I Love Homework

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I’m in the second semester at the University of Chicago’s Writers Studio. We have a great teacher—Kevin Davis. During our first night he had classmates interviewing each other for 10 minutes about a memorable holiday moment, and then he asked us to write a scene about it. He’s big on research so he wanted us to add a little to flesh out the scene.

I’m not sure I did Sarah’s Christmas any justice. She certainly did  mine. But it was nice to break out the old interviewing and research skills again and fascinating to use them as a tool to create a scene. Scenes are a great way to move a story along. Breaking down essays this way is enlightening in more ways than I can say. I look forward to using this and those lessons awaiting me in my future work.

In the meantime, here’s Sarah’s memorable holiday moment, edited after great input from the class:

On December 26 Sarah stirred up some magical memories in her Minnesota home, allowing the joy of the season to spread over the Ashley family for another full day. Sarah Ashley, a 27-year-old content writer and actress now living in Chicago, hasn’t missed a Christmas at her childhood home in Minnetonka, eight miles west of Minneapolis. She doesn’t make the trek solely because it’s the big birthday bash for over 2 billion Christians around the globe, but because it’s her sister’s.

This holiday marked Claire’s 25th, and to celebrate her quarter-of-a-century, friends and family gathered on the 26th for a dinner party. The Ashley’s eight-foot Christmas tree and holiday decorations sparkled in the family room as Claire’s 10 girlfriends, a handful of 21-year-old brother Graham’s buddies and some family friends filled the house with chatter and laughter.

“It even snowed that night, like a pretty little veil on Christmas,” Sarah said, her blues eyes twinkling, too, as she recounted the evening.

The Ashley’s had the party end nailed. The dinner part wasn’t as firm.

“My mom doesn’t know how to prep for lots of people. I knew if I didn’t step in, it wouldn’t happen,” Sarah laughed, lovingly.

On the menu: homemade pasta and sauce with shrimp.

She commandeered the kitchen, appointing some to pasta boiling, others to sauce prep and the remainder to shrimp handling. Long-time friends, dressed for a party, bustled about following Sarah’s orders as she directed the meal. Garlic, tomato and basil joined the party, too, their scents floating through the house along with the pine. So engrossed in her efforts, at one point Sarah turned around to see all her line cooks quietly awaiting their next assignments. She laughed out loud, breaking the silence. Now confident there was no way it would come together simultaneously, the chatting, laughing and cooking resumed.

“Everyone was having such a good time, trying to cook fast, enjoying the evening. It felt like a scene out of a Nora Ephron movie,” Sarah said, her hands gesturing about as if she were replaying it in her head.

The partiers loved the meal, and Graham and his friends relished in the gaggle of 25-year-old women as much as pasta and shrimp. At the end of the night, the birthday girl and her friends prepared to hit the streets of Minnetonka. Sarah, who enjoyed sitting back and taking it all in because she had no friends to distract her, sipped her wine, content in playing her part in such a holiday spectacular.

It’s Worth Repeating & Remembering

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Yes, I saw it on a rerun of The Newsroom, but it’s worth repeating. When we knock someone else down—when we judge someone else—we don’t get any taller.

The 2016 campaign is heating up, and it also seems like people are getting more surly in general. I don’t know if that’s connected to what seems like a rise in people not being very nice.

But we all are imperfect. Let’s not forget that because it’s no excuse for saying things that aren’t very nice and then trying to justify the hurtful words. You can tell they are hurtful if the person you’re telling them to becomes sad. If you care, apologize.

If you don’t care, well, start buying shorter pants.

It’s a good line. Leave it to Aaron Sorkin. When we judge someone else, we don’t get any taller.

He Speaks for Himself

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His babble is adorable. His tears are heart-rending. One look and you go through every emotion in the most overwhelming way. Need I say more? Now this is how to start your week!

 

Patrick@9Mos.

Patrick Xavier Gattorna 9 whole months today!

p.s. it is also an excellent source for a writer with writer’s block. But now back to my homework.

How do you manage your writing time?

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Outside of ensuring my family and friends are happy and healthy, I have only two big goals over the next two years. The first is to move, and that’s simply a matter of timing. The place is ready to be shown. We already did the “big” downsizing when our girls had the audacity to leave us so this next one is much easier.

My second goal is to finish the two-year Writing Certificate program at the University of Chicago. Tonight is class #2. I’ve done my homework, and I’m excited to get to know my colleagues and teacher better as well as learn to become a better writer.

Still there is also so much info on the web to read from credible sources like “What turns editors on?” “What gets you thrown off the slush pile?” “10 ways to impress an agent,” “How to manage your time!” Then there are the magazines—Poets & Writers, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Sun not to mention all the great literary publications from Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, Fifth Wednesday JournalAnd the on-line journals and blogs—way too many to list. But so many great ones to read.

I’ve worked hard to keep up a writing routine. In the morning I go to my desk. It’s somewhat away from the hub of the house so it’s relatively quiet. But people know how to find me! At least once a week I go to my girlfriend’s. She lives on top of offices. We work in the offices, and truly get very few distractions so we do get a lot of work done.

But we never end a long and intense day without feeling like there’s so much more we need to do, learn, research, double-check. Writing is hard, time-consuming, and we know it’s unlikely to make us wealthy. But writers have to write.

Any suggestions? I guarantee I’ll find time to read those.