Sunday, June 27, 2010

What I Learned from Mark Twain: Day 1


Last Friday, I completed a three week intensive Creative Writing Seminar at UMKC entitled “The Mark Twain Writer’s Workshop”. The course could be taken for undergraduate credit, graduate credit, or as a non-credit workshop, which created a very diverse student body. I learned a great deal, but nothing what so ever about Mark Twain. In an effort to compensate for the deficit in advertised curriculum, I’ve been mulling over rather lengthy lists of Mr. Twain’s quotes. Until I tire of the exercise, my blog will be dedicated to reinserting “Twainisms” back into my class notes and observations.


Day 1:

“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”
Mark Twain

            Two women, dressed in coordinating, expensive exercise gear sit front and center. They choose these seats because they have taken the seminar several times before and enjoy their familiar banter with the professors. They choose these seats because they are grandmothers and have earned their position; life experience has propelled them to the head of the class. They choose these seats because they’re extremely well read and have time to devour literary journals and the works of obscure authors the rest of us have never heard of. They choose these seats because unlike me, they are no longer interested or curious about their peers: they can see no one but each other and the professor from where they sit, and that’s the way they like it. They choose these seats because for as many years as they can remember they’ve walked into the Mark Twain Writer’s Workshop on the Monday of the first full week of June and sat right there, in the center of the front row. These are their seats. They choose these seats because in the back row, they can’t hear a blessed thing.


“People who are not open don’t learn – I should think about how little I know.”
Prof. Stewart

We spend a good deal of time listening to the faculty introduce one another and clapping for their many literary accomplishments. It is inspirational. Obliviously, we are in the presence of great literary minds. The applause is genuine and heartfelt. We are glad we’ve scraped together the tuition and coerced our relatives to babysit or our bosses to allow us to work half day shifts for the next three weeks. We are convinced we too will leave here better writers, secretly sure that these local literary giants will take one look at our manuscripts and instantly recognize the pure genius and almost magical ability our mother’s have seen in our stories all along. Day One is a good day at the workshop.

“Spend time developing what my dominant feeling is towards the piece I’m writing. Why am I writing this? The plot should be filtered through that dominant feeling.”
Prof. Pritchett

I spend the remainder of the class trying to ascertain how I feel about my latest short story and why I’m writing about that topic. I don’t come up with any gut wrenching revelation, but I am really motivated to “being open” – I love to learn. Day One the weather in the workshop is commensurate with the climate. The two women in the front row leave knowing exactly the same number of people they did when they entered, and all was right in the world.


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