Thursday, July 18, 2013

ON THE COMFORT OF HAVING A WRITING PARTNER




I have a new friend who already feels like an old friend. Never mind that we are about two decades apart in age. E has lived in Orvieto for more than 50 years, and generously serves as the doyenne of the surprisingly large and mutually devoted ex-pat community with whom we connected last year.  

E and I have become Writing Partners--a relationship I have sought ever since hearing about the concept in an article in the newsletter of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars. For two years, I was president of a local pioneer organization in the movement, but after many years of writing the newsletter (and more), I pretty much burned out. The group was especially valuable to me when I was a first-time mother with a hard-won doctorate trying to figure out how to engage with my new home town. I'm sure I owe my having been hired to teach at the university to connections that I made in this group. 

Originally founded by brainy and accomplished spouses of big professors at a time when nepotism rules were in effect, CIS was a way for these women to pursue their own scholarly passions without formal university affiliation.

My Junior Year Abroad friend recently sent me a story about her timely visit to her surrogate mom which is in harmony with some written and mental "conversations" inspired by Gertrude Stein's remark that each of us has two countries, and her "there is no there there."

These came up in some exchanges between me and E, whose poem about loss inspired me to think more about things I’ve lost. I sent these musings to her in an email titled “WEIRD ASSOCIATION DEPARTMENT (BLOGWORTHY?)”

 One of the many good things about having a Writing Partner is that you can send her stuff like this. She was kind enough to point out a problem with my story, which I’ve attempted to fix. Here’s the latest version.

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WAS THERE A THERE THERE?

My Writing Partner, E, sent me her wonderful "Invisible Snapshots" poem, which called to mind the day I took artistically ghostly photos of abandoned store fronts in my home town. Middletown's downtown was never much to write home about, but once the shopping mall opened and the railroad train was rerouted, decay really set in.

Yet those shop windows had a certain charm, decked out as they were with odd mannequin parts strewn about--a bewigged head here, a torso or once-elegant wrist, there. I flattered myself that I, a (recovering?) clutter-o-holic, could see the poetry in all that. Not only could I see it, but I was prepared to document it for posterity.

I took carefully composed shots from all angles, and could hardly wait to see the results. High art--or so I presumed.

The joke, however, was on me: there had been no film in the camera. 

All those nostalgia-rich shots remain only in my mind's eye.

As often happens on the rare occasions I find myself back in Middletown, there was no there there....


IN SEARCH OF SOME LOST DETAILS

My original version of that story had included a visit to the local camera shop, where I learned from Rhoda, the nice expert, that my precious "film" had no pictures. But because of the confusing way I had worded things, E was right to ask “If there had been no film in the camera, what was the lady developing? Where did that film come from?”


I recall that it was one of those box cameras that showed the number of each photo as you advanced the film. But you could do so even if there were no roll inside. And if you opened it to check, unless you managed to do it in a dark closet, all would be exposed and ruined. 

I'm thinking that I got suspicious when the roll didn't wind correctly to the end, and brought it to Rhoda of the beauty mark for help. 

But did I make up that part? Or is there another explanation that could have resulted in no photos ? Duh...

Maybe the piece would still work if I just omitted that clause about the camera shop lady? I kind of liked having her in there because those were the days when you actually brought your film in to be developed. Plus, I can still "see" her as part of the downtown changes I describe. First her husband died and she briefly soldiered on. Then the downtown died around her and new technology made her developing expertise obsolete. Although she and her shop are now long gone, this addendum is a little homage to her and a lost era.

PS TO MYSELF TO PRACTICE WHAT I PREACH:
I often have to tell my writing students that when you write, you are in charge of what details you will present. And sometimes in service to a larger truth, it’s important not to tell the WHOLE story.

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