My monthly submissions to Lesley University's MFA program each include two craft annotations. When we "freshmen" were first presented with this requirement at our initial residency in June, the idea of writing a craft annotation about any book was enough to frighten many of us, but I was intrigued. After all, while I've continued to read and read and read since my graduation from UC Davis in 2006, I've missed the opportunity to analyze my readings in writing.
(That probably sounds a little crazy to some of you. Let me explain.)
When the movie Pride & Prejudice was released in 2005, people raved. I raved. As a child, I was addicted to the 1940 version. Sir Lawrence Olivier was the only Darcy I could imagine, and I would daydream about him. Soft cheeks and immaculate sideburns, the way his tongue softened the Zs in the word "Lizzy." I would sometimes alter my voice to accomodate Greer Garson's breathy British accent. This confused my teachers in elementary school, but on the whole they were understanding. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Busselen, never batted an eye, failing even to chide me for a three-week phase in which I signed my name at the top of all my assignments as Elizabeth Bennett.
(Where am I going with this? Stick with me.)
Anyway, the new version of P&P came out and, even as someone who loathes remakes of my favorite classics (Cheaper by the Dozen with Steve Martin as a slapstick father? Sacrilege!), I found the metamorphosis of the period piece disarming. Especially when I realized that I left the theater no longer daydreaming about the genteel 1940s Mr. Darcy, but viscerally craving the brooding 2005 Mr. Darcy.
In two hours all he'd done was scowl and look down his perfect nose, he'd danced once with Elizabeth, saved the entire bevy of Bennetts from destitution, and then... oh yes, he'd walked across a field.
Outside the theater, I could close my eyes and command him to walk across that field again and again. Mist and morning ebbed around him as his legs stalked between the rolling clumps of reeds and blue-green grasses. Toward me.
He had bewitched me, body and soul.
(Seriously, I'm getting there.)
I called him to mind over and over. Jaw. Voice. Eyelashes. Everything. And it pleased me.
That ability to replay a moment and feel the twinge of pleasure again, to shock my heart into skipping a beat, is one of my favorite parts of being alive. I hope everyone does this, not only with movies, but with life. Stop for a second and remember your first kiss. Matthew's lips tasted like rootbeer on the February evening. Remember sinking the game-winning, at-the-buzzer shot. Three--two--one--Pancoast with the three! Remember the best compliment you ever received. And remember how you glowed in the echo of those glorious, memorable moments.
I do this with books, too. After I've read a book like--oh--The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver or The Book Lover by Ali Smith or Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon, my greatest desire is to relive the experience of that heavenly read. But that's harder. No flawless lips. No broad shoulders trailing a cape-like coat that flickers around mud-caked boots. Only words. The turn of a phrase. Rhythm. Vocabulary. Wordsmithing. Unless I repeat the best of these aloud, or write them down to share with someone else, I don't get that same pleasurable shiver.
So for me, the craft annotations at Lesley U have filled that void. I now have an avenue in which to share my favorite parts of a reading.
The true goal behind the craft annotation is to prove that I've not only read the books in question, but I've also gleaned something key about the craft of writing from the talented authors. That key is something I must be able to shoulder and take back to my own cave to further my evolution as a writer.
For my first set of craft annotations, I wrote about Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family, two colorful memoirs. The following is the craft annotation I submitted for Ondaatje's work. (And to tie this in with past entries, in Hermaphrodite Flake - Part II I wrote that "I was alone with the nearly-noontime sun and the memoirs of a Sinhalese poet." Michael Ondaatje was up on the rock with me.)