Creative Writing ClassbySebastian_Tombs©
I should have known the day had something in store for me. It was dull dreary and damp as I made my way from the car park to the Adult Education Centre for my Creative Writing Class. Being the only male I liked to get there early and choose my seat. This was not a strategic place to observe eye candy but more of a defensive position.
At 52yrs old I was the third youngest in the class and if I did not get my protected position I would end up surrounded by single ladies of indeterminable age who seemed to have things on their mind that had little to do with creative writing.
All that aside this particular Thursday afternoon Teacher had a real humdinger for us. Once we had all settled she announced, "Today we will compose a list and you will write a story using the entire list or as many of the items as you can fit in". She of course didn't tell us the worst until the lesson was finishing.
To start things off teacher stood by the blackboard and looked at all twelve of us one at a time finally settling on me. I was expecting this, she had a habit of asking me to start things off. It came with the territory I think, of being the only 'rose among the thorns' so to speak. Today I was ready for her and when she asked to start the list off I didn't even have to think. On the drive to class the DJ had spun a Madonna track and of course being a not quite dead male I had Madonna's conical bra firmly in my mind.
I started her list off, "Madonna's conical bra". Now I expected her to smile sweetly, roll her eyes, totally ignore my contribution and move on to the next victim. She did not do so; in fact she literally gushed, saying "A wonderful start to our list Sebastian" and wrote it up at the top of the blackboard. As teacher moved from victim to victim the list grew into something more akin to a tentacle demon. Luckily teacher began a hatchet job on said list, leaving fifteen items most of which had no obvious connections. She did of course leave in Alice's fopar '3 poufs and a piano'. Alice of course meant 4 poufs and a piano, the current Jonathan Ross shows resident group but I suppose at 79yrs of age the odd mistake is acceptable.
Teacher spent the last few minutes of the lesson explaining there would be ceiling of 2500 words and the said story would be worth 20% of our grade certificate and on that bombshell she sent us on our way with no chance to complain about the list. I went home from class wishing I hadn't mentioned Madonna.
At home after I had eaten, out came the list. My handwriting is diabolical so I thought a good start would be to type out the list so it was at least readable. It was very slow going as every time an item was typed I would try and link it to the previous one. So slow in fact it was 10.40pm when I next noticed the time and tired is what I was. Bed!
The following three days of my life disappeared in a brain dead funk in front of a blank computer screen. Monday thankfully I had some errands to run. This took me all day and a good part of the evening, much of it because of the time wasted thinking about the bloody list and not concentrating on what I was supposed to be doing. As I came indoors I looked at the computer perched on the desk like some predator waiting to devour more of my life and for once I acquiesced to common sense. I fixed food, bathed and went to bed.
Tuesday/Wednesday disappeared like the weekend, nothing to show for effort. Thursday I arose lethargic and late but hopeful I might pick up an idea in class. As was my want I arrived first and took my place. They all arrived in a very short space of time including Teacher. She launched straight into the lesson and gave us no time to ask any questions or talk among ourselves. Looking back she had obviously used this ploy before. As we were virtually ready to walk out of the door she did remind us our stories had to be in next week.
When I arrived home from class I think if anything I was more dejected. The evening was spent sitting around moping and coming up with zero ideas. The bloody list was alive and taking over my life. Obsession was the name of the game, a game with no foreseeable rewards. I went to bed early but it seemed a long time before I fell asleep.
Being only semiretired I still had to attend the odd meeting when there was a problem; it took some effort Friday morning to put my mind into work mode. Production Flow Lines was my speciality. The problem wasn't unusual; they just don't flow when they are interrupted. In this case the interruption was caused by quality control. As is normal in a first meeting the only thing discovered was who was intransigent and who wasn't. Something to build on for the next meeting perhaps.
After the meeting came the obligatory visit to the pub. I left quite early when I realised I was boring everyone silly with my one topic of conversation. The bloody list! Back home I spent the entire weekend playing lists. I listed stuff that would easily link together and then stuff that bore no relation to anything else. Several links that I thought could be forged if somewhat dubiously, even a couple of starts on the story but it all ended up in the recycle bin.
Monday would probably have been more of the same but about 09.30 Jeff hammered on the door. I should explain Jeff was my business partner for many years and began buying me out when my wife died and I retired. Business partners are at least as close as husband and wife if not closer. Hence the salutations when I pulled the door open. "Jesus man you look like shite! Well don't just stand there, get the kettle on". Short story long, Jeff was trapped in a long childless unhappy marriage. They were financially independent of each other. Both were quite open about the fact they hated each others guts but she did not want to get divorced. Jeff would not pursue the matter for fear of being taken to the cleaners.
