YALE SUMMER WRITER’S WORKSHOP – MISHKA SHUBALY’S CLASS
I attended the Yale Summer Writer’s Conference again this year. My workshop leader was Mishka Shubaly, an itinerant folk-rock singer-songwriter who lives out of a Toyota Previa.
Shubaly has become a best selling author of Kindle Singles, several of which have sold over 100,000 copies. He continues to sing in bars, he continues to live life, and he writes. And Yale Summer Sessions has taken notice and wisely added him to their workshop roster.
I have been to The Yale Writer’s Conference each of the last 5 years. Each time has been transformative. This year, with Shubaly, it was a revelation:
Mishka. Mishka Shubaly.
Where do I begin? Mishka’s workshop was a deeply transformative experience. His hyper-masculine tough-guy appearance including rebel-without-cause tattoos, skull-emblazoned black t-shirts, ironically-hip sunglasses (covering intense Alice-Cooper-eyes) combined with impossibly handsome good looks belie a deeply sensitive, compassionate, wise, and intelligent soul.
Mishka gave his entire self over to the workshop. He discussed each student’s work with enthusiasm and probing insight, challenged all of us to uncover the truth within, to approach the deepest and most vulnerable aspects of our selves, and taught us how to convey emotionally resonant content onto the page. He was both supportive and provocative—he saw the potential in every submission and challenged each of us to realize our writing potential.
Mishka added several reading assignments for each class. His discussions of established writers directed us into insights of how writing works. He led us to discover and understand how a story is successful, and to reveal the ways in which even the best writing falls short. He revealed his soul to the class with unabashed honesty, setting an example for us to follow. He is a mentor, a guide, a fool, a genius, a sage, and a wizard. Mishka is a personality that provokes telling, but the entire truth about Mishka is so hard to convey—he is my Mark Lanegan, my Bubblegum. You have to experience Shubaly for yourself.
Getting to know Mishka Shubaly is to face the Münchausen Trilemma . You will find yourself facing and grappling with all three horns of the trilemma and realize that Truth is evanescent and cannot be defined. Shubaly shows us that searching for truth-approaching authenticity through ruthless self-examination and raw vulnerability-is the path to redemption. But I shouldn’t mention redemption, yet. Salvation must be earned.
Mishka showed us what it is like to be a published writer. He demanded proper formatting, presentation, and communication. He gave deadlines and short-notice assignments. He replicated in small scale some of the demands of editors and publishers. He taught us to learn to cope with frustration and rise up to meet unreasonable expectations and demands. He showed us how to negotiate and manage the process of crafting and carrying a story into the end result of actual publication. At the end of each class, he sequentially pushed us to refine and edit our piece: 8000 words down to 1000, then down to 400, then four sentences, then to less than 140 characters—a tweet. Each time he pushed, everyone moaned. But when I did what he said, I learned so much about myself and my writing. I found the inner story which wanted to be told, the story which needed to be told. I learned to separate the filler from the heart of my writing.
Shubaly gave out his email and cell number and made himself available at all times. He shunned the after-hours gatherings at Mory’s and instead secluded himself into his monk-cell of a room and immersed himself into a deep reading of each participant’s writing. He read and responded to every student’s revisions and assignments, answered texts and emails, and prepared for in-depth discussions of the assigned readings. That word keeps coming to mind—deep. Deep: profound, broad, abysmal, yawning, immersed, innermost, awesome, awful, unfathomable—Mishka is all of these, and more.
Despite his enormous personality, Mishka is engaging and readily accessible. He promotes dialog and invites everyone to challenge him in return. His critique of my 27-page submission revealed a passionate and thorough reading of my work. During my one-hour one-on-one, he turned each page, pointed, and discussed in detail his reaction to each and every paragraph. He dropped his head and reacted emotionally to passages, shook his head, and shared his emotional resonance to parts that worked well, and pointed out the areas which didn’t click and fell short of the truth. He didn’t just point out shortcomings, he coached me on how to correct them.
Mishka challenged me to write a different ending to my piece, saying he could tell from my writing that I knew more than I was revealing. He insisted I was capable of a better ending. After two days when I had not yet completed the assignment, he reminded me of his expectation of a revised ending and asked me to email to him by Monday. I dove in, rewrote, and sent a new ending. Mishka’s response: “This is so weird and sad. Good job.”
And that is Mishka in a nutshell — dive deep into the specifics, into the most weird and pathetic experiences, and reveal the emotionally laden parts of ourselves in a manner that allows a strangely specific story to resonate with universal emotions and Truth: truth with a capital T.
Mishka Shubaly is perhaps the doppelgänger of Alice Cooper:
“ALICE COOPER: Handicap: 5.3 Mr Cooper is not just brilliant at golf, he claims it saved his life. Don’t believe us? It’s all there in his memoirs: Alice Cooper: Golf Monster – A Rock ’n’ Roller’s 12 Steps To Becoming a Golf Addict.”
MISHKA SHUBALY: “The Long Run: After nearly twenty years of chasing oblivion, a fight in a bar reveals to a newly sober Mishka Shubaly that he is able to run long distances. Despite his best attempts to dodge enlightenment and personal growth, the irreverent young drunk and drug abuser learns to tame his self-destructive tendencies through ultrarunning. His outrageous sense of humor, however, rages unabated.”