Recently, I had the privilege of attending a week long writing workshop held at St. Ben’s college in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Initially, I was honored to be asked to attend, but one day into the workshop, taught by Sheila O’Connor, author and fiction writing professor in Hamline College’s master in fine arts program, I wondered if there had been some mistake. What was I doing in this room with this impressive small group of poets, novelists, memoirists, short story writers and teachers? Our tables were arranged in a circle, rounded up like a fortress of covered wagons, an agreement for cooperation and community. Most of the people attending were new to me, except for the person who invited me to attend and another memoirist with whom I had taken a writing class two years ago.
Introductions moved around the circle in peristaltic rhythm, one in which we were all familiar and had no doubt done in countless settings. And yet, it seems that no matter how often one participates in the format, there is nervousness. Giving our names and what ever information we felt was important to share, by the time my turn came I felt sufficiently inadequate. This room was full of published writers. Ms. O’Connor nodded and made notes as we all waded into the waters.
The workshop was vigorous and challenging. Heads bent down taking notes, we learned how to dream our pieces into life. Or, breathe life into our pieces. Dreaming, imagining, and taking time to breathe and be still, it turns out, is part of being able to write. To write well. It is the choice of words, the way you paint a picture for the reader, carefully showing the details, the setting, and the mood, that allows the reader to come to her/his own conclusions and imaginative wanderings.
I felt myself drifting off throughout the class time and in our quiet writing time in the afternoons, imaging the power of the word. I couldn’t stop thinking about how what we were learning, was like learning to live life well. Words paint a picture, expand or limit our worlds, cut down the soul, or expand self awareness. Words, and the tone in which they are delivered, whether on paper or on the breath of our souls, make an indentation on the receiver. Words can tear apart the remaining threads of a fragile relationship or they can reach across time, culture and nationality to speak to a common and uniting experience. Words facilitate both unity and division.
I remember the type writer; the strike of the key on the paper, making an ink coated indentation. As a writer, I try to carefully place these words down, rearrange them, eliminate some, and add others. Even then I am not always sure that these words express clearly the meaning I have intended. As human beings, I worry that we do not take even a portion of the same care in our personal lives. How often do we pause to wonder, “how will these words translate to the other? What kind of image, picture, understanding or impact, will these words have and have I taken enough time and care to let these words slip off my tongue into the space between us?”
In a world where technology has taken its firm place in our world, there is a temptation to ignore or deny the impact of the words or images we are transmitting. It is easier now to forget who is listening. And yet, I meet so many people, every where I go, professionally or personally, that care, really care, about the words being spoken, being written, being communicated. Maybe, just maybe, words and their meaning, will always hold a place of honor in our relationships. Maybe, just maybe, we could all be writers. Maybe we could all imagine and dream our stories into life, by paying attention to what we decide to say, write or communicate. What is the picture we are trying to create with our words? What is the story we hope others will hear and see? Maybe by pausing, imagining, and dreaming, we can dream more kindness and understanding into our world through our carefully chosen words.