Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stepping Back and Breathing

Tonight my essay was up for workshopping. Yes, not only did I manage to finish a personal essay, but I actually put it out there for others to see, for the purpose of having feedback. So, a bit nervous, off I went to class at the Lighthouse Writers, waiting for my turn. Feeling my knees shaking (I can seriously be so ridiculous), I volunteered to go first; I was that student who wants to get it over with.

And so I read a passage, breathing my way through it, and waited. I breathed through the pauses when people didn't seem as though they were going to find anything positive to say. As people spoke, I focused my eyes on the pages of my essay, taking notes so I could simply listen and not look, afraid of seeing too much silence. And like my students, once the critique was finished, what immediately came to mind were all the places that demanded my attention, the disconnects, the uncertain messages, the undeveloped; the places that worked, the praise, had receded layers beneath the criticism. Somehow, I had forgotten my advice to students: "A workshop is a place to understand how readers see your piece, a place to take pieces that need readers." Secretly, I fantasized that tonight everyone would stand up and applaud the essay, tell me it's perfect and ready for publication.

It took several hours to get over myself, reading and re-reading the comments. Eventually, I could distance a bit and realize that most of what had been pointed out I had thought at one point or another about my essay, just perhaps not as clearly as others could articulate. And after that, I got back to writing again, jotting down some notes for my next essay.

I have already succeeded in the class, since my goals are fairly quite simple. I have completed a piece of writing, shared a piece of writing, and intimately realized exactly what my students must experience each time their work is up for workshopping.

Friday, January 21, 2011


The black Ferrari just zooms around and around a desert track, coming in and out of view of the screen, setting the rhythmic lens of Sofia Coppola's latest flick, Somewhere. Johnny Marco, the Hollywood star, a screen legend in Italy, is the driver, repeating a numbing lap that sometimes is loud and other times is a distant whisper. The opening mesmerizes in its measured repetition, setting up what is a film filled with a slow deliberate beauty in the way Coppola frames the shots. They are simply gorgeous.

It is the visual that carries the film, and when I sit back and try to recall the film, the shots come to mind, not the dialogue or sound. For much of the film carries a silence, such as shots with Johnny passed out in bed, the stark white comforter and sheets holding almost a virginal purity counterpart to his ailing Hollywood star boozing, gulping pills, and smoking cigarettes. When the camera pans back from Johnny and his daughter Cleo (played brilliantly by Elle Fanning) sunbathing, both donning the same Rayban like hipster sunglasses, you move with the camera, having them fade, much like Johnny's star quality might do at some point.

The film chronicles Johnny Marco's shallow star life, from his toppling down the stairs drunk, breaking his arm, to his painkiller high inertia in bed while Barbi and her pole twirling dressup friend can do little to awaken him from his numbed slumber. When Johnny is awake, his eyes drift to many big breasted vapid women, opportunities for sex as a numbing agent.

And what rescues him is Cleo, who ends up having to stay with him for a period of time since her mother has decided to take an extended vacation from parenting. At times, it is Cleo doing the parenting, carefully making stovetop macaroni and cheese, complete with grating her own cheese; at times he is the parent, playing guitar hero, rocking out, father showing daughter how to be cool. Through his journey with her, the life that once defined him no longer fits. It is time for the Ferrari to be abandoned.