I've seen many versions of hell in my twenty-eight years: The popularity of Milli Vanilli in 1989-1990, Colin Powell trying to do the Macarena, barely dressed models singing happy birthday to the Wonderbra. But those I could shrug off, not take seriously. But as a writer, there's nothing worse than hell than being in a bad bad Creative Writing Class.
Please, please don't get me wrong. I've been in some great creative writing classes: One in high school with Ms. Jane Juska, and one in college with Ms. Susan Browne(Who just won $1000 for her poem, Smoke and was a featured poet at Cornell University's film festival) Those classes were nuturing, they were fun, I wrote great stuff, I heard wonderful writers, and I made good friends.
But there's a flip side of the coin. There's the side when no one likes writing, but are in a creative writing class. Or can't share their writing with others. Or when a teacher assigns reading, they raise their hand and say: "I didn't know we had to read in this class!" Or after a teacher reads a Sharon Olds poem about dealing with her dysfunctional parents, the student raises their hand and says: "Do you want us to memorize that poem?" Or one time when I had a character admit he had a AIDS test, a girl looked at me and said: "I don't think that's believable,he's too young for an AIDS test."
"That's still young."
I digress again. I hope you get what I mean. That's why Francine Prose's book Blue Angel is such a blessing, it's so bitter about CW classes, but funny at the same time.
Ted Swenson teaches at Euston College, a very fancy private college in Vermont. He's had a bad case of writer's block for a while, so teaching a creative writing class is his bread and butter. The sad thing is, he doesn't like it very much because he deems his students mostly no-talents. Take for instance the first paragraph:
Swenson waits for his students to complete their private rituals, adjusting zippers and caps, arranging the pens and notebooks so painstakingly chose to express their tender young selves, the fidgety ballets that signal their weekly submission and reaffirm the social compact to be stuck in this room for an hour without real food or TV. He glances around the seminar table, counts nine; good, everyone's here, then riffles through the manuscript they're scheduled to discuss, pauses, and says: "Is it my imagination, or have we been seeing an awful lot of stories about humans having sex with animals?"
And boy, it goes downhill from there. But in the middle of all the no-talents Swenson finds a beacon of light, a beacon of talent, a tatooed, pierced all over red haired girl named Angela Argo. He gently takes Angela under his wing and becomes a mentor to her. She in turn is working on her own novel called Eggs. This is one of Francine Prose's gifts in this book; to write a novel within a novel. Here's a part of Eggs:
Every night, after dinner, I went out and sat with the eggs.
This was after my mother and I washed the dishes and loaded the washer, after my father dozed off over his medical journals, it was then that I slipped out the kitchen door and crossed the chilly backyard, dark and loamy with the yeasty smell of leaves just beginning to change, noisy with the rustle of them turning colors in the dark. For a moment I looked back at the black frame of our house, the whole place jumping and vibrating with the dishwasher hum. Then I slipped into the toolshed, where it was always warm, lit only by the red light of the incubator bulbs, silent but for the whirring hearts inside the fertilized eggs.
Needless to say, Swenson is so glad it's not about having sex with animals
that he showers Angela with praise. They work closer together, but suddenly their relationship takes a darker, more sexual tone. And Swenson finds out how your life can change by a blink of an eye.
Blue Angel is good on so many levels: The peak into creative writing classes, the relation ship between Swenson and Angela, his collegues, and his nurse wife, Sherry. It also shows how sometimes(I hate to say it) when political correctness goes too far-to when a student feels unsafe because of a discussion about Great Expectations, using the f word in a Phillip Larkin poem, and anger about a Edgar Allen Poe poem. The light Prose shines on these subjects is not a great light, but it is a honest, funny light that the reader will find themselves reading a paragraph, get the thought: "Oh, God, how did she know that?" and either laugh or nod.
So instead of going to therapy for that bad creative writing class you had in college, read Blue Angel instead. Believe me, it's more healing and much cheaper than therapy.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries