Why the workshop worked...in spite of my attention span

Do you ever find your inner narcissist jumping up and down with glee in spite of your best efforts at maturity and professionalism? Because I had some nice ego strokinig last night, I'm thinking about it again today. (Isn't that what our inner narcissists do???) It's important to make sure I don't let the warm fuzzies overshadow the opportunity for improvement for future sessions.

Last night's writing workshop was, by the accounts of all participants, a raving success. In spite of the fact that my powers of smooth organization and presentation weren't fully engaged. In spite of the fact that half the things in my well-constructed notes were either completely forgotten or utterly ignored. (I know, Stephen King would ixnay the adverbs. I'm still a little attached to them, but intending to give his instruction some serious thought.) In spite of the fact that I'm now recalling moments that would have brought horror and grief to any "real teacher" had any been watching.

None of them were watching.

Discussing personal writing leaves so much room for topics we might not expect to appear in the conversation. Last night was the first time one of my groups hasn't elected to try at least one writing exercise. These people were so into the ideas and the material and the books from which I read that they didn't want to stop to write then. They preferred to wait and do their own exercises later.

Today I best remember the unexpected presence of the 16 year old daughter of a woman who had planned to attended. "R" wrote in a journal when she was little but now detests taking the time to do so. She writes notes for herself on a huge wall calendar. She runs competitively. With great success, too, we learned. But in spite of the other places R would have preferred to be instead last night, when I listed a group of writers featured in Robert Lyons's Autobiography: A Reader for Writers, the mention of Joan Didion triggered something passionate in the youngest member of our group. She told us of a writing assignment for school in which she'd had to read Didion (I can't remember the piece, now,) and write something of her own. She shared details of the assignment with us and there was enthusiasm as she spoke eloquently of her own approach to that writing. From then on we heard more and more from her. And finally, in a brilliant gift from The Universe, together we found something I've read in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones yet hadn't read to my class last night, about a conversation she once had with her teacher, Katagiri Roshi. Years after he told her to use writing as her practice, she asked him why...how did he know that is what she should do? He answered, (I'm paraphrasing as I cannot hit "control + f" and find the exact passage in my paperback book this afternoon,) that it was because writing was her passion. If she had been a runner then he would have told her to make running her practice. And last night with a group of students empassioned by thoughts of the importance of their written words, we took that leap with Natalie more than 10 years after she wrote of her teachers words, when a 16 year old illuminated for us what running does for her and we knew that it was the same thing that writing does for us and we knew that it didn't matter what we do to push through life's frustrations and find ourselves, but what matters is that we do it, and that we persist and commit and honor the passion we've each been given.

It was good stuff. Trust me. The whole night was a little elevated bubble of connection.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking back to the parts that worked and the ones that didn't and realizing it might be nice to teach this subject again, soon. At the same time, I'm a little excited to realize that even if I don't, my own writing practice has been given a little boost. I'm going to go back and read these books again. Just preparing for last night highlighted to me how stale I sometimes let my writing become. I'm looking forward to seeing how "a little refresher course" by Natalie Goldberg and Stephen King and Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron will affect what I write. Guess we'll see!