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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Back to School

Have you ever signed up for something and had massive regret as the “thing” approached?  Maybe a luncheon or seminar?  This is me.  I cannot remember the last time I signed up for something that I did not have reservations about.  Yet, I strive not to be a hermit all the time, so in sporadic moments of weakness I make commitments certain that regret will not follow.

I signed up for a writing class.

Yeah, don’t ask.  

My writing is somewhere in a deep canyon between who gives a crap about the typos and this is garbage, full of mistakes and no way can I share this.  More or less I needed of a little kick in the pants to get past this.

I think the theme of the workshop was Finding Your Voice.  Sort of how-to in writing to reflect the inner person telling the story.  I was hoping to find out who the guy is within me while ruling out multiple personality disorders once and for all.

Please let there be an ice storm, I pleaded the night before the class.  By the next morning no ice storm materialized, but wonderful fortune came none the less.  The instructor was ill and needed to reschedule.  At that point I could request a refund (oh yes, I paid for this) or attend make-up class.  I hesitated for a moment and then left my chips on the table.  Twice the remorse for the price of one!

The rescheduled date came around and I had a conflict (or manufactured one) on that Saturday morning and could not possibly make it in time.  Not to worry, they say, I can join via webcast.  This would sound crazy in the pre-Covid world, but I’m guessing you’ve had your fill of Zoom by now.

Once I worked up the courage to dial in, they informed me that I could see and hear the class, but they could not see or hear me.  I could send my questions via text directly to the instructor.  Fat chance of me asking a question, but fine.  Let’s get this over with!

This writing class experience was nothing like I expected.  I was so distracted by the dialogue from the other “students” that I doubt I learned much of anything about writing.  This is unfair to our instructor.  She was a trip and scattered and well…goofy in a professor sort of way.  

My observations are further unfair because I attended via video instead of sitting around an enormous conference table.  The faces of the students were not visible because of the camera angle.  This enhanced my fascination with them because I could manufacture their appearance based on their voices.

The class got off to a slow start with some technical difficulties and handouts.  Then the dreaded, “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves and why we’re here”.  At that point, I was calculating how much these introductions cost me.  $50 for 3 hours is $.28 per minute.  There goes $12 down the tube.  It’s a 3 hour workshop by gosh…do we really need to know any of this?

Yes, we did!  This is when the fun began.  10-12 students.  Four of whom had already been published.  Though three of the four were quick to point out their books were product manuals, training guides, or work related.  I think one guy said a website.  Really?  Another lady told us the third book of her trilogy was set to be “released”.  I find this next to impossible to believe.  Released?  How so?  And you're just now taking a class on Voice?  But the instructor was too kind to ask a single question.  I suppose with self-publishing anything is possible.

I was not out of place, however, as there were people like me who weren’t exactly sure what they were doing there, but enjoyed writing and thought…why not?  One guy was there because his son bought him a gift certificate for a class and this one sounded interesting.  I liked that guy.  That’s how I normally get roped into stuff.

The star of the show was a very outspoken evangelical Christian who hates Trump, believes the world needs to hear her voice for Jesus Christ, and knows she needs to be part of the cultural conversation.  (This almost verbatim from introducing herself).  Let’s call her Pam.

Why Pam?  I don’t know.  That’s the first name that popped into my head.  It’s my Voice dammit.  If your name is Pam or you know someone named Pam who is not irritating and over the top, I apologize.

I should also point out I am considered a hardy Christian by most (the above swear word not withstanding) and agree with Pam that the so-called Religious Right are not Trump supporters regardless of what FOX or CNN or the rest of those bozos would have you believe.

Pam’s most irritating trait was acting like this was a one-on-one tutoring session between her and the instructor.  You know how people give a knowing “uh huh” “sure” or “I follow” during a conversation?  Pam did that with the instructor the entire class.  Audible enough to hear 30 miles away (via web cast).  I wanted to call the host and say, “Tell Pam she’s not the only one in the room.”  Yes, Pam, we know you are paying attention.

We read excerpts from famous authors as one of our exercises.  The instructor asked the students to take turns reading.  Pam had to pass because her assigned passage was “much too vulgar”.  I must concede that there was a lot of salty language in most of the pieces the instructor asked us to read in advance.  But these were classic works.  Don’t they get a pass…Pam?  

After reading the passage we (they) would discuss the tone, rhythm, feeling, etc. of the author and the instructor would point out subtle and not-so-subtle characteristics that is consistent in most of that author's works.  Sort of fascinating.

I about fell over when Pam chimed in stating that “feeling” something when reading was much too feminine a term.  Well, well, well, I didn’t see that coming.  A feminist too?  Of course.  But a religious zealot feminist?  Say it ain’t so.  Since when did one of those exist.

Okay, I’ve picked on Pam long enough.  Let’s try some others!

There was the older gentleman who seemed to have a one-liner or dad joke for every situation.  The awkward laughter (if you can call it that) was only pleasant from afar….via webcast, for example. 

Then there was the lady who had never written in the first person before.  This was confusing since she was working on a memoir.  How do you tell your personal story without I’s and My’s?  Unless it was about someone else, at which point it would be a biography. Just weird.  Stranger yet is the gal who asked if memoir needed to be true.  What?  Where was she during the Million Little Pieces controversy in 2003?  Yes, yes, yes.  Next?

As the clock wound down, the instructor asked if we could stay late since she didn’t get to all the material (because she was unfocused, distracted by Pam’s “u-huh’s” every minute or two and the 40 minutes of introductions).  One guy must have had better things to do because he immediately packed up and walked out.  He showed up 20 minutes late, so it is hard to say what his deal was.  Maybe he stumbled into the wrong class and weathered the Pam storm as long as he could.

I hung around, but the river ran dry within ten minutes.

In all fairness, I am glad I took the class.  It was motivating, even though I haven’t been writing regularly (or at all).  It turns out Finding Your Voice is as simple as this:

Say what you want to say; not what you think someone else smarter or wittier than you would say or how they would say it.

This was helpful because I am stranded between the guy I once was and the guy I am today.  At one time, I wrote from the hip with little regard for, well, much of anything.  Now, more reserved, I recognize I have thoughts and opinions that the world is far better off without.  

But again, it was worth $50.  This piece represents more of my Voice than I’ve let flow in some time.  Good or bad, it’s just the guy in my head.  Not me at all.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace