Dear Labbers and Friends of The Lab,
1) 2014 Recap
I hope you lived a 2014 full of moments worthy of reflection and creative exploration. Mine overflowed: Love. Laughter. Family. Work. Travel. Sickness. Death. Birth. I finished a draft of a novel and now I’m deep into revision; the whole while working alongside other aspiring writers at The Lab.
A couple of years ago The Lab moved from Douglass Street in Noe Valley to Bush Street in Pacific Heights when my dear friend (and longtime Labber) Mark merged his life with his now-husband. Mark and I agreed that it was time for the new couple to have their living room back on Tuesday nights. Now I rent space in the basement of a spiritual center. I imagine Sundays there, and the sanctuary where people bring their joys and grief to give thanks and praise while asking for relief from what burdens and binds. Tuesdays I arrive early and arrange the chairs in the room below the sanctuary so Labbers can write in their notebooks and laptops and try and make their way toward and into the deepest work they have in them.
I want to thank each person reading this: each person who has signed up to participate in The Lab; those who’ve thought about it; those who’ve recommended it to a friend. I love all my jobs, but The Lab is the work place where I feel most myself, most able to do exactly what I hope will inspire people to get down on paper those scenes that most surprise them and their readers.
2014 was a good one for Labbers. One started a literary magazine. Two others shared space (with me!) in the recent issue of Fourteen Hills. Another is taking over the web with his prose and drawing. At least a dozen first-time-in-a-writing-class joined other seasoned pros with books and publications and literary awards galore.
In our most recent six-week cycle, we started by taking a close look at Alice Munro’s piece “Dear Life,” and wrote into the various definitions of “dear,” hoping to discover what Lorrie Moore called “an urgent and consuming interest” in our own stories. Week 2 focused on precision. We examined the processes of street photographers in the documentary “Everybody Street.” One photographer said: “I just knew I had to be out there watching life and welcoming ambiguity and the surreal even though its chaos.” Week 3 focused on point of view and characterization. We experimented with the idea of interconnectedness. We read Natalia Ginzburg, and paid attention to how she used secondary characters to illuminate the intricacies of the primary character. Week 4 attempted to combine precision with point of view. We experimented with our characters’ memories and imaginations, writing into what most embarrassed them. We hoped to capture what fiction writer Suzanne Rivecca called “..the complexities of a character’s inner life with psychological precision and insight. Describing emotions…[that]…isolate a moment of realization or dawning, and articulate it in a way that illuminates some sort of intangible truth.” Week 5 had us experimenting with setting and narrative distance. We read Leah Dieterich’s Views, and played with zooming in and out of our characters’ “views,” concentrating on portraying the world around our character by portraying what is heard/seen/touched/felt. Week 6 had us experimenting with “re-vision,” combing our drafts for tangents and lies. We asked: What kind of lies keep the reader from the material? (Grace Paley said, “…I go through a story for lies. I might discover the lie of trying to show off. Sometimes they’re lies of character. Sometimes they are lies of writing the most beautiful sentence in the world that has nothing to do with the story). And: What makes a tangent magical? (George Saunders, reading Barry Hannah, talked about how Hannah's story relied on seemingly tangential moments to make its emotional impact on the reader). Then we shored up and trimmed down.
Artist Teresita Fernández said, in her commencement speech to her alma mater, titled “On Amnesia, Broken Pottery, and the Inside of a Form:"
”Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio. The way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them, the way you vote, the words that come out of your mouth… will also become" the raw material for the art you make.”
I hope you’ll join me for January’s session of The Lab, which starts in the basement under the sanctuary on January 27th of the new year. It’ll run six Tuesday nights from 7-9:30. Details and sign-up here.