Not long ago, I went looking for a thank you card in the cabinet over my computer where I saw notebooks and journals standing on their edges on the right side along with several greeting cards. I hadn’t looked at them for quite some time, so I pulled them out to see what wisdom I might encounter.
Perhaps the most wisdom was found in two journal books that were completely blank. (I used to buy nice journals and then was reluctant to sully the pages with drivel, so they remain virginal and in the dark.)
There was one that I had begun (maybe twenty years ago) while reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I started doing morning pages in response to her prompts, although most of my entries began with an apology for not writing in the morning.
One entry, written to the prompt, “Time Travel,” was about a memory from many years before. I wrote about my Creative Writing class in college. I had gone into the class hoping that I would learn something about the creative process and liberate the smoldering writer inside of me.
Sadly, that didn’t happen. I found myself surrounded by a clique of bohemian, hippie wannabes and a professor who was their cult leader. (This was in the early 60’s, after all.) Dr. S. was a rebel and a non-conformist who got into trouble with the administration and the public because, in his literature classes, he taught books that (gasp!) had the F-word in them—and also for partying with the students. His creative writing class was designed to showcase the considerable writing talent the students were expected to bring with them to the room.
Since I was neither an accomplished poet nor a hippie wannabe, I occupied the fringe in the classroom. I suffered the agony of listening to poems (which was the only form of creative writing he encouraged from the class) that were often “beat” gibberish—poems that expressed non-conformist philosophy and resistance to “the man” through heavy symbolism and blue language. (Don’t get me wrong, even then I loved some of the beat poets and their work, but there was no Lawrence Ferlinghetti among my classmates.) It seemed to me that the less sense a poem made, the better it was. I listened closely to those readings, applauded politely, and wished mightily to be invisible.
Dr. S. did not teach me much. He failed to open up any creative avenues for me; mostly he taught me how unworthy I was to be included in the academic and social circle that had developed in the classroom. I didn’t join them at off-campus parties; had I been invited (not that they ever would have), I would have declined because I would have felt as out of place there as in the classroom. Plus, I just wasn’t into drinking and smoking pot.
I wrote nothing in that class that I kept or that I even remember. Writing for the class became a painful chore, something to turn in to meet minimal requirements. There was never any follow-up or constructive criticism. No suggestions for revision. Every piece of writing by every student stood on its own merit (whatever merit there might be). I got a C for a final grade, which in such circumstances translates into failure. At least it didn’t have a big effect on my grade point average, although I didn’t make the dean’s list that semester.
In the years since then, most of my writing has been non-fiction associated with a forty-plus year career as an educator. I have successfully published some of that work to pretty good reviews, even if I say so myself. I worked hard at trying to open creative avenues for my students, and I still have some of their best work among the papers I have kept from my teaching days.
That said, the smoldering writer inside of me still wants to be set free. To that end, I’m working on a novel, The Clay Remembers, which I hope to release before the end of this year. In general, it was inspired by my fascination with archaeology and with a site not far from where I live.
It is the story of Anna Robinson, an archaeologist who runs away from her abusive husband and finds an affinity for the desert and the mountains that surround her refuge in the southwestern city of Tucson. She participates in the excavation of the site, which has both prehistoric and historic significance. In unearthing artifacts from both periods of habitation, Anna finds spiritual connections to the women who lived there in the past and whose presence provides her with the strength and determination to survive on her own terms even when her husband comes after her.
The novel is fully drafted and in the revision and polishing stages now. It’s a great story that i’m hoping I can tell in a memorable way. The title is from a story by Byrd Baylor called “When Clay Sings.” in which she says,
There are desert hillsides where ancient Indian pottery still lies half buried in the sand and lizards blink at other dusty lizards that were painted on these pots a thousand years ago…They say that every piece of clay is a piece of someone’s life…They even say it has its own small voice and sings in its own way…Indians who find this pottery today say that everything has its own spirit—even a broken pot.They say the clay remembers the hands that made it.
I know what that means. I took a number of archaeology courses and participated in field activities as a means of learning what I needed to write the story of the women who had lived at the site. The first time I picked up a potsherd, I was focused on the exterior surface and the faded design that was painted on it. When I turned it over, I realized my thumb was resting in the thumbprint of the potter. At that moment, I felt the presence of the woman who had made the pot more than 900 years ago. It’s a feeling that many archaeologists admit they, too, have experienced. And in that moment, my character, Anna, was born.
I plan to begin introducing my characters and some of the events in the story here in my blog.