I’ve enrolled in a writing workshop because it works for me. It’s the only way I actually get writing done. I workshopped both Straight Up and Dirty and Moose. It’s just something I need. Our first class, the instructor began with a free-writing prompt. Just write for fifteen minutes, whatever comes to mind. Here’s the prompt.
WRITE ABOUT YOUR NAME
Students had questions. What about our name? It’s history, how we feel about it, who we’re named after? What? “Whatever you want, whatever it means to you.”
I invite you to share your own here, remembering it’s an exercise that opens you. So, don’t judge yourself on it or spend time editing it. I think these prompts are always surprising. Don’t think too much, just go.
♠ ————————- ♠
It was freshman year, but at Barnard we didn’t say “freshman.” The preferred term was “first year.” As we avoided words implying male assumptions, we were also to be clear on this: we were girls no longer.
“Excuse me,” I asked of a woman who resembled a high-functioning addict, or librarian, “do you see that girl over there by the benches? Do you know off hand if the building to her right is Sulz—“
“What did you say?” I was startled by the prick and wave in her voice, the words lancing at me with the teeth of a hookworm. And to look at her again, I was surprised she wasn’t cloaked in robes peering at me through her monocle, clucking her cheeks into a disapproving pout.
“Is that Sulzberger or Milbank Hall to her right?”
“To her right? Wrong, dear. Wrong altogether. If you’ve matriculated to college, then you are no longer a girl. Barnard is a place of women.” Then she turned, striding onward. I like to imagine that she tripped over her imaginary train.
Got it. First year. Woman. As in, “Yes, I’m a first year woman enrolling in Acting Pompous 101.”
It was a red auditorium with a small stage, black walls, and overhead lights. The class—maybe fifteen of us, men and women, first years and sophomores—was scrabbled across theater seats, our eyes to the professor. He was a young post-grad with two small beads strung into a thin braid, all choked into his low ponytail. Once you’ve seen him pulse through rounds of butterfly stretching in running shorts, “Professor” seems like a sub/dom role-play term. He let us call him David, though we weren’t told to do so directly.
What David required of each of us was a grand performance of our name. “One at a time, three minutes to prepare, who’s first?”
“It’s a mnemonic device,” he said, “Make us all remember your name”—then with a hushed voice he added, “And you. Make us remember you.”
Debra Katz got on all fours and twitched her nose, seductress like, slinking across the stage, purring Katzzzzzzz.
Jeff lit a cigarette puffing smoke rings. “Jeff,” he said from stage left as if his name were the baseline of a song. More rings, stage right, “Jeff.” Center stage, “Jeff.”
A perky Alyssa cheered her way through a hand-slapping, leg-kicking, cheer leader fit. Today, I’m quite certain, she’s the annoying as fuck girl who continually interrupts your workout to see exactly how many more minutes you have on the elliptical.
As other students performed, I sat in my chair, half entertained, half brainstorming. Make us remember you?
I could flash everyone, certainly, which would work if I had an unfortunate last name like Fallis or Milk. But I had “Stephanie,” met with “Tara” (Yes, like the Plantation, but I can’t think about that now.), rounded off with “Klein” (as in Calvin). What could I do with that? Give a performance of a top fashion designer pulling a fall collection from Tara’s finest twigs and salvaged gourds?
I had it. I’d cut myself down to my smallest denominator, offering the class my monogram.
“You know, like steak. The one you ordered well done because you’re afraid of death. No, don’t fancy dead moo? Then may I suggest your regular? Right, the one you order ground and pounded with cheese because you’re happy to slaughter a bloody mother while lapping up her milk. Cheers, it’s all Kosher to me. That is until you order me. Order me to come sit my sweet bottom right here, on your lap? Well done indeed, though if you’re set on ordering me, you’d better start with a please and a fat tip.”
Which in its own deranged forced way got the laugh, though that might’ve been to do with my impromptu decision to recite my lines with a British accent. Still, I got that laugh, which made it a memorable first year for me. It was then that I decided to pursue the stage, promising myself never to use a stage name. Stephanie Tara Klein would be someone to remember.