Feb 082014
 

annie bleecker

Once in a while you meet a writing student with an amazingly preformed natural talent, who has wit and phrasing and an aptitude for rhythm and can use balanced contrasts and parallels to create complex and interesting sentences. Annie Bleecker is one such. She is a current student of mine, and her packet just arrived (at Vermont College of Fine Arts, we have our own jargon; a “packet” is a monthly interchange of creative and analytic work between student and teacher), and I have to say I stalled on her cover letter, entranced and entertained no end. I give you here the best bits. Of course, there is more that was mostly housekeeping and direction between us; but these bits are lovely, impish, aphoristic.

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We had a “severe winter storm” here in New Orleans, where “severe winter storm” means the temperature dropped to 30 degrees and for five minutes something resembling snow fell from the sky. All of this necessitated widespread school closures for THREE DAYS and it just so happened that my husband was able to catch the very last flight leaving New Orleans so that he was able, much to our dismay, to make it to the International Poultry Exposition (required work conference in Atlanta). So while the storm was enough to leave me alone with a three-year-old, quarantined to the house for 72 hours and unable to get any writing done whatsoever, it made me smile each time I thought of using said storm as an excuse when I thought of the real storm you were likely experiencing in your parts (i.e. a storm with snow).

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Paris, France (Gertrude Stein): I found that if I read a lot of this book at night and then wrote in the morning as I usually do I would find myself forgoing punctuation and using the words natural and naturally a lot as if it was the natural thing to do (see?).

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“The Oa” by Colin McAdam: And then this killed me: “I’m not one of those North American lovers of Scotland you see at weddings, in kilts with giggling genitals.” Nothing against Scots (or kilts for that matter), but I suppose this made me laugh because there is something voyeuristic about men wearing kilts (at least in the US), like it’s a little bit of naughty exhibition they can get away with while still retaining their manliness. It also reminded me of a David Sedaris line that has always stuck with me: “Wearing a bow tie is to announce to the world that you can no longer get an erection.”

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This story is kind of like herpes in that it keeps showing up each semester, despite everyone’s dread (including mine; see previous mention of a problem that torments).

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I was curious about the idea that in the particular town in California in which I grew up (or maybe perhaps statewide or countrywide, not really sure), families seemed to be imploding at the same time. Not just dissolving, but imploding, and at least in Santa Rosa, it seemed to happen when we got to be 12/13. Probably all coincidence, but makes for a convenient if entirely unscientific comparison, and the fates of the kids I “ran with” all fared so differently. This is tricky though, as there are myriad things I’d like to avoid: sappy coming-of-age memoir material, an over-dramatization of the situation as if it were some street gang scenario that I narrowly escaped, or sounding self-righteous about my “path” and insinuating that I’m somehow better than the others.

When I really think about it, what it comes down to, actually, was cowardice. I could never take things as far as the other girls, for no other reason than I was afraid of the consequences. I could play at it but I’d never truly commit as each of them did at some point. That is what interests me, I suppose. The boundaries we have—and why—during a time when our (or my) instinct was to follow blindly. So conflicting instincts, I suppose: the instinct to continue following others vs. the instinct to stop.

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There is also something I’m trying to say about regret, but not so much regret as that’s a hugely clichéd topic and not even an emotion I typically experience. I suppose I want to examine the idea of regret: what happens with these little self betrayals we allow ourselves due to a lack of courage? Do they need to be reconciled, or can we really just carry them around with us?

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I now see [my] former self, who thought this just a month ago, as some babbling loony to whom I bear no resemblance, and, in fact, if I saw her on the street would beat her savagely to prevent her from doing this, as I am now, in present day, stuck with the result of this misguided rewrite.

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Susan Sontag: I came across a 1978 review of I, Etcetera that captured what I’d like to say about how she gets her theme across: “[Her stories] are chock-full of reference to the exhausted world we inhabit; they abound in “meaning” — meaning that calls not for interpretation but for small, repeated signs of recognition.”

The second half of that sentence put words to something that’s been like an itch ever since I read “Unguided Tour.” I love it, but I can’t explain why. I recognize something in it—it’s infuriatingly familiar—but again, I don’t know why. Well anyway, to try to emulate this was ridiculous, but I’m so drawn to her method.

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I never have an intention when I start writing, but I’ve started thinking about it more after the fact, i.e. after the first draft (which is kind of a strange experience, by the way), I found I could devise an explanation for what it was about. But, since I didn’t know it at the time of writing, it feels a bit like I’m BS’ing. Thus, if someone asked me what this piece is about I would first of all feel like a giant phony giving any kind of answer because the intention was not, well, intentional, but I’d say it’s about connection and disconnection and what happens when someone needs connection or feels too much connection and how that could be physically taxing and that perhaps the opposite of that (the yin to its yang) is a complete shutdown.

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This started from your challenge to begin every sentence with “but,” but (he he he) it took on a life of its own. I wanted to play around with time (present, future, past), but I’m not sure if it’s a strength or a distraction.

—Annie Bleecker

Annie Bleecker lives in New Orleans, where she writes ad copy for accounts payable automation software by day and creative nonfiction by night. She is pursuing an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

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