Not so awesome was this one woman in the class who really sort of disproved all the encouraging stories I've been telling for the last few days. I know everyone has a good side or whatever, but this chick was just awful.
First of all, not that this matters, but she was morbidly obese. Her bulk was like a wall between her and the rest of the class; she would sit pushed back from the table, her notebooks and manuscripts fanned out around her, her face a mask of detached judgement, as if she was just waiting for the rest of us to say something that pissed her off.
Second, she was obsessed, I mean obsessed, with Irish culture. She was fully American and did not even have Irish heritage, but like a '70s-era hippie claiming to be emotionally half-Cherokee, she claimed Gaelic culture as her true heart's home. The thing was, she wasn't into, like, U2 and James Joyce and Dylan Thomas -- she was enamored with the kind of Irish trinkets you see going on sale at Hallmark stores in the week after St. Patrick's Day. She peppered her speech with references to "the blarney stone" and "Guinness." She named her cat Shamrock. Not Ceallach, not Meadhbh, not any other mysterious-sounding traditional Irish name -- SHAMROCK. Ach, begorrah, always after me lucky charms!
Third, and this is where it gets germane, her writing was Irish-themed, Dublin-based, yet weirdly absent of any actual Irish influence. The main character was a gal who worked in a factory and had lots of bad things happen to her. And lots of sexy things with long descriptions of slippery-this and firm-as-a-hurley-that. Worse, there were pages-long fantasies about delicate faeries, howling banshees, and fucking LEPRECHAUNS for god's sake. There was an Irish guy in the class -- by heritage, not by birth -- and he was all, "Have you ever been to Ireland?" and she was all "I took a tour once" and he was all "Cuz leprechauns don't really act that way in Irish folklore, that's kind of a Hollywood thing," and her face shut down even tighter.
Another night, she told us about her first unpublished novel, a searching, heartbreaking story about a poor boy's childhood of woeful misery that "got totally ruined when Frank McCourt's book came out and ripped off my whole story." "Uh ... wasn't his true, though?" the soap-opera writer asked. "Well, yeah," Shamrock allowed, and her face shut down again.
She hated criticism. When a classmate suggested she cut down the background detail of a minor character, she said, "But I put that in because someone in another class said I needed more background for him. Why did I bother?" The unexamined revision: plopping in prose because "I was just following orders"... good in a magazine article when your editor demands it, bad in fiction when your supreme editor should be your self.
Worst of all, though, for me anyway, was how much she hated her main character. "God, I keep rewriting this and making things happen to her, and she just won't stand up for herself," she complained. "I had someone beat her. I had someone rape her. I threw everything I had at her, and I could never get her to get angry and retaliate. She was such a wuss." WTF? How do you do that to a character? Just write her different! My god! It was like writing happens to the writer.
Writing is a JOB. You get the job done. You tell the story, it doesn't tell you. For God's sake, I thought, get a grip on your story!
So this is the thing: would Allan Ginsberg have encouraged Shamrock if she had approached him the way I did? Would it denigrate his encouragement of me if I found out he had? Are there people who should not be encouraged, or does Shamrock deserve the same ego-stroking as me? Is encouragement just one tool in the writer's toolbox?
Because I'm really awful. I don't want Shamrock to torture her characters or her classmates or her teachers. I don't want her doing what I do. I want her to stop. I want her to take up knitting. It stresses me out to think of all those words pouring out onto pages somewhere, piling up, half-cooked plots rubber-banded together in a box on a shelf surrounded by other boxes on a green-painted bookshelf in a rent-controlled one-bedroom in Gramercy Park. I want to scream at her, "YOU ARE NOT A WRITER! PLEASE STOP! YOU ARE USING UP ALL THE WORDS! AND FOR FUCK'S SAKE, CUT BACK ON THE CORNED-BEEF-AND-CABBAGE DINTY-MOORE STEW!!!"
Then again, I'm no Alan Ginsberg.