My Day at a Workshop: Part 1

It was to be an intimate writing workshop at the Atwater Library in Montreal. And for the most part it was. However, doesn't it seem like no matter how many meetings; workshops, networking functions or conferences we attend the same construct of people show up?

What do I mean? Well, while everyone was babbling I was observing the characters sitting at the tables arranged in a U-shaped manner. I came up with at least five story ideas. The ideas that were imagined are not, I'm afraid, the subject of this blog.

For now I want to poke fun at the people. It's silly I know. My blog, my space and I feel like it. Ok? Many of you who have already gone through this sort of stuff will know what I mean when I say there seems to be a DNA blueprint of who shows up at these functions. Let's go over the list shall we?

1) The 'Won't Shut-Up' guy or girl. The one who always asks that extra pointless question to drag on an already dreadful meeting. Always pontificating out loud about something.

2) The 'Self-Important' person. Can be merged with #1. You know, the one who always challenges the one giving a lecture or speech? Can also be called The Challenger "Um, excuse Professor. It's pronounced Versa- chee. And not Versa-chay." This one I witnessed during Italian class. The Professor was, well, Italian and who would know better right? Not to this Moroccan gal. I guess she confused wearing the item with actually knowing the language.

3) The 'Not Funny' Person. The one who always tries to drop cute witticisms to shed enlightenment upon us all. Roll up all the bad comedians you watched bomb over the years and you get this specimen.

4) The Sexy Girl. Everyone is hovering around her like a pack of horny seals. Enough said.

5) The Nerd. The thing about nerds is that they are to meetings as trees are to the landscape. The eco-system simply would not thrive.

6) The Gay guy. A recent phenomena as they all wait for the right moment to drop that they are gay. "I'm a gay man living in…" Like we didn't notice….fag*. Lesbians are not as forthright.

7) The Pinko Flake Female.** The one who drinks exotic drinks from a steel pipe that smells like bad Indonesian perfume. "I'm writing about Tango in the forest and I am a fully integrated New Age peace monger whore…whatever. You get the picture.

8) The Pinko Male.** They all look alike. Bad stringy, patchy beards. Always flapping about right-wing conspiracies (as opposed to left-wing ones) and disturbingly convinced of their fully integrated lifestyle of well being.

9) The 'Screwed On Properly' person. They stick out like a rose on a bed of dandelions. You can tell by how they word their questions. How they speak and above all by the ability of actually understanding what the lecturer is talking about. Disinterested in 'debates' around the table brought up by #1,#2,#8, Very sexy when it's a woman. Might even make you horny on the spot.

10) The Nodding One. All they do is nod in agreement. So why are they here?

11) The 'Old Man' in a suit. Or just old man or woman. I'm all for senior independence. Not on my time. They are just too wise and kind. I'm busy trying to fricken survive for that sort of thing.

12) The 'Can't Formulate an Articulate Thought or Question' person: Round and round, stutter and stutter and 12 'ums' later they get to the bloody point.

13) The Free Advice Person. Whenever I spot this type of character it automatically makes me reluctant to ask a question for fear of having this nut job who 'means well' offering his or her thoughts. I loathe this person.

14) The Idiot. There isn't a better word for some people. Usually a composite of 1-13.

15) The 'Can't Figure Out' person: They simply do not reveal enough about themselves to be judged. All they do is take notes and rarely looks at anyone. I always inspect to make sure they are unarmed.

Any way, these are just some of the personalities I have observed over the years. Where I fit in is none of your business. More on my Day at the Workshop soon.

*Inserted strictly for shock and entertainment value.
** Always eat nuts together.


  1. Ouch! You're brutal. I like it.

    Yes, I have been to the sort of event you describe so astutely. But I can't imagine that any of us, really, would want it any other way. I mean, there is full-on laugh value in having such weird people in the world. I think it all has something to do with too much TV: this is how you look if you are an intellectual; this is how you sound if you are a New Age priestess confronting the patriarchy high on petroleum profits.

