Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Week's Best Writing

Yesterday, in the midst of many visions and revisions of accreditation documents, I took a minute to catch up on other administrator paperwork.  Some of it, like transfer credits from other schools, I'm familiar with.  But yesterday came a never-done-before task.

I signed acceptance letters.

I took a minute to remember my own acceptance letters along the way--the ones that admitted me to schools and programs where I yearned to be.  I thought about my spouse's acceptance into the MPA program in 1995--a letter that might have changed our lives more than any other letter, as it was just the start of a half decade of many changes, including selling much of what we owned and moving to South Florida.

I took a minute as I signed each letter to imagine the potential student receiving it.  What life-changing news was my signature part of?

It may be my favorite writing that I do this week. 

Of course, it's Wednesday--there's still time to do other writing.

This morning, I listened to this interview with Cleve Jones, in part because it sounded interesting, in part because I'm writing a short story about a woman who was once part of ACT UP, and I thought that Jones might have insight.  I didn't expect to find a possible ending for the story in Jones' accounting of how he conceived of the AIDS quilt.

He describes a rally, where people wrote the names of loved ones lost to AIDS on big pieces of posterboard and taped them to the building at the UN Plaza that housed the Health and Human Services West Coast offices for the federal government for the Reagan administration.  He was struck by how they looked like a quilt:  "And when I said the word quilt, I thought of my grandma back-- and my great grandma back in Bee Ridge Ind., and the quilts they'd made. And it was such a warm and comforting and middle-American, traditional, family values sort of symbol, and I thought this is - this is the symbol we should take. And everybody told me it was the stupidest thing they'd ever heard of. And it ended up being the world's largest community arts project."

He describes how he imagined people finding comfort in the process:  "I thought to myself I know this could work to help people, to comfort people. I envisioned people sitting on living room floors or church basements and working with scraps of fabric of different textures and colors to create something, and I thought maybe by telling their stories and working with their hands we could combat that sort of paralysis that comes when you're overwhelmed by too much grief, too much loss."

Now I have a vision for how to end the story I'm writing, how to make my character less a caricature of someone who thinks she knows everything and doesn't, how to show her grieving for a future that will now never come, even though her beloved niece will continue to live.

And since my accreditation documents are due this week, I should have time to return to the story before I've forgotten this vision for the ending.

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