Here's a sample piece from a workshop member from the "Letters from Germany" exercise in which students created entire characters and personas from a single picture.
Dear families visiting Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin,
Hey, how’s it going, all you sweet little out of towners tucked up nice and cozy in your rented mobile homes and Wal Mart tents who grace Wisconsin’s pristine Devil’s Lake campgrounds. Name’s Jasper Perkins, aged 53 years young. I whittle cheap wood doohickeys that I carve and shape with artisan care to bring you all each good luck and to keep the bad chi away. Well, that and for you to prove to your neighbors back home you spent three days and two nights camping out in Devil’s Lake. But I live here, have lived here for nearly 35 years, and to me, Devil’s Lake is like a harpy wife, I can hate the ass out of her, but I came to her, took up a shack like Ted Kaczynski’s and married this here land.
I was always good with my hands, don’t laugh, but my best marks in school were in Home Ec, and I joined and belonged to the 4-H club since the sixth grade. Boy did that piss off my dad, who wanted his only son to be a rough and rowdy scamp who’d eventually outgrow the hoodlum act and develop into a mature yet macho lawyer, or Government scumbag. I was always a hippie, though I’m a tad too young to have been a flower child. But my parents were about the right age to have been Levittown prudes. They lived the life right to the last, they my sis and I all lived in the community in New York State, and for all I know, my folks still do live in a suburb in New York. Don’t mark me down the wrong way, they were all right; my dad did, after all, tell the best off color limericks, and mom, well, she was a fiend in the kitchen, would’ve kicked Julia Child right in the behind at any stove, you name it. But they despised my moderate-lefty “Devil’s ways”, my love of arts and crafts, obsession with superstition and spirituality and this lust I have for grit. My folks always obsess over squeaky clean.
They were just like that Joe Levitt pictured, imagined for his little boxes made out of ticky tacky like Pete Seger once sang about. Now, I got nothing against nuclear families, or the ‘burbs for that matter. I kissed my first girl, played kickball out on the cul de sac with my lil sis and best buds, learned to ride a two wheeler and my old man handed me the keys to his precious Studebaker. Hell, my lil sis, now 49, lives in a quaint little suburb in Conneticuit with her Actuary husband and their three kids, Rodney, 18, Samantha, 15 and almost ten year old Christine, or “Chris” as she goes by. I Visit from time to time, correspond by snail mail and I respect their life, to each their own, live and let live as my man Paul McCartney once sang. I’m not like that Chris McCandless crackpot, not at all: I’M experienced and rational, competent in my decisions and how I wanted to spend my years.
I also, if you can believe this, don’t begrudge my folks one bit. They were God fearing in their own way, looked out for me, put a roof over my head and food in my belly etceterra. Yet they never once supported me and my passions for weaving at old looms, stitching and sewing. They never read or bothered to look into the spiritual rituals and folklore I’d read religiously since age nine. I always wanted to just take the Studebaker out to the woods somewhere so I could maybe whittle a figurine or two in secret. I’ve been long whittling birds---well, all sorts of critters, but I’m best at birds, specially hawks, and field mice, otters, bears and does. Back when I was 27 and living out of a used RV of my own and looking for work in Kenosha, a park ranger spotted some of my creations out on the dashboard and, as luck would have it, was tight with the Devil’s Lake officials, and offered me a job creating custom made souveniers, heck, he even set me up with my shack. I love it here in the well preserved wilderness; I love how the evergreens and foliage stretch high and seem to nod and vibe under the sun. I’ll often step outside with a cool birch beer (Lived in Wisconsin for nearly 25 years and don’t drink a drop of alcohol, if you can swallow that) and continue working on the ideal dream catcher that’d look real nice drifting in the wind above my front door. For keeping the nightmares away, the howling winds on deathly winter nights and those damned bleeding flashes of bitter sleep when I envision the folks I haven’t seen in near 24 years. During these bouts I can fully envision that one and only time they ever came to see me in my Devil’s Lake quarters. Mom fidgeted real bad like she had to pee, kept adjusting her thick sunglasses and sniffed the air every 5 seconds as if a bear defecated nearby. Dad stated at my creatures like they were omens conjured up by Satan, destined to burn. They begged me to take them to Geneva after one sour hour went dragging by like it was covered in molasses. Dad never did take a seat, though there were more than enough tables and chairs, never sat down to pretend to enjoy his food with the world’s worst acting skills. Dad told me after lunch was served that he and mom were heading out to find a phone to take an important call he was expecting. Dad knew I had a fully operating phone on the coffee table right in front of his face. Dad never took important phone calls while away on trips or visiting family. Dad and mom never came back. Drove in that FREAKING Studebaker and never looked back not once. What’s done is done. You know what? Forget it, I need a dream catcher, that ideal one, sooner than I thought, to keep the negative vibes away. Oh, and I hope all you good minded families with your spouses and kids and decently furnished homes enjoy your stay. And don’t forget to purchase a customized souvenier for the road. (Alison O'Connor)