As promised, I’d like to share with you the first story I wrote for the IWL workshop. I’m really excited about it, because it feels different than anything I’ve ever done (though I’m not sure whether it will appear so to you), and has engaged and excited me to an unexpected degree. You can download the story on PDF for easy reading, or just keep going with this post.
Creating this story, as a process, felt fresh. I started it two Saturdays ago during our workshop time, after almost three hours of talking and writing (with a little bit of walking) about our “creative DNA.” The DNA concept comes from a Twyla Tharp exercise; I first tried it four years ago and my answers have changed since then. One thing that came up this time was the recollection that when I was a child, I thought everything had feelings, even inanimate objects. Our instructor Jaime suggested I might want to explore animism in my work. When it came time to start writing, the only animism that came to mind was the talking household objects in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and I knew I didn’t want that. So I decided to start a little closer to home and a little more literally, with some animals that fascinate me: my neighbor’s chickens. Once I had them in my mind, the rest just flowed.
I got so involved in my chickens idea, I started on the story that very afternoon after arriving home from SF, and woke up the next morning eager to keep going. On Wednesday afternoon I sent it around to my classmates. I was a little unsure how they would receive it, since the IWL is technically a writing workshop (even if it’s interdisciplinary), but I loved the piece and felt it a thrilling sign of new things to come. On Saturday, Jaime started the meeting by asking us for the high point and low point of our week, and I realized that creating this piece was my highlight.
My classmates (all of them fascinating people and incredible writers) responded very well to the story, observing that it resonates on multiple levels and raises many questions for the reader. I like that about it, myself; I think this multiplicity of things said and unsaid really suits the way I think. I’m very happy with the format too — Erik compared it to the Tisha book — because it’s more free-flowing than traditional comics or picture books, and the images allow me to say things that would be too cut-and-dried in plain prose. Several people compared it to a children’s book. There was a divide between those who thought it felt unfinished, and those who liked the uncertainty; I’ve got a foot in both camps. I feel it needs more, but I’m not sure what that is — but I also like it as-is, with the odd ending. It’s interesting that I constantly share a lot about myself on this blog and elsewhere, but I feel this piece is in some ways more deeply personal than anything else I’ve made: a more direct window into my soul. I think it connects both with my thoughts and the place beneath my thoughts, where dreams come from.
I’d like to keep working on this piece, though I’ll probably have to let it sit for a while before I figure out where to go next. In the meantime, though, I am wholly fired up about this new mode of expression that fuses pictures with an underlying text (both explicit and implicit). Yesterday morning in the shower, I got an idea for a new project about body image, so today I’m brainstorming that. I feel like I’m finally figuring out the medium for me, and that makes me feel vital.
Bellissimo, fantastico, bring it on! 🙂
Thank you so much, Esther! Your words make me smile and beam. 🙂
Congratulations on this story Lisa – IWL’s obviously treating you well! Would love to see more of this, or like this!
Thank you, Clare! It’s been an amazing two weeks so far. They are changing the instructors every two weeks so next week we’ll have a new one, and I expect she’ll change the tone quite a bit. We’ll see how it goes!
A fun and interesting story, Lisa. I have a foot in both camps — It is finished/it is not finished. I always like an explicit ending – preferably a good one:) It does pique the interest as it now stands. Less is more. (Hmmmm. Sounds familiar.) Thanks for the peek into your innermost thought/soul processes. You make yourself vulnerable time after time. I so admire that openess! Look forward to more stories. Glad you are enjoying your workshop.
Thank you, Sherry! I’m looking forward to what I create henceforth, too. 🙂 I’m going to keep thinking about these chickens… I think there’s more to the story than just this. 🙂
[…] I want to be on the Open Mic! ← Monday Art: A story about chickens […]
One of my favorite sayings is, “It’s just us chickens”, I can’t remember where I picked it up from. I like the ambiguity of the ending, to me it seemed part children’s story and part memoir about fertility, I loved it, loved it loved it!
Juanita, I finally looked up “ain’t nobody here but us chickens” while writing this story, and found this wonderful song! 🙂
Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and love! 😀 So glad the story made you feel this way!
Thanks for the link to this song! It was wonderful. My mother used to sing another Louis Jordan song, “Caldonia,” a lot around the house when I was a kid.
