Tag Archives: craft

(nablopomo #8) in the other rooms

graffiti of a pink-red heart with a black bar emerging/opening from the middleGood morning. It’s light already by the time I’ve gotten myself situated at the computer and by the time my poor old pc gets all booted up and warm and ready. I’m tired this morning. The alarm goes off at 4.30 and I don’t even pretend to get up, just reach over, turn it off, and snuggle back down under the covers.

Last night’s Write Whole workshop was fantastic: strong, deep and engaged writing. It’s been a couple weeks of hard processing around my head and heart, lots of excavating writing, all that damn self care and the energies that it stirs up and the way I need to slow down, take some time to process it all without writing, away from the notebook.

I figured that this morning I’d just get up and do a quick blog in response to the nablopomo prompts — last week those were pretty light-hearted, writing-focused prompts, so, no problem.

Today’s prompt is:  Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event. (Guest prompt from Adrienne McDonnell)

This is the part where I’m taking a deep breath. Ok. Where to begin? Part of me wants to write about prompts (about the ones that work the best for me and in my workshops), part of me wants to just respond to the damn thing, part wants to write about the morning tea and then take the dog out for a walk.

Anything traumatic. What’s interesting about this prompt is that it doesn’t ask us to write about the trauma itself — it’s asking for the scene surrounding the trauma: what was going on in the other room, what was happening elsewhere, what’s the setting look like? It can be so powerful to write about difficult events — how do I want to say this? Morning writing isn’t the best time for deep didactic engagement with writing process — it can be as powerful, when writing about trauma, to describe as to just suggest or leave off. What we don’t say, that is, is often as or more powerful as what we do — because when we hint or suggest details or a larger story, the reader begins to draw their own conclusions, gets pulled into the story more deeply because their imagination is engaged.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

This is one scene:

I don’t remember if he ever took me in his office during the daytime. I can remember afterhours, dark parking lot, quiet offices in the complex, a couple of lights on in windows, a lawyer or realtor working late. This complex was new, the whole area recently developed, in Omaha’s western expansion. Maybe there was a daytime time, though. In the other rooms of the small therapy office, my mother and their business partner, a psychiatrist, would have been seeing clients. The whole office would be quiet, the business manager and receptionist at her desk behind the check-in counter, the place was like a medical doctor’s clinic — she’d be chewing gum, typing up insurance forms, whiting something out, answering the phone: Hello, Collins and Diercks Therapy, how can I help you? (God, what was their office called? How would she have answered the phone? I can’t remember. Go ahead, Jen, it’s all fiction.)

There would have been quiet conversation in every corner of the building, in every space of this office. Maybe mom met with a young client, a child and his own parents. The child and mom play with some of her toys, he pushes a wooden firetruck around the beige carpeted floor. His parents sit stiff on the couch, sweatered, khakied, the blonde mother with her hair pulled back, they watch their skinny, towheaded son bang the firetruck against his father’s brogues, over and over, it can’t get through, it can’t get through. Mom kneels on the floor with the boy, not over him, on the other side of the room from his parents. She’s calmer than she ever is at home, has taken off her shoes. All the lines in her forehead have gone smooth, and she asks the boy, why does it want to get through? Why can’t the truck go around?  She wants to get the boy comfortable enough to say why he’s wetting the bed, why he’s throwing up at school. The boy abandons the firetruck at his father’s shoe, walks back over to the toys, takes up a wooden articulated snake; my mom watches him, relaxed, smiling, alert, she watches his hands and face and can respond to what he does. His parents gape anxiously, the mother grabbing hard at the father’s hand, digs a broken manicure into his palm, to keep herself from interrupting.

In the other office, the psychiatrist consults with a patient about his prescription. The man is manic depressive, hates that he’s lost all possibility of flying on the drug that the doctor gave him, wants to know if there’s something else he can take. He is dark-haired, wan and think but gaining weight, finally, after being on the drug. He wears an expensive suit, has come to his appointment between meetings with legal clients. He says to the doctor, You took away my flight. You took away my flight. The doctor bites his lip on the inside and hopes that the patient can’t see, looks out the window, and then is calm. You were going to fly off a roof, do you remember? The man turns to look out the window, onto the wide swath of new concrete parking lot, out toward the developments of fat empty houses, the tiny trees planted along new roadsides, each one tamped down with rope ties. The man doesn’t exactly nod, but does shift his hands from a clutch between his legs to resting them, bony, heavy, on  the dark material over his thighs. Isn’t there something else you can give me?

Outside the office, there was a small open courtyard, a little terrarium-like garden, a fountain. In the other offices, men talked to women; people typed letters; someone got a cup of coffee; a woman connected a modem to the phone lines, her computer emitted the insect-drone of the modem connecting to her internet service provider; a client opened a door and set a bell tingling; a grey mottled cat from the second-most recent development prowled through the courtyard, looking for more prey.

