Sunday, October 5, 2014

Story is a State of Mind - Lesson Four - DIALOGUE

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I've been a TA for Sarah Selecky's Story Is a State of Mind's online Story Intensive course for the last month and am happy to report that my class is everything I had hoped for: engaged, talented, inspiring.

They are working hard, pushing through their resistance and supporting each other along the way. Some provocative pieces of writing are getting posted in the online forum and throughout the whole process, my own writing is getting a jolt of rejuvenation.

We're heading into Lesson Four this week: DIALOGUE.

In my opening lecture notes I've included the quote: "Ninety percent of writing is listening." -- Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones

Below is an piece of writing I did from Lesson Four that I wanted to share. When homework is this much fun, it doesn't feel like work at all.

SSM Lesson Four: exercise 2b - DIALOGUE
Go to a place where people are talking – a coffee shop, a commuter train, your own home – and eavesdrop on a conversation. Jot down the dialogue you hear as best as you can, taking care to note any favorite expressions, slang, or precise diction.
Notice while listening: sentence lengths, rhythms, implied emotional states, and the extent to which the person allows speech to say what is really meant (and what is going on between the lines). If possible, notice accompanying gestures or facial expressions and jot those down too. It will be hard to write down everything as you hear it. Just jot down what you can, and later, fill in what you remember. Work for at least 10 minutes.
My exercise is posted below. with brief notes below that"
“What kind of substance are you looking for in an escort anyway?” Johnny says.

“I just want someone I can hang with, you know, chill, be cool together, no games, you know?” Adrian says. He shrugs.

“Nevermind, whatever. Guy like that? He gets a call $300 an hour and honey be gone you hear me?” Johnny swipes the back of his in front of him, flicks his right wrist into the air. 

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Oh, I know, Adrian.”

Adrian looks past Johnny out the window of the streetcar. Shanti Baba, Herbie’s Herbs—Herbs-Vitamins-Formulas, Ghandi Indian Cuisine. He sits on his hands.

“I met this boy in Hawaii and let me tell you Adrian this boy…this boy had everything going for him. And by that I mean ev-er-y-thang. He was a fine motherfucker. I met him at a party whatever and we got talking and he said he lived in Atlanta and that he worked in the hotel industry and I said, oh yeah? I’m in the hospitality business too. But then he goes on to say that he’s a callboy – just a nicer way of saying you’re a motherfucking escort, they rent you for the night whatever. So I said to him, Child…your line of work is not my forte.”

Johnny puts both palms up in the air then smacks them down on his thighs three times, punctuating his best line. 

“You did not.”

“I said it and he nearly fell off his chair right there! I said, Child…your line of work is not my forte. Ha ha ha! I said I respect your hustle but we are not getting in the same bed. I don’t roll like that. And he was a fine motherfucker. Did I say that already? F-ine. But I couldn’t take him seriously.”

Smack smack smack.

“No doubt.”

Adrian leans back, his shoulder is touching Johnny’s. Adrian’s cheeks are flush.

“You know last year, last summer, I was spending a lot of time in Cleveland right?”


Adrian taps his thumb against his own thigh. Glances down at Johnny’s leg next to his.

“Going there like every weekend whatever, get out of the scene here, you know.”


Tap tap tap.

“So I met this guy at a party whatever. We hung out for a whole week straight partying whatever. Hit it off so good you know what I mean? His name was Dustin Williams. Boy had it going on. Then I went to Vancouver and I wrote him and wrote him and he did not return any of my messages. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. Not a hi, hello, a text, whatever. Deleted me on Facebook, blocked me on Twitter, everything. Then, last night, one in the morning I get an email. I couldn’t sleep. Had to get up at five to get ready for work, but I read the email five times I couldn’t believe it. Let me read the email to you: Dear Johnny, you have been running thru my mind rapidly, (rapidly is in bold) for almost a year. I am sorry about the way I ended things but I was going through a lot of things that I can’t explain. And the email goes on and on it was really unbelievable, turns out he was an escort too, and the shit he had going on with his family. Anyway, he—Dustin Williams—ends the email with asking, ‘If I ask to see you is it too much?’ ”

“What’d you say to that?” Adrian sniffs loudly like he’s about to sneeze, but doesn’t.

“I said in my head to Dustin Williams, it depends on the terms and conditions of seeing you.”

“You gotta watch that Johnny.”

“You know it Adrian. So when I got to work I called Calvin. I went out in the hallway because I don’t need everyone at work knowing my business. I said Calvin, I got an email at one in the morning from Dustin Williams, the boy from Cleveland last summer, what should I do?”

“What did Calvin say?”

“Calvin said to set boundaries. Limits. Protect myself from someone like Dustin Williams cause he could just as well turn around and do the exact same thing again, you know, disappear and delete me like that. I don’t need that in my life you know?”

“Oh I know.”

“I just want someone to pay half my bills, you know? I live alone, I pay everything on my own.”

Adrian is staring out the window again. Cabaret, Czehoski, Dark Horse. He doesn’t look at Johnny and says, “You should get a roommate.”

“I should and I shouldn’t. You know when I go to Hawaii my sister pays for everything, all I need is money for the clubs. She pays my rent, my phone bill, my food, everything. I take her boy around, my nephew, and she pays for everything.”


The streetcar comes to a stop at a long red light. 

“Here the data doesn’t work on my phone. I’m going to switch from Rogers, fucking assholes. Means I have to change from iPhone to android. What kind of bullshit is that? I fucking hate android. But I am emailing all my contacts right now. Sometimes you just gotta make a move you know?”

The streetcar starts up again, slow at first, its steel wheels rumbling forward, unable to stray from its track. Staring out the window, without looking at Johnny, Adrian says, "I know."

A few observations about the work:

This is a great example of illustrating how discovery can happen anywhere. Accessibility is

everywhere. If I am stuck for ideas, or in this case, dialogue, it’s reassuring to know that words and inspiration are out there for the taking. Stories are floating all around out there, in constant motion and as a writer, it is my job to be aware of that. It’s my job to be open to capturing those opportunities, playing with those possibilities that could lead me to something larger, or another location, or simply give me an opening where before there wasn't one.

The whole point is to keep showing up to do the work. Practice, practice, practice. Repeat.

And who doesn’t eavesdrop? Why not give it some purpose? Why not put it to work?