Some of you may know that I am a faculty mentor at Lesley University's Low Residency Program in Creative Writing. For ten days the students and faculty mentors are engaged in seminars, workshops, panel discussions, readings -- the whole nine yards. Before this exhausting but exhilarating extravaganza (Egad! What awful alliteration! And look! I did it again! Apparently, I can't help myself. Oh well.) anyway, before it begins, students send their assigned mentors the material they want to workshop during the residency.
This time my jaw dropped as I read the first sentence of a middle-grade novel one of my students is working on. Why? Because it's very nearly identical to the first sentence of a WIP I am working on. The novels themselves are very different, but her first sentence and mine? The diction, the syntax, even the choice of verb were almost exactly the same. Yet, I had never shown a single person that work in progress, and this was the first time I had seen the student's novel. Cue theme from THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
From my one of my favorite episodes. Poor guy. Apparently, no one told him that smoking his bad for his skin.
Some of you will say that it was merely coincidence. But then I would remind you that you are talking to a guy who did a five-year Jungian analysis. Did I hear someone say synchronicity? .
So what to make of this peculiar happening? Does it mean the student and I have written great sentences? Or might it mean the opposite: The sentences are so obvious that practically everybody is writing them these days. Maybe it means the student and I have
a special connection. Maybe it means all of these. Or none. Who knows? I don't. But I do know that it has some meaning. And probably a meaning I will never fully understand.
Surprising though it may seem, that's okay with me.
He said that everything we find irritating in others, leads us to an understanding of ourselves. That irritates me.
Okay. I know it sounds nutty, but I'm gonna say it, anyway: I believe in mystery. This also means I am completely comfortable not getting to the bottom of said mystery. Why? Because I know there is no bottom. I'm thinking now of Jung's definition of a symbol -- the best representation of something that cannot be represented.
During the two years it took me to write BULL, I read a lot of Greek stuff. I was in the middle of The Iliad, I think, when it struck me that they had it right. The Greeks, I mean. They were always honoring the gods, sacrificing, propitiating, taking the time to consult the oracle, all that business which is so uncool today, and for which our busy, important lives allow no time. But I wonder if it is for that very reason we often feel so shut off and shut out.
We make no effort to invite mystery into our lives, and yet we want to reap its rewards. As a writer, I love what Eudora Welty said. "If you haven't surprised yourself, you haven't written." She was, I think, talking about mystery, the mystery that causes us to produce material that we later look at and ask, "Where did that come from?" It's often that very material that is at the core of our best writing, the writing that makes it uniquely and unequivocally ours. How do we get at that mystery? Don't ask me, pallies. Each of us has to figure that out for ourselves, But you might start by reading the Greeks.
I think I might be a better writer if I lived in a house as beautiful as Eudora Welty's. I love "Why I Live at the P.O."!
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."
"The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting."
“Once, in a house on Egypt street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china.”
"They shoot the white girl first."
First sentences are important. They're like the call of the Sirens, casting a spell on the reader, each word drawing her further into the fictional dream. Who could resist the allure of these fantastic beginnings by Charles Dickens, Stephen Crane, Kate DiCamillo, and Toni Morrison?
I love the opening sentence of my middle grade work in progress. I think it might be the best such sentence I've written. And to me, at least, it seemed the perfect introduction to the story I want to tell. I was excited.
But I love the student's sentence, too. We can't both have it. I'm old; she's young. I'll write another one.
Sacrifice? Don't even think about it.
Fight the good fight, friends. I'd love to hear from you. See you in a couple of Mondays.