AWP 2014: Planning for Surprise

March 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

awp xrayA second and very brief take from Ann Beman on “Planning for Surprise: Teaching the Unexpected in Personal Narrative”:

Last day of AWP, afternoon session. Panel title includes the words “surprise” and “unexpected.” I’m hoping for cake or cosplay characters or unfurling tooty horns, at the very least. I have failed to note the apple symbol next to the event description. Apple = pedagogy. Pedagogy = the least likely event type to feature cake or cosplay characters or tooty horns. Just goes to show. Expect one thing, and you will get something entirely different. Something unexpected.

For instance, there’s the woman in the second row. She distracts me from the authors — Michael Steinberg, Renee D’Aoust, Thomas Larson, Desirae Matherly — at the front of the room. I’m digitally recording the panel, so I cease taking notes and become obsessed with describing the shade of purple illuminating this woman’s long hair. The hue reminds me of Twilight Sparkle, of My Little Pony fame. Which is odd, because I don’t recall where this imagery could be coming from. I don’t even have children. I take a different tack, deciding it’s a brave purple. Better yet, a Radiant Orchid, the color of 2014, according to Pantone. Yet another association out of left field. Where am I getting this stuff? Further examination is in order.

Oddly enough, these surprising associations feed into what panelist Desirae Matherly is saying about subtext. She talks about the surprises in finding something to write about and encountering the “aha”, or “whatever underlies the piece we sit down to write.” She talks about learning to recognize and work with the unexpected material generated in an essay.

Similarly, Tom Larson speaks of outlines, of making plans where none existed. “The shitty first draft is the plan,” he posits. “And the outline it manifests is the surprise.”

Yes, I think. Sound the tooty horns. All hail the shitty first draft. Let it go where it wants, and see where it takes you. All hail the purple hair in the second row.

PS: After the panel ends, and I literally bump into the cosplay Ork with the battle axe coming off the escalator, I am only a little surprised.

Ann Beman is nonfiction editor for The Los Angeles Review, and prose reviews editor for the museum of americana. She lives with her husband and two whatchamaterriers in California’s Southern Sierra in Kernville on the Kern River, Kern County. Cue the banjoes.

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