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Entries in homeless people (2)


Reflections on Week Three

[Read the finished story here!]

I talked a little bit in a previous post about why this week's challenge took longer than an actual week. Week Two was also a bit of a trial, but I really let Week Three knock me off the rails. My procrastination is the type that comes from perfectionism, which may be the most crippling kind. Throughout school, I'd let my fear of producing something substandard paralyze me until the night before the assignment was due, when finally my options were reduced to "just do the effing thing" or "fail this class." I could never start until those were the stakes. Almost every semester was this way for me, and evidently I'm still doing it.

But it's okay, right? This is why I created this blog: to revisit all of these false starts and, in doing, create an ironclad writing habit that is impervious even to my own crippling thought patterns. There may be bumps like these, but the important thing is not to walk away. I'm going to see this through, for my resolve is fierce. You can feel its ferocity through your screen, can't you? It burns. Yes. Yes...

So anyway, this particular prompt was tough going because I hated the dialogue, I hated characters who would speak this dialogue, and I didn't have anything useful or unique to say about the subject matter. I didn't want to write a judgy story about how someone can use the fact of less-fortunate people to make others feel bad, but meanwhile neither is he or she doing anything to help. I especially didn't want to write something where two people banter back and forth about homeless people and which of them is the more Samaritan-like. 

The best I could come up with, for awhile, was this:

"What? You're afraid of homeless people?"

"No, I just didn't want to disturb him."

That seemed like a considerate, reasonable response to Marcy, but for reasons she didn't understand she was annoyed by her old high school friend. She found herself asking aggressive questions like this all weekend, hoping maybe to find reason for her indignation.

"So what if he had been awake. Would you have sat on that bench then?"

"I don't know. Probably not."

"Why not?"

"I don't sit next to strange men."

Blah, blah, blah. I couldn't get away from the prompt and make it my own, until much later, in the shower probably, I was thinking about a time early in my freshman year at Emerson when an older black woman came up to me and told me she thought she was going to die. Immediately I dismissed writing about this, because no part of me ever wanted to be a writer who wrote the words "black woman." I just felt like you'd immediately get all kinds of ideas about me and my attitude about race and income and who knows what. That I'd have to bend over backwards explaining that it was a detail, not an example of something I think to be a universal truth, and in my explaining all of this I'd unintentionally reveal some ignorance or prejudice I didn't even know was there. Better just to avoid that anecdote altogether, I thought.

That got my wheels turning. Which was worse: to write about a strung-out black woman who I tried to help or to never write about anything other than white people because I'm terrified of saying the wrong thing? And this became, in a way, the guiding theme for the story I finally ended up writing, which came to me pretty easily once I started it. I don't know if it's the best thing I've ever written, but I accomplished what I set out to do here, which -- finally -- is perfection enough for me.

Onward to Week Four!


Week Three: "What? You're afraid of homeless people?" "No, I just didn't want to disturb him."


I can just imagine my hyper-judgmental 19-year-old self overhearing this exchange and forming all kinds of uncharitable conclusions about the speakers. Scribbling their remarks down with puritan glee. Hoo boy.

My resolution this week is to write a story that's a mix of dialogue and prose. So: an actual short story. No idea where I'm going to go with this, but there's already a strong voice, so that should help to inform who the characters are.

As for what the story's about...? I guess we've learned by now that that comes later.