Re-reading and tweaking the latest draft essay; reading Reading Like a Writer; reading other people’s essays and blog posts; reading one of Jane Goodall’s books because I may be writing about her soon; listening to a podcast interview with a poet I’ve read; wondering why I’m doing any of it; happy as a clam.
I love words. Take the word “neuter” (I know, that’s weird, but it fits into an essay I’m working on so it’s on my mind). If you consider the derivation of neuter, you find that
James Murray, primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary
between its various Latinate roots and its related cousins in other languages, somewhere in its ancestry it means “neither” — as in, neither gender — and it’s also descended from the word “also” — as in, this gender and that one.
So neuter is neither gender AND both genders. At the same time. Come on, that’s just cool. It’s like a whole poem or mini-essay, sparking the mind to all kinds of possibilities. In just one word and its family tree.
I’ve always been a word nerd. When I was bored as a kid, I spent a lot of time with the Almanac of Words at Play, a book of erudite word games for adults, the kind of thing two literary types had on their shelves for their kids to find.
I’m coming out of the nerd closet. One of the greatest things about passing 50 is I have little left to prove and time to indulge my passions. Two hours with horses this morning and quality dictionary time in the late afternoon, what could be better?
The Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day is Good Bones by Maggie Smith. I just heard this lovely thing read aloud at Kenyon. Maggie was a fellow in one of the poetry classes. Hooray Maggie!
Rebecca McClanahan: “I love nonfiction best because I love the world.”
Me, too. The personal essay allows me to not only let my mind wander and dart where it will, but encourages those wanderings and dartings. They are the very things that make a piece unique — only I can write this because only I had this bizarre series of free associations from a particular observation or experience.
Writing gives me the chance (excuse?) to investigate all the questions I can find, in a way I may not do otherwise. Another paraphrased Rebecca-ism: if your writing doesn’t change you, it’s just a hobby.
“Horsemanship and life, it’s all the same to me” ~ Buck Brannaman
The novice horseman and the novice writer will
- learn skills, learn approaches, learn theory, and then forget about them and just do it
- watch and emulate the best and then be shut in a room to develop her own way
- bang her head on walls and then discover they are mirrors
- look at the mountain, look at the teaspoon in her hand, and then begin
- run as fast as she can and wind up back at the damn mirror
- find it inside or not find it at all
- wish the whole freaking thing would leave her alone
- understand that this is now her life, other plans be damned
- wonder why it took so long to get started
Seven days in a wood-panelled room with 9 other writers. After saturating our minds with the possibilities, Rebecca McClanahan leaves us with the following, aiming us toward our own further development:
- What (or who, where when) keeps rising up from what you have written?
- What do you not yet understand about your subject? List these questions. What remains to be written or researched? List missing links
- List all the possible forms, shapes, structures the material could take and find the one
- Who else has done a similar project/text? How might yours be similar or different?
- What is the biggest obstacle you face 1) with the project, 2) with your writing in general, 2) with your writing life?
- What can you do, starting today, to overcome – or use – that obstacle?
- If the writing god told you that you could write only 10 more pages before you die, what would you write?
- What are you waiting for?
Dinner with superlative teacher Rebecca McClanahan (front left), our wonderful fellow Ron Stodghill (opposite end of the table) and fellow participants, hosted by editor of the Kenyon Review, David Lynne.
We seem to feel the same — ready to get back to our homes and our lives but regretting the end of an amazing week. In addition to BBQ, everyone is stuffed full of inspiration, new perspectives, fertile writing tools and a bunch of new friends.
Kenyon is a gorgeous campus, green and, this week, blessed with near-perfect weather.
Salient features of the workshop:
- Writing: every day, most of the day
- Reading or hearing others’ writing: a good chunk of the day
- Talking about writing: the rest of the day
- Regression: spartan dorm rooms without even a poster or two; standing in line with trays in the cafeteria, hoping the athletes leave you something
- Impostor syndrome: rampant, especially if you take the time to read your fellow students’ bios
- Luxury: allowing the outside world to recede
- Inspiration: it floods the place, oozing out of the teachers’ presentations, the fellow students’ passion, the requirement to write thousands of words
- Growing anxiety: the assigned slot to read fresh work to the entire group of students and teachers approaches
It’s day two of the 2016 Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, a seven-day intensive workshop taught by a collection of remarkably accomplished instructors. I had to apply for admission and was selected; I’ve heard we are the top 30% of applicants. I almost fainted when I read my fellow students’ bios: many have MFAs and teach writing at the college and graduate levels, many have been published over and over. And then there’s me, who just decided to get sorta kinda serious about writing last year. Beating back the insecurity, I am soaking it all in, very proud and honored to be here studying Literary Nonfiction with Rebecca McClanahan and a talented group of writers!