The sound of that kitchen knife up and down on the vegetables was the subject of my very first try at writing. It was almost ten years ago that I participated in my first creative writing workshop at Sarah Lawrence’s Writing Institute. The wonderful teacher, Sarah Goodyear, lived in Brooklyn. She biked to the subway, picked up the Metro North train at Grand Central to bring her to Bronxville and biked to the Sarah Lawrence campus, rain or snow.
If they were like me, the eight students were jittery with energy and fear at our first session held in a tiny library with a fireplace, tables in a circle. Sarah reminded us that as writers we must pay close attention to the human world. First assignment: “Go be a fly on the wall somewhere busy and write down a conversation. Exact words and phrases. Check the surroundings carefully. Find a story in what you hear.
Three coffee houses later with nothing good to show, I walked into my local diner. I sat by the counter with pencil and notebook on my lap. I listened closely and scribbled fast. The cooks chattered constantly and that was good. They spoke Spanish. I spoke Spanish. That was good. Cutting, cutting. Tip of knife down, tip down.
The following week we read our dialogues out loud with a bit of setting and story. Jackie, another student, walked over to me and said, I love those knives! I think I was shaking at the time. I’d liked what Jackie read also. She is now one of my besties. More seriously, she is one of the seven inspiring writers with whom I collaborate regularly.
Over the years, I poked at “The Diner.” Rewrites, edits, adding a new ending, taking it away. I returned to the diner many times to listen and scribble and eat. I decided to submit the essay to a few literary magazines who publish writing I like. Sweet wrote back, “We love it.” After ten years, “Diner” is published.