Monday, March 22, 2010


Gentle Readers,

I had the great fortune of attending a writer's workshop recently.

The big event of the day was a question and answer session with the immensely talented and immensely skinny Joyce Carol Oates. Ms. Oates was wonderfully intelligent and funny and in spite of her many accomplishments, did not behave as if she thinks of herself as a celebrity. Rather, she said she has no confidence in her writing. If someone who has been that successful for so long has no confidence in her writing, then I think it's o.k. that I suffer from crises of no confidence.

Books I have read by Oates: You Must Remember This, Blonde, We Were The Mulvaneys, and Missing Mom

Oates is an unusually prolific author, and now I think I know why. I don't think the woman ever stops writing long enough to eat a full meal. In fact, I doubt that she's eaten much of anything during the past twenty years.

Perhaps her hunger even contributes to the darkness of her novels (although she said she's just being realistic and quite often bases her work on actual events).

But, Joyce Carol Oates, I beg of you, please put away your writing for awhile and have a nice big dinner with veggies, potatoes, rolls, and meat or a meat substitute, and ice cream for dessert followed by a cookies and milk chaser.

Oates teaches at Princeton and she seems as if she would be a wonderful teacher. She said she doesn't like to compliment or criticize her students too much. Apparently she strikes a balance with constructive criticism and encouragement.

In addition to the session with Oates, I attended four workshops. A major focus was on finding ideas and inspirations for stories and poems.

Following the line of my belief that nothing I make up can be as funny or crazy or amazing as real life, I heard two especially good true stories at the workshop.

The first was told by a poet and professor teaching a workshop session. She said that one of her colleagues had been in a car accident on his way to the university one morning recently. He had learned that morning that the young man who hit his car did so on purpose to keep him from getting to work to give a test for which the young man's girlfriend was not prepared.

That's the first time I've heard of someone getting out of a test by asking her boyfriend to hit the teacher's car.

The second story came from a woman attending the workshop. The woman appeared to be middle ageish, like me, and African American, not like me.

She said she woke up one night absolutely soaked in sweat. She thought it was because she was going through menopause. For those of you who don't know yet, you can have night sweats in addition to hot flashes during menopause. And both can last for years and years. You might also find that you're very emotional and cry at the drop of a hat.

But, ah, I digress.

The woman got out up feeling horrible and managed to make her way upstairs to the bathroom, where she fell on the floor, unable to speak and suddenly realizing that she was probably having a heart attack. Fortunately, she heard a family member, I think her brother, come up the stairs and he called an ambulance.

The EMTs came into the bathroom and gathered around her and said, What's the matter with her? Is she drunk? Is she on drugs?

Her brother said No, no, but they kept asking.

As this was going on, it occurred to her that, as she put it, she had no bottoms on and all her cellulite and bumps were showing so in spite of having a heart attack, she still had this interior monologue going on.

Finally, the EMTs grabbed her and dragged her down the stairs and out of the house. Didn't even make an effort to pick her up, just dragged her.

Then they took her out the door and to the ambulance, but they hadn't even backed up the ambulance to the door. So they carried her out to the street to the ambulance and suddenly she locked eyes with one of the men, and she said he looked ashamed.

And this guy finally said, I think she's having a heart attack.

She said everything worked out o.k. and it became a wake up call for her to make some life style changes and she's much better now, but she feels she was treated so inhumanely.

And I had to wonder, if it were me, would I have been treated that badly?

Was she mistreated because she's black?

Immediate assumption that she's drunk or drugged and nobody even took her pulse or put a blood pressure cuff on her. Dragged down the stairs and hauled across the street to the ambulance for everybody to see. Point and stare. Point and stare.

Something to think about.


Dumped First Wife

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