Second week of my writing group / class kicked off with our homework from week 1. We had been asked to think about an item of clothing from childhood and what it meant to us and write a short piece about that. Here was mine:
It was a black shirt. Just a plain black shirt.
Except of course it was so much more than that. Since I’d seen that Sisters Of Mercy video on Top Of The Pops it wasn’t just a black shirt anymore. It was a new identity. It was freedom. It was rebellion. Still quite a polite, “no, actually, I don’t think I will take those posters off my wall and no I haven’t done that History course work yet” kind of rebellion if I’m honest. But, nonetheless, rebellion. Sticking it to the Man. Sticking it to him by sitting in my room listening to doom laden bombastic music. Goth music. In my black shirt.
With that black shirt I could stalk the streets of the West Country, maybe in a long trench coat, quoting Poe and Coleridge, my raven hair lustrous beneath the full moon. Like that guy in the Sisters Of Mercy… Look at him in the video striding through a post apocalyptic wasteland in all that leather. All that leather, and his black shirt, with just that similarly clad dominatrix for company. That could be me. That could be me in Plymouth. That could be me, in Plymouth, in my black shirt.
I’ll have to wait for some of the stuff obviously. Dying my hair seems like quite a big step. Can’t really afford any leather and I don’t know any dominatrixes. Dominatricies ? What is the plural for that anyway ? Whatever, I don’t actually know any women as such so, I guess, it doesn’t really matter what the plural is. I suppose I don’t really need a trench coat either; I’ve already got that ski jacket. It’s reversible – so, practical but quirky. You don’t see many Goth’s skiing though.
But I could memorise some poetry. And I had that black shirt. That bible black shirt. See, poetry. The black shirt was working its dark gothic magic already.
I only wore it once. My mother washed it. Not washed it so much as boiled it really. It came out an insipid washed out grey and shrunk to a third of its former size.
Now it was a grey shirt. A tiny, grey shirt. No one strides through a post apocalyptic wasteland in one of those. No one even strides around Plymouth in one.
Best do that History coursework. Maybe take a couple of the posters down.
I actually had a couple of the bits for this already in a previous post – way back at the start of writing about 42 records in my second entry about “This Corrosion”. The stalking the streets of the West Country paragraph is lifted from that and I think I started there and then worked the rest around it. I liked this one and it came out pretty much how I wanted – tonally I think it works reasonably well although it should perhaps concern me that I still find that “voice” relatively easy to write in some twenty five years later…
The bulk of the class was dedicated to looking at characters and playing around with unusual or quirky traits that might lift characters out of cliche. We used a variety of professions as a route into this and then wrote about one. So:
He started to straighten his tie, catching sight of himself in the mirror outside his office. It was loose, top button undone. He turned his face to examine his profile and ran his hand across two days of greying stubble. His hair was unkempt and his eyes were shot with blood.
It had been like this since Grace had left. Emotionally immature she’d called him. A child. She’d raised their children already. Didn’t want to raise another one. What was it she’d said, he thought ? Incapable of expressing himself ? Something like that. Perhaps he should talk to someone about it she’d yelled at him that last time they’d seen each other. A professional she’d sneered.
He left the tie. Thought about straightening it again before, finally, taking it off. People liked casual now anyway. Less intimidating. He was sure someone had told him that. Maybe it had been Alice but he tried not to think of her now if he could help it.
He looked away from the mirror and toward the door with its familiar sign. William Rogers: Psychiatrist and Marriage Counsellor.
This was more of a mixed bag for me than the homework piece. Having started the exercise looking for ways to render characters as non caricatures I feel a bit like I fell into a great big “psychiatrist with own emotional problems” sized cliche hole. I don’t mind his inner dialogue though and I threw the Alice hint in quite late (if there can be a quite late in the space of ten minutes) and it does provide a bit of a tease. I have also noticed that I seem to write in quite short, staccato sentences a lot. Like this. Particularly when I’m on the clock. It can be effective. But also a little wearing when over used. As here.
All of that self flagellation aside it was another highly enjoyable couple of hours. Some of my fellow class mates came up with some great character sketches and it’s fascinating to hear just how many different directions twelve people can go given the same jump off point.