Monday, May 14, 2012

MMWUC: Pressure

I'm tired of all the phony-baloney, silly, gimmicky ways writers are told to trick themselves into writing the great American story. The next time you want to write something great, there is only one method to apply to your situation: PRESSURE.

It's 11 p.m. I have one hour to write this blog. I feel like I'm back in college. Old Professor Ginsberg, who was probably twenty years younger than I am now, waited patiently for my short story. I had slid from an opening day "A," when he was high all the time, to the mid-semester "C," a supposed guarantee to keep me out of the Vietnam-era draft with a student deferment, to now. I did little all semester in his class except read his repetitive stories about pigs while winning and losing and winning and losing the heart of some girl way out of my league who was extraordinary fickle. Why did he have to go to the first ever drug detox center over spring break? Progress against the war on drugs (low-grade weed then) killed me, and I had never even taken a toke. Clear-eyed, he said, "I'll give you a two day extension, but it better be a good story." PRESSURE!

"Physics for Poets" was easier than high school physics. Never went to class, but always went to lab; got A's on all the tests; got an F for the course. How was I supposed to know that attendance counted? And I couldn't appeal. He was head of the department! Philosophy I never got. Professor "Oh Wow! That's cool and outta sight," would roll up on his Harley, sit on the window ledge in his leather pants, and have mind-bending conversations with six over-caffeinated students in a class of thirty. Six A's were given with the twenty-four "C's". Batman Bladowicz's Introduction to Psychology should have been a breeze, but I forgot the golden rule. Never mention that at the age of seven, you took a tennis racket to a swarm of bats because you thought they were after you. As he stated in words colder and deeper than Count Dracula's command, 'Look into my eyes,' "They were after the mosquitoes swarming over sweaty, little body. You get a D." Can't argue with the world's foremost expert on bats. PRESSURE!!

A gym rat, it was easy to get an A in each of the one-credit courses: track (I ran it), tennis (since early on I could hit balls and bats with accuracy), and bowling (Dad's in the Hall of Fame in St. Louis and you have no idea how many hours I spent on the lanes). Add it up with the C, D, and F, and it meant that I needed to get a "B" for this 3,000 word minimum short story or I'd be meeting some smiling second lieutenant, ready to whisk me away to Fort Dix for grunt training and then Vietnam. PRESSURE!!!

Cola drinks, chocolate, and a closed door were my companions. I pounded out a story. It sucked. I pounded out another one. Worse. A day wasted. The girl came to the room. "I'm leaving." I nodded sheepishly. "It's over." I continued to nod. "He's my home phone." I stopped nodding. She left. The number was written on the back of silly love poem I wrote for her earlier that I didn't think affected her. The girl was an enigma. PRESSURE!!!!

Professor Ginsberg sat behind a desk piled high with enough paper to support the printing of the New York Times Sunday edition for the Bronx. "Have it?" "Yes, sir." I handed the story to him. "4,124 words. I'm surprised it's not 3,001." I nodded. The girl turned out to also be my muse, but was it enough. I left for home.

A week later, the formal grades arrived in the mail. I pulled it out as though I was defusing a bomb. My heart pounded and then stopped altogether. My "C" in Philosophy had morphed into a "D." I collapsed onto my bed. I was not a lucky person. I envisioned me as the guy who steps out of the plane at Da Nang, Vietnam and has an unfortunate accident with a doughnut in the greeting station. I had to face it. I pulled out the grades, and there, there was an "A" next to Creative Writing. And in the envelope was a note. "Your story, 'Those Lovesick Cafeteria Loves Again' was raw and brilliant. The words exploded off the page. I've sent it to an editor at the New Yorker for possible publication. I knew you could do it." - Alonzo Ginsberg.

Well, The New Yorker liked it, but never published it. The girl married someone else that summer. The story is in the drawer unpublished for reasons I can't explain. A year later, I joined the army, nearly got killed several times, and have a lot of great stories. As soon as NSA will let me, they will be published. Is that the repo-man outside? PRESSURE!!!!! It's 11:57 p.m.


Carole Lane James said...

Dee-lightful little story, Rick. Glad you side-stepped those '70's bullets, so you keep us laughing today.

J. Dennis Bounds said...

Excellent lesson on persistence. As a college prof, your tale of the classrooms make me cringe. Especially the philosophy prof.
Send out that story for publication! I'd love to read it. Drawers are prisons for literary children. To quotethe Braveheart: "Freedom."

Rick Bylina said...

JD...Unfortunately, the profs were real. I was a naive & shell-shocked freshman. Left out the worst prof. The worst one & the philosophy prof got booted the next term. The 143-year-old physics prof retired the next year. Writing prof left for Montana 2 years later to write & never be heard from again. His stories sucked. Batman. Don't know. Perhaps he went to Gotham City. I recovered years later, went back to school, & fumbled my way to an English degree. The story is in the drawer. Someday. Maybe.