Saturday, October 04, 2014

Poor Prose, Powerful Prejudice

When I was finishing my last half year at Redeemer University College, I took a creative writing course. I had dreams of being a writer, but had written mainly essays and papers while in university. I hadn't tried creative writing since high school when I penned a twisted fairy tale for my English ISU, and was told that it didn't qualify as a short story exactly, but that it was well-done. In my class on British novel in university, I did write an additional scene to Jane Eyre, and in Contemporary Fiction I wrote an additional scene to The Color Purple, and I also took a class in Expository writing, but that was pretty much the limit of my creative output.

When I began the Creative Writing class, I hoped it would encourage me to be more imaginative again like when I would get up early to type stories on the computer such as my story about the missionary kids who were kidnapped, or my tale of a princess who was being forced to marry an evil villain, but was helped by a prince in disguise. Of course I would be writing something that actually would qualify as a short story, real literature such as I had spent my university career analyzing.

Anyways my imaginative flow was rather constrained for this class, perhaps because I was focused on trying to please the professor, whose own writing I had read. I did better with the poetry, because I had never read any of the professor's own poetry. My first short story was about a club singer who serenades a man from the audience and I forget what else happens, and its most memorable feature was its title "For Whom the Belle.... Sings." My main short story was set in a thrift store and entitled "Thrift Store Steal" and was about a university student who worked part-time at the thrift store and planned to buy a wedding dress that was for sale, but a volunteer, who frequently took the best items from the store, took it for her daughter, resulting in a confrontation with the university student cashier. The thrift store and wedding dress were both well described, but the ending to the story when the university student quits her job dramatically and grabs a lawn ornament on her way out which she may or may not pay for, did not impress my professor who felt it weak and unsatisfying.

I have been thinking of this story lately, because it occurred to me that some of the judgments that my protaganist made about the volunteer's daughter being too overweight to fit the dress, underemployed, and still living at home are all things that have been reflected in my own life. A fourth judgment, the fact that the daughter could no longer conceivably wear white, according to my rather judgmental character at least, does not fit with my life situation.

It makes me wonder about the power of judgments we make. At the time I wrote this story, I thought an university education in liberal arts would stand me in good stead and I would likely never be underemployed despite the fact I was majoring in English literature and Religion. Also I had long been prejudiced against older people still living at home. My first would-be boyfriend,who I met the year I worked at a factory before I started university, was still living with his parents at age thirty-something and that was one of three reasons I wouldn't date him, the others being he didn't attend church regularly, and our age differences were too great. I was nineteen at the time, and rather immature. This guy ended up getting his own apartment and started attending church more regularly, but we never ended up dating since I still thought the age difference was too great. We emailed back and forth for awhile, but his tales of girls hitting on him at his security job became tiresome and I very cruelly blocked his email address. He then sent me an email from another account, in which he explained that his new girlfriend was buying them a house and it was by the lake and that he wouldn't tell me how much it cost. I congratulated him in an email and then blocked that account too.

I am now older than he was when he was living at home. I am still living with my parents and I have two part-time jobs which currently are not giving me a lot of hours, and I wouldn't fit into the size five wedding dress either, though I have been trimming down of late. I now think you should be careful how you judge another person even in fiction. Just because someone is not married at thirty-something doesn't mean there is something wrong with them. And people may live with their parents at an advanced age for a lot of different reasons and they shouldn't be looked at as a lesser species of being for that reason. Also judging someone for their size is very shallow and cruel.

I really would like to develop my creative side again and write something imaginative, well-crafted, and powerful, something not stunted by trying to please a teacher, and maybe featuring a protaganist not reflecting my own prejudices in amplified form.


Donna said...

I loved taking that class, but having your peers critique your work was very nerve-wracking. :S

Suzanne said...

Yes, very nerve-wracking, but also one of the best things about the course to get you to grow as a writer. It was a great opportunity that I feel like I squandered.