Where have two weeks gone? Since Memorial Day weekend, summer has arrived; we finally became first-time homeowners (hurrah!); I took my first writing class since college days; my parents bought their ticket to visit over the Fourth of July (hurrah again!); we made our inaugural visit to Sam’s Club… the list goes on and on. While I actually have a gazillion things to write about and think about lately, the practical part of me has been focused on the need to organize as much as is humanly possible. Thus writing quickly gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list, ironically when I need to process the most.
Of all things to inspire me, it had to be watching an episode of The Next Food Network Star last night. This season they modified the format: the finalists are broken up into teams being coached by Alton Brown, Giada de Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay, respectively. Every week, they are faced with two-part challenges, because they are expected to cook well and be able to be themselves (budding stars) on camera, too — obviously, the latter tends to be the far more difficult part. So I’m watching this episode, and by now the finalists are expected to have a very clear sense of their individual points of view, food-wise and personality-wise. Listening to the coaches, they all had the same message for each person: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell. It will translate positively on camera, we promise, because people want to connect to Who You Really Are.
Last week in my 5-day writing class, we all walked in on Monday as strangers. The first sharing we had to do was read aloud an informal piece of writing that we had to bring with us: metaphors for our writing process. What floored me — and maybe what I should have expected, having been in writing workshops before — was how much we revealed about ourselves through our writing as the week went on. On Wednesday our instructors put us into workshop groups based on our chosen genres (we had three non-fiction pieces and one poem in mine). My personal essay was about three different writing experiences at various points in my life. Immediately after reading my work, the poet in our group said, “This piece is about the narrator reclaiming joy in her life that she used to feel when she was a child.” What?! That’s what I wrote about? I thought I had been taking a walk down memory lane with myself. But there I was, naked like a baby in the words on the paper, and this semi-stranger called it out.
So it was as we workshopped everyone’s piece – the “cheapest therapy” available, our instructors called it. Each of us — in our small groups and in our class overall — uncovered (re-discovered?) parts of ourselves that we didn’t realize were there. It’s a very disconcerting and simultaneously liberating experience to meet yourself on a piece of paper. Even when you want to or try to lie to yourself (or about yourself), people who are paying close attention will recognize what’s going on below the surface. Real talk. No hiding from that. By the end of the week we couldn’t help but be engaged authentically with each other, as was made apparent in the notes people shared after reading portfolios and the meaningful, no-cost gifts we exchanged (including the priceless gifts of honesty and actively listening to each other throughout the week).
The other best part of class for me was doing free writes in my (unlined) journal for the class. I truly love seeing people’s handwriting — including my own — because there is energy and emotion there, and I like to imagine the person doing the action of writing. Again, there is an individuality and concrete-ness to ink on paper that doesn’t exist on a computer, where I can cut/paste/delete at will, even dictate words to a smart computer, and everyone turns into Times New Roman. Now, by my own hand, I have this small collection of beginnings of things, some attempts at poetry, and some reflections all in one place. I can’t say specifically why it’s more special to me to have it handwritten (it would be more practical to have them typed already); it just is.
Last week I also thought often of why we need things like art and music and writing in the world: it teaches us empathy and reminds us that we all have our human imperfection in common. For the entire week I kept thinking about the stories behind the people at the grocery store, or why the checkout girl had a certain tattoo on her arm. I was mindful in a way that I forget to be sometimes when I’m with people I love the most, like Husband and family. I want to be that way more often — to be more aware that I am living my own story and in the stories of countless other people’s lives. What will we remember about each other when we meet again in the next life?
I find that when I really need guidance, God has this way of being super didactic in my life. But I’ll remind myself one more time to be sure: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell.
Yes. I will.