In January of 2013, Penny Thieme — founder, director and member artist at the VALA Gallery — convinced me to start a Writers’ Workshop. Since then, I’ve had three successful cycles, two at the Gallery and one in connection with some writers whom I met through Prospero’s Uptown Bookstore. My fourth cycle started this January at the VALA, and now we also have two young people who participate and are the inaugural members of the Youth section.
A recent exercise started with the combined groups creating time lines of their lives and then selecting one event about which to write. We “brainstormed”, a process which allowed them to make notes about the event preparatory to writing their stories. Following this rough outlining, each member created a story or essay about the event.
This took place over two to three sessions, depending on the member. Tonight, we shared their end product, talking about the impact of the narratives and suggested edits. From these stories, we discovered that the two young people used a perfect narrative arc, building to the climax and then ordering loose ends in the denouement. I had not described the narrative arc to them; their lively minds found it instinctively.
As I sat listening to each of these two young ladies read, and noticed how nicely they had constructed their stories, I realized how much we can learn from children. They don’t mince words; they haven’t yet acquired the habit of the shaded nuance. They speak honestly, plainly, and without artifice.
Jasmine, for example, on learning of the birth of her little sister, “jumped into [her] shoes really fast”, to get out to the car for the ride to the hospital. Can’t you just see it? This child, at age 7, throwing her body with abandon into the nearest sneakers. Hanna closed her account of her first ballet solo with the observation that “[she would] not be as nervous the next time”, freely and without reservation owning the butterflies in her stomach during the dance.
I envy their openness, and I wonder how my own capacity for wonder and honesty drifted from my grasp. I’m reaching for it; I’m hoping to reclaim it.