Thursday, October 20, 2011

Heaven or Hell? Only My Muse Knows For Sure

I went somewhere last night. I don't know if it was purgatory or heaven. I'm still shaking in my woolly socks. I am either scared out of my writer's mind, or I just became the newest Caleb Warnock groupie. It could be that my blood sugar is too low. I just realized I haven't eaten anything since I walked through the doors of the Historic American Fork City Hall into the jaws of -- what? I don't know what to call it. I think my muse is still curled up in a fetal position in some secret passageway of that old building.

Sorry. I don't mean to sound like such a drama queen, but I've never seen a teacher make students cry like that before. At the same time, I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants. Too cliche. But it's true! Next time, I am definitely visiting the ladies room before class AND during the break.

Do you remember the movie "The Paper Chase?"  John Houseman portrays a much feared law professor by the name of Charles Kingsfield. (If you haven't seen this movie or the series on TV from a few decades back...you should watch it. The characters are fascinating...or you could read the book...by Jay Osborn, Jr.) Okay -- put Professor Kingsfield's mannerisms into a big, burly, blond English professor/farmer. Put that guy in jeans and Tevas (and navy blue, gold-toe socks). Now put him in a room with 8 female writers ranging in age from their mid-twenties to somewhere in their 70s. One woman is pregnant with her fifth child. I should have known there was a significance to the food offerings some of the women brought to the class. (Now I can't help imagining natives throwing food into a volcano to appease their fire gods.) 


Professor Caleb began the class by announcing that he needed to raise $1000 by Thanksgiving for the American Fork Fine Arts Council Press. His plan: to get 50 people to commit to asking 20 friends for $1 each. Then he started writing all our names down and asking for suggestions for other names. After about 20 minutes of "bullying", one of the other first time attendees said,


"I'll write you a check for $100 right now, if you'll just start the class."


He nodded. She wrote the check. Class started.

I don't think it's possible to describe what happened after that. You kind of have to be there. After making a couple of students write their sentences on the white board, and everyone getting a bit frustrated, Caleb felt the need for a visual to make his point. He climbed up and laid his body across the tables and acted out a woman giving birth. Yeah, like I said, you kind of had to be there. Later in class, one lady started talking about reading a negative review of the movie "Abduction." She said, "But, I liked that movie." Her friend said, Yeah, but you like Caleb, too." ahahaha! Writers can be so snarky! I love it.

In all fairness, I want to share this great comment from Loraine Scott (a member of Wasatch Writers and the gal who told me about this class). "The class always has the 'take no prisoners' kinda attitude. You are expected to bring work and share... he says his comments are filled with "buckets of love" but they can be pretty difficult to take even filled with love. But... he says he would rather be honest and help you then to deceive you into thinking "your crap is good". We already think we've written the great American novel and then Caleb looks at it and we see it for what it is. Only the great survive C's classes. Many of his students have gone on to publish and that's really what its all about for him. He wants to see people succeed and now that he has had his first book published, I'm sure he's gotten even worse. If you feed him chocolate, he behaves himself."

Caleb did cut me some slack when he asked me if I brought anything with me and I said no, that I thought I would listen and learn the first time around. He didn't let me get away with not participating, however. And guess what! I got a snorty laugh...and a round of applause for my first sentence! One class member said that he is always nice the first time, and beguiles you to come again, and then gets really mean. Then I got another laugh and applause for the second sentence. Whew. After class, Caleb asked if I was going to bring anything next week. I hesitated, and he said, "Without being fearful." I said I would bring something, but that I would be full of fear and trepidation. He accepted that. 

And you can bet your first book that I will be going back. I feel like I could write a best seller just by being a fly on the wall and writing about all the writers in the class and how their life stories play out during the class. Besides, I have something to say, and I think I found the help I need to learn how to say it.

I'll take some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies with me...just in case.





4 comments:

  1. Good luck. It sounds like it could be rough or good. Just curious where does he teach?

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  2. Caleb Warnock teaches at at Utah Valley University and University of Utah...and at the American Fork Arts Center. He is also a journalist for the Provo Daily Herald. (I hope I got those facts right!)

    I know it will be tough...but it is worth it. He knows his stuff...and how to get the writer to understand is not always easy!

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  3. Wow, I want to go to his class! Sounds like the misery I need.

    Thanks for the share. I hope you will keep us posted!

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  4. Hahaha! Can't wait for you to share all you learn with us, Kari!

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