Forget the room you’re in. Forget that you’re sitting in your kitchen or on a bench at Wilson Park or that you’re waiting for your girlfriend to get home from work. What you’re reading is a new column about creativity, about writing, and it aims to pull you out of your daily life.
“Backstory” emerged from the weekly drop-in creative writing classes I teach in Fayetteville. We start with a warm-up to shake people out of their left brains. Sometimes we do an activity such as collage characters’ internal lives or watch an animated short film. Then we move into a longer writing period, a stretch of roughly 40 minutes. The work is read aloud. We can never predict what material will emerge.
Each week in “Backstory” you will see a prompt I’ve given and a writer’s response to it. My hope is that you find this window into the process intriguing while you enjoy a brief story or an excerpt from a longer piece. I also hope that you find here, whether you’re a writer or not, a bit of inspiration for living vividly. Sometimes reading brand new writing can provide a jolt of energy.
At the end of each column, there is a prompt for TFW readers. I hope you’ll take the bait and write your own response to it. E-mail your writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and it may be featured in a future column. The goal with “Backstory” is to celebrate creativity. Please join us in this celebration and contribute your own voice!
This first piece of writing, “Can Can” by Tom Wilkerson, came from the following prompt: Tell a story in which you and someone you’re close to battle someone or something together. Include a dream that is described in some detail.
By Tom Wilkerson
Since the blood transfusions my dreams are suffused with brassy weirdness.
Just yesterday I escaped from a cabaret in Paris. It was deep nighttime and all the bars in the 13th arrondissement were closed, except this particular one called the Ardennes Club. It was jammed with drinkers and thrill seekers and sounded like a player piano run through a stack of Marshall amps.
The can can dancers pranced enthusiastic and Kay Ellen and I pranced alongside. We joined them — lovely French women all — me in my tuxedo; Kay Ellen in her fitted sleeveless black cocktail dress, a knockout in any language. I ordered Dom Perignon for us and the can cans. We toasted each other and each of the dancers and drank slowly. One doesn’t waste good champagne, even in a dream.
The Dom enthused our dancers (for now they were truly ours) and they grew more frolicsome with each pursed lip sip. They danced closer and we became drunk on anklets, garters and not so prim panties. There were no secrets between us and we shared each other as generously as we shared the Dom. One dancer kicked off her shoes. She presented her fetching foot to me. It was a dancer’s foot but I kissed it tenderly and passed it to Kay Ellen.
Just then this gay melee turned sideways like a dinner plate on its edge. We collided like pickup sticks onto the lighted stage. An angry bearded man was in our midst, tossing us carelessly about for reasons we could not discern. Blame
it on the champagne.
Kay Ellen and I locked eyes and knew what needed to be done. When the man’s back was turned, we each took an empty bottle and at one glorious moment, knee-capped this brute and brought him to the floor. Our dancers closed in a tight circle around the bearded man. One by one they flicked their spiked heels into his thighs, his ribs and his face, which oozed ugly, gore gushing beside his large head. He lay in a faint circle of bastard amber light amid a dark pool of blood just left of center stage.
We heard sirens screaming and coming closer. Some twit had rung the gendarmes. Doors slammed outside and heavy-booted cops burst through the back doors. People screamed just as they do when cops raid the place and scattered.
“Allons-y!” I said in perfect French. “Let’s go!” I took Kay Ellen’s hand
and we fled backstage, our way
led by dancers dancing to safety.
The fire exit opened into a dark
alley. Against shadowed brick walls were bicycles, plenty for all of us and pedaling furiously, we disappeared into dawn, still buzzing with champagne and mayhem. Ahead,
the Seine crawled slowly north to Rouen, from whence we would sail into another dream.*
Introduce the reader to the part of yourself that is uncontrollable, the part that creates havoc.
*No reproduction of any part of “Can Can” is allowed without permission from the author, Tom Wilkerson.