Friday, June 26, 2009

Caution: Words At Work

(I wrote this 500 word story as the final assignment in the beginning writer's workshop I took in September of 2006. My previous post here in Paper Cut Screams was written the following year. Leave it to me to do it backwards!)

Every cell in my body trembled, and my muscles tensed as I approached the starting line. I tentatively set my feet in the blocks. Unbeknownst to me, I was at a turning point in my life, and when the gun fired, I ran wildly, not knowing where I was going or where I would end up.

Now that I’ve hooked you, I confess: I’m messing with you a little bit. In reality, with emotions much like an athlete taking his first step out of the block, barefoot at my computer, I downloaded Lesson 1 of what an outsider would deem a seemingly tame, online, beginning writer’s workshop. Like a sailor approaching uncharted waters, I was hesitant to embark on this venture; I had seriously considered canceling my enrollment a few weeks earlier. Who, you might ask, would punish me if I failed? One and only one person would deliver the blows: me, myself and I.

Cloaked in a reader’s familiarity with the written word and clutching my meager satchel of writing forays, I skulked into class, lured in by the promise of anonymity and ease of this classroom genre. I knew that writing was the vital key necessary for me to achieve freedom of expression, and I dared to hope that with the writing tools acquired in this workshop, I could begin seriously to put my memories and thoughts into words.

I pondered my plans to embark on an expedition into my past and realized, not for the first time, that it would require that I come to terms with loathsome, lingering memories. Immediately, I noticed an unsettling ruckus in my mind and heart. Long-held secrets, sensing the potential danger of exposure, writhed and strained in the overloaded mental baggage that I’d been struggling to carry for what seemed an eternity. Ragged and torn from frequent periods of my inward prodding and poking, ancient secrets huddled and whispered as they sought out dark places to hide. Their beady eyes squinted prematurely at the light they suspected was lurking just around the corner.

I shook off my uneasiness and plunged into the first lesson. Our instructor asked us to introduce ourselves in the discussion area. Persons from nearly every state in the union and locations worldwide presented themselves and shared bits of their lives. One participant wrote her introduction and submitted it online from a café perched atop a huge oak tree on the island of Trinidad in the West Indies. We were a diverse group, yet we were all seeking the same wisdom. I was thrilled and intrigued to be a part of this assembly.

Our first assignment was to light a candle and to describe in one paragraph what we observed. Unfortunately, it was late in the evening when I began to write. I struggled, but my words were dull and lifeless in contrast to the flickering light. Around midnight, fatigued and lacking inspiration, I tossed my fruitless attempts in the wastebasket. I threw my writing dream under the bed with the dust and missing socks and crawled in between the sheets, pulling the covers over my head.

The following morning, I awoke refreshed, retrieved my dream from under the bed, and dusted it off. Throughout the day, between laundry and errands, I sat hunched over my keyboard with my burning candle before me. I rewrote and submitted my candle description to the discussion area. Sipping a glass of wine for comfort, I waited. With my right hand tipping the glass and my left hand gripping the bottle, I waited for validation. It came. The words of my instructor and my classmates lifted me up. Immediately, I held my head higher, and I stood taller.

We, more than 300 aspiring authors, were instructed to consider ourselves writers, to write freely, and not to fear writing poorly. I accepted the nudge and, in response to a suggested exercise, proceeded to describe a room in my home. In a chair with pen and paper, I compared the color of my bedroom carpet to that of a dusty, golden retriever lying at my feet. When I considered my description, I was pleased. My comparison was accurate and image-provoking. For the first time, I felt like a writer.

My brain popped its cork. I made a toast to my life as a writer and poured my thoughts onto paper and into my startled computer. Rivers of words gushed from my mind with a fearsome velocity, as my long-repressed desire to write broke through the dam of my self doubt. With racing thoughts and quickened pulse, I ran easily through the online classroom, waving at everyone I met along the way.

As I wrote daily in my notebook or at my computer, I gained strength. My self confidence grew as I flexed my writing muscles. One dark afternoon, I made my move. With newly acquired boldness, I dragged my stash of rotting secrets, one by one, out from the sinister corners of my mind. I faced each one and forced myself to look directly and deeply into its soul.

My fingers pounded feverishly on the keyboard, and my heart hammered in my chest as I spat words into my computer. My errors of judgment, repeated mistakes, and their dire consequences were exposed and vulnerable as their ugly details spewed out. Infected memories blistered up, and I, like a madwoman, continued beating on the bruised and rattled keyboard.

