I try to write something everyday. Iím more content when Iím able to do that. Of course, some days thatís impossible. Some weeks, even. Life has a way of putting up roadblocks. But I tend to believe roadblocks exist so that we have to leave our comfort zone and take an unplanned detour. And, oh, what we discover when we do.
I thought I was supposed to be a high school English teacher. It was part of my plan. I worked very hard, with some significant odds against me, to make it happen. But all my attempts were thwarted. Then, before I knew what hit me, I found myself leading creative writing workshops for adults and discovering that I have a passion for it. It is my delight and privilege to provide people with an opportunity to tell their stories and make their art. They are able to share visions and dreams about the past, as well as hopes for the future. In these workshops people connect much faster and on a deeper level than in almost any social setting I can think of, and they have fun. From day one, I emphasize trust and friendship among participants because I know that a writerís truth will not emerge if he or she feels insecure or fearful.
I write alongside them and take a turn reading my work out loud. Itís kind of revolutionary, really. People see that the teacherís first attempts are just as raw as their own, and this tends to democratize the traditional writing class. The results are always impressive. Iím not sure if itís ego or something else, but many instructors are simply not comfortable doing this.
I attended training for these workshops in Amherst, Massachusetts, under the guidance of Pat Schneider, a remarkable woman with a talent for words and a gift for helping others. Pat brings out the writer in people, whether they have been silenced by poverty and lack of education, or by poor self-esteem and shyness. People trained in Patís Amherst Writers and Artists methods currently provide life-affirming workshop experiences for low-income women in housing projects, prisoners, AIDS patients and their caregivers, senior citizens, teens at risk for gang involvement, as well as in their own neighborhoods and communities. Iíve worked mainly with seniors since 1999, and, so far, three of my writers have published books, and one has published her poems. Another one is a holocaust survivor who wrote her story and then decided to share it at local high schools so that it might never be forgotten. I am honored to have played a small part in that.
Each of us has a different set of experiences, each understands the world in unique and diverse ways. But we all have something to say about it. Pat Schneider puts it so well when she says: ďShakespeare wrote Shakespeareís vision. Emily Dickinson wrote hers. Who will write yours, if you do not?Ē
I have been working on All You Know On Earth for nearly ten years. And, yes, I know thatís a very long time! It began, I think, because of some basic questions. I found myself wondering about the reliability of memory. How much is fact, how much is fiction? Can we trust these recollections we hold so dear? Does it matter? I also thought a lot about imagination. Where does it come from? What happens to all its rich components when it is stifled? And I brooded, endlessly, about the many inequities existing in an imperfect world. I suppose the story began as a monologue I delivered to myself, a kind of soapbox oration in front of the mirror. But I think of it now as a hymn sung by a collection of voices, all of them still questioning, but all grateful to be alive.