With Sarah Saffian at celebratory dinner on our last night in Iowa

With Sarah Saffian at celebratory dinner on our last night in Iowa – Barbara Henry Photo

Photo by John Langfeld

Old Capitol Iowa City Photo courtesy of John Langfeld

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, mostly for the opportunity to write for a few hours daily, read other’s works and spend time talking about what makes writing worthy of publication. The two words my instructor, Sarah Saffian–author of the beautiful memoir Ithaka–kept coming back to were: entertaining and enlightening. Inform the reader and keep her interested by virtue of the words you choose and the order you put them in. Sound easy?

Try this, which was our 4th assignment: Describe yourself using an object to convey your essence – 300 words. *Mine is below.

The week also offered a chance to meet other writers, both in my workshop and during the 11am classes which featured different teachers daily.

My class of 12 represented three continents–the US, Europe and Asia. The writing was definitely entertaining and enlightening. Here we are with the title of our class to remind us to Get Over Ourself!

Courtesy of Ann Turner

Courtesy of Ann Turner

I’ve now completed three 10-week sessions at Gotham Writers Workshop, plus this week at the Festival. It’s time for me to get over myself and write the damn book!

I just came back from Staples where I bought a ream of 3-hole paper and notebook dividers so that I can print out what I’ve got so far and see what shape it’s in. Even put some order around it.

One of the things Sarah reminded us about, and had multiple quotes in support of, is that writing is terrifying.

If there is a writer who is not filled with fear and trembling as he begins and begins and begins, he has to be an amateur. ~ Alfred Kazin

She also included in her handout a cartoon by David Sipress from The Funny Times picturing a woman behind a desk with a manuscript in her hand (an agent) speaking to an eager would-be writer sitting opposite her. The quote is:

I love the way you weave together the stories of your abused childhood with these delightful recipes for muffins and scones.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of room in between these two quotes for us to write and write and write without taking ourselves too seriously.

This was my submission for Essence:

*You, My Friend, have passed by it on the shelf several times because, even though it’s hand-crafted and of finely grained wood, brighter shinier objects have caught your eye before you’ve had a chance to notice it.

Now that the other items have been removed and toyed with, you see it.

Something about this fine oak box, carved ornamental flowers on each side, attracts you now. You pick it up and run your fingers over its contours and consider it. How well-etched each leaf is, how singular each petal. The smooth, sanded surfaces bordering the intricate designs contrast the raised shapes and offer respite.

On one side is a patinaed brass arm, bent like an “L”  with an ivory knob on the end, held in place by an ebony stud.

You turn the device and music plays. You knew to expect that from your ordinary jack-in-the-box, but the piece that comes out of this one is softer, less tinny than its counterparts. As you turn the crank, you listen to a song you’ve never heard before, yet you are attracted to its notes instantly. It’s familiar and still entirely new to your ear. Its melody calls to you.

Although you know what’s coming, you understand that if you cease your part of the game, it won’t go on without you. You continue to wind the lever as you get more and more excited, waiting for the climactic moment ahead.

The song ends, the lid opens, and out of the box springs an energized countenance of softness, color and expression. There is no clown face, nor the polka-dotted starched coil of cotton you had expected.

No. From this box bursts forth something else–a satin wrapped, periwinkle form, with a face of porcelain crowned by black and silver coiled threads. You don’t want to push it back down into that box.

Rather, you cherish the moment, savor your find and hold her dearly to your heart.

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