|“But never mind a fish mind.”
– Les Plesko
There has never been another person with whom I’ve had a more profound connection. His very presence on this earth was a blessing and balm to all those involved with him. His unique, sagacious energy that longed-for comfort and strength. He takes with him a substantial part of my heart. I’m plagued and harrowed by a tremendous sense of loss and at the same time I feel calm knowing how I’ll see him every day of my life in the written word. Knowing how inspired I’ve become to carry on his linguistic legacy throughout my years. Les has risen high above corporal constraint and will now permeate my world with his very rare brand of immortality.
Jesse S. Darnay
Archive for September, 2013
|I’ve been trying to puzzle it out, to think about why I have such a giant gaping sadness about Les. He’s dead and gone. Okay. No not okay of course, never okay. But really, why does the void feel so incredibly huge and inescapable? He wasn’t my best friend or my confidant. He wasn’t the person I would call in the middle night, (which for some reason is supposed to be the epitome of true friendship.) I wouldn’t have called him if I was in jail or stuck in my car in a flood, although he’d laugh later at the story. He wasn’t a family member. Or the love of my life, not someone I yearned for. No, he played a more important role than any of those, significant though they may be. It was Les who spoke to my desire, his desire, our common in common desire to write, to get it down on the page as right and true as possible because it was and is simply the finest kind of work imaginable.
|It started with a simple invitation from Les that led to the rebirth of my voice as a fiction writer. He worked one-on-one with me, respecting my elementary teacher working life/schedule/etc. My last email from him came Sunday, September 15,2013, but I’m sharing this comment from last January because it’s all about ACTION and I need to take action again. Action without Les has felt scary, but he would tell me to “bring it on!”
“The beginning is the best part, and when he first meets Clara. When the action starts to unfold, the writing gets real rough. Like I said, it’s hard to do action. You want enough details so we can see what’s happening, but not so much that the details or their arrangement cause confusion. You want to block the scenes [as if on a stage] so we know the general layout. It’s like checking for continuity in a movie. If you have Clara by the fire, then she can’t also be at the table unless the table is close enough to the fire. If the scene is from Henry’s POV, and he hasn’t been told Tom’s name, then you can’t use Tom’s name. Henry is still working really well as a character! We can discuss if you like, phone or in person or back and forth e-mail.”
Now there isn’t a way to discuss on phone or in person. The pain of this last line reverberates. The last time I saw Les we took a short walk together. How I wish I could go back to that walk and make it go on and on. I’ve still got so much to learn. It’s time to focus on the fact that I’m lucky (as many of us are) to have the bundle of memories, treasured check marks, penciled comments, and archived Les emails. Time to shift focus on to what I’ve got instead of what’s been lost. A mentor is someone who recognizes you, sees your potential with absolute clarity, and somehow prompts you to shed fear and become even more you than ever before. That was Les for me and for so many others. Thank you to those who started this Pleskoism site- it’s a “swell” idea. LES was generosity personified. He was still giving of himself up until the day before he left us. It feels good to think of being generous with one another, sharing what Les we have!
After our memorial for Les the wind picked up with a strange ferocity. I stood at the beach, sand hitting the back of my bare legs and thought of how Les said there are two types of stories, it’s either: “someone goes on a trip or somebody comes to town.” Now Les is on the trip and we’re still in town.
|When I started the Pasadena Group to find other writers, closer, that could and would (and are!) become Pleskoites in their own way…On 11/5/07, Aracely Sustaita wrote:
I put out the writing word and it looks like about 8 people/writers will be attending the first “Pasadena Writers Meeting.” Any tips?
On 11/5/07, Les Plesko wrote:
1. Don’t read TOO MUCH OUT LOUD each time. What worked for me before in a small group is to circulate the manuscripts around by e-mail the week before the class, and then discuss them in class. But to make it work, you can’t send TOO MANY pages or have too many people, and people really do have to read each others’ stuff.
Tags: plesko, UCLA, writing workshop
From Jamie Schaffner–
|I saw him on Main Street in Venice before I knew who he was. Later, when I’d become his writing student at UCLA, I remembered I’d already seen this man: wild gray hair protruding everywhere from his head but for his bald crown. His haggard bronze face was speckled with a day-old beard and a gray mustache. He’d worn a ratty dark blazer. It flopped up as he pedaled his rusty bicycle on the sidewalk. I’d thought he was homeless.
At my first workshop, Les Plesko spoke for over an hour to us twelve students crowded along both sides of a narrow table, then announced a short break by flinging fun-size chocolates at us, and left. He returned to the room smelling of cigarette smoke, and continued to speak for another hour. I never heard him lecture again, not like that. I took plenty of notes that evening and have read them often— it’s everything he ever taught me.
On week two, we students again sat elbow-to-elbow along that narrow table, and each of us read a single page aloud from our work. My turn came and my voice shook. When I finished reading Les raised his pencil and said, “I’m getting that your character is thirsty.”
The next week Les said, “I find it interesting that your character talked about juice.”
On the forth week, I’d barely finished reading before Les said, “This is awesome!” He looked at me with his good eye, the other roving, as usual.
“Thanks,” I said. “I figured out this thing about my character. She was thirsty.”
My classmates laughed. “Good move,” Les said over the din. “Keep doing that.”
And we did, he and I week-by-week for 120 weeks. Les taught the uncomfortable process of writing with gentleness and infinite patience, all in service of cultivating your own unique voice. He never once talked about what ought to be happening in your novel on page such and so, and he never uttered the terms rising action, character arc or plot points. That nonsense, he thought, could only produce characters with no souls. He taught us how to tell our stories through whatever was written on each student’s page. Twelve times a week, on the fly, he dug up and served the object lessons.
It’s been two years since I’ve been in workshop with Les, and thankfully I still hear his voice in the afternoon when I read what I’ve written earlier in the day. That’s not nothing, but Les was also a brilliant editor who made my sentences beautiful. It was pure joy to use his edits— except the ones like “huh?” and “open this up,” those were hard, but an even bigger joy once I’d wrestle them down. I’ll miss the stench of his cigarette smoke emanating from my page as I raised it closer to decipher his penciled, almost legible, comments.
The more pages you eked out, struggling to find the complex truths of your characters, the more Les gave you back. He never shirked his responsibilities to students, peers or employers, even at the end. He was scheduled to teach Novel IV at UCLA in early October and took his life in mid-September. Clearly, he gave his two weeks’ notice.
I was lucky. For years, I sat at his narrow table and learned over and over again—my character was thirsty.
|Les: “You’re writing through the filter of your brain.”
Me: “….isn’t that where the writing comes from?”
Les: “No. Stop thinking about what people think about what you write. Just write.”