal one.
Because of her experience that day in that diner in downtown Chicago, she realized that she had truly been abandoned, but that abandoned people could still find love in their lives.
Her story pricked my heart, and my eyes teared up a little as she finished her little piece.
I talked to her after class, and she confirmed that that story had been a true life tale from her past. I told her I loved it, and the transformation that she realized that day when she saw love unfurled before her aching heart, and she recognized she could changed. I commended her for courage, and I asked her to claim the story and share it as hers, because other people being at where she had been could be so encouraged by her background and experiences.
And somehow we agreed that a large bulk of humanity, whether or not they were from wealthy or impoverished backgrounds, whether they were well or poorly educated, whether they were from big families or tiny ones, whether they were young, middle-aged, or old, dealt with loneliness and struggles with issues related to abandonment and displacement.
There were a lot of good stories shared in class tonight, but that one helped open my eyes a little bit, with a reminder that it is not necessarily the words or the grammar or the syntax or the punctuation precision that makes a story fly. It’s the heart within the story itself that gives it loft.
Unable to finish the Udaya installment (or start it really, for that matter), I turned in a revised version of Sassy- and was happy to stir some conversation in class about men writing as women and vice versa. Generally speaking, the story portions were greeted well. It’s an ugly story, but it was written as a result of a work colleague me telling about a friend of hers who would bring her daughter with her to bars to help her have a better chance attracting interested men. The original notion of a mother doing that repulsed me, but then I wondered, how would such a woman come to that place? That prompted the writing of that story one night. I don’t know if it is a good story, but it made me uncomfortable rereading it, so I felt if anything, it is good for some creeper-factor. I was grateful for the thoughtful, affirming responses it provoked.
I enjoyed Gish’s course again. I look forward to his next one as well. Thank you, sir.