Marilyn Myerson leads and mentors creative writing groups, encouraging them to push the envelope of their imaginations while staying in control of the theme. She frequently has them write short stories that explore a specific idea. And she leads by example.
Today’s two stories are both by Marilyn. One puts a twist on a hoary cliché. The other speculates on what could happen, if the leader of a creative writing group were not quite who she seemed to be.
Cliché: A Shaggy Dog Story
Myrtle van Crapen, resident of Tampa, Florida, shared her abode with three dogs. Two of her canine housemates were Bucky and Bolty, Heinz 57 mutts who nonetheless spoke quite passable English. Those were not their original names of course, but our Myrtle was a diehard sports fan, so she renamed Mutt and Jeff in honor of her hometown winning teams. Her third dog, Ray, a mixed breed with noticeable French poodle ancestry, spoke – wait for it – French? No, indeed he spoke no discernible human language at all. You might think this was a disappointment to Myrtle, but really she loved Ray best for his goofy and affectionate manner.
Meanwhile, Bucky and Bolty were fairly standoffish and preferred talking with each other to conversing with her. Oh, sure, they would specify which toys and treats they wanted her to provide – pronto – and they could be very demanding when it came time to feed them. “Get off your fat ass and fill our bowls”, one or the other was likely to say. No amount of chastising them to be more polite did Myrtle any good.
Join in the fun and games at the local dog park? ”No, thank you, we are too good for that; take Ray”, they would say, “He loves to sniff other dogs’ butts. We, on the other hand, are too sophisticated.”
Not only did Bucky and Bolty prefer their own company to anyone else’s, they were rarely interested in their companion Ray either, considering him an inferior breed.
All his woofs and yips meant nothing to them. Ray did not mind: he pretty much had Myrtle to himself, and they would enjoy a rousing game of fetch…too plebian of course for the talkers.
Life went on in the von Crapen household. When visitors came over, B and B would hide, and, if lured out by the promise of treats, would not display their linguistic talents, no sirree. Meanwhile, Myrtle was astute enough to keep their abilities to herself. Who knows what the neighbors would make of her claims, especially since the dogs were uncommunicative in company.
Bucky and Bolty would not go on walks; that felt servile and beneath them. They went out the doggy door into the backyard to do their business, all the while chatting to each other about Myrtle’s latest faux pas—”not leftover chicken parts for dinner again!”
In addition to her dogs and her sports fervor, Myrtle was house proud and an avid gardener. Her spacious front yard showed off her eye for design: flourishing bougainvillea, hibiscus, coleus, blue daze, and azaleas in season…the colours ran riot, and her green thumb was the envy of the neighborhood.
The backyard, however, was another story, due to Bucky and Bolty’s ample discharges. The neighbors in the two houses on either side enjoyed the bounties of Myrtle’s front garden. Theirs couldn’t match up. But they looked over their fences and knew that, in the back, the grass was always browner on the other side.
Our Writing Group
Archie is the one with the big mouth. Literally…it seems to stretch from ear to ear. It gives his speaking a voice a well-modulated, rhythmic quality.
Jojo is the quiet one. Speaks only when spoken to, sometimes not even then. His stories are brilliantly written, so we know something is percolating in that brain, but he has pretty much chosen to not express himself orally.
Mindy is the exact opposite – once she gets going, she doesn’t want to shut up. It’s not that her ideas aren’t appealing; indeed she often comes up with intriguing perspectives. And it’s not that her voice is annoying; in fact, it’s rather sweet. It’s just that she takes up so much room.
Bertha – well, Bertha has to be seen to be believed: she has the most wide-ranging vocabulary of curse words you could imagine. But she’s a mere 5’2, 100 pounds dripping wet, as they say, and looks like a doll. You’d never expect to hear such shit coming out of such sugar lips.
And me, I’m Sandy, and I brought this group of folks together. Transplants from bustling big cities, who each wanted to retire to a place of peace and quiet. Here we are, living in a small, rural town in the middle of nowhere.
Houses here are old but well-built and don’t cost a fortune. Local farms supply fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, and meat for those so inclined. It doesn’t get too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter.
There just isn’t too much to do around here though. I mentioned to several folks chatting around the Bingo table that I had taught writing in my heyday, and I wondered whether they’d be interested in forming a writing group. Yes, for fun, they said, and to keep our brains agile.
I had an ulterior motive in mind for the group: I wanted to get to know these folks. We’ve been together for quite a few years now. I have come to know their habits, their interactions, their preferences, and their writing styles. Each one is singularly talented.
Archie is our comedian. He laces his tales with outrageous plots and a good laugh in every line.
Jojo excels at character development. With a palette of sparkling words, he paints pictures of people so lifelike, you’d swear you’d known them all your life.
Mindy is our expert at dialogue. Her characters’ voices swoop off the page and titillate our ears.
Bertha is our spice queen. She gives her characters naughty names; they speak in bawdy tones, and engage in risqué behaviors, much to our sometimes embarrassed amusement.
As for me, I write mysteries. The mystery I have been sent here to solve is – who are these ordinary, everyday earthlings; and, specifically, what orders of intelligence do they display.
I communicate back to my home planet that they are funny, smart, wise, inventive. But no threat to us. Let’s give them a pass for another millennium. And, as for me, I have grown to enjoy this place, and I would like to stay.
Marilyn Myerson, PhD Philosophy, has learned to take nothing for granted and to have fun. She retired from USF after 38 years of teaching, learning and kicking up her heels in Women’s and Gender Studies. Marilyn was the first outside hire in W(G)S, starting in 1973, when the department was just one year old. She was an administrator at various departmental and dean’s levels, including a stint as W(G)S Chair before her retirement as Emeritus faculty in 2010. She shepherded the Human Sexual Behavior class through its many incarnations, developed the original women’s health classes, and taught feminist research methodology. She is currently in three writing groups, and happily involved with OLLI-USF, taking art and writing classes.