THINGS THAT HUNCH, PART V
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.
Stephen Blaine realized two things when he shut the door to his house, the bang and tinkle of the keys then reacting to cause a deepening effect, the locution of a sound to exercise importance. The door, and Stephen had made first, no impression on the class whatsoever, no introductory phrase or disclaimer, nothing of the sort he had practiced and thought through in the mirror. Second, he had absorbed something on the side of nothing at all during the workshop, and wondered if he'd ever attended in the first place. He pulled a boot up from the carpet in the entryway and saw that they were fresh with a weird bit of snow, a thing that was weird in October and weird for being on the bottom of his boot if he hadn't left the house. The light switch worked when he flipped it off, and then on again, flickering between two versions of the room's illumination settings and re-affirming that he was indeed awake and lucid. The air conditioner kicked on in the living room, and with a sigh he went over to click it silent.
There was another window-hanging air conditioner gutted and useless atop a TV tray, perched like the defeat of a machine and near the recliner where Stephen had sat earlier, tinkering with it. He was hungry, but he didn't feel much like cooking, and so settled on digging through the refrigerator to find something he could salvage. This turned out to be a portion of a pork-chop and three tines of asparagus that he procured from a floating murky tupperware of asparagus juice and emptied the rest into the garbage disposal. A few moments of focus on the pumping orange light of the microwave and Stephen served himself at the table, listening for his mother, if she were still awake. He heard no discernible sounds from the bedroom, and had executed and produced his meal in such a quiet and routine fashion that it had stirred no one but the air conditioner yet again, which he returned to the living room to reset, and hesitated with the thought of unplugging the thing for the year, if the snow was up.
"This shall be an exquisite and immense meal," he said, skewering a line of asparagus and bringing it to his mouth. He was exhausted.
At the table before him and the plate sat his notebook, which he began to flip through while the quiet peeked over his shoulder. (Intellectual stimulus and the feeling of grass, growing of grass beneath ones feet and the essence of long gone limbs; trigger ideas, places that you've been, mindset. No rules but specific details. What do you remember? Fifteen minutes of writing discretion, sells shoes, the language of shoes, Clay Diamond Tuesday, MC Escher's eye plastered over the TV screen—signifies a greater impulse, 'A' likes toast, 'L' sells used cars) He did not remember writing any of these things down, and yet they appeared before him in his own blue scratch of pen, at the fruit of his transcription. He read on, to where he had apparently recorded notes from other people's poems. Stephen tried to remember who had read in that first workshop, but could only remember hearing Martha, and her poem about grass.
Bleach the hair, before it is then shaved
Crying sidewalk chalk, rain
Brown versus blue eyes
Was this a poem in itself? Stephen wondered if he had written verbatim or had corrupted the lines in through his own voice and then if he could use them again as his own lines, since it seemed significant enough. "What do the notes the note-taker takes mean to the note taker?" He said aloud, ripping through the pork chop, gaining energy and rolling an ecstatic salt feeling through the interior of his mouth and concentrating for barbecue sauce. His mother coughed in the bedroom, and again the air conditioner clicked. If he was to be a respectable air conditioner repairman, Stephen knew he must understand and possess all of the air conditioners he was in contact with—likewise, he posited, if he was to be a respectable writer, the only thing to do is to understand and possess all of the writing he is in contact with. It was after this pristine moment of brain function that Stephen noticed he had not allotted a drink for his meal, and so committed to retrieving from the refrigerator one crisp cider on the way back from dealing with the insubordinate air conditioner.
Chlorine smells of everything
I'm from soreness, or Newfoundland
They go along with me
Ballet and sweat
A different feather of a different flock
I am sorry they stole your shoe
Frayed perfection or existential quandaries
Simultaneously, as Stephen reached the end of his plate, Stephen reached the end of his notes. And he was invigorated with a great feeling of regret at not having shared anything from his own notebook; on lamenting, he pleaded with himself that surely he would have responded and given a reading if anyone around that massive table had called on him for input, but he was not comfortable with the idea of offering his own work to a new audience, and this was a fault. He thought about Dog, and that Dog hadn't really shared anything, and yet it seemed, for Dog, that Stephen had made some sort of impression, at least one of likeness. He endeavored to outline a succinct poem to right his wrongs to the group, and loosed the pen from the neck of his sweater, uncapping it with a regal swirl and kissing it to the notebook page.
Through the window was a cold October, but Stephen was immured in the cave of his own self, and would be so through the night, migrating from furniture to furniture and playing with his equilibrium, motivated by the sole fact that he wasn't able to creatively contribute to the workshop. At one moment, he stood and saw his reflection in the mirror in the bathroom, through down the hallway and obfuscated by a circular fan's drawstring—"Don't get to overconfident, old sport. Slow yourself down every once and a while." Somewhere, Web's gravel-boom was channeling Stephen's own voice. Surely he would have awakened his mother. He retreated to the couch and pretended to be asleep for a moment, clutching his pen and notebook at his chest so that if his mother investigated the clamor and found Stephen at the couch, passed out in a swing of writing, she might be pleased at how creative her son was getting to be.
But she did not approach, and Stephen could not bottle his excitement for much longer. A few more notes:
Expanding to full billow
In hot digital belch,
ladle of the head and brimming
accordion and wheezing too:
Amalgamation of spicy, orange.
He read it aloud, in a brogue, commanding his voice and puffing his upper-body to an indefatigable lump of self-righteousness, picking up his bare heels ever so slightly to rest nearly his whole weight on the fronts of his feet. Orating, in the middle of the living room, watching intermittently at the bathroom mirror detached, complacent, theatrical, informed and gargantuan, Stephen's mother knocked on the frame of the living room's entrance.
"The air conditioner's come on again, Stevie."