THINGS THAT HUNCH, PART II
Story by Zachary Lutz
In this ongoing piece, the self-appointed writer's narc, Stephen Blaine, studies the effectiveness of workshopping. Starting a poetry workshop in the fall of his low spirits, as a way to boomerang and prove his creative worth, Stephen will attempt to describe the intricacies of process, peer review, and imagination. It is his personal hope to unearth the assumptions of a good writing critique, and stage a revolution based on a new hypothesis. This revolution will begin, however, in his notebook.
He could not have prepared for this in solace. If it was everything he could do to predict the reaction of his entrance to the room, which was not marked save the same flyer he had seen in the cafe shop, Stephen Blaine was floundering like a flounder ever could flounder. He happened into the room, really, was wholly burst into the room like a short explosion, such that every face turned to his and every stomach turned, he thought, to retch. Hollow sounds, like a lot of shy owls in the way they hooted silently and didn't follow through. Stephen could not focus on one face in particular, but he was supposed to be here, he knew, and though no voice assured him of his rightness, he assured himself well enough.
The room, when Stephen subdued himself, was an ugly yellow wash of nothing, and lined against the walls with cold bunches of metal folding chairs. There was the flat tongue of the table in the center, that was grey and large and empty, except for a few notebooks here and there. Stephen put his notebooks down quietly. Seventeen, and Stephen had counted, other representatives of their own prophetic thought joined him in hushed awkwardness. In a few moments of looking around and general optical speculation as to who was this "Web" character, a burly man with a green tattoo of a ship on his forearm grounded his upper body on the table's top and began to speak:
"That we are not so just writers, but that we are shadows of each other's own thoughts."
(A demeanor of the group that was a heartbreaking gasp. Stephen felt sick, and his eyes began un-focusing. He immediately, even if it was before he had entered the room, regretted his arrival.)
The big man continued:
"We, in our meetings, must incise our chests and find the rudest, most grotesque entrails of ourselves to display unto the room. That we do not speak about idea or pattern or conception, that we talk as human beings to each other on the elevated plain of poetic thought." Web paused and Stephen would swear he had seen Web blink; "My greatest fear in life is incoherence. And I hope that some of you will share in this fear and prod for understanding. Don't be coy with me, writers. That is all."
Stephen almost gasped. He felt as if he was drowning. The problem of his interior was now of no concern to him, only the agape audience of strangers who breathed deep and nodded in unison. They were all in agreement that it was a wonderfully smart thing that Web had said, if it was Web at all. A sprite young girl with a green knit-cap leaned forward and glared at her notebook's face, as if she meant for it to burst into flames. Although, this did not happen, and so the whole group seemed to flock to this movement in a way such that everyone in the room was suddenly looking at her notebook and she was ashamed. Web let the quiet simmer well, and then spoke:
"Let's go around and get names, right?"
We shook our heads to signify a general 'yes.'
So the room came to be named: Mira, Nathan, Bevin, Courtney, Edward, Johnathan, Sandor, Christopher, also Christopher (how did they come to be seated next to one another?), Edna, Amory, Stephen, Dog (which seemed suspiciously like a nick-name), Henry, Martha, James, and with Web was seventeen. Stephen thought it would have been the natural process to have asked of the group to give an introduction, which he was still working out in his head, but Web had asked for none of this. It was simply the name Web wished to be given. Another triumphant lust for silence overcame them.
After a few moments: "What do you all want out of this?" (Web)
Stephen looked each person in the face for a minimum of three seconds before proceeding onto the next, all the while rationalizing with himself that out of seventeen people, he shouldn't have to be the first one to speak. After all, the fraction of one/seventeenth was a point of non-sensical proportions, he thought. While he watched each face do the same mental evaluating, he wished he could make one move to speak, as if ventriloquizing for the group's homeostasis. At once, Stephen was aware that he was committed more than he expected he would commit for the first meeting. He realized again that they were strangers to each other as much as they were to him. He could read this in their expressions.
Finally, the brave named Jonathan cleared his throat like all throats should be uniformly cleared and readjusted his position in chair. Then it was that he began to talk:
Web was quick to respond:
"Yes, romance," said Jonathan.
Web: "Explain that, man."
Stephen made eye-contact with the one called Dog and was frightened by a red-strained ring around the man's neck. Dog had on a puce cardigan and a flannel that seemed to combine every imaginable color into vertical and horizontal patterns, in the respectable effort of flannel as a species. Stephen looked away.
Jonathan re-cleared his throat.
"I have been writing poetry since I could eat bread." After the initial statement, there was some brain-gathering for poor Jonathan, as it seemed as though he hadn't planned to continue after that. Web's zen insisted that there be more. So Jonathan continued: "I, uh, well, recently, I just have been sleeping terrible and writing helps me to sleep." A pause. "When I can write stuff down I think I sleep better. You know, like the thoughts that have been in me all day? I just bottle it up and uh, until I am home and then I can find my pen and my notepad and scratch like a maniac. It's just better for me this way."
Stephen was listening keenly for the demeanor which he wanted not to display, and for the words he wanted not to say. It was his hope to transcend the mundaneness of necessary process and convey to the room that they were a little inferior. Stephen Blaine had a big head.
"That's good," said Web, assuredly, "Brace yourself. There are no stilts here. What have you brought for me to see?"
Stephen grabbed his notebooks from the table and put them under across his knees, as if he were safeguarding a mine. He looked around at the limp bodies who began to leaf through their own college-ruled abyss in search for that one poignant stroke. Stephen Blaine was confused.