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An update from our ninth Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday June 12, plus some of the output published below

We began this week's workshop with an excerpt from the first two paragraphs of Colm Tóibín's novel, The Master, in order to highlight how dreams are an essential function in writing used to tell us, or, rather, to foreshadow elements of character and or plot. We went on to distinguish the logic of dreams from the logic of reality, noting, in particular, how within art and literature dreams can be used to introduce a sense of unreality, reveal a character's fantasies or inner desires, show how characters are haunted by past events, foreshadow future events, create a mood, create symbols, represent a theme, or show how real life is influenced by dreams. We then looked at a few representations of dreams/visions in art (Moses at the burning bush, Moses looking at the top of Mount Sinai, Ezekiel's vision of a strange winged being in the heavens, and Ezekiel's vision of bones reconstructing themselves in the desert) in order to demonstrate the full spectrum of feelings dreams can convey. Next, we close read two paintings according to their representation of dream logic—Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy and Fuseli's The Nightmare—noting how the former portrayed a more neutral, poetic vision, while the latter portrayed the potential for darkness and horror in dreams. Finally, after our discussion of these paintings, we moved into the realm of literature with a reading of two Mark Strand poems—"Clear in the September Light" and "Eating Poetry"—and James Tate's poem "The Cowboy."

The Participants: Madeline, Svitra, Aditi, Liam, Harine, Sena, Sasha, Emi, Isolde, Audrey, Simran, Helen, Zhilin, Josh, Julia, Lucy

The Challenge: Write the opening to a longer story that begins with a character dreaming.

Portrait of Isolde Knowles
Isolde Knowles, 9
New York, NY


Isolde Knowles, 9

I walk around the strange world. The people of it all have different reactions to my existence. Some notice me, some just continue on. The people here are blurred and foggy. They are graying and any color they barely have is muted. As if they are on the verge of disappearing. I keep on going. Until I find someone different. Their colors are bright. When they notice me their colors change. Their skin goes bright yellow, their hair is now a startling purple and their eyes are pink. Suddenly they pivot and run through a shortcut which I will swear on my life hadn’t been there before. I start to jog and then run towards the shortcut. I am a foot away when the shortcut closes up, turning into a solid wall. I groan in defeat until I notice an alleyway. I follow it, and suddenly I'm chasing the strange person again. The terrain seems to be evolving to help the runner by creating paths and ramps for them, but only hurdles and hills for me. I run and run until I fall down panting as the runner disappears. I wake up in a cold sweat.

Sena Pollock, 14,
Madison, WI

The Worst Rehearsal

Sena Pollock, 14

I am in the dark and the dark likes me. I have forgotten the song for the talent show, so I make up my own. It goes like this: “I am in love with a squid, I will live in the sky, I have flowery eyes.”
I will sing this and they will love my act. I shove the dark away and sing: “I am in love with a shark, I will live underground, I have a candy bar in my pocket.”
I don't pay attention when the dark comes even closer. “I am a stiiingraaaay, I will drive a plane, I will kill the rain.”
Wait, this is a happy song, no killing. “I am a fist- no, no fists either, I am a fish in the lake, I like to eat cake, a rabbit I will bake- no, none of that, think happy!!! I am eating pie, I will surely die- WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH MEEEEE!!!!!!! Why can't I think of anything happy?!?”
I look and the dark is hugging me like a long-lost friend. The dark says, “Come with me and I will give you everything.”
I say, “NO! I will sing in the talent show and win and they will all love me.”
“Your life is empty without me,” says the dark, “You need me.”
“What's in it for you?”
“We will have fun together,” says the dark, “we will have the most fun and your life will be complete! I know that you do not believe what they say. And you are right, their praise is hollow. Come with me and have a real life.”
“What do you mean!!! My life IS real!! I AM happy!” I say, trying to convince myself as much as the dark.
“You are lying to yourself,” says the dark and I know that it can see my innermost thoughts.
“All right,” I say, feeling at the moment that this is what I truly want.
The dark shouts with glee as we fly off a cliff I hadn't noticed before. “CRASH AND BURN!!!!” The dark screams as we fly into an unknown future.

Svitra Rajkumar, 13,
(Fremont, CA)

In Another Dream

Svitra Rajkumar, 13

Rose was running. Although she didn’t know what she was running from and where she was going, she just couldn’t stop running. Her heart pounded like it was going to burst out of her chest. She bent down gasping for breath and trying to make sense of her surroundings. Her brain was working slower than usual and her head felt dizzy from all the continuous running. She stared up at the bright blue sky. It was an unreal blue, like the color of the ocean except burnt. The ground beneath her began to crack and split apart, and soon she was falling.

Rose felt as if she had been falling for hours but the scream couldn’t make it out of her mouth. It was stuck halfway up her throat. If you thought about it, falling was actually very peaceful before you reached the ground.

How did she even get here in the first place? She couldn’t remember.

Where was here? Add that to the extremely long list of things she didn’t know yet. Rose peered at the vivid orange clouds in front of her. The sun was starting to set and she still hadn’t seen any sign of a surface. She was tired of falling, looking at the same scenery. Though it was exotically beautiful it had also become quite boring.

She missed the company of her friends and family. Rose wanted to leave this alternate world that she was stuck in. She closed her eyes and the brilliant hued clouds faded from her vision.

It was dark. Rose couldn’t see anything. At one point she wondered if her eyes were even open. Was this a dream?

Her memories flooded back to her, but they didn’t feel like her own. She felt around with her hands and touched a switch sort of thing. Rose flicked it upward but nothing happened. She waited for a few minutes but the room remained dark. Suddenly, the room filled with a warm glow, and she cringed away from the abrupt brightness.

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