Tuesday, August 9, 2016

William Myrl; Letters to No One (59)

Dear No One,

I used to think I was good at chess. In jail, I would play often, and I was always one of the better matches. The last pod I occupied had a lot of beginners, and playing against them inappropriately magnified my confidence. You might have found me skimming a book or drawing while I played, taking a moment to glance at the board and making my move, usually winning. Again, it wasn't a measure of my own facility with the game that this was a common outcome, but a reflection of my constrained environment. A larger pool of players would have rectified any misunderstanding as to my prowess, as it has now. 

Writing in prison puts me in a similar position. Naturally, it is my belief that an immense potential germinates in me, and my exposure to others with a penchant for wordplay reinforces this belief. It cannot escape my notice, however, that my confreres in delinquency are, by and large, ungifted in the realm of the talent I most prize.It is difficult to judge ones own writing, fiction in particular, because our work is to our own taste. I am my first and last reader, and I don't send a thing away until it is essentially done. The feedback I receive from family, mostly my mother, is after the fact.

PEN has a mentoring program where they set you up with a grad student to correspond with a few times and improve your writing thereby. I can but imagine the classroom somewhere, the students asked to sign up to play editor to a prisoner as a part of their grade. I suppose it isn't much different than the students signing up to sit in and ask questions during our sessions with the institutional psychiatrist. A letter arrived yesterday informing me that there would be a total of four exchanges, including the introductions, at which point the mentoring will be concluded.

I had no idea this program existed when I entered the PEN prison writing contest, and I am any number of units of excitement more enthused about this aspect of my minor victory than about the check for fifty dollars wending its way toward my mother. I have some material to send my prospective mentor set aside already, it will be the first instance of an outside and professionally qualified response to my crap, and I look forward to it.

Chess is a game that takes years and thousands of hours to master, I simply haven't put in the requisite labor to be good. Writing is like that, except that I feel closer to having paid my dues.

William Myrl (Smitherman)

Letters to No One 59

No comments:

Post a Comment