Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Grind Writers today

I’m glad, really glad, I went to the Grind Writers group today. But I wasn’t feeling that way when I woke up.

I am not a morning person. 

For a 10 o’clock start, I set my alarm for what I consider to still be the middle of the night: 7:30am. "No! -- I don’t want to write at bloody ten o’clock in the morning, why did I get myself into this?” 

Need coffee. Strong. But only one cup because I’m going to need to order a nice big fat artistically-topped almond milk café latte (was that enough detail for you?) at the coffee house where we meet.

Oh, um. But. That’s two hours down the line. One go-back. Just one go back to bed, trying to avoid hearing those raindrops smattering down my window, harbingers of today’s predicted monsoon bringing 70mm of what makes Vancouver so dreary and damp in November.

Fast forward to 12:30 when the group is over. 

I'm so glad I went. And I’m so grateful to the others who trudged out in the rain by bike, transit, and car to the café to join me in that inexplicably magical activity of writing.

Magic with laptops. Magic with pens. Magic pouring into dogeared coil notebooks or into fancy leatherbound journals and everything in between. 

Getting it down.

Getting what down?

Well, we're all in this huge existential cave. And we writers are standing on piles of rocks, with a pointy flint, scratching out things  on the cave walls. 
Scratch-scratch-scratch: I noticed this. Scratch-scratch-scratch: That was weird. Scratch-scratch-scratch: wtf was that all about?    Scratch-scratch-scratch: That experience drained my soul. Scratch-scratch-scratch: This was fabulous; this made my heart sing; that hurt, this was bad; I learned thus and such……….

Our experience. Here. Now. In this place, this consciousness, this experience of life. Ours each our own. And all so different, but overlapping in variously-contorted Venn diagrams.

We’re getting it down. Whatever it is to each of us. If we tell the truth, we’re not even necessarily getting it down for others. We’re getting it down (whatever it is) for ourselves. It keeps us sane.

Today I brought my pseudo-Pandora’s Box. It’s an homage to Bonnie Nish’s Pandora’s Box. She’s the ED of Pandora’s Collective, a creative  literary events-generating group. Bonnie brings her Pandora’s Box to writers’ groups. It’s full of many and varied items, 3D writing prompts. She hands one to each person. It could be anything.
Then you write.

Sometimes I actually agonize over the writing prompt. What will call forth those deep moments of reflection and revelation that sometimes, if we’re lucky, happen? I try many forms.

Writing prompts are completely unpredictable. 

Sometimes the most mundane item will bring forth a cascade of deep and meaningful writing. And another you've laboured over is meh.   

My pseudo-Pandora’s Box never lets me down. Maybe it is magic. It has, like Bonnie’s, a collection of objects from this world. Everyone reaches in the box and chooses an item without looking. The whole idea of free-writes is to not have too much time to think before plunging right into the writing. Writers have a propensity to overthink, well, everything and we can get stalled that way. We call it 'block' but it's just fear. The free-write pushes you past the fear. It gently forces you to, as the late Dr. Claire Weekes, advised: "Wait on no mood."

So we have our prompts and start to write for 15 minutes. The table goes silent. We hear the soundtrack of the jazz that Aperture’s owner Ryul collects.

We write. It's a special kind of silence.

The timer goes off. Too soon.

People volunteer to read. And by the end, I am very, very glad I didn’t give in to my hygge-proneness today and that I got myself to that coffee shop. So we read, our raw unedited output:

T. got a Tarot card, The High Priestess—didn’t like it, but nevertheless wrote a moving piece about aspirations. 

I. got a little jewellery box with keys inside, and wrote a 3rd person POV piece about someone getting that prompt in a writing group and what happened.

Of course you rarely can finish something in 15 mins., so we don’t know where that is going, but the point is, it was a start. The pump was primed.

G. shared some personal struggles, beginning with a question I think we’ve all had at some time or other as we were poised to read: “How much do I want to tell these people?”

I got the top of an IBM corporate souvenir, a Selectric
® paperclip holder, which took me back to my days working for the world’s most corporate corporation.

J. got a little plastic superhero figurine.
M. drew a hand-inked envelope that had  been re-addressed many times from which she spun an intriguing tale. 

N. wove a narrative about his relationship with the train and cars from an old Translink transfer card and how they affected his career at times.  

And B. looked at that egg slicer and embroidered a tale about a women’s encyclopedia of inventions in Canada.

And that was just the stuff that fell out of our pens and fingertips in a free-write. 

It is so relaxing and encouraging to be with fellow writers who understand, who don’t expect their cohorts to spit out Pride & Prejudice, War & Peace, or Ode on a Grecian Urn on a first go at it -- as the uninitiated, and friends and family, are sometimes prone to.
Later people read the work they had brought from home. More polished. Feedback before submission. 

I am again so glad I turned out and got there:  T. read us a long and powerful poem bringing us right into the pain she endures on a daily basis struggling to become who she is, with powerful emotional obstacles.

I got to hear N.’s poem, “Romantic,” which spurred a lot of conversation and feedback. And N.’s draft for a magazine piece that left us angry for all the right reasons. And another chapter in the wonderful experimental novel from M., who is such a keen and amusing observer of human traits and our 21st century culture.

Oh yes. It was worth it. It always is. Every time. Some times more than others, and this was one of the STMTOs. 

And worth it to have all that conversation, exchanging all those ideas about everything from the difference between romance and romantic; the #MeToo phenomenon; stigma in the workplace when employees do disclose their mental health issues; the deep anger that sours the soul in an emotionally-abusive relationship;  tender reminiscences; personal histories and self-acceptance, and much more — as people took a chance on reading something close to their hearts or risked reading something not yet as perfect as they would like; as others took flights of fancy into the past, into the future; and still others perhaps marked up on that big cave wall how it was going in life today, maybe notched off how far they had come towards something.

Tears held back. Laughter shared. All grist for the mill—our messy, contradictory, incomprehensible, wonderful mill of human experience here now or then when.  


Create your own Pandora's Box. You can put anything--small--in it. Common everyday objects or arcaneries. Then, every day just pick something out, and write. As Bonnie says, "Take the challenge. See what you can whip up."

Monday, 6 November 2017

Around Table Round Robin

A little bit of fun we have at Grind Writers with spontaneous writing Round Robins.  The paper that goes around is folded accordian-style, so you only get to see the previous person's added bit. Hence a certain amount of disjointed comedy, POVs changing, etc. And thanks to Beth for reading it aloud at the end. 

Feel free to add your bit in the comments.