In my stepfather’s office there was no therapy going on during that hour with me.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Want to take this prompt? You could write about something traumatic, or any other intense experience for you or your character — what was happening in the surrounding spaces, outside the window, on the other side of the wall, etc? Give yourself, your room,  15 minutes — follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for all the layers of your attention and creativity. Thanks for the breadth of your imagination. Thank you for your voice and your words.

Tomales Bay

graffiti typewriterToday I head out to the Tomales Bay Writing Workshops, head out for  a five-day writing workshop with Dorothy Allison and deep writing community in a place that I love, and it’s thanks, completely, to you.

Thank you.

A few months ago, I applied for a fellowship to this workshop, and then didn’t receive it. I had told myself, initially, well, if I don’t get the fellowship, then fine, I just won’t go. But I got the letter informing me that I’d been placed in Dorothy Allison’s workshop and they hoped I could join them just the same, even though they had given the fellowships to other folks. Something in me said, the writer part said, we have to go anyway. I couldn’t afford it, not without help. We had sudden bills that were coming due, family business that needed dealing with, low enrollment in workshops — still: we have to go anyway, the part in me said. Just ask for help.

So I asked you for help. And you came through with help, and I was stunned. I still am. I described the process to someone yesterday, and she said, And how does that feel? Like affirmation, right? and I said, Oh, right, yes, like affirmation. I was going to say, like pressure. And so she and I talked abut shifting that inside message, paying attention to the way in which each of those gifts of money and messages of support and encouragement weren’t about pressuring me to write something in particular or to “be good” in some specific way (sigh), but about supporting this side of my work, the writing side. (The Mr. helps me re-think those messages, too.) I’m a little overwhelmed, considering it now, and kind of verklempt, and so very grateful to you all. I want to do right by you, and can’t wait to share with you what I learn at the workshop.

I’ll be working on a tiny excerpt of this novel I’m in the middle of, that I may be in the middle of for awhile. Right now it’s at 168 single-spaced pages. Sometimes I double-space it, just to give myself a thrill. I’ll be working with Dorothy Allison. (You know her work, right? She wrote Bastard out of Carolina, which about everyone has heard of and should read, and also the amazing collections Women Who Hate Me, Skin, Trash and Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, as well as another novel, Cavedweller. I would invite you to read them all.) I think I mentioned that already, and I might do again — it’s not quite real to me yet. Hold hopes for me that I don’t devolve into a slavering fangirl in front of her, ok? Also, Danzy Senna will be there, whose book, Caucasia, I reread at least once a year or so — I very much hope to get a chance to talk with her as well.

She asked us to have read Ursula K. Le Guin’s book on writing, Steering the Craft. I’ve liked reading it as homework, and appreciate, too, the opportunity to think more on craft. In the workshops I offer, while we do some craftwork (not kraftwerk), it’s always rather through the back door — we’re much more focused, at writing ourselves whole, in generating the material to work with, in trusting the guidance of our writing voices, and learning by listening to and commenting on one another’s work. The craft comes in through the backdoor, when I offer an exercise that’s all in dialogue, or we use a simile/metaphor prompt, or a prompt that invites us to consider setting and detail. We just don’t talk about those craft parts as much as folks might happen in other writing workshops. It’s good, sometimes, to refocus, to let craft in through the front door, and I’m enjoying Ursula Le Guin’s clear, invitational-yet-instructive voice. Reading the book, I have the sense of being in a workshop with her, which, of course, is the point. (Also, she encourages a re-reading of some of the classics, for specific writing-related purposes, and also purely for love of reading. I haven’t read most of our classic works, and am feeling invited to do so after spending time with Steering the Craft.)

So this morning we’re headed up to Tomales Bay for some time in Inverness, maybe a little stop at Spirit Matters, maybe some beach time for the puppy and the mama and the papa, and then I’ll go to the workshop. I won’t be blogging from there, I don’t think — I’m leaving the computer at home, anyway, will be handwriting this weekend. Whew. I do have a little wordpress app on the cellphone, so we’ll see what the at&t service is like up there.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
As a prompt for today, and maybe for the week, I’d invite you to generate a list of places that you or your character love. Choose one of them for today (or let one choose you) and describe that place — begin with just the place itself, no people, no description of why it’s beloved to you or the character; stay with the details.  Then, if you are feeling drawn to, bring yourself or your character or other people into that place — let us see what happens there.

Tomorrow choose another of the places from your list. Just ten minutes — give yourself ten minutes for this thing you love, this writing work. If you start on the prompt and end up going in a completely different direction, if you stop and write, You know, this isn’t what I really want to write about. What I really want to say is — and then take the work in the direction of whatever it is your heart wants to write just now, that’s exactly perfect.

(You can also create a list of people you or your character loves, and start writing by describing one of those people — just describe them, and let the love and relationship come through in the details you or your character notice to reveal to us.)

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Thank you thank you. I’ll be back with you in five days. Thanks for your affirmation. I want to be able to offer just the same back to you.