Yale Writers' Conference: Day 8, Workshops

I am starting to get a little bit fatigued. Not a lot, not enough to want to be at home just yet, but my commitment to updating the blog as I go has waned. This is particularly true during the lectures, in part because I feel self-conscious typing away like a little elf instead of just sitting and listening like everyone else.

Today, we had another workshop, and we did a couple of quick exercises around stereotypes in writing. First, each person got a piece of paper with a derogatory term that can be applied to a group of people, like "white trash." We then did a free write around whatever our term was, to explain why that character with the label applied is much more than just white trash--she has a history, desires, thoughts, fears, a job, maybe children, etc. Then we did an exercise where we were giving two adjectives generally applied to describing women only. Mine were "perky" and "ditzy." We wrote about what our job might be and why people might label us as such, and then what those same adjectives might be if applied to a male character (since you seldom hear a male character referred to as perky or ditzy, something like "cheerful" and "funny"). Next, we talked about the Robert Coover story, "The Babysitter," where all of these terrible things are happening all at once, mostly to the female characters and the children. Basically, the exercises were to make us aware of how easy it is to write in these types, to create characters that carry forward negative renderings. Molly urged us to become not just literary people, but literary activists--- aware as we're writing that we are also representing, and that we can do so in ways that are unexpected but perhaps truer to human complexity.

Later, we had a lecture from Mary Norris from The New Yorker, who has written a book about the editing process at the magazine. She's known as the "comma queen," but I first thought the phrase was "comic queen" and so kept waiting for her to talk about how she comes up with her ideas for her comic strips. She was funny and charming and told us about the other books she wrote, one about nuns, the other about her transgendered sister, but how she was asked to write a book about the comma and that's the one that people love.

She confessed to being a terrible pencil snob, and so afterwards, I asked her what pencil she recommends as the best, and she said the black wing 602 which you can find at pencils.com. "I don't even work for them," she said. I looked them up. You can get a dozen of these for $21.95.

She described one editor who was so on top of things that she found five mistakes in a four word sentence. Her voice was scratchy, and I wanted to offer a lozenge. She had a friendly, open face and laughed easily. She was approachable with a sensible chin-length bob and round glasses (I'm working on creating descriptions that simply describe without passing judgment). You may not believe me, but she told a long and very funny story about the use or not use of a comma in the following phrase: "She wore a thin burgundy dress that showed off her stomach."

Afterwards, a couple of us went for a short while to the Yale University Art Gallery, where they have an exhibit of Whistler's work (actually, his name is much longer. It's something like James Michener Michael Paleolithic Whistler), Picasso's paintings and sculptures, and creations by Modigliani, Kandinsky, Basquait, Warhol, Magritte, and three female artists.

Here is pair of shoes I bought at a place called Thom Brown, (I pronounce it just like it's spelled, but I'm sure that's incorrect).  I like them because they look like they're made of strips of magazine paper.