In corporate life, I attended countless workshops—enough to know that the first agenda item for the beginning class of my writing workshop last week would be for each attendee to offer an introduction, plus a snippet about his or her writing background. It says something, I suppose, that I wasn’t worried about my dearth of skills as a writer, or exposing what I don’t know about the techniques required to develop compelling fiction. What concerned me was coming up with an "elevator speech" (and just for the record, I despise the term, but admit it works) that describes how I got to where I am today.
The workshop is taking place in a meeting room at our public library that also serves as a gallery for local artists. Sitting in a horseshoe, surrounded by oil paintings of music celebrities, John Lennon, Lady Gaga and an open mouthed Adam Lambert, the folks across from me launched into summaries while I twiddled with my pencil. For a moment, I dropped into my old corporate “be prepared” persona and contemplated jotting a note I could refer to, before deciding it would be too obvious. Instead I shifted in my seat.
Across from me, a housewife with three young kids who’d taken courses with our leader previously, admitted that she wasn’t currently writing anything, but hoped this class would jog her to. A grey haired man in a blue wool sweater explained that his layoff from his position as an English teacher motivated him to take time to write. A soft-voiced woman in a tweed blazer looked down as she confessed that she’d never written before, but had stories in her head she wanted tell. Beside her, another attendee giggled as she shared that she wrote technical abstracts for her job that did nothing to inspire her.
One by one the people in that room portrayed themselves in steady voices, while I crossed and uncrossed my legs and tapped my feet under the table. When the meticulously groomed woman beside me explained that she’d kept journals for years and was convinced there were stories she could mine from there, my armpits prickled.
Then it was my turn--and it always comes down to this.
Who am I?
I had to clear my throat before I could force out that I’d been laid of from a company after 23 years, started writing the next day, and had raced to the library to sign up for the workshop as soon it appeared on the schedule last fall because of a desire to learn to dig deeper, to challenge myself further, to stop “surface writing.” As the leader moved on, I peered down at the pages in front of me, visualizing the “D” I’d have given myself on that intro.
Over the last two years, I've dared to call myself a writer. Yet I failed to describe the suffocating need that swamps me like a full-moon tide, the phrases that pop and bounce between my ears, the cavernous hole that opens below me when I contemplate not creating through words.
It could have been worse though. The last person to speak admitted that she hadn’t been able to tell her husband she was coming.
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