Sunday, June 28, 2015

365 True Things: 92/Writing (6/28/15)

Scribe Lab: secret writing dates with cool people all over the place
aka: jump in, the water's fine!

In a few days, a six-month online writing workshop called Scribe Lab, led by an enthusiastic and talented writer, Rae Gourand, will kick off. I enrolled once before, and participated for, oh, two months, maybe three—then lost . . . the will? the time? the motivation? the desire? (Right around when watching a full production of Einstein on the Beach, in all its three-and-a-half-hour glory, was the assignment maybe—though apparently, I didn't watch far enough . . . it picks up after the Prologue, I'm told.)

This time, in any case, I am determined to do better.

This time, too, Rae is using the nine-volume Graywolf Press "Art of . . ." writing series to structure the workshop, and I'm super excited about that. While I've been traveling I've read The Art of Description by Mark Doty (who I'll be doing an in-person workshop with in October—can't wait) and two-thirds of The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter, who himself is a master of subtext. Reading these books is inspiring. 

For the workshop, I am going to try to focus on a fiction project I have been thinking about for quite a while now. It has to do with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, based very loosely on an experience my mother had, visiting Manzanar with one of the first Americans to be ordained a priest in the Soto (I think) order of Buddhism, Julius Goldwater. Yes, of the Goldwater clan.

That said, although I've written a few short snippety pieces in which I've tried to explore the central character (ever so vaguely based on my mother), and submitted them to my writing group—who didn't really know what to do with them, because they are just sketches, nothing near finished—mostly, I just think about working on this project.

So with Scribe Lab, I'm going to throw caution to the wind and write. Make some time every day to put words on paper (or on my MacBook screen), no matter how stumbling it is. If nothing else, I hope to find some other characters besides "Cora" and the priest.

I would like, for instance, to have an older, Japanese-born artist, based (again, loosely) on Chiura Obata. Born in Japan in 1885, he had been a faculty member in the UC Berkeley art department since 1932 when he was imprisoned at Topaz, Utah, at the age of 57; there he founded the Topaz Art School, which had 16 instructors in 23 subjects and taught over 600 students. He painted hundreds of beautiful watercolors of the camp.

Moonlight over Topaz, 1942

I don't believe Obata himself got political, but I'd like my character to not keep his head down, to have some self-righteous anger at the injustice of being thrown into a camp in the harshest environments for no cause.

But can I do justice to the experience of such a person, someone so outside my own ken? Or other, complementary characters I might invent?

I have a lot of research and reading to do, that's for sure. In the end, I may choose to stay away from the Japanese experience and focus on ancillary characters—like those who lived in the Owens Valley near Manzanar and who had no sympathy for the prisoners, because after all, they were getting paid to work, they got plenty of food, they weren't struggling to make ends meet. (This really was the twisted logic of some, sadly enough.) Or the people of the local community who went into the camp to teach the children or minister to the sick.

So with Scribe Lab this time around, I've got a purpose: to work on "Amber Moon," as I call my project, by writing fearlessly and researching until my head and heart hurt. It will only be by putting in the effort that I find out what stories might need to be told.

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