The writing exercise that I took on this week was one suggested by Steve Almond. He suggests that many young writers believe that if they throw enough beauty at the page, the results will be truth. In fact, he says, just the opposite is true. The effort to express complex emotional truths with precision is what leads language to rise into beauty. Steve goes on to say that writers need to slow down when their emotions are running their highest.
The exercise is to write a scene that captures an intense moment in your life. The bulk of the scene must be no longer than 5 seconds in real time. Rather than moving the action forward, the aim is to concentrate on slowing down and moving inward.
I chose to write about my first kiss. This is not really the most emotional piece ... almost comical. Here it goes:
His thigh was pressed against mine. He was so close. I hoped he wouldn't feel me shaking. I was shaking all over - involuntary muscle spasms, like I was shivering. But the air was so hot that my skin was covered in a fine film of sweat - or was that from nerves as well? I placed my sweaty palm flat on the concrete floor, trying to cool my body down through my hand. In doing so, I also lean closer to him, seemingly casually.
We were supposed to be a couple. Thirteen years old, and not having spoken much to each other before, our friends all decided that we were supposed to be an item. He was shorter than me, slightly fat around the waist, albino looking, and for some reason, quite popular.
Maybe he thought that I was quivering with desire, and that I was panting with lust. But it was the complete opposite. My breath was coming in short, sharp gasps, none of which brought the air to my lungs. I was gulping air, and in my mind I was puffing up like a balloon: ready to burst.
It came so suddenly. I wasn't even looking at him - I was fixated on my best friend engaged in a passionate kiss across the room with another boy. Somehow his face is suddenly on mine: his lips are suddenly all over my mouth. My eyes stay open and I see his ice-blue irises looking straight back at me. This embarrasses me, that I'm caught with my eyes open (aren't you supposed to kiss with your eyes closed, like in the movies?), but I'm too shocked to close my eyes.
There is a fat tongue in my mouth, and so much saliva. It is forcing itself in and out through my lips, filling my mouth with fluid. It tastes like vegemite toast. His cheeks seem to puff in and out, like a fish.
This must be the worst kiss in the world, I thought at the time. I don't think I helped make it any better. I was so shocked, I'm not sure I did anything in response to the sucking fish on my face. I probably just hung my mouth open, and stiffened my tongue, trying to force his out.
I was instantly disgusted. There was no rising desire, which I have felt with many subsequent kisses with other people. There was no touching, other than than the sucker fish on my lips. There was nothing but vegemite saliva.
I kept my eyes open the whole time, not engaging in the kiss, just a passive receiver. All I could see was the ice-blue eyes staring straight at me, which I started to feel was a very aggressive stare. The false confidence of a boy who had been told in the past that he was a good kisser.
I'm not sure if it was as bad for him as it was for me, because he broke away and gave me a dopey smile. I don't know what my face showed in response to that dopey smile (shock, disgust, amusement?), but he must have got the hint that I never wanted that kiss repeated. Because after I struggled up from the concrete floor, trying to keep my mini skirt as far down my legs as possible, he never tried to speak to me again!