His current squeeze had altered the playing field by getting pregnant and Jeff had spent a lot of time with solicitors securing his finances before divorce papers were served. Owing to circumstances a job that was far easier than he thought it would be. What does this have to do with the story and why is Jeff banging on my door? He wanted a car for his girlfriend; her one had completely given up the ghost. With all the switching of funds he was actually short of ready cash in any large quantity.
Why me? Is easy, second-hand cars, I could more than afford a brand new car and change it yearly but I've never bought a new one. Say you were putting in a garden path and someone offers you a dozen slabs, you look at your £35,000-£40,000 B M W and start thinking about a man with a van. With a £1200- £1500 hatchback you can't chuck them in fast enough.
What has this to do with the story? Well a conversation with Jeff in the cafe over tea after we had located a suitable car put me back on the straight and narrow. To put not to fine a point on it Jeff told me off. You see I told Jeff all about the list, so Jeff told me his list describing what I was. Idiot being the politest thing on it. He also pointed out that over the years we had occasionally came across problems we could not solve and we just had to 'man up to it'.
I left Jeff feeling a bit peeved, I had spent six or seven hours sourcing and obtaining a car for him for some £1500 less than he expected to pay and all he could do was bawl me out. I got in the car and drove aimlessly for an hour or so. Many people get uptight driving on today's roads but for me it just seems to make my mind focus and I forget about everything and concentrate on the driving. I ended up about 40 miles away from home and quite close to a carvery I knew.
I suppose the aimless driving and another hour or so eating had allowed my conscious mind to empty of all but the need to control the car and eat. It gave my subconscious time to ruminate on what Jeff said. I think subconsciously I had already reached a decision and the only niggle was damage control. As a sop to my ego I had to produce something for Teacher that I hoped would make her believe I had not just 'goofed off'. I decided on the truth, I would go home; get a shower and an early night. I slept well.
Tuesday morning I was up like a lark. I had the washing machine going (for the first time in a fortnight) before my morning tea was brewed. The vacuum cleaner made an appearance following tea consumption. By the time I had done with the cleaner the washer needed reloading and then it was computer time. Strangely enough the computer did not remind of a predatory beast that had it in for me today, it looked like a computer. I opened the list made some white space at the top and began writing and laying out the following.
2 weeks ago I and several others were tasked to write a story of 2500 word or less containing the following thirteen elements: -
3 poufs and a piano
A broken door
Madonna's conical bra
For eleven of the last fourteen days my life was consumed by this damned list. No proper sleep, no proper food just staring at a blank computer that got more frightening as time slipped by. My obsession with the damned list led to depression and defeat. Fortunately with the help of a friend reading the 'Riot Act' I was able to kick the depression and admit to the defeat.
Please believe me I did try and this report is a salve to my bruised ego. Put simply I am sorry but I failed to deliver.
From Tuesday lunchtime my life returned to normal and on Thursday I was as usual first in class and took my seat after depositing my admittance of defeat on Teacher's table. I watched as people entered and only five laid papers on Teacher's table. My own not included five out of twelve, less than half the class. I didn't feel so bad.
Teacher told us to get on with any private writing whilst she looked at our offerings. Barely ten minutes passed and she called for our attention proceeded to do a hatchet job on the first two papers, the third and forth did not fare a lot better. Then she came to Alice. She was quite gentle with Alice at first even so far as to compliment her on the way she had strung a couple of items together and she had managed eight elements. Then she hit word count. Alice had gone way over the top, well over 3,000 words and her story was nowhere near finished. Alice was one tough old boot and came straight back on the attack. "I notice you have not written one to show us how it is done. It seems a bit like a general leading from the back".
Teacher decided to look for easier pickings and turned to me. She completely blindsided me with her opening volley, "Sebastian define story". I floundered like a fish out of water for a couple of seconds. "I...um...um... a collection of words put together for the purpose of um ... entertainment". "What about truth?" she asked. I wondered where this was going, "Well truth is factual and a story is fiction". I could see a couple of the ladies heads nodding in agreement, Teacher however was not to be put off and said, "so by your standards Scott of the Antarctic, The Trojan Horse and Sink the Bismarck are not stories?" I was about to agree when it dawned on me the three stories she'd mentioned had been followed avidly by me, thanks to several comics in my early youth. I was forced to admit "I don't know". Teacher pressed home her attack. I had written a story, not a very good one but one good enough for the top grade in the class. A 'B'.
By now class was finishing and I left not feeling a happy bunny. It felt to me I had achieved the mark by some sort of cheat and I determined I would write what I considered a story one day. I would however never obsess again over that damned list.