I’m sorry I didn’t comment about your story, “Chickens” before now. I’m sorry because I didn’t know what to say, and I feel bad about that. My inner voice started to say that I was stupid because I didn’t think I understood your feelings about it, and then I just felt unable to say anything. After re-reading it and the other comments here tonight, I think I was reacting originally to what I perceived as the unfinishedness of it and a sort of duality in the piece, juxtaposed with your statement that you liked it “as-is, with the odd ending.” I could see that it was very important to you, and I didn’t want to say something presumptuous or stupid. So, while trying not to say any of those kinds of things, I said nothing. So, tonight let me say this: I loved your drawings, and I loved the part about not meeting your Grandmother, but knowing that your your egg-self did. That part, preceeded by the fact that I’ve always loved about how a woman is born with all her eggs, felt very strong for me. So, I’m wondering if I feel a disconnect between the first pages of the story and the last pages of the story, because for me, they feel like two different stories. (Although I know that they were related for you.)
I’m feeling very clumsy here, so I need to stop. But I know how I would feel if I heard nothing from a friend about a story I felt strongly about. I’d rather hear something clumsy than to wonder why I heard nothing. And I want to honor the honesty of our friendship by not staying silent. Hope this wasn’t too weird. ❤
Ré, no worries about not commenting earlier! I trust that you comment when it feels available to you. 🙂 I’ve sometimes left commenting for quite a while, until I felt like I could give my best to the comment. So don’t ever worry about that. And if I ever feel like I’m getting a “presumptuous or stupid” vibe from you, I won’t take it personally. 😉
Actually, it’s perfectly valid to think these are two separate stories. The original concept started as me free-form riffing on what chickens made me think of, so it was disconnected. And I originally had the pages and images in a different order, and ended up changing them around quite a bit while I put this piece together. So fragmentation and separation have been part of the piece from the beginning. I’m still not sure where it will go later (if it does go anywhere)… I’ll need time to let it all simmer, and then we’ll see what happens. 🙂
Thank you for writing even when it felt awkward. I hope we’ll always be able to do that with each other.
[…] Tharp’s Creative DNA exercise Posted on 13 April 2011 by satsumaart I mentioned on Monday that our first IWL meeting started with an exercise from Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative […]
[…] honored to be able to give, but after articulating my personal creative commitments and starting to embody them through my IWL work, I’ve realized that it’s not a good idea — personally or […]
I love this and am very glad my friend Jenny posted a link to it. I felt like page 7 was the end of one piece and page 8 was the segue to the next piece. So I guess I would also say that it is both done and undone. Regardless of whether you get to come back to it and expand it or not, it still stands on its own because it was such a valuable writing experience for you. Plus I love the graphic nature of it…to be cliche, a picture paints a thousand words.
Thank you so much, Amanda! I really appreciate your stopping by and checking it out. You could be right about 7-8 being a transition. Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. 🙂
[…] interpretation)? I really have been surprised to find my classmates sharing and praising my chicken story on FB simultaneously with the emails, because each time I’ve gotten an email there really has […]
[…] I wrote the chickens story it came from a big, abstract inspiration (animism) that I distilled into a small, concrete starting […]
Oh my god, what an amazing treat to be sifting through back entries of your blog that I’ve missed and come upon this amazing, little gem this morning. Thank you so much for sharing this! I absolutely adore this piece (“my egg-self”–love it), and it only confirms what I already knew: The second you finish that graphic novel of yours, I’m pre-ordering a copy. 🙂
Eeee, thank you so much, Mo! 🙂 I will probably be revising this piece and publishing it in our end-of-workshop anthology… I will post updates on the blog as they happen. 🙂
[…] on work. My IWL piece is due on Tuesday and while I think it’s going to be a revision of my chickens story, that still means lots of work, so I may not be blogging much this week. We’ll see. But I […]
I think that what I like about this is that you say so much with so few words and simple illustrations. The ability to do that is at the heart of all great writing. Honing that skill will lift your work above the pulp. Well done.
Thank you so much, Alan. I was writing a guest post for someone else’s blog today, and I realized that after my IWL experience with trimming down word count for chickens, I’m getting better at saying more with fewer words. This is grand news for someone who was once challenged, and failed, to summarize a movie in ten sentences. 😉
As to pulp, though, I heard Chris Abani tell a fun story about that. He’d gotten the anecdote from someone else who taught writing: this instructor brought his students to a bookstore and had them pull out titles at random. They then divided their finds into “important,” “good,” and “shitty.” The important pile was very small. Good was slightly bigger. Shitty was huge. “So,” the instructor told the students, “if you are thinking your work is shit, then you have nothing to worry about — you will certainly be published.” The story never fails to reassure me. 🙂
Hahaha, good story. 🙂
[…] the universe, I think I’ll be able to turn it in within a few hours. I’ve revised the Chickens story and now it goes to a really different place. I don’t know that it hangs together as well as […]