First ever graduate workshop: September 25, 2007.
Last ever graduate workshop: February 11, 2013.
That’s a good five and a half years of time elapsed. If I’m not ready now, I never will be.
The only thing left to write, if I don’t get into a screenwriting workshop next year, is my thesis. Naturally, it’ll be a novel, because I don’t think I have it in me to go back through half a decade’s worth of writing and try to remember the impulse behind every single character I’ve come up with. A novel, honestly, oddly, sounds much easier to me. Give me five ten fifteen new characters I can grow with, not a stack of photographs I took from a perspective I don’t remember.
My first story in grad school was a one night plus future consequences thing, i.e. a pregnancy, complete with a perspective switch about three-quarters of the way through, which no one liked, probably in no small part because I was trying to write a female voice, a young violinist from Singapore. I came away from that workshop with half a mind to dropping out after my first year, getting a job, working on novel writing on my own time.
Kind of went the other way on that.
My last story, oddly enough, also involved another female of Asian descent, this one named Umi after Josh’s wife on the Stuff You Should Know podcast. She was half-Japanese and adopted, which I probably subconsciously got from my little brother, who is a quarter Japanese and also adopted. This story went over much better, even though again somehow I drifted into the female’s perspective at times because, because I don’t know, because that’s how I wrote it the first time and I liked it so I left it in like that, even though the rest of the story was all from the male’s perspective.
I feel like I know the same conventions I knew when I started, but I’m getting better at breaking them.
Another story we workshopped Tuesday was by a white author involving exclusively black characters. I wrote in my review to him that I’ve never had the gumption to go completely out-of-race like that, only ever writing one non-white character at a time, and typically giving them some excuse to sound like transplants from my own familiar culture, i.e. half white or adopted. I am now realizing this was an untrue statement, because my second story ever workshopped was a forty-page crime epic involving a black half-Muslim family, and zombies, for whatever reason. Or no, it was because I wanted to write about zombies. That was the whole purpose of the story, to write literary fiction about zombies. Somehow black people were involved. I think I was just getting into Toni Morrison around then.
Could I get back into that story? Fix it up, shop it around, send it out? I don’t even know. That Singapore story was trash and I knew it at the time, but I remember reading all forty pages of the zombie story to my buddy Eric on a road trip to DC. I liked that one. I was proud of that one. And now over five years later, I don’t think I could touch it with a ten-foot. It feels like someone else wrote it. I could touch it up in spots, I’m sure, but my original critique of my fellow workshopper’s story was correct: the person I am now has no memory of such an attempt, and thus no experience, with zombies or black culture or murder mysteries. The zombie thing has run amuck since then and I haven’t kept up, and there is no regular black influence in my life anymore, unless you count Obama, which you shouldn’t, or my black students, who don’t really talk enough in class for me to pick anything up.
I’ve been trying to get into Mexican culture, being where I am, but I’m not so very good at that, at writing that out. What I fall back on anymore is wiping the slate clean. I take all culture away. They are not allowed to fit into any categories beyond possessing a human brain, or if they do, they are my own categories, and even then I try to avoid dealing with it. I give my characters zero frame of reference but their own direct, individual experience, which I make sufficiently bizarre enough to trump whatever their cultural heritage may have subtly implanted in them. Who cares what it means to be a black person in America when you’ve got the ghost of a hippopotamus suing you for libel, am I right?
It’s all chicken-scratch chickenshit. I’m about as politically correct as they come. Or if I do include culture I focus on the culture, how a community’s values or a person’s learned preferences cannot be relied upon to dictate who a person is. Which is true, but that’s not a point that has to be made every time I invent a Mexican who likes guacamole, or doesn’t, or is indifferent to it. Goddamn it I don’t have to feel racist if I want to write about a black person who is above all things human, but I also make him a fan of the NBA. I happen to love basketball, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt comfortable writing about a black person loving basketball, so anytime I’ve tried going outside of culture, without writing about the culture itself, I blank them out. Whitewash them, to use a too-apt phrase.
Well. This didn’t leave me feeling any better about not having any workshops left. But at least I can write something weird. That’s got to count for something.