Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Better late than never

One weekend in February 1987, I attended a Progoff Intensive Journal Workshop®. The workshop was focused on writing exercises designed to develop self-awareness. We were supposed to continue the exercises on our own after the workshop ended, but I went home and never cracked the book again until yesterday. (I’ve always been better at starting things than at finishing them.)

Even though the workshop was a great experience, I haven't thought about it in years. Yesterday, continuing my recent de-cluttering spree, I came across the Intensive Journal Workbook®. It doesn't take much to derail my half-hearted cleaning efforts, so I stopped immediately and began to read what I’d written nearly 20 years ago.

One of the exercises involved writing dialogues, and the workbook included dividers with these labels:

  • Dialogue with Persons
  • Dialogue with Works
  • Dialogue with Society
  • Dialogue with Events
  • Dialogue with the Body

    We completed the first two dialogue exercises during the course of the workshop. All of them were done privately, unless the writer decided to read something aloud to the group.

    What interested me most yesterday was the “Dialogue with Works” section, which I’d totally forgotten. The “work” could be an actual paying job or it could be other work, including creative work, that was important to us. We were asked to give a written voice to whatever work we chose and write a dialogue with it, letting the “conversation” flow without censoring or editing it. The work I chose, even way back then, was writing.

    We began by allowing our chosen work to make a few statements to us, and this is what my dialogue partner, Writing, had to say:

    "I was born in the first stories that were read to you. When you learned to read, it wasn’t enough; I made you want to write. I was in the song you wrote about Miss Engleking in sixth grade--clever, but it got you in trouble. I was with you in Short Story class in ninth grade, encouraging you all the way. I felt very proud when your story was published in the high school paper. I was with you on your Senior English term paper, when you got a perfect score. That was my perfect score--you didn’t help much--or work very hard. I’ve been with you in letters to your family. Now you put me away and use the phone. I’ve been with you in poetry, expressing your deepest emotions. I want to live and grow. Please let me out.”

    On the same page, after skipping a few blank lines, the dialogue between Writing (W) and me began:

    Me: “Hi, Writing, I’ve been thinking about you lately.”

    W: ”Hi. You’ve been thinking about me for years.”

    Me: “What do you mean, exactly?”

    W: “It’s like thinking is all you do. You plan and daydream and talk to others about what you’d like to do with me, but you just don’t do it. You always put other things first.”

    Me: “Maybe that’s because I haven’t really felt worthy of writing before. Until now I didn’t feel I had anything to say worth listening to.”

    W: “So what’s changed that will make things different? Your life hasn’t exactly gotten terribly exciting all of a sudden.”

    Me: “No, but I’ve changed. My perspective has changed. Until now, when I looked at a flower, I saw just a beautiful, red flower. Now I can see all the parts of it: the stem, the leaves, the petals, the pistil, the stamen-–and I can smell it, too. Before now, I was locked up in some way, and all I could have written was, “There was a beautiful, red flower on the riverbank.” Now, though, working with you, I can make others see it: ‘On the edge of the riverbank, growing among the ragged green grasses, was a beautiful flower, its tall stem lifting it out of the green proudly. Slender petals, red with the sheen of satin, cupped the downy yellow center as if protecting it from the wind, and long, tapered leaves reached upward in praise of the sun.’ There! See the difference?”

    W: I see what you’re talking about, but I’m not sure I trust you. You try to do too many things-–and you’re lazy!”

    Me: “I haven’t had a lot of trust in you, either. Because I’ve felt you might not be perfect, sometimes I haven’t let you be at all. And I’m not lazy as much as I’m afraid of failing.”

    W: “I’m here for you if you’ll let me help, but you have to open the door for me. It hurts when you shut me out.”

    Me: “It hurts me, too. I feel like I’ve abandoned a friend. A demanding friend, maybe, but one who cares about me.”

    W: “I know you’ve started the writing course.* Will it help us?”

    Me: “I think it will. I think it will work like counseling. You and I have a problem, and an impartial third party may help us negotiate a better understanding.”

    W: “Well, it’s a start, but I’m still skeptical.”

    Me: “I guess I don’t blame you. I’m sorry if you think I wasted time. I prefer to think of it as a gestation period.”

    W: “Unborn things need nourishment, too.”

    Me: “I think I understand that now."


    It was enlightening to read this dialogue yesterday, and even more enlightening to realize it took me another nineteen years to begin writing on a regular basis. I guess what I need to say now is, “Thank you, Writing, for your patience. I’m having a great time working with you on this blog.”

    * Just for the record, I didn’t finish the writing course, either.

    1. I can just imagine what Writing has to say about it taking 19 years and a computer to get you writing again!

    2. I loved this, Velvet! Art is such a struggle sometimes and you're right, we need to have confidence in ourselves to even attempt it, let alone stick with it. There are so many excuses that can keep us from creating - mostly our own demons.

      This was a great read and a wonderful nudge to keep working!

    3. Janet, I would, too. I noticed in that dialogue that Writing can be a bit sarcastic.

      Sunflower, I don't know if I have much more confidence now than I did then, but my level of self-acceptance has certainly increased. As a result, I've grown way more comfortable with the idea that it's okay if what I write isn't perfect. I've had so much practice not being perfect in other areas, it was bound to carry over to the writing.

    4. That is really neat. I like workshops, I think their fun and you learn a lot about yourself. The candor is very revealing when you write like this. Most only do it in a workshop though. Now you have photos to go with your writing.
      I enjoyed the sound of the rain out your way. that was pretty neat too.


    5. Austin, I've always liked workshops, too. That kind of structured (classroom?) environment feels like a safe place to try something new and get to know people I'd be too shy to meet some other way.


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