The Writing Workshop
(excerpted from Full Of It: The Birth, Death, and Life of an Underground Newspaper)
I was walking around the Village one day, thinking about my problems, when a notice in the window of a bookstore caught my eye:
BE A BETTER WRITER
INTENSIVE 10-WEEK COURSE
It was a local writing academy that advertised all over the city. I recognized the name of the place. I had taken an experimental writing class some years earlier, a continuing education class at NYU, and really liked it. Now that I was a published writer I thought I should learn something about writing. Maybe I could learn some new tricks, take my writing to a new level. Maybe this was what I was looking for.
I went inside the bookstore and picked up a catalog. The prices were reasonable. It was only one night per week, so it wouldn’t be too much of a commitment. Even if it was stupid, I thought that maybe there would be some good-looking women in the class. When the experimental writing class had ended I had spent a few nights with a serious brunette who showed me the scars from her breast reduction. But that was the experimental writing crowd for you. Maybe this time would be better.
The classes were held in an elementary school, attached to a church near Union Square. There were about a dozen of us total.
Our teacher, Elle, had just gotten out of grad school. Elle was young, warm and passionate. When I say warm I mean literally: during the first class I noticed Elle had big sweat stains under her armpits. That impressed me. It meant she was nervous, and human, and a hard worker. It meant passion and lack of restraint and possible genius. She told us it was her first class as a teacher and that she was very nervous, but she was also just sexy and voluptuous, a real earth mother type. I began to have the usual fantasies about her, I couldn’t help myself. Elle was attractive, well-built, and those sweaty pits really turned me on. I didn’t have any real fetishes or kinks, but I loved certain things on a woman: big noses, mild acne scars, lazy eyes. Sweaty pits was a new one for me. I had dated a few hairballs in San Francisco and didn’t like it one bit, but it really worked with Elle.
Every week was a different topic: Plot, Setting, Character, Dialogue, Pacing, and so on for ten weeks. We submitted copies of our stories to the rest of the students, built around whatever topic we were studying. The following week we would spend half the class going around in a circle, critiquing each story. Just like with the experimental writing class, there were people who couldn’t take any criticism, and they were generally the worst writers. Some of the criticism was bad, but much of it was helpful, and I listened to everybody carefully. I was already spreading my work around to hundreds of drunks every month anyway, so it wasn’t too hard for me to take.
Every week Elle gave each of us a handout of various excerpts from different books to illustrate that week’s theme. Besides critiquing each others’ stories we also took turns reading aloud the various examples and then talked about them. I learned a lot from those excerpts, and got introduced to some good writers that way. Elle introduced me to Grace Paley, and that alone was worth the price of tuition.
One week we studied Description. Elle handed out the excerpts and we began reading aloud, taking turns around the circle. When it was my turn I had to read an excerpt from a novel called MOONBEAM LOVES.
It was a long paragraph, broken over two pages, describing items that were sitting on a mantelpiece: the faded photographs, bits of string, coins, stock certificates, lucky rabbits’ feet. It went on and on.
I turned the page. There was more: ticket stubs, sea shells, small stuffed birds, Uncle Marty’s dentures. My eyes began to glaze over. I couldn’t imagine how so many things had gotten up on that mantle. It was a damn big fireplace. Finally it was over. My mouth was dry. Elle looked up from her desk.
“Okay, anybody have any thoughts about that?”
My hand shot up.
“I have to say, I really hate this kind of writing. It’s not writing so much as a grocery list. Why do writers feel they must clog up the page with endless descriptions in order to make their writing seem more literary? How does this improve my life? Why would anybody want to wade through this crap?”
Elle nodded, smiling.
“I see,” she said in her warm, sweaty way. “Now tell us what you really think!”
The class laughed.
That weekend, as I worked on my assignment for the following class, I kept thinking about Elle. Where Wilson excited my romantic, heroic side, Elle inspired carnal lust in me. I was hot for teacher in the worst way. I imagined leaving her butt prints against the blackboard, licking her armpits as I slid and slipped against her sweat-soaked body.
Thinking about it really turned me on. I got distracted, then desperate. I wondered if there was a picture of her in the workshop catalog. I found the catalog on the floor by the bed and flipped to the back, to where the instructor bios were. There was no picture, so I decided to jerk off to her bio instead. BA, Columbia. Oh, baby. MFA, Iowa. Uhhh, yeah. Published in all the right journals, a few grants and awards along the way. Then I read the last line:
“Elle’s first novel, MOONBEAM LOVES, will be published in the spring…”
My dick went down.