We’ve all heard them: melo-dramatic poems written in the style of famous authors, exaggerated in-class essays, transparently autobiographical “short stories,” overly confident job applications with poor spelling…
Chances are, all of us have written a few things we regret—writers or not. Things we look back on minutes or years later and shudder, run for our shredders. Many a frustrated friend has proposed the burning of our old journals and notebooks, as though incinerating our humble beginnings might erase them, convincing everyone we were, indeed, child prodigies.
Prodigy smodigy. Regreturature, which took place as a benefit for Litquake on Thursday April 7th at the Swedish American Hall, provided its audience with 14 good reasons not to let those regrettable pages go up in smoke.
I mean, where would any of us be without the love poems from our early twenties?
Melanie Gideon: “The feeling is so intense, I see it as a color-gold, deep swirling gold”
or the angsty ones we wrote when we were sixteen?
James Nestor: “I am the bastard child of a harlot’s rape.”
or hey, even the awkward email blunders we had last week:
Chris Colin: “I had time within like 4 seconds to think of all my options. One option was to somehow find the phone number of his assistant and call and plead with this person to somehow go and intercept the email and delete it … The other option was I was going to write the correct email and send 10 of them in succession like I had some sort of inexplicable computer malfunction.”
The event may have been billed as “an evening of readings which probably shouldn’t see the light of day,” but the audience definitely wasn’t complaining. It was a risky move to base a reading on works that some of the Bay Area and San Francisco Writers’ Grotto‘s successful authors say they most regret writing. But it paid off with huge laughs, offering a candid look at these successful folk and making them relatable to the rest of us. Even emcee and Litquake co-founder Jack Boulware was a good enough sport to toss in his contribution, a fourth-grader’s insight into hippies:
“Hippie’s are people. Usually collage students who are against the word Vietnam.”
It was interesting, though not very surprising, to notice that the majority of regrettable works came from authors’ elementary school years or their late teens/early twenties.
David Ewing Duncan read a couple of papers from 2nd and 4th grade which his parents still display (much to his chagrin) in the entrance to their home.
“My dog’s name is Kristy. He is a girl.”
Elizabeth Bernstein was nineteen when she wrote this poem about transitioning into womanhood:
“eyes awaken, perceive the wind, aware of the flowers, feel the green, taste the blue, lick the earth, kiss the sun, birth of a flower”
Kristen Tracy had just transferred to BYU when these critiques were written about her “mormon love poems.” The critique’s were funny (unfortuntely, we couldn’t post them since they were written by other people), but left me wishing she would have read the poems too! Perhaps, she thought they were too embarrassing.
Embarrassing or not, it was encouraging to hear some of the positive outcomes these pieces had for their authors.
Josh McHugh read a hilarious letter he wrote when he was 23 to get a job at Nose Magazine (which, interestingly enough, Jack Boulware was the intended recipient of, though Josh didn’t know it at the time).
“Now that I have graduated, I spend a large portion of my waking hours down here in the basement of my mother’s house typing letters of disapproval to my college friends who are taking jobs counting beans for the man.”
David Munro read some of the porn copy he was forced to write in order to fund his first film (which ended up going to Sundance).
“Ad #4 Visual: an array of condoms. ‘Pay a visit to our gift wrapping department.'”
And Gerard Jones read the query letter he and his friend wrote for everything they had written to date, which they then sent off to 110 agents. Though they only got two responses (the first bashing every idea in the letter individually), one of them ended up landing them a publisher for “The Summer of the Beaver: The Lost Season, a satire based on the premise that the world’s great artists, writers, and statesmen conspired to save Leave it to Beaver from cancellation in 1963.”
Even when the pieces didn’t lead to publication, the support many of the readers received from those around them encouraged them to keep trying.
Cameron Tuttle shared an in-class essay she wrote as a Junior in High School.
“As I sit here in class, thoughts racing through my head, I struggle to meet one of my many deadlines: this essay.”
She laughed at her teacher’s supportive comments: “Cammy, you are already a butterfly!”
Stephen Elliott read some of the poems he used to read to his friend Dave’s mom when he was twelve and joked about how her support (and tight jeans) fed a profound interest in writing.
“If you die young you stay young, if you die old, you mold”
Meghan Ward performed a screenplay she wrote as a twenty-something about Supermodel Planet (the place retired supermodels hang their hats when not saving people from fashion faux paus).
“Get the hell off my territory you saggy-ass bitch!”
She then mentioned the positive feedback she received from her screenwriting professor at UCLA.
And Laura Fraser read her sixteen-year-old self’s take on a romance novel (Raspy Romance) which she wrote for her friend, who loved the genre. (I swear, she could probably seriously sell this to a Romance publisher today).
“Molly smiled gratefully into his deep blue eyes, she was awed by his appearance, more distinguished yet rugged and handsome than any man she had ever seen—even in England.
Ironically enough, I’d say that this evening of terribly bad writing was one of the most successful readings I’ve ever been to.