366 Days of Gratitude and Good Things: Day 57

Still no plan. I was thinking I might start with the Proust Questionnaire, but I haven’t read through the three versions carefully enough to put together a master list, if you will. It’s also just occurred to me that I might want to combine some of the questions: I see no reason why the quality I admire most in a man might not be the same quality I admire most in a woman, so the whole assumed gender binary bit of it could go bye-bye without being much of a loss, it seems to me.

But I take it you see what I mean about wanting to go through all the versions in detail. That comment popped into my head after glancing at the 35-question version for less than a second.

As a character development device, however, the dichotomy might have its uses. The questions the instructor handed us in that course I took through UCLA Extension’s Writers Conference included some of the Proust/Pouvet/Lipton variety as well as the more straightforward, nuts-and-bolts things like hair and eye and skin colors, age, family background, etc.

That memory tossed me right into my documents file, looking for that profile exercise. Which itself led to memories of exercises I didn’t transcribe into a file. The only one I remember, other than the profile, was one where the instructor had us divide our ages by four and come up with a significant event in each quarter, the idea being we could used the same exercise for our characters.

The tables were arranged in a large square and the instructor had us start reading our four events on the far side from me. There were, as I can recall, rather a number of traumatic events on everyone’s lists, but when it got around to me and I tossed out “happily lost my virginity,” everyone in the room lost it.

The instructor took it as an opportunity to point out that it was okay to pick happy life events as well as unhappy ones — more balanced, and more realistic, he said.

Of course, led me to another conference and another class and another exercise. In this one, the instructor brought in a bunch of little cups of the sort you’d find waiting for you beside the dentist’s chair so you could swish and spit after a cleaning, all capped with foil, and sent around the room in groups of five, each labeled with a number form one to five and each with a different substance inside. The foil was both to keep the smells from mixing and keep you from looking at what you were smelling — we were to use our noses alone and write down what each scent evoked.

Then things got interesting: “Using scent number two,” the instructor said, “tell me what kind of person this is.” Write write write… “For scent number four, tell me about the first love of the person you just wrote about.” And so on through all five scents and adding a parent of Person #2, a neighbor of the parent, and the neighbor’s unusual pet. The final part of the exercise was to write a few paragraphs about how Person #1 met his/her lover.

I had a blast with that exercise. In fact, that whole course (all four days of it) blew me away. Several times, almost like palate cleansers between longer exercises, the instructor would write a word or phrase on the board, then ask someone for the opposite of it. Not opposite in the sense that if the phrase was “white dog” the opposite was “black cat” but in the sense of “How far away can you get from the very concept of the phrase ‘white dog’?” And then what was the opposite of the opposite?

Talk about bending your brain in new directions. And after she’d collected fifteen or twenty opposites, the assignment was to write a few sentences about some object from your childhood room and use it as an introduction to a few paragraphs combining a two or three of the opposites on the board. In a coherent narrative yet. She had a box of postcards featuring famous and obscure paintings; we drew a postcard from the stack and had to write either the story in the painting, or what happened when the painting was encountered in a place it had no business being. She brought a small box that looked like someone’s junk drawer in miniature, and we had to pull something from the box and write a short story turning it into something it wasn’t and writing about what it was now.

I don’t feel I’m explaining it very well, but if I tell you the course title was “From Realism to Anything But,” it may give you an idea of directions things could go.

I miss taking writing classes. It’s just not the same when I go to my spice rack and take a deep sniff of something hoping to spark an idea… So what I’m grateful for today is the person who walked into the office one day a few months after my mom died and said, “UCLA has a writing class about Star Trek!” because I’d become a fan of The Next Generation, which I didn’t watch until after Mom died because (a) she didn’t much like science fiction and (b) if I said I’d like to watch something other than her standard list of approved programs, she’d pitch a fit about my not letting her watch TV in her own house.

Did I mention Mom could be a bit of a drama queen on occasion?

So after she died, I found I wasn’t interested in watching that approved list, since the programs either weren’t to my taste in the first place, or they reminded me too much of her to be comfortable to watch. Leaving me with a whole bunch of TV time on my hands, and Next Gen filled some of those gaps quite nicely, hence my coworker knowing I’d find a writing class about Star Trek interesting.

Therefore, my thanks to Joe who brought me his copy of the UCLA Extension courses for the spring semester that year — I had more fun taking that class, and all the others I took after it, than I ever expected.



Filed under 366 Days, gratitude, writing

3 responses to “366 Days of Gratitude and Good Things: Day 57

  1. jp

    None of my college writing courses left me with this much to walk away with, I’m jealous! I do love hearing about the techniques although a couple of them give me stress just thinking about what I’d do.

  2. Mom was a drama queen? My daughter called me that a few weeks ago too……maybe you two are sisters? I do nicely share the TV however. Most of my college classes were science with a few history, English, and sociology classes thrown in for fun. Wish I had taken more literature classes now for sure.

  3. Syd

    Remember, these were all Extension classes taken well after I left college. Although in point of fact, I did much better in my English/history/etc. required courses and electives than the ones in my majors…

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