Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Aimee Bender at Tin House

I studied with the amazing Aimee Bender at Tin House. It feels like yesterday, but was actually two weeks ago. I'm still happy about the workshop. Oh, you probably want more than that. Well, she's the author of the acclaimed short story collections Willful Creatures and The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, and the novel An Invisible Sign of My Own. She's won two Pushcarts, and her books have been nominated for impressive awards. Her writing is exhilarating. I particularly like a story called "Job's Jobs" in Willful Creatures. Here's the opening line: God put a gun to the writer's head.

And Aimee is a fine workshop leader. She is interested in organic structure, in opening up our perceptions of what makes a story work. So she had us draw different groups on the blackboard. One day it was flowers, another day bugs, another trees, another sea animals. This helped some of those new to writing understand that if a story works, we don't question its structure, or as we like to say

It's a different kind of bug.

Also, this visual helped us all remember not to be limited by our own idea of what makes a story. A big help for me, as I had written a modular story, with a distinctly odd structure. Hey, I didn't ask to do this, I didn't set myself down and deliberately create this monster; that's just the way the story came to me, and it would not budge into a more "normal" form. Because it is a different kind of bug.

Of course, each bug has to follow the rules/guidelines of its own form. This is why Kafka's Metamorphosis works so well. The premise is unbelievable, but the story is realistic within its premise.

The blackboard got erased every night by the cleaners, so each morning we drew different pictures. The bar was so low that even I volunteered, and did a sting ray (for sea animals.) Most instructive for me was that I also drew a sea anemone, which everyone said was a very realistic coral branch. So I accepted this coral branch, and did not try to convince myself and everyone else that it was a sea anemone. The drawing wanted to be a coral branch. I wanted it to be a sea anemone. The drawing won.

Our workshop had a couple of newish writers who learned (and we got to watch them learn) that theirs was not the only way to read or write or understand a story. Ah, such a relief to have the visual to remind us that

It's a different kind of bug.

(Can you tell that I am weary of hearing "I don't understand who the narrators are speaking to? Why is the story in this form?" etc. Aimee's blackboard jungle helped us all see, yet again, that a successful story can inhabit a strange and wondrous form. Not that my story is successful, or wondrous. But it is strange. And now I understand that keeping to its form will help me revise it.)



At 1:36 PM, Blogger jessica said...

It sounds wonderful on so many counts. And yes, I could use a little "different kind of bug" reminders in my writing life, too, so I'll borrow your bug.

Or the moth I rescued from a sidewalk yesterday - bubble gum pink with yellow spots. I'll use that bug.

At 12:58 AM, Blogger Tania Hershman said...

Linera, I had such a wonderful experience in Aimee's workshop last year, glad you had one too - although we didn't do any drawing! So much of what she said has stayed with me and informed my writing, she is amazing, isn't she?!


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