Thoughts at the end of a workshop (V)

It’s late December, & my fall session Creative Nonfiction workshops have just come to a close with the end-of-fall holiday dissolve. What a fall we have had, these sessions on lyric, on the lyric essay, on how the roots of lyric and essay join at incredible depth, reading Mark Doty’s Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Eula Biss’ The Balloonists, Brenda Miller’s Season of the Body, Deborah Tall’s A Family of Strangers. I have been waiting for this session, this particular combination of books, for years, & drawing from its questions these last months has been as essential to me as drawing water. The foliage around us more profound than it’s been for as long as I’ve lived in California, our questions catching on that immediate fire, I’ve watched myself hauling my compact OED around, stealing minutes to write so furiously before class that it has sometimes felt like everything I’ve written has come out red. There are so many new writers among us now – bringing forward that edge, that circularity of questions, that openness to not-knowing that articulates the journey most fully.

I note to myself: We are making a story, whether we are writing one or not.

There is simply too much to say about the time I spend in workshop with all you wonderful hums. I will probably never come to a point where I can summarize it. That is probably the thing.

We have asked: How does one enter an essay? // What is the point of poetry? // In what sense does form foster experience? // Is lyrical writing always experiential? // What kinds of songs are we singing? // What is the difference between essaying and the stuff we label “thinking?” // What is true about story form, and what is not? // What is the relationship of the stories we know to the things we believe? // Are all stories about family? // What sense does story make other than narrative? // How can we develop imaginations about writing that already exists? // What do Gaughin’s three questions have to do with how we imagine writing? // What is the Venn diagram of monkey mind, mindful mind, and creative thinking? // Where does a story begin? // What does resonance have to do with our bodies? // What does it mean to ask “Does this work?”

We have written: Matters are what we are addressing. // If there is a collapsing of my life, it’s of all the versions of me that have existed over time. // I used to think I could only be seen by what I was seeing. // “No” felt like a lie, but so did “Yes.” // Water. Tea. Water. Water. Water. // I feel envy, too, though I doubt you have an idea. I barely do. // I am thinking about good ol’ white bread, also, of such a waste, and also about creativity— // We gasp and cheer as one huge body when the sky explodes above us. // It is hard living like you think you will die young. // Have everyone take a stone. Introduction. // Who was Jack London and why should we care about him? // I want to talk to you tonight about rivers. // Everything is synchronized, almost melodic, like the sounds from inside a factory: a factory that produces no product. // I can’t handle life. I can’t handle death. I can’t handle anything. // So any enclosed circle gets me imagining life on the cellular level. // I bathe in the river. I pee in the river. I brush my teeth in the river. I am transported in the river. // My crowning achievement for the year was being sent to the principal for using the word bitchin. // “Don’t lie to me,” she chants. // I can speak from that voice. // Accepting challenges with respect and curiosity: this is an assignment big enough for a lifetime.

I will never understand why some people believe that some writers are beginners, and some writers are advanced. I thank you for beginning, over and over and over.

To Lyra, Susa H., Denise, Melissa, Melanie, Karen, Brenda, Karolyn, Jerry, Naomi, Elizabeth, Tom, Ralph, Cara, Linda, Margie, Ann, Bev, Stevie, Sande, Jonathan, Susan W., Shelley, and Mary – 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. The circle you form each week is a wonder equal to your creative work, and one of the things I am most grateful to have within sight during this life. Thank you, always, for following the thread, for making time to create meaning and new modes for it, for being community to this work and to one another. I am returned over and over again to my own center by each invitation to hold space for yours.


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