When I came to Rachel’s literary collage workshop at the 2017 David R. Collins conference, I hadn’t written literary collage since graduate school, but I had a story circling in my head that wanted to be told. It was the story of how I met my husband, but I wanted to tell it slant, non-narratively, with gaps and leaps that mimic the ways we shape our stories in the telling.
When Rachel gave us a series of prompts to write our own collage, with the first line to use language as abstract (or pompous) as possible, I had my way in: ambitious, silly, and big, getting at the way that our One True Love feels stellar, feels galactic, feels like a universal experience tailored just for us. Everything I wanted to say just fell onto the page, but Rachel’s prompts also made me reach for the metaphors that I’d been missing, and where the essay ended was a complete surprise to me, but it also felt right. I shared the essay with two of my writing groups, and they liked the result, but loved the idea. In consequence I offered to conduct a workshop on the literary collage at my local library, and I plan to steal Rachel’s approach and several of her prompts to inspire attendees to write a collage of their own. I’d forgotten the exuberance and the risk that collage allows you, and how wonderful it feels to pull old narratives apart, hold them up next to something else unfamiliar, and see what fills up that imaginative space.
Unified Field Theory
- Shall we call these the gleaming galaxies of first love? Well, then. Welcome.
- You will never be this person again. You might recognize in her the dim outline of something once familiar, but you couldn’t say what had changed. She stands on the far share, waving, a kind stranger whom you wish well.
- A green aura. Clicking birds. The smell of moss on the alligator’s log. The low bass note as the turtle plunks into the water. The way every cell of my body orients toward him.
- Later, I will call this The Moment. Nothing about soul mates or first sight, none of that unraveled exhausted language. The moment of attention, of attenuated brightness. The moment of uh-oh. The moment of yes.
- None of that business about Platonic other halves either. That’s bullshit. My father’s sperm fertilized my mother’s egg and I became a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, a person. The same thing happened to him. Our biological components are compatible for mating. Our children will be beautiful and strong.
- Ranger Doug, call in, please. Report location.
- Maybe what I’m really talking about is how we make stories. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll say something different. Other people say they just knew. Here’s what I knew. Stand close to me. Touch my arm. Be in my life. Just stand here, like this, for one minute, two. Then, come knock on my door.
- Now they say the universe may not expand, shrink, suck into itself, explode, create again. We may have reached escape velocity. We might go on like this, growing ever more distant, the spaces between filling with dust, with asteroids, with stars. It might stretch us outward forever.
- I don’t know the word for this. Is there one?
- Because you love one another, you will marry. Because you are devoted, you will meld a new life. You are of one body now. You will share a house. What does it mean, one flesh? I am still an independent organism. This may be the problem.
- When he leaned in, I thought, He looks like a bird. I thought, Will he hit me with his glasses? I thought, This is my last first kiss.
- I climbed trees. I dreamed stories. I sat there for hours.
- Express yourself.
- This is Misty. We call her Mouse. She will not give you any trouble.
- In the year 2017, you will discover the answer to life, the universe, and everything. More importantly, you will have life, the universe, and everything. Please be respectful of the inhabitants.
- The Everglades. Steamy.
- Galaxies. There are an infinite number of them. Elliptical. Irregular. Binary. Charmed. Spiral. Elongated. Exploded. Black holes.
- I wonder if the Pope visits the Vatican observatory. The whole universe within his comprehension. But also, not.
- My DNA helixes turned. My hormones said, biologically compatible. My skin said, yes. My ovaries said, ‘bout freakin’ time.
- I want to know how long it took his socks to dry. His squelchy shoes. The mud up to his knees. The laughter unfolding in his eyes. Come to the pond again, my love. Meet me there.
Misty Urban’s debut short story collection, A LESSON IN MANNERS, won the Serena McDonald Kennedy award and was published by Snake Nation Press. A second collection, THE NECESSARIES, was shortlisted for the Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman. She was the 2017 winner of the Great River Writer’s Retreat awarded by the Midwest Writing Center, and she has short fiction just out or forthcoming in Talking River, The Cerurove, District Lit, and Fiction Attic, along with a prize-winning sonnet in this year’s Lyrical Iowa. She teaches writing at Muscatine Community College and runs femmeliterate.net, a website devoted to feminism, literature, and women in/and/of books.
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