January 27, 2010

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

My first creative writing workshop taught by the wonderful Alyson Hagy. Oh, I was shaking in my sneakers that first day. Alyson takes everyone seriously, even those of us who just fell off a sugar beet truck. To get us started on that first day, during class Alyson had us write a short short consisting of only one-syllable words. The poet C. C. Russell wrote a piece about a woman waiting in the dark for her rapist to return. Oh my gosh! Such an amazing and powerful piece. I thought, oh shit, am I in deep over my head. I fumbled around and created something like Dick and Jane, only a lot less elegant. Then, as the semester progressed, we read great writers (Faulkner, Jean Toomer, Hemingway) and tried to mimic their style with our own work. I blush to think of the earnest but inchoate things I produced. But we all have to start somewhere.

The greatest gift of the many gifts Alyson has given me is taking me seriously, especially at a time when I was unable to imagine calling myself a writer. I wrote, but I wasn’t a Writer, if you know what I mean.

This is a gift that I try to pass on to other people. I am passionate about the creative process, and when I find out someone else is creative, I try to encourage them in their gifts no matter what stage they are at or whether they dare to believe in themselves. I don’t say this to make myself sound noble or anything. I get a lot out of the relationship too, things like friendship, mutual encouragement, and so on. I really mean it when I say I believe in you ~ because people have an infinite capacity for creativity and goodness and sheer determination counts for a lot.

The same goes for people who’ve been at it awhile. I think it’s so important to have a support system, other creative people who understand you and to whom you can talk. I know for myself when I’m down, all it takes is a word from one of my creative friends, a little encouragement or commiseration, and I’m back on that horse.

That’s why Facebook and this website and the internet has been so life-changing for me. I’ve made so many friends I never would’ve made, and they’re so fabulous to me. I find that taking myself seriously as an artist is not just a momentous one-day decision but a series of very small everyday decisions. It helps to know there are other people out there struggling too.

What I’m Reading Today: My friend Len Joy’s short story “Dalton's Good Fortune," which is up at Bartleby Snopes. I have long been a fan of Len’s understated style and the way he’s able to deliver humor or gut-wrenching sorrow so economically. Way to go, Len!

PS Received a form rejection today.

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