    I had a conversation with a former editor of mine, a lesbian who has an M.A. in poetry from Iowa, who lamented that poetry, at least in America, was being ruined by the 'whole gay thing.' If you ain't gay, you ain't getting published, she said. I heard one professor of writing admit that he has encouraged his students, when they submit essays or poems to national competitions, to lie about who they are: if they have a name that sounds like they are from a minority group, they are much more likely to get published. Another editor of mine told me that I had a much better chance of getting published if I was a "black transvestite prostitute who had been tortured in a Sudanese prison while on holiday from Paris" (or something to that effect). And David Brooks wrote in his very funny and observant "Bobos in Paradise" that if you really want success as an essayist (particularly a New York Times essayist), you must knowingly write essays that are wrong. Why? Because wrong essays get the attention, the readership, the letters to the editor. Being right? Well, no one gets excited about someone being right.

    In other words, success in many publishing circles requires some sort of affect, or some sort of shibboleth or uniform or nose-piercing or soul-tattoo or just plain baggage that is eccentric or exotic, and preferrably both. (OK, I exaggerate. But what fun!)

    (If you have not read David Brooks' book, I urge you to. He NAILS what you are getting at here, but on a much more grand American scale. It is a good laugh, and a head scratcher. And as you know, he's a New York Times columnist.)

    You have a good, biting, satirical wit. You made me squirm a little as I read your essay. I am afraid I'm some stereotype that really irritates people, but I can hardly permit myself to think of what it might be. I am obviously, and at the very least, the 'middle-aged bald guy with glasses AND braces'. Certainly that image, as I think about it, portends a fairly bad first impression should I introduce myself. So I'll sit in the back of the room (or the very front), acting all bashful and self-effacing, deferring to everyone else. And I would clearly need to defer to you (or else). You remind me a bit of Franny from Salinger's "Franny and Zooey". At least, you remind me of what Franny REALLY wanted to say but couldn't. (Have you read "Franny and Zooey"? One of the best!)

    Peace to you,


  2. Hey BG, Frany and Zooey, eh? I'll check it out. As for the post itself, I admit it is sophomoric in its attacks but sometimes in life one must let a good fart go. Some days I am way too serious in my thinking. When it gets like that I ley my unchecked idiocy go! I agree with Brooks. People want sensational crap. It does no matter if it is true or not (Please see mythology section of NYT under Dowd, Maureen). For example, my strengths are well-researched essays. Sometimes humorous, sometimes with a story to tell. Good luck getting that published. It's always the same "Great piece we enjoyed but..." seal dung. Way too reflective for the zeitgeist as you so eloquently point out on your blog. What really, really, really irriates and boggles is the sheer number of terrible writers who are makinga living at this. If you think the Times are in nad shape should check out the winners over at the Montreal Gazette. A more disinterested, cynical bunch than that is hard to match. Not all are bad (once upon a time there were great ones. I think of humourist Josh Freed. They may be partisan or bias at times L. Ian Macdonald and McPherson at least knows their politics. History writers (who no one reads) are relegated to the back pages but they are always interesting. Red Fisher is a legendary hockey writer. To name a couple. So they do have some strenghts. But if you subscribe to the theory that you are only as strong as your weakest link then the Gazette (and the Times) are in bad shape. Jack Todd, Josee Legault and Janet Bagnall. I don't dispute they can write. But their heads are not right. They really aren't. Todd is a childish wannabe sports writer whois one notch above the rabid fan mentality. He constantly harps about things and mixes in tired political musings in his column. And does it BADLY. Yet, there he is; in the sports pages. Worse, this guy will get to write a sport I hold dearly to me over the next month: Soccer. In the 12 years I have seen him write about it he has NEVER provided readers with any valuable insights into the game. He's oe of those guys who watches soccer every four years and interlopes with the game. He's not inside it. If he were he would not write like he does. Always bitter and challenging. Once in a while he comes up woth a nice post but to me his credibility is non-existant. Give me a real sports guy and send him to another section where he belongs. Him, I have a problem with. As for Bagnall, God...at least try and learn about history. Legault? The typical stagnant Quebec seccesionist sprinkled with 19th century romanticism. She trie to piant herself as a realist but scratch a little and she relfects the zeitgeist of this parochial place. You know a writer is bad when they become so lame and predictable. Tough, I know. But I hear they win awards so...what do I know?

  3. By the way, with apologies to the length and bad spelling. I don't have the luxury of time (since I waste it all writing the post) and an editor to proofread.


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