Thursday, October 15, 2009

De-Catholicizing: Writer's Block

I promised a series of writings about becoming less Catholic, and it's taken months for me to produce this second installment. I guess I've been doing a good job of not feeling guilty about everything (my therapist assured me that I really can rid myself of the NCB - neurotic Catholic bullshit). But, I just experienced another exorcism that I would like to share. I've signed up for a fiction writing class through my local community college. It took a long time to get me back to this point. It's taken half my life.

The last time I took a creative writing class was in my junior year of high school. That was 16 years ago, when I was 16 years old. My teacher was a somewhat successful writer - his first published novel was nominated for a Pulitzer - but he was a very sad man. I'll call him Mr. Henderson, because he was tall and gawky like the creature from "Harry and the Hendersons". He was also skinny, and wore too-tight turtlenecks that made his nipples pop out (a student once scribbled in an old text book "Mr. Henderson looks like Skeletor with tits"). Anyway, Mr. Henderson loved my writing. He raved about it in an embarrassing fashion, but I admit that I craved the attention as much as it made me thoroughly uncomfortable. So, why did I refuse to take the next level of creative writing the following semester?

There were a couple reasons. First, I felt like a fraud because the story he loved most was based on something that happened to my sister. It wasn't my story even though I wrote it in my voice, with my own embellishment. I felt like I had cheated, especially after Mr. Henderson went nuts for it. Now that's some NCB.

The second reason is that Mr. Henderson became way too comfortable confiding in me. This was years before I developed my "Don't you fucking talk to me" face (crucial for bus-riding), and I'm afraid I was an easy mark for pathetic folk who should have been in therapy. One day, he asked me to stay after class. I can't remember exactly why. I think he was upset about an angry feminist tale I had written. But we didn't talk about that. Instead, he told me all about his divorce and ended his woeful bio with the statement, "Sometimes the price of sex is too high in a marriage". That's when I decided to keep my distance from Mr. Henderson.

I can't blame myself for wanting to avoid another semester with that yucky man, but neither can I blame him for my aversion to creative writing classes in college. I was terribly afraid of being bad at it. When I look back, I can't imagine why I would have majored in anything other than English Lit. Maybe I would have finished college if I had done what I really wanted to do. I would probably still be in customer service, but it would have been cool to finish.

Anyway, here I am now, happy with my largely ambition-less life, but I do long to be a better writer. And I want to write fiction again. I like this essay-writing thing that I disguise as a blog, but it isn't the same. I started writing a story several years ago (it was the start of a book, really, but I didn't get very far) and was reminded of that amazing sensation you get when you make creative choices. How will you map the next plot turn? How will the character reveal herself through the dialogue? I miss that.

So after 16 years of wrestling with the NCB, I'm finally about to do it! But before I could register for this class, there were a couple more hurdles. First, I nearly signed up for one called "Breaking Into Sitcom Writing", not because I'm that enamored with sitcoms, but because it seemed to suit me. But it only suited me in the sense that it helped me avoid writing fiction, which is what I actually want to do. Then, I almost registered for a class called "Writing for Beginners" because that didn't seem too intimidating. But then I remembered the tap dance class.

When I was eight, my mother brought home a flier for recreational classes at the Dearborn Civic Center. I wanted to be like Fred Astaire, so I was drawn to the tap lessons. I pointed to the listing for "Beginner's Tap Dance". My mom noticed that the class was intended for children 3-5 years old. She suggested the intermediate level for older children. But I wouldn't budge. How could I possibly be intermediate if I was never a beginner? A few months later, I would rue that decision at the holiday recital, when I danced in a candy cane colored cowgirl outfit amid a long line of toddlers. They stuck me in the middle for symmetry, because I was twice as tall as all the other kids. It was the embarrassing end to a ridiculously easy course. But instead of moving onto intermediate tap the following semester, I just gave up. Sound familiar?

Still saddled with this stupid NCB, I asked Dan what he thought. Should I start with the beginner's writing course or take the advanced one? "Advanced Fiction Writing. That is definitely the class you should take." Sigh! I look forward to the day when I can make that decision on my own, but at least I'm finally able to take the advice.


  1. Yea, how exciting! I hope it's a good class with a really inspiring teacher (no kooks or creeps) and work you're very proud of and excited about. May it satisfy and thrill you and be like a best friend.

  2. Thanks, Bizzy! I'm really enjoying it so far. If there are creeps, at least I only have to deal with them electronically : )