Earlier this week I wrote a blog for the journal Lunch Ticket, partly recounting a recent evening with my kidlets. Shiloh was attempting to flipswitch a challenging conversation we were having with Rose who is fourteen and in the midst of interesting fourteen-year-old questions and social dynamics. In the blog post, I mentioned a list of super powers Shiloh asked us to look over. The powers were based on characters in a book Shiloh has been writing. We were each to say which super power we believed we possessed.
Prior to this particular set of super powers, Shiloh presented us with another list of qualities based on one of her favorite shows, My Little Pony. The ponies have names like Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie, and each has a primary quality like honesty, magic, generosity, etc. Shiloh had been commenting on her dad's generosity and said he was like the Pony named Rarity. I agree -- generosity is one of Darby's top qualities. I'd also add kindness and integrity, but I don't know the Ponies well enough to know which ones to name.
Shiloh then asked me which Pony I think I am most like, and wrote down the names and qualities for us all to consider. Rainbow Dash is loyalty, and I said that was probably my primary quality. Something I know about myself is that I tend to be fiercely loyal, sometimes way beyond the natural arc of a relationship. Once someone has worked their way into my heart, they are always there, but I wonder sometimes if it is also not always quite appropriate. After all, there are times a Pony should walk away. Nonetheless, I do consider myself loyal.
Majority rules in our house, though, and Darby and the girls all chimed in that I was more like Applejack whose primary quality is honesty. This surprised me, and I found my mind turning back to it while commuting here to school this morning. It is true that honesty is important to me. In fact, this might be my draw to write CNF. Creative nonfiction -- isn't it the ever deeper dig for truth and self-honesty? I do try to approach my writing this way, but while driving through Hollywood and into Culver City on this glistening, post-Pineapple Express Storm morning, I began to consider where my insistence on honesty comes from, and how I express it in life. Since I'm at the MFA residency this week, and especially since yesterday was the first of four meetings with my week's writing workshop group, my mind fell also into considering how I bring this quality into these workshops, and whether I present it in a positive or negative way.
In considering where my need for honesty comes from, I lighted upon some elementary-school childhood memories. When I was around Shiloh's age, I was a big fat liar. For about two years I stopped doing homework, but always said I did. I practiced clarinet far less than the practice log I kept for my private teacher noted. But then, I recall one day after school, perhaps in fifth or sixth grade, as I walked down the hill from the bus stop, rehearsing in my mind the story I would tell when my mother asked me what I did that day. Still a few houses before mine, I came to a dead stop on the road. Everyday, I realized in that moment, I created a story, something barely more entertaining than the real events, to tell my mother. You don't have a couch and I don't have the time, so let's not get into a psychoanalysis of why I did it. Suffice it to say, at that moment I stopped lying. Or, in the spirit of deep self-honesty, I'll say this: perhaps in that moment I didn't stop lying entirely, but I became more mindful about it. Whereas before the lies had been random, from then on they were purposeful. After that, if lied, it was a choice rather than a pattern.
Several decades have passed, and with only twenty minutes till the day's first seminar, we still haven't time for a therapy session. Over the years, the truth has become more and more important. When I studied the Yoga Sutras, I was delighted to find honesty and compassion two qualities listed side-by-side, neither trumping the other. This struck a chord in my mind. In every moment, according to the Sutras, we must try to be both kind and true. Sometimes this is ridiculously easy, but there are other moments when it challenges me deeply.
As I mentioned, yesterday was the first meeting for our week's writing group. Every residency we have a different group of five to eight students. This time there are six of us plus a mentor to facilitate the discussion. The first day is an introduction, just an hour to say our names and where we live, etc., and to learn how the mentor prefers to lead the next three sessions. Each following session will be three hours, which breaks down to around 90 minutes discussion per piece over the course of the week. Reverse alphabetical order is a popular mode here, so like last semester, the twenty pages I submitted (last name: Silver) will be the first piece our group discusses.
The point of these workshops is two-fold: to receive feedback on our writing, and also to learn how to deliver feedback on others' writing. Actually, it's three-fold because there is also the element of observing our mentor and learning her particular teaching method. Many of us will go on to teach writing. I value these opportunities to study with different mentors each time, and have been keeping notes on each of their particular styles.
One factor that I appreciate in this particular mentor's introductory agenda is that after we each shared basic personal information, we went around the room again. This time we each were given the opportunity to discuss, in a cursory way, the piece we'd brought in for critique. I admit, I was wary of whether this activity would be helpful. Without revealing details on the writers or their work, however, I noticed that my opinion of each of my colleagues rose considerably in this portion of the meeting. I didn't think *poorly* of them before. It's just that when they each spoke about their piece and what they were trying to achieve, I shifted from, perhaps, neutral into a deeper sense of respect. As they shared their vision, I developed a deeper understanding of the struggles they had dealt with in writing these first draft excerpts. It was their struggle, I think, that connected me, because in the end, writing is a struggle. It is a constant search for how on earth to explain truth. How to take what is in our hearts and souls and present it to strangers in a way that they will understand.
This morning, I found myself thinking of the qualities each of my colleagues in this group possesses. I don't know the others terribly well, so it's mostly guesswork. But in light of my Applejack personality, I made a mental note to be sure to bring Rarity and the compassion/kindness-Pony into my discussion of others' work.
These posts are unrefined, I know. They are first thoughts in the early mornings before class. There is no time for proof reading or revising. Let's toast to imperfection!