Extreme Makeover: Writing Edition

I've got a new post up this week at Rock & Sling online, an experiment in community writing and revision partly inspired by the ABC television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition which came through Knoxville and my neighborhood last month.

I've wanted to do something like this for a while, but couldn't put it together because I didn't feel like I had the proper platform. Sure, I can participate in these kinds of workshops in person with local writing communities. I even co-direct one, The Brian M. Conley Young Writers' Institute, for the University of Tennessee. But I've had this idea of an online revision workshop kicking around for a while and now finally have the opportunity to give it a whirl.

Here are a couple clips and an excerpt from my entry:

I think it was a Monday last month that the road leading to our street was overtaken by flatbed semis hauling shipping containers, front loaders, and other sundry heavy equipment. Hearing all the racket from a location that was maybe a couple hundred yards from our back porch and just beyond the leech field and bramble, I only thought it peculiar. Figured it was the city installing new sewers or natural gas lines. 
That night, after the afternoon’s hullabaloo, I came home from work to find cop cars, projection lamps, and a roadblock sitting a few yards from where I normally turn into my street. I was waived down by a man wearing a windbreaker labeled “Security.” He asked me where I was going. I said I was trying to get home and he told me I could no longer go down this road and so I needed to find another route around to my street. 
I found out a few days later that the producers and crew for the ABC television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition had the road blocked in preparation for filming an episode. A Knoxville family was going to have their home completely demolished, hauled away, and replaced with a home that would meet all their housing needs and reflect all the wishes and personality of that family. By the end, it took maybe twelve days total for setting up, for the old to come down and the new to go up, and for hauling the equipment away. It also took the participation of 3000+ local volunteers
Reflecting on this event’s impact on our community, I was reminded of these words about revision from poet/critic Robert Pack: “Creation in its largest sense, then, must be though of as a process of creation, destruction, and re-creation. In this process we may become aware of powers we did not know we possessed.” Of course Pack is discussing the writing process but his words are equally applicable to what Knoxville has re-learned from the revision process of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: the combined spirits of volunteerism and community-building can produce great things. 
It is within this framework that I’d like to issue a challenge to the Rock & Sling community. On Sunday, February 12, let’s each commence an extreme makeover of our own. Call it Extreme Writing Makeover, if you like. Each volunteer will choose a piece or writing to revise, one that needs to be demolished and rebuilt. Two weeks later, on February 26, we’ll meet again at Rock & Sling to share with our community our newly (re)built pieces and our thoughts about revision.

Our university has had some very enjoyable readings the last few weeks, particularly one from UTK lecturer Erin Elizabeth Smith who brought in a standing-room only crowd to the twelfth floor of McClung Tower for a reading from her new collection The Naming of Strays (Gold Wake, 2011).

Erin's reading delivered the kind of gut punch that I needed at that moment. It is easy to be discouraged and distracted by rejections, manuscript near-misses, writing the dissertation, etc. I'd lost connection to the expressive value of simply sitting down with a pen and writing. Listening to a poem like the one I'll post below, I was reminded of the jouissance of writing, of moving beyond play and thought, past simple enjoyment or the limiting amusement of cerebrality, and into that state where the pleasure of writing becomes pain, a pain that just feels so good. Here's the poem:

Love Song for Myself

It is true.  I love you,

though you hang your wet towel on doorknobs,
leave your dishes in the sink for days.
Though you're ugly when you cry,
and each time I try to leave you,
quietly, while you sleep with someone else,
you call me a sonofabitch, though I'm a girl,
and our mother is a nice enough woman.

In high school, I hated you. 
The way you'd alphabetize your Joni Mitchells,
your bad girl punk, how you were never thin enough
despite the months I fed you nothing
but grapefruit and toast.  Hated the skirt
you'd wear that made that linebacker pin you
against his locker, your sandals nearly off the floor.

Yeah, I called you lots of names.  Sabotaged your senior prom,
sending you with a boy who would surely love you if you asked.
And the first time, in the Travelodge, when you bled like new
road kill, I laughed, knowing you'd hold your breath each time
you passed the place, like it was a graveyard,
like you'd breathe in your own busted soul.

But things change.  By twenty you were pretty hot
crossing and uncrossing your legs
for a boy you had no intention of fucking.
Drinking cheap beer on your back porch, alone,
the early summer sun rusting your shoulders. 
That night you played gin in the video store parking lot
the way the asphalt marked your legs like Braille.

I remember these things and love you for them.
But you are still unfaithful,
our pillows never enough, the bath barely warm
before you're reaching for a towel.
Don't you know that this is what some people would give
their left lung for, the kind of love
that leaves the mouth
of your heart
so wet, so bare.

Erin Elizabeth Smith