I need to say upfront, before anybody decides I am trash-talking the Minimalists, that I admire and respect them and willingly grovel at their feet. That is why, of all the writing courses I’ve considered, this is the only one I’ve taken. None of that means I can’t make fun of myself for taking it.
Five weeks ago I signed up for a four-week writing course taught by Joshua Fields Millburn, the blond skinnier half of the Minimalists team. On the one hand, I suspect I’m taking the course to postpone deciding what to do with my novel, Saggy Bottom Blues. On the other hand, I’m aware it needs polishing. For example, 10,000 words need to be cut. It’s hard to “kill your darlings,” as William Faulkner advised, and on my own I am not capable of such carnage. Hence, the class. Who better than a Minimalist to teach me to use minimal words?
Too late, I found out about the Discomfort Zone, which, like Dante’s Inferno, has many levels, each worse than the one before it.
The first level is the discomfort caused by the grammar book I had to read. The purpose, we eager students were told, is to get acquainted with the rules so we can appropriately break them. I am an English teacher, I wanted to scream. I already know the rules! Instead, I started reading. Or trying to. The print size in the book is knee-high to a fire ant, and parts of it are gray-bleeding-into-white. After 297 pages, all I “saw” was a new Mercedes in my eye doctor’s garage.
The second level is the discomfort caused by online interaction with people I don’t know. Course requirements include:
- posting a profile and picture on the community forum
- advertising for an accountability partner to report to every day (mine is the silver lining in all this)
- answering the dreaded “27 Questions,” which could cause a psychological disorder
- participating in a half-dozen discussion forums, which cater to my personal disorder of agonizing over every word and punctuation mark for fear of looking like an idiot to the other students
Oh, the other students. I could be their mother. I could be the teacher’s mother. I could be his grandmother if I’d started early enough. How do I know? The community forum. I am either the only gray-haired person in the class, or the others are making their hairstylists rich!
The third level is the discomfort of proclaiming my passion for writing for TEN WHOLE MINUTES to five people I love. Having barely survived that, I had to tell three complete strangers. I found two of them waiting in line to vote in the primary election. They pretended to be interested, and nobody ended up with a black eye, a real possibility had any of us disclosed who was getting our vote.
And that was just the first two weeks.