Thursday, September 26, 2013

On Herding Cats

Some of you may know that Dennis Kastendiek and I co-host a writing class at the Bear Canyon Senior Center from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. each Monday afternoon. We have an open membership policy, so anywhere from twelve to seventeen people attend out of a more or less active roster of twenty-seven souls. Need I say more about herding cats?

Our group is made up of published authors, those who should be published authors, people who pen pieces for their own enjoyment, individuals interested in leaving family members details of their lives, and rank amateurs. We write fiction, erotica, memoirs, essays, and poetry. We attend to learn, to get class comments on our own writing, as a social outlet, for inspiration, and likely for motives I don’t even recognize. Again, do you see where I’m going with the cat thing?

We have a poet whose English-as-a-second-language phrasing is so fresh that I am loathe to correct her grammar, for which she constantly scolds me. “How can I learn proper English?” she asks. I don’t want her to. To Americanize her charming, graceful, and often dramatic poetry would be something akin to a crime.

We have a man who’s stories take the reader straight back to the down and dirty Texas plains country. An ex-Marine, bearing visible scars of combat, who tells his life story in a gritty, gripping, yet often humorous way. I prod him constantly to submit his work to publishers. A retired airline hostess who writes of her own funny, awkward, and touching experiences. A university professor with a quirky wit that starts you down one path only to jerk your feet out from under you and leave you laughing. He's fascinated by railroads and has published some pieces on early lines. Dennis, my co-host, writes what he calls "whimsical claptrap."
There is a paint artist who’s beginning to reveal bits of herself to us through her prose and poetry. A retired minister whose verses never fail to touch me. A novelist and poet who keeps bringing things back to us until she feels she’s got it exactly the way she wants it. A woman who is laboring to put her travels to foreign countries down on paper. Other members contribute their charm and talents, but I merely wanted to give you a flavor of the people who devote their time each Monday to the class.

Many of the members do good work. Since I’ve been attending the class (probably about three years before Dennis and I took over a year ago), two of the best have passed away. Tom Glass was a red-headed (well, it was red at one time) cowboy taken by the French and Indian Wars. He wrote novels using that time and place as the setting. Digby Henry wrote beautiful poetry, essays, prose…virtually anything he wanted to put his mind to. Both of these writers were a loss and will be remembered fondly.

Before I go maudlin, let’s get back to the issue. The class covers the usual dos and don’ts of wordsmithing: point of view, grammar, story progression, character, tenses, conflict, etc. And like cats, many of us continue to go our own way. I’ll read one of the pieces and realize there was an unexpected change of viewpoint (head hopping is one of my pet peeves). We’ll harp on progression, and then read a work where the story is told backwards or out of sequence. We’ll start an interesting piece and immediately get bogged down in back story. Like I say…herding cats.

But you know what? As often as not, when I read one of my own pieces to the class…I get caught up in some of the same stuff. It’s sobering to realize I’m one of the cats.

Next week: Something will come to me.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


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