As the purging process continued, I yielded up a lifetime of rage and despair. The demons of my past fled, clutching bits of guilt and shame in their claws, terrified by the pelting. Cleansed, but shaken, I slogged on. Late in the day, I sat back and rubbed my stiff neck and aching shoulders. A few minutes passed with an absence of movement or thought. When I finally stood, I was keenly aware that I had substantially lightened my distressed mental load, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Following in the wake of my catharsis, I was buoyant as I worked on the lessons. I flitted from one discussion area to the next and back again, chatting and laughing with abandon. Addicted to the comradeship, I spent endless hours online. I cherished and felt cherished as I interacted with my classmates.

In one of the final lessons, we practiced galumphing and bricolage writing techniques. I welcomed the playfulness. Galumphing, which I mistook to be a gala event for folks who enjoy sugar lumps in their tea, and bricolage, which I wrongly presumed to be an elite bricklayer’s skill, are designed to increase creativity levels.

In response to the instructions, I chose a piece of gravel from the instructor’s list of common objects as the focus of my writing assignment. As I observed the gravel specimen that I had placed on my desktop, I let my imagination run free and playfully laid out a string of sentences. I grinned when I read the scenario that I had concocted. A few weeks later, when the workshop was behind me and I was flying solo, I wrote a children’s story, inspired by this piece of gravel.

My final, 500-word project, which I was encouraged to begin work on early in the workshop, evolved during the six-week course as an ever-growing pile of paper. Full sheets, half sheets, sticky notes stuck to sticky notes, and countless paper scraps bulged in a folder on my desk. As my writing knowledge expanded, my project often took on a mind of its own. Frequently, it recoiled at its own reflection and ran this way and that, demanding endless rewrites and revisions. My final project rivaled childbirth on my list of exhausting experiences.

Access to the online classroom is no longer available; the workshop doors are closed. During the six-week experience, my instructor, my fellow classmates, and I met briefly, yet we touched each other intimately. As we shared our work, we wept, rejoiced, and became better writers. Six weeks ago I skulked into class, but I’m leaving it with an upbeat outlook on life and a sense of pride. The writing tools and self confidence I have acquired are propelling me down a road I previously feared to navigate.

I’m striding through each day with my fears in perspective, no longer allowing them to oppress me or to obstruct my way. The sights, smells, sounds and souls I encounter along my chosen road are breathtakingly raw and pristine to my unbridled vision, and I can boldly say that I look forward to tomorrow.

(As a writer who loves to entertain her readers, I must admit that I may have exaggerated the quantity and seriousness of wrongdoings I claim to have committed. Oh, but wasn't it hypnotic to read of such a life?)


Anonymous said...

Auntie returns to your gravel story which I think should be a start of a children's book series. Sometime (if ever) you are searching for something to write about,take the gravel on another excursion.

Shaddy said...

Aunt Babe: You are so right! I submitted Sammy's Grand Adventure to a few publishers a couple of years ago without success. I have an acquaintance who is quite an artist. I'm considering asking her if she'd be interested in creating a few illustrations. If she agreed to do that for a reasonable fee, then I could go the self-publishing route if I chose to. I don't think I have the patience to continue submitting it to publishers and getting rejection after rejection. That's what all the writers I've communicated with have had to do before their submissions are finally, if ever, accepted and published.
Thank you for your comment. (You must get frustrated with me; if I'd only listen to you I'd accomplish something! I'm a stubborn Norwegian, what more need I say? Fortunately, you're also Norwegian so you don't give up on me!)

Shaddy said...

Aunt Babe: (One more thing). A self-publishing company I interacted with recently wants $180 per illustration! That's why I thought I'd ask my acquaintance to consider doing it.

Sarah said...

Ahhhhhh, what a wonderful blast from the past. I will never forget that class - it was the best writing class I ever took (and there have been more than a few). It really was magical.

You know what the best part of BWW was? Watching you become a writer my dear. In a sea of over 300 aspiring writers, you really rose to the top in such a way that was breathtaking.

You know this, but it bears repeating: it was so exciting to watch you blossom as a writer. What a change in you from that first candle assignment to the final 500 word piece! It will always amaze me, and always give me the best memories. I'm so lucky to have been there for your journey, and I feel so blessed that we're still traveling together (cuz I get to read your stuff on a regular basis now!)

You're my writing hero Roadrunner! And I love you to pieces....

Shaddy said...

Sarie: Ahhhhhh...what a friend you are! Shaddy feels like she's floating on a cloud whenever you visit her blog.

I hope you're feeling renewed, refreshed and inspired after your weekend getaway. You deserve all the best.

Ritergal said...

Oh, what succulent, delicious writing! "With newly acquired boldness, I dragged my stash of rotting secrets, one by one, out from the sinister corners of my mind. I faced each one and forced myself to look directly and deeply into its soul." Wow! I love it! I'll be back.