It’s really hard for me to believe that it’s actually September 1st, that my summer session Creative Nonfiction workshop has come to a close, and that it’s already (almost) time to begin again. I’m unusually sad this time around watching my summer group dissolve and become the next incarnation of itself–possibly because this is the first time that my Davis and Sacramento writers have come together for a session. Possibly because this has been an emotionally poignant summer in which I’ve felt a little like I’ve been overwhelmed by light–I have felt especially interwoven with the work of others, with sentences made by people I know, sensitive to the feel of paper in my hand. Possibly because this summer has been unlike any of the last nine I’ve spent here in the valley–seeming as it did to only appear as though through a screen of sorts, in moments, coming late and slipping out early, keeping mostly quiet.
I did something this summer that I’ve wanted to do for years–I shaped our session as a study of voice and form, and chose readings for the group that would give us the opportunity to think about the many different relationships between those two dynamics and what they have to teach us about what it means to have a voice, to mold message in language, and to write our privately speaking contents into reading content. I’ve never been so invested in an individual reading list as I was with this summer’s: Sarah Manguso’s The Two Kinds of Decay, Evan Lavendar Smith’s From Old Notebooks, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water, and Michael Martone’s Michael Martone. I have never felt more vulnerable as a teacher, like I had so much of my own living practice on the table. And I have never felt more connected to my writers, to their responses and to their new work, to the job of shaping exercises that were relevant to our discussions and relevant to our needs.
We asked: What is a fact, and what is a story? // What does any given form allow an author to emphasize, and us to forget? // Is is true that to pay attention is to love everything? // What do fragments become by accretion? // What roles do we reject as readers, and why? // What do we want from an essay? // What are subtitles, really? // Is there such a thing as unmediated voice? // What counts as expression? // Does surreality make all things equal? // What does the memoir as a form circumscribe? // What is the difference between feeling and sense? // What are the boundaries of the stories we tell about ourselves?
We wrote: What is truth and what is myth? // Isn’t continuing to live in some ways an act of doubt? // Each blind man perceives reality depending on which part of the elephant they are touching. // And to me, it’s about a vanishing—into a blackness. It is about trying to touch that which I cannot clearly see. // Does everyone’s mother do this? // I like to think of those moments before I hit the ground, the world not yet askew. // To answer: how specifically can you ignore? Isn’t ignoring itself an inattention to specifics, an unconscious decision to ignore, particularly, anything that is specific. A melding to gray or to fog. // You can’t see the river, but it’s there. Like an article of faith. // Always. Woods. Wood.
To Elizabeth, Tom, Ralph, Jane, Cara, Margie, Ann, Rebecca, Melanie, Andrea, Brenda, Joanne, Stevie, Jonathan, & Kate – please feel free to leave comments here about things you find yourselves thinking about now or anytime as you continue to tease out the work we’ve all begun together during these last four months. I thank you for your company, your native intelligence, your need to do this. That need is essential to the world I want to live in. May all of us have exactly the right light we need to continue working by…