Story. Voice. Witness.

graffiti of a woman in a hood looking out into the world, about to speak (photo by antwerpenR on Flickr)Good morning! It’s quiet out this morning, though my neighbors are already up and going, which has the puppy awake and alert. The chillier morning air has me all bundled up in sweats, with the hood of my sweatshirt gathered up over my head and cinched tight,  and friend-blessed socks covering my toes. In spite of waning sick and some morning panic, it’s a good morning so far. Are there complicated songs welcoming you into this day? What do they sound like?

I have been thinking for the last week or so, as I move towards actually devoting myself to the work I believe in, about re-articulating what exactly that work is. What are these workshops for? What’s the point of this writing practice?

(just a second. I need a tissue. be right back.)

Ok. This is the work: we come together in community to find words for what lives unlanguaged inside of us because when we do so, in this way that we do around here at writing ourselves whole, three things can happen:

1) we gain a new sort of control over the story that has bounced around inside our psyches with no tethering, no artistry, no root;

2) we give voice to both our story and our creative abilities when we read aloud our brand new writing (our throats have new work in that moment);

3) we receive kind witness: what others heard from our reading they give back to us — we get to hear that we were heard! — and what they give us is deeply kind; we hear how our writing, our craft, our story has affected another; we hear what of the words we shared will stay with others — our burden isn’t ours to bear alone anymore. Sometimes the story stays on the page, isn’t read aloud, is witnessed only by the notebook and that witnessing is enough in those moments– still the story is outside of us now, is held somewhere other than only in our body. It is witnessable. It is externalized. It is larger than our singular frame. We have allowed it to emerge into the world.

Sometimes I think it’s so straight-forward, this work I believe in, that it barely even bears articulation: doesn’t everyone already do this? But the true answer to that is no, isn’t it?

I think about how powerful it is to share a story, a necessary story, a story that lives in me as a broken kind of breath because it hasn’t yet had a positive reception — or rather, it hasn’t received the kind of hearing/witness that it needs. I will find myself telling that story over and over, to different people, in therapy, into the notebook, to new friends: the story is seeking the right kind of reception. The story is seeking a place of engagement.

Of course, some stories have to come out this way: written, on the computer or onto the page. They are too long or need a different kind of crafting before they can go before others. Kay Ryan, at the Granta reading at Book Passage a couple of weeks ago, talked about the work that the reader agrees to do when she chooses to engage with a poem. She said that the reader is part creator, part inventor, of the poem — without reception the poem has only done half its work. We need a listener/reader/witness to complete the process of storytelling or poem-making.

Story. Voice. Witness.

The storying is the first part. The voicing is the second. The listener’s articulation of their witness is a third. It’s what we hope for when we share our words with friends, when we type stories into blogs. We get to experience this process over and over in these workshops, when we gather together in Writing the Flood or Dive Deep or Write Whole or Rejoicing in the Erotic Story or any other AWA-method workshop.

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A prompt for this day: What story in you is seeking a witnessing? You might start from this line: “What I really want to say is…” or “What she/he/they really wants to say is…” Write for a few minutes (maybe set a timer), and then write that line again: “Wait, what she really wanted to say is…” Let yourself drop down deeper. The witness for these words can be the page, never have to be shared; remind yourself of that as needed. Write into your story, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the ways you are present with others’ stories, how you hold those stories in the tenderness of your presence and attention, and how you allow your body to release those stories as necessary in order to be gentle with yourself. Thank you for the ways you allow others to hold your stories, how you give the gift of witness to your listeners, how your voice is a magic, a balm, a needed raking sometimes. Thank you always for your words, always for your words. 




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