Everybody should write to find out who they are and who they are not.
Cool, visionary, innovative, hip. Whatever the adjective, one thing is true about Portland, Oregon: this is a city for creatives. PDX's creative community was an important deciding factor for me in relocating here, and I have not been disappointed with the abundance of opportunities that put me in touch with my artistic side. As I continue to improve my writing and photography skills, and accept that a boilerplate 9-to-5 job may not be for me, I consider myself blessed to have so many opportunities for growth at my fingertips. And this weekend, after attending my first writing workshop ever, I see writing from an entirely new, fresh perspective.
On Saturday morning, I took a bus across the river to Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church, a historic church that has thoughtfully maintained its place of worship while opening itself to the community with a coffee shop, gathering room, and rentable spaces. I walked into the meeting room and looked around dubiously; would this be like the Meetup group I went to last week, where our first half hour was spent lollygagging about so-and-so's cat and the disgusting, felt-speckled hairball they coughed up that morning? Lord, have mercy on me.
Fortunately, there was no idle chit chat once the clock struck ten and our small group dove right into the workshop; we were all there to write, to create something with the thoughts swimming around in our heads. PDX Writers hosted the event and everything was very relaxed yet orderly. A deliciously stylish woman -- because I doubt I'll ever meet another person who can pull off a black baby doll dress and blue/purple/green hair so gracefully -- by the name of Thea began the session with a short round of introductions and review of the workshop guidelines (right), which I found to be incredibly helpful.
The structure of the workshop was simple: Thea announced a "prompt" to guide our writing, the group spent 10-15 quiet minutes scribbling in notebooks, we shared and discussed what we had written. It's been a while since I've written and not typed my thoughts so that took a bit of adjustment, but I quickly came to appreciate the thoughtful, deliberate act of writing out words that flowed effortlessly from my head to my hand. When it came to reading what I'd written aloud, though, my voice cracked in self-consciousness and I nagged myself to slow down; with the exception of school classmates, I'd never written something to be shared and discussed with other writers. A part of me worried that I'd come across as a dull, inexperienced novice, but any negative thoughts I had were dismissed when the group responded positively to what I'd written.
Once our two hours was up, I was full of fire and inspired to take my writing to new places (although, come to think of it, that may have been a result of too much coffee that morning). The experience was uplifting and something I recommend to anyone interested in writing, and I now understand how beneficial workshops are to honing skills and learning from fellow writers. I was surprised by where my mind went following the prompts (see below) and am pleased to say that I stuck my toe into the pool of fiction, happy to find it warm and enjoyable. I'll be back, PDX Writers; I'll be back.
So, cheers to writing workshops, cheers to Portland's creative class, cheers to writing from the heart. This feels like the start of something beautiful.
Exercise one, 10 minutes
Prompt: Describe a morning ritual for you or your character
The light is weak but I can still see it through the windows. It's morning, so the light is blue, not orange from the streetlights. I notice the familiar lump by my feet: Mango. Over the past few years, I've replaced my night-own/late riser tendencies with early-to-bed-early-to-rise ones, and I like it. But anyway.
The alarm hasn't sounded yet so I enjoy the morning quiet and cozy bed. After a year and a half of living out of a suitcase as we traveled the world, it's nice to have a place of my own. So nice.
After preemptively turning off the alarm, I slip my feet into my scuffs and shuffle to the kitchen for coffee. My apartment is filled with silence; something's not right, something's missing.
Exercise two, 15 minutes
Prompt: Pick a postcard from the pile and write a story
Coming from such a small foot, I was surprised by how much the kick hurt. You little brat... I caught myself thinking.
"Cookie! Cookie!" he demanded, his fat fists bunched into a fleshy ball. Who was this tiny, greedy little devil, and why did he have to make such a scene?
My sister shoved some fries in his mouth but that just made him more mad. "Arthur just loves loves loves brunch. We went to a place like this in New York City once, and he couldn't stop looking at the skylights. Sorry he's being such a pain, it's not going to stop us from having a good time in San Francisco, promise."
I looked at my nephew -- godson, don't remind me -- warily.
A waiter passing by with three dessert plates to each arm did not go unnoticed. Arthur let out a shrieking howl. Men in suits turned their heads, their stiff wives arched their eyebrows in displeasure.
(If my sister is reading this, please know that I'm exaggerating :) and I love my nephew...!)
Exercise three, 10 minutes
Prompt: Write a story for "What's burning?"
Hair, lots and lots of hair.
Blonde feathery chunks, delicate locks of red curls, a loose black dread or two. Carla may be a petite woman swallowed by a white hazmat suit, but damnit she was going to empty the drum of hair into the fire without falling in herself.
Carla wrapped her arms around the metal container and crouched. "Lift with your legs, just like Mr. Pendleton said. Lift... with... your... legggggssss." She lifted with her legs and hoisted the drum so it rested on the edge of the pool of fire. "We have to dispose of this hair today, no exception," the words of Mr. Pendleton rang in her ears.
Carla tipped the drum and the smell of burning hair filled her nostrils.