Tag Archives: writing

Memories of the Unthinkable

After nearly nine months of being on-call 24/7, it was time to unplug and recharge. Or, as my co-workers, called it “rehab.” I took my rehab up at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. where I spent every day of last week writing the unthinkable (and drawing spirals). Omega is, for the most part, a cell phone and internet-free zone. When people walk along the paths of the lush grounds, they engage in conversation with each other, and with passersby. No one really knows anyone else, so everyone takes the opportunity to introduce themselves at mealtimes (all vegetarian, natural, organically-grown and delicious foods are served). When you get down to brass tacks, Omega is hippie camp for adults. I attended during their annual “Arts Week,” where the workshops ranged from mask making and life casting, to figure drawing, dance & music, flying trapeze, gospel singing, comedy, and writing. My class was called “Writing the Unthinkable” and is taught by Lynda Barry. There wasn’t much of a course description, but after having followed her series of 100 Demons!, being seriously devoted to her books, keeping up with her website, and with a little extra push from a fb friend (who rocked Lynda’s workshop a few years back), I signed up for the Unthinkable.

On the first day, Lynda got up in front of the class to introduce herself. She looks a bit like a cartoon herself, wearing a white button-down shirt (to “hide the sweat,” she said) blue jeans, hipster-looking glasses with coke-bottle lenses, red lipstick and a red bandanna tied on top of her red curly hair (which is twisted up into a bun or worn wildly down her back). She told us how much she loves teaching her workshops, but that she also gets very nervous. So, she was going to do something that made her even more nervous to break the ice. She was going to sing for us. And, she did. After her song, she got us to sing her the Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.”

For five magical days, I went from hearing the evil editing voice in my head to complete silence from that part of my brain. Instead, a wave of words and memory swept over me. It was truly a sea change. By Wednesday I could write in our seven minute spurts completely uninterrupted by any horrible thoughts or with a single question about my choice of word or phrase. In that time, me and my 60 classmates wrote our truths, the good, the bad, the ugly, but they were all ours. We listened to each others’ stories, while drawing spirals. The only feedback we heard was Lynda’s “GOOD, GOOD” when we finished reading a piece out loud. Seven minutes of writing is like letting down a drawbridge to the back of the mind.

Footbridge to class

Footbridge to class

We couldn’t talk about our writing or the class for five days, and, because you’re really not looking at people (or sitting in the same seat or next to the same person more than once) you really don’t know anyone. But we managed to find each other, in front of our classroom, in the dining hall, the dorm and walking across the campus. We were raw from exposure, but swelling with a warm gooey-ness from Lynda’s pure joy and humor.

She started every morning off by getting us all to sing this song and calling us her lovely, fabulous, wonderful, bad-ass class. Almost every evening ended with a movie. But even after the day was over, I would return to the theater where class was held, to write. I didn’t know how long the silence would last for, so I took advantage of it and just kept my pen moving. Only by the act of writing will you find the story.

Nearly every night I was the only on in the theater with Lynda (and her assistants). We traded stories and laughs. She gave me gentle advice and was always available. She never made you feel like you were asking or doing anything wrong. Everything that came out of her was true and real. As she said after cracking up over a story I told her about my job, “See? This is amazing and it’s REAL! You cannot make this stuff up!” She also reminded me that the passage of time allows stories to come out. What I might not be able to write about now may take on another life in my writing in a few years. Allow the story to come forward.

In five days, I wrote about 75 pages of memories; of the beginning of stories prompted by words on note cards or photographs torn from Lynda’s old NAT GEO magazines. These compilations of words now sit in my green binder waiting to be opened and revisited. Fleshed out and turned into 3-D. And, the funny thing is, that voice hasn’t returned yet. My mind is still quiet, the images still swell and crash against the surf. I can’t catch them all, but the ones I can, I do my best to put out my bucket and capture every drop. Babies are vessels filled to the top. Your job is to make sure none of it spills. That’s what images are like. Writing (and your mind) is your vessel.

