by Mandy Nadyne Clark
The requirement of Outside Experience (OE) in the RWW program was a challenge early on for me. I marveled at the things people had decided to create: teaching classes, writing retreats, and collaborative books, among other things. When I thought about my own OE, I realized I wanted to combine two things I loved: pizza and writing. In a way, I hoped I’d inspire myself to stretch beyond the safe world I’d been living in for a long time.
I live in the same town I was born in: Corvallis, Oregon. My daughter and my son were both born at the hospital on the hill in Corvallis. The doctor who delivered my daughter also delivered me. My mom worked in the same hospital when I was young. When I turned eighteen I got a job at the Corvallis Clinic, also on the hill, next to the hospital, and I worked there for seven and a half years. My next and current job (eleven years now) is at the hospital, which is still on the same hill. My grandpa died on that hill, unexpectedly. My grandma died on the hill, as expected. Again, up there on the hill, my daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was twelve. I met my girlfriend of seven years on the hill. From our house in Corvallis, I can see the hospital on the hill. And there’s more, if we’re all into coincidence, and life, death, confidentiality—there’s much more. These are the things I began to think about for my OE. I wanted to do something to get me, and my writing, out of my comfort zone. I wanted to be a thousand sheets and a million blankets away from a hill that was beginning to be too steep to drive up.
My OE would be places I’d never gone! Writing I’d never tried! And pizza I’d only heard about in movies and books!
Sure, there would be too many calories, but my undergraduate degree is in nutrition, so I figured that would have some authority over the cheese, pepperoni, and black olives.
I had to persuade our director, Stan Rubin, that this was a good OE project—and listen to him tell me I was “very weird” to which I laughed uncomfortably, and he said again, “no, really, Mandy, you’re very weird.” I finally convinced Stan that I was ready to organize it and that I needed an experience that would pour new ideas and settings into my writing.
The plan: Twelve Stories, Thirteen States, Fourteen Pizza Joints, Fifteen Days. A road trip across the United States from Oregon to Massachusetts, then fly back. That was doable, I thought.
Unforeseen problem #1: Writing in the car is difficult.
I knew it would be a challenge, but typing on my laptop in an unfamiliar car was really hard. My elbows couldn’t find a place to be comfortable and my driver occasionally wanted to listen to the stereo after a good hour of silence.
Unforeseen problem #2: A strict timeline.
Each of our stops was just for one day, so the only thing I could do was eat pizza and keep writing. There was not enough time to see everything. Of course, in Chicago and New York we stayed three nights and in Boston we stayed two (technically only one, due to unforeseen problem #4), but even that seemed too brief.
Unforeseen problem #3: Car fights (okay, maybe this was not as unforeseen as I thought).
Arguments in the car are never fun, but pile on copious amounts of pizza and a girl who does a great job of backseat driving (yes, this is me) and you’re on your way to a very long trek across the U.S. (see also, Unforeseen Problem #1).
Unforeseen problem #4: Getting on national television for a make-over.
If you only have two days for your final stop and you come up with a late-night plan to stop by a cheesy talk show to get a few seconds of airtime about your journey, you need to stop and think: Do you really look bad enough to need a make-over? Maybe the producers just wanted to make over a true pizza fan. I went with the latter.
I could list a whole bunch of other unforeseen problems, and honestly, many that were just downright obvious from the start. My point is that my OE inspired me in my writing, and in my life. Over a hundred people shared with me their answers to the question: “What does pizza remind you of?” There was the waitress who said “work,” the man who said “family,” the woman who whispered “sex.” Those human connections are the details that keep me inspired, the experiences that will fuel my writing life now and in fifty years. Until then, please have a slice for me.
“…I want to know if Santa Claus visits Christmas in Boston during the other months or only in December. Since it’s June, I think this is a feasible question. The salesclerk, who says she’s from North Carolina, keeps decorating a tree with hockey sticks and doesn’t look up to say ‘No.’ I’m excited for December now, when I get back to Oregon. It reminds me I should organize the lights and ornaments so it will be easier to get the tree up in six months. I feel like working on this project more than unpacking the suitcases filled with T-shirts, key chains and maps I’ve collected over the past two weeks. I’m sure if I keep talking to the woman she’ll look up and smile. ‘What does pizza remind you of?’ I ask her. She says ‘Italy.’ Over by the glass candy canes at the entrance, a man walks in, stomach like a beach ball. He starts laughing, really laughing. It’s Santa Claus, I swear it’s Santa Claus, but his hat is one of those souvenir lobster caps, so I can’t see if he’s got hair or if he’s bald. He has a red beard. I go over to him, the woman still not looking up, and I ask him what pizza reminds him of and he says ‘recycling.’”
–Excerpt from Mandy Nadyne Clark’s developing thesis manuscript
Mandy Nadyne Clark is a short story fiction writer. She resides in Corvallis, Oregon with her girlfriend, Kristi, her seventeen-year-old daughter, Hailey, and twelve-year-old son, Max.