Workshop & Wells

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This week we celebrated Aviya Kushner’s birthday. My classmate, Toni Nealie, made a heart-shaped cake complete with fresh raspberry icing.  We sang happy birthday to Aviya and then she sang Happy Birthday to us in Hebrew. I flapped. Yes, I said flapped. This is the kind of clapping that you do when you are the most excited. It’s fast and violent and your smile is from ear-to-ear and your hands look like they’re flapping in front of your body, like wings.

This is how workshop makes me feel—like flapping. I am so incredibly in love with the people in my workshop, as writers, as teachers, and just in general as friends. I seriously couldn’t imagine this experience without them. It just wouldn’t be the same. It just wouldn’t.

This semester has been an exceptionally stressful semester for me, balancing two jobs, teaching, and a full course load. My peers in the program have, in many ways, made it so much easier to push through the stress and have encouraged me to be creative and to continue pressing along. And for that, I flap.

In workshop, we’ve been focusing on movement and how the essay moves, how it expands and gains momentum, how it can digress.  We’ve discussed the ways in which an essay opens, and how to end an essay with a bang, with the birth of an idea, with something that lingers. We’ve also been given the chance to submit ongoing projects and revisions to our essays, which is not the norm. I thought that this may be counter-productive to the generative nature of the workshop, to the generating of large quantities of work. But, for me, it has worked in the opposite way. It has allowed me to generate more meaningful work and to look at my work from different angles. The return and the revisit have allowed me to sit with my ideas, to sit with what’s ticking inside my brain and to really think about it.

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And I’ve learned about wells. And the deepness of wells. And we’ve all come to know each other’s wells and, to some degree, the deepness.

Wells are the subjects that we, as writers and artists, return to over and over again. I am drawn to the same topics: the word home, the idea of home, domesticity and the rejection of the domestic norm. I am drawn to the same images: bricks, trees, parts of the body. I return to the same forms: imploring the use of the list, the use of imagery, lyric language and fragments.

Ashley Butler, author of Dear Sound of Footstep, writes, “Once the device for measurement is created, it remains forever subject to refinement.”  This resonates with me, as I continue writing and as I return, so very often, to the same subjects.

The device for measurement, the thing that I press against, the wells that are so deep that sometimes I feel as if I can’t climb out of them; those are the subjects actually worth writing about. It is the return that allows for refinement.