Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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539 words
SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

Fishing for Truth

by Amanda Morris

Unravel the monofilament, untwist the kinks and massage out the birds’ nests. Push the open metal clip through the mackerel’s eyes because the skull is the strongest part. Gather the line. Toss the baits stern, port, and starboard, hear the splash, sit and wait.

Open texts Keep It Real and In Fact to the introductory words, review the salient points, and fine-tune relevant comments. Write on the well-used whiteboard: Annie Dillard. The five Rs. Composite. Compression. Make eye contact. Toss out the writing exercise: A handwritten letter to a loved one (present or past). Silence. Concentration. Writing. Sit and wait.

Wind picks up. Lanky green rice grass bends, sways, golden in the sunlight. Monofilament lengthens, tightens, moves. The gentlest indication. Almost imperceptible. A jet skier revs in the distance. Crabs on the line.

Energy picks up. Volunteers read letters. Beloved brother at war. High school buddy who died too soon. An apology to grandmother for being gay. A younger stepbrother suffering from a terminal disease who never reveals his pain. Not a dry eye in the room. “Thank you for sharing.” Soft indication of movement. Memories, anecdotes, purposeful descriptions exemplify “show, don’t tell.” Students hooked on truth.

Water laps the metal skiff, rocking the craft against the pull of the anchor. Hand over hand. Forefinger and thumb grip monofilament, left hand collecting, right hand balancing net and holding line. Slow, steady retrieval.

“What does Dillard mean when she writes that young writers should read better books, which leads to better writing? What does ‘better’ mean?” Twenty-minute debate. What IS “good” writing? Class definition: Good writing = published, makes you think and learn something about yourself or the world, keeps the reader’s attention. Might be entertaining. Examples drift from novel to creative nonfiction to short story collection to blogs. Steady, developing thoughts.

Line rises and falls limp on the boat floor as the taut end arrows into the water. Still no indication. Wait. Gentle tug. Barely there. Movement confirmed. Hand over hand retrieval continues.

“What are the five R’s of creative nonfiction?” Silence. Wait. Books opening, eyes scanning, until...”Reading.” “Real life.” “Reflection.” “Writing.” “Research.” Dillard advises students to read after college, to live and have experiences now so they have something to write about. “But doesn’t reflection come at the end?” Murmuring. Waiting. Gentle listening. Discussion continues.

Tide rises, wind swirls, crabs accumulate. Two at first. Lose the third. And fourth. Now ten in the orange plastic basket. Number eleven skitters angrily across the skiff bottom, claws up; defensive. Resistant. Crabs follow the scent and latch on; feeding on remnants of what once lived so they may live. Gentle, slow, steady. Hand over hand pulling line brings them close to the surface of the brackish backwater and to the waiting net. Success.

“I’m not interesting enough.” Defensive. Resistant. Remember your truth. “Dillard says not to write about yourself. Navel-gazing.” Creative nonfiction encourages personal reflection. Personal stories. Final exercise: write a flash CNF story with inspiration word picked from the gold mug. Jaded. Truth. Garden. Winter. Wonder. Students attempt humor, memoir, slice-of-life vignette, montage. Raw emotional baggage. All true. All evocative. All applauded. Rough, but honest. Gentle, slow, steady. “I know what I want to write about!” Success.

—Previously published in Prairie Wolf Press Review (Volume IX, Fall 2015)

SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

Dr. Amanda Morris

is an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania who writes creative nonfiction and loves adventure, fishing, and her gardens.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury