Recently I co-facilitated a writing workshop in my home town. Our group met in the Field Memorial library– Marshall Field, that is, who grew up in Conway, made a fortune in Chicago and left us citizens a remarkable temple to books.
To get to the library you must ascend many shallow stone stairs and shoulder open a stubborn oak door; at that point you are admitted into a hushed rotunda, encircled by chocolate-veined marble columns and touches of gilt. The actual stacks are few, which does make me suspect that the temple might be more about Marshall than literature, but the trustees have wangled some extra shelving and they are excellent at inter-library loan. In any case, it’s the only space we have in town for a gig like this, and the rent was reasonable.
Teaching a community workshop is its own animal. You put out some flyers and a public notice and wait to see who shows up. It’s exciting, a little scary, and potentially disastrous. All kind of folk turn out for free programs for all kind of reasons, and this was no exception. The who who showed up for our workshop, however, were both completely disparate and deeply interesting: they pretty much ran the gamut of age, experience, education, temperament, taste and yes, volatility.
The best part though, was that this group was ready for anything: excited, passionate, kind to one another and for the most part, willing. For the two and-a-half hours of our Thursday night sessions we were all writers—scribbling away, stuck, scared, apologetic, sometimes pleasantly surprised.
This was a writing workshop, not a critique workshop, so we all wrote together, and then the brave read what they wrote aloud. Sometimes I did, but usually we ran late and I didn’t want to take up our precious time with my work. Well, that’s what I told myself, but really, I was just as scared as any of them. Every time I write I’m afraid.
Anyway, my co-facilitator Jane gave an exercise one night based on a list of words. We had worked on the exercise together and I liked the idea, but when it came time to write in the group I got really stuck. After awhile I just let go and went with sound. It was kind of great but also felt stupid, I didn’t trust it, but I couldn’t stop because you know, I’m one of the leaders and leaders don’t wimp out.
People wrote amazing pieces that night, but I wasn’t so sure about mine. I didn’t read. Here I was talkin’ the talk about being brave and just keep writing no matter what and down with the internal editor and all that process writing stuff that I truly, madly, deeply believe in, despite my deprecating tone. But I didn’t read. Pokey Mama didn’t walk the walk. To be fair to myself, I did bring the poem to the last meeting and read it, but that was after I revised. In other words—I cheated!
So, here is my public mea culpa: the piece I wrote that night. The poem still feels strange to me, more intuitive than my work usually is, and I think it’s because I gave in, went with the sound of the words and that took me to a deep, oceanic place. A good and real place. Maybe the next time Pokey gets scared she’ll try and remember to go there instead of standing on dry land waving to the departed.
I’m forever trying to put things straight:
wedding ring, solace, September.
I’m forever trying to love the ocean, all that salt.
I’m never kept, always alone, crouching
beneath the straight and narrow.
There’s less left to keep. The ever-diminishing bowl
more empty of ripening fruit. Later, I’m sure
will be abundance: a basket, cherries, forever.
If you’d like to see another (fab) take on an exercise from our group go to Big Onions where my friend Kate has a piece from a different exercise posted on her cooking blog.