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In Pursuit of Writing

In Pursuit of Writing

A Story by David H Lapham
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Bored retiree goaded into taking a writing class finds his voice and more.

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In Pursuit of writing

By David

My name is David. I’m 69, going on 40. My wife is Any (pronounce like A-N-N-I-E), 56, going on 30 and planning for 100. I don’t mean she’s obsessed with growing old. Just “growing” is the more likely inclination. It was in that mindset that she insisted I get off my tired, retired a*s and enroll in a writing class. In truth the class has turned out to be not only enjoyable but mentally and socially rewarding. It was a broad mix of mostly women ranging in age from, oh, mid-twenties to early seventies. I’ve become something of a celebrity, in part because I write in the vernacular.  See, I’m not afraid to use what the teacher called “colorful language.” I might, for example describe one of my characters as “a flaming a*****e with the intellectual capacity of a steaming, freshly laid nugget of dog excrement.”  Indeed, I think I do it rather stylishly and so far have been rewarded with praise from most of my classmates; that is, except for the frumpy, but not totally unattractive, forty-something Bible thumper from The Redlands.

To say that Angel Smith-Alford, is displeased with me is the verbal equivalent of saying that desserts are sometimes hot, dry and sandy. “You’re not going to get people to read that story if they know in advance the kind of language you use.” What gave her the idea I was going to be marketing my works in the Methodist Church? Now the fact that this scion of virtue sits one seat up and one over from me means that I can’t avoid her disapproving gaze when reading my story to the class. Early on I had noticed that her stare would be punctuated with a sort of “I-know- you’re-going-to-hell-smile with each uttered vulgarism.  So, not to be outdone, I started looking directly into her eyes and smiling with each utterance I suspected would garner her disapproval.

But Angel’s ultimate undoing came at mid-semester, not by my hand but by that of Ellie, a buxom forty-four year-old who gored us all with her brutally inept attempt at erotica. Angel’s eyes opened wide at Ellie’s description of the sensations aroused in her groin (my word  not hers) and it only got worse as the protagonist’s tongue and kisses worked their way down the, by Ellie’s account, “monstrously aroused form of the newly founded slave to desire.” But the coup de grace came when the clearly damned Ellie, in no less than 200 words, described the slave master’s ample genitals both in and out of the slave’s eager apertures (again, my wording). Angel stood, crossing her arms against her chest and issued forth a sound that wanted to be a scream of horror but was emitted as a gaging cough. Sobbing, she staggered to the door. She turned and, in a sincerity-saturated diatribe, condemned the misbegotten tale before admonishing us all to look into our souls and cast out the devil of our evil desires. I smiled at her and licked my upper lip. The teacher declared an armistice, thanked Ellie for her “contribution” and called on Doris to read her essay on growing up in Coconut Grove. I felt a brief touch of sympathy for Ellie who spent the rest of the period shuffling papers in her notebook, never once looking up.

The following class found a lighter tone in the absence its two extremes. Indeed, conversation in the minutes before the start of class revealed a genial kindred spirit dwelling among us. All were excited with the product of our week’s labors molding an especially intriguing prompt into what each hoped would be a well-received masterpiece. The sharing process began with each member of the class exchanging papers with another and reading silently before giving a brief personal critique on the piece. No one was seated next to me so I exchanged with the woman in front of me who likewise had no table partner. But before I had a chance to begin, YingYing, a 30-something Asian woman entered through the back door and took the seat next to me. I said hello as she passed her story to me in exchange for that of the one I had already received.

YingYing’s story was a beautiful reminiscence of  her junior year in high school, the year, she said, that brought her to maturity; the year she experimented with marijuana; the year that she stepped away from fads to find her own unique fashion; the year that she recognized the need to set goals; the year she gave up her virginity. This last I hesitated to mention but the event was placed so carefully in her monologue and described in such beautifully abstract terms as to lift the simple act to the level of celebration. I had put down the sheaf of papers and was staring at her with sheer admiration when I heard tsk, tsk, tsk coming from the woman who had been reading my story.  Did I mention that YingYing has large beautifully formed breasts that she only half conceals behind off-white scoop-neck silk blouses?

At this point, I should think it is going to be difficult to convince anyone that my interest in YingYing was purely intellectual. On the other hand, though, what would it have said about me had I not noticed her creamy smooth skin and aforementioned protuberances that, in fact, had turned the heads of several of the women in the class. Anyway, for the next several weeks we shared stories, recommended books and music and, on some occasions, analyzed prompts to the point that I realized when she had used my notions in her story and she hers in mine.

About a month before the class was to end another classmate informed me of an upcoming novel writing class at UM on Tuesdays from two to four in the afternoon. Walking out at the conclusion of the days class, I told YingYing of the new offering and asked if she might be interested in taking it together. Dismayed, she stared at me, half laughed, half shouted, “Wait a minute! How old do you think I am? I’m still in high school. I’m only 17.” While both of us were shocked: me, at her age revelation; she, at my utter surprise in the face of it; we held on to the connection. The following week after reading my story she said, “You know, I can clearly see a book with your name on it.”

When the class ended, we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. I walked her to the car that I had thought was her sister’s but was, in fact, her mother’s. I introduced myself and told the mother what a bright and lovely daughter she had, said “Goodbye,” and walked to my car.

I missed the deadline for enrolling in the UM class but, nonetheless, began work developing one of my short stories into a novel. A month or so into it, I hit a block. That was when I picked up the book YingYing had recommended months earlier, Dani Shapiro’s  Still Writing. Three chapters and, “Bingo,” the words began coming again. At about 20,000 words, I sent an email to YingYing telling her I missed our story sharing, that her “book rec” had been a source of inspiration, and asked if she would be interested to read the early chapters of my novel. There was no reply.

I have always enjoyed the company of younger people, their sense of discovery and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. But I was a high school teacher for forty years and remember numerous complaints by students about the annoyance of letters, phone calls or emails from aging aunts, uncles, or grandparents to which they felt somehow obligated to respond. Never in this life do I want to be the source of such feeling but, today, I sent the following email to YingYing.

Dear YingYing,

Are you still writing? Today I finished the preliminary final edit of my first novel. I’m attaching it just to show you what your confidence in me has wrought. Please don’t feel any obligation to read it.

Still your friend,

David

Conclusion Pending.

My novel, The Ghost and Mrs. Sweeney: Starting Over, is in preview on Kindle Scout till July 4, 2016 where you can read the first 5000 words.

 

© 2016 David H Lapham


Author's Note

David H Lapham
More than a kernel of truth in this story.

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Added on June 11, 2016
Last Updated on June 13, 2016
Tags: Modern Historical Fiction

Author

David H Lapham
David H Lapham

FL



About
I taught history at Coral Gables High School for 35 years, retired, reconsidered and went to work for Gulliver Prep in Pinecrest, Florida. Six years later I felt ready for retirement but again found i.. more..

Writing