The only creative writing class I ever took | Street Jazz

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The only creative writing class I ever took

Posted By on Sun, Jun 12, 2011 at 10:59 AM

I have only ever taken one creative writing writing class in my life, a fact which I am sure will delight so many who think my writing is less than outstanding. The only reason that I’m not too terribly bad is because of all the savage devils I have worked for at various newspapers throughout the years, beginning with the base newspaper at Zweibrucken American Air Force Base, in Germany, where a work-study program not only allowed me to learn the basics of journalism at the base newspaper, but allowed me to basically fart off for the last hour of school every day.

It was at Zweibrücken American High School (a school with the same sort of intellectual atmosphere of Fayetteville, believe it or not) that I took my one and only creative writing class.

It was a pretty good year for writing. Not only was I writing “serious” journalism for the base paper, but I was also the Humor Editor for the school paper. I was in heaven, almost literally.

Mr. Waldman’s creative writing class, in the spring of 1972, exposed us to a lot of different sorts of writing. And, of course, we got to inflict our own writing on our fellow classmates.

There are only two of my pieces that I recall.

At the time I was going through an intense T.S. Eliot phase, and I was especially taken by “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

How else to explain, then, my own poem for the class, “Life, Love and Pickled Cranberry Butter,” an attempted Eliot pastiche. Lovers of literature of any kind - except those who love Mad magazine - will be gratified to learn that nothing at all exists of this poem except the title, which I still actually kind of like a lot.

My greatest triumph in the class came when we were assigned the task of writing a short story. For my theme, I chose a young man who has a crush on a young woman who has no time for him at all, but is in love with a jock. Okay, maybe I was hitting a little too close to my own high school life here.

The night of the prom, the girl is attacked and murdered. No one but the nerdy young man can figure out (yet another town with a dim police force, no doubt) that the popular athlete is the killer. Somehow he corners the murderer, and, coming behind him with a crowbar, dispatches him neatly.

The only reason that I can remember any part of this story at all is because of this:

While scouting around our small apartment in the base housing area for typing paper, I couldn’t find any regular, so had to settle for “legal” typing paper, which was several inches longer.

It was this “superior” length that led to my downfall.

As a rule, Mr. Waldman - he was such a cool teacher - would mimeograph (check out the Smithsonian online, if you don’t know what that is) and distribute copies to the class. Because of the longer length of my sheets, he had to read aloud a missing line, so that the other students would know what was missing:


“I loved her,” he said, as he hit him with the crowbar.

Read aloud, it didn’t have quite the dramatic impact I had been hoping for, unless you count gales of laughter as marks of high praise.

For a few days, my classmates reminded me of my literary genius.

Thankfully we moved on to another assignment.

Every so often I tell myself that I should take another writing class, but the Dark Memories arise once more . . .

*****

Maybe we shouldn’t reread our old journals after all

I found one of my old journals from the 1970s a few days ago, and, after deciphering my bad handwriting, settled in for a journey down memory lane. I smiled a few times and inwardly groaned at others until I reached a certain day in 1974, where I headed an entry with:

“I’ll tell you a secret.”

I just looked at that and thought, you’re such a loser.

There I was, over 18 years old, officially a Sentient Being, and I was writing things like a ten year-old girl who had a crush on the boy on the school bus!

By all rights, someone should have kicked in my door and beaten the hell out of me, right then and there.

I put the journal down quickly, just in case someone might still kick in my door and do what they should have done over 30 years ago . . .

*****

Oh, Basil Fawlty. Why haven’t you been made a Knight of the Realm?

There are some television series that truly deserve the description "classic," Fawlty Towers being one of the most deserving. A relatively short-lived British series (12 episodes in all) it has often been imitated, but never in any way that seriously competed with the original.

In fact, two very short-lived American series (one with Bea Arthur) failed to capture both the spirit and the writing quality of Fawlty Towers, and died well-deserved deaths.

A very dry description in TV Guide might read thus: the story of an English hotel, the guests, and the wacky staff. But that would hardly do justice to this comic legend, which gains new fans every year. Can mere words describe the sheer madness of a typical episode of this series, in which the talented John Cleese (whose career ranges from radio comedy to Monty Python's Flying Circus to his role taking over for Q in the James Bond films) portraying the stuffy, pretentious, maniacal Basil Fawlty plays havoc with our funny bones?

What a joy it was, then, to discover The Complete Fawlty Towers in a bookstore. I'm glad to report that I got just as much pleasure from reading this collection of scripts as I did watching the original shows, when they ran on AETN so many years ago.

The writing, by Cleese and Connie Booth (who played Polly on the series), is still sharp and pointed, and one never needs to have seen the series at all to be enjoy these well-written scripts.

As played by Cleese, Basil Fawlty is dominated by his wife, and dreams of turning their small hotel into some sort of grand showcase of snobbery. Not only is Fawlty the world's ultimate cheapskate (the source of much of the series' humor), but he may not be entirely sane, to boot.

My favorite episode of Fawlty Towers is "Gourmet Night," the hilarious story of Basil's attempt to attract a different sort of clientele to the hotel, as opposed to regular gusts, who he thinks would be satisfied with a big trough of baked beans, garnished with a few dead dogs.

No, he isn't nice, or pleasant, but he is funny, which counts for a great deal, I think.

And who but John Cleese could carry off a scene of a distressed man giving his broken down car a damned good thrashing so well? I think the reason this scene is so popular, is because it is wish fulfillment on the part of the audience; who hasn't wanted to severely discipline their own badly behaving vehicle?

Only the most humorless wretch would not enjoy this collection.

The only quibble I have is that the publishers seem too cheap to have employed a proofreader; the word "Britain" is misspelled on the back cover. Other than that, The Complete Fawlty Towers is a true gem in a world bland books.

***

Quote of the Day

The poor are wiser, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive than we are. In their eyes, prison is a tragedy in a man’s life, a misfortune, a casualty, something that calls for sympathy fopr others. They speak of one who is in prison as of one who is “in trouble” simply. It is the phrase they always use, and the expression has the perfect wisdom of love in it. - Oscar Wilde

rsdrake@cox.net

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