When I was a not-writer, just a kid with a bad attitude, OK hair and a baggy t-shirt, I hung out with a bunch of writers. Poets, mostly. They lived in a historic victorian house that they treated with as little care as possible. They slept on grimy futons on the floor. They ate off paper plates to avoid doing dishes. Hot sauce was a major food group.
The main decoration in the house were flags, long colored nylon flags that hung from the ceiling and reached almost to the ground, creating false, beautifully transluscent walls. The flags were faded and dusty. They had hung from lightpoles during the Olympics. I never could tell if they had been rescued from the garbage or stolen right off the poles. I loved sitting in rooms with them. Sometimes tho you'd get positioned under one and it would be a drag, you'd brush it aside fruitelessly until, in frustration, you tied it up in a knot, or stuffed it behind a door, and then it would be all crumply wrinkled the next time you came over.
At parties the guys, the poet-writers, they'd drink a lot or do drugs, whatever was around, and eventually someone would reach for a blank notebook. They called the first one a Trip Book and after it was filled up there were more Trip Books, each one passed from hand to hand at parties. A conversation would be bursting all around but for one bent head, someone intent on a drawing or a poem or a nasty commentary they were scrawling in the Trip Book.
Every time a Trip Book was passed to me I froze up. I never knew what to write. I wanted to narrate what was happening, which wasn't creative on the level of drawing 6-headed bats with split penises (penii?) or a 10-page poem that used bubblegum as a motif. I'd gamely jot down a crummy poem of my own, or sketch something I saw, or draw a little maze -- as a 13-year old, I'd drawn elaborate mazes that were published in the local paper -- but it wasn't anything serious. I was just trying to make a mark and pass the book along. Because to me, a blank book making the rounds at a party wasn't going to capture anything true.
Most of the Trip Books are gone. Most of what filled them was crap. But I tell you, in an MFA workshop, you can be forced to do exercises less interesting, with more empty results, than those spacey-bullshit Trip Books. This week, for the first time, I was surprised to find myself missing them.