Monday, May 16, 2022

Bread Loaf vs Bread Stick

Yes, the bread machine
yields amazing results every time!
My only luck with yeast breads is in the
machine, which is nearly foolproof!

Now, if only writing were as easy as making bread! For anyone who's every been frustrated by a writers' workshop experience, here's a funny old essay that always makes me laugh. Some of the references are dated but still humorous, I think. I recently came across my ancient paper copy and realized that this piece is rather hard to find online, so here ya go, for educational purposes only:

By Dick Teresi
August 10, 2001 ~ Wall Street Journal

"I arrived at Sid's, my favorite coffeehouse, to find the owner shooing everyone away. "Emergency renovation," Sid shouted. Then, under his breath, he muttered something about "damn health department" and "anthrax." Sid's is the down-market caffeine hangout, the salon of choice for nonfiction writers and nontenured faculty in the college town where I live. The clientele sit at plywood tables eating smuggled Tastee Cakes to avoid spending money on Sid's pastries. We are a shabby lot, the most frequent ambient expressions being "kill fee" and "damn, another postdoc appointment."

"I steeled myself and timidly crept uptown to Starbuck's. There I applied for a loan on a watered-down latte and tried to nibble a "fresh-baked" biscotti that was inexplicably shrink-wrapped. It had the tensile strength of Kevlar.

"That was hardly the problem. The problem was the three youths, dressed in black, at the adjacent table who discussed their coming fiction-writing camps in New England. While I attempted to write an article, armed only with a Staples 89-cent notebook and a Bic, the three artistes pulled $4,000 Titanium PowerBooks with wireless modems from their tote bags and flipped up 15-inch screens to view their latest poems. I couldn't concentrate as the trio spoke loudly about "the death of magical realism," "postmodern relativism," "narrative arc" and "Daddy's new yacht."

"I was filled with loathing but, frankly, yearning too. I want to go to summer camp and write fiction. I want to write about Truth without having to gather facts. About Beauty and still have enough money left for liposuction. I want to go to a place where writing doesn't mean conducting interviews, searching through archives or hiring a libel lawyer.

"I scurried home and logged on. There was Bread Loaf, of course, at Middlebury College in Vermont every August. Barry "Arctic Dreams" Lopez is the headliner this year, no doubt nurturing a new generation of precipitation writers who wish to venture beyond rain to wax rhapsodic about snow, too, as well as sleet, hail and, possibly, for the advanced, "wintry mix."

"My hard drive lacked the memory to download the resumes of the entire faculty, their lengthy lists of prizes evoking "Memory Low! Please Quit Other Applications!" warnings from my computer. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Yeats together never won as many prizes as a single teacher at Bread Loaf. But then, the PEN Award for Outstanding Poetry Concerning Acid Reflux by Writers Temporarily Detained at O'Hare wasn't available in their day.

"I would give my last five kill fees to attend a 12-day session at Bread Loaf. In fact, it costs five kill fees to attend a 12-day session -- about $1,800, more than the combined royalties of all the poets who teach there. For $1,800 I could spend a week at the Chelsea Hotel with Margaret Atwood and still have money left over for room service. Other belle lettres programs were similarly pricey.

"Why does it cost so much to become a starving poet? What the world needs is writing camps for the budget-minded. Here is a proposed catalog.

"Misery and Memoir: The Belle Lettres of Poverty. Directors: Frank and Malachy McCourt. Location: the slums of Limerick. If you're not sick, alcoholic and near death, you're not writing yet. Participants will be taught how to affect long-suffering yet stoical facial expressions for the lecture circuit. Fees, exclusive of boat fare, are modest. Meals: infrequent. Accommodations: may be drafty or flooded. Bring your own potatoes.

"What the Hell Is Going on Here? Learning to Trust the Unreliable Narrator. Director: Kazuo Ishiguro. Location: ? Mr. Ishiguro will send you five sets of directions to the campus written by five different narrators, only one of whom is reliable. Those who actually reach the site may or may not receive instruction. Payment due in advance.

"Realism and the Vietnam War Novel. Director: Joseph Ellis. Location: anywhere safe. Learn how to give your war novel verisimilitude by avoiding common mistakes. For example, the Viet Cong are referred to as "Charlie," never "Charles." And it's LST, not SUV. Mr. Ellis has slashed this year's fees from those set last year by Oliver Stone. The helicopter field trip to the Mekong Delta has been replaced by a Peter Pan Bus tour of West Point. Vietnam vets need not apply.

"Dueling Sisters: Sibling Rivalry and the Modern Family Saga. Directors: A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble. Location: simultaneous courses in two separate but equal B&Bs in the U.K. Two-fer literature at its best. Come with a sister or brother you despise and you pay tuition for only one! How you split the fee is up to you. Instructors not available for mediation.

"Less Is More: The Very Very Short Story. Director: J.D. Salinger. Location: New Hampshire. Your teacher shares his experience of four decades of not writing. What subjects to avoid (all of them). Choosing a voice (silent). How even personal letters can get you into trouble. Students are afforded copious free time. Laptops, pencils, paper are not required.

"Hey, I Wrote a Book! And I Didn't Even Break a Nail! Director: Hillary Clinton (management reserves the right to substitute ghost instructors). Location: not in the Senate cafeteria, that's for sure. A course in the selection, maintenance and subsequent disposal of ghostwriters. For example, can you feed your ghost the same tuna salad you made for the cleaning lady or should you add some chopped scallions? How to thwart pesky talk-show hosts who insist on asking you questions about the content of your book.

"Imagery and Incarceration: The Poetry of Maximum Security. Directors: Slammo and Snake. Location: Attica. A man can't write free verse if he's free. Students read their poems aloud every noon in the yard over by the bench press. No tuition -- just commit a class A felony. No work-release wannabes, please.

Finding (and Losing) Your Voice in the Political Novel. Director: Anonymous. Location: Joe Klein's apartment. How making readers guess who you are can make them think you're somebody more famous than you really are. Students will spend 12 days pondering the identity of their absent teacher. In his keynote address, Mr. Klein will deny that he's running the program. Make checks payable to "Joe Klein."

"Memoirmania: The Violent Art of Autobiography. Directors: World Wrestling Federation authors Mankind, The Rock and Chyna. Location: Hartford Civic Center. Instruction in the use of steroids and Vicodin to achieve a beefier yet painless prose style. No tuition is charged, but students meet teachers in a course-ending, Texas steel-cage death match on Pay-Per-View.

"Uptown Office, Downtown Advance: Writing to Pay Off Your Legal Bills. Director: Bill Clinton. Location: Harlem (or Chappaqua when Hillary's away). Payment? Get details from Monica. May not be suitable for male writers."

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