Every morning before we entered the theater, Lynda drew a cartoon on big sheet of paper to greet us. On the last day of class, she was running late and didn’t have time. The paper was left blank. Perhaps this was a way of saying we are ready to fill it with our words and expressions. So, we did. With words of thanks to our amazing, genius, lovely, awesome, bad-ass teacher, Lynda Barry. Right on! Write on.
–Downtown

More Lynda Barry-isms from a stage full of note cards can be found here, here and here.


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Playing God

I’ve spent the past four days in writer’s block hell. I’ve had moments in the past like this, but it was usually due to procrastination that I wasn’t getting work done. This time, it’s definitely because of God. I’m working with a new organization (underwritten by a group of churches) on some copy writing material. The organization has only been around for two months. Among other things, they have a brochure they would like me to rewrite. I’ve spent about 12 hours working on the brochure (eight of which I’ve spent debriefing people on their jobs). Now I only have one problem, I don’t know what they do. Day-to-day, overall mission statement, upcoming programming, goals, etc. not one clue. By deciding what to write in this brochure, I’m single-handedly deciding what this organization will be about and where they’re heading. In a sense, I’m playing God.

The only problem with playing God is that he had an idea of what he wanted to do and six days to actually execute it. I’m sure he spent a little more time on the logistics and formulation, but clearly that was glossed over in his biography. I, on the other hand, only have four days and notes that resemble a really bad college philosophy paper. I’ve had to resort to using their words and existing phrases such as: ongoing transformation of society. When I asked these people what they believe the function of their “company” is in relation to helping others, here’s what I got back:

[Name of organization here] will work with organizations, individuals, church groups, societies and communities in a variety of roles including: acting as a unifying center, change agent, incubator, catalyst, mirror, collaborator, and training ground…

Brochures are made up of hard facts and bullets. They feature things such as mission statements and overall view of a company and it’s goal(s). The problem here is that said company does not yet have solid goals. Their programming is currently “classified,” meaning I can’t write about it for public consumption, since nothing is confirmed yet. All that I’ve witnessed them do first-hand is attend conferences. And, I’m not talking the local church kind. I mean traveling to places like Dubai, Brussels, St. Petersburg, Barcelona, and Japan. They return enlightened and brimming with philosophical knowledge, but nothing else.

I somehow feel like this isn’t quite what God had in mind, but in the interest of delivering material, I made things up as best I could. I guess you could even say, I lied. They loved my lies. Now it’s official, I’m going straight to Hell.

– Downtown

Who Needs Sleep?

Uptown,

In an effort to curb the insomnia, I tried going to bed tonight as soon as I felt remotely tired, which ended up being 9 pm. It felt good to go to bed early and know that waking up at 8 am wouldn’t feel as rough. I’d be more alert, bright-eyed and, well, you get the picture. My brain, however, had other ideas. When my clock hit 1:30 am, my eyes popped open and I felt wide-awake and ready to go. I tried laying there, willing myself back to sleep, but to no avail. Finally, I decided to grab my computer and sit in my bed doing scholarship and grant research — might as well make effective use of my insomnia. Most of the stuff I found was crap, until I got to this interesting gem:

Win a $5,000 scholarship towards your Masters Degree!
The Writers of the Future Contest chooses fiction, fantasy and science fiction short stories written by aspiring writers looking to further their writing career through education.

Sounds good so far, right? Then, I clicked to read about the contest history:

Established in 1983 by L. Ron Hubbard expressly for the aspiring writer … books.jpg

And that’s where red flag number one was raised. The rest of the page went downhill, tell you in order to enter, you must read and comment on L. Ron Hubbard’s book, which, conveniently, you could purchase at several different links available on the page. I closed out the window once I read the words, “act now!”

I’d rather not become the Tom Cruise of the writing world.

-Downtown