Culture Corner

Boston Book Festival, Part II: My Workshop

“I am laughing to myself. I just got off the phone with my sister and as usual she brought up something from high school, Remember that time we stole a fire hydrant? What ever happened to it? Just asking that question sends both of us into a fit of giggles….”

And so begins my ‘short story’ that I wrote during my Jumpstart Your Writing workshop at the 2011 Boston Book Festival. (Don’t worry you can read the rest at the end of this post in blue, but it’s definitely not the whole story or even a well written story – I only had eight minutes to write!)

As you read in Part 1, I had a great time at the panels, but I think the coolest thing I did (aside from spending too much money on books) was to step out of my comfort zone and take a writing workshop. The workshop was an hour-long and provided for free by Grub Street, one of the largest independent centers for creative writing in the US (and it’s a nonprofit). The description read,

You’ve spent the day hearing great authors read from their work–now it’s your turn to create some of your own. Join Grub Street for an hour of innovative and inspiring prompts that will get you brainstorming ideas for new stories and scenes. The focus will be on creating memorable characters and settings, inventing plots, and improving dialogue. This session is designed for people interested in writing fiction and non-fiction, but poets will also benefit from the challenge.

The workshop was really interesting. I took Section B with Grace Talusan, who was great! We started out with a bit of an overview and then jumped right into the writing activity. It was four basic steps and it was brilliant and just forced you to write regardless of what it was you were writing. My notes are to the left and below.

The activities were fairly simple and designed to encourage you to write without thinking, to get ideas on a page and have somewhere to start and it really helped. It was funny, as Michael Ondaatje (of The English Patient fame) said pretty much the same thing—you have to start from a small detail, a grain of sand, to create a truly moving story.

I surprised myself by volunteering to read my story out loud and I’m glad I did! Although I didn’t get any feedback (it was a very short time period), I did get a few chuckles which made me smile. My ‘finished’ story which is exactly as I wrote it appears below. The only concrete requirements were it must start with “I am…” to make it personal and it must end with “Looking back…” to introduce reflection into the narrative.

You’ll notice it’s not edited very well (no time) and there are some repeats and seemingly random details – the entire exercise before starting to write was to come up with so many excess details that you didn’t need them all. I tried to add multiple mentions of the time of year, our age, our location and those would all be edited out in a longer edited version of this story if I were ever to rewrite it, but for now just enjoy. (Alie and Leigh’s memories might be completely different, but this is what I remember and mashed together.)

The Fire Hydrant

I am laughing to myself. I just got off the phone with my sister and as usual she brought up something from high school, Remember that time we stole a fire hydrant? What ever happened to it? Just asking that question sends both of us into a fit of giggles.

You might be wondering how, or why, one steals a fire hydrant? No? Well you clearly didn’t grow up in a southern military town. 

It was one day after school. My sister, our friend Alie, and I were on our way from our high school to our former middle school to tutor students. Alie was driving her black Passat, she’s 50 days older than me and I don’t have my license yet. As we round the next to last curve before the school, I yell STOP, I’ve seen a fire hydrant lying on the ground and suggest trying to get it. Being the good kids our parents raised us to be, we decide to go ahead to tutoring with the caveat if it’s still there when we return we’ll go back for it.

Well, a few hours later and there we are at an unfinished road across from a stop sign struggling to move a yellow and green fire hydrant into Alie’s car. It’s a bit cold out as it’s between November and December, but it’s the south so mostly it feels like fall to the rest of the US. We’ve managed to drag the fire hyrdant the ten feet from the dirt and woods to the concrete but it was not easy. We’ve spent so long laughing and crying from the laughter, that there’s no way we’re actually going to accomplish this task.

In the end, we do, with the help of a towel and the lucky chance I paid attention in AP Physics that week (something about leverage). Looking back, it wasn’t the worst thing we did, but it was definitely the most interesting…

**And just as a disclaimer, the fire hydrant was already laying on the ground. We put it in Alie’s house and it eventually was put back out on the street for the city to collect (I think! That happened sometime after I moved away for University).** 

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