An exercise for seeing the possibilities
Yesterday, I met with my creative writing form and theory course for the first time this semester, and we did the first of a recurring set of exercises meant to encourage metaphorical thinking about genre and form. The premise is simple: several times during the semester, I’m going to bring in an object (today it was a clear glass vase, FTD-delivery standard) and ask my writers to think about the ways the object is like a novel, a poem, an essay, and so on—any genre, any form that strikes their fancy.
The vase is like a love poem because the vase is also empty.
The vase is like a flash fiction because it also needs no further context.
The vase is like an essay because it also bends the light around its edges.
The goal, of course, is not to find any right answers—these examples are some of my own—but to try to reveal our individual assumptions and associations with a given genre and/or form. In this way, we open up the possibilities and push past the literal definitions of genre and form and illuminate—perhaps!—what we might want our own work to do.
The prompt each time will be essentially the same, but the objects will change, and hopefully our thinking will enlarge.
While I’m hip-deep in this novel draft, I’m finding it helpful to re-investigate the way I think about the novel, its capacities and caprices, and so I’m doing this exercise, too. It’s a very easy one to replicate, and you can recruit someone else to choose an object for you if you think you might cheat a little by pre-thinking.
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What I’m making:
Twice in the past ten days, I have made my own yogurt. I didn’t expect that I would do such a thing, though I’m not sure why, given my other culinary escapades. I suppose I’d always thought of yogurt-making as something confined to one of those multi-container incubators (a device that has stayed fixed in my memory as a yellowed plastic affair, maybe due to something I saw at a yard sale once because I certainly didn’t know anyone who had one when I was a kid). And though I’ve watched so many cooking shows—including watching Priya Krishna and her dad make yogurt with zero contraptions!—it seemed…far away. This is, of course, very silly, but we’re all somewhat silly about something. …some of us, about many things.
The homemade yogurt is delicious. (I did mine in a crock pot.)
What I’m reading: Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami
I confess that I haven’t read very much of Murakami’s fiction, but I love the idea of this book. And there is, in the second essay, a brief cameo by Charlie Manuel, the then-Red Demon of the Yakult Swallows, batting cleanup—the same Charlie Manuel (“Cholly”) who managed the Philadelphia Phillies from 2005-2013. These are the Phillies teams I remember most and best, not only because of the 2008 World Series title, but because of where I was in life: these were the Phillies that filled the sticky summer nights of my PhD years with a comfort I would need years of distance from to really understand; these were the Phillies that moved across the country with us when I took my first teaching job in Wyoming. The baseball game Murakami attends serves only as a backdrop to the unexpected revelation that he could and would write a novel, but he’s careful to note that Yakult won the game and, despite a recent spate of lackluster seasons, won the Japan Series that year. Murakami frequently references Luck—he does capitalize it—and coincidence and fortuitous circumstances as factors in his pursuing a writing life; Yakult’s success that day and that year feel intrinsically related.
There are unexpected connections here, is what I’m saying, which is always something I love.
What I’m writing: “A Line in the World’s Imaginings”
My latest for the Ploughshares blog, focused on Dorthe Nors’s fabulous A Line in the World. I was trying to describe this book for a colleague, and I landed on Pilgrim at Tinker Creek meets Anne Carson’s Anthropology of Water. I am looking forward to re-reading it in the summer; I think it will feel like a different book, reading it under sun.