25 May, 2010

Writing Group

I made it to the writers’ group thing tonight, and it went pretty well. I’m too shy, but everyone was really super nice. It seems to *mostly* be poets and non fic writers, and they seem to tend towards shorter forms - unlike my long, rambling prose - but I'll go back.

Among other things, we did a ten minute writing exercise at the meeting, which we all then read out loud. It was taken from Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and the exercise was to write about a cafeteria (since we ALL have had some experience in a cafeteria)

Everyone else wrote nice, short pieces that evoked smiles our outright laughter. Some were a bit angsty about being on the outside, but I, of course, ran long, and it's, um, not a laugh generator.

Anyway, here's my 10 min exercise, word for word as I scribbled it longhand.

Angioplasty. Dialysis. Heart Attack. Neuropathy. Amputation. Just one more thing, one more long night at Mercy. But he’s sleeping. Finally. Floating high on morphine or his damned hillbilly heroin. They give him more when he’s in, when all it takes is a push of a button to fly.

But it’s 2 am. Been up since 7. Long day, longer night. And we need more than oreos and potato chips from the vending machine down the hall.

And Dad’s asleep. Mom’s not shaking anymore or fretting over his blankets, his pillow his bandages.

‘C’mon, Mom. Let’s go get some coffee.”

She knows I don’t drink the stuff, never have, but she’s grateful for the break, I can see it in her eyes.

Been to the elevator a zillion times the past few years, so many the buttons know my touch. ICU. Cardiac Care. Renal Unit. Cafeteria.

One woman, my mom’s age, bent, black, friendly, is working. She knows us, as well as folks in service jobs can. She says, “The coffee’s fresh, Barb.”

Barb’s my mom.

I get a pop, a sammich. Mom gets her coffee and a roll. Something sweet. The price is cheap. The chairs hard plastic. Mom sits. Cries. Then she goes to smoke. In the rain. Just outside.

I eat my sammich alone.
  
(end)


I look at it and think, Urgh. I suck. So, here's the same thing, tidied up, at least how I think it ought to be on a first-pass revision. ;)



Angioplasty. Dialysis. Heart Attack. Neuropathy. Amputation. Just one more medical crisis, one more long night at Mercy. But he’s sleeping. More or less. Floating high on morphine or his damned hillbilly heroin. They give him more once he’s admitted, when all it takes is a push of a button to fly. At home he has to steal the pills, sneak them from the bottle, but the hospital gives him all he wants, probably because he turns into a bastard if they don't.

But it’s 2 am, more or less. Been up since 7. Maybe earlier. Long day, longer night, done so many times it's ceased to matter. To stay awake, we need more than oreos and potato chips from the vending machine down the hall.

Dad’s asleep. Snoring. Saliva pooling at the corner of his open mouth and turning crusty. Mom’s not shaking anymore or fretting over his blankets, his pillow, his bandages. Mom frets over everything. It's her calling in life. But with nothing to fret, she's bored. Restless.

I have to get out of here before she starts fretting over me.

‘C’mon, Mom. Let’s go get some coffee.”

She knows I don’t drink the stuff, never have, but she’s grateful for the escape from the thing on the bed, the thing that is/was the ghost of my dad. I can see it in her eyes.

She gathers her purse and we go, quiet down the hall because the floor's asleep. The nurses barely notice us, we're as familiar as the carpet and safe, tan walls.

Been to the elevator a zillion times the past few years, so much the buttons recognize my touch. ICU. Cardiac Care. Renal Unit. Cafeteria. I know their floors without looking. I just push. The cafeteria's in the basement. You can smell it before the doors open. Like old grease, stale potato chips, a desperate, quick cup of coffee.

One woman, my mom’s age, bent, black, friendly, is working. She knows us, as well as folks in service jobs can. She says, “The coffee’s fresh, Barb.”

Barb’s my mom. Everyone here knows my mom.

I get a pop, a sammich. Probably turkey, maybe egg salad, if I'm feeling brave. Mom gets her coffee and a roll. Something sweet. Always something sweet. Funny, that, since Dad's slowly dying of diabetes. The price is cheap, all things considered. Where else can you get hot coffee and a fresh pecan roll at 2 am? Mom pays, because she won't let me. Ever. But I still try. The chairs are hard plastic in bright, fruity colors. Orange. Lime. Sunny yellow. Far beneath where babies are born, where bones are set, where people die, it's cheerful, but all plastic. With fresh coffee for my mom.

Mom sits. Cries a little. Says he's looking good. Looking better. But we both know it's a lie. Then her hands shake and she goes to smoke. In the rain. Just outside.

I eat my sammich alone while mom paces. When her nicotine's fixed, her coffee drank, she refills and we head back upstairs, silent ghosts in the hall of the dying.
(end)

7 comments:

EJ said...

The second definitely clarified things. In the rough draft, I thought it was a younger brother who had OD'ed again. A dad with diabetes never crossed my mind.

Jean said...

It was a first draft, but it wasn't horrible (and quite good for a 10 minute exercise!). The second draft is better, though. The story is clearer, and the description is more engaging.

Remember, if they're poets and non-fiction writers, you're a whole different genre from them, so your writing won't be the same. But I'm glad they were friendly and you found a group.

Krista said...

Glad you found a group and they didn't scare you off!

Tammy Jones said...

I think I need to write it again in a more tambo-style. The leader gal has an MFA in writing (guessing from some things she said about her thesis and all) and I know that she's encouraging the others to adjust phraseology and find better words. It's astounding how fast that stuff rubs off and sticks to me. lol

I don't write purple-prosed lit. I slaughter people. There is a difference. ;)

Jeff Lyman said...

I actually liked the first version better. It's sparce and scattered and sharp, more like I think the narrator's thoughts would be.

Tammy Jones said...

Jeff!! {{huggs}}

Bill liked the first one better too. Tonight I'm going to re-write the whole thing from scratch because if I change some things it might maybe fit into a story I'm working on.

JamesO said...

I'm with Jeff on this. Maybe it's a bloke thing. I love that last line - it says so much in so few words.