I’ve started teaching this semester at RMIT in the Creative Writing program and apart from it being fun (discussion is always fun) and scary (all those eager faces expecting to hear new things) and a little bit weird (who am I to say anything about writing really), it has also made me think harder about writing again. Specifically, it’s made me think about my writing and my influences.
It also means I get to introduce these eager writers to other writers they have never heard of, such as the delightfully specific and observant Amy Hempel.
Hempel is a short story writer and well-known for it in America. She teaches at a number of New York colleges and universities and her latest collection of short stories, The Dog of the Marriage is a stand out collection of wry, compassionate observations of characters, ‘Hempel people’ as I call them, doing ordinary things in the most ordinary of ways.
My particular favourite story is:
‘Just once in my life – oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?’
Isn’t that great? One sentence and as a reader you know so much about what that person wants, wanted, feels disappointed by. It is a perfect creation. As Rick Moody, in his beautiful introduction to the collection says:
‘It’s all about the sentences. It’s about the way the sentences move in the paragraphs. It’s about rhythm. It’s about ambiguity. It’s about the way emotion, in difficult circumstances, gets captured in language…It’s about survival. It’s about the sentences used to enact and defend survival.’
I particularly love that: ‘…the sentences used to enact and defend survival.’ And it’s a terrific way of looking at Hempel’s work but also extends the idea that Mark Tredinnick in his The Little Red Writing Book uses:
‘…to write is to make sentences, and out of them to make a story or an argument, a business case or a poem.’
If I’m going to get from here to there – I’m going to need a sentence. So, it may as well be a good one.