COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE
The group sessions were where she was at her most vulnerable. On her own, with me by her side, she had many Eureka moments. Cobbling the story together, she’d be off to her bi-monthly sessions like a lamb to the slaughter, stuffing gummy bears into her face while she touch-types like a stenographer possessed and mails it, sub headed and spellchecked to the candidates.
‘So, your character will be written in first person, as an autobiographical account?’
‘Err. Ja. I’ve decided on that.’
‘By a female character who is basically amoral and and sexually promiscuous?’
‘It’s starting to look that way.’
‘I see the tone is satirical. Quite funny, actually. I found myself laughing out loud.’
‘Thanks. I’m hoping to satirise the present day through the prism of the past.’
‘How many chapters do you intend to write?’
‘Um. I’m not sure. I’ve got a thing about nines. Not sure why, though.’
‘And the novel will be told as a series of story cycles?’
‘I’m trying to link each episode through various symbols and metaphors, yes.’
‘So … you’re writing a picaresque novel?’
For once, she was totally lost for words.
Don’t get me wrong; criticism is hard. But as Lebron James, one of my favourite basketball players is so fond of saying, ‘I like criticism; it makes you strong11’. The writer’s best intentions were dashed and dashed again through the unpicking of her weak points by novelists, poets and fellow candidates. The good news was; she’d found her voice. The bad news was everything else.
‘So, why do you do that? The typing thing?’
‘Because I can?’
‘Or, because your beloved grandparents said you’d be a secretary, just like your mother?’
‘Perhaps. It keeps up my concentration.’
‘And endears you to the group?’
‘It’s a kind of service.’
‘But does it serve the novel?’
‘I think so. I have almost total recall of all our group sessions. What applies to one applies to all.’
‘But what about me?’
‘What about you?’
‘Why don’t you pay me the kind of attention as you do those others?’
‘I try. You distract me in class.’
‘The sessions are not a place for you to reign. I need to deal with you in solitary confinement.’
‘Well, don’t blame me if I act out sometimes. It gets a little dull in here.’
‘What are you talking about? I feel like you’ve taken over my brain.’
‘Well, then you better take better care of me. I need you more.’
Yay, say a few group sessionists, we love Wanda. We buy her full on. Love her words. Shot, folks. But, say others, the writer has other issues on her hands than simple bedazzlement. Where is the tapeworm of the story as E. M. Foster would say? Where are the details which will give each scene verisimilitude asks the novelist? What does she need or want, as C.G. chimes in? What are the stakes? How do you make her human? It’s coming, she assures them, it’s experimental, I’m trying it on, discarding bits that don’t work, asking Wanda. Big brush strokes, she says, we’ll fill in the rest later. Shitty first draft, everybody agrees.