The Day I Took a Writing Class


I decided to take a writing class.

So on a Wednesday night in the balmy city of Austin, I ditched the family and traversed to the bowels of Congress Avenue among all the hipsters to find a little room where this writing class was to be held.  You had to walk through an eyeglass store, out the back door, and then take a left back into the eyeglass store to get there. No one said anything about this odd arrangement, as if they wanted you to think you were actually in a different room, not in a room of an eyeglass store separated by a curtain. This is clearly Oz, and I’m Dorothy. Except I don’t have on Ruby slippers.  I just brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and managed to forget my laptop.

So I walked into this eyeglass store that is separated into a writing room with a curtain. Because this is Austin and musicians are everywhere, there was some sort of singer present in the store making strange high-pitched noises while we introduced ourselves. I felt bad for the people in the eyeglass store that had to hear a bunch of writers talk about point of view and perspective.

I was late, of course.  As I walked in, everyone was in the midst of introducing themselves. One  gal was explaining she had a podcast dedicated to toilet paper. “It is hard to calculate how many sheets to use,” one lady says, attempting to be supportive.  Because what do you say about a toilet paper podcast?  “Oh, I have spreadsheets,” the toilet paper woman says.  Everyone nods, like that’s not at all insane.

After me, another man stumbles in late.  He’s very apologetic and even brought a cake, which I found odd, but he told the group the woman sitting next to me had a birthday.  “How did he know?” I wondered.  He sat behind me and began to cough in a way that only people with tuberculosis cough.  It sounded like he was in prison rattling chains as he moved around the mucus in his own chest.  “Don’t eat that cake!” I wanted to yell to my classmates.  Always the mother.

The class was taught by Karen Russell, an author that I really love.  She writes strange and dark things that are very different from what I write, but the language that comes out of her mouth sounds like poetry.  I found myself writing down random statements she made as if I was going to go home and put them in little pewter frames. What a lovely way with words, some people have.  What a beautiful way they put them together.

The class was all centered around “metamorphosis,” meaning we were going to write and study stories of where one thing turns into another. The first story we read was about a man who visits an aquarium, becomes obsessed with the axolotls, which is basically the larval stage of a salamander, and becomes one.  Everyone remarked how beautiful and elegant the story was, but I said it just felt like one slow drug trip toward inevitable death. Can’t they hear the music that keeps this tale moving forward at an eerie pace? Maybe that was just the woman singing in the eyeglass store.  Then later we read a story of how a woman turns into a deer.  Everyone seemed to nod their head like they have all read these stories before.  I’m feeling a little out of place in this writing class.

Later we spent time writing our own stories of metamorphosis, and one woman wrote a story about how sea turtles, crawling through the sand, end up changing into pregnant women.  Another lady talked about a woman turning into a bed, her long hair winding into the headboard. “They sell that bed at Anthropology,” Karen Russell, says, which is why I love her.

But things took a darker turn when Tuberculosis Man began spreading his virus into the very fibers of my hair, which meant I ended up cozying up to the woman next to me with very straight bangs.  The discussion kept getting stranger and a woman told a story about how her legs are bare and spread open like chicken breast, dotted with sweat, in a plastic container from the grocery store.  The birthday girl turned to me with a little look on her face, like “this is uncomfortable.”  I shared a nod with her.  We have a connection now.  She told me that the very ill man behind me is her boyfriend, but she said it like it’s a fact I should know, like she’s telling me the time or that her doctor’s appointment is next Thursday.  I think of how cute she is and how she shouldn’t be dating a dying person.

We talked some about writing in general and that even strange stories still have to be somewhat rooted in reality, but with heightened senses.  “You can’t go around sticking voices inside of a wolf suit,” Karen says.  I wrote that down, naturally.  It’s going in a frame.   Everyone nods at her wisdom and we keep talking about theme and tone while I pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Does no one eat in this place?  It’s 7 pm for goodness sakes.  I also stand up and stretch from time to time and nod at everyone when they speak.  I realize I am one of the strange writing people I am so adept at making fun of.

I wrote a piece on a monarch butterfly who just dreams of walking so he ends up turning into a farmer in Nebraska.  There were no sweating thighs.  I tried to crack a joke once but my voice was muffled by the people in the eyeglass store ordering bifocals so it went unnoticed.  I pulled a cheese stick out of my bag and ate it.  The woman with straight bangs just looked at me funny like it was a strange thing I had so much food stuffed in there.

Finally, nearing the end of class, Karen pointed to a young man with a clean-cut beard and asked if he would read.  He sat stoically and said “No thank you” and “I write slow.”  I expected to lean over his computer and see only an intro sentence.  “The day began,” it would say, with nothing else.  But I didn’t have the nerve.  A woman who sat there the entire class saying nothing finally read and impressed the group with her story of a disappearing woman who turned into a ghost. I looked down at my page of scribbles of how I wrote about a man looking out the window and ended up turning into the window.

What the hell is happening here. This isn’t going to get my humor articles published.

The eyeglass store closed and it finally got quiet, except for Tuberculosis Man’s hacking.  When class was over, the cake was brought out and set on the table.  The woman next to me, who is his matter-of-fact girlfriend, told me this is the first time she’s ever had a birthday cake. “THIS IS THE FIRST TIME YOU’VE EVER HAD A BIRTHDAY CAKE?” I shrieked with my eyes.  I’m sure I misunderstood her.  Maybe this was the first time she’s ever had a birthday cake at a writing class in Austin on a Wednesday brought to her by someone with a communicable disease.  That, I get.

So the cake was cut and I milled around talking to people.  The lady who wrote about the woman-morphed-into-a-bed told me she had a boring day job.  “Because of the dental insurance,” she said.  I find that a strangely specific thing to mention, but I didn’t ask about it.  She clicked her teeth together, as if to reiterate dental hygiene is of the upmost importance.  Someone offered me a slice of cake, which I naturally refused because I value life.  I noticed a woman with a low-cut blouse who inserted her slice of cake on a plate directly in front of her breasts and then made a loud comment about how tasty the cake was, which made everyone stare at her cleavage.  She wrote a great story about how a person turned into an owl.  But then she started to resemble an owl to me, which meant it was time for me to leave this class.

I’m not sure if I learned much about writing in this class, but I did learn that there is a secret room off an eyeglass store separated by a curtain.  If I went back, it might not be there.  This entire night might have been born and bred simply in my imagination.   Except for the fact that I now have a cough, and a signed Karen Russell book, and a very clear understanding of what it may feel like to turn into the larval stage of a salamander.


  1. Ok. This one?? Maybe the best one so far. You make me read, knowing I’m gonna get a juicy eyed laugh within the next paragraph or two. Just awesome. Thank you for yet another piece of cake. Have a great weekend.

    • AmandaBeth says:

      Thanks, Lori. I do hope people realize this is comedy. I think all of the people in this class were absolutely lovely and TB man was kind and warm and a great writer. And I think it was simply a head cold, but what’s the fun in that??