Monday Art: A story about chickens

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.

Chickens

Chickens1

Chickens, page 1

Chickens2

Chickens, page 2

Chickens3

Chickens, page 3

Chickens4

Chickens, page 4

Chickens5

Chickens, page 5

Chickens6

Chickens, page 6

Chickens7

Chickens, page 7

Chickens8

Chickens, last page (page 8